Top teacher's innovative approach

Justin Bisson
Federation TAFE Vocational Education and Training (VET) Teacher/Trainer of the Year, Justin Bisson, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive TAFE, Liam Sloan.

Engineering educator, Justin Bisson, was awarded the Vocational Education and Training (VET) Teacher/Trainer of the Year at the 2023 Federation TAFE Awards for Excellence.

The award recognises Justin’s love of engineering, innovative and student-focused approach to learning and teaching after he introduced an almost entirely online, self-paced course encompassing two qualifications, the Certificate IV in Engineering Drafting and Diploma of Engineering – Technical.

The online format differs from remote delivery in that lessons are pre-recorded and uploaded to Federation TAFE’s online learning platform, with each unit divided into classes ending with a compulsory quiz to gain access to the following class. This has been complemented by two weekly classes, one online and running from afternoon to late evening, and a face-to-face class on campus during the day.

The major overhaul of the class delivery has proven to be much more user friendly and accommodating of students already working in the industry, allowing them to work at their own pace and attend classes as they need assistance or further explanation.

Not only is the approach sympathetic to the students’ personal lives and demands it is also already showing huge benefits to the Engineering department at Federation TAFE with higher enrolment, increased student retention, wider state-wide enrolment, and considerable student-teacher engagement. Students are also expressing increased confidence in the support.

“Half of my students are employed so they struggle to attend during the day. They have often enrolled of their own volition rather than at the request of their employer. This new delivery allows them to do the course. Life happens and at times interferes with their education, but this is giving them flexibility. Since bringing in the online format I’ve lost minimal students and only due to reasons beyond our control such as moving interstate,” Justin says.

“The students are happy. I’ve had more questions and engagement. Now they are comfortable with the program I think they will progress faster. I have one standout student who did the course in the old teacher-led, more structured format. He was nervous and a little apprehensive of going online but he’s really enjoyed it.”

Justin started his career as an apprentice fitter and turner at Holden before signing up for a short course in welding where his career took an unexpected turn. Seeing Justin’s results, his welding teacher encouraged him to become a sessional teacher and just a week later Justin was employed by Victoria University where he was later awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Award. From there he moved to Federation TAFE where he’s been for over ten years.

Justin’s passion for his profession is obvious, “I love the teaching. I love seeing how students, when they suddenly ‘get’ a concept you see their face light up and you see that understanding happening.”

“It’s so important to listen to them and to respond. What interests them interests me. And that’s what I want to do in the workshop. When they have a question, that’s great. When they challenge me, that’s good because they’re engaging in the program. I enjoy being both proactive and reactive to students in finding out the answers together. That’s often when they get the lightbulb moments. They embrace the course more because they’re passionate and engaged. It’s why they’ve enrolled. I want them to question and investigate.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive TAFE, Liam Sloan said, “Justin’s nomination was backed up with glowing references by colleagues and students. It represented a whole scale change to engineering course delivery which is flexible and responsive to student needs. He has demonstrated a significant change in course delivery, engaged deeply with industry, worked with and supported colleagues to move their learning delivery online; and connected with students to enable them to move confidently smoothly to online learning.”

Justin is humbled to receive the award and quick to share the spotlight with his fellow teachers in Team TAFE. “You hear other teachers talk about what they’re doing, and you think, ‘Wow, that’s so good!’. So many of us have got great ideas and are doing a lot for our courses. I don’t really feel like a standout because I’m not alone. Teachers have a passion for teaching and that engagement with students and I think when passion and engagement is captured, we do really well.”

Liam agrees, “Our teachers are very passionate about their students and helping them to achieve their best. Many are acknowledged by industries and schools for their great work that they do. Our students and surveys tell us that the teaching experience at Federation TAFE is one of the reasons that our students are most satisfied with training at our TAFE.”

Two other Federation TAFE teachers were recognised in the VET Teacher/Trainer of the Year awards category with Dr Adam Bignold highly commended for his teaching in Cyber Security and Information Technology and Elizabeth Buckley commended for her teaching in Certificate IV in Education Support. Justin will now be put forward for consideration in the Victorian Training Awards.

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