“We want to have more contact with industry”. “We don’t know where we go from here”, “We don’t have enough skill to go out on our own, we wish the program was longer” “We wish graduates had more business skills”. You may or may not be familiar with these or similar comments from your students and industry partners. They most certainly are familiar refrains to Andrew Robinson, the teacher of the cert IV in custom made footwear. Over the past 6 months the Cert IV Footwear program has been participating in the RMIT Innovation project, and as part of that initiative we’ve been working to bring in a range of enhancements to the program to address these and other issues identified by students, staff and industry.
After a highly successful vision workshop (more about that here) in which we gathered perspectives on the program from industry, past and present students, teachers and other support staff, the program team came up with a short list of challenges to address which then formed a number of distinct but related work streams.
These initiatives are:
- develop a distributed social and professional network of industry, student, alumni and teacher contacts
- streamline the face to face experience, contribute to network connections and build web and industry presence by further developing and completing a series of instructional videos
- build network presence and small business marketing knowhow by integrating assessments into website portfolios
- profile past students in industry videos demonstrating pathways after study
- investigate workshop extension hours and other creative ways to provide more value to the student experience
Today we’re discussing the first of those work streams, building a distributed social and professional network around the program. This initiative really underpins and enables the others, bringing everything together and creating a more vital and ongoing connection to the footwear industry for students.
The aim in developing the network is to build on the strong sense of camaraderie that exists in the footwear program and community to get students connected to industry while they are still students, and to keep them connected to the community and RMIT as they leave the university and go into their new occupations. We decided on a distributed network approach using social media tools because students are only at RMIT for a single year, and so it is vital that anything created by or for them must have a lifespan beyond the limits of the program. It also serves as an advertisement for the footwear program, reaching people via their social networks (aka word of mouth) and harnessing the power of google search.
So what have we done?
Andrew already had a Facebook Friends group, and a youTube channel for communicating with present and past students, and for presenting instructional videos. Building from that foundation, Leigh has been working with Andrew to further bolster his online social and professional presence using apps that students and industry already use. His LinkedIn and Instagram profiles and WordPress site have been created and updated, as have those of alumnus Ben Galloway who now works with Andrew as a part time technician. Current and past students have been invited to subscribe to Andrew and Ben’s social media presence, and Leigh has been working with current students to assist them in developing their own social media profiles and connections. Andrew has been creating projects on Linkedin to which he connects past students, and shortly an invite will go out to Andrew’s past students and industry contacts to connect with his various network touchpoints.
We have been tracking this network development with a nifty bit of data visualisation using Kumu. Read more about this in Leigh’s recent post YouTube at the School of Fashion and Textiles: Teaching YouTube to Teach
Feeding into this network are content streams coming from the other work streams in this project. Instructional videos created for the workshop, videos profiling past students and their move into industry, and the student’s own web portfolios of their learning and creation of shoes will all provide content and updates to the network over time.
While the vision for this distributed online network is appealing, it has been a little challenging to implement in the relatively short timeframe for this project. Working with current students, where the creation of a professional web presence could only be extra curricular, meant we were asking for volunteers right at the same time their final shoe projects were due for completion. Other courses in the program touch on some of the things we’re trying to demonstrate, causing a small amount of confusion on what it is we’re trying to achieve and how it relates to those other courses. We knew these issues would challenge us, and present a risk to the initiative longer term, which is why we’re working with the program renewal project that is running alongside this work to write some of this work in as learning activities and assessment tasks early in the program next year (More on this in a future blog post). This way we expect more students will engage with the work and have more time to develop their websites. Having a handful of volunteer students from this year will help next year’s students by seeing their predecessor’s examples.