Is this in the exam?

The stuff you're taught in a particular course won't always appear immediately relevant

"Will this be in the test?"

I can't remember how many times I've been asked this over the years. The fact is, many people expect to be taught only what's going to be assessed, and that what's being assessed is all that needs to be taught. Which makes for a very narrow definition of education.

The V.E.T. in VET Sector stands for Vocational Education and Training. If we look up definitions for these, we see the following (on

  • Vocational - Relating to a vocation
  • Education - The act or process of acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgement, and generally preparing oneself or others intellectually
  • Training - To give the discipline and instruction, drill, practice, etc designed to impart proficiency or efficiency.
  • The word 'education' is still used when we talk about TAFE. This implies that merely training for a particular proficiency or efficiency isn't enough. Likewise, the stuff you're taught in a particular course won't always appear immediately relevant.

    I'm currently teaching a class in creating digital 2D animation. A large part of creating animations involves planning: the timing, the camera view, the sound - all of these need to be specified long before the actual animation is produced, usually by creating a series of sketches called a storyboard. It's very difficult to get students to invest a lot of time in storyboards, because everyone wants to sit at a computer and start animating.

    So we've begun giving them tasks that require them to step back and plan, draw, collaborate - without going near a computer. To do this, we get them to design and build Rube Goldberg machines.

    A Rube Goldberg machine is defined as: "a deliberately over-engineered or overdone machine that performs a very simple task in a very complicated fashion, usually including a chain reaction" (Wikipedia). It's named after an American cartoonist and inventor.

    Rube Goldberg machines are often used as team-building and planning exercises. You may have seen the famous Honda Cog advertisement, or watched the elaborate OK GO music video. These had budgets of millions of dollars and involved many months of planning.

    So how does this fit in with an animation class? We give students three hours, some basic materials, and a brief (eg "Design and build a Rube Goldberg machine to ring a bell"). They are broken into teams, and the team whose machine takes the longest time to ring the bell is the winner.

    This is a great team exercise. The challenge, the team building, and importantly, the need to plan really prepares the students for the mindset needed to make an animation. You can view the machines in action below.

    So if what you're studying appears to have no immediate relevance - keep with it. There's a lot of trimming and cost-cutting happening in the VET sector at the moment. But let's keep the 'E' in VET.