SCHEFENACKER VOICE TOOLS TRIAL
Reflections on Session #1 (August 16th)
We had intended to have 4 students complete the oral part of the assessment, but it took much longer than planned so only 2 students worked through the oral assessment section.
Reasons for extra time:
As these 2 students had to withdraw from the main group they probably missed out on the chance of some meaningful collaboration and discussion with colleagues. Nevertheless, both of them said they really enjoyed doing the oral assessment and didn't seem bothered by working on their own. Elena: " I don't like writing so this was fantastic!"
Reflections on Session #2 (August 23rd)
Ideally the computers with the voice boards would be in the same workspace as the main group. We have discussed this but it is not possible to remove the computers from the canteen area. I'd recommend that Schefenacker set up a pod with a few Internet enabled pcs in the training room environment for future training sessions of this nature.
Reflections on Session #3 (September 6th)
Four more participants today - all male; all quite quick to pick up the procedure, and competent pc users obviously; they were quite oblivious to my presence once they got underway.
We were using a different training room today. It was much closer to the where the main group were working and so a couple of times students left the pc and went to check answers from the others - collaboration! Reinforces the point that the pcs should NOT be separated from the main group.
All participants today reported that they preferred doing the questions orally, mainly because it was 'quicker and easier'. Interestingly too I realise that in each session, after participants have answered the reflection questions on the voice board, they like to linger and talk about what they've just done. Time for this was unfortunately not built in to our timetable, but in future trials I see this as an essential stage as this is when some of the more useful reflection happens - in dialogue with someone else, and not just recording answers on to the voice board!
Reflections on Session #4 (September 13th)
Four more volunteers went through the assessment exercises on the voice board, and it produced the clearest case for use of voice in this context. A young male employee in his early twenties, Ron, was quite effusive in his praise of using voice technologies. Anne said they were 'fun', and Ric said though he was happy to do it in writing, that he was probably 'more articulate' giving oral answers.
Again today the group working in text (ie not on the two computers in the canteen) were in the training room closer to the canteen. Consequently a couple of the 'voice volunteers' made regular walks back to the main group to check answers to the questions. Proximity between the two groups made collaboration like this more possible (see comment on the Sept 13th session).
Again I was impressed by the IT skills of the participants. After about a minute of demonstration from me they competently set about managing the interface of the voice board and needed no IT assistance.
As yet, instructors have not been into the board to correct and/or respond to participants' answers on the voice board. This is mainly due to time constraints. It raises the issue of the extra time commitment required on the part of the instructor. It is easier for them to quickly correct answers in written form. It takes longer to correct oral answers presented asynchronously.
If voice boards were to be used in this context in the future, it would be preferable to run the online assessment over a period of days to give the instructor time to hear people's spoken responses on the board, comment on them, and have participants in the training return to the board for feedback on their answers.
Possible Model of Assessment
If the entire assessment was done online, participants may be given an extended timeframe to do this - perhaps 3 - 5 days. Within this timeframe:
This would require that participants would have access to pcs in a quiet, more private environment - not in the canteen as currently is the case at Schefenacker.
In some respects doing such activities orally is a solo exercise, but I would be keen to do some trialling of voice based activities in a group environment. (not possible in the current trial)
Industry v TAFE
A significant issue has been how industry conducts training. Education models of interaction and collaboration are not easily incorporated into industry settings that are very much regulated by time and efficiency concerns. Any changes to the way industry delivers training are primarily governed by improved use of time and reduced cost - not necessarily what is good practice pedagogically. Pedagogical improvements of themselves are not a primary driver for industry to change the way they do things.
Further, the availability of Internet technology for learners is not as readily available to industry learners as it is for teachers and students on a typical TAFE campus. It is a challenging task to implement any innovative elearning approaches with the limited hardware resources available.
These issues can only be flagged in a project of this nature, and would require far greater exploration to provide any more than a site specific solution that has emerged in this particular industry trial. That said, I am happy with the solution we have arrived at in this trial. I believe the trial we have embarked upon does actually meet a real need (many OHS&W trainees clearly find the amount of reading and writing they are required to do a bit daunting), so it is definitely not a case of imposing a solution for the sake of a trial. I was initially hoping for an opportunity for Schefenacker participants to engage in some interactive or group work using voice tools, but they don't have any training sessions where that approach is appropriate. There may well be next year though.
Schefenacker is continually looking for ways to improve their training. They have been instrumental in a Competitive Management Initiative (CMI) that allows for a consortium of different industries in their area (the southern suburbs of Adelaide) to collectively problem solve management issues they have in common. As CMI involves representatives of six physically separated organisations, finding times and places for them to meet will be a challenge. I suggested that a virtual classroom may suit their needs. Schefenacker's coordinator for this project is quite keen to explore this idea in 2006. Currently the challenge for the six organisations to meet and share openly, where hitherto they have presented themselves publicly to each other as not necessarily having problems, is challenge enough. They will need to accept the cultural change necessary (ie being open about issues they may have in common) before they might then collaborate in active problem solving of these problems in common. When that is in place this collaboration may well be an ideal extension of this project in 2006.
Is this a New Practice?
This begs the question, a new practice compared to what? For Schefenacker this is a new practice. All assessment of OHS an W knowledge prior to this trial has been conducted in writing. You could argue that what we are doing in this trial is just old pedagogy with a new tool, but I think it's a matter of beginning at the point where people are comfortable. Being removed from the main group, doing assessment on a computer, let alone using voice, is challenging enough for participants in this trial. ("A bit nerve-wracking" as one student commented.)
Possible Alternative Models
Alternative Model A
Alternative Model B
Such alternative models could be easily accommodated with a voice board, and would constitute a new practice in terms of pedagogy, and could result in a greater sense ownership of the assessment process.