Thursday, May 03, 2012

Back to school

I've been a bit remiss in updating some parts of my life.  One thing I hadn't mentioned is that I decided on a mid life career change.  This is for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, IT had pretty much run its course for me, and being a sole trader with few support networks was starting to tax my executive functioning.  Also, after a bit of career research, I realised that I'm very much an outdoors nature person, and I wasn't going to meet that need in a server room, or even working from home.  Conservation, forestry or some similar environmental occupation seemed to meet both this outdoors need and my values.  However, to change careers meant returning to full time study, something which I hadn't done for 20 years, and which has a number of potential pitfalls.

I enrolled at the local TAFE in Certificate IV in Conservation and Land Management, and started studies in early February this year.  3 months later, and early in the second term, I have a number of observations:

Firstly, the course itself has proven to be very interesting.  It has broadened my interest in the natural world, and given a lot of food for thought.  Some subjects have proven to be relatively straightforward.  The chemical unit and its combination of short test and practical assessment suited me well.  First Aid was similarly straightforward.  The unit on mapping specifically tapped into my spatial abilities, as well as my previous IT experience and skills.

As expected, there have been a number of challenges.  A few of the units require diaries to be kept.  My history with diaries has not been good, despite many attempts over the past 30-35 years.  However, these diaries were more about what was done during practical work, and my thoughts on the day - what worked, what didn't, what I learned, and any other relevant thoughts.  There is also the issue that trying to take notes by hand does tend to conflict with learning itself.  However, these days, the advent of tablets like the iPad has made note taking vastly easier for me.  I can now take notes, whether in class or in the field, and take in information or participate in practical activities, without compromising either.  There's still some issues like integrating photos and drawings, but these are more a function of available software. 

Some of the bigger challenges are the major assignments and reports.  I'm extremely sensitive to work/life balance, and my executive function issues make it difficult to keep track of out of hours assignments.  So far, most of the work has been able to be done in class time, but there will be some overflow.  However, Fridays are mostly free, and there's study sessions available then, which will come in handy.  The jury's still out on these ones.

A couple of subjects and activities are particularly problematic.  The units are the ones that deal specifically with "people issues".  They are interesting in their own right, I have taken a big interest in people and what makes them tick over the last 20+ years.  However, that does still come with some limitations.  Creating a "park ranger guided tour" style of activity is going to be, umm, interesting. :)

Work placement is also another issue.  While I have some ideas of the sort of work I'd like to be involved in, or try out, the whole process seems to rely on cold calling various employers, something that is problematic for me.  I'm also not clear on some of the paperwork.

There is support available, in theory.  However, in practice, there have been a few issues.  Firstly, the support officer is severely overloaded.  Sounds like education funding cutbacks have taken their toll in this area.  Secondly, a lot of my issues fall foul of the assessment criteria for the affected units.  Because these are derived from industry demand, the issue goes back to the one size fits all model of modern society, and the same old brick walls. :(

Anyway, there's most of the year left.  It will be interesting to see where it leads.