This resource is based on the discussions that took place during the “FLEXing our muscles: ACE comes of age” event held in the Community 2 – 13 June, 2003. The event was hosted by Marg O'Connell, Katrina Sommers and Josie Rose.
“There is a need for community education centres to become learning organizations, skilled in action learning methodologies to facilitate rapid change, in order to retain human capital and thus further develop social capital at a community level.”
With the advent of technological change, Adult Community Education (ACE) is increasingly well positioned to take a leadership role in Vocational Education and Training (VET) in providing educational services to accommodate the needs of a diverse group of learners, perhaps in ways larger educational institutions find harder to do within their structures and systems. However, ACE needs to do this consciously and deliberately, informing themselves at an organisational level of appropriate strategies to manage this growing learner group, in order to lobby for a better ACE service overall.
ACE is no longer ‘basket weaving’, no longer ‘gap training’, no longer ‘archaic hobbies’… it is all of these and more! Given the ongoing squeeze all educational sectors face, ACE is perceived as the cheap alternative without the credibility.
Its drawcard though, is speedy responsiveness to and accessibility by local community. ACE has always worked with societal trends and issues, going with the ebb and flow in the community and so, has remained relevant to the needs of community. In this information and digital age, this seems more pronounced. Communities are asking for services to remain relevant to them and ACE centres are hearing this plea. How are the two brought together for the benefit of all stakeholders?
So what is ACE doing about it? Across Australia many ACE centres large and small are taking up the flexible learning banner, in order to meet the needs of their diverse and ever-changing learner groups. The question is: are their organisational strategies taking in to consideration the technological edge? ACE centres have never been known as “money banks”, so how does a centre incorporate information technology at a reasonable price with maximum benefit to the communities they service? After all many ACE centres are already inherently flexible to cater for their diverse communities.
With the advent of technological overhauls in our social systems, do we need to redefine ACE? To whom do we need to articulate a definition of ACE? There are definitions that vary widely across the nation, with varying levels of support at state and local government levels. Strategic planning for change should occur at all levels of organisational planning, something traditionally uncharacteristic of community education centres, in that for the longest time, they have often been governed by stakeholders polar-opposites apart; that is, either directly by members of the community, or by entities far removed from the community itself (eg. organisations with central offices in distant capital cities). What monitoring of standards exist then in extreme cases, where centres supposedly share a common denominator; “the community”?
Currently, steps are being made to address the many questions ACE centres are grappling with on the issues surrounding the rapid emergence of IT developments, often with little consultation at the community level. Perhaps ACE is feeling the pinch in terms of remaining relevant and meeting ‘new’ needs of its community members. However, the lines of communication and support seem to be stretching across communities as the first state based ACE conference in WA proved. Many various community education representatives attended and the questions exploded throughout the three day event, the most significant being “Out there, in the community jungle, what is ACE?”
Comparatively though, ACE is not seen as an alternative championed by other educational sectors as being a viable, quality education provider in the state. At a state level, more inclusive examples can be seen in Victoria and NSW, where, for example, some NSW ACE centres are partnering with Community Technology Centres (CTCs). It is the age of reckoning for ACE in Australia and with the passion displayed by many educators in the community sector, ACE will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.
ACE is quite different in each of the states. ACE is the “hidden” sector. Even people in other education sectors don’t think much about it.
LearnScope has done a lot to encourage the ACE sector to take up flexible learning. The sector is now using new technologies, applying new skills, using online training with paying clients, doing staff training using Flexible Learning Toolboxes, creating online communities and experimenting using MC2 to connect ACE colleges and business organisations. In NSW a BASE literacy project is exploring online validation of CGEA tasks using Community Zero and the Australian Flexible Learning Community.
ACE in Victoria has been using e-readers that they created using PowerPoint. They’re using their WebCT communication hub to enable learners to practice their literacy skills on discussion boards. They’re turning groups into ‘communities of practice.'
In South Australia a Learnscope project has allowed people to learn PowerPoint and create their own promotional presentations e-readers. Another educator developed a website for her students. They are using WebCT for PD and for teaching.
One NSW educator described a group of NESB students at their college who were now confidently using CD ROMs and accessing the internet to search for interesting items for personal use and to find newspapers in their native language. They were using email to communicate in their first language which empowers them and makes them more confident to do other learning. There is an argument that using the internet in their mother tongue will keep NESB women at home even more because they will then never need to use English in the wider community. This educator believes that doing so provides another choice and that in itself is liberating.
Interesting report published by the NSW Dept of Education and Training. Included in it are some ACE stories about using technologies to provide a blended learning approach. Exemplar 14 illustrates an example of incorporating an online component into a Genealogy course - ‘Blended Learning’ .
One member describes the many different attitudes towards flexible learning that they come across in the VET sector. These range from complete negativity to people who are already leaders in the use of technology. Often the negativity is because people perceive that technology will take the “people” out if the learning and replace them with computers. There are others, however, working in ACE who are proving the opposite. Technology can provide better access and sometimes better quality training for learners.
Some of the problems ACE educators come across are that the centres are small- so there is often just one champion that has to do a millions other things as well. Also -
- Getting a spot in the computer room!
- Adequate infrastructure and connectivity
- New members - growing too fast or not at all!
- Getting your head around online technologies is a steep learning curve and takes up a lot of time;
- Money and time release is always a problem – although we are provided financial support it is NEVER enough;
- Our long term future … funding runs out at the end of the year - again…
Rita Bennink, Michael Chalk, Vivian Evans, Robyn Jay, Trish Jessop, Marg O'Connell, Bernie Pegram, Jan Peterson, Josie Rose, Katrina Sommers, Pam Stagg