When faced with the task of providing career development services to a dynamic cohort of students that are located across the globe, the task seemed too big to contemplate! Moodle became the answer.
The University Of New England (UNE) is renowned for distance education, with over 80% of the student cohort being off-campus and learning online. We were one of the first universities in Australia to provide online study for all courses, with both on- and off-campus students having to access learning material, lectures and submitting assessment tasks via Moodle, an online Learning Management System.
With traditional methods of career activities being face-to-face, the team of two staff needed to be creative in their presentation to ensure as many students as possible could access the service. Phone consultations were introduced to accommodate off-campus students, more recently Skype consultations have become popular, especially with students who choose to study overseas and workshops were transformed from being physically present to virtual classrooms via Adobe Connect. But this did not solve the issue that many students are missing out on empowering career information. To strengthen this argument a student based survey highlighted the need for more access to career information, it indicated that the majority of students stated that they did not know there was a career development office at UNE, available for all students to access. This ignorance could have been for a number of reasons: 1. Being that we were bannered under Student Support and Retention and not seen as Careers; 2. Hidden in a central administration block on campus in a large staff population; or 3. Students not wanting to be aware that they need to apply for employment before their course completion – many see that they don’t need to do anything while studying, and will only start to seek opportunities after they have graduated or some even expect that they just ‘walk into a job’.
So, what could we do? Having two staff and being required to meet with students daily for consultation left little time for creative planning. Bound by budgeting restraints with no funding available for any careers activities also created a problem in itself, as we could not purchase any commercial resources to assist. We needed to think outside our normal boundaries and think ‘like a student’.
The careers staff were already familiar with Moodle as they administer Work Integrated Learning units through the learning management system, so after some consideration, it was decided to experiment and build a Moodle unit based on self-awareness for Career Development. The unit is structured with base career development material, course choice, majors, resumes, applications, interviews, etc, but also has separate modules for students to access information that is more relevant to their study pathways. These modules are based on the School that they are connected to at UNE eg School of Education, School of Humanities, allowing the student to access information that is more relevant to their own ideas. The unit is entirely self-propelled, with no assessment or requirements needing to be met. There are ‘touch points’ for students to contact a career staff member and submission points for students to submit resumes and applications for assistance. We hope to extend this to include some interactive group activities as well.
The full student cohort has been enrolled into the Moodle unit, a mammoth effort in itself by our Moodle Information Technology (IT) staff, causing some IT issues as we have many thousands of enrolments and this will continue to grow each trimester as each new student is added. As students complete their studies, they will automatically fall out of the unit, but the beauty of Moodle is, that if they come back to post-graduate study, or do another degree in the future, their access will pick up where they left off. It can evolve as the student does – perfect for career development. It has been interesting to follow students comments about the unit and also that only a small handful, around 20 have requested to be withdrawn from the unit as ‘it is not relevant’. Comments have been positive and include: ‘Thank you – this sounds excellent – look forward to trying it out’; ‘Thank you for your email. I will definitely take advantage of your offer of support in the coming years and the online Moodle unit.’; ‘Very good information.’; ‘Cheers thanks so much in advance for all the future support’
It is envisaged that the unit in Moodle will continue to evolve and change with the dynamic platform of career development. But it seems that at the moment, students are happy to be part of a very large career development project and the UNE Career Development team finally have a high profile both on- and off-campus.