What you need to know
In this section we look at aspects of the institution’s infrastructure that support digital learning.
The changes experienced in this area in recent years shows just how great an impact the fast-changing technology scene can have on educational providers.
Almost ubiquitous ownership of smartphones and free cloud-based tools have now challenged the virtual learning environment (VLE) and desktop PCs as the way into online learning. Now investment in robust wifi connections and a ‘bring your own device (BYOD)’ policy are increasingly being adopted by colleges and universities to accommodate student preferences for flexible, anywhere-on-campus learning.
This in turn creates an obligation to ensure that students’ access to tools and learning materials is device-agnostic, that there are effective mechanisms to ensure acceptable use, and that students who do not own their own device are not disadvantaged.
Furthermore, the same seamless access to essential resources and information is required from any of the institution’s sites, an issue many merged colleges and higher education providers have had to tackle.
Why a robust digital infrastructure matters
Despite the costs and complexities of ensuring an infrastructure that is fit for purpose, many institutional leaders see their digital learning environment as a means of reaching out to and retaining students.
And students who have to fit learning into increasingly demanding lifestyles expect to be well prepared while on course for the digital world beyond.
Staying ahead of the game in terms of digital environments is therefore something an educational provider can ill ignore, but given the range of tools now available to learners, many institutions support only a central core of technologies, providing a list of recommended learning tools hosted elsewhere as additional options.
Equally important to digital learning is high-quality content. For many colleges, that has meant installing platforms and tools that staff find intuitive and simple to use so that the student digital experience is consistent from course to course and teacher to teacher – an aspiration that is a challenging but nonetheless an essential part of realising your institution’s digital strategy.
What the experts say
“Consistency in the student experience of digital learning is a key aim for my team. It is pointless having an impressive digital vision without the infrastructure to match.”
Deborah Millar, formerly director for digital learning and IT services, Salford City College
Be inspired - case studies
East Kent College – first get the infrastructure right
East Kent College has made it a priority to provide the same seamless access to its IT infrastructure on all its sites. Recent mergers mean that that it is important to ensure all users have the same consistent, reliable access to learning resources and essential data.
This is particularly vital for the college’s level 1 and 2 students on the college’s Progression Curriculum – a flexible, credit-based programme for learners at risk of falling out of education, employment or training. ProMonitor, an integrated student monitoring and support system, enables tutors to tracks these students’ progress on any of the college’s sites.
Another milestone for the college has been the installation of wifi on all campuses. With wifi access everywhere, the entire college becomes a learning space.
“Digital had already provided us with the means; we just had to make it happen by creating a more flexible curriculum structure.”
Graham Razey, principal, East Kent College
University College London (UCL) – learning technologies match approaches to learning
UCL has created a resource to help staff identify which digital tools match the learning activities in Professor Diana Laurillard’s conversational framework: acquisition, collaboration, discussion, investigation, practice and production.
Concentric circles on the map show which tools are institutionally owned and supported, which are recommended but hosted elsewhere with a degree of support offered by the university, and which are recognised as helpful but are not supported.
The resource is used in conjunction with the university’s ABC workshops to extend awareness of the diversity of ways staff can build digital into their learning designs.
“As you can see, the world is your oyster in terms of technologies.”
Mira Vogel, digital education adviser, UCL