As part of a conversation we're having with the FE sector to help us gauge colleges’ attitudes toward our services, we spoke to staff and students at Strode College about the Janet Network, its in-built cyber security protection and the digital resources we provide, such as free e-books.
The head of IT’s story
I’m Tim Blake, head of IT at Strode College. We’re an FE college in rural Somerset and we cover the entire range of education with our learners, from A levels, vocational and university courses to apprenticeships and adult education.
We need technology and connectivity to do that. Even in the eight or so years I’ve been here I’ve seen how technology has transformed teaching and learning. The idea that a lecturer could come in and run a class without using technology, without accessing resources from the web, whether it’s video or research material – it’s unthinkable. It would cause chaos very quickly. The connectivity can’t fail. If it fails, we fail.
I trust Jisc absolutely. Working with a not for profit organisation that is built on the ethos of education, focused on research and education delivery, you just have absolute faith in their ability to do the right thing. Reliability is absolutely vital. With Jisc we simply don’t have the problems you hear of with commercial providers, whether data loss, connectivity issues or takeovers. There has just been constant, reliable good service.
We know that there are cyber security risks - every day of the week there is something new out there – but we also know that when there are issues, Jisc and its technologists are on the case really quickly, protecting us and other institutions. I don’t think anybody could improve on that. Jisc understands education and the threats that can come within education. That’s a special area. You can go to a commercial provider and they’ll probably say that we’re no different to a commercial company but, actually, we are.
FE is also different to HE and in some ways FE is more challenging technology-wise because we have a lot more in the way of duty of care. We do more filtering – what an 18 year old can see on the internet is different to what we can allow a 16 or 17 year old to access. Monitoring and managing firewalls effectively is critical to us surviving. The challenges are huge, with much, much less in the way of resources.
That means that community is so important. Because in FE we’re not competitors. We’re all out there trying to do the same type of work with different customers because we’re in different regions. We need to share our knowledge and experiences. Why reinvent the wheel?
The librarian’s story
I’m Angela Leavens, head of learning resources and e-learning at Strode College. We’re an FE college with around 1,500 full-time 16-18 year olds plus HE students and adult learners.
I love e-books! Our learners can’t lose them! It does break our hearts as librarians thinking, I bought this book last year, I’ve got to buy it again – because things do happen, the dog does eat it or it gets left behind when they move house or lost under a bed for a couple of years. E-books are so much easier from our point of view than a hard copy. We get the title quickly, everyone can use it at the same time, and we have one e-book that will service the entire student body; you can’t say that of a paper book.
The way that we get e-books for FE for free through Jisc is absolutely fantastic as I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy that number of e-books if I was buying them from scratch. Because we’re quite small we wouldn’t be able to offer the same educational experience for students if we didn’t have a package like e-books for FE. It levels the playing field for us. That’s what e-books for FE – and Jisc in general – gives us.
The students don’t know they are using Jisc resources – they are just there for them. It’s a seamless service too because we use Shibboleth so our learners authenticate with their college username and password - we don’t have to give them a whole raft of passwords they need to remember. Our students can access the resources they need from home or on the move. And that’s really important to us as we are quite rural, we can have students commuting on buses for up to two hours to and from the campus. Being able to make their access to our resources as simple as possible really helps.
Jisc saves me a great deal of time, a great deal of money. Without Jisc I would spend a lot more time negotiating our digital resources, I’d probably need more staff and I wouldn’t be able to offer the same breadth of products for our learners. Jisc has the power to go to publishers and say we’ve got 300 colleges behind us, this is what we want for them – and the expertise to negotiate those contracts. I always get excited when something new comes out – oooh, what have they got now, what can I have? We can afford that!
The business and art tutor’s story
I’m Gary Smith and I’m the e-learning and resources information coordinator at Strode College, which means that I run the team of library staff and look after the technology in the college library.
I also teach on the graphic design A level course and on the BTEC business course.
Everyone’s time is limited and it saves time having a resource you can trust that’s easy to use. Our students find JSTOR an absolutely invaluable resource. It’s easy to get in and out of with Shibboleth single sign on. The resources help them to research in a seamless way. With some of the databases the students use from other providers it can be very difficult for them to get in and out, there are lots of technical issues, there are sometimes issues with finding the right information and how it’s presented. JSTOR and the History Study Centre are very easy to access and the students have never had any complaints about what they find there.
If we didn’t have these resources we would be using Google and Wikipedia and spending a lot more time filtering out the rubbish, trying to hone down the results into something useful. JSTOR does not have those issues in anywhere near the same way. You need something that works and is reliable. And that’s what it is.
On a day to day basis we get our internet access from Jisc and we do most of our work online, researching resources for our students. We wouldn’t be able to live without Jisc, it’s as simple as that. We use Janet txt to bring books back in our library system so if any books are overdue we send texts out. It’s the most effective way of getting our books back, without a doubt. So our stock is better because we can send that text out through Janet txt.
We couldn’t operate without the services Jisc provides – that’s quite apparent. For value for money and good service, Jisc is the winner.
The teacher’s story
I’m Richard Hood, curriculum manager for A levels, managing humanities subjects at Strode College.
We use the History Study Centre a lot for coursework. Students have to include primary sources, written at the time of the period of history they are writing about, and the History Study Centre is very good for that. The way it is organised into study units means they can cut out everything they don’t want, get straight to the right period of history and then there are links taking them to historians’ journal articles and resources – photographs, that kind of thing. It’s really, really useful.
Our students find it great because they are used to spending hours wading through Google and not finding anything so History Study Centre is like a filter – it takes them straight to the material they need. They know that when they read that article about the Vietnam War it’s going to be relevant because they found it in the Vietnam War study unit. There are going to be quotes they can use and include and evaluate in their coursework. One of the challenges of the internet is that it’s so vast you can spend ages looking for something and still not find it but the History Study Centre increases the chance of them finding what they want.
It’s trustworthy. It’s written by historians. From my point of view as a teacher it means that they are less likely to be quoting stuff from Wikipedia which I’m then going to have to tell them to go away and do again. If the resource wasn’t there I would have to put more time in, going through the internet with them to help them find sources.
The learner’s story
I’m Dominic Cumberland and I’m studying computing, physics and photography A levels at Strode College, aiming to go on to university.
I use an e-book as my physics textbook, which is really useful. It has saved me money because the textbooks are quite expensive – around £20 each – but this way I can have them for free.
It means I don’t need to carry a big book with me, I can study on my laptop, wherever and whenever. I can revise on the bus without having to have a book carefully balanced open. I can use the e-book on my iPad – that’s great as it takes up a lot less room and I can have loads of different books all in one place. Because they are the exam board’s e-books you know that what you’re learning is all important, that all of it is relevant to the subject.
If I didn’t have the e-books I would have to carry a lot of books round with me rather than being able to have them on my phone or on a laptop and I probably wouldn’t bring them with me because it would be really awkward carrying them around. Being able to have them on my phone means that I’m more likely to read them and go through them, especially when I have a spare moment. On the bus I just put headphones on, listen to some music and get the revision book out – it’s really good.