Online Course Cops More Criticism
Students of an online Level 3 beekeeping course delivered by Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) continue to report problems with the course and say, despite submitting final papers in mid-May, a lack of communication from the provider has them unsure whether they have gained their qualification or not. However, in the face of the numerous complaints from students, along with stories addressing the issue of substandard apiculture training in April and May issues of Apiarist’s Advocate, SIT plan to continue their online training, saying they have made improvements to rectify the failings of the inaugural intake.
“Only good for firestarter” and “just a piece of paper you wouldn’t hang on the wall,” is how students are describing their Level 3 Apiculture qualification from SIT, if they ever get it.
With the New Zealand Government coming to the party to fund Level 3 and 4 courses at training institutes, new students have flocked into the apiculture courses all over New Zealand. However, beekeeping employers have said they see little value in graduates of some training institutes.
Students of SIT seem resigned to the fact that the qualification they have spent the last beekeeping season trying to obtain will hold little value for them should they wish to seek paid beekeeping work.
“I’m a hobbyist and thought it was a good way to get more information than reading a book. I thought it might be a good stepping stone to a commercial role, but it is not what they promised, that’s for sure,” says Nikita Todd, who despite having handed in her last paper more than six weeks previous, was unsure if she has passed SIT’s course or not.
Todd’s experiences of the SIT course are reflective of many of her fellow students, who have aired their grievances to Apiarist’s Advocate. They say communications with SIT have been haphazard throughout the course and that has not changed as they now wait, unsure of their final grades.
SIT has responded to the delay by saying it is a matter of matching students work with disease elimination courses they were required to complete through the American Foulbrood Pest Management Agency. However, Todd says she has provided SIT staff with her certificate of completion on several occasions, yet still waits.
The delays and miscommunication are emblematic of the course’s structure and the problems have persisted since the beginning.
The online teaching and assessment model has been troublesome, students say, supporting the opinions of several beekeepers with training experiences who have detailed “limitations” and “deficiencies” in online beekeeping courses.
“It is very frustrating. The whole way through the course we have pretty much been educating ourselves via google. If I wanted to do that I could have done it without the Government paying for TTAF courses,” Todd says.
Just short of $5million of taxpayer money has been given to “provider based” apiculture courses in 2020 under the Target Training and Apprenticeship Fund, which spans a wide range of industries and is set to last until at least 2022 and cost $1.6billion.
While one doesn’t have to go far to find someone in the apiculture industry who is concerned that many training courses add little value to the industry, most at least involve time in the beehives for students, overseen by more experienced beekeepers. However, SIT offered their fully online course for the first time over the last beekeeping season and will do so again, with a new intake starting in late August.
The decision appears to fly in the face of the feedback provided by their inaugural intake of students, as well as many in the industry, including employers, who they are supposedly training people for. However, SIT feel there is value in the course they offer.
“The online delivery model meets the needs of people in the sector who are not able to attend face-to-face classes and who will benefit from the opportunity to study for a relevant qualification in this area,” SIT chief executive Onno Mulder says.
Based on feedback from the last course, SIT say they have made improvements to their material. Those changes include starting the course at a date that they believe better aligns with the beekeeping season, and making sure students have access to at least 12 beehives.
“The purpose of the programme is to provide the apiculture industry with individuals who possess the skills and knowledge to work safely and effectively as assistant beekeepers,” Mulder says.
“This course was developed to meet apiculture’s industry growth in New Zealand. Industry stakeholders were consulted during the initial accreditation and approvals processed to deliver this programme … SIT has continued liaising closely with industry, including attendance at industry events, such as the New Zealand Apiculture Conference held in Rotorua annually.”
SIT had no delegates at the Apiculture New Zealand National Conference in Rotorua in June though and it was not held last year. SIT staff are also aware, at the very least, of the criticism that has been levelled at their online training through, these pages, social media and their own internal complaints processes.
“I don’t want to crucify SIT, I just think they need to pull their socks up,” says one student who did not want to be named, adding “It is not fair that all these students have put in hard work, and it was really stressful, and now our qualifications are worthless.”