Three more news stories over the last ten days have highlighted the revolution that digital technologies are bringing about in teaching and learning.
In tertiary education, Welsh universities are uploading lectures and research to the internet so that they can be accessed by teachers and students in poorer nations, and the new FutureLearn project will see 20 or more of the UK’s universities entering the global market in massive open online courses (MOOCs). In secondary schools, there are predictions that all exams will be online within a decade, making it possible to carry out assessments on computers that will analyse individual students’ ability and adjust the difficulty of the questions to suit.
That last story brings me back to the fact that, for all the great work being done to globalise and democratise education, learning takes place at the individual level, so the personal approach will always be important. It’s true for individual learners, and it is equally true for individual providers as they strive to keep their courses fresh and relevant, and to make the learning experience as good as it possibly can be.
This is where Jisc’s Regional Support Centres (RSCs) come in. We’re often the first port of call for learning providers looking for advice on how to adopt and use technologies, or for ways to learn from the experiences of others. Indeed one of our most popular resources is our bank of 300 e-learning case studies, helping providers learn from one another and see how their peers are using technology successfully.
VLE case studies
After several years of working with both Morley College and Rose Bruford College on a variety of development projects and training programmes, long-time London RSC staff members Martin Sepion and Evan Dickerson were able to identify a number of synergies between the two. Although both providers were very different; Morley College is an Adult and Community Learning Provider and Rose Bruford a specialist HEI Drama school, the RSC was able to see how the colleges could benefit from one another’s experience.
A partnership working programme designed to improve the effectiveness of each college’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) was suggested and taken up. We recommended a peer review project to them, in which each college’s manager responsible for the VLE examined and critiqued the other’s work, identifying things that could be done better or more efficiently, and sharing best practice.
Both colleges say their VLEs are better as a result, and the collaboration between the two colleges worked so well that it is being extended into other areas - there are discussions going on simultaneously throughout the two organisations to develop further collaborations and partnerships. It’s not just the similarities between the two colleges that make the collaboration work, it’s also their differences – they aren’t in competition, so they can be open, honest, and offer each other genuinely fresh perspectives.
David Matthews, VLE development manager at Rose Bruford College, made a comment in connection with the peer review project that brought home to me just how timely and relevant the peer review initiative had been. He said:
“I thought this would be fun, and I quickly realised that it was also going to be important. It has opened up conversations between the two colleges and specific departments within them, and these look set to develop in unforeseen ways.
“We really value our relationship with the London RSC because Martin and Evan know us so well, and they are adept at putting in the right stimulus at the right time, then leaving things to develop.”
VLE manager Laurence Elliott organised the project for Morley College, and took a lead role in developing much of the documentation used by both colleges. He has also flagged up the important role that the RSC has played in providing timely technical support over the years, and acting as critical friends. It’s that personal approach that remains invaluable, especially when people feel they do not have the time or the resources to make sense of new technologies and to devise ways to use them effectively.
Social media for learning
And at Dumfries and Galloway College, with the support of RSC Scotland, hairdressing tutor Margaret Lock has been discovering how social media can be used to boost personal interaction. This brings students, tutors and the local business community closer together to improve student engagement and attainment, and boost links with potential employers.
Her original idea to communicate with students via a blog met with only limited success, and so – with guidance from the students themselves – she has set up the Stranraer Cutting Crew Facebook page, which now includes secure groups for individual courses and for local salons, and offers fresh ways for students to access information about assessments, showcase their work, receive professional feedback, and set up work placements. Now a total Facebook convert, Margaret says that it works really well, and is very simple to do, even for a Facebook beginner.
In early October, the Cutting Crew will hold an event at the college for students and local salons, organised entirely via social media. Once again, the personal approach and a focus on individual interactions are transforming student experience and achievements.
Find out more about the importance of the personal touch in learning, with our information about how social media is transforming the learning environment, or take a look at the resources Jisc offers to help colleges and universities develop their social media strategy.
Find out how other providers are using technology to transform learning with the RSC e-learning case studies.