The case studies: shaping the curriculum
Apprenticeship courses are required to follow the hours, attendance patterns, awards, etc., laid down by the state Industrial Training Commissions. The required hours of college attendance are different in each state and curriculum developers have to keep the amount of course work within the stipulated number of hours. The Plumbing course in Victoria, however, successfully negotiated for an increase in attendance time and set up the longest apprenticeship course in the sample, with 1040 hours over three years. The Beauty Culture apprenticeship course was the shortest, with 576 hours over two years.
The Horticultural national curriculum project courses were designed as apprenticeship courses, with 860 hours each, according to the NSW requirements. There were no equivalent horticulture trades in Queensland at that time, and there they were classified as pre-vocational courses. The other courses classified at or near stream code 3200 certificate level, ranged in hours from 600 to 1200, while the 3400 certificates range from 1200 hours to more than 2000 hours. The interviewees referred to difficulties in cutting down the number of hours to suit the required state limits, but few mentioned the inconsistencies in classification, level and length. This has since been identified as a national problem and was tackled by a national registration scheme under the ACTA (Australian Council on Tertiary Awards) guidelines during 1987-9.
All courses led to a TAFE award, although the nomenclature varied widely from state to state. This was part of the same problem and ACTA, while it existed, came close to a solution in establishing a national standard nomenclature. Some TAFE awards were offered in part towards industry registration, licensing or other accreditation. All post-TAFE accreditation of the courses studied was state based, with the exception of the National Standards Commission's national accreditation policy for Trading Standards certificate holders.
All apprenticeships were offered part time, because of on the job requirements during training, but attendance patterns varied through one eight hour day per week for thirty six weeks per year; seven five day blocks or twelve three day blocks per year; flexible mixed level blocks, and so on. Some of the non-apprenticeship areas offered combinations of day and evening classes, and part time and full time options. The Photography course recommended a full time option for students not employed in the industry, but funding was not forthcoming. The secretarial courses were offered initially as full time courses with a certain group of pre-vocational students in mind, but the occupational data indicated that there would be need for access for students employed in the day time, so a part time course was planned as a future option. The Fashion course planned full time and part time versions. In a number of the courses the full time offering required extra skills development, and simulated alternatives to make up for lack of work experience.
Entry requirements, or "entry advice" as it was termed by a number of curriculum developers, are based on TAFE Authority regulations, that is, Year 10 in some states and Year 11 in others. This normally doesn't apply to apprenticeship courses. Some states specify certain grades of pass in certain subjects, most of which were defended by developers as necessary to meet the demands of the course. School based pass levels are an old form of selection into TAFE, and while they have never disappeared, selection requirements now often include alternatives like "an approved equivalent or higher qualification", "appropriate trade level experience", or satisfying the selection committee or Head of Department of the candidate's "suitability". The interviewees tended to be divided over the issue of open access and stricter selection, according to the rate of demand there was for the course. Entry to apprenticeship and the Community Development courses depended on the student being in employment.
Two courses were limited to annual entry, the majority were semester based and two trade areas claimed to have flexible entry. Alternative exit points (e.g. with partial qualifications or a set of employable skills) were built into at least one of the secretarial courses, the Engineering and Construction, Industrial Skills and the Community Welfare courses.
The Trading Standards course was developed specifically as an off campus offering, and Community Development included some off campus components. None of the others considered distance education or fleximode to be relevant.
Modules and self pacing
The two aspects of course structure which caused most confusion among those interviewed were modules and self pacing. This seemed to stem from differing perceptions concerning these terms by those trained in the systems model and those using other approaches, as well as confusion about their meaning.
The instructional systems model includes definitions of self pacing and modular learning as part of its integrated, task based approach to course development. Three of the courses were developed on this model, and the three interviewees were quite clear about whether their courses were "pure" in this sense or not.
The Plumbing (Victoria) curriculum was one of the first to be developed by this method in Australia. Once the team had been convinced of the suitability of the model, they attempted to follow the systems approach throughout. They developed integrated (theory and practice) task based modules, based on the work of practising plumbers and gasfitters. The modules were self paced with the significant exception of the basic skills component, and the more advanced parts of the course. They consciously decided to present basic skills by lock step class based methods for three reasons.
The advanced Plumbing modules were not self paced because they were predominantly theoretical and tied to frequently changing regulations. Writing these for self paced study was considered too big a job to justify the gains to be made. Thus the decision to depart from the chosen model for certain parts of the course was argued on the grounds of the nature of the work to be taught, the needs of the students and efficiency of instruction.
The Fitting and Machining course team also decided on "a degree of self-pacing" and that the course should not be "strictly modular" in the sense that it didn't include "pre-test and post-tests". This was justified in terms of student needs. The third course, Western Australia's Spray Painting, followed the model of the Panel Beating course developed at Richmond College of TAFE in Victoria, and claimed to be modular and developing towards self pacing. "There was a fair amount of suspicion about this kind of thing here," said the interviewee. "The Spray Painting and Panel Beating teams took the opportunity to trial this teaching strategy for TAFE in Western Australia."
The Victorian Office and Secretarial Studies course followed the systems approach fairly closely. While it allowed for lock step teaching, it included organised teaching materials which could be used at the students' own pace. The six main duties identified in the occupational analysis originally suggested subjects, but in structuring the course, they were cross referenced into integrated tasks. "There was a combination of horizontal task integration and vertical skills check lists," claimed the course developer. The final product was a modular, self paced course which had evolved during the curriculum development process.
Of the other twelve projects, some were influenced to a degree by the systems approach, but the developer or team felt free to accept or reject its concepts when it seemed appropriate to do so. Some developers were consciously opposed to tying themselves into a rigid system of decision making, while in other cases alternative decision making models evolved as consensus on the part of the members of the curriculum team. The NSW Plumbing team did not consider self pacing "because of the high costs involved". Hospitality, Fashion, the various Secretarial projects and Engineering and Construction were each prompted by the nature of their task based objectives to structure and pace the units in accordance with "the requirements of industry" or "at required work shop pace." Comments like, "It's fairly self paced", "It seems to be self paced, but it's not," or "It's really a bit of both," were not uncommon, as the course structures developed in response to the many demands of industry, college facilities, adult education and teacher expectations.
The role of teachers in such decisions could sometimes be seen. Parts of the Community Development Certificate were self paced in line with successful Aboriginal educational practices which had developed during the previous few years. Self pacing was steadfastly resisted by Photography instructors.
The selection of subjects or modules in the non-systems developments was equally nebulous. "They are like modules, but they are subjects really," reported one. "They are modules but we call them units," said another. "They are mostly integrated modules, but there are some subjects." The definition of "module" as a unit of a certain length appeared to be a common interpretation. "They had to be modules to fit in with the college timetable." "They are actually modules, but they are all different lengths." "We design 2 or 4 hour modules to fit into a nine week block." Trading Standards was the only course with no claim to anything other than subjects and no discussion of alternatives.
The definition of module, and to a lesser extent self pacing, is not consistent in different states, nor even within states, and in most cases the alternatives had not been seriously questioned. Several interviewees, from both sides of the module subject debate, claimed that, "It just fell into place that way."
In most cases the curriculum developer was satisfied that the content had developed as a sensible compromise between the sometimes conflicting demands of the occupational data, TAFE curriculum philosophy, and the practical wisdom of the instructors. It is interesting to compare content decisions made in similar courses in different states. The Plumbing project began in 1976 in NSW, and in Victoria in 1978. Both projects flowed into and had some overlap with the National Core Curriculum project in Plumbing. Although the developers interviewed referred only briefly to the other projects, their obvious influence on each other is reflected in the way they dealt with content. The decision to include course work on major water, sanitary and drainage, roof, gas and mechanical services installations came straight from the occupational analysis done in each state. Old subjects like technical drawing virtually disappeared, its elements integrated into the theory components of each module, and mathematics was severely tailored to the requirements of each installation.
Formative evaluation during early trials helped us get the course right. Employers were not prepared to accept specific training responsibility on the job, so virtually the whole course was in the hands of the colleges.
In both NSW and Victoria the weighting of content in the Plumbing courses to include general education, theory, practical, skills development and general industrial experience was believed to have been covered by the installation based approach. Theory was related to practice; skills were related to each task and were repeated as required, as in industrial experience. General education was limited to literacy, numeracy, occupational health and safety, and was included in the basic skills module as well as related to each task as required. A trade background component was included in the basic skills module in the Victorian Plumbing course, but otherwise "values, attitudes and personal development" were left until later post trade courses. "There was no communications component included," claimed the NSW developer, "the unions opposed it." While registration procedures were slightly different in each state, the design of both courses allowed articulation to post trade level training.
Sequencing of major course work was similar in both states. Plumbers do most of their work in water supply installation, which therefore was placed early in the course so that apprentices could become productive earlier. Gas and mechanical services were placed last because they dealt with work which could be dangerous, the theory was more complex to learn, and it was believed that students would benefit from an extra year's maturity before tackling them. Sanitary and drainage installation had been taught late in the old course, because of the physical demands of trenching and timbering. The new course considered the physical demands of these tasks less dependent on maturity than the cognitive demands of gasfitting and mechanical services. Within the major components, the NSW course was further sequenced, while that in Victoria was self paced.
Comparisons can also be made regarding the content of the three secretarial courses. These were designed for similar one year 3200 certificate courses in Queensland, NSW and Victoria. The influence of a rapidly changing industry was evident in the content of the three courses. Typing had become "keyboard skills", to include word processing and basic computer work. Communications and language skills, personal development, and attitudes training had all been as strongly influenced by industry demand as by TAFE philosophy. Shorthand became an elective subject, offered only to those who showed interest in and potential for mobility in the workforce. Each team had to compromise with tradition and entrenched teacher interests on this matter.
The NSW course had been looking at cross school breadth for the sake of later mobility, and attempted to include computer literacy, economics and business law. By that stage the course was becoming too large and the developers were about to go back to the occupational data to re-establish the level of employment this course was meant to cater for.
For some years curriculum developers have been aware of the need to balance general education with theory, practice, industrial experience and skills development in college based secretarial courses. The open office concept is evolving from this balance, and the three states were moving in this direction with the new courses. However a new problem was identified by the Queensland team. Teachers usually insist on long hours of supervised skills development, especially in the form of typing and shorthand drills. It was becoming impossible to apportion the time required for such drills, however, with the introduction of new technological and integrated business practice components. Curriculum developers were able to call on recent research to convince teachers that improving student confidence levels and attitudes of responsibility early in the course should obviate the need for long hours of drills. The process of skills development could be shown to be far more important than the skills themselves. The theories were put into practice by including processes as the most important part of the course content.
Sequencing in the three secretarial courses was based on two factors: some tasks are prerequisites for others and therefore should come first; each section of the course should aggregate to the employability of the student. In one year courses, sequencing is one of the simpler problems.
Mobility and articulation, also, were part of TAFE philosophy, and in each case the one year course was designed to lead to more advanced courses in Secretarial Studies, Management and Public Relations courses. Supervision and office organisation were offered as options or deferred to later courses.
Other content issues
Decisions varied on how to include and reject tasks identified from industrial surveys. In spite of significant input from industry in all cases, there appeared to be little question that the bulk of the teaching would remain the province of TAFE colleges. In the apprenticeship courses, students spend most of their time in the workshop or salon, and hence very much under the influence of their employers. Employer groups, however, were not interested in assuming a formal training role, and virtually all content decisions eventually were referred back to TAFE.
The Trading Standards course provided an example of this. Previously training had been the responsibility of the employing government departments, and had been fairly piecemeal. It was because these departments did not want to be involved in training that they approached TAFE in the first place. They felt they did not have the time, the instructors, or the structure to do the job properly, and they were also concerned that there was no formally accredited qualification for Trading Standards officers in Australia. They turned to TAFE because "they know how to do these things".
Beauty Culture probably represented the most extreme example of an industry wanting to keep control of training, at least until TAFE had proved itself competent to do it. Photography represented the other extreme, where TAFE took virtually all responsibility and the industrial survey was more or less ignored.
The Horticulture project went furthest towards formalising some industry responsibility towards training in its four apprenticeship areas. This decision really came about by accident. An assessment booklet was brought to the first national meeting by the representative from NSW. The booklet was being developed in NSW as a check list of performance objectives. The representative wanted to talk about assessment procedures and hoped to convince the team that the NSW system could be adapted nationally. At an early stage in the discussions another team member suggested that such a check list could be used by employers as well as teachers, and the idea grew from there. When state representatives reported back to their local industrial bodies, the idea was mentioned and met no opposition. The objectives of the four courses, once finalised, were seen as adapting easily to check list format, and in those states where the assessment booklet concept was adopted, it could be used by employers as well as teachers. In relatively new courses, such as these, employers should have little difficulty in accepting a part of the training role.
The rejection of tasks for the Beauty Culture course occurred as the developer sorted out the operative level of the job profile from other, more advanced, tasks. There was no clear distinction between levels in the industry and they would not have shown up in the occupational data. Electrolysis and the use of certain dangerous chemicals and equipment were eliminated from trade level training. These were seen as tasks requiring more advanced training than the TAFE apprenticeship course which was eventually devised. The decisions to separate levels of training in this way emanated from the developer's experience of the distinction between operative, skilled and para-professional levels of industrial practice in related fields, as well as an educational philosophy which teaches simpler and safer tasks before complex and dangerous ones. In response to TAFE policy directions on such matters, business communications, occupational health and safety, values training, decision making skills and personal development were included.
A further factor in the choice of what to include and what to reject in a course might seem self evident, but should be mentioned in the context of curriculum decision making. Occupational data throws up many trivial tasks like "using a hammer" or "putting away tools"; curriculum teams eliminate such tasks virtually without knowing they're doing it. There are, however, a number of small tasks, such as "storing tools properly" or "clearing the workbench", which are considered important enough to include collectively as part of "workshop practices" or "workmanlike behaviour". This opens up the whole area of values, attitudes and work ethics as part of the curriculum. In the traditional trade areas, there is a tendency to leave much of this kind of teaching to the individual instructor. The Victorian Plumbing course, however, includes a component called trade background, which deals with workers' rights and responsibilities. Western Australia's Spray Painting course includes an industrial trends component. Health and safety teaching also comes into this category. TAFE Authorities are taking more interest in these areas in their formal policies, and there are laws covering safe practices, even though the need for them doesn't always emerge clearly from the occupational analysis. NSW TAFE has developed an industrial relations module since these interviews, and this is to be included in all trade courses. There is resistance, however, to introducing instruction on either unionism or management at the apprenticeship level, and ethics usually are confined to safety, tidiness and thoroughness. The values and attitudes component of the secretarial courses has already been mentioned as important.
The Beauty Culture curriculum provides an unusual example of industry demand for a set of values which would not have arisen from the occupational analysis or from TAFE philosophy. The interviewee referred to the psychological techniques of making the client feel good, or of treatment by the placebo effect. She called it the "witchcraft" element of industrial practice, presumably in a good sense. This was judged important and was included in the course objectives. It was also important from an ethical point of view to distinguish this positive form of "witchcraft" from the more dubious and dangerous practices in the field, and to ensure that students could clearly tell the difference. "We have to teach them some ethics because there's not a lot in the industry," the interviewee commented.
The problem of weighting skills development, theory, practice, industrial experience and general education offers more problems for courses taught internally with no placement or work experience. The Hospitality certificate level course in Western Australia is college based until it articulates with the Associate Diploma when industrial experience is mandatory. This industrial experience and skills development aspect is catered for, however, by the fact that the colleges run restaurants and catering services for the public. General education is included in the syllabus because of the nature of much of the work. The only problem apparently remaining is the linking of theory and practice around the tasks. In the words of the developer,
about 50% of the marks are awarded for theory, and they don't always match up with the practical too well in all subjects. However it seems to be working.
The other two courses which are college based, apart from the secretarial courses discussed earlier, are Industrial Skills and Engineering and Construction, both pre-vocational courses. The respective developers commented
The teachers wrote the syllabus, given certain parameters. They had to consider the correct balance for students in special circumstances. Industrial values and attitudes are incorporated through workshop simulation. A student can be fined for unsafe behaviour for instance, to simulate industrial experience.
It was more important to include skills development, etc., than in apprenticeship courses, because apprentices in the workshop get lots of extra jobs. The teachers were good at telling us these things. We had to make some conscious decisions about them.
Sequencing the pre-vocational course elements seemed to offer few problems. "The later modules require a more cognitive approach." "The course gives the fundamentals first." "We worked from easy to hard, increasing the number of principles used." The two pre-vocational courses had to sequence the course components particularly carefully to fit in with the various apprenticeship levels, so that students could articulate easily if and when it became possible, usually in the second year.
Only one project claimed that selection and sequencing had been done according to a set, systematic formula. This was Fitting and Machining in NSW.
Types of testing
All courses were developed with a consciousness of the link between objectives and assessment. The objectives were usually described in detail, and in the more practical courses, the objectives were competency and performance based.
Only Trading Standards could be described as consisting of traditional academic subjects, and assessment procedures followed traditional marking methods. Metrology II was the only practical subject out of nine in this course. It consisted of field work, and was to be supervised and assessed by a senior field officer. All other subjects were to be administered and assessed by distance education mode through the Victorian TAFE Off Campus Network.
Photography also remained as a relatively traditional subject based course, assessed by traditional methods. The course was developed for a single Sydney college, and teacher control of testing and marking was evident.
The Community Development Certificate for Aboriginals and Islanders also contained some traditional academic subjects. These were ready made subjects from other courses in which the students enrolled to complete relevant options. Some parts of the course were to be tested formally by the teacher, according to set standards and conditions, and others, such as assertiveness and personal development, were assessed by teachers, peers or self assessment by the student.
All other courses were based at least partly on performance objectives and mirrored the findings of the occupational data. Testing procedures ranged through participation, individual and group projects, assignments, self testing, formal tests and final examinations. One of the major problems identified by this part of the questionnaire was that of testing theory components. A number of developers described a real attempt to break away from the old separate theory and practice tests. In those courses which relied entirely on continuous assessment, the completion of each module involved an integrated blend of written (theory) answers and the performance of a related task. The theory questions involved knowing or consulting regulations, identifying the best procedure or equipment needed, selecting information, figures or formulas to perform the task, and so on. Such theoretical questions would normally be considered reasonable and appropriate according to the requirements of tasks performed in industry.
Teacher resistance to non-formal testing was mentioned specifically in four cases, but it might be presumed to be more widespread. However, industry resistance caused even greater problems. Employers have learned to trust formal examinations, and are suspicious of continuous assessment, self testing, and even, in some cases, of allowing the teacher to judge whether a performance is up to an acceptable standard or not. The Victorian Plumbing course included a thorough and comprehensive system of testing by graded competency based performance. The developers were very proud of the blend of common sense, accuracy, soundness and workmanship required of the student to perform each task and complete each module over the three year period. On top of externally tested theory exams on the advanced sections of the course, however, the Plumbers' Registration Board had imposed a sixteen hour practical examination in the third year. In the words of the interviewee:
This was the saddest thing which could have happened. Our assessment method was devalued by the decision. They should have helped us improve our testing procedures, not imposed new ones. Their methods were out of step with the philosophy of competency based testing, and it imposed an unfair burden on the shoulders of those students who knew the work but were not trained in old fashioned examination techniques.
There was no such problem with the Trading Standards national course. Specialist content expertise and writing time were donated by individuals from the National Standards Commission and the Australian Institute of Trading Standards, working in conjunction with instructional designers and curriculum developers from TAFE (specifically, Western Australia's TAFE External Studies College). Non-specialist content already existed in various TAFE Authorities and had only to be identified and collected. When the time arrived for the National Standards Commission to accredit the course, TAFE assessment methods and standards were familiar and acceptable.
In another variation, the appropriate industry associations wanted to accredit the Beauty Culture course, but NSW TAFE was able to insist on its right and qualification to accredit it internally, in line with their policy of TAFE awards. Neither the Australian Association of Beauty Therapists nor the Australian Association of Professional Aestheticians were strong or consolidated enough to insist on any other alternative.
Other assessment questions
The marks or mastery problem was evident throughout the case studies. As one curriculum developer put it, "The debate influences all current development." The comments sounded not dissimilar to the module and self pacing issues mentioned earlier. "This course is mastery to a degree." "It is a mastery based, but results have to be converted to numerical scores." "Marks have to be determined for computer purposes." Somebody mentioned the situation being somewhat like "the tail wagging the dog", and that the larger the computer records system was, the more difficult it was to find a way to enter mastery records.
Surprisingly, comments on standards, which would normally be related to competency based testing and mastery, were far more definite. "The course is to run in six colleges; standards have to be stipulated" (Hospitality); "There are strict typing standards built in" (Secretarial NSW); "There was a lot of exchange with the Public Service Board regarding their acceptable standards; these were built into the course" (Business Studies Qld.); "There are built in standards, especially in the ethical sense" (Beauty Culture); "The tests are college based but the curriculum document will build in guidelines for testing" (Engineering and Construction). The Plumbing courses both claim that standards based on accuracy, soundness and workmanship are stipulated in every task. The Horticulture, Trading Standards and Fitting and Machining interviewees all referred positively to the setting of standards.
However, what didn't become clear from the interviews was how thoroughly the standards were defined and how strictly tolerance levels were stipulated. A teacher of the Victorian Plumbing pilot programme reported testing a drainage and tap installation, checking angles, fixtures, joints and welds from a set check list. He was frustrated by having to pass the installation even though the tap was leaking; that particular standard had been omitted from the check list, possibly because it was too obvious to include. Fortunately that course was still in the pilot stage and there was a mechanism for corrective feedback to the curriculum developers. The story however indicates the sort of problems involved in setting performance standards. Conditions, as factors of testing, were virtually ignored in the answers, except for those curricula set on the systems model, where they are automatically built into the performance tests together with standards. Most curriculum developers assumed that tests were held under fair, supervised, classroom conditions, usually with a stipulated time limit.
Similarly, questions of frequency of testing and the number of attempts allowed were generally considered to be less important than other aspects of assessment. The majority of the courses allowed for a large proportion of internal testing, and only those tied to state wide term or semester examination timetables felt constrained to link testing to a formal examination.
There was evidence in the case studies of a growing TAFE philosophy which avoided failing students, if possible. Students tend to drop out or find alternative employment rather than fail. "If they are not making the grade, they get more help," claimed one developer, and sometimes this philosophy found its way formally or informally into the curriculum document. The extreme exception to this trend was in the Photography course. Class enrolments over the four year part time course approximated 170, 90, 30 and 14, an overall attrition rate of 91.8%! This course was run in one college and examined internally. The teachers concerned claimed to be selecting a highly talented elite, but the curriculum developer referred to it as "grossly punishing to adult student morale".
The three secretarial courses were based largely on progressive achievement tests, so that students could set their own goals and achieve them when they were ready. In Victoria, typing and stenography subjects were tested externally at the end of the course, because of industry requests for a state wide standard on the central skills to be used on the job. The Hospitality course encouraged students to resubmit assignments which were not up to standard. The pre-vocational courses in Industrial Skills and Engineering and Construction, as well as the Community Development course, built a counselling function into the course work so that students were continually encouraged to achieve the next level of attainment. The Spray Painting course in its pilot year admitted to no failures, although some learners did take a little longer than others to complete the required modules. The Plumbing courses allowed for modules to be repeated, assessing the subject as "yet to be achieved" rather than failing the student. The Horticultural courses, also, with their assessment booklets, allowed for the same treatment. Trading Standards, with its traditional academic subjects, and its end of semester examinations, was inflexible on the issue of failure, but the student market had already been identified as mature and highly motivated members of the workforce and significant failure rates were not expected.