1. Tour of the technical college, Project Week and visiting the HTEC Centre at SEGS
The inception of Project week came about from the reform of VET and technical education in 2001. Throughout Project Week students work in small groups (up to 5 students per group) by presenting a problem and using the week to work toward and find a solution. This is very much centric on putting theory into practice. It also stimulates more modern teaching methods. Students were reliant on their peers to move forward with the learning placed in their hands, simply facilitated by the teachers.
Clearly it takes considerable investment, planning and preparation from staff to coordinate and run a successful week. It also offers opportunity for companies to get involved or speak with students and for students to visit companies. Students’ projects are often presented further on outside of the college, entered in competitions, worked on further to be used within programme modules.
Project week wasn’t the product of learning rather very much the process being encouraged. One student we spoke with had returned to the school this week to deliver presentations and also to offer support to the current students with their projects. This demonstrated a realistic situation of people at different levels with different experiences/expertise coming together to work toward achieving a common objective. Not alone were the hard skills or theoretical knowledge being put into practice but also the students interpersonal skills along with an array of other key competencies /skills such as managing themselves, working within groups, time management, self- regulation, etc. .
I must also mention the quality of the staff the school has attracted especially in terms of the more technical teachers ; they seemed enthusiastic, encouraged group work and collaboration, worked closely with the type of subject matter and materials students would be expected to use within industry and were themselves excited and willing to invest their time in helping students embark on more challenging projects. Many of these rooms were busy with industrious students cooperating, collaborating and alive with learning through doing. It was apparent many areas of the school have received funding and are therefore modern and well equipped. Many of the rooms were large, especially in the HTEC centre, allowing for group orientated practical work.
2. Vocational College Bled and Hotel Astoria
This was extremely novel for the partners, a training hotel linked with the training college only meters away. This college delivered programs in hospitality, tourism and wellness.
The programmes run over two years but always a proportion of students find employment and do not return to complete the second year. Last year of the 140 students who completed the first year , 100 returned to complete the second year. The students here are typically 18-19 years old and must have completed secondary exams. One third of all programmes involve practical training. Employers are more concerned around students having practical skills than more academic skills. Students can buy the college learning material or it is free to download from the e-classroom.
Astoria hotel is government owned but in order for it to remain functioning as a training hotel it must return a positive balance each year. There are 23 full-time employees with the rest of the work being offered to the college’s students to gain practical skills and experience.
Students rotate around different areas of the hotel over the duration of their programme allowing them make more informed decisions on the areas which most appeal to them. This also means they have a more comprehensive understanding of all the types of tasks involved in operating a functioning hotel. The operations manager herself was once a student of the college.
Again much of the feedback from the teachers and managers was around the need for development of students’ soft skills. Also they wished students show more interest through questioning and being more vocal whilst on placement.
Notes from group discussion:
– It is more difficult to include students in managerial tasks as these involve real situations with real customers. For example when handling a customer complaint.
-Many students have two or three jobs in the area already and so the course doesn’t offer them new information or learning experiences.
– The college is challenged to individualise the learning for students entering with varying levels of prior or outside experience.
-They wished students were more active at times and inquired more whether in the school or the hotel.
– Students needed to demonstrate more competency in their softer skills. Greeting, thanking, displaying warmth etc. Additionally it is important the students note employees are allowing the student in their work space and so they should show appreciation for this.
-Many students are quite closed and shy when on WBL , they need to open up and express themselves.
The Principal’s and teachers’ expectation of WBL were
-for students to improve their emotional experience and to grow personally
-to see students become motivated and mature in the work place
-Improve their people skills
-Gain more emotional intelligence
-Develop their social language skills rather than academic or professional skills.
– Learn to be independent and to solve problems themselves
Additionally the Principal wished that all students learned to be tourist themselves so as they know what a tourist/hotel guest expects. It is important students understand other people’s needs and think outside of themselves.