Project Champion

Yousef-FoudYousef Fouda is Group Technology Officer & Director of Rugby College and Project Champion to The Oldham College, Runshaw College and Lewisham and Southwark College.

Yousef sees his Project Champion role as that of adviser and sounding board. He says that it’s difficult to do that during the early action research stages and looks forward to seeing prototypes and resources that he can test and evaluate as a user. He also knows, from personal experience, that projects can be too easily dismissed in their early phases by a gratuitous “it won’t work” and that it’s better to let the project run for a while.

In his job as a Technology Officer and Director, he is keen to look for new technologies. He knows that FE colleges tend to lack an IT infrastructure that can accommodate innovative tools and technologies but that it shouldn’t stop us experimenting:

“I like to think out of the box and try to deliver something new. We sometimes lack this approach to new technology and settle for something safe. We need to open our doors and welcome the new—challenge the prevailing culture.”

He wants colleges to continually absorb new technologies because he believes they need to create the conditions for innovation: “All innovative companies that have changed the world with disruptive technologies, were started by students in garages, not by corporations. And those students didn’t go to employers and ask ‘do you want a search engine?’ or ‘do you want a personal computer?’ They didn’t lean on market research to prove their concept. They just dabbled with the new and when it worked it worked.”

What stands in the way of staff innovation today, he says, is a restrictive infrastructure as well as a restrictive regulatory environment: “If I could start from scratch, I’d have no servers, systems or legacy software. I’d be completely cloud-based and be able to move from one system to another. Security is a common barrier to innovation but, let’s be honest, we did see cases where school kids hacked into security establishments such as the Pentagon from their bedrooms, so colleges won’t stand much of a chance. Security is important but it can lock out innovation.”

Warwickshire College Group is celebrating after being awarded a ‘Good’ grade by Ofsted. He believes that much of the really exciting and innovative technology projects the college is working on was not recognised by Ofsted and that they appeared to be assessing technology from a vantage point some ten years in the past. This, he says, is a huge challenge: “It discourages teachers from innovating because they are under pressure to play safe. If they try something new and it doesn’t work while they’re being observed, it’s a problem. Some fantastic teachers in the sector are doing some innovative teaching with technology during the year—real wow factor—but during an observation or inspection out comes the PowerPoint and projector. Many teachers feel their job is on the line and that playing it safe is the best bet.”

The need to upskill teachers and inspectors to understand and use learning technology more effectively has, he believes, a time limit. In the not too distant future, teachers and inspectors will just be expected to understand the benefits of technology and to use it really well, albeit in a considered way and not just for the sake of it:

“A teacher can give a Grade 1 lesson using no technology whatsoever. Technology doesn’t make great teachers but it’s a tool that can deliver a great learning experience. You use it when it’s the right tool for the right job”

Yousef is trying to integrate new digital tools into his own day-to-day communications: “We say we have the cloud and we collaborate online and that’s what we do—but we don’t. For over 20 years, it’s been emails and attachments and versions 1, 2, 3 of documents swapped by email between staff and between staff and students. This isn’t collaboration.” He uses Google Drive for a more authentic collaborative experience, where teachers and students can work together on a single document irrespective of browser or software. They can edit text or they can message and discuss potential changes: “There is so much out there already that we’re not taking advantage of. Students learn about computers as if they’re just keyboards and not collaboration environments. Collaboration using video conferencing is still in its infancy in many educational institutions even though video conferencing has been around for years.” He puts that down to internal computer networking structures in colleges and schools that can restrict staff and students from using free video conferencing tools. Yousef uses to work with colleagues from Learning Futures to take advantage of the productivity resulting from time saved travelling.

He recently hosted the Lewisham Southwark College ‘Blending in’ project team at Rugby to introduce them to another tool, Google Classroom: “I wanted colleagues from Lewisham Southwark College to come and talk to the teachers and students and see it in action rather than simply telling them about it. I believe that they found it useful and are in touch with some of my staff and have exchanged resources.”

He is keen to dispel the ‘myth’ of students as the drivers of new technology. We know, he says, that English and maths are a huge challenge right now–that students have low attainment levels. But, he asks, how many students have smart phones, and how many free apps are available for English and maths? Students can be great, he says, on Xbox but they are not great at finding resources: “They use Facebook and YouTube for social use but not many use it for learning. If we think they’re going to turn up at college skilled in knowing how to find and use resources effectively, we’re wrong. The good thing is that it won’t be the job of teachers to teach them how to use the tools; it will be the job of teachers to show them how to find, create, use and share resources. Nobody needs to show them how to access YouTube, but introducing them to the huge range of resources available on YouTube is another matter.”

He recognises similar challenges for the workforce, not only about how to use learning technologies effectively but about the cultural or mindset shift needed to embrace sharing and co-creation. We’re taking advantage of everything the Internet has to offer, he says, and we must give back: “We need to release college resources to everyone and not just people with a college login. Do we, as colleges, really think that what we have is more valuable than what can be found online? We need to ‘open-source’ our resources and embrace a world of sharing, collaboration and co‑creation.”