Remember that cheesy 80s advert for Martini which encouraged us to enjoy it “any time, any place, anywhere”? Three decades later, minus the booze, the slogan perfectly captures how our young people expect to study today.
Achieving this ideal is only possible with rock-solid IT infrastructure to support resilient connectivity coupled with a large measure of cross-campus digital strategy all under a senior management umbrella. Voila! The perfect FE cocktail!
Seriously, though, once you’ve got the key ingredients in place, your students will have the tools to thrive. And isn’t that why we all work so hard – to give our learners the best possible experience and chance in life?
Even more seriously, mixing the cocktail is not a defined art and each college and learner cohort will have different needs. My own experience started in September 2016 when I began leading a digital transformation at one of the largest further education organisations in the UK, Leeds City College, with more than 30,000 learners across six campuses.
The college was having to think of innovative ways to save money and space, while also increase the quality of our offer and technology was part of the answer.
The power of rewards
It was certainly a challenge, but it’s paid dividends in so many ways.
We’ve improved our Ofsted rating, improved maths and English outcomes, extended our student reach, reduced teacher workload and saved money.
We estimate “server” savings of £750,000 because 25,000 students now have access to unlimited storage in Google Drive, and the difference in cost between 4,500 laptops versus the same number of Chromebooks is a huge £1.35m. Money is tight for us all in FE, and for us, these changes were a no-brainer.
The college has also climbed from an Ofsted report stating “requires improvement” to – in 2018 – “good, with outstanding features”. Previous feedback noted we were using too many digital tools and platforms, which was confusing, so we decided to focus on Google’s production and collaboration toolkit, G Suite, which has features to help teachers be more innovative and less tied to admin tasks.
The result is a shift in pedagogy and delivery to more independent and online learning, and increased accessibility, with that flexible “Martini mentality” approach to study.
Achieving successful change in a large organisation, however, requires a culture shift. You can expect push-back from some critics, usually those who say “but we’ve always done it like this”, and others will bury their heads in sand, but don’t be afraid to be tenacious in your approach.
Winning over the naysayers at every level is essential because every member of staff needs to be invested in giving our learners the best possible experience.
We’ve all seen the headlines about robots taking our jobs, so there’s a fear factor to overcome too. It sounds harsh, but teachers must get on board; technology won’t replace teachers, but teachers who use technology will probably replace those who don’t.
My advice is to package the use of edtech as a means of saving time on admin and other mundane tasks, leaving teachers space to help those students who need most support.
Support for learners
And giving students more support was behind one of the first physical changes we made to the college as a means of breaking down barriers to learning. We knocked down walls to create huge spaces where we set up “independent learning zones” and “break-out zones” to encourage study outside the classroom.
In these areas we provide access to Chromebooks, while maths and English teachers are on hand to give one-to-one help to those taking resits. We soon found an improvement in digital literacy and research and study skills, and the focus on English and maths paid dividends too; since we started this model in September 2016, results have risen from below to above the national benchmark.
For students to gain maximum benefit from technology, staff need to be comfortable and confident with digital tools and we provide a range of training options, from short, sharp bursts of 20 minutes to full-day workshops, all delivered in a variety of ways – face-to-face and online, with live streaming an option too.
At sessions on campus we provided refreshments and small prizes, and those who do really well (and are nominated as such by their peers) are rewarded with a visit to one of the Google offices. We try to make it fun!
Want to know more? Steve is talking about the Leeds City College digital journey at our Connect More event in Manchester on 27 June. Can’t make it? Steve has an open-door policy, so you’re welcome to visit. Contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.