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EdTech can transform learning… if we let it

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What are the pinch points when it comes to EdTech and FE colleges?

Deborah Talbot, Communications Officer at MWS, talked to Vikki Liogier, National Head of EdTech and Digital Skills at the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). They discussed the benefits of, and barriers towards, using EdTech in colleges.

The FE sector became a significant and welcome focus on the 2019 General Election with all parties pledging further support. Parallel to these moves, the UK government has been talking up the possibilities of EdTech as a way of transforming learning. Earlier this year, as we have looked at in this newsletter, the Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Theresa May, published an EdTech strategy document – Realising the Potential of Technology in Education – and set up an Ed Tech Leadership Group to manage a £10 million budget to stimulate innovation in EdTech.

It all sounds positive. But what are the realities on the ground when it comes to implementing EdTech in the FE Sector?

It’s a complicated picture, says Vikki Liogier, National Head of EdTech and Digital Skills at the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). ETF is a national body which supports skills and service development in the FE sector. Vikki’s role is to promote the use learning technologies to enhance teaching, learning and assessment. She also works to improve the digital skills of staff in the sector.


Welcome, Vikki. There’s been much talk of the digital skills gap in the UK. In what way is this connected to the reach – or lack of it – of EdTech in colleges?


There is a recognised digital skills gap in the UK. We were looking at the Lloyd’s Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2019, which identified that 53% of working-age adults do not have the essential digital skills they need for work. 22% of adults do not have the digital skills necessary for everyday life. They don’t know how to apply for and access universal credit, for example. That represents 17.3 million and 11.9 million adults, respectively. Those figures are a concern, but they are reasonably representative of Europe and the US as well. It’s a digital gap that needs fixing, but the good thing is that it is recognised as a priority.

In the FE sector, the digital skills gap is related to educators ‘dual professionalism’ as both needing to update their own digital skills and redefine pedagogy through EdTech, to the extent that they may not be teaching what they should be teaching. We did a training needs analysis in 2017 – so quite old now – which found that 26% of individuals and 59% of organisations in the sector said they would value digital training. And only 42% of learners in colleges, according to the 2019 Jisc Digital Experience Insights Report appreciated that they needed digital skills for their future career – even in professions like plumbing where you need to manage a website, communicate via email or create digital invoices.


And also, of course, teaching changed or should be changing, from the impartation of knowledge to the facilitation of self-directed research.


Exactly – developing learners as independent thinkers who can be adaptable because they are all going to have multiple careers. They will need digital skills, creativity and problem-solving, good communication and critical analysis as well as the capacity to collaborate and work well in teams.


Because of funding shortages, the digital infrastructure of colleges often seems old-fashioned. Are there any positive stories, and if so, why have some colleges been able to embrace EdTech?


I think there are several very good stories to tell. The further education sector has been under pressure for some time. In some areas that has been a barrier to embedding EdTech. Often there is a lack of confidence either in staff skills, or that the technology will work adequately.

There can be barriers to sharing digital resources between teams in an FE college or across the sector. These barriers include capital investment in EdTech.

But there is some very, very good practice. Basingstoke College, Harlow College and Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education, for instance, have very strong EdTech and digital delivery to enhance learning and assessment. Where EdTech has succeeded, it has been because of leadership with a strong digital vision. I recently went to USP College, and they’ve got some exciting digital approaches with immersive classrooms, all being led by the principal.


So, are you saying it depends on the vision of the leadership team?


ETF is currently working on our leadership framework – looking at what competencies are needed for leadership. We have weaved digital skills and digital understanding in it. For me, these competencies are essential to drive digital transformation.


What is your ideal vision for EdTech in the FE sector, going into the future?


ETF does have an EdTech strategy document, which outlines our plans from 2018 to 2021.

I’d like to see colleges effectively teaching themselves and others to be digital citizens. Individuals should be confident using technologies safely. They should be able to collaboratively and constructively learn, live and work in a global society. A perfect vision for me would be for all of us to adopt a growth mindset and a commitment to self-development. We should take part and effective communities of practice and peer support and share what we are doing.

I think technology can enhance communication first of all. We want people to work collaboratively synchronously and asynchronously, giving us opportunities for peer support.

The centralisation of data is critical because it means feedback won’t be lost, you can access your learning anywhere, and learners can take ownership of their own progress. Everybody in the team will know where and how support needs to be put in place and to make sure it’s put in place quickly. Technology empowers all of this.

It’s about accessibility as well. Your mobile device should be a tool that will give you that accessibility because it’s your device – you understand it, it’s set to your own preferences with the applications that you need as an individual.

We should be moving away from institutionalised systems or software to personalised applications on our mobile.

And that’s the beauty of EdTech. It’s rethinking the way we work and approach learning and teaching. Don’t say to learners, put your mobile phone in your bag because they are going to disrupt classes, or forbid the use of Facebook or YouTube in the college because it’s distracting. Instead, we need to exploit technology as part of learning. It’s about helping learners manage their digital profile, habits and footprint. Get them to understand that technology can be extremely distracting if not used properly. But, you can also use those same technologies to enhance learning and empower individuals.

And that’s my mission at ETF – to show how technology is not threatening or disruptive if well managed but can benefit staff and learners in the FE sector.

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