Dave Monk is eLearning Development Coordinator at Harlow College. He introduces some new apps and technologies identified by the project team and the benefits of action research for just getting on and trying out new things.
What made you think about KUBE as the basis for a Learning Futures project?
The KUBE model arose from a Jisc-funded project at Kingston College designed to provide a framework to integrate learning technology into HE Business programmes through blended learning. Our Principal, Karen Spencer, was involved in the project when she worked at Kingston College and has been instrumental in introducing it into the Learning Futures project. I believe that it provides us with a proven framework through which we can test and further develop blended learning by working with colleagues with experience of Kube from Kingston as our partner.
How did you go about developing the project?
We were already keen to implement blended learning in the college as part of our teaching and learning strategy and because of the wider context, most notably the FELTAG report’s ‘10% online’ challenge. Developing the KUBE model made sense because it was a good opportunity to revisit it in the light of changes over the last couple of years. I was just talking about this recently; that we were already working towards a KUBE-like model but that participating in Learning Futures gave us the impetus and resources to develop it and update it with new thinking and new tools.
What challenges have you met along the way?
The first challenge was ensuring well-briefed teams. We are very fortunate that all the teams involved—Vocational Business and Vocational Media at Harlow—were committed to change and to using technology far more in the curriculum. The project has been great in pulling us all together and giving us a spur to get going, but there have been challenges. While we have been supported by the introduction of iPads, together with a significant revamp of delivery in these two areas, some of the day-to-day has been difficult. Everyone has strong teaching commitments and managers have been managing their own workload as well as the project. However, while something like GCSE English is a pull on everyone’s time, we are starting to see an overlap and that some of the project learning can be applied in other areas to build more capacity. The sheer volume of work in an FE context does present a strong challenge for all staff involved but that same context also drives the need to explore and find improved ways of delivering. A blended learning approach introduces more flexibility and stimulation through the flipped classroom.
What has surprised you?
By far, the enthusiasm of the team members who are involved: their willingness to share and their commitment to develop new ideas and teaching through using learning technology. It has been far stronger than I had anticipated so that’s really very good indeed.
Has action-research been a valuable part of the programme?
Absolutely! I’ve personally been involved in work-based research before and it’s been invaluable to be able to draw on that experience. And that’s another challenge: to ensure that you capture, test and apply your research as the project unfolds.
Do you believe that action research has a particular relevance to technology projects?
Yes it does. There’s been a lot thinking and discussion around various apps and other technologies and you have to engage with them and test them as part of the project.
“You can’t say “I’d like to look into this technology but I don’t have time” because it’s an integral part of the project to do precisely that. We’re very fortunate because team members are enthusiastic about trying different things and looking for new solutions.”
We came away from a CPD event at Reading College raving about Swivl Robot. We immediately set things in motion to test them and we’re now purchasing them. We wouldn’t have done that without the project giving us that spur—that push.
What other technologies are you finding particularly useful?
Almost certainly, more use of video to create online lectures. We’re also using classroom apps like Showbie, Socrative and, more recently, Nearpod. Colleagues outside of the project are already asking about these apps and how to use them. This has all been opened up by the ‘permission to explore’ aspect of the Learning Futures programme. I also want to do more with Xerte. This is one example, Literacy Devices, that I have produced to support teaching GCSE English. I have been using it to develop my own authoring skills and I believe that it’s a very good authoring tool for blended learning materials that we can do a lot more with. Nearpod and Socrative, too, work well but are perhaps at their best used interactively in class.
Have you produced any resources yet?
One of the project’s aims is to understand what technology means to our learners and tutors, how they use it, and how the project may impact upon them. We conducted a digital literacy survey covering Harlow and Kingston Colleges—an exercise that also provided a very good opportunity for me to develop my own skills using Google Forms. The results have provided us with some very useful and powerful data that I’ve blogged on the Learning Futures website. One of the key findings was that 60% of our learners definitely expect their course to equip them with up-to-date technological skills for their future employment. So, we are obliged to do a lot for our learners; to provide them with the tools and technology that they need to increase their employability.
We are also conducting focus groups to test the impact of the project. This video was recorded at the beginning of the project when we asked staff and learners a range of questions about e-learning.
How are you progressing with the project aim of upskilling 50 teachers with the confidence and tools to reshape the curriculum?
We are just starting to do that now. It’s already happening within the teams, but we are now beginning to draw on our experience to deliver regular staff development activities. Today, for example, a colleague from the project team has been running a workshop on Showbie because other tutors have been inspired by the enthusiasm of project staff. The first-hand experience of colleagues on the Learning Futures project disseminating and running e‑learning workshops is a key way forward. Eireann Brooks, our project colleague at Kingston, for instance, has a great track record for sharing her experience using learning technology. Here is a ‘hot off the press’ Xerte leaning object—How to use Jing —she has been working on for the project, demonstrating to colleagues how to use Jing for screencasting including providing feedback to learners.
Another aspect we believe is important is to develop learners as e-learning champions. This will give them important employability skills as well as helping us to roll out training for staff and learners who may be less confident, or reluctant to engage, with technology. We believe this will be a key initiative and outcome from the project.
How helpful have you found the Learning Futures website and resources?
It has a lot of potential. I have started to engage with it—most recently posting the results of our digital literacies survey—but I want to do more. The responses to my survey blog have been very positive and very helpful.
Do you think people are ready to benefit from e-learning?
Absolutely. I was recently talking to Bob Powell (formerly BECTA, JISC and LSIS and working with the LF project at Heart of Worcester College). We were reflecting on the fact that we’re still asking many of the same questions we were 15 years ago: How do you engage learners? How do you get buy-in from staff? But the technologies have changed and improved beyond recognition in that time; so, we wondered whether people are more settled and confident in the use of technology than they’d like to admit. You don’t ask people any more whether they use email…they just do. So technology has been absorbed into the day-to-day through using mobile phones, etc. What is it that gives people confidence with technology? I think that our acceptance of technology is subliminal…it’s already there in our daily lives and the leap to using it in a teaching and learning context just makes sense. One of the things we’re keen to gain from Learning Futures is really good teaching and learning experiences backed up by confidence that they will work.