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Turf students adapt to online teaching

Tuesday 12, May 2020

With COVID-19 affecting all areas of the sports turf management industry, TAFE colleges have also had to make significant changes to the way they deliver education to turf management students around the country. Along similar lines to primary schools, secondary schools and universities, TAFE colleges have switched to online and remote learning to ensure students and teachers are safe and that social distancing measures and restrictions are being upheld.

The ASTMA's events and education manager Simone Staples, who is a key member of the National Turf Education Working Group (NTEWG), was in touch with a number of TAFEs this week to see how they were adapting to the new learning environment.  The feedback demonstrated the fantastic commitment teachers and trainers around the country have to delivering quality education at both the apprentice and diploma levels.  The use of online learning tools, coupled with common sense and good management and communication, sees delivery continuing. Here’s a snapshot of what some of the TAFEs have instituted to date...

CANBERRA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, ACT

Bruce Davies reports that online training will be centred on the use of the online learning platform ‘elearn’, which students are already familiar with, and the online conferencing/meeting programme Adobe Connect which the students will be introduced to.  The timing of training will not change, with students logging on from either home or work (if they have no home computer) during their usual CIT hours.  Practical training and assessments will be conducted when the restrictions are lifted with the concentration on theory until that time.

The more practical units (such as ‘Drainage’ and ‘Implement grassed area maintenance’) will be postponed until the second semester when hopefully the restrictions will be reduced.  The more theoretical units (such as ‘Pests and diseases’ and ‘Provide info on plants’) will be taught at twice the pace. This will hopefully allow students to still complete their training within the original timeframe.

HUNTER INSTITUTE, NSW

NTEWG co-chair Albert Sherry says that Hunter too has moved into the online world, communicating and engaging with all students using the Microsoft Teams platform.  Students have been connecting each week since the institute went into shutdown on 1 April.

Given the impact on workplaces, apprentices (in particular) need to be actively working on their sites at present due to staffing shortages.  This has led Hunter to reduce delivery during this time to one hour per week instead of maintaining the regular block mode.  It has organised weekly online meetings to maintain regular communication with students.  Meetings cover four main areas – health, content, assessment and forward planning. Sherry is also currently working with the team and management on an action plan for when normal delivery modes get the green light.

WODONGA TAFE, VIC

Wodonga TAFE is fortunate to be located in a region that has seen extremely low numbers of recorded COVID-19 cases.  While this is an advantage, Mick Dove reports the college has undertaken a full review of delivery practices to ensure all continuing activities fully align with safe workplace guidelines.

The TAFE is in constant discussions with employers and apprentices to discuss their progression, while not compromising the quality of training.  As the apprenticeship courses require practical assessments and activities, Wodonga is adopting a range of measures, including revised timetabling, regular sanitising practices and reduced group sizes to ensure tasks are completed in a safe environment, adhering to social distancing requirements.

Wodonga TAFE is constantly monitoring the local situation and following instructions from the Department of Education and Training.  With all safety measures in place, it will continue to work with its apprentices and employers to continue the progression of all students, with a flexible, safe and individualised approach for all.

MELBOURNE, SYDNEY METROPOLITAN TAFES

Holmesglen, Melbourne Polytechnic (both Victoria) and NSI Ryde (NSW) have all modified their programmes to allow online delivery.  Other measures include real-time onscreen and/or telephone support, dedicated login times and a range of learning tools and material that students can access at times to suit them.  

As each state starts transitioning back from the remote model, some of the measures in place will change and evolve ahead of a return to normality. TAFEs report that planning has begun to facilitate this return, with simple actions such as heightened hygiene measures, smaller or staggered classes and gloves being provided if using tools and equipment.

All the measures discussed above show our national training bodies are working to maintain high standards in turf education during these unprecedented times.  To make this process work requires strong involvement and communication from each partner – employer, apprentice and TAFE.  Whether you are a student or employer, it is strongly suggested that if you have any concerns or questions regarding education and training that you contact your local TAFE for the most up-to-date advice.