Member storyFemale student using a virtual reality headset.

Askham Bryan’s roadmap to the future of digital learning

Through investment and a ‘teachers helping teachers’ philosophy, Askham Bryan College plan to build a support community to improve the digital skills of their students and achieve their digital vision for 2030.

Specialist land-based college Askham Bryan secured a bid for £1 million of investment in 2020 from York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to improve the digital skills of their students – the future workforce in land-based industry.

Responding to current and future economic and environmental challenges, the college have launched their 2030 vision and are at the start of a five-year roadmap. The LEP funding has enabled the college to invest in a digital skills academy and embed digital and online learning within all their study programs, especially those at Level 3.

Head of digital learning, Stacy Vipas says:

Stavy Vipas profile.

“Land-based industry leaders have told us that it’s important to digitally upskill the future workforce. With the launch of our digital skills academy and digital capabilities self-assessment tool, students can assess their digital skills and move through what we call ‘digilite’ and ‘digipro’.

"Digital lite gets the students going with the digital systems at the college and digital pro is advancing those skills. They will then follow a plan provided by the insights to develop their digital practices.

“We want students to have a digital mindset from the offset and be wowed by the things that you can do with digital. Then they can take that away into their subjects and be inspired that technology can have a positive impact on their future careers.”

Agritech in the UK is a big industry. In 2020, the UK government launched a £24 million package aimed at boosting agritech projects across the UK, bringing big data, artificial intelligence and robotics to the country’s farming industry. Askham Bryan are in a unique position to respond to the needs of the agritech industry to provide technical and professional training to the future workforce.

Stacy continues,

“Generally, our students go into practical based jobs and are not the sort of students that will want to come and sit down and learn for example how to use an Excel spreadsheet, so we need to think about ways in which we can hook them into using digital tools in those practical contexts.

“We also know that people change jobs several times throughout their career, so we want to prepare the students for that. They need to have the digital skills and that self-regulation to be able to work without the teacher, or the boss, stood over their shoulder. They need to have the ability to learn new digital tools and systems quickly.”

2030 vision

“Right now, 20% of our curriculum is being delivered digitally or online but by 2030 that will be around 30%. We’re aiming to use VR headsets and subject specialist equipment more. We’ll have key performance indicators to meet as we go through,"

said Stacy.

"Digital transformation is really important for us as a college. We’ve invested in the right tools that we need to get new systems in place, such as a new library management system and new HR system. Every single person in the organisation is trying to think with a digital mindset.”

The new build

Successfully securing funding from the LEP to improve the digital skills of their students has enabled an exciting new build at the college. It features the virtual reality suite and the collaboration suite, along with three editing and creation pods, which means that students can create content supported by the eLearning coordinator who is also based in that space.

Stacy adds,

“Within the new digital collaborative learning room there's no ‘front of class’. We have a lectern with a laptop and the teacher can cast to the screens above each bank of seats. We're trying to break that myth that learning happens at the front of the class and is all teacher focused.

“In the virtual reality room there’s a latency tracking floor for a multi-user experience. Students can use the VR headsets and build in the collaborative space. For example, they might be designing an animal enclosure in virtual reality and drop in 3D assets, designing it around the assignment brief. They can collaborate with each other and make suggestions and improvements to each other’s build. The staff are really excited about creating these environments.”

Embracing a digital mindset from the start

Bringing staff along on the journey is essential in delivering the digital strategy, as Stacey describes:

“We really value the role of the teacher and the value of that face-to-face relationship between students and teachers. We also don't want our teachers to be so tired they get burnout. Investing time and energy in digital methods now will hopefully pay off for them in the longer term and enhance their digital skills.

“During the main body of the online learning lessons we're going to set work asynchronously. The teacher can tap into the students work and give written feedback that's really valuable to them. At the end of the lesson the teacher will pull the students back together for a reflective metacognitive chat about what's been learned. This feeds back into the next session and there's connections between each of the lessons that are delivered online.”

College collaboration

Edtech demo partner, Grimsby College, has been a guiding partner in Askham Bryan’s 2030 vision. They’ve shared best practice examples from the sector and suggested the Teams community of practice, where ‘teachers help teachers’ and get awards for their help.

Stacy continues:

“We asked staff to drop quick skills videos in the community of practice and started the ‘doing good with digital’ awards. Each term we have ten awards for staff based on the top five Nearpod users, or for those who’ve been the most adventurous with quizzes in eStream. We ask the staff member to post in the group that they’ve received the award and what they did to achieve it – to inspire others.”

Reflecting on the start of the project and what they’ve achieved so far, Stacy says:

“Having the digital strategy at the heart of the college is a massive change in a lot of ways. People are starting to see the fruits that it’ll bear and how we’ll be able to move forward with that. Staff are looking at it positively. Digital is here to stay and we need to embrace it.”

For more inspiration, take a look at other member stories to find out how they are using technology to transform the student experience.