For many people the Bett Show is one of the world's leading education events; there’s something for everyone who wants to find out about the latest technology and how it can make learning and teaching experiences richer.
The thing that makes it so rewarding for me, with my own particular focus on further education (FE) and skills, is the enthusiasm and commitment shown each year by members of the community in sharing their experiences and examples of good practice with one another.
1. Furthering FELTAG
After all the work that has been done by hard-pressed colleges and skills providers to implement the recommendations in the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) report, Paths forward to a digital future for FE and skills, it was great to see the momentum continue to build.
We heard from lots of learning providers about how they are taking a more tech-enabled approach, and how learners are benefiting as a result.
We also heard from Steve Nicholls from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) who confirmed that they were looking at online funding rates following on from the government response to the report. The evidence that they have gathered so far has helpfully shown that - when setting an online funding rate - they need to consider the cost of online course development and the current wealth of online learning definitions.
I look forward to the SFA’s online learning report, which Steve says will include final recommendations on online funding rates when it is published in the coming months.
2. Employability and employer engagement
In an interesting talk from the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)’s Stewart Segal, we learnt how vital it has become for learners to have good digital skills. He advocates working closely with employers to make sure learners have the knowledge and digital capabilities they’ll need to join the thriving digital technology workforce.
Stewart suggested a range of measures that would help boost learners’ chances of getting the jobs they want. These include an overhaul of apprenticeships so that each one includes a digital skills component, and also making apprenticeships a viable alternative to higher education (HE) and other education routes as a means of gaining digital skills. He suggested, too, that we need new models of online learning to keep pace with evolving technology.
3. Staff skills and workforce development
Many of the issues about nurturing digital skills apply equally to teachers and learning providers, but here there’s an added difficulty that people who haven’t grown up with technology can sometimes find it all a bit baffling.
Deb Millar of Blackburn College spoke about her solution - learning wheel. This is an inclusive, practical way to break down the language barriers that can confuse people trying to get to grips with digital technology. It is a crowd-sourced set of learning examples, created by teachers for other teachers to use.
Session participants were invited to suggest generic ways of using any digital resource, so that these could be incorporated as spokes in a new Bett Show learning wheel. This approach is proving to be very powerful and 70 collaborators could be seen adding their ideas to Deb’s Google Doc during her presentation.
The wheel is now available to view online (and pictured, in part, above). It's great to see the resource created by so many FE practitioners in such a short space of time, and you’d be advised to follow @debmillar24 for more of the same.
4. Sharing best practice
Deb Millar’s example brings me neatly to my last theme. A quick look at the conversations about Bett on Twitter will show how much advice and support is being shared.
Let’s keep the conversation going. Take a look at #UKFEchat. Fresh from a lively discussion about motivation at the show on Thursday 21 January, a group of practitioners took to Twitter using #UKFEchat – as they do every Thursday evening at 21:00 – to take the conversation forwards and provide information and support to one another.
It is really encouraging to see the level of enthusiasm that all types of FE staff have for helping younger, more inexperienced educators, as well as those who are more established but may be facing difficulties. I’d advocate anyone in FE who has good practice to share or who wants to learn from their peers to use #UKFEchat any Thursday night and get involved.
Now that Bett 2016 has drawn to a close I’m sure I’m not alone in taking stock of what I’ve learned and thinking about how the people I’ve met have helped me towards a greater insight into how technology is being used to improve teaching and learning experience in FE and skills. And looking forward to Bett 2017!