There are too few providers in the UK whose staff have the technical expertise, support and vision to realise the potential of digital technology in teaching practice.
Most are not digitally-transformed organisations, but rose to the pandemic challenge as best they could. Staff made enormous efforts under challenging conditions to support learners during mass disruption, usually by switching lessons to video conferencing platforms.
This is not an inclusive or sustainable model, however; it excludes disadvantaged learners who don’t have easy access to devices or wifi and can result in lack of engagement over time.
To give today’s learners the best chances in the workplace of tomorrow, the sector can do better and, to do that, teachers need support to upskill.
Over the summer, Jisc and the AoC conducted a joint research project comprising three webinars and two senior leader roundtables attended by more than 400 practitioners, learners, senior leaders and edtech experts.
It gave insight into the impact of lockdown on moving teaching and learning online - with data on subjects, including the digital divide, wellbeing, assessment and digital leadership - all collated in the project’s first report, shaping the digital future of FE and skills (pdf).
The report highlights a range of responses about the shift to remote learning and teaching:
“Many [staff] have felt positive about the shift, with feedback in webinars indicating that 66% of respondents thought the digital shift had a positive impact on their team and 55% highlighting an increase in their levels of productivity.
“However […] others struggle with digital capabilities and confidence. Staff confirmed that a significant minority of teaching staff were not confident and were concerned that they would not be able to deliver the quality of teaching they expected of themselves (49%).”
Learners attending the webinars had observed some teachers struggling with technology, echoed by comments from participants in the latest Jisc survey on learner digital experience insights (DEI) 2020 (pdf).
“Some teachers do not have the adequate technological knowledge or confidence to make full use of such technology.”
“We timed one of the lecturers on how long it took for them to access the learning materials they needed and it took 35 minutes of a two-hour lesson.”
Confidence is key
The learner DEI survey, collating responses from more than 19,000 FE students, found that, when asked what one thing could organisations do to improve the quality of digital teaching and learning, among the top answers learners gave was ‘help teaching staff to develop digital skills’.
Meanwhile, the equivalent survey of FE staff finds that more needs to be done to build up skills and confidence using technology in teaching. It’s good to note that the vast majority (95%) of respondents either enjoy trying out new and innovative technologies or were comfortable using mainstream technologies. However, fewer (70%) are ‘very’ or ‘quite’ confident experimenting with new technology and 11% were either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident.
This survey also finds that a disappointing proportion (38%) agree their organisation provides guidance about the digital skills they need and only 22% agree they have time to explore new digital tools and approaches.
Support for development
Senior FE leaders taking part in the summer research also identified the need for digital professional development and coaching for staff struggling to cope with the transition to online teaching.
To help, the shaping the digital future of FE and skills report recommends the development by Jisc, the Education Training Foundation and the College Development Network (Scotland) of a digital pedagogy CPD programme for staff.
A further recommendation advises that providers should give staff sufficient time to learn, practice with, and implement technology. Fortunately, the sector can learn from those few colleges which are ahead on the journey to digital.
During lockdown, Grimsby Institute gave staff an online 'teaching and learning remotely' guide, including videos showing how to create and organise lessons including, discussions, online resources, integrating apps, virtual teaching, online assessment and recording attendance.
And at Harlow College, significant investment in infrastructure and devices has been supported by the creation of a digital innovation team to boost development and training, recruitment of digital ambassadors and leaders, both students and staff, and a strong CPD programme.
Learners need excellent digital skills to thrive in today’s workplace, and providers are at the forefront of the government’s drive to close the UK skills gap. But meeting those goals is only possible if FE teachers are digitally and pedagogically confident. Now we need to pull together to ensure that no member of staff – or learner – is left behind.
To find out more about how Jisc supports the FE and skills sector, visit our further education and skills pages.