Visual Communication Victoria

Teacher Reflections

Murtoa is a small town in the Wimmera, about a three hour drive from Melbourne and with a population of 1000. The school has only 300 students, but seven buses bring students from around the district. A number of the students have never been to Melbourne, or even seen the coast, so we make a conscious effort to broaden our students’ horizons by having a number of camps and excursions. My husband Larry and I came to Murtoa as first year Art/Craft teachers in 1978, thought we would stay a year (the heat, dust & flat landscape had an impact on our first visit!), and have been here ever since! I teach Vis Com, Metal/plastics and Textiles, whilst Larry teaches Wood, Metal, and Design & Technology (Wood).

One of the most challenging aspects of working in a small school over the years has been the feeling of isolation as a teacher. As we are the only VCE Vis Comm and VCE Design & Tech teachers, networking with other teachers nearby in our study areas and attending as much professional development as possible has been vital. Our senior class sizes are very small as you could imagine, with only about 6 or 7 students in Vis Comm at Year 12 most years. This has many advantages when providing assistance to students, but many drawbacks in terms of them being able to feed off each other to inspire and develop their own work. We take our Year 11 & 12 Design & Tech, Food & Tech, Systems, and Vis Comm students to see Top Designs every two years, as the cost of a bus for the day is about $1100 for only about 30 students, not to mention the time spent on travelling. The costs are prohibitive for travel each year, as our students often have trips to pay for in many of their VCE subjects throughout the year.

Support for the Arts and Technology areas has been very strong from the leadership team in the school. We have been supported financially, with healthy budgets to provide resources for students, and positive encouragement to attend professional development to expand our skills. The computers and software are kept up to date in the Vis Comm room, as well as scanners, printers, digital cameras, and a digitial projector. The school is also installing Smartboards in many rooms including the Vis Comm room. We have a Teacher Assistant in some of the Wood & Metal classes which means that students can tackle individual projects and not just mass produced tasks. Displays of student work are actively sought by the leadership team to show parents, students and the community wherever possible. Our staff are also very supportive, and take a keen interest in what our students are doing in the Arts and Technology. We have been lucky to have had two Vis Comm students and two Design & Technology Wood students accepted into Top Designs over the years, as well as having a number short listed. This has certainly engendered interest from both staff, students and parents from our small school.

In the last two or three years, many changes have taken place. We have had a major building project with a new Leading Schools Information Technology centre and a Science area, all constructed from rendered straw bales to be environmentally friendly. In progress is the construction of a wind turbine to provide energy to the school and reduce our power costs. Our school values have been a major focus also, with our Innovations and Excellence co-ordinator Jacq Moore along with many students, involved in producing 12 mosaics around the school to identify the values visually. The school now looks more inviting and interesting, with many spaces for students to be together amongst art work they have created.

Whilst at times we feel we are in the "back blocks", there are many positives in working in a small rural school. Being small, we know all the students at school by name, and have in our case, taught many of their parents! We live locally so often see students in town or at sporting activities on the weekend, and this contact outside school can often provide a topic for conversation to link with students on a more personal level. Our staff work very well together, laugh together, and look out for each other. It is a great environment to work in, and because we are small, we can try out new ideas with the support of others should we need it. Our school has seen many changes, but essentially,what has made us stay is the people and the strong relationships that come with this. Our students are great, staff are caring and dedicated, and the community is supportive of the school. Travelling to everything is just a way of life, but it is worth it!

Viv Williamson, Murtoa P-12 College

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In 2007 Ovens Secondary College with a student population of 200 (formerly Wangaratta Technical School) amalgamated with the High School, 1200 students. At the same time three separate campuses were developed…. The current campus accommodates years 7 – 12 with an academic VCE focus. At Year 9 students may elect to attend the Technical Educational Centre, one of the first technical learning centres developed in Victoria. There is a strong emphasis on vocational and trade subjects where students attend the local Wangaratta Tafe College for technical / practical based classes. In addition there is a Community Learning Centre also based at the Tafe where Year 9 students attend for a term of 10 weeks and become involved in a variety of activities linked to community projects. Consequently 2006 - 2007 were huge years of readjustment, upheaval and major organization coinciding with the implementation of VELS. There has been a major overturn of staff with up to 50 new members of staff either retiring, relocating, leaving and arriving!

In 2008 the current school launched into major re-building of a completely new school incorporating a senior, junior and an arts / science / technology block. The school now consists of 1400 students based across the three campuses with 1100 still located at the main site. This year the Centenary Celebrations will see the old become the new, and a major change in the landscape of education in Wangaratta.

The student population is predominantly Anglo Saxon or of European descent such as Italian, with a very small percentage also from a Koori background. Over 50% live in the surrounding district which is a farming and wine growing area. They travel by bus every day, some spending up to 2 hours a day travelling from as far as Myrtleford, Yarrawonga, Benalla and Beechworth. The students are generally friendly, quite relaxed with an interest in sports, particularly football and netball. Most are from a medium socio-economic background, although there are a significant number of students from a more financially disadvantaged background. With the on-going drought, families in our region are very aware of financial considerations with many having survived bushfires, frosts and lack of water in recent years.

I trained at Melbourne State College in BED Art/Craft, graduating in 1978, and spent my first years teaching at Fairhills High School. I then returned to my hometown and taught at Leongatha Secondary College for several years before moving to Wangaratta in 1988 with hubby (a PE teacher) and two babies. Initially I taught art and ceramics but then I had the opportunity to take over the role of Visual Communication teacher about 10 years ago. This was a huge learning curve, coming to grips with ‘technical drawing’ and computer technology (which I still try to come to ‘grips’ with on a continual basis!). I currently teach only Visual Communication from years 8 – 12. This year I have two Year 12 groups and two Year 11. There is also Visual Communication at Years 8, 9 and 10 and it is also taught at our TEC Centre at Years 11 & 12, with a more vocational emphasis.

Tyranny of Distance

Students simply do not have the constant exposure to the design environment that their city counterparts have at their fingertips! No buildings, architecture, billboards, sculpture, arts, theatre, dance, music, even signage is limited to the basic advertising in shops ‘up the main street’! While we have a small gallery, very few students would ever think to visit. Visual stimulation is more likely to come via the television or the internet.


Money is always tight. Every year I have a practicing designer travel from Melbourne and of course I have to pay extensive fees for their time and travel. I invite other schools in the district to attend, which helps cover the costs. On the day though, it is great to see a group of up to 100 students attending a lecture just for Visual Communication. Top Designs can also be a problem for some financially. Every year I take two coach loads of Visual Communication & Wood Technology students down to visit Top Designs and Top Arts for inspiration, and we will also be attending the AGIdeas Futures Forum this year, all in the one day. We will be leaving at 7.00 am in the morning and return well after midnight. Cost of buses and entries and meals for the day can be pricey, however it is a popular trip which fills up quickly early in the year.


I have to rely totally on the printing facilities that I have at school. Any other form of presentation such as larger prints, banners, 3D models (architectural), various papers, materials and media etc. are not available in the country so I try to encourage students to stay within the boundary’s of what is available. Ordering materials can be tricky, particularly around folio time when mount board and printing inks and paper are needed, as generally we may have to wait up to 3 weeks for these resources to be delivered. Library resources are virtually limited to our school library in terms of Graphic Design. The local newsagent will occasionally stock design magazines.

Professional Development

Opportunities for professional development in Visual Communication & Design are non existent up here. Mid week workshops in Melbourne cannot be attended, but I try to attend the Visual Communication Conference each year. I have also endeavoured to attend the AGIdeas three day conference on a few occasions, but it is prohibitively costly (along with accommodation etc) and time release from school has to be approved.

Keeping Up

I do find it difficult to stay motivated on my own here, in terms of keeping up with current trends in design and what is happening out there in the wide world. I’m not too keen on spending hours on the computer ‘researching’, I rarely get to visit galleries or exhibitions… often I feel very ‘out of the loop’ and alone trying to develop new wiz bang ideas for lesson plans. Sometimes I feel a total fraud!

University Interviews & Entry for Students

Tertiary entrance processes can be incredibly daunting for a country student. Not only do most students not understand the options available but it all seems just so far away!! Some students have had to make several trips to Melbourne, Bendigo and Ballarat over several days to attend folio interviews.

Moving to Uni

For a country student , moving to university is an enormous step. Not only do they have to move away from home, but the financial burden on students and their families for rent, food, uni and living expenses can be extremely difficult. A significant number of VCE students (up to 70%) elect to take a year off in order to

Great Kids

Generally country kids are great! They are friendly, quite keen to achieve and positive in nature. More often than not you’ll be sharing a gym class with them, or playing team sports or being served by them in the local restaurants or shops. Everybody knows everyone in Wangaratta so there is very much a sense of community. Walking up the main street you are likely to say hello to virtually everyone you pass.

Rural living

There’s nothing more pleasant than living in a rural environment, the peace and quiet, no hustle and bustle experienced in the city with crowds of endless people you don’t know. No traffic jams, no crowded public transport or waiting in queues. And always there is a sense of safety with nothing to fear. Weekends are relaxed, cycling quiet country roads, visiting wineries and frequenting the cafes in this gourmet region. The mountains and rivers are nearby, which are often used for inspiration by year 12 students who enjoy cross country, downhill and snowboarding skiing.

Local Events

Events such as the Wangaratta Jazz Festival, and the various food and wine festivals of the North East Region provide creative inspiration for folio topics. Even the drought has been used with digital photographs of the surrounding environment taken for research and development of ideas. School Support
Our VCE results each year are always positive and students are keen to elect Visual Communication as a subject. Up until this year we have only had the Corel Suite, but the recently purchased Adobe Suite will hopefully extend student’s options in the future (when I get time for PD!). The school has also purchased a few colour inkjet printers just for Visual Communication which is great! North East Network Group Visual Communication teachers from various schools in the region including Bright, Seymour, Mansfield, Benalla, Broadford and other schools from the Wangaratta area, gather twice a year to hold what we like to call ‘mini moderations’. Year 12 folios are viewed and discussed to assist each other with assessment. It is excellent PD and we get to discuss a wide range of topics and ideas relating to folios, printing options and lesson plans for middle school as well. I have been able to assist those teachers new to Visual Communication (some are art trained) and also graduate teachers who often have to take on senior and composite classes in their first year. Getting together on a regular basis and sharing our experiences and ideas is highly beneficial.

Student Success

Without a doubt the greatest thrill is seeing students become trained, skilled and a success in their chosen field. Many of my students have elected to pursue university and Tafe courses in graphic design, multimedia design, architecture, interior and fashion design and a variety of fine arts courses. It is wonderful to see those students in later years visiting home and Wangaratta with successful and interesting careers.

Top Designs

Another highlight has been taking part in the Selection Panel for Top Designs for two years as the country delegate. This was the biggest learning curve in terms


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I live in Ballarat with my family – husband Dominic and children Joshua 16, Amelia 7 and Giulia 4. Ballarat is situated about an hour from Melbourne and beach areas, therefore a good base for cultural as well as visual inspiration. An added bonus of teaching in a rural school is the benefits of the lifestyle to the family. Our house is ten minutes driving distance from the school. All of my children now attend Ballarat Grammar which also adds another benefit for me as I can be a full time working Mum and still attend all of those important moments and events.

I graduated from University in 1994 (Bachelor Arts / Graphic Design) before working in the design industry for three years. In 1997 I returned to Ballarat and completed my Dip.Ed. at Aquinas College. I spent my first year of teaching at Clonard College in Geelong as an Art teacher. Although Ballarat based, I commuted for the year and really enjoyed my time at this all girl’s school. The atmosphere, support, collegiality and strong sense of community definitely gave me a solid base for the start of my teaching career. I applied for a position at Ballarat Grammar and started teaching Visual Communication & Design as well as Design Technology in 1999. Ten years on and I am still feeling fresh and inspired by the amazingly diverse and skilled array of students that I have the pleasure to teach. Teaching in a rural city environment you are lucky to be surrounded by nature and space. Ballarat Grammar students are from a diverse mix of areas, there are a lot of boarding students coming from farms that are currently affected by the drought. All of these things affect topics, influences and direction for the design student’s folio’s especially Units 3 & 4. Some students have worked on folio’s for ‘Drought Relief Concerts’ and ‘Charity Balls’. We are a Round Square School which tends to also add to the students social awareness of environment and self. Students develop varied skills in my design classes as we only have access to two computers in my room and twelve in a pod area outside of the classroom. Class sizes vary from around 15 to 22 students per class. I currently teach VC&D to Year 9, 10, 11 and I have two Year 12 classes. Collage, printmaking, drawing and painting are all extensively implemented in my teaching program and the computer is often only used as a final tool.

Teaching provides me with much satisfaction and fulfilment both professionally and personally as it keeps me fresh and inspired. Over the last eleven years I have had many students win competitions and have their Unit 3 and Unit 4 pieces selected for both ‘Top Designs’ and Ballarat’s ‘Next Generation’ exhibition held at the Ballarat Art Gallery.

Professional Development that I attend yearly includes the Visual Communication Victoria annual conference, AGIdeas student evening & Top Designs. Full day P.D. sessions are the only ones that are workable when travelling a distance; therefore I try where possible to attend all that is offered. I also try to stay in touch with other Design teachers in the area. Magazines and the internet are also fabulous sources for inspiration.

Some lessons from Natalie...

Enchanted Forest

Page Illustration with Text - Year 10 Visual Communication

Create an image on A4 paper that reflects the topic title ‘Enchanted Forest’.
1. You will need to collect images for homework: these need to be placed in your sketchbook with annotation. Resource material provided may also be copied and included as part of your research.
2. A design for your central character is a good starting point. Then build trees, a setting etc around your creature to create interest.
3. Once your image is drawn up you need to collage the image. Use newspaper, cellophane, cotton balls and buds, buttons and anything else you can imagine would be effective. View examples of previous work and enjoy!
4. Scan you image into Photoshop. Select the whole image.
Go to the Task Bar and select: IMAGE - Adjustments - Hue/Saturation Play with changing the Hue, Saturation and Lightness to obscure the image colours and to intensify contrasts. Once happy select OK and Save the image.
5. Create a sentence to suit your image. Sketch rough layouts and play with the placement of the text that you best suit your image.
6. Open up Illustrator and select New File then go to File and select Place then open saved image.
7. Select the type tool and add type. Remember to create a path with the Pen tool if requiring unusual placement of type and also consider the colour of letterform used to enhance the final presentation.
8. Finally, print image A4 size, trim edges and place onto cover paper that will suit the final.

Cover Design

Triptych sequence - Year 10 Visual Communication

1. Research artists Rosalie Gascoigne, Emma Langridge and Bridget Riley, whose work was chosen for the artist’s personal style and application of the various design tools, including their use of line, colour, shape and pattern.
2. Next to the collected images, briefly write your thoughts on the style and effectiveness of the work. Also include the artists’s name and where it was sourced.
3. Collect images from magazines that are A4 size
4. Work through the design process to explore, develop and refine imagery and layouts using cut paper collage techniques. to form a triptych sequence connected through the aesthetics of line, colour and shape and arranged considering pattern, figure and ground.
5. Complete at least 10 thumbnail roughs in your visual diary. When producing layouts, consider texture, surface, decoration, text, imagery and colour to enhance not only the use of pattern but the effect of figure and ground. Also explore the type, definition and size of the line and shape used.
6. Your final design must include: your name, the number 10 and emphasis pattern, repetition and colour. You may also include VC&D although it is not a requirement.


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In 2005 I came back from a year of travelling and living in Japan, to complete my Honours degree in Fine Arts Photomedia. During that year and for a full year after that I worked in integration, working with kids with Autism. With a bit of pressure from family and friends, I convinced myself to do a Dip. Ed. After my second placement at Mentone Girls, Wes, the art master sent an email out regarding expressions of interest for the position of Visual Communication and Media teacher at Mansfield Secondary College. With 2 years of pent up travel in me, I was ready for another move, but I wanted to travel after uni… had no desire to get straight to work. Maybe, I thought, Mansfield would offer a reasonable compromise. So, I applied for the position not thinking I’d get it, but at least I would have some experience in writing applications.

Mansfield: only 2.5 hours travel away, at the base of Mt Buller, and great steak sandwiches from what I remember. I could be close to family and friends. The covering letter I wrote to the college was my first attempt at the application process, and considering my eye was on change and not the job specifically, I highlighted my interest in Mansfield as a town and as it being a place I have passed through many times, but never really stopped to smell the roses so to speak. As far as I was concerned it sounded good because it was true!

The Mansfield area is in the high country of Victoria at the base of Mt Buller with a population of around 6000-8000 people (depending on who I have asked) living in town, with surrounding districts of Bonniedoon, Maindample, Tolmie, Merrijig, Jamieson and Goughs Bay. The school is one of seven in the area including the secondary school, primary schools, a Steiner school and an autistic centre.

The move to rural teaching has allowed me to learn to teach and the ability to immerse myself in this very new ‘routine’… WHAT? Yep, routine lifestyle! In the past I have found myself spreading my time between jobs, my art practice, my home and social life. The same applies this year; just I am demographically further away from my normal unscheduled jam packed calendar of events and able to pack my life with the far more structured routine of teaching. The jump from university life to this profession is a hard one, though thanks to the support of the staff the transition has been smooth. As a first year out I find it amazing to be a part of the community of teachers I work with. Extra to the regular staff and VELS meetings, the whole staff body is divided into focus groups to discuss issues, aims and professional development in detail. The school has been constantly changing while I have been here, updating ways of delivering information to the students and the wider community. It has been an exciting place to work and learn to teach.

The School is well equipped with plenty of resources, including the staff. From the friendly Admin ladies who have been amazing, putting up with me asking the same questions over and over regarding forms, procedures and where to find the whiteboard markers to the Librarians who are so helpful in sourcing practical resources within their shelves and just to have a chat. The Technicians are supportive of my questioning software and equipment and are always ready to help… tough job. Above all I find it a great atmosphere in the staffroom with open communication across all faculties. I especially value the inter-disciplinary focus group meetings, my group consisting of Teachers, the Nurse, the Librarian, Integration Aides and the Principal.

After hours I joined a lawn bowls team Monday nights during the summer. Great company, $2.50 stubbies and brilliant "sangas" after the game. The finals were a couple of weeks ago, my team came somewhere on the ladder… It has been a great way to meet people from in around
town and the surrounding areas. I have become familiar with the main street, the local supermarket and all the staff and students I see browsing the aisles, not to mention the pub! I have been in contact with a local gallery owner who is an industrial designer by trade, who has given some of his time to come in and support both the students and me with specific methods and techniques; he has a wealth of knowledge that the students find fascinating. I have contacted the local Arts Council and Youth and Young Persons fully facilitated e-cafe; both groups have plenty to offer me and the school in the way of support and in developing programs and projects which, hopefully, we will successfully be working together on in the near future.

Moving to Mansfield to teach is the best decision I have ever made. I have learned so much. I am learning about the horse next door, he has thicker fur today than last I looked. Moving away from the comforts of home and learning new things is exactly like being a beginning teacher, you have no idea what you’re doing but you do it anyway! I have had as many opportunities if not more than my colleagues in the city.


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