‘Technology as an enabler’ is a major theme in government’s guidance on the area reviews, reviewing post-16 education and training institutions. If we look at the objectives of this programme, and what a college needs to be successful in the post-area review landscape, it is easy to see why.
The area reviews are designed to reform vocational education in England by assessing the economic and educational needs of a particular area against provision by further education (FE) and sixth form colleges, and refocusing training on skills that communities actually want. This, government believes, will ensure all young people enrolled in FE are on a high-quality route to employment, by creating genuine centres of expertise that lead to jobs within the local area.
Against the background of continued fiscal constraint, it is also intended that the programme reshapes providers to become more ‘financially viable, sustainable, resilient and efficient’, through, for example, academisation, rationalisation, or organisational merger.
As my colleague Sue Attewell has written before, greater adoption and utilisation of technology will go a significant way to help colleges make the necessary changes and build the strong foundation that will allow them to survive, thrive and continue delivering excellent learning experiences into the future.
The area review guidance includes two principles which directly reference technology:
- The capability to discern where and how the best use of digital technology can make a significant impact on meeting needs, achieving ambitious educational outcomes and improving efficiencies.
- A plan to embrace the possibilities provided by technology which can increase the quality and scope of provision and improve efficiency.
However, with everything else colleges need to consider as part of the area reviews, technology may not be front of mind. But actually, as the principles above suggest organisations should be using the reviews as an opportunity to look at how they use technology. It’s a chance to step back and evaluate the services and systems that they already have, how these are performing, across a variety of quality and efficiency criteria, and where technology can further enhance the learner experience and business processes.
Sue talked broadly about some of the benefits of technology. What I’d like to do now is to go into the specifics: the digital infrastructure and tools that we believe are fundamental to achieving this narrative.
While each college has inherently different characteristics, objectives and requirements, there are a common set of technology services that all should aim for as standard.
Supported by the Department for Education, we have compiled a list of technology fundamentals that, if adopted, will help colleges to create a robust, sustainable and efficient learning environment and supporting back-office structure.
Our list includes:
- A resilient high-speed broadband connection to facilitate fast, reliable and secure access to services and information online. Ideally this would be supported by a second, separate connection that underpins business continuity
- Cyber security services that protect users, information and systems and support Prevent duty obligations
- High-quality online learning content that support independent and blended learning in-line with the FELTAG agenda. This is also typically cheaper than print resources, leading to efficiency savings
- Joined-up learner enrolment and tracking systems, more effectively tracking and monitoring individual learners and their achievements, from enrolment through to when they leave college
- Learner management systems, including virtual learning environments and e-portfolios, which support online learning, monitoring and assessment
- User identity management, using single sign-on solutions across colleges systems, resources and different campuses – providing a seamless service for learners and staff, and freeing up time from having to manage multiple logins
- Business continuity infrastructure, including disaster recovery and back-up, in support of more information being collected and stored in a digital format
- Cloud or shared data centre services, outsourcing to an expert to keep information secure and reduce costs, as well as freeing up valuable estate
- Business support systems, including HR and finance, using IT systems to improve business processes and find efficiencies
- Continued professional development for digital skills, to enhance the digital capabilities of staff
- Digital advice and guidance, with colleges obtaining expert advice and support to optimise technology use and deliver effective digital strategies
Many colleges will likely already have many of the fundamentals in place, and be able to access others easily, either free or at low cost. What’s important is that they are using them to best effect.
If you have any questions, no matter what stage of the reviews you’re involved with, you can contact your Jisc account manager who’ll be able to talk you through your options.