The journey begins with the first step they take

21st January 2005 at 00:00
It's not often that you can impress the ultra-cool media class. The iPods are tucked casually into pockets, the silver slivers of mobile phones switched off as they take a break from their hectic lifestyles to chill out in their communication class and practise looking bored.

But this was news. Callum couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You mean David Jones was at this college?" They knew all about David Jones's career - the creator of Lemmings and the phenomenally successful Grand Theft Auto - and had probably spent a great deal of their lives immersed in his virtual worlds. But they didn't know that the games millionaire had begun his career as a computer student in their college.

"He could have sat here," Callum said in awe. "Where I'm sitting now." It took a minute or two for this idea to sink in. But then Callum was perplexed. "Does the college not want anyone to know about this? I mean surely there should be at least a plaque or something on the wall." It was an interesting suggestion. Should we celebrate former learners who have become famous? Create a Hollywood-style walk of fame outside our Kingsway campus?

Despite Callum's enthusiasm, I suspect that most of our learners are more interested in hearing about a neighbour completing a course in IT or hospitality management and thinking - could I do that too?

How many people have made a new year's resolution to get the qualifications they need, and then I wonder how many will make the same resolution next year, and the year after that.

And then I think perhaps it's not David Jones's story they need to hear, but Karen's. Karen had enrolled on a pre-nursing course. She had always wanted to nurse, but somehow the opportunity wasn't there, and then there were the kids. Then her daughter began a career in nursing. Karen still hadn't given up her ambition, and now her daughter pushed her. "You can do it, mum. It's now or never."

When she joined my class, she was on the first step of the journey. The trouble was she was petrified of communication assessment. She struggled.

But she got through and is now climbing her chosen career ladder.

Karen wouldn't qualify for our walk of fame. In fact, she's fairly typical.

Every year, with each new group, lecturers go through the same period of panic with learners like Karen having to overcome the little voice in their heads that tells them they can't do it. I asked her to come back and tell this year's intake how she had felt. Karen was all for that. "Look, if I can do this, then anyone can do it. I'd love to come back and tell them."

The story doesn't always have a happy ending. You can have a likeable lad like Sean who's convinced that he is hopeless at English and, instead of taking the risk like Karen, he will mess around in class, never really completing anything, never chancing losing face in front of his new mates by failing an assessment.

In FE, we have always been far ahead of the game when it comes to rewarding success. But fear of failure still holds back learners like Sean, and perhaps learners who lack Karen's feisty spirit. We are now taking account not just of assessment results, but of the learner's sense of achievement - the journey.

Their journey may not take them to the heights of the computer games industry and they may never leave their mark on a walk of fame - but then again you never know, do you?

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in media at Dundee College.

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