Adult Learning Support teacher named Teacher of the Year

Having started a TAFE teaching career in her mid-40s, Irene O’Duffy knows firsthand the challenges that many adults face when they return to education.

And she has made it her mission, as an adult education learning support teacher, to help others overcome barriers as they pursue new careers.

Her innovative learning solutions, including a new assessment instructions video initiative, took centre stage last evening at Kangan Institute’s annual staff recognition ceremony where Ms O’Duffy was named Teacher of the Year.

“I’m pleased that this award helps highlight the amazing work of learning support teachers in a TAFE environment,” says Ms. O’Duffy who teaches an online course for students seeking the English and Math competency required to join the Australian Defence Force.

Having dabbled in many fields from small business to retail and marketing – “a real mixed bag”, in her words – Ms O’Duffy says her past experiences serve as a driving force to how she delivers her classes.     

“I’ve been a lifelong learner and as someone who has come to this career in mid-life, I try to use my previous educational and work experiences to help inform and shape what I develop for students,” she says.

“When I design and develop training materials and assessments, I aim to adopt the beginner’s mind, think like a student and contextualise it so it matches their vocation, their literacy and numeracy levels, and most all, inspires a real love for learning and investigation.”    

This year, Ms O’Duffy spearheaded the introduction of short instructional videos to guide students in their assessment tasks, a move that has boosted the success rate of her students’ first assessment attempt by more than 50%.   

“In 2020 I started creating videos to provide feedback to online students who needed to do further work on their assessment tasks. I found that many students were having to resubmit because they misread or misunderstood instructions that were only presented in text. I realised then that pre-empting their questions through clear assessment instruction videos would be even more helpful to students,” she shares.

The instructional videos, which consist a screen-cast of the assessment and a voice-over explaining the activity, address a common drawback of online learning compared to traditional classroom lessons.

“This video ensures our online students have the same advantage as students in a classroom where one would normally ask a question about an assessment and the whole class would hear the answer,” she says.  

The new videos have been a game changer for students and teachers, with the initiative soon to be shared with teachers across the state through an upcoming edition of Fine Print, a journal produced by the Victorian Adult Literacy and Basic Education Council (VALBEC).

“The instructional videos have led to higher rates of success for students’ first attempt at an assessment. Students also feel more confident and positive about their study efforts because they have fewer resubmissions,” she says.

“For teachers, it has also meant less time spent repeating assessment instructions and more time to focus on and support students’ individual needs.”

Kangan Institute Chief Executive Sally Curtain says educators like Ms O’Duffy ensure TAFE continues to be an enriching place of learning for adults seeking new futures.

“It’s about understanding the barriers that learners face and being innovative in training delivery to help them succeed,” says Ms Curtain.

“Teachers like Ms O’Duffy go above and beyond to develop new ways that improve our students’ outcomes, ensuring they gain the knowledge and confidence needed to embark on their next steps.”

Held on 8 September, Kangan Institute’s annual staff recognition ceremony, KanBe Night of Nights, also honoured long service staff who have dedicated more than 20 years of service.

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