On November 4 at its Melbourne campus, Navitas Professional Institute (NPI) held its second biennial conference, with 118 faculty and students in attendance.
Keynote speaker, Associate Professor Andrea Chester is Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, L&T in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University. Chester emphasised the power of educator partnerships, citing a number of teacher collaboration success stories, many with a focus on online sharing between professionals separated by distance.
Convenor Dr Scott Dickson, Dean of the Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP), pictured, had the task of designing a conference program from the 75 submissions received from across the group of colleges, comprised of ACAP, the Navitas School of Public Safety (NCPS), Health Skills Australia (HSA) and the Australian TESOL Training Centre (ATTC).
Fifty-five papers were selected for symposium-style presentation, up from 33 at the inaugural event held in 2014.
“This year was the first time the NPI conference included submissions from ACAP, NCPS, HSA and ATTC,” he said.
“The inclusion of all schools and colleges, plus the growing awareness of sharing scholarly outcomes resulted in such an impressive level of interest in presenting at the conference. Presentations from research students within the Schools of Counselling and Psychological Sciences also added to the depth and diversity of presentations.”
Innovation and engagement focus
Four categories separated the conference’s program into subject areas within the theme Innovation and Engagement for Learning, Health and Wellbeing. The day was divided into the streams: Transformative learning, communities, pedagogy and practice; Health and wellbeing; Student experience; and Innovation.
Most sessions contained joint-presentations where NPI teachers, staff or students had partnered on research to explore a contemporary issue in teaching or learning. Post-graduate ACAP students presented projects where their research was relevant to the conference objectives.
The number of joint papers indicated the prevalence of professional co-operation at NPI and the value given to information-sharing across campuses and disciplines.
“Collaboration was a significant feature of many conference presentations and is reflective of the highly integrated scholarship that is taking place across NPI,” said Dickson.
“There were submissions from teams of researchers across all schools and from functional units, such as student learning support and learning technology services. Such teamwork is encouraging and is indicative of the highly integrated nature of academic work at NPI.”
Future directions for Psychology
NPI Heads of School gave their closing comments on the key priorities for their disciplines. Revised accreditation standards for the Psychology profession are expected to come into effect next year, with significant updates likely to affect ACAP’s Psychology courses across the board.
“Responding to these changes to ensure our curriculum is current and provides the best possible preparation for students will be an important focus of the School in the next few years,” said Lynne Harris, Professor and Head, School of Psychological Sciences.
Providing psychology undergraduates with information about non-clinical career options suited to their degrees is a second target for communication between the faculty and students.
“It is widely acknowledged that ensuring pathways into careers and further education from three year undergraduate psychology qualifications for students who do not continue into careers in psychology is a concern across the higher education sector,” said Harris.
“In the School of Psychological Sciences we are seeking to address this by developing pathways seminars for third year psychology, both in psychology and in a range of aligned areas. We’re also developing major streams within the Bachelor of Psychological Science, such as criminology and social welfare, to provide a second skill area which may lead directly into careers or further training.”
Training counsellors in the digital age
Professor Denis O’Hara, Head of ACAP’s School of Counselling noted as a current concern, the limited number of senior counselling academics with PhDs who also have clinical and teaching experience.
“The School of Counselling has sought to address this limitation in the profession by providing a master’s degree with a substantial research component,” said O’Hara.
“In addition, there are plans to develop PhD degrees at ACAP. The capacity of offering academic career pathways in Counselling will help to develop the profession in Australia.”
Blended learning is also challenge for teaching counselling, as the remote or online study option is popular among learners for its convenience, despite conflicts with the nature of the discipline.
“ACAP has been at the forefront of developing blended learning in counselling in Australia and continues to improve its blended learning approach,” said O’Hara.
“We are in dialogue with PACFA about the requirements for appropriate levels of person-to-person experience in any training program in counselling and psychotherapy. Australia is leading the world in digital learning within the discipline and ACAP aims to continue to stay at the forefront of innovation.”
Visionaries for social change
Professor Carolyn Noble, Foundation Head of School of Social Work, outlined the role of professional social workers and their present environment.
“Social work education focuses on the knowledge and skills to identify and address social issues and map a vision for a better world,” said Noble.
“When the marginalised are made invisible to politicians and the community, people can make and support arguments about why we should cut the already tenuous social support offered to them. While these issues were always a focus of social work interaction, the current neo-liberal and conservative environment makes the educational project much harder.”
According to Noble, the key social issues reflected in ACAP’s teaching include the corporatisation of public services, a climate of economic austerity, the impersonalisation of digitised communication processes, the growing importance of individual responsibility, the move to casual employment, and the vilification of welfare recipients.
She said ACAP’s priorities are to teach ‘critical’ and ‘empowering’ practice methods.
“Social workers work in the space where social injustice occurs, where people are denied their basic human rights and placed on the margins of civic life,” she said.
“ACAP is teaching for leadership as well as for organisational practice. Some of the challenges we’re addressing are modelling critical practice, ensuring appropriate field placements, engaging students with the notion of life-long learning, incorporating more indigenous knowledge into curricula, and working with diversity.”
Within its faculty, the school is actively engaging in inter-disciplinary and multi-professional teamwork and promoting a learning culture in the workplace.
Challenges in vocational training
Head of Vocational Education and Training, NPI, Catherine Tracey, noted the value of the opportunity to collaborate on common themes across the organisation, for the chance to see how colleagues are innovating, examine the work of students and to refresh ideas.
“What was interesting was the key areas of concern for VET were similar across both sectors. It was obvious that there was more in common than differences, particularly in the areas of curriculum development, practicum and reflective practice, student success and partnerships,” she said.
In her closing comments, Catherine highlighted the unique issues faced by the School of VET and the solutions being applied.
“VET is at the crossroads, with years of constant change in curriculum, standards and government policy. We are being challenged to deliver to a very different mix of students, range of skills and backgrounds. These challenges have had a positive outcome as we review what we do and seek to undertake continuous improvement,” she said.
“A recent trial of student care was undertaken in the school where we were able to lift the re-enrolment rate of commencing students from 48% to 78%. Other work is improving our procedures and practices to ensure our students obtain the success they want.”
A tradition of making a difference
The 2016 Conference was hailed as a success for reaching its attendance target and giving the NPI community of social and health science teachers and administrators a focus of professional contemplation for the short and long-term.
“NPI has a proud history of educating students with skills for making a difference,” said Dickson.
“The conference met its aim of bringing students, academics and teaching staff together with managers, policy makers, practitioners, and researchers from the broader community to seek ways of transforming learning, encouraging engagement and fostering innovation.”
For more information download the 2016 NPI Conference program and Abstract Booklet here.