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Bridging the gap

It’s late November 2019 and Dale Clancy, electrical installation lecturer from Borders College, is attending the annual College Development Network award ceremony in Glasgow.

Dale Clancy

Shortlisted for the Jisc-sponsored ‘digital learning award’ to recognise his innovative use of technology on the electrical installation apprenticeship course, Dale is eagerly awaiting the result.

Located in the Scottish Borders and operating from three main campuses, Borders College provides an opportunity for school leavers and those returning to learning, to improve their skills and knowledge of the workplace through a wide range of courses and apprenticeships.

Before embarking on this project, Dale’s learners were using hard-copy workbooks to access course materials and juggling their time between college and the workplace. Having reflected on his own experience of learning, Dale was concerned about the future of the course, so he decided to make some changes.

The first step was to consult his cohort of learners to ask them how they liked to learn. Taking the time to understand their challenges and listening to their needs, he wanted to find out what made them tick. To help bridge the gap between being at college and being onsite, he suggested building an online platform so the learners could evidence their work and access resources on the go, from their phones and tablets.

Aaron Lunn, stage 2 SVQ electrical installation says,

“as somebody who prefers to work digitally due to my problems with spelling it was nice to know that my feedback was appreciated and meant something, I just felt more involved.”

This has meant changes for the teaching staff too. They’re now able to create and upload learning resources for learners, assess work and make the results and feedback available online. This is enabling learners to reflect on their performance and think about how to apply their learning on the job.

Alan Reid, plumbing and heating engineering lecturer says,

“the main change with my apprentices is their ability to gain better access to resources from home, input evidence into folders using their own devices. If the learners are absent from class, they are able to see what they have missed.”

These changes were put in place to benefit the learners, they’ve been able to provide more evidence to support their work meaning the teaching staff can focus on the areas where they need to provide more support. Dale says, “it’s a much more tailored experience.”

The technology has also been helping to support those learners who have had to miss college due to extenuating circumstances. With one student hospitalised and another unable to travel into college, Dale used Microsoft Teams to deliver tutorials which enabled them to keep up with their course work.

“It’s certainly not a replacement for 1-1 study but it helps the learners to keep pace and not be overwhelmed because they’ve had to miss a class or couldn’t come into college”,

says Dale.

Heather Anderson

Recognising Dale’s efforts is Heather Anderson, the college’s vice-principal.

The college has a strategy to move to 30% online course delivery. To enable this, they’ve created a flexible role to help staff implement Office 365, which Dale is now fulfilling one day a week. But it isn’t just teaching staff and learners who are benefitting from these changes, it’s the support staff too.

Jen MacKenzie, student services support team lead says,

“colleagues are starting to see the positives of looking at their current practice and how they can use the technology we have in a more effective manner. For the team I manage we are in the early stages of this, we had a session with Dale recently which has started to get them thinking about what they do in their roles and how we could better use the Microsoft Office 365 functions.”

The college are seeing a growing number of staff using or asking to use the platform and have introduced ‘champions’ who can help and provide guidance where needed.

There have been some challenges along the way. Some of the learners have struggled to pick up the skills needed to work with the technology resulting in them losing work. By remaining positive and encouraging them to have another go, Dale has kept his learners motivated.

Dale says,

“the challenges have been overcome by being open and honest and making sure that everyone has had a part to play rather than it just being my project.”

Having access to a good connection has also been an issue. Being a remote part of the country, there are still areas where the internet connection isn’t great.

Heather says,

“Janet is an excellent connection, but we can’t guarantee that the learners have a good connection at home.”

The college has recently secured some funding from the new South of Scotland Economic Partnership to build a learning and skills network. They’ve been setting up hubs in and around the borders area to enable those learners who don’t have a reliable internet connection at home, to use their local hub to access the wifi and continue with their studies.

With a strategy in place for more online course delivery, Heather hopes this will free up some time for the teaching staff so they can explore how to use the technology to enhance teaching and learning. Learners are asking more of the college and providing feedback to say that they could be working in a different way.

The traditional view of learning in the classroom has gone. The learners want flexibility. But the skills they’re developing won’t just help them to progress with their course.

Heather says,

“we’re trying to build in the skills that they’ll need in the workplace. We want our teaching staff to pass on these skills to the learners so they can get the jobs of the future. We want to do that for the border’s region - to make a digitally skilled workforce.”

And so we’re back in the room, the moment has arrived and you guessed it, the winner of the 2019 digital learning award goes to… Dale Clancy!