When I first started to develop a learning technology strategy for my then college employer, edtech was in its infancy.
Today, more than 15 years later, the latest tech has more power than ever to be transformative, both to college business and the student experience.
Our new report, breaking through: stories of effective digital practice from UK further education (FE) and skills, showcases the brilliant uses some colleges are finding for tech in teaching, especially emerging tools such as augmented and virtual reality.
Sadly, such best practice examples are not yet the norm in the further education (FE) sector. Many colleges have yet to begin the necessary journey to a digital-first strategy, so the positive influence of edtech is not available to all students. Lack of funding has much to do with this.
Keeping up with technology
Results from the recent AoC college IT and digital technology survey show, for example, that 36% of devices in colleges are already more than five years old, and, by 2020, 33% of devices will be obsolete.
If any of you have five-year-old iPhones or iPads, you’ll know how frustrating it is to use something so slow and clunky.
We believe that, if the sector is to survive and thrive, and colleges are to meet the government’s expectations for upskilling today’s and tomorrow’s workforces, investment in technology must be a priority. So, what’s the hold-up?
The two biggest obstacles, of course, are lack of funding and time – which in turn impact staff skills.
The AoC’s survey (with results from 75 colleges) found that only 35 colleges (48%) felt digital technology was a budget priority, and 33 (44%) admitted to having to downgrade planned IT investments for 2018/19.
When asked to list the main barriers to the use of edtech, 93% cited practitioners’ lack of confidence and digital skills, 77% cited a lack of practitioner time and 54% blamed a lack of money. Jisc helps its members get the best value from technology and we can also help plug the staff skills gap, too, through our new service, building digital capabilities.
What do students think?
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Jisc’s digital experience insights survey of 2018, with answers from more than 14,000 FE students, showed that 74% rated their college’s digital provision as above the midpoint in the scale, and 72% rated the quality of digital teaching and learning as above average.
However, about a third (32%) of FE students wanted digital technologies to be used more on their course and 64% agreed they are more independent in their learning when digital technology is used.
A further 57% of college students agreed that digital approaches help them to fit learning into their life – remote access to the virtual learning environment, digital resources and online assessment, for example. Technology like this allows students to learn independently at a time, pace and place to suit them, which is just as important, if not more so, for adult learners, especially those who work and need to juggle study with earning.
Plugging the skills gap through technology
Among the aims of the AoC-led Love Our Colleges campaign is to increase lifelong learning opportunities for adults. Jisc is already engaging with the government on the role technology can and should play in delivering adult education and the new T-levels, and we also advocate digital apprenticeships where, again, the maximum use of online study and assessment builds a flexible learning model that suits apprentices and their employers.
As things stand, we know there is a clear demand for technology in colleges – most responders to the AoC’s questions (73%) say it’s important for data management and for teaching, for independent learning and course content (68%), assessment (66%) and learning management (65%).
Through its industrial and digital strategies, the introduction of T-levels and Institutes of Technology, the government has put FE front and centre in the race to plug the UK’s technical skills gap and give the economy the shot in the arm it needs to keep pace on the world stage.
Colleges are trying to respond positively to government demands, but without sufficient funding, they won’t be able to keep pace with the changes in technology and will not, therefore, be effective in producing the digitally-savvy workforce the UK needs.