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Moving with the times: Bill's adapted teaching methods

In his 44 years training electrical apprentices at TAFE Queensland, Bill Langford has seen major changes in teaching methods.

There have been many advances in the electrical trade since 1978, to say the least. Bill Langford has been training apprentices with TAFE Queensland through all of those changes, and his teaching style has changed as much as the subject matter.

Starting 44 years ago, Bill recalls a lecture-based teaching method which necessitated long periods of note-taking, information retention, and copious exam study for apprentices serving seven-week blocks of classroom training.

“It was pretty defined as to what you’ve got to teach and the students needed to be quiet, take lots of notes etcetera. We never had things like the internet where they could go to gather information and google things here and there,” Bill recalled.

While this teaching method has significantly changed, Bill’s knowledge of the industry has remained high. For 15 years now Bill has been a judge of the National Electrical and Communications Association of Australia (NECA) electrical contractor awards, a testament to his own experience and commitment to learning emerging trends in the industry.

As a result of changing teaching methods from subject-oriented learning to competency-based training and more individualised teaching for apprentices, the electrical industry has grown greatly in its diversity.

“Now we’re at a stage where we have people with a lot more varied cultural backgrounds and different languages, there are more mixed groups in classes now and we’ve changed the structure of the classes from subject-oriented to competency-based training. That has made a big change to what you need to do with the actual teaching in the classroom too,” Bill said.

While TAFE Queensland was changing its teaching methods, the electrical industry was busy changing and growing as well, “the electrical industry is very wide now, when you think about all the different electrical work that is happening across the board from high-rise buildings and telecommunications to the more traditional electrical skills we had when I first started,” Bill explained.

Across his time at TAFE Queensland, Bill has been part of an effort to manage individual students within the classroom, ensuring that all apprentices are taught in a way suited to them, “you have to manage individuals these days, the learning can’t just be teacher led. Students have to be involved in the learning as well.”

Bill summed up the teaching changes neatly when he said the teaching methods at TAFE Queensland went from teaching in front of students to teaching beside them.

“If it’s teacher led, you don’t really know whether students understand the concepts as much, whereas if you manage the group a little bit you can get better feedback from them on an individual basis which is so important,” he said, “you’ve got to get next to them and get involved with them a bit.”

Talking with Bill it is clear the effort that he personally and TAFE Queensland as an organisation have made to modernise their teaching methods over the past four decades, getting to a system now that is designed to allow students from a wide variety of backgrounds to succeed in becoming qualified tradespeople.