Gippsland Connect IT Consultations


Project Summary

The project employed a consultation to visit Learn Local facilities to create an inventory and check list for Gippsland LL’s to assist with their IT capacity to delivery ELearning in their centres.
  • Designed to assess current technical systems, the education applicability of those systems and the organisational capacity - teacher and learners - of Learn Locals to deliver blended learning
  • Provide mentoring, professional development and targeted advice in the skills and technical requirements, including more strategic purchases of IT equipment, for Learn Locals to undertake blended delivery successfully and increase their effectiveness in this type of delivery.
  • IT information on equipment and internet connection
  • Explore their capability/feasibility and desire of different centres to consider using the TECL (Video conferencing) for learning. Trial connecting with Federation Training Facilities across Gippsland using the TAFES Polycom program providing the opportunity to deliver courses from Federation Training classrooms to Learn Local classrooms
However, the conversations generally went significantly further than this. Topics discussed would often include

• Programs being offered
• Ideas for new programs
• Current use of existing IT equipment
• Limitations of current IT equipment (infrastructure)
• Suggestions for improving the operation of current IT equipment
• Testing of WIFI capability
• Testing of at least one video conferencing program
• Suggestions for the spending of the $5000 equipment grant
• Future development plans (particular focus on IT)
• Online and blended learning approaches, programs, and the use of an LMS and
• Staff training

Expressions of interest to participate were sent to all Learn Locals in Gippsland using Survey Monkey. A survey was then sent to start gathering some of the centres information
A key strategy adopted by the consultant was to provide customised solutions/suggestions for each location along with emphasising and promoting the fact that there are many other organisations that they could approach for advice, support or to potentially even partner with. The consultant sought to model the importance of collaboration and the power of networking.

Organisations

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Findings

Operational

  1. A positive attitude of the centre managers/coordinators. Developed networks in their communities the ability to source programs supported by ACFE Microsoft Agreement at a reduced price. Centres demonstrated a can do attitude but are dealing with highly operational matters that may have contributed to being able to give less attention on strategic matters.
    1. All centres appeared to be caught up in some level of change.
  • Changing communities
  • Attracting clients
  • Retaining existing people
  • Developing new products
  • Delivering all the allocated Student Contact hours
  • Growth of portable/mobile internet enabled devices
  • Learners using their own equipment and traditional computer labs were being used less
  • Offering wifi to the community
  • Problem solving for their communities connection issues

  1. Learners are becoming more discerning in the purchasing of training. Price and flexibility in delivery and the duration of the program. The importance for one centre to have child minding facilities. Some of the learners were signing up to online learning with remote providers however there was also need to support these learners. Centres were finding themselves being asked to provide wide ranging support to people that are not necessarily directly their students

  1. A number of centres were considering sourcing training and developing pathways with other places than TAFE. This was due to a reduction in the breadth of programs available through the local TAFE, the increase in the charges for training, the requirement for (what Learn Locals considered large) minimal numbers, combined with the difficulty of dealing with them. They were also now turning to TAFES outside the Gippsland region and private providers.

  1. Most centres raised the topic of money. The challenges of operating within limited budgets, the backlash that would occur if there were an increase in fees and a discrepancy associated with the level of payment that is made to teachers/tutors. Different rates were mentioned along with what tasks could reasonably be expected of them as part of their duties. Without exception every centre, expressed gratitude for the $5000 equipment money they were to receive.

  1. Professional development for both centre management and staff was recognised as being important and in needs. On the written survey minimal suggestions were provided as to what training was needed. During the Face to Face it was identified that training associated with the use of technology, establishing blended learning programs, facilitating delivery online, working/training with mobile devices and video conferencing were important.

  1. Steps to safe guard the integrity of the administration IT functions/information about the organisation varied widely. Most centres had protocols in place for separating the “office” functions from that of the student. These included operating on different networks and using different passwords.

  1. The administration policy associated with the making of system backups and storing the data varied enormously. Some centres could face significant problems if something occurred to the main system. Some did not undertake regular backups and some backed up onto a memory stick and for some the backups remained on the premises.

  1. For many it appears that the centres web page is becoming less important. A number of web pages were tired in their appearance or were not fully up to date or appealing to the end user. Some were awkward to navigate, clutters and contained missing links.

  1. The most social media used was Facebook. The number and quality of the posts made to the centres’ Facebook account varied. Some centres used their Facebook as an archive of what had happened and others were prolific in its use of the promotion of upcoming events.

  1. Using other social media tools was generally not considered to be of particular importance for the majority of centres. There was little use of You Tube, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.

  1. Testing and tagging of electrical equipment was not evident in all centres.

  1. Some centres were able to generate some additional revenue through the hiring out of their premises and equipment.

  1. Not all centres were aware of the Microsoft Licencing agreement that was available through ACFE

  1. For some centres their appeared to be a lack of clear documentation available or the ability to easily find/retrieve information relating to licences or IT agreements. This was in some instances inherited rather than of the current centre managers. It captured the importance for having a clear process and storage of that information.

  1. Some centres were competing for the same students and/or trainers

Technology

  1. Most centres appeared to be unsure of exactly where to focus their energies and resources regarding IT infrastructure. Generally, it was recognised that the future of the traditional computer lab was uncertain. Some centres had decided that where they had several labs that they would as the computers stopped working retire them rather than replace and use lap tops or smart TVs for delivery. Updating the labs were further complicated by the fact that many of the computers would need updating if they were to run the latest version of software.

  1. Centres recognised the increasing need to cater for portable devices including lap tops, iPads or Tablets. This included both the requirement to provide them or to cater for bring your own devices (BYOD). BYODs were also presenting a number of challenges for the centres. There were technical demands associated with knowing how portable devices operate together with the need to be knowledgeable about the different brands. Having suitable WIFI is now becoming more of an issue/necessity for centres.

  1. Other concerns were for which device, Apple vs Android. The decision to purchase came down to price. The reluctance to move down the mobile device path appeared to stem from their lack o knowledge on how to use the device.

Video Conferencing


Whilst video conferencing was originally designed to reduce travel time for meetings it can have a place in education. It can provide a good learning experience for small groups of students that come together in several physical spaces. Consideration should be given to the ability for a student to actively engage and interact with their colleagues. Is the session better delivered to a group at a centre or to individual logged into their own devices? A stable and suitable internet connection and internet data plans. Appropriately skilled facilitators are required to deliver the sessions with support provided at each of the locations. Usually a dedicated computer with the necessary processing capacity will make video conferencing operations easier.

It is essential to have the necessary video conference system/software and this includes a suitable camera, microphone and appropriately placed monitor. Alternatively for those individually logged in the use of a headset.

Cloud based video conferencing solution are allowing many organisations to use the technology without having to outlay for a specific systems.

During the site visits a number of centres seemed reluctant to go down the video conference path.
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Smart televisions were a common topic of discussion particularly the use of these in many other settings. Other devices such as Apple TV and apps (generally each TV has its own apps). It is common to have You Tube and Skype embedded as a standard. It appeared that the only way to use Skype for Business was to have it installed on a computer or laptop.
There were many questions about the Model and Brand. Determining an appopriate location is sometimes overlooked. Some were mounted on a wall and some were on a mobile trolley. Considerations included the use of the monitor (to replace using a data projector), what is the likely group size, do you always want it in the same room and the height of the TV in the room to suit optimal viewing. When mounting there is minial space to plug and unplug cables, as such it is necessary to attach connectors or have a HDMI multi-connection box fitted.
With appropriate agreements in place a video conferencing arrangement may assist Learn Locals to better work together to jointly deliver programs to small numbers of studnets at different sites within their own right or in partnership with an RTO. Having an easy to operate video conferening arragement would also provide scope for sharing of guest presenters and speakers.

Summary

There are significant differences in the quality of IT equipment, the speed and reliability of the internet and the willingness of centres to embrace techology for learning and teaching purposes. A number of centres are willing to incorporate the use of video conferencing into their delivery. However if pathways are required or accrediated programs are to be ofered better arrangements are required with TAFE, private RTO’s and other Learn Locals.
Whist some centres apprear less ‘enthusiastic’ about expanding the use of technology for blended delivery this might simply be the reality, given the poor IT equipment and slow internet connection speed they are faced with.
It was established that with the appropriate level of support and good internet programs can be delivered simultaneously to multiple locations using a remote trainer via video conferencing.
Gipplsand Learn Locals should continue to investigate cost effective ways of hosting their own arrangements. Sourcing a major brand software that is free for non profits organisations. One such example is the Free to Not for Profits Office 365 program.
Adopting a strategy that requires centre managers to frequently engage with video conferencing solutions would reduce the need for centre managers to travel as frequently such as meetings, collaborating online and networking days or forums. Such arrangements may contribute to building confidence and familiarrtiy of the capability of video conferencing equiipment.

Summarised from the report prepared for the project by Malcolm Jolly. IT consultant.


Go to http://gippslandlearnandconnect.afce.vic.edu.au
  • For the full report
  • The IT Equipment Check list. The IT check list can be used to complete your own inventory and vision for planning and for planning and upgrading equipment or as an equipment inventory for the centre. Each of the centres were given their completed consultations check list as a future resource.
  • Expression of Interest survey