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Maritime Education – Will Things Ever be the Same?


Starting Onboard Maritime in January this year as an online training provider we had no idea of the global shift about to take place.

Back then, the motivation was to remove some of the barriers to learning that seafarers face due to the nature of their work and location of maritime educational institutions. These barriers may include:

  • Time on leave not coinciding with the start date of a shore based maritime training course
  • Family commitments meaning time on leave cannot be used to study towards a qualification
  • The location of a maritime training centre may mean time spent away from home during a leave period
  • The money and expense involved in travelling to a maritime training centre and accommodation for the duration of the course

The events over the past few months have brought a lot of work being undertaken in the digital education sector to the foreground.

For many companies and organisations, it has been a period of innovation and experimentation which has resulted in, certainly from our experience, a positive outcome for students.

In this blog we will highlight three areas in which the educational experience of seafarers has changed and ask the questions, ‘What happens when this is over?' 'Do we go back to what we were doing before?’

From ‘Pivot’ to ‘Pedagogy’

Prior to the events in February/March this year, many institutions offered access to Virtual Learning Environments for students to support their studies as well as a number of either fully online or ‘blended’ courses.

The term ‘pivot’ was used to describe the shift in delivery method from classroom face-to-face to an online delivery method. The word reflects the dynamic nature of the shift with courses at various stages of delivery. ‘Remote learning’ was a term that became popular as educators tried to replicate a classroom experience delivered via online conferencing or webinar software.

What this period highlighted was the importance of instructional design in the delivery of online learning. In our experience teaching online requires far more preparation than a classroom delivery.

Every engagement with the student must be carefully planned with both parties clear on the objectives at the outset. Online resources in the form of videos, images and formative quizzes must all contribute to the learning experience of the student.

A key element of the digital pedagogy of Onboard Maritime is the presence of an instructor and the development of the relationship between instructor and student. This can be illustrated in the diagrams below which show a traditional classroom-based model and our online team-based model focussed on the learning experience of the student.

 August BlogAugust 1

Alternatives for Assessment

We have also seen a shift in assessment practices within the industry. Perhaps the most noticeable change has been the introduction of online MCA oral exams using the Microsoft Teams platform. The feedback from our candidates has been universally positive. The preparation for the exam is the same as if they were facing an examiner in a physical location, and the nerves are the same. Any perceived advantage from taking the exam in your own home is removed when you are online face-to-face with a surveyor asking you questions.

With the traditional method of measuring a student’s progress by completing a timed, printed examination paper impractical due to the distance between the examiner and student’s other methods of assessment have been discussed and implemented.

Exploring and developing alternative assessment methods in addition to the traditional written exams will give students an opportunity to develop their skills and be a more realistic representation of how they are expected to perform in the workplace.

The ‘Learning-Orientated Assessment’ is an example of how a student can undertake a digital multimodal assessment as evidence that they have met the required awarding body standards. This type of assessment encourages the development of evaluation and analytical skills across a range of modes such as sounds, images and alphabetic texts.

We have found that developing these assessment materials is more time consuming than creating a written question paper. We follow the three principles of learning-orientated assessment:

Principle 1: Assessment tasks should be designed to stimulate productive learning practices among students.

Principle 2: Assessment should involve students actively engaging in criteria, quality, their own and/or peers’ performance;

Principle 3: Feedback should be timely and forward looking to support current and future learning.

In our experience, we have found that this aligns the teaching syllabus with the assessment criteria while engaging the students in their work and removing the anxiety of the course building towards a high-stake written exam.

Communities of Practice

One of the encouraging aspects of this period is that despite the remoteness of individuals working from home there are more opportunities than ever to engage with individuals and organisations within the industry.

Meetings, briefings and webinars from organisations including the Merchant Navy Training Board, the UK Chamber of Shipping, UK P&I Club and the Nautical Institute mean that maritime professionals can feel connected and keep up to date with industry happenings without having to travel to maritime hubs such as London.

The working conditions and welfare of crew onboard ships has been highlighted in recent months. Access to internet and WiFi facilities whilst onboard a ship can help reduce the feeling of isolation and provide learning opportunities which benefit health and mental wellbeing.

We have witnessed this in recent months with several maritime professionals engaging in our courses whilst currently working at sea. Lessons are delivered either face-to-face or recorded and accessible through our online learning management system. The result is that the candidate is more focussed on their work activities as the learning is contextualised and the feeling of life being on hold while they are working away is removed.

Where Do We Go from Here?

The ongoing pandemic has brought about a number of changes to our learning and working environment.

Some of these changes would have evolved naturally over time but have been accelerated by necessity.

What happens though, when the threat of the virus dissipates?

  • Do we end online MCA oral exams?
  • Do we ignore alternatives for assessment and go back to written question papers?
  • Do we insist on physical face-to-face meetups and conferences?

To do so would be a shame and would send a message that online and technology enhanced learning is secondary to learning taking place in a physical environment. Research does not support this position.

At Onboard Maritime we see the boundary between traditional educational institutes, private training providers and commercial technology partners blurring. Quality learning is no longer the preserve of a physical classroom environment and the privilege of presence.

One of the positive outcomes of this situation will hopefully be to the benefit of maritime professionals who will have more options on how, when and where they can develop their knowledge and skills.

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