If, like me, you’re involved in supporting the delivery of further education (FE) in Wales, I’m sure the Colleges Wales Annual Conference will be a regular date in the diary.
Every summer practitioners and policymakers come to the conference to listen, discuss and debate the biggest issues in Welsh education and workforce development, learn from best practice and begin to develop practical solutions through a series of workshops and keynote speeches.
The conference provides an ideal opportunity for our FE colleagues to meet Jisc friends and learn more about how we can help them achieve their aspirations and meet challenges.
A common theme
This year’s theme is ‘creative solutions in hard times’ – likely to resonate with a lot of organisations outside of the principality, as well as in it.
Challenges to the sector are no longer to ‘do more, with less’, but ‘do more, with less, and better’. Colleges are constantly having to find new and more inventive ways of teaching and learning, to work collaboratively and to streamline processes.
Do more, with less, and better
My view is that digital technologies can provide an answer to all of these challenges.
Technology allows you to create more engaging experiences and put the learner at the centre, whether that be through maximising the potential of BYOD (bring your own device) or creating blended learning solutions that means individuals can access learning at a time and place of their choosing.
It is also well-documented that new digital technologies and resources – from eBooks to cloud services – can drive down costs, which is another compelling argument for increasing use. For example, in April 2015 alone, Jisc saved colleges in Wales over £330,000 in e-books subscriptions.
There will be a number of workshops running throughout the day to give delegates an opportunity to explore creative solutions and good practice. I would recommend people try and get along to the Jisc-sponsored ‘A cross-college blended learning curriculum model’, by Heart of Worcestershire College.
The college delivers teaching online for all full time Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications, making it a normal part of the learning process, improving success rates by over 11%, and creating efficiency savings of over £200,000 every year. You will also get the opportunity to share the experiences of colleagues in Wales who are pioneering this trail.
I’m also looking forward to hearing from Julie James AM, the deputy minister for skills and technology. Julie is responsible for further education, skills and employability, and pushing forward the digital agenda in Wales. It will be interesting to hear her views on how the two can align for best effect, particularly in this difficult financial climate.
Help from Jisc Wales
My last top tip for this year’s conference is to make sure you leave time to find out about the things we are doing at Jisc to ensure we can continue to help you reduce costs while doing more.
Since the last conference, Jisc has introduced a brand new customer services division, including creating Jisc Wales. The Jisc Wales team understand the landscape you are operating in and the challenges you are facing, which means that we are well placed to advise you on how to tackle them, and how you can benefit from all Jisc has to offer.
For example, one of the big tests for practitioners and learning providers today is a change to the Essential Skills Wales qualifications. Digital literacy is now recognised as an essential skill in Wales and is set to replace the ICT component from this September.
While it’s a positive step in recognising the importance of digital - not just for learning but for employability and everyday life - implementing such a change is challenging, particularly in relation to workforce development.
In order to support teachers and trainers, Jisc has worked alongside Colleges Wales and Welsh Government to develop specific digital literacy resources that are now being delivered to practitioners across Wales, building a brand new cohort of digital literacy specialists. And in the coming weeks we will reinforce this activity by launching a community of practice to help disseminate information and to share knowledge and experience – more on this to follow shortly.
Get in touch
This is just one example of how the new Jisc Wales is working with the sector to offer products, services and advice on the issues that affect colleges and learning providers in Wales.
If you’re going to the conference on Thursday 21 May, please drop by the stand to say "hello" , or "croeso" , meet the team and find out how we can support you.