Monday, June 16, 2008

Start at the beginning!

Finally gearing up to not just read but actually disseminate & interpret & muse about the information on the Wiki. Have started my marathon of connecting with the course info in a more integrated way, although it will really be a sprint (something I have always been much better at anyway!).

The website has much food for thought and I have copied several of the key ideas around the need for Flexible Learning below to keep as mementos and to comment on:

1. Why Flexible Learning

Recognition of the need for and value of a flexible learning approach has been a response to a number of factors. As higher education has become more widely accessible it has needed to cater for a more diverse range of students. There has also been greater recognition of individual differences in preferred learning styes, cultural differences and gender differences, and a greater understanding of how these differences can be catered for in educational programs. I believe the recognition of the growing needs and changing face of students has been known (and recognised) for many years and within my area of teaching we have tried to cater for this changing student. The Fashion School tends to attract students from varying backgrounds including international and english as a second language students, mature first learners, multicultural, students with learning disabilities and varying skill levels to name a few but the majority of our students tend to be young women directly from or recently having left secondary education. To cater to these diverse groups we very quickly establish teacher/student relationships that allow us to understand and determine the personal and individual requirements and future aspirations of a student. This tends to happen in an ad hoc way with individual needs assessed as part of the studio environment we work in, but does allow for an individual pathway to be established in regard to "a personal design identity", this being something that is encouraged and in fact sets us apart from other fashion schools in NZ. However we have tended to cater to the needs of these students by working within the structured framework of the existing course rather than providing a "truly" flexible way of delivering content.
A demand for more flexible approaches to education and training has also emerged from the changing social context of education and the diverse needs of employers. Flexible learning is seen as a mechanism for making learning more contextualised than classroom based learning alone. The increasing pace of social change and the consequent focus on lifelong learning are further factors. Connections and relationships with the fashion industry have been rigorously maintained and is an ongoing focus for our professional body The relevance of our course to the needs of the industry is assessed through Industry based projects, moderation and work placement. There remains the opportunity to offer more courses based within an industry context and ongoing research and development projects.

Learner Centred
Underlying the practice of flexible learning is an educational philosophy that puts the learner at the centre of the learning experience. The aim of a flexible learning approach is to respond to the diverse needs of learners.
Absolutely - what can I say.
Constructivist Learning Theories
Related to this learner-centred philosophy is a view of learning as being an active and interactive process that fosters independent learning rather than a passive learning experience. Learners are engaged in a process of guided discovery and exploration that involves using what they know to learn more about what they are interested in. Learning strategies such as contextualised or situated learning, collaborative learning, team work, project-based or activity based learning, and problem based learning facilitate a process where learners construct meaning to make new knowledge relevant to them. Flexible learning approaches support such a constructivist approach to teaching and learning by offering choices in learning strategies, and access to a wide range of resources.

Constructivist learning is at the core of our philosophy - an example is a course I have developed over several years that involves a team project at year 2 of the Bachelor programme that enables students to develop their own fashion label and range of garments fit for sale (marketing & small business skills involved here) - "selling" to a local retailer and readying the garments for production in conjunction with manufacturing. Throughout the process the students are introduced to the required tools and the lecturers become the facilitators (and the learners too at times). The project is primarily student driven although I do think the assessment criteria is still too rigid and perhaps here is an opportunity for the students to have more input into their final outcomes in terms of assessment.

I have also listened to Rachel Gillies presentation of her Digital Literacy course development and will follow up by talking to her about the implementation of this into the BFA this year. I found her methodologies and development process very helpful in terms of some of the considerations I still have to make.

Read Leighs Flexi learning writings - I tend to agree with the assertations (is that a word?) that there is much resource wasting within tertiary institutions and we could look at better ways (more flexible of course!) of utilising existing resources and more creative ways of providing some services. The computer suite comment made me laugh a little - we actually have a high usage of computers/suites as many of our students are in the majority that Rachel pointed out that dont have computers or the internet at home (in their flats) + of course it is nice and warm at C Block!

Time to sign off as beginning to lose track.

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