Ruth Findlater's design narrative: teaching navigation
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26 March 2016
Title: teaching navigation by sailing around the Torres Strait
I was asked to run a course for Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who wanted to qualify as a Master of a small coastal vessel. We lived together on a 35 metre boat, reinforcing skills that they already had, learning new ones and we shared knowledge of traditional and western ways of navigating the oceans.
I was the trainer and lived on board a commercial vessel with 15 students and 5 ships crew for 4 weeks. The students ranged in age from late teens to mid 40's, most had been driving small runabout boats since childhood and some had commercial boating experience. All were highly motivated to complete the course, as it led to potential employment outcomes. Each day we built on the previous days knowledge, putting our learning into practice each afternoon, when the students planned the voyage amongst the islands, and then took increasing responsibility for starting the engines and drivign the boat to the new location. As we lived together, a lot of informal teaching took place in the evenings, as we gathered on the back deck fishing. There were a number of students who had good traditional knowledge of navigation and had good English language skills. The cultural norms of Torres Strait islanders are that they work together to help each other, They do not like to be "Shamed" this means standing out for either getting an answer wrong or correct. There were also some elders within the group who were able to help with the logistics of the course, and acting as the conduit between me, a white female trainer, and the predominantly male student cohort.
Although most students had a very good knowledge of navigating their locals waters, handed down over many generations, I wanted them to be able to understand how that knowledge looks on charts and other navigation equipment. This would mean that their increased knowledge becomes transferrable to other locations, and therefore imporves their employment prospects. I wanted the students to be able to interpret information contained on a chart, to plot a safe passage, and to be able to calculate how long a journey would take.
I began by purchasing a number of charts which covered the local area, so that students could use them each day. I hoped that the constant reinforcement in a practical way, using Work Integrated Learning approach, would deepen their understanding and increase their confidence. We had a number of ipads available to use, which did not have a sim card. We had a modem available which I was assured would let us connect all ipads simultaneously. I used an app called Socrative and created a number of quiz questions which I hoped would allow students to answer in a non threatening way; their answers would remain anonymous to each other, but I would be able to see who was struggling. Unfortunately the level of internet was not enough to allow this app to work, this was a big setback.
I decided to use the natural groups that had formed and get teams to come up with the answers, whilst at the same time reinforcing to all the team members that it was important to work as a team and make sure that all the members could do the activity. This actually worked very well, with the natural leaders amongst the cohort taking a lead role in the activity.
All the students gained the required skills in navigation. The unexpected outcome was that the groups really liked working together and exploring different ways of learning. The level of confidence in speaking English improved, as did my level of speaking Creole! The biggest outcome of this trial course was that an Indigenous Training Cadet was appointed, who was also able to take on the role of "bridge" between student and trainer, both from a language and also from a cultural perspective.
The use of groups in learning and teaching, This method also reinforced the importance of students having the opportunity to practice thier growing skills in an authentic environment. For us, having the ships crew also reinforcing the messages I was sharing helped them to realise that these were skills that were needed as a commercial ships master and not just ideas that the trainer had thought up. I gained a useful understanding of how community works in Torres Strait, and how this often differs from teaching in a non indigenous environment where often students are more concerned with their own learning and are often less inclined to help their peers
12:39 on 26 March 2016