Chris McLean is Project Champion for the governance-focused projects led by Plumpton College, Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) and Heart of Worcestershire College. He facilitates a cross-project Governance Working Group that has been established to draw out and share the learning emerging from all projects with a governance strand, including ACER, Gateshead College, Harlow College and Swindon College.
The three projects that are majoring on governance are fairly well advanced now, says Chris, with a degree of synergy that lends itself to a supportive and development-focused network: “We know that supporting governors and leaders to make informed decisions concerning the resourcing and employment of learning technologies is absolutely crucial if we are going to effect change. What we’ve done is to bring Plumpton, WEA and Heart of Worcestershire together to see whether there are synergies in the resources they are developing and to explore whether we can develop an overarching CPD toolkit for governors that builds upon the three individual projects.”
An added advantage of bringing the project teams together proved to be their reciprocal value as critical friends, helping to shape individual resources and to test their viability in different contexts before final dissemination. The governance projects, he says, are probably unique in this respect:
“Resources developed around learning design and delivery are more disparate in nature—some concentrating on an individual tool or technology—and offer little opportunity or necessity for cross-project collaborative development. Strategy planning is more conducive to shared knowledge, expertise and practice.”
Bringing the three teams together led to discussions around some of the more contentious issues regarding the relationship between cost saving and the need to protect staff, students, employers and the local community. These, he says, are the difficult questions: “We talked about the relationship between financial viability and the delivery of high quality teaching and learning; that without the former there is little room for innovation in the latter. On the other hand, what are the consequences of a hard-nosed approach that fails to take account of the individual and social costs of organisational change?” What became clear to the group was that successful colleges will find the appropriate balance, using technology wisely to deliver efficiencies, whilst at the same time creating new and blended delivery models with enhancements to pedagogy.
Heart of Worcestershire College reorientated its project from a technology audit to the creation of a decision-making framework for governors focused on the issues around innovation, investment, targets and performance. Discussions within the group led to the need for a toolkit that would fill a gap for the sector; essentially, a competency model and capability framework against which organisations could map their technology and training needs: “The exciting element is that the toolkit will be underpinned by detailed models, with costings, of a range of different types of organisations who have made a strategic commitment to institution-wide use of technology for learning and who have already moved a significant amount of learning online. We need to harness and learn from the processes they have put in place and not re-invent the wheel.”
Plumpton College was able to present its well-advanced strategic planning toolkit to the group and receive feedback on functionality and the presentation of information. The process helped to refine some elements of the resource and contextualise some of the broader organisational issues of which governors need to be aware when making decisions to move learning online.
Workers’ Educational Association has been developing the concept of ‘Flipped Governance’ underpinned by a set of digital principles and a capability framework. The development of the capability framework was thought to be of particular interest as it was created by repurposing one created by Heart of Worcestershire College in an Adult Community Learning context. Chris believes that this model of repurposing and co-creation needs to become more commonplace as the sector moves from a competitive stance to one of co-operation and rationalisation.
Chris has been involved in digital projects for over 15 years. He has reservations about previous strategies but believes that it is now all coming together. It’s an exciting time, he says, for staff who have been involved in the world of learning technologies:
“The sector spent a fortune purchasing a ridiculously large array of hardware and software while, at the same time, failing to engage in discussions around the pedagogical change required to ensure its effective use. We are now talking about the pedagogy, which is great, but we still need to support staff with the skills they will need to embed learning technologies within their practices. This is what the projects are focusing on, and the CPD resources they are developing are key to bringing about sector change.”
He is convinced that Learning Futures is making inroads into the ‘wrap around’ CPD that leaders and governors need so that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to make good technology-led top-down decisions. These decisions, he says, will lead the organisation through change and support the bottom-up movement of teachers to design and deliver great online learning. The constituent parts, he says, are there, but they do need to be carefully packaged: “What you need to do is to deliver CPD to really busy people in a clear and concise way. Governors and leaders need a route map that shows the resources available, how to access them, some ideas for implementation, and some links to other strands and projects of interest.” There has to be clarity, he says, but also flexibility for people to choose a pathway through the resources that meets their needs and interests. If a busy curriculum manager is prepared to spend two hours of their valuable time investigating a new tool or practice, then they need to identify the benefits quickly or they will just give up. Time is at a premium and change is hard. There are limited windows and limited opportunities to grab the attention of a busy professional.
The pace of change has been relentless for the education and training sector over the last few years, and there is no sign of a let-up. There are some in government, says Chris, who are even starting to question the intrinsic value of the training and skills sector: “I truly believe that technology can play a massive part in ensuring our education system is both fit for the future and world-class. The outcomes and outputs from the Learning Futures programme will prove to be a very valuable resource in supporting other providers as they set out on their own change journeys.”