Our updated report, Breaking through: stories of effective digital practice from UK further education (FE) and skills, brings you an updated view of UK digital practice in FE and skills in the post-FELTAG decade.
In 2014, the Further Education (FE) Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) report (pdf), convened by the - then - Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), made six far-reaching recommendations to ensure that digital technologies can bring real benefits to learners, providers, employers and the UK economy.
In 2017, we have taken a fresh look at the digital landscape of the UK FE and skills sector. New senior leader interviews, case studies of effective practice and guidance from Jisc show just how much the spirit of FELTAG is transforming the learner’s experience.
This glimpse into the continuing evolution of FELTAG captures the agile responses providers are making to the fast-changing world of technology, the challenges that are being overcome, and the enhancements to learning and teaching that have ensued.
Recent government reports for the skills sector, such as the digital skills for the UK economy (pdf) and the post-16 skills plan and independent report on technical education, also reflect the far-reaching influence of FELTAG.
Effective practice, like technology, is constantly evolving and we continue to encourage you to share initiatives in your context that support the FELTAG agenda.
Using this report
The report is structured around key areas of interest to decision-makers, managers and teachers in colleges and learning providers. Use the menu to select themes of interest to you.
Enhancing the digital learning experience involves the collaboration of many roles and stakeholders including learners, curriculum teams, departmental heads, support services, leaders and governors. As such initiatives may be taking place against a backdrop of mergers and reorganisation, for maximum effectiveness a senior member of staff with broad influence needs to assume overall ownership and responsibility for driving the digital vision forward.
Via their strategic thinking and visible leadership, our research shows that today’s senior managers are increasing the resilience and robustness of their organisations through effective deployment of technology. Having the right digital foundations continues to be one of the most vital ingredients in the success of a college or provider.
Hand in hand with making far-sighted decisions about the best digital platforms for the organisation, senior staff are using technology to create closer links with employers, meet the growing expectations of learners and empower the creativity and resourcefulness of teaching practitioners. Many colleges are also working on initiatives to ensure college governors can contribute to the organisation’s strategic direction for digital.
Read a selection of senior managers’ thoughts on their organisations’ digital progress in the Digital leadership section below. You will also find further senior manager interviews under the different themes.
Digital leadership from the sector
Ken Thomson, principal and chief executive, Forth Valley College
“Everything works when it is joined together and interconnected – it’s an eco-system”
In 2013, Ken became principal and chief executive of Forth Valley College, a merged college in central Scotland. His watchword for the college as it moves into the digital age is ‘interconnectedness’. Only when everything is working in harmony can you achieve truly creative learning and teaching.
Jamie E Smith, director of strategy and infrastructure, South Staffordshire College
“I’m not a technology evangelist, I’m a people evangelist”
Jamie has more than 20 years’ experience in education, specialising in strategy, innovation and technology-enhanced learning.
He says that South Staffordshire College is adapting to meet the changing needs of learners and employers in the digital age with a "digital by default" strategy and investment in learning spaces transformation.
Follow Jamie on Twitter @CloudBusiness9.
Stella Mbubaegbu, principal and chief executive, Highbury College
“Digital is helping us to transcend borders”
Stella sees digital as a vital tool to help Highbury College with its mission to be a world-class college and to support staff and students – wherever they are in the world – to be enterprising, lifelong learners who succeed in their chosen field.
Following major investment in infrastructure in 2005-6 the college has invested in culture change among staff, freeing up their time for training and development so they can focus on delivering more teaching via digital.
Follow Stella on Twitter @StellaMbubaegbu.
Cheryl Pennington, group executive director and head of the city of Oxford campus, Activate Learning
“Invest in developing digital skills and the fear of technology melts away”
Cheryl says that digital technologies offer Activate Learning many new and exciting ways to meet the changing requirements of students, staff and employers so they are investing in facilities that will enable them to rise to the challenge.
Activate Learning has a well-developed, overarching digital strategy and Cheryl is adamant that “technology can’t be a bolt on… to be truly effective it has to pervade all aspects of teaching, learning and assessment....”
Follow Cheryl on Twitter @penncheryl.
Examples of effective practice
In our examples, you can see how some colleges are taking a strategic approach to developing their digital vision.
Belfast Metropolitan College: laying the foundations for college-wide blended learning
Belfast Metropolitan College’s centre of excellence has a team dedicated to advancing technology-enhanced learning (TEL). The team’s role has included producing the organisation’s TEL framework, advising on procurement, delivering training for staff and assisting departments in developing exemplars of blended learning appropriate to each subject area.
To drive forward the strategy for digital across all departments, senior management has also backed the procurement of a new learning management system. A key requirement is that the new learning platform should include intuitive, interactive tools that enable staff to adopt blended learning with ease and fluency.
All Belfast Metropolitan staff have one afternoon a week free to enable them to improve their e-skills. Training in core systems is mandatory, but staff can also book sessions with the TEL team to boost their competence with widely used third-party applications such as Microsoft® OneNote Class Notebook®. Backed up a TEL framework that includes blended learning, the college is now looking forward to a brighter digital future.
- An up-to-date framework or strategy for digital or technology-enhanced learning is essential for whole-college buy-in
- A learning platform that is easy for staff to use means faster progress to the organisation’s digital goals
- Adding on third-party tools widens the potential to inspire learners with engaging content
- A rolling programme of certificated staff training helps ensure staff in student-facing roles have the confidence to use digital technologies to good effect
Reading College - technology: a fundamental aspect of teaching, learning and assessment
To support its strategy to enable students to learn at any time, in any place and on any device, Reading College has moved away from Moodle as its virtual learning environment (VLE) in favour of web-based Google Apps and social media tools. These are being used to engage students, to develop their employability skills and to encourage them to become familiar with modern working practices.
For example, instant messaging and Google+ are supporting group discussion outside formal lessons and Google communities are being used to encourage collaboration and sharing. The college is encouraging students to use a range of other web-based apps so that they are always future gazing, exploring other tools that are available and expanding their knowledge and transferable skills. Students are working in a flexible, robust digital environment that gives them access to a rich array of tools and unlimited cloud storage.
Senior management have backed the shift with investment in the wireless network to support use of students’ own devices. They have also launched a programme of training sessions, online CPD and mentoring to ensure staff and students alike are fully equipped with the skills to work successfully with the technology.
- Turning off the VLE and moving to web-based technologies has encouraged staff to develop new teaching approaches
- Learners are developing employability skills and adopting modern working practices
The college is now able to support bring your own (BYO) device and greater use of mobile, boosting collaboration and independent learning outside of the classroom.
Plumpton College and FE Sussex - supporting informed implementation and use of technology in learning
Plumpton College and FE Sussex, along with 13 other partner colleges locally, are leading on a project to manage the introduction of learning technologies effectively in colleges across Sussex and Surrey.
The project is supporting college governors, leaders and managers to make cost effective decisions on investment and work with teachers via workshops to foster understanding, acceptance and use of learning technologies. The project has produced a range of practical resources for the sector to use to support their own digital journeys. These include:
- A workshop and web-based development programme for leaders describing the potential of learning technologies and the likely costs
- An implementation planning tool to assist with strategic investment and the deployment of technology
- Research into current practices and a range of performance measures to help with progress monitoring
- A leadership pairing framework so that senior managers needn’t make decisions in isolation
- Access to a ‘get-you-started’ toolkit to help teachers embrace learning technologies
- The resources produced offer structured, in depth support for governors and senior managers so that they can make informed, strategic decisions on investment in, and deployment of, technology
- Technology is an integral part of the learning journey for college managers and teachers, driving a more detailed understanding of its potential
Heart of Worcestershire College - mastering the governance of technology for learning
Heart of Worcestershire College is leading a group of five FE colleges to develop support for governance teams with making effective, well informed choices about investment in, and development of, technology to support learning. They are sharing a range of outputs with the sector to help governance teams to make the best use of innovative digital technologies, including:
- A framework for assessing investments in technology
- A capability framework to identify the skills and attributes governors will need in order to make effective decisions
- Implementation models to demonstrate the benefits of online learning
- Working through governance structures brings key stakeholders together to develop their “digital
- Governors are supported to develop a holistic approach to developing the digital capabilities of their institution
Explore the mastering governance of technology for learning online resource pack and find out more by reading the Heart of Worcestershire College exemplar in full (pdf).
Oxford Brookes University - developing digital leaders
Funded by ETF, Oxford Brookes University has developed an open access version of its “developing digital leaders” programme specifically for leaders in FE and for those in the sector who are responsible for making decisions about student experience, curriculum development and developing the digital learning environment.
It aims to help them make better, more informed decisions about the provision of technology and its subsequent use to boost student experience and attainment, develop their digital literacy and prepare them for employment. It is not prescriptive – it is designed to give leaders the skills, tools and confidence to explore what will work best for their own institution.
- Helps leaders explore how their organisations should respond to changing learner expectations
- Examines the support teachers will need as they design relevant learning experiences for students
- Enables leaders to adopt technologies that will help them develop their own leadership skills
To find out more, you can view the developing leaders for a digital age course resources on the Oxford Brookes Moodle site.
Education and Training Foundation (ETF) - ELMAG portal
The Excellence in Leadership, Management and Governance (ELMAG) portal brings together a range of courses, resources, toolkits and networking opportunities to help leaders, managers and governance officers in the further education and skills sector to develop their professional skills.
Jisc digital leaders’ course
A programme to help you become a digitally-informed and empowered leader with guidance on how to help your organisation respond effectively to technology-driven change.
- Enhancing the student digital experience: a strategic approach
This guide supports learning providers with the development of digital environments which meet learners’ expectations and help them to progress to higher study and employment
- Fundamental technology services every college should embrace during area review implementation
This guide outlines the fundamental technology services that every college should aim for as standard, particularly valuable for colleges in transition after an area review
- Understanding key issues for mergers in FE and HE
This short guide provides links to resources to help colleges make decisions on key issues such as technology when they are in the throes of mergers and reorganisation
- Digitally enable your team to improve learner engagement
A short guide for leaders to support the development of a digital culture and improve learner engagement
Brief for leaders of providers supporting apprenticeships, adult, community and offender learning
This briefing (pdf) shares the outcomes of our work on students’ expectations and experiences of the digital environment in apprenticeships, adult and community learning and prisons.
Delivering a relevant digital curriculum
Research has shown that students respond favourably to authentic, meaningful digital activities that are linked to or directly embedded in their learning and assessment, especially if those activities are relevant to their future employment ambitions.
The integration of technology in so many aspects of our daily lives means that learners now enter further education and skills with increased experience of technology, and have the expectation that technology will feature in their learning journey in some way.
It’s acknowledged, however, that staff and students have different levels of digital literacy skills and many do not have a clear understanding of how courses could or should use technology to support learning. However, the FELTAG initiative has demonstrated that this can be changed.
Embedding digital activities and assessment opportunities as part of the curriculum sets the expectation that students will use technology throughout their studies. And with responsive support from the college or provider, such expectations establish a base line of digital literacy and confidence that can become the norm in learning and teaching practice over time. The following examples give an indication of how this can happen.
Digital leadership from the sector
Simon Barrable, deputy principal, Portsmouth College
“There is a real spirit of innovation here now”
Simon has a passion for the use of information technology to enhance learning and teaching. In his role at Portsmouth College, he has led an initiative to introduce iPad Minis into classroom learning, opening up opportunities for personalised learning and innovative teaching.
Follow Simon on Twitter @PortsmouthColl.
Examples of effective practice
Dundee and Angus College: inspiring exploration, innovation and creativity with 21st century technology
Dundee and Angus College has created an innovative space called the Learning Lab where staff and learners come together to try out, explore and innovate with the latest technologies. Courses across the curriculum – ranging from art and design, computing, care and construction to business, marketing and supported learning – are finding inspiration in this hands-on, technology-rich environment.
While the emphasis is on playful exploration, the purpose of the Learning Lab is to increase confidence and understanding of technology and enhance learning and employability skills. The choice of devices and applications includes virtual and augmented reality, 3D printing, 3D capture, programmable cars, gesture control and video capture tools. Also available for trial are time lapse cameras, Xbox gaming devices and drones.
Learners are already benefiting from this innovative approach to providing a digital curriculum – for example, virtual reality explorations of the human body and surveying historic buildings by means of a drone are now a reality on courses at Dundee and Angus College. In the process, both teachers and learners are increasing their digital confidence and expertise, and the college is better placed to forge valuable links with employers and the local community.
- Innovative technology excites deeper, more enjoyable learning across the full spectrum of ability
- Learners and staff collaborate more easily in developing new approaches in a neutral ‘learning lab’ space
- Learners gain skills additional to those taught on their courses which can open the door to future employment
Heart of Worcestershire College - a holistic approach to embedding technology in curriculum design and planning processes
The FELTAG report challenged colleges and skills providers to achieve a 10% wholly online component in all their programmes from September 2015. Heart of Worcestershire College has broken through that target and expects to double the size of its online course components in several key areas in the near future.
Scheduled Online Learning and Assessment (SOLA) has been key to this progress. Teaching staff are well supported in designing their online resources by a dedicated SOLA team and assessment is managed through Moodle tools. In turn, students are encouraged to work in the required ways and supported via scheduled weekly sessions in college learning centres working on SOLA activities.
From the start, a lack of quality learning content specifically designed for use in FE settings was a recognised problem. But staff at the college have persevered and now understand that the most effective content is interactive and can be run on different platforms and devices. Now, after four years of running cross-college blended learning programmes, Heart of Worcestershire College is recognised as a trailblazer. It has had enquiries from other colleges about the resources it has developed and has responded by setting up a Moodle site with examples of content, activities and assessments available via guest access.
Further development of online learning resources can be costly, so the college has set up a blended learning consortium to share the expense as well as examples of good practice.
- Heart of Worcestershire College has taken a highly practical approach to a key FELTAG recommendation
- Staff and students learn about digital approaches to learning in a supportive context
- Students develop crucial independent learning skills
- The college has achieved efficiency savings of £200k p.a. each year for four years
- Student success rates have risen over the same period by 12%
PETA Training and Consultancy Services - video learning for engineering apprentices
PETA staff are learning to create videos and interactive activities using tablets, and ensuring that learners have easy access to these via QR codes and augmented reality software in hotspots within engineering workshop areas. In doing so, they are giving level two and three engineering apprentices first-hand experience of how employers in engineering industries are using the latest digital equipment to support their workers.
There are many benefits for learners – for example, video tutorials and gamification of learning are engaging apprentices and enabling them to recap and clarify what they have learned before they start practical activities using complex and potentially hazardous equipment. Once in the workshop, they can refer back to training materials and help themselves move forward without having to wait for an instructor.
Employers are being encouraged to reinforce learning in the workplace and to add to the bank of resources.
- The PETA initiative is encouraging more engaging and independent learning
- Involving employers in curriculum design ensures the curriculum remains relevant and reflects latest industrial practice as well as enhancing employability
- The project has resulted in development of a wireless network able to accommodate tutor and student use
- The PETA engineering model can be scaled up and replicated in other areas of learning
Oldham College (with Edge Hill University) - developing screencasting as a tool for formative and summative feedback
Oldham College is working with Edge Hill University to provide learners with more meaningful and detailed assessment and feedback via videocasting. It’s an approach that has already proved its worth at the university and this experiment is aiming to replicate those benefits in an FE setting.
Tutors are creating screencasts in which they comment on learners’ work so that they can watch a screen-capture of their work and listen to it being assessed. Evidence so far shows that this takes tutors no more time than traditional written feedback but offers the opportunity for richer, more dialogue-driven comment. Students are reacting positively to this enhanced feedback and access it multiple times, using their own devices at times and in locations of their own choosing. This project is supported by the Education and Training Foundation learning futures programme.
- The screencasting project engages learners more actively in formative and summative assessment
- Learners can access assessment and feedback outside of college at times and places of their choice using their own devices
- Staff and learners are starting to develop their own instructional guides to screencasting and other learning materials
- Staff see the value of video evidence and increasingly encourage their learners to provide it
Leeds City College - raising awareness of how assistive technologies can support all learners
“It’s life-changing technology.” That’s the view of dyslexic Leeds City College student, Craig Clements, on Texthelp Read&Write Gold, innovative software that has helped Craig represent the college student body and is now helping many other students achieve their learning goals.
As a first step to embedding its use, tutors are trained in the software and use it to prepare lessons, mark assignments and provide effective feedback to students. As a result, they can cascade what they have learned to their students. At Leeds City College, Texthelp Read&Write Gold is now viewed as a key tool to improve the quality of students’ written work.
- Staff trained in the use of a technology can cascade their expertise on to students; feedback on assignments given via Texthelp Read&Write has helped to familiarise learners with the software in this example
- With the help of this software, students have participated actively in both their learning and their personal development
City and Islington College - developing online content to support the curriculum
“Keeping safe” student induction modules
In response to the Prevent agenda, in summer 2015, City and Islington College produced a suite of online modules to cover key aspects of student induction and to ensure a standard approach to delivering core information. The suite of four modules was created in-house by the e-learning team and includes safeguarding and child protection, e-safety, values and radicalisation. The modules are all delivered through Moodle.
The “Keeping Safe” suite is used as an introduction to the topics for further discussion during later tutorials. The modules are accessibility compliant and cross-browser compatible, enabling students who may have missed a college session to complete their modules on any device. This has proved an effective way to deliver key information quickly and efficiently to large numbers of students.
Access to HE study skills
In 2015 for the first time, study skills modules in all Access to HE courses at City and Islington College have been delivered in a blended learning format. Modules consist of high quality learning resources and multi-media, with student activities and assessments provided to test acquisition of knowledge. Use of the modules has led to flexible delivery of study skills modules and student satisfaction rates are above current college averages.
The modules which have been developed in partnership with an external organisation involve students in alternate online and face-to-face sessions, with core learning delivered in online sessions and active learning promoted during classroom sessions. All online modules are delivered through Moodle as Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) packages, enabling detailed reporting by teaching staff for progress monitoring.
- Online resources can use a variety of techniques including multimedia to engage learners
- Learners can review the modules or catch up on ones they’ve missed anytime, anywhere, on any device
- Key information Is delivered quickly and efficiently, freeing up time for teaching
To find out more, contact Daniel Cramp, e-learning developer at City and Islington College firstname.lastname@example.org.
Redbridge College - blending the classroom in maths education
Maths staff at Redbridge College identified a need to improve the way that the maths GCSE course was delivered, so worked with the e-learning team to create a year long blended learning programme. Effective use of the virtual learning environment (VLE) has enabled them to create a curriculum that is less reliant on paper-based resources and instead uses a “flipped” classroom model with all course materials available online.
Resources are interactive and staff have employed a variety of apps that can support understanding of tricky concepts and enrich student-teacher interactions. Working on tablets, students can capture and share their work instantly to get immediate feedback.
To find out more, contact Sayrah Javed, innovation leader at Redbridge College email@example.com.
Leicestershire Adult Education Service – improving students’ experience by increasing independent study
Leicestershire Adult Learning Service’s lead tutor Sarabjit Borrill has been using blended learning effectively in apprentice training for several years. Building on what she has learned in that time, she made 2015-16 the year to explore similar approaches with Skills for Life students studying GCSE English.
The course is demanding – teaching time amounts to just 30 weeks. Sarabjit aimed to encourage learners to work more collaboratively and develop their own resources via blended and flipped learning approaches so that learners can build their confidence in English and be more willing to undertake independent study. This effectively extends the study time available for learners.
The service’s Moodle learning platform is playing a key role. With encouragement even reluctant learners have begun to use Moodle tools such as Wikis to support closer working with their peers. Experiments with video feedback were also a defining moment, providing students with actionable, detailed comments that can be reviewed again and again, and acted upon in students’ own time.
It is still too soon to measure the impact of the new ways of working on attainment, but students are more engaged and more willing to be proactive in their learning. A workshop for learners held during a college holiday period attracted 11 out of 19 learners.
The GCSE English course is now being used as an exemplar to show other teachers working in the service how they can use interactive learning technologies to boost engagement.
- Remember that technology is just one tool in a teacher’s toolbox, and it can help you to teach better
- Be curious and passionate – never lose these characteristics that made you want to learn and teach in the first place
- Don’t be afraid to try things, and to fail sometimes
- Technology offers opportunities, it is not a threat
- It doesn’t take long to learn the digital skills you need; it is all available online
Hull College - flip the learning to boost success
Hull College is using a variety of digital technologies to enhance learning in several of its core vocational areas.
These include construction, where learners are working with 3D modelling package SketchUp and a number of apps including some that support revision by providing multiple choice revision questions that can be attempted with or without internet access. In hair and beauty, tutorials are being flipped with open source content creation Xerte toolkits so that students can work on their projects at home. They are doing so enthusiastically, demonstrating that the right resources can improve engagement and encourage students to take more control of their own learning. A variety of other tools are being used in other core areas.
This work builds on recent successes with flipped learning in the college’s construction, motor vehicle and engineering programmes. The pilots are helping the college develop its understanding of how to use technologies effectively to support learning and how best to develop its e-learning strategy.
- Piloting and evaluating the introduction of new technologies and digital approaches enables the college to develop its understanding of how a range of technologies can be introduced in different curricula
- Contextualising the use of these tools and approaches to meet the needs of different subjects and learners will inform the development of the e-learning strategy
- Staff are actively engaging in curriculum development and developing their own skills and confidence in using digital technologies and approaches
- Feedback from staff confirms that the flipped learning model is motivating and engaging learners
Runshaw College – improve access to curricula with assistive technologies
Digital accessibility software is a key element in Runshaw College’s strategy to enhance
their students’ experience. Teachers, trainers and assessors throughout the college are being trained in its use, with a particular focus on text-to-speech tools. This is increasingly important as the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) now accepts computer readers in place of human readers to support the reading element of GCSE English exams.
This project will enable the college to create a web-based training programme for staff and to develop resources that will support use of text-to-speech in the classroom as well as the use and creation of accessible documents using digital technologies.
- The project extends staff understanding of ways to use digital technology to support accessibility and inclusion for all learners
- It is expanding the range of approaches to using technology to enhance assessment practices
- It formally acknowledges the importance of digitally accessible assistive software
- The training supports staff and fosters learner independence
Hairdressing Training service
The Hairdressing Training app can save tutors’ time. Mapped to the NVQ and SVQ hairdressing/barbering curriculum, the content has been created by hairdressing tutors in UK FE colleges. Content is free at the point of use with no additional subscription required.
To find out more, visit the Hairdressing Training website.
e-books for FE
e-books for FE is a core collection of valued e-book titles accessed via the Jisc Collections website. Colleges and providers receive information on how to integrate the e-books into their library catalogues and virtual learning environments (VLEs).
- English and maths resources for students and teachers including English titles for SQA, WJEC and AQA, and maths titles for Edexcel, OCR, SQA and WJEC
- Vocational resources covering a wide range of subjects including automobile and electrical engineering, child care, beauty therapy and hospitality and catering
- Using assistive and accessible technology in teaching and learning
This guide offers advice and guidance on assistive technologies that can support learners with special educational needs
- Scaling up online learning
This guide provides tools, techniques, strategies and activities for colleges and providers planning to scale up the development and delivery of online learning
- Creating blended learning content
This short guide helps you find the right approach to creating meaningful blended learning content and grasping the opportunities presented by ready-made resources
- Getting started with e-portfolios
Many educators see e-portfolios as vital to learning, teaching and assessment and our quick guide takes you through the basics with links to more detailed guidance
The following video, another from Paul Warren, looks at realising the FELTAG recommendations.
Making a difference to assessment and feedback
Assessment and feedback are some of the most difficult areas of provision to change, but cross-sector research shows that FE and skills providers are finding significant benefits from electronic tracking of student progress as well as learning gains from inspirational use of technology-enhanced formative assessment and feedback.
Inspired by the FELTAG initiative, managers, teachers and trainers are turning to technology to track student progress so that they can respond more effectively to their needs. Technology is also enabling more relevant, flexible and employer-focused modes of assessment as well as greater opportunities for interactive feedback.
In the classroom, mobile devices, social media and games-based strategies are energising and inspiring students to take greater responsibility for assessing their own learning, while engaging new software and audio and visual capture tools bring a new dimension to feedback and e-portfolios.
Examples of effective practice
Kingston College - using audio feedback to improve engagement and performance
Tutors at Kingston College are using a free screencasting app called Jing to provide responsive audio feedback to students on their progress and performance. Jing enables users to capture videos and images on screen and record feedback on a range of assignment formats.
The flexibility of the software means that it can be used to provide feedback on practical activities, written as well as graphical work and to provide commentary to support student use and understanding of their personal performance data.
Improving employer engagement is a key target for the college. Tutors and assessors are using Jing along with other college systems to support apprentices by giving timely feedback while they are on work placement, enabling them to act on this without undue delay. This is done by combining use of Jing and the college performance monitoring software, ProMonitor, to give students a walk-through of the progress they have made so far, what they have yet to achieve and how they can improve their performance or complete their course assignments. Staff found using the screencasting method both more effective and quicker than traditional feedback methods and it has reduced duplication of paper based records.
- Using the software in this way helps students to understand their personal performance data and to monitor their own progress. This gives them greater ownership of their learning and greater engagement in the feedback process
- The ease and speed of response allows students to use the feedback to improve future assignments
- It supports different forms of assessment and can aid inclusion
- It helps colleges to support those on work placement and those who can be hard to reach
South West College, Northern Ireland - a whole-college approach to online learning and assessment
In 2013, South West College (SWC) created a virtual college running synchronously alongside the physical college. Three years later, significant progress has been made towards offering online learning and assessment to a new range of students based at home and abroad.
Senior managers closed the college for a week in November 2011 to provide the impetus for change. With 5,655 full and part-time students logging on to the VLE across the week, the college’s aspiration for “flipped learning” had become reality.
SWC is now on course to achieve a proportion of online delivery and assessment on all face-to-face courses; in 2016, 34 hours out of a total of 600 guided learning hours for each learner is delivered online and approximately 60 % of all vocational courses use some form of online assessment. Trials of assessments in virtual worlds and simulations are beginning on courses in construction and computing and SWC have recently launched the first virtual open day and received excellent feedback from students and employers. In addition, the college has developed its own bespoke tracking system called Pathway and is piloting the tool with staff for recording and tracking students’ progress.
- SWC has been able to increase its market share nationally and internationally through the virtual college
- Teaching staff, external verifiers and students benefit from being able to learn and be assessed off site; students also have more choice over when they are assessed
- Tracking student performance is being automated, enabling staff to monitor and respond to at-risk students
Basingstoke College of Technology - closing the feedback loop with social media
Students on a level 3 BTEC extended diploma in creative media production at Basingstoke College of Technology (BCoT) are given accounts for social media and blogging tools so that they can publish targets and discuss, share and critically evaluate their own and others’ work from the start of their course.
Twitter provides a platform for short, focused exchanges; Tumblr or WordPress blogging tools enable developing work to be shared for review and, for longer assignments, a closed group on Facebook offers a digital working environment that is already familiar to most.
College staff explain that effective use of social media is important to students’ future employability in the media and work with them to establish the correct protocols. Teachers respect students’ privacy by “unfollowing” their posts on Facebook and only participating in the group set up for college work. An enforceable code of conduct sets out the behaviours expected of students.
BCoT have found that social media are a great way to establish a learning community in which peer to peer feedback is generally supportive. Most importantly, via social media, students can gain rapid feedback from a range of different viewpoints, including employers and students in other countries, inspiring them to achieve more.
- Before introducing social media, educate students in the importance of building and maintaining good digital reputation
- Changes may be needed to your organisation’s acceptable usage policy if this prevents use of social media
- Exploiting short messaging platforms such as Twitter brings in feedback from outside the peer group
Loughborough College - badges mean progress in GCSE English
GCSE English resit students at Loughborough College learn difficult vocabulary by testing themselves on their mobile devices with the language learning app, Memrise. Competing with each other to earn badges for each completed test motivates students to tackle less appealing aspects of the curriculum.
The college has an established bring your own device (BYOD) policy, with firewalls and capacity to block inappropriate sites. To enable students to take advantage of Memrise, the app had first to be added to the college’s “allowed” list.
Once a group has been set up on the software, teachers introduce competition by bringing up the stats at the start of each lesson to see who has completed a particular quiz, and been badged, and who hasn’t. Students then have ten minutes on their smartphones or tablets to improve their score before getting on with other activities. The students who engage the most have had statistically higher results in controlled assessments, and outcomes have been particularly good for dyslexic students.
Teachers can see from the online records of badge winners in the system who is engaging and who isn’t then provide encouragement or support where needed by adding multimedia resources to a quiz as an aide-memoire.
- Competitive, games-playing techniques engage difficult-to-reach students; trying to gain a higher level is a powerful driver of improved performance
- Digital records of badge achievement provide a tracking mechanism that shows at a glance who has and hasn’t engaged
- Including multimedia elements in quizzes can benefit students with a preference for, or need of, visual learning aids
Swindon College - getting the most from e-portfolios
Swindon College has found that e-portfolios in Mahara are transforming students’ ownership of learning. Having personal choice over how they present themselves and their achievements encourages thoughtful innovation. Instead of simply presenting a finished product, students can upload videos, images, screencasts and audio commentaries to their e-portfolio to illustrate how their ideas have developed. And the combination of technologies gives assessors a much richer picture of students’ achievements.
Wider skills also benefit. Students demonstrate decision-making and digital literacy skills in selecting the most effective format for their evidence, evidence that is particularly important when applying for employment or university admission. Innovative approaches such as recording group evidence via Google Hangouts can also reduce time spent by assessors and verifiers.
Once ready for summative assessment, the URL of a student’s personal choice of Mahara pages is copied and pasted into Moodle, where the work is accessed and graded by assessors, internal and external verifiers. This simple use of hyperlinking avoids duplication of effort but maintains the personal quality of a carefully chosen portfolio of evidence.
- Exploiting technology yields a richer and more efficient picture of student achievement; audio commentaries over video clips, digital images, Google hangouts are all ways of evidencing achievement
- e-Portfolios save time in the long run; content can be re-selected to support CVs and applications for jobs and universities
- Mahara pages add a professional touch to students’ presentations whatever their level of study or technical ability
Barnsley College - rethinking assessment of work-based learning
Barnsley College’s level 3 and 4 diplomas in digital learning design are delivered in one year, enabling apprentices to be employed alongside their studies in the college’s own digital learning design company. The limited time this allows for delivery and assessment has prompted course leaders to rethink their approach to course structure, and assessment and feedback design.
To avoid inducting apprentices into college-owned systems, Google Sites was selected as a web-based e-portfolio for capturing evidence of achievement combined with a business networking tool, Yammer, for dialogue and networking. Microsoft OneDrive, as a business-oriented collaborative platform, is used for formative feedback.
The key priority is to manage time efficiently as full-time apprentices, particularly at level 4, have little time to complete additional assignments or learn to use college-owned tools. Using Google Sites, apprentices upload hyperlinks to items of evidence occurring naturally in the workplace. This approach avoids having to reassemble items of evidence into a college-based e-portfolio system and makes working towards a qualification more achievable for work-based students. Students are also prepared more effectively for the world of work, acquiring familiarity with software and communication technologies used in the industry.
- Work-based students appreciate processes and systems that are instant, simple, flexible and accessible anywhere, any time
- Industry-standard software and tools provide networking opportunities and practical preparation for those preparing for employment
- Students with advanced IT skills may not have equivalent digital literacy skills and guidance is needed for use of platforms for evidence gathering that are not college owned and managed
ISA Training – the Learning Assistant e-portfolio
With over 500 apprentices, ISA Training is the largest, privately-owned, work-based learning provider of hairdressing and beauty apprenticeships in Wales. The provider is also sub-contracted from Lifetime via the Skills Funding Agency to deliver training to around 100 apprentices in south west England.
To increase the flexibility and efficiency of its provision, ISA Training has adopted Learning Assistant as its e-portfolio system and is taking steps to upskill its staff and apprentices in digital literacies in order to make the most effective use of technology in delivery and assessment of courses. Many trainees enjoy building e-portfolios of evidence for assessment; the immediacy of technologies such as smartphones makes them ideal for capturing the visual and artistic skills of hair and beauty trainees. However, some view e-portfolio systems as complex and trainers still need to sell the advantages of the technology to them. On the other hand, very few assessors want to return to the inconvenience of paper-based portfolios.
With the introduction of Learning Assistant, ISA Training has made considerable savings on printing costs and improved its ability to track and manage the progress of its trainees:
“Previously, we had no means of checking how far our students had got. Now we can retrieve data much more easily and can take action to ensure all students achieve their qualifications within the time period,”
Berni Tyler, managing director, ISA Training
In March 2016 using funding from the Welsh government's Quality Improvement Fund, the company ran an event with a consortium of other training providers to look at digital literacies through the eyes of the learner. Apprentices, trainers and assessors all attended the event to share best practice.
- Transforming assessment and feedback with technology
This guide provides ideas and resources to help colleges enhance the entire assessment and feedback lifecycle. Although primarily aimed at higher education institutions, many FE providers find this guide of value.
- Enhancing assessment and feedback with technology: a guide for FE and skills
This guide outlines how technology can add value to assessment and feedback processes in the FE and skills sector with practical advice, guidance and effective practice examples
- Improving student assessment
This short guide contains a range of useful resources and videos on this topic
The video by Paul Warren below contains useful ideas for formative learning with mobile and digital technologies.
Engaging learners in digital developments
Learners who feel an affinity with their college or provider and who feel the institution cares about their learning experience are more likely to succeed, to maintain good relationships beyond their initial course of study and contribute more through alumni activities.
Engaging with learners in a genuine and meaningful way regarding their digital learner journey is one such way to build loyalty and enhance their learning experience.
Through engaging in meaningful and collaborative dialogue and partnership whilst working with students as “change agents”, colleges and providers can encourage a deeper understanding of how digital technology can support learners’ needs. Effective use of technology can enhance the learning experience, for example, by providing additional channels of support or opening up enriched opportunities for learning and communicating to those who may otherwise find it difficult to participate.
When students and staff work together to combine their skills and expertise, results can exceed expectations. Here are some examples of how colleges are engaging learners in the development of their own digital environment.
Examples of effective practice
Epping Forest College - Digital Voice Xperts (DVX), a student-staff partnership to improve digital capabilities
The Digital Voice Xperts (DVX) scheme at Epping Forest College involves learners in improving the digital capabilities of their peers and teachers. Learners taking up the DVX role use their expertise with digital media to create presentations, web pages and videos to show how important it is to use online tools creatively, effectively and safely.
The DVX scheme grew from the knowledge and experience built up from an earlier learner-staff e-mentoring initiative at the college. While e-mentoring still continues, learners have taken up the fresh challenge of ensuring that learners and staff have the skills to live, work and learn successfully and responsibly in a digital world – what are known as digital capabilities.
Learners acting as DVXs gain work experience and employability skills while the college benefits from the enthusiasm and skills only students can bring to an initiative. Presentations and videos on e-safety, how-to’s for staff on new online tools, and guidance for peers on social media are just some of the contributions the DVXs are making to the college’s digital capabilities initiative.
- DVXs undergo a formal application and interview process before being appointed, giving them valuable preparation for the world of work
- Once in post, incentives and rewards keep motivation high
- DVXs a receive ten hours training a year, a certificate of participation and a reference for future employers
Blackburn College - creating a culture shift
Three innovative projects at Blackburn College are immersing staff and students in the possibilities that digital technologies offer to enhance teaching and learning and to enrich the student experience.
The college has developed learning wheels, a very simple graphic device that helps students identify the digital technologies that could help them to engage more fully with course content, assessments and collaborative activities. Staff can also develop wheels tailored to their own programmes to share with colleagues.
The college has also invested in a wide range of technologies in the classroom to encourage a more interactive approach to learning, establishing an “Innovation Lab” specifically to nurture and develop staff digital skills.
Then there is DigiPals, a team of student digital advocates to champion e-learning and encourage their peers to engage with digital technologies. The DigiPals are helping with roadshows and promotions, developing videos and guides and working with the blended learning team to inform and influence curriculum development.
- Students are encouraged to engage with a variety of digital practices to support their learning and boost employability
- A bank of digital resources levels the playing field for learners who do not have their own devices
- The Innovation Lab and DigiPals initiatives are helping to foster digital skills across the college, encouraging staff to explore different technologies and to apply these in their practice
Barnet and Southgate College - DigiDesk: a helpdesk run by students for students and staff
Barnet and Southgate College set up DigiDesk in 2013, staffing it with volunteer advisors from the many students interested in pursuing careers in computing, IT, and animation to provide staff and students with support in digital literacy skills and technical queries. Already equipped with excellent IT skills, the volunteers have also been trained in the broader skills they need to man any IT helpdesk, especially regarding e-safety and safeguarding.
In addition to providing front-line technical support, volunteers are supplied with iPads to gather student feedback on the college’s Moodle courses to inform future curriculum development.
- Student DigiDesk volunteers have gained skills, knowledge and work experience to include in their CVs and in UCAS statements
- The volunteers receive advice and training on use of a range of devices including tablets and on use of course-related software
- The availability of the student advisers enables staff to spend more time with learners
- Staff are more willing to try out technologies in the classroom if tech-savvy students can support them
- The student-staff partnership model has developed a more collaborative and supportive college culture
Pembrokeshire College - transforming the student voice process
VocalEyes digital democracy is Pembrokeshire College’s solution to improve learner involvement and support democratic decision making.
Via the intranet, students are encouraged to suggest ideas for debate which are ranked by their peers. Highly-placed topics are presented to the senior management team and the most feasible put into development. The college community is kept informed about progress and the involvement of senior staff demonstrates commitment. It’s a transparent and democratic process which is very easy to put into practice and which reaches out to those who may feel disengaged by actively seeking to reconnect them with their learning community.
VocalEyes has been cited as an example of best practice by Estyn, the office of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales, and shortlisted for a Times Educational Supplement (TES) award, both excellent accolades for the college, which has also identified around £28,000 in savings through the initiative.
- VocalEyes empowers students and encourages them to take part in decisions about their own learning
- The initiative teaches courteous, democratic online debate, encourages active citizenship and enhances decision making and communication
Harlow College – engagement is the key to success
Through provision of iPads to every learner, judicious selection of apps to support learning and investment in developing the digital skills of staff and students, Harlow College is making good progress towards developing independent learners who are well equipped for the world of work.
The college is developing a digital ambassadors programme to harness the enthusiasm that young learners often have for digital technologies to encourage their peers to engage with online learning.
The college preloads the iPads with carefully selected apps to support collaboration and team working and concentrated on embedding these before turning its attention to other apps such as iMovie to explore the full potential of these to support learners as they develop their own digital environments.
Initially piloted in two curriculum areas, the iPads proved a success and devices are now provided to every full-time learner on an FE programme at the college.
- Take a top-down approach – a large-scale programme of development needs buy-in from the executive; Harlow College lost some momentum with digital technology a few years ago when it less of a high priority for senior managers
- Be clear about what you need technology to do before making any investment decisions
- Develop a sound digital strategy – Harlow developed its strategy from scratch, with advice from Jisc, among others
- Don’t neglect the implications for digital literacy of staff and students; it will be necessary to invest in developing these
- Go to sector events and talk to other colleges to share experiences, challenges, successes and failures. Learn from people who are on the same journey
- Don’t underestimate the power of students to drive forward adoption of new technologies by their peers
- Developing successful student staff partnerships
This guide supports providers working collaboratively with learners to develop the digital environment and create engaging learning experiences
- Enhancing the digital experience for skills learners
This guide contains further information on how to engage learners in the skills sector in collaborative partnerships to enhance the learning experience
Student digital experience tracker
This developing tool is designed help you gather evidence from your learners about their digital experience. The questions in the survey cover issues that are important to learners and/or to staff, with a focus on the learning experience. Visit the student digital experience tracker project page to find out more.
You can also read the report of the headline findings (pdf) from the student digital experience tracker pilot.
Jisc-NUS-TSEP benchmarking your learners’ digital experience
The Jisc-NUS benchmarking tool (pdf), developed in partnership with the National Union of Students (NUS), highlights the importance of partnership working and offers providers a starting point for discussions between staff and learners about what is working in the digital learning environment and what can be improved.
Change agents network
Keep in touch with a community of best practice in student-staff partnerships with the change agents’ network blog.
The following FELTAG video by Paul Warren looks at working with students as digital leaders.
Using technology to develop learners’ employability
There is wide variation in how learning providers develop employability skills. Some are focusing on helping learners to prepare for - and obtain - jobs as an end-of-study activity in conjunction with careers departments.
Others are treating employability as integral to curriculum design, delivery and assessment from the outset of the course of study, enabling learners to take ownership of their lifelong employability.
There is also a range of approaches to using technologies in the development of employability skills. For example, some providers are helping learners to enter into partnerships with employers around the world to identify and solve real world problems. This approach can prove highly motivating for learners, while also enabling providers to develop efficient and cost effective authentic learning experiences for learners, an approach that can bring benefits for employers too.
Five key approaches to support employability:
- Embedding the use of technology to support apprenticeships and student employability in general into strategies, polices and processes
- Professional development of staff in relation to employability and technology for employability
- Investing in tools, resources, infrastructure and support for employability initiatives and to support flexible delivery of apprenticeships and work-based learning
- Improving communication and collaborations to drive change in technology for employability
- Quality assuring and continuous improvement through employability data monitoring, analytics and review
Digital leadership from the sector
Neil Bates, principal and chief executive, Prospects College of Advanced Technology (PROCAT)
“We now have a digital strategy which ensures that we are more agile in our approach”
Neil's links with PROCAT go back many years to when the organisation was a training centre for the engineering industry in Essex.
A passionate advocate for improving the standard of education and training in the skills sector, Neil is a fellow of the City and Guilds of London Institute, the former vice-chair of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service and a founder director of GTA England.
Examples of effective practice
City of Glasgow College - enhancing employability with e-portfolios
City of Glasgow College has developed its own e-portfolio format to help stonemasonry apprentices present their skills for external verifiers and employers. Prior to the e-portfolio initiative, apprentices could not capture or store evidence of their accomplishments in an electronic record of achievement despite the hands-on nature of their work. As a result, there was little opportunity for apprentices to appreciate the continuous nature of their learning or to show their achievements to others.
Now, apprentices can track their personal learning over time and move forward in a continuous and seamless drive for improvement. In addition, the new system has brought about significant improvements in the department’s assessment processes and given a boost to student employability.
The number of students involved in the initiative is growing. Up to the end of 2015, 134 stonemasonry apprentices had used the new portfolio system; another 50 are doing so in spring 2016.
- Learners have acquired a greater sense of involvement, control and understanding of their learning as a result of using e-portfolios; they are able to track their own progress, revisit their work and acquire greater insight into the process of learning
- Use of digital media has also encouraged a learning community; apprentices now voluntarily share ideas and photos via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook
- The ability to choose their preferred format has enabled dyslexic students to record their work in either standard or dyslexia friendly format
- Significant reduction in the use of paper and printing has also helped minimise the department’s carbon footprint while at the same time enabling students to progress into employment with greater confidence
To find out more, read our technology for employability: FE and skills case studies (pdf).
Loughborough College - using technology to connect to employers and students
Through the Bridge to Work initiative, Loughborough College has set out to help young people aged 14-18 gain an insight into employers’ expectations before they apply for jobs or apprenticeships. In part, this is achieved through collaborative conferencing and social software that enables students to take part in real-time presentations and discussions with local and national employers as well as communicatingat any time with their tutors and with one another. The scheme has the added advantage of bringing together employers and potential employees.
Taking part in questioning and discussion sessions with employers also helps students buy into preparation for work, increases their sense of responsibility and provides authentic experience of workplace communication. Understanding this, the college’s Bridge to Work team set up a series of webinars using Adobe Connect conferencing software to bring students and local and national firms together. Using what was learnt from the webinars, the Bridge to Work team subsequently held an interviewing skills event. This was so well received that students were entered into and reached the final of the Barclays Bank Champion of Champions competition.
- The Bridge to Work initiative has helped many students gain a better understanding of their own employability
- Both learners and companies have benefitted from having direct access to one another, a process that has opened up new opportunities
To find out more, read our technology for employability: FE and skills case studies (pdf).
S&B Autos Automotive Academy Bristol - blended learning at distance
S&B Automotive Academy is a medium-sized, work-based learning provider of specialist courses for the automotive industry which has adopted a range of technologies to make its training programmes more effective and efficient.
To keep in touch with apprentices in dispersed workshop locations, the academy uses video streaming to conduct meetings, tutorials and assessments. For their part, the apprentices use video to capture evidence for their e-portfolios, and video streaming to provide taster experiences for the next generation of apprentices. Apprentices also have access to online learning materials on Moodle so that no one misses out on the theoretical elements of their course while on placement in the industry. In a significant new development, the academy has also developed cost-effective ways of training apprentices in paint spraying techniques via simulation technologies.
- By using virtual and augmented reality, the academy has reduced the time allocated to training apprentices in paint spraying techniques from two days to ten minutes; this represents cost savings of at least £13,000 per annum in terms of teacher time and consumables such as paint
- Video streaming directly to students in school has enabled potential apprentices to be better informed about their choice of career, improving recruitment and reducing drop-out rates; because of the academy’s focus on attracting the right candidates, 99% off apprentices now progress to the advanced programme
- Demonstrating skills via video, including soft skills, adds richness to the apprentices’ e-portfolios and facilitates transition into sought-after employment with companies at the forefront of the motor trade
To find out more, read our technology for employability: FE and skills case studies (pdf).
St Helens College – LinkedIn opens up the world of work
At St Helens College LinkedIn accounts are enabling foundation degree students to showcase their achievements and form relationships with potential employers to boost their employability.
The first big task was to show students that competition is fierce and that they need more than just evidence of qualifications whether they plan to study further or get into work.
The college enlisted the help of former students and local employers to convince current students of the value of learning new networking and self-presentation skills; acting as mentors they added real credibility to the programme. The former students had recent experience of the value of LinkedIn as a tool for professional networking and fresh ideas about what to share as well as how to present it. Employers contributed by acting as a panel for mock interviews.
Teaching staff started to introduce changes in the way they plan, deliver and assess their courses, and the college supported them by allowing time for learning new approaches and skills within their weekly CPD allowance.
Students have developed a better understanding of how to use social media in general and they have better communications and digital literacy skills. LinkedIn has been rolled out across the college and students are building more work focused on their life after college using digital tools such as Padlet to share information about employers.
- Help students and staff to understand what candidates need to do to stand out in a competitive jobs market
- Invest in developing the digital skills of students and staff
- Enlist the help of local employers and former students to offer their perspectives from both sides of the jobs market
Portland College – mobile tech boosts student progression
Mobile and video technologies are being used to boost the confidence and employability of students with disabilities at Portland College - an independent specialist college for students aged 16 to 25, it provides educational opportunities and fosters independent living skills for students with physical or learning disabilities.
College staff believed that mobile technologies would bring a range of benefits, helping students to become independent learners, finding out and memorising information for themselves, and putting into practice new or rediscovered skills. The portability of the devices was another clear advantage; many learning activities at Portland are practical and work-oriented, often occurring far from the classroom and mobile devices would enable classroom support to go wherever the students do. In addition, support could be personalised to meet the different needs and preferences of individual students.
Portland College set up the Quick Campus project to enable more use of mobile devices in learning activities. The Quick Campus project has funded:
- Wifi coverage across the college farm
- 28 iPad Minis
- A ’sync and charge’ solution for mobile devices
- Specialised assistive technologies to help individual students and staff
The farm became the focal point for the project but mobile devices are being used in creative studies too. Students are using tablets to record videos that explain the thinking behind their artwork and this is helping them learn important skills of reflection and presentation.
- Ensure that you have good internet connectivity across your campus or estate
- Engage students and staff with the benefits that using mobile devices will enable
- Invest in developing the digital skills of staff and students
- Explore tools that can help students to refine and improve their work, such as video editing
Goole College - enhancing the employability of vocational learners with technology
The college’s virtual welding software enables NVQ and BTEC engineering learners to progress faster towards their vocational goals. The application provides a lifelike experience of welding skills through virtual reality headsets and comes with no health and safety implications or budget constraints for consumables. As a result, learning welding can be enjoyable and risk-free, and even accessible to younger learners on the college’s 14-16 programme.
Teachers support other aspects of the curriculum with online games and activities delivered via apps to learners’ smartphones, providing a stimulating environment that keeps the interest of today’s digital learners.
In addition, the college uses the Hull Group’s employability passport scheme to help learners acquire the wide range of skills needed in the workplace. Accessed via learners’ e-ILPs, the passport aligns with the Confederation of British Industry’s key employability skills and gives all full-time 16-18-year-old learners, and some 19+ students, the chance to work towards essential employability skills at bronze, silver and gold levels.
- Learners make faster progress in acquiring vocational skills when using simulation software
- Difficult content is easier to recall and understand when introduced first through virtual activities, online games or apps
- The Hull Group’s employability passport was noted by Ofsted to be ‘a highly effective way of helping learners track the skills they are achieving’
- Embracing learners’ preferences for digital technologies can enable them to engage better and learn more effectively
You can read further examples of practice from FE and skills in our technology for employability: FE and skills case studies (pdf).
You can also find out more from our quick read technology for employability report (pdf).
- Enhancing student employability through tech-supported assessment and feedback
This guide outlines examples and strategies from FE and HE to ensure the curriculum helps develop skills and competencies needed in the world of work
- Develop your students’ employability skills through technology
This guide identifies five key ways you can use technology to support student employability
Supporting students and staff to work successfully with digital technologies
Technology is pervasive in everyday life. So much so, that ensuring that students are digitally capable has to be considered as one of the key employability goals. However, staff in colleges and providers need to be adept and confident in using technology themselves before they can improve their students’ digital capabilities.
The importance of developing the digital skills of staff cannot be underestimated. Staff who are confident and proficient in using technology and designing appropriate digital activities for their students have a positive influence on their students’ development. The student experience is inherently digital and learning providers must play an active role in shaping that experience.
Here are some examples inspired by the FELTAG initiative of how learning providers are supporting staff and students in acquiring digital skills.
Digital leadership from the sector
Michelle Swithenbank, deputy chief executive, Hull College Group
“You can’t do something to people; you have to do something with them”
Michelle had a background in nursing before moving into further education as a lecturer in public services and health and social care and subsequently into management.
Michelle says that educators have to respond to changes brought about by the digital age, and that senior managers need to lead by example to give staff the confidence to try out new approaches. It’s also vital when establishing a digital culture to share best practice and celebrate achievements.
Examples of effective practice
Cornwall College - putting the ‘OO’ into Moodle
The Cornwall College Group (Cornwall College) is a large, geographically dispersed organisation comprising eight campuses and a number of smaller sites across south west England. Having a single, consistently available virtual learning environment (VLE) helps ensure an equal learning experience for all in a diverse organisation.
As in many colleges, some teaching staff (and a small percentage of learners) were finding it hard to embrace use of their VLE, Moodle. Its organisation and layout lacked appeal and it was hard for the less experienced to navigate to the right pages. Despite being established for over a decade and benefitting from the support of enthusiastic champions on each campus, the college’s Moodle site was not always seen as a welcoming space.
In the light of the key FELTAG recommendation to bring the workforce up to speed with digital technologies, the college’s e-learning team took up the challenge of demonstrating the true value of the VLE. While this case study focuses on Moodle, ease of use and relevance for users are important requirements of all learning platforms.
- Making it easy to discuss users’ requirements can transform the look and feel of a college-based learning platform
- Showcasing effective models helps spread understanding and seeds new ideas
- Making sure the VLE is part of everyday conversations heightens its profile
- Showing staff what can be done to solve everyday problems via the VLE can restore their enthusiasm and confidence
Borders College – work collaboratively to develop innovative solutions
Borders College is taking an innovative approach to supporting the delivery of learning to its students, many of whom are who are spread out across a wide geographical area in remote locations where broadband coverage and mobile phone reception are poor or non-existent.
The college faces real challenges to its goal of developing leading edge digital services for its learners. Undeterred, it has set up an innovation hub and sought out an industry partner – Fujitsu - which is enabling it to be among the first to try out emerging technologies in an education setting.
The college aims to create “a library in your pocket” for every learner although this is a work in progress because broadband coverage and mobile phone reception are still poor on some of the local farmland and rural estates.
The ILT team works closely with teachers to understand their teaching objectives and then search out the best digital tool; this has led to investment in a number of technologies and the college is committed to providing appropriate devices when necessary. Effective procurement skills are therefore very important and the college’s technology-enhanced learning lead Fraser Wight advocates being determined when it comes to negotiating prices. He provides mentoring to other colleges to help with this.
- Make sure you understand the teaching and learning objectives so you can find the most appropriate technology solution
- Have good communicators within your technology team so they can work with teachers and win their trust
- Show people how technology will make things better - or they won’t use it
- Work with your finance/procurement team to ensure best value for money when purchasing technology
Gateshead Council - recognising digital literacy
Gateshead Council is working in partnership with seven authorities in north east England on NETSPass, a project to develop and recognise staff members’ digital literacy through continuous professional development (CPD) in which staff create online resources and are rewarded with badges for their achievement. The initiative, which is defining quality standards for online learning content, is planning to make the outputs from this work available to all FE colleges and skills providers.
Funding was provided by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) as part of the £1m Learning Futures programme to develop the digital abilities of the education and learning workforce which in turn aims to improve outcomes for learners and employers.
- NETSPass is a wide ranging project designed to address digital literacy needs of staff via a digitally based CPD programme
- Creating clear quality standards supports staff in developing high quality online content
- Staff effort is recognised and rewarded using online badges awarded by an online teaching and learning quality observation team
- Work to develop this model will inform similar work in other provider consortia
- The increased skills and confidence staff gain can be cascaded on to others
South Eastern Regional College - embedding digital technologies in curriculum activities
South Eastern Regional College (SERC) has taken a holistic approach to embedding digital technologies by means of an ILT strategy group that includes representatives from across IT, academic and other directorates within the college. The college has recently been awarded the effective use of technology in FE, Association of Colleges (AoC) Beacon Award, sponsored by Jisc, for its exemplary work.
Its many initiatives are all focused on improving student experience and achievement. The curriculum is kept relevant via a dynamic approach to Moodle, giving every course an online presence and encouraging staff and student input into the creation of content. To ensure that using the VLE is not a passive experience, SERC have focused on creating interactive learning opportunities enhanced by the growth of e-assessment and strategies such as game-based learning. This has proved a popular approach – in 2013-2014 alone the SERC Moodle site was accessed 4m times, with 1m of these originating from outside the college sites.
There are also digital initiatives to help students to “get the edge” by developing their employability skills and to ensure that staff keep their digital skills up to date via a dedicated learning academy.
SERC has taken a deliberate and strategic approach to provide CPD from induction and to continue to support it throughout the career of the 600 teaching staff working at the college. The aim is to signify that blended learning is an approach the college wants staff to adopt.
The ILT pedagogy mentoring programme, introduced in 2008, focuses on how pedagogy should drive the use of technology. The programme provides bespoke support, tailored to the needs of each individual tutor or teacher to identify their digital literacy skills and provide training in a range of technologies and learning and teaching strategies that are specific to the needs of both the mentee and the learners they teach.
- Professional and contextual use of technology is embedded in curriculum delivery and in employability focused activities from induction onwards
- Students are given opportunities to develop digital literacies and to build a professional digital footprint while learning
- Staff are empowered to explore effective uses of technology and to participate in curriculum development initiatives
- Taking a holistic approach to embedding technology is fostering greater organisational efficiency
Lewisham Southwark College - opening up opportunities for learning with digital technologies
Staff and students at Lewisham Southwark College use up-to-the-minute technologies in their everyday work to develop their digital capabilities and confidence.
The college has created its own blended learning centre to give staff and students opportunities to use a range of different devices and, with more than 100 apps to choose from, there’s a specially tailored “blending in” online course to help staff exploit opportunities to develop their own blended learning resources.
The flexibility and accessibility of iPads are also being exploited to open up opportunities for a variety of learning needs. Use of these devices by students is now standard for recording feedback, not just from tutors but also from peers, and to help students with disabilities. A variety of apps can similarly support collaboration, research and note-taking. Students on English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) courses are also using Apple Macs to improve their learning by creating content for their own radio station, LeSoCo Radio.
- Staff and students are encouraged to try out new opportunities via CPD and drop-in sessions
- Students with a variety of needs are provided with tablets to enable them to participate fully in learning opportunities
- “Blending in” gives staff a model they can emulate and adapt easily
- The blended learning centre supports those who don’t have devices of their own
Reaseheath College - e-learning team model: a culture shift towards digital
Reaseheath College introduced its e-learning team model in September 2015 to ensure that the best combination of technical, specialist and curriculum knowledge was available to enhance the curriculum. Developing the digital literacy skills of staff and learners was key to the strategy in line with FELTAG recommendations.
In the Reaseheath model, e-learning coaches act as a capillary network within the college, supporting and supplying staff with ideas and training and acting as the eyes and ears of their departments. These eight individuals from subject areas across the college, who have a passion and understanding of ILT, have weekly remission from their teaching commitments to support and develop staff digital literacy. For content creation, a digital developer is included in the team to support the coaches.
Overseeing this team is an eLearning coordinator, who is also involved in the teacher training programme at the college, ensuring that the college’s teachers of tomorrow are aware of the benefits of digital, and are equipped with the skills needed to succeed. Other initiatives include drop-in digital literacy sessions for teachers and learners, and a “learner voice” element in quality review weeks.
Since the introduction of the team, the college has seen a substantial increase in the use of the VLE by both learners and teachers (an increase of 165% and 569% respectively), along with a significant increase in the effective use of technology through observations of teaching and learning practise. Innovative practice such as augmented reality, app development and 360 video are all being developed for use within specific curriculum areas with the help and support of the e-learning team.
To find out more contact Ben Craig, e-learning coordinator at Reaseheath College firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tinder Foundation - "Learn my way" redesign and digital champions courses
Tinder Foundation manages a network of UK online centres using its learning platform, Learn My Way to help people improve their digital skills. In response to the FELTAG recommendations the foundation has started on a redesign for the learning platform using an agile approach to boost accessibility and engagement and to ensure that it remains relevant for learners and their tutors.
Some elements of the redesign are happening on the existing site because of the organisation’s involvement in a financial inclusion project, Money My Way, with Comic Relief for which Tinder produced ten hours of learning about financial inclusion and basic money management.
The broader subject has been divided into smaller topic areas, and the tutor resources have been aligned with those designed for learners. Each topic page is laid out like a session plan with all the worksheets, extra information and links on the same page alongside simple instructions so that the learner can follow the page along with the tutor.
In addition, the Tinder Foundation has launched some new digital champions’ courses to teach learners how to encourage and inspire others to get online. There is one about understanding and meeting learner needs and another that focuses on planning and delivering a session, both with a focus on using digital technology as the default approach even when teaching topics that aren’t directly related to computers and the internet. These courses are intended for tutors in the foundation’s own centres and will be made available to the wider FE and skills sector.
- Evolution of existing courses ensures their relevance for tutors and learners, and can ensure accessibility
- Aligning tutor and learner resources helps learners engage and take control of their own learning
- The new courses can be cascaded to the wider FE and skills sector
Beaumont College - technology to support independent living
Beaumont College offers programmes for young people with disabilities and learning difficulties, between the ages of 19-25. Students who have a range of complex physical disabilities often require significant adaptations to their living environment. Beaumont College wanted students to be able to control their own environment with a greater degree of independence.
The solution was to put environmental control systems (ECS) in the college residences, through a commercial partnership with BT called ‘Connect to Control’, which concluded in April 2014. Beaumont College met with students individually to find out what they wanted to control – equipment such as the TV or video, or aspects of the room such as windows or blinds. The college then looked at how this could be done, based on their existing access devices. Most students already using an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device used this as their ECS controller, whilst the project funding secured speech generating devices for others. If voice output was not required, the controller had to meet their access needs and their preferences – these included an accessible tablet PC and simple infrared (IR) devices.
Student and key support staff were trained and supported to use the equipment as independently as possible. Use of the ECS system linked to the learning programme for each learner’s aims and expected outcomes. Once installed, students enjoyed using the systems which increased their levels of independence and dignity, and enabled them to control and influence their own environment. Each student had a named assistive technologist who liaised with the rest of the staff team and oversaw all technology options. Regular reviews ensured the systems remained fit for purpose; that students were happy with their operation and that additional elements were included as required.
Embedding ECS into the extended curriculum has resulted in a richer life skills programme and increased levels of independence. Students enjoy using the technology, which if it was installed in future accommodation could considerably reduce their support costs over a lifetime. The project funding has resulted in a significant capital investment in technology that is now fixed in the building. This investment will have a positive impact on current and future students; most of the equipment has a long design life and if properly serviced will last for some time.
- Technology requirements were driven by individual student needs
- Student and key support staff were trained and supported to use the equipment
- Technology linked to the learning programme for each learner’s aims and expected outcomes
- Students now have richer life skills programme, increased level of independence and dignity
To find out more, read a case study on the NATSPEC website: technology to support independent living (pdf).
North Lindsey College - collaborative working brings faster benefits cost-effectively
North Lindsey College is one of ten FE and HE institutions working collaboratively as the Digital Technologies Network, led by the University of Hull, to develop the effective use of digital technologies throughout their teaching and learning. Recently, they have explored augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as well as ways to maximise the potential of mobile.
They stimulated interest in mobile technologies with a network conference and “Mobile March”, a month-long event in 2015, during which each of the ten institutions ran training sessions for staff and students. In 2016 they opted to do a similar online only event called “Through the Periscope”, using Twitter and live video streaming app Periscope . Each institution focused on a different aspect of digital technologies – with Leeds College of Music leading on AR and use of online video, Hull College’s approach to flipped learning and North Lindsey College exploring the digital journeys of individual staff.
Each institution has now contributed case studies for a free e-book, published at the group’s flipped learning conference in June 2016, to help others hoping to make progress in their own digital journeys. To access the e-book and for further details of the network and upcoming events visit the Digital Technologies Network website.
- Regular monthly meetings focus attention on progress and enable members to discuss problems and successes
- A range of initiatives encourage staff to engage with digital technologies and help students to develop relevant digital skills
- Sharing resources and best practice enables each institution to work more cost-effectively and to avoid duplication of effort
For more information visit the digital technologies network blog.
The following sources of guidance will take you further.
Association for Learning Technology (ALT)– FELTAG special interest group (SIG)
ALT provides a means of discussing the major challenges that learning providers face in implementing FELTAG. The ALT SIG is open to all those interested in promoting the themes of FELTAG and wanting to share ideas relevant to it.
Association for Learning Technology (ALT) - CMALT for Blended Learning Essentials
Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT) is one route to accreditation in blended learning. This free online course helps you acquire the knowledge you need. For more information, visit the course homepage.
You can also download a full guide for paths to accreditation (pdf).
To find out more, read the Blended learning essentials and CMALT page on the ALT website.
Education and Training Foundation – Learning Futures programme
Learning Futures was a £1.1 million investment by the Education and Training Foundation. Using action research projects to create innovative CPD and other resources, the programme aimed to develop the capability and capacity of learning providers to use learning technologies effectively.
UFI - blended learning essentials course
Blended Learning Essentials (BLE) is a free online course for the vocational education and training (VET) sector to promote effective practice and pedagogy in blended learning.
Funded by the UFI Trust as a response to the FELTAG report, the course is for anyone in the VET sector who wants to learn about and implement blended learning.
Also available are the blended learning essentials: embedding practice resources on the Futurelearn website.
Education and Training Foundation digital skills courses
The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) offer a free online course to help you develop your personal digital skills, as well as follow-up paid options for face-to-face and online courses, to develop the skills further and apply them in your teaching. Details of all the courses can be found on the ETF website.
Jisc developing digital literacies guide: provides ideas and resources to inspire the strategic development of digital literacies - those capabilities which support living, learning and working in a digital society for all staff and students.
Jisc digital capabilities project
Effective use of digital technology by all staff is vital to provide an effective digital experience for learners and realise a good return on investment in technology.
The Jisc digital capability framework describes the skills needed by staff in a wide range of academic, administrative and professional roles to thrive in a digital environment. In addition, there is a suite of discovery, diagnostic and reflective tools will help individuals and managers in a range of roles identify and reflect on current skills levels and digital capability, and make plans for how these can be improved.
To find out more, visit the building digital capability project page.
Paul Warren’s two-minute FELTAG video below asks: how can we support digital learners?
Delivering a robust, flexible digital environment
Colleges and providers should endeavour to make their systems easy to access and to provide a safe, secure and seamless online environment for learning. Many learners assume it’s a given that they will have access to free wifi whilst having the freedom to bring your own (BYO) device - the term used to describe the use of personal devices, services, data, apps and software in institutional settings.
Despite the increasing number of learners bringing their own devices, they still like to feel that everything they need to succeed will be made available by their college or provider. This includes infrastructure (fixed computers and printers), access to online and off line learning resources and a physical learning environment where staff and students can work both individually and collaboratively.
This means colleges and providers have to meet their data protection and other legal responsibilities whilst balancing learner and staff preference for using systems outside the control of the college or provider. They are also legally obliged to ensure their IT infrastructure is accessible and support the use of assistive technologies. Many manage this through a policy or set of policies.
To enhance the learner experience, institutional systems need to work across all campuses and students need to be able to access resources from anywhere via their own devices. Colleges and providers need to provide sufficient bandwidth and coverage to extend to all areas of their sites and consideration must be given to incorporating external services such as use of personal cloud storage, social bookmarking, social media, blogs and wikis as part of an expanded digital learning environment.
Digital leadership from the sector
Graham Razey, principal, Canterbury College and East Kent College
“We have learned as a team what makes efficient delivery across multiple sites”
Graham explains how important it is to ensure all users in a multi-campus organisation have the same consistent, reliable access to learning resources and essential data. Recent mergers mean that the college has set its priorities on providing smooth, seamless access to the IT infrastructure on all sites.
Follow Graham on Twitter @GrahamRazey
Examples of effective practice
The Isle of Wight College - supporting transformation: a digital environment that works for all
The FELTAG challenge for 10% of the core curriculum to be delivered online lies at the heart of the decision by the Isle of Wight College to adopt cloud-based Microsoft Office 365. With the addition of LMS365, a learning management system supplied by Microsoft partner ELEARNINGFORCE, and a drive to embed a ‘bring your own’ (BYO) policy, college managers are making online learning the norm on all college courses.
In 2016, the initiative has started to bear fruit. Since an ‘always connected’ generation of learners have been able to access learning on any device via the web-based Office 365, the number of sign-ons has doubled in one year. The switch from a virtual learning environment (VLE) to a web-based learning management system has also saved the college training and maintenance costs. Perhaps the most significant outcome is the transformation of learning and teaching in departments keen to embrace new opportunities for learner-centred learning.
- A free cloud-based environment for education accessible over the web on any device
- Easy-to-use tools for resource and course production inspire creativity in staff
- Familiar software and a clear interface encourage learners to engage with course resources
- A large-scale pilot shows the potential for transforming learning and teaching
- Reduction in training needs and savings of £500,000 on infrastructure and staffing costs over five years
Bolton College – improve your service platform
In 2013 Bolton College’s senior management team began to take a fresh look at its information and learning technology (ILT) and explore new ways to deliver more choice, provide tailored support for learners and achieve business efficiencies.
New learning technology lead Aftab Hussain undertook a wide-ranging review of the existing systems and, over the next two years, he and his team created a sophisticated platform that is driving a series of innovations. Data and analytics are being used to transform services and create a bespoke learning experience for each learner. Information about students is gathered via their own editable profile and used to provide targeted information and resources and to offer appropriate pastoral care.
Two students who open the same interactive online tutorial will often find that it moves in completely different directions for each. A session looking at employability skills, for example, will start with the same basic introduction and then move on to look at interview techniques that are specific to a learner’s specialism and career aspirations. Other departments use the information in a student’s profile to load information about careers, training or social events that students might be interested in and the learning development and mentoring team will monitor data about a student’s attendance and performance so that they can offer appropriate pastoral support if a student looks to be disengaged or struggling.
- Open source tools should provide most of what you need, but a hosted service might be safer if you haven’t got the technical skills available in-house; however, hosted services might be less flexible
- When you introduce new technology or services, don’t neglect the training for both staff and students
- Explore how data and learning analytics can drive service excellence
- Remember that online learning can never replace classroom interaction and teacher insight
City of Liverpool College - transforming the digital environment: resilient and robust systems and services
With an ambition to encourage students to bring their own (BYO) devices, the college recognised the strain that this would put on its existing network and it became the first FE college to sign up to Jisc’s shared data centre for education and research. The move is ensuring staff and students enjoy fast, reliable access to data from anywhere, via the cloud. The college has also become a Microsoft Academy to give its community of learners and staff access to Office 365 and all the Microsoft Academy teaching and learning materials.
These steps have enabled it to launch SharEd, a shared service that will accelerate the transformation not just of teaching and learning but also of a range of management systems. It will also make possible a range of efficiencies via partnership working and increased purchasing power. BYO has now been implemented, supported by a system of equipment loans for those without their own devices and by investment in skills development for both staff and students.
- The digital environment is robust and secure but open to innovative uses
- The reliability and speed of the systems are bolstering staff and student confidence in technology
- Students like to feel the institution is providing them with “everything they need to succeed” in terms of access and infrastructure (e.g. fixed computers and printers), even if they have independent access.
- The effects of the “digital divide” are being monitored and addressed via equipment loans and extended library opening
- Outsourced shared services offer significant efficiency gains
- Investment in robust systems is enabling development of flexible, social learning spaces
East Berkshire College - encouraging the use of mobile devices
East Berkshire College’s mobile device strategy was implemented in autumn 2013, aiming to empower students and staff by opening up the possibility of more flexible, personalised and collaborative learning and also to equip students with the digital skills they’ll need in the workplace.
The college set itself clear targets to achieve within three years and invested in high-end mobile devices for use both in the classroom and in independent study. These include Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and 3 tablets as well as iPads, many of them contained within intelligent self-service lockers for use on a first come, first served basis. The college has also provided staff and students with training in use of the devices and upgraded its wireless network to ensure that it has sufficient capacity for these hundreds of devices as well as for many more devices that will be deployed by students themselves.
Training was provided for staff on the use of the new devices and systems, supplemented by staff surgery sessions. The ILT content developers have extended the training to help staff and students.
The college has upgraded the wifi network to Cisco Gigabit wireless network technology to ensure there is sufficient capacity to service the bandwidth required for these devices and the expected increase in use of bring your own and college provided devices. The college currently has wireless coverage at both their campuses in Langley and Windsor. The legitimate use of wireless connections is encouraged by enabling automated log on for validated devices to the network.
- The focus on mobile devices gives learners experience in using industry standard devices and helps to develop digital literacy skills, particularly in use of mobile technologies
- The commitment to purchase devices for both students and staff goes some way towards providing equality of access to resources, and making these available through the locker scheme addresses potential barriers for those who may not have access to personal mobile devices
- Learning spaces are being redesigned to support more informal and collaborative learning opportunities
Redbridge College - the iZone
Redbridge College’s iZone, opened in 2013, is a flexible learning area equipped with a rich array of mobile and interactive technologies including Chromebooks, iPads, interactive touchscreens and touch-enabled PCs.
The iZone can also be transformed via augmented reality (AR) technologies into a planetarium, an operating theatre or a chemistry lab, giving users the ‘wow’ factor and offering a highly practical way for learners to experience the extraordinary. In this way, the iZone is:
- Supporting online learning
- Encouraging development of programmes to improve the abilities of governors, managers and teachers to use technology
- Teaching teachers how to design online learning resources using open source packages
To find out more, contact Sayrah Javed, innovation leader at Redbridge College email@example.com.
Priestley College – choose the right platform
Priestley College has found a robust, easy to implement way to manage resources and student work so that it can all be found quickly and easily, wherever staff and students want to access it.
The college’s initial solution was to test the online office suite Microsoft Office 365 to create a central, collaborative platform and offer a range of services including unlimited cloud storage. However, pilot trials hit problems and the college’s ILT development team began to investigate Google Classroom in its place.
Classroom is a suite of tools that support collaboration and students have taken to it because they find it intuitive and easy to use. In Google Classroom work is saved automatically and it doesn’t get misfiled. It is easy to locate and can be shared with other learners and with staff. Teachers can see how projects are progressing in real time and offer advice and actionable feedback so that work can be improved before it is handed in.
What’s more, students can start a piece of work at college and then pick up where they left off using the Classroom app on their phone or tablet; they can work collaboratively with other students wherever they happen to be.
With growing pressure from students, more teachers are taking up the challenge and getting to grips with Classroom via bite-size training sessions offered by the college’s ILT development team.
- Identify someone within the organisation who has enough technical knowledge to help teachers set up their Google Education accounts
- Ask a technology champion to try things out first – when it goes well, their students will probably do the “selling” for you
- Show a technophobe how easy it is to use - if they can use basic Microsoft packages they will find Google Classroom even more intuitive
- Engage students with mobile learning
With increasing numbers of people accessing the internet using mobile devices, organisations need to embrace mobile learning to increase learner satisfaction and retention, widen participation and potentially reduce costs
- Safeguarding learners online
Our quick guide is designed to help overcome challenges and ensure learners know how to behave safely and responsibly in the digital space
- Legal guides
We offer a variety of legal guides and resources around the use of technology
- Cloud computing
Our detailed guide outlines the costs, benefits, risks and models of deployment as they apply to the further education and skills sector
- Learning spaces
Our learning spaces guide explores in detail the relationship between technology and physical learning spaces and includes case studies, a photo library on new build and refurbishment projects, including sustainable approaches and business incubation spaces