Share what you find…..find what you share!

From guest writer Paul Warren.

Just recently, a number of things have begun to capture my interest with regard to the way in which technology is utilised to engage students in their learning. One of the things which particularly interests me is the seeming disparity between the wealth of available information about, and the apparent lack of promotion of, digital tools and resources which can aid our learners with their studies.

It’s been my experience that even when digital solutions to student difficulties or preferences are known about, these aren’t always communicated to the learner: to the lecturer: or indeed both. Surprisingly, even in some instances where solutions are proactively highlighted they still don’t appear to be incorporated into learners’ study approaches. Examples of this can range from free text to speech software for foundation learning students, through to digital note pad organisers for Level 3 learners through to digital referencing media for undergraduate students.

For the purposes of clarity, when I refer to Learning Technology here, I’m referring to the range of apps, web tools and virtual learning environments which are available to students and teachers as digital resources. Granted, the volume of resources which are currently available can be overwhelming for some colleagues who are just starting to explore the benefits of using a variety of technology-based solutions to enhance learning. It may also be difficult to set aside sufficient time for staff to familiarise themselves with a particular tool and plan how they can best incorporate it with their learners. A possible further challenge may also exist in navigating through the sheer range of tools and mapping them to the relevant pedagogy. Colleagues may also find themselves wondering: Which apps are good for assessment? Which web tools best support collaborative learning? Where can I get more information? How can I involve my students more? These are all good questions.

learn-977545_640One possible solution may be to try to identify whose responsibility it is to ensure that teaching staff, students and others are made aware of what is out there and updated on the changes as they occur. Should this responsibility fall squarely on the shoulders of Senior Management? Is it solely down to the Learning Technologist or e-Learning Manager? Are teaching staff expected to resource technology for themselves and implement it or is it down to the learners who are, after all, the end beneficiaries? There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer, but implementing a strategy which clearly informs staff of who they can go to for help, what help is available and how that help can be accessed may be a good place to begin. What happens, though, when the structure exists but it is not being used effectively? It may then be advisable to examine the potential barriers. One such barrier could be organisational mindset regarding how the College traditionally uses technology.

For example, some Colleges have a “tie-in” with a particular product or IT package and this may prevent them from considering or promoting a more comprehensive range of tech-based learning solutions. This can, and does, sometimes lead to students being needlessly disadvantaged by not being made aware of resources which could help them. An example of this could be a free Chrome plug-in for a text-to-speech program in a College which predominantly only uses Microsoft products or a “Google College” that lacks the infrastructure to support learners who wish to access the myriad of learning solutions which are available via apps on an iPad. Further, specific product tie-ins may ultimately disadvantage learners who go on to work in organisations where that product isn’t used, for example coming from a Google College to an organisation that uses Microsoft Office.  Add to this the complexities associated with learners who may wish to bring their own devices into classes where Teaching, Learning and Assessment isn’t set up for the way in which they prefer to learn and we are faced with a range of barriers which some Colleges may find challenging.

How might some of these issues be addressed? To start with, I believe that there is much benefit in highlighting a comprehensive range of technology approaches in initial teacher training. I have created a short video which discusses some ways in which this might be incorporated. More collaboration between learning technologists and staff about what is already being used successfully in the College may also help staff to make choices about what they would like to explore further. Ideas for implementing this can be found here. In addition, encouraging Subject Support Tutors and Learning Support staff (LSAs) – who are exposed to teaching and learning in a variety of subjects across the curriculum – may also pay dividends as they can be used to share their knowledge with the lecturing staff and students whom they support.  Suggestions for getting LSAs more involved with technology can be found in a short video here. This video also contains links to some of the work being done by colleagues in some UK Colleges to promote apps, websites and online learning tools.  There is also a wealth of information online available to help staff who are interested. Further examples of tried and tested tools used by FE professionals can be found here and here, in furthering the knowledge – especially in relation to the FELTAG Recommendations. A good place to begin for information on FELTAG is with the excellent resources and guides provided by JISC. Focus groups or staff/learner technology support groups are also excellent ways of nurturing digital champions and using them to disseminate what they find across the organisation

periscope+logo+squareFurther, seeking to create technology-related enquiries with schools may help Colleges to establish what technology pupils already use, how they use it, how they can be encouraged to incorporate it into their subject and how the tech tool can be adapted to help them with their chosen career, further study or employment. Some ideas,for getting pupils involved with technology once they do start College can be found here and here.  Establishing links with employers which focus specifically on ascertaining exactly how they use technology in the workplace may also help learners to focus on using some of their time at College to gain job-related technology skills and help to ensure that learners are coming to work with the level of knowledge and skills which employers expect. Barclays Digital Driving Licence is a good online tool for introducing the range of essential skills necessary for present day living and the Future Learn Blended Learning Essentials courses are excellent guides for FE staff who wish to learn more about digital innovation and opportunity in Further and Adult Education. There also some excellent online digital technology CPD courses coming up soon from the Through The Periscope project

Failure to expose learners to the wider range of digital tools may ultimately result in limiting their capacity to engage more fully with the digital world which is now a present reality. Colleges which have “live” processes to ensure the wider range of digital tools are effectively communicated to both staff and students are well placed for taking an active part in the exciting digital future of Education which lies ahead.

Paul Warren
Paul Warren has worked in the Further and Adult Education sector for 13 years as a Training Co-ordinator, Lecturer, Learning Support Tutor and Learning Support Assistant.
You can connect with Paul on Twitter @paulw_learn.

See also: FELTAG a directive, an aspiration or just common sense?
7 days can be a long time in FE & Skills



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