It's all about the learners

If I had to pull out one thing that defines me as a teacher, it would be that the children/ pupils/ students/ learners - whatever we call them - must come first. Everything we do... every decision we take, as managers or as educators, it must be about the learner.

JISC Digital Experience Survey 2018

Several times a week, I browse through my Edtech list on Twitter to see what's new. This week, the most interesting thing I saw was this. JISC have been asking learners for their views about all things digital, in relation to FE and HE. When I delved a little deeper and read the full report, I found that they had surveyed some Adult Learning providers and Employment and Skills providers but there were so few results that it didn't warrant a separate category on the report.

If you work in FE/HE or are interested in post-16 education, you really need to read the report. Especially, if you are responsible for IT/digital in education, this will be worth a read. Also, it has to be said, some reports are really hard-going but this one is an easy read, if a little challenging in its content. For what it's worth, I found some of the report challenged me in relation to my role as a digital manager, but some of it was very encouraging too.

My biggest challenge

The first and most urgent challenge was picked up by Sam Gyimah (Universities' Minister) in the forward.

"Most importantly, students express concerns that their courses do not fully prepare them for a digital workplace."
Where I work, we offer a wide range of courses, from entry level functional skills and ICT to full cost pottery and flower arranging. My passion though, maybe linking back to my days in primary schools, is to prepare our learners for life and work. The reality is, whether our learners, tutors or managers realise it, digital skills are more important in almost every job than they have ever been in the past. I accept that some jobs need less digital skills than others, but eventually, to climb the ladder, digital skills will be needed.

This section of the report, therefore, challenged me greatly. I have to ask myself where we would fit if our learners were asked these questions. Do we prepare our learners for their course by telling them what level of digital skills they will need? I think we do for IT courses but what about the rest?

Graph showing the proportion of learners who feel digitally work-ready.

Do our courses prepare learners for the digital workplace? Again, this is a real challenge. If I'm honest, I think most providers need to do better and we are no exception at this stage. In my role, I often have to work out which battles are worth fighting. If any battle is worth a fight, this one is, but I have an optimistic hope that I actually won't have to fight very hard for this. Deep down, we want it and just need some help in bringing it to pass.

My biggest encouragement

There is possibly no greater feeling than that realisation that what you are doing (or attempting to do) turns out to be what people really want you to do. Don't get me wrong, my role was born from feedback of various types. We didn't just one day decide to invent a new role to avoid us all being bored. It was carefully considered and certainly has a well-defined purpose. When I read some of the 'what learners want FE to do better' parts of the report though, my heart did a little leap for joy... because we're doing it.

Screenshot of a table showing what learners want in terms of hardware access.

This is really what Phase 1 of my project was all about. We have upgraded the computers, released laptops back into community use and ensured that every PC is linked to a convenient printer. Of course, this should be a given - it's the 21st century - but these things cost money and lots of it. It is encouraging to know though, that we have spent the money on something that genuinely matters to learners in FE.

Screenshot of improvements to content that learners want.

I'm picking at random here but we have upgraded software and unblocked all social media and YouTube and other sites that learners would find useful. As I enter Phase 2, we are looking at the VLE and other online learning, to improve it, make it clearer and more user-friendly and to ensure that it is all accessible.

Somewhere else in the report, learners were reported as saying they wanted their tutors to have better IT skills, so that they could improve efficiency when delivering content... and this is another thing we are already well into addressing.

Summary

I love it when a report is an easy read, full of graphics and includes a good selection of challenges and encouragements. My aim is to continue with this exciting project, with the aim of preparing our learners (whatever their course) with the digital skills they will need for life and work in 21st century Britain. Of course, measuring these improvements is always tricky but I'll be thinking about that in the next few weeks. Got any ideas as to how I can measure such improvements?

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