As the education world shifts its perspective on and prioritising of digital learning tools, Hereward College talks about improving infrastructure to help support students
A reliable and consistent internet connection is of utmost importance at Hereward.
All our learners have disabilities of some kind, from autism and learning difficulties through to physical disabilities. Maintaining a routine can be incredibly important for our cohort, and interruptions, including to streaming services, can really upset some students.
Supportive and reliable
We have recently benefited from a Janet Network upgrade from Jisc as part of the Janet access programme. The improved bandwidth and reliability we’ve experienced since having our new link is broadening our options for teaching, learning and pastoral support in the future.
Tools such as YouTube are paramount – learners use them both for learning and relaxation between classes, so being able to reliably stream content is really important.
In the past, losing connections while students are using YouTube has been extremely disruptive – not only technically, but emotionally as well. We have had students burst into tears with the frustration, so it’s very important for us to be able to maintain a consistent link, both for students’ learning and their general wellbeing.
We’ve also had difficulty in using remote access software in the past, which has been a particular problem for our finance and HR teams while trying to access their desktops remotely during lockdown.
At Hereward, we have around 300 students, and 215 staff members, most of whom are on-campus most of the time, barring lockdowns. We also have a small number of residential learners, who are here for 36 weeks of the year. However, throughout the pandemic, all staff and students were working and learning remotely, and we started using Microsoft Teams like we never had before.
As with many organisations around the world, we will carry forward some of this digital technology even when the pandemic is over. For instance, we still have some staff working from home, and the new connection means our finance and HR staff can work remotely in the longer term, if they prefer it. Most of our teachers and support staff are now back on campus, but again, we now have the option for them to work off site if they need to.
There are also a few students who remain offsite, due to shielding needs etc, so even though most of our learners are now back at college, having the ability to provide a reasonable level of support to our remote learners is great.
Embedding digital change
Before the pandemic, we never imagined our teachers would be working from home, trying to see their whole class on one screen, but like so many organisations, we’ve had to get used to it. Our staff have done brilliantly, and the addition of widescreen, high-definition monitors has been beneficial, especially as some of our students need to be able to communicate visually.
Digital will also play an increasing role in recruitment for the college. Prospective students sometimes want or need to have their college interviews from home, and so we need excellent video quality to make sure they are able to communicate both verbally and visually with the staff.
For some of our students, an interrupted or poor connection can make it hard for them to continue concentrating, or even to understand what is being said, and is emotionally uncomfortable. The improved process hopefully means we can offer more high-grade remote interviews in the future.
Staff have commented that the infrastructure is much improved – they've really noticed the difference. The students, however, don’t tend to say much unless something goes wrong. So, no news is good news as far as they’re concerned. I’m taking their lack of feedback as a compliment!