Project Champion

Andrew-Gadsdon1Andrew Gadsdon of Preston’s College is Project Champion to Gateshead Council and Blackburn College. In this article, he talks about some of the wider issues that impact upon the successful integration of learning technologies.

Andrew was introduced to the programme by his colleague, Chris Wood, and realised that the Learning Futures programme aligned with many of the ambitions that Preston’s College has for integrating technology and upskilling the workforce.

He was particularly impressed by the key strands underpinning the programme: “If the projects achieve what they are setting out to achieve, they will provide exciting approaches to some really crucial developments in FE and the wider training and skills sector. They will also draw together some of the more disparate aspects of training and skills that we are struggling to integrate, such as modernising the workforce and adapting to the fast pace of technological change.”

Andrew freely admits to a tendency to challenge conformity. He believes that you have to be prepared to think differently and to innovate in order to improve the learning experience and the lives of tutors and learners: “I hope that I bring creative thought with a sense of pragmatism to the Learning Futures programme. It’s been difficult during this early action-research stage to get as involved as I would have liked; but I hope to become more involved as the teams move towards delivery and implementation. I think this is where I can really help by being a critical friend to challenge assumptions and test resources. Sometimes people just need a sounding-board and reassurance and I’ve been happy to offer that to Blackburn’s ‘Cultureshift’ project.”

Understanding the complexities of line of sight to work is at the core of Andrew’s approach to teaching and learning and he was particularly interested in the views of steering group member, Alun Rogers of risual (read his interview here [link]): “I agree with the importance of driving change from industry; but I also believe that industry needs to be clear about its own use of technology and its needs for a technologically literate workforce. Where might it be in 10 years as well as over the next 2-3 years? At Preston’s, we listen very carefully to employers because we know that we need to map skills to employers’ needs. Qualifications are just pieces of paper without the specific and broader skills that employers want.”

The recent ‘It’s about work…’ report [link] also talked about this “two-way street” between colleges and training providers and employers. “In the best examples,” it says, “employers are not just customers of vocational teaching and learning, but are engaged at every level in helping to create and deliver excellent vocational programmes.” Learning technology, says Andrew, is an integral part of that relationship. He recalled that Google had visited the college the previous day to introduce Google Apps, but that he was conflicted about the role of some new technologies: “They introduced really innovative stuff—but I worry that we find ourselves putting the cart before the horse. Any technology is only as good as the people who use it. Just because it exists, it won’t necessarily revolutionise curriculum delivery and it won’t necessarily revolutionise the way we develop skills.”

It does, he argues, need to be the right technology, adding that Preston’s new STEM centre will only be as good as its curriculum and the people who deliver it:

“Technology is a wonderful enabler if it’s used correctly. But it needs to be the right technology and to be driven by employability and not by our excitement with new apps and equipment.”

Industry, he says, needs to help the sector map to some of its own learning innovations to make the best use out of the technical skills and know-how that learners will bring to the workplace.

So, we can and should upskill our staff, he says, but questions whether that upskilling meets the needs of the labour market. He admits to being conflicted about the way forward­­—about the balance between specific technologies and an approach that produces a digitally literate workforce able to adapt to technological change. Do we, he asks, need to fundamentally change the way learning is delivered both inside and outside of colleges?

He believes that this question has implications for the design of the next ‘Learning Futures’—that it’s not just about working back from industry to education but about working back from our best guess of where the working world will be in 5-10 years’ time. Learning Futures, he says, is a test of whether we can take a workforce with an average age of 45 years and develop the technical skills that are already coming naturally to 17 year olds. Certainly, he says, more learning needs to move online, and we need learning technologies that facilitate and enhance that; but that, too, needs employer involvement and the wider support of the education sector: “We need an enhanced skills focus across the DfE and Ofqual, etc., to ensure that modern qualifications are meaningful and have a focus on skills development. Knowledge has become more transient and more accessible than ever, but skills are still a preciously rare commodity. We need the political will to drive real change in what we deliver and how we deliver it.”

“I’m always,” he says, “nervous of concentrating on one aspect of education in isolation. We need always to think ‘learning technology and’—not just learning technology—or we will develop new abilities and practises that won’t be sustainable. Did interactive whiteboards improve employment opportunities? Probably not. Will ‘bring your own device’ improve employment opportunities? We don’t know. So, we need our tutors to be skilled in using what’s in front of them, but with a mindset that’s always alert to the next trend and is ready and willing to adapt to whatever that brings.”