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Digital Literacies at Grwp Llandrillo Menai

Project: Personal Actualisation and Development through Digital Literacies in Education (PADDLE)

Institution: Grŵp Llandrillo Menai (lead); Coleg Harlech, Deeside College, Yale College (partners)

Programme: Developing Digital Literacies

 

"The project...has clearly defined digital literacy in the FE context – this includes both the scope of digital literacy in the FE sector and the range of digital practices undertaken by staff and learners both within further education and in their wider lives."

 

This is an edited version of the project's institutional story (final report). Please refer to the original for details of all references and additional information.

 



 

Summary

 

PADDLE was an ambitious project – encompassing five colleges, each of which focused on improving the digital literacy (DL) of different cohorts of staff and learners.

 

Within the context of a range of developing agendas, the initial aims of the project were to:

 

  • Create a framework of digital literacy skills tailored to specific types of learners and groups of staff. There were to be separate frameworks for managers, tutors, learners and support staff.
  • Embed digital literacy skills amongst staff through the development of virtual communities of practice and learners through virtual study groups.
  • Embed digital literacy skills in curriculum delivery and assessment, which are closely linked to employability skills – we hoped to have embarked on this process by the end of two years but ultimately this was to be a longer term goal.
  • Establish enhanced digital literacy skills as a strategic objective across all participating institutions by the end of the two year project.

 

In addition, the project sought to address the Jisc ‘Learning Literacies for a Digital Age’ recommendations:

 

  • To establish a culture of embedding digital literacy skills in curriculum delivery and assessment, which are closely linked to employability
  • To raise the digital literacy awareness and skill level of staff and learners. To encourage a more proactive approach in the adoption of digital literacy skills by staff and learners as part of their Continuing Professional Development.
  • To establish enhanced digital literacy skills as a strategic objective across all participating institutions

 

The project has achieved many successful outcomes, including the following:

 

  • It has clearly defined digital literacy in the FE context – this includes both the scope of digital literacy in the FE sector and the range of digital practices undertaken by staff and learners both within further education and in their wider lives.
  • Established institutional policies on embedding DL, specifically as regards e-safety,
  • Identified good practice case studies on embedding DL in the classroom
  • Created digital literacy frameworks for a range of staff and learners
  • Piloted Agored Cymru (OCN) units in Information Literacy at levels 2 and 3
  • Platform (in-folio) to be adopted for collating digital evidence and recording learner achievement in the coming academic year. Importantly it is the staff buy-in and the recognition of the way digital content can enhance both the learner experience and quality of outcomes which are the key achievements.

 

The project has made a number of recommendations for other FE colleges embarking on digital literacy strategies (see Recommendations section).

 

Headline achievements

 

The project has identified a wide range of strategies for improving digital literacy in the FE context. These include:

  • Clear definition of digital skills and practice tailored to FE
  • the creation of a wide range of staff and learner virtual communities of practice, utilising a range of platforms
  • use of webinars to develop digital skills and to share good practice and staff development in digital literacy across institutions,
  • identified range of examples of good practice in embedding digital literacy in the classroom
  • trained student peer e-guides to provide classroom support for their fellow learners
  • Created an environment within the curriculum which recognises DL is an integral part of curriculum planning and delivery, with outcomes utilising DL skills, defined, supported and assessed.
  • Developed a sustainable model for capturing learner progress (within ILS).
  • Supported the use of mobile devices in the classroom
  • Worked with a range of learners and staff groups, many of whom would not usually be given high priority in the development of digital literacies eg ILS and ACL learners in comparison to traditional full time under 19 year old FE learners

 

Key drivers

 

Background

The level of digital literacy skills amongst staff and learners varies considerably within and across institutions although the core needs are very similar. The following ‘landscape’ documentation influenced our definition of Digital Literacy; Digital Britain (DCMS and BIS, 2009), The Heart of Digital Wales (WAG, 2009), Digital Inclusion in Wales (Welsh Affairs Committee, 2009), Delivering Digital Inclusion - A strategic framework for Wales (WAG, 2010) and Thriving in the 21st century: learning literacies for the Digital Age (Jisc, 2009). Initially the Welsh Government had focussed on the access issues in relation to digital inclusion and these issues are still relevant given the geographical and/or social exclusion issues facing many parts of Wales. However there is now more emphasis on digital skills and digital literacy.

 

Subsequently, the Welsh Government has outlined a Digital future for Wales in Delivering a digital Wales (2010), which makes reference to the need for better digital skills in the classroom and workplace. In relation to Further Education the landscape has been further defined through the Review of qualifications for 14-19 year olds in Wales (2012). This review has recommended that the current essential skills ICT qualification be revamped as a ‘Digital Literacy’ qualification (which will be delivered to all full time learners in this age range).

 

Furthermore the Welsh Government conducted an independent review of digital literacy in the classroom (covering schools and FE) which produced a report Find it, make it, use it, share it: learning in Digital Wales (2012) and established a best practice website (which includes an example from one of the project colleges).

 

The project's initial aims (see Summary) were developed with this context in mind.    

 

Stakeholders

 

Management/governors 

Colleges were keen to move towards paperless meetings at SMT and Board of Governors levels. This facilitated the move to provision of laptops and now ipads to senior managers and governors at both Grŵp Llandrillo Menai and at Yale College. These meant managers had to engage with new digital ways of working and encouraged interest in the wider project and in developing the digital skills of staff and learners.

 

Tutors 

For tutors the benefits of improved digital literacy were manifold. Firstly by improving their digital skills tutors would be encouraged to incorporate newer forms of teaching and better integration of learning technology into the classroom. This was seen as particularly desirable given the familiarity and use of new technologies, particularly social media, by our main 16-19 year old learner group. In particular tutors were encouraged to foster virtual Communities of Practice with their learners and colleagues to improve the learner experience and to share good practice. Finally, improving digital literacy skills amongst tutors would improve their life skills and use of digital tools outside the classroom.

 

Support staff 

The project also sought to improve the digital skills of support staff. This was to aid working across the dispersed geography of the staffing groups concerned – with many staff working on their own and in locations isolated from other similar college staff. Specifically learning resource staff at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai were targeted. The College has 10 Learning Resource Centres over a very wide area (with campuses being over 50 miles apart in some instances). The virtual Community of Practice aimed at creating a greater group identity for the staff as well as a support mechanism and means of sharing good practice. This model was seen as appropriate for rollout to other support staff groups working in similar isolation.

 

Learners 

The benefits to learners were also manifold. Learners would benefit from greater use of digital tools in the classroom (through the support for BYOD and in the provision of mobile devices by the institution). Learners would be given support with invaluable life skills and employability skills, particularly in the sphere of e-safety. Furthermore, learners would benefit from the skills of their peer in academic terms through the creation of virtual study groups and with their digital skills through the use of peer e-guides.

 

Organisational context

 

Partner institutions

The project encompassed the five further education (FE) colleges in North Wales: Coleg Harlech, Coleg Llandrillo, Coleg Menai, Deeside College and Yale College Wrexham. These colleges covered some 60,000 learners and 4,000 staff. Over the lifespan of the project there have been major institutional changes which has resulted in the merger of Coleg Llandrillo and Coleg Menai (to form Grŵp Llandrillo Menai in April 2012) and of Deeside College and Yale College Wrexham (to form Coleg Cambria which will be completed by August 2013). Coleg Harlech has been in discussion with WEA South Wales to form WEA Cymru. Furthermore, structural changes at Coleg Harlech have prevented its full participation in year two of the project and consequently the Adult and Community Learning (ACL) elements of the project have been picked up by Coleg Menai.

 

Staff and learner groups

Recognising that many of the client groups would have a different knowledge and skill base was seen as a key challenge but also an ideal opportunity to explore the complexities of DL and its meaning and application to specific groups or roles within an organisation. The client groups nominated for the project demonstrate both the diversity and broad curriculum spectrum within the FE sector.

 

Each institution focused on specific cohorts of staff and learners, as follows:

 

Deeside College

Deeside College is a general vocational FE college with a high percentage of work based learners (particularly in the local engineering sector).

Work Based Learning – learners and assessors

Independent Living Skills (ILS) - (ie Special Educational Needs) learners and tutors

 

Coleg Harlech

Coleg Harlech is an adult residential college and provider of Adult and Community provision across North West Wales. 

Adult & Community Learning – learners and tutors

 

Coleg Llandrillo

Coleg Llandrillo is a large general FE college covering the full range of vocational FE provision (including land based). The college is also the main provider of HE in FE in Wales with around one thousand learners on vocational HE programmes.

Staff engaged in scholarship

HE tutors and learners

Library & Learning Resource Staff

 

Coleg Menai

Coleg Menai is a general FE college covering a wide range of vocational provision, in addition to a large ESOL cohort. 

Vocational FE & ESOL – learners and tutors

Access to HE - learners and tutors

Adult & Community Learning – learners and tutors

 

Yale College Wrexham

Yale College provides vocational education but is primarily a provider of academic A level courses. 

A Level, vocational & 14-19 provision – learners and teachers

Senior Managers & Governors 

 

Baseline data findings 

The FE colleges within the PADDLE consortia offer typical examples of the support offered by FE institutions in relation to digital literacy. Within FE learning technologists were traditionally deployed to support digital literacy in the classroom by providing staff development activities for teaching staff and by providing tutors with one to one support where required. At Coleg Menai learning technology currently resided with the staff development unit in the college. This is still a feature of learning technologists in FE, although many learning technologists now also directly support learners. At Coleg Llandrillo and Deeside College learning technology support has been integrated with the learning resources service to create a more learner focussed service. FE colleges provide digital literacy support for learners directly through training sessions for learners (particularly with regards to learning resources/information literacy). In addition institutions provided online support via college VLEs, which is particularly beneficial to learners/staff who may be studying at a distance from the main college campuses where face-to-face support is provided. FE learners prefer digital literacy support material and in a range of formats eg handouts, video tutorials etc (rather than the HE philosophy that students acquire digital literacy skills through self study). 

 

There was a need within the project to record and analyse distance travelled, especially for project cohorts where some kind of intervention took place. Due to the complexity of the client groups it was necessary to research and adapt DL frameworks in to a number of questionnaires’ or observation templates which could be mapped to existing skills, competencies or indeed awareness of DL concepts. This provided valuable baseline data for both the project team and tutors working with particular groups, highlighting often for the first time the current deployment of DL skills and technology and its application and use for personal, business or education purposes. This process was also useful for introducing reflection, with individuals examining how technologies and skills could be deployed across boundaries and be used effectively for capturing and recording learning or achievement.

 

The baseline data highlighted a number of institutional barriers to digital literacy – such as wifi infrastructure, support for BYOD, attitude to social media etc. In addition the report highlighted areas of concern to tutors:

  • encouraging learners to critique the technologies they use
  • encouraging learners to personalise the technologies they use
  • encouraging learners to use technology outside the classroom  

 

Furthermore, the data showed that the use of virtual communities of practice (particularly through Facebook) by learners was already widespread which meant the benefits to those were apparent but that it would be difficult to encourage the use of platforms with more educational features.

 

 

Project approach

 

Initial approach

The main project challenge was to demonstrate to staff and learners the benefits of enhanced digital literacy skills in relation to more effective working and studying practices. In essence encouraging staff and learners to work more effectively (practice) by sharing with others (community), where they become known (identity) and where they reflect on the process (meaning). Moreover we argued these processes would not happen without embedding Digital Literacy skills.

 

Furthermore, by adopting a Digital Society context for the development of skills, knowledge and attitudes it was hoped that the wider personal and social lives of staff and students would also benefit, encouraging more effective digital and global citizenship and improved employability skills. To this end the consortia worked with a range of stakeholders including professional bodies, professional networks, local employers, senior managers and governors to facilitate the embedding of a framework of digital literacy skills amongst staff and learners.

 

The project encompassed a very wide range of stakeholder groups. Each participating institution supported a specific learner and tutor type. It was envisaged that by the end of year one the project team would be in a position to implement the benefits and positive experiences identified across all the participating institutions and their respective stakeholder groups. In reality that has taken the full two years in many instances (although there are already many examples of cross college working).

 

The project sought to address the Jisc ‘Learning Literacies for a Digital Age’ recommendations (see Summary) and to identify a broad framework of digital literacy skills, applicable to a very wide range of learners of differing abilities and aspirations, in addition to the full range of staff groupings within FE. This framework will go well beyond the limited definition of Information Literacy, to include basic ICT skills, e-safety, Web 2.0 technologies, Apps and the effective use of VLEs.

 

We began by defining digital literacy in the FE context. Digital literacy is a term which has only gained widespread use in the FE sector during the lifespan of the project. In Wales the term is now widely used by the Welsh Government and inspectorate (Estyn). There is however still some confusion as to what it exactly encompasses but there is now a consensus on a broad definition of the term rather than a focus on specific aspects eg digital inclusion. Our definition was therefore deliberately broad ie ‘possessing the skills required to function in a digital society’ and encompasses the following skills pertinent to FE:  

 

 

 

 

Examples of these skills are given in the peer e-guide introductory document on the project website.

 

Stakeholder engagement

Each college worked with different staff and learner stakeholders in their institution. This was largely conducted on an informal basis or using existing mechanisms eg programme meetings, course co-ordinator meetings, team meetings etc. Work with stakeholders is detailed in the case studies.

  

Changing staff roles

The project was seeking to address the issue identified in the Offcom (2008) Media Literacy report on digital literacy in schools that teachers are reluctant to teach digital literacy skills to pupils for fear of showing their own ignorance. This coupled with the pupils own high levels of confidence and low levels of competence in digital literacy stores up the problem (of a lack of skills) which is left to be tackled by FE and HE institutions as the pupils progress. Many of the initiatives were therefore designed to improve the digital literacy skills and confidence of staff simply through engagement in the use of technologies such as webinars and virtual CoPs rather than trying to teach them digital skills directly. All tutors and assessors within FE are now expected to support essential skills with their learners rather than relying on specialists to deliver that support. Although the emphasis here is on numeracy and literacy, ICT is also regarded as an essential skill. Moreover, the qualifications review currently being undertaken in Wales is recommending ICT essential skills be rebranded as ‘digital literacy’.

 

Strategic change

The project managers at Coleg Llandrillo and Yale College were members of their respective SMTs so were able to inform change at a strategic level. Furthermore the project sponsor is the Principal at Coleg Llandrillo, again ensuring support at the highest level of the organisation. Owing to college mergers during the lifespan of the project, operational initiatives have been undertaken in advance of institutional and strategic developments. It is only now at the end of the project that the newly merged institutions are developing formal strategies. In the case of Grŵp Llandrillo Menai the priority has been to develop a strategy to deal with e-safety.

 

Developing staff and learners

A range of methods were utilised to develop the skills of staff and learners. A programme of digital literacy staff development sessions were delivered to staff across all the participating institutions. Learner skills were addressed through specific activities eg e-guide programme at Llandrillo, the infolio programme at Deeside, the student governors programme at Yale etc. 

 

Dissemination (internal and external)

Internal dissemination was via a range of college forums including SMT, HE co-ordinators meetings, team meetings, programme meetings and task and finish groups such as the ‘Blue sky thinking’ group and the Social Media task and finish group. The project teams from each institution met face-to-face on a regular basis (usually bimonthly). Between the partner institutions dissemination was undertaken via the project platform. We utilised a range of platforms including Moodle and Sharepoint before settling on Wiggio owing to its ease of use with regard to sharing content and providing regular updates. This platform will remain under the auspices of the North Wales ILT group (NWILT) to co-ordinate and disseminate ILT initiatives across the region. In addition institutions shared project activities using Webinars using the Gotomeeting software, which was selected after the group undertook an evaluation of a range of webinar software. External dissemination included attendance at a range of events across the UK and even abroad (see project report).

  

Managing project activities

Each institution had a small project team, with overall project management responsibility resting with the Project manager and regular meetings between the institutional teams. Each institution focussed on specific cohorts of staff and learners to ensure as broad as possible coverage of FE digital literacy needs.

 

Approaches to evaluation

Given the nature of the activities undertaken, mainly interventions with specific cohorts of staff and learners a case study approach has been undertaken. Each case study includes evaluation of the activity undertaken and should be replicable in an FE institution with a similar cohort. The cohorts identified are common to most FE colleges.

 

Changes in the direction of the project 

The project has undergone a few changes in direction over the course of two years. Institutional change has affected all institutions. This has led to changes in management although fortunately project teams have largely remained the same. One casualty has been the participation of Coleg Harlech which could not be sustained in year two and consequently the ACL aspect of the project has been covered by Coleg Menai. The emphasis on virtual Communities of Practice has remained although it quickly became apparent that this was not always the best vehicle for embedding digital literacy in all instances. Therefore a wide range of digital literacy initiatives have been employed, including supporting the use of BYOD, e-portfolios, e-guides, webinars, 3D technology and OCN awards.  It was envisaged that the roll out of initiatives would take place in year two and this has happened in a limited number of cases, primarily owing to mergers. However, in most instances it is only now, at the end of two years, that most initiatives are ready for roll out. We have found that the project teams have been instrumental in driving forward the initiatives and the number of change agents, amongst staff and learners is less than hoped for although there are a number of positive examples eg BYOD initiative amongst construction students at Llandrillo.

 

Outputs

 

The project has produced a range of outputs, these are located on our project website.  Most of the outputs are in the form of case studies, but there are also videos, podcasts and support material.

 

Competence frameworks

We have produced a generic competence framework for staff and learners in FE. In addition, we have produced detailed frameworks for specific groups of staff and learners: Managers, tutors, learning resource staff, FE learners and ILS learners (learners with learning difficulties and disabilities). 

 

Case Studies 

The project has also produced a series of case studies around staff and student digital literacies.

 

Benefits and beneficiaries

 

Benefits to learners

A very large number of learners were directly and indirectly involved in the project. Approximately 1,000 learners benefitted from the e-guide initiative alone. Aside from this each institution developed initiatives designed to support at least 100 learners – giving a total of at least 1,500 learners of which about 100 were HE in FE students.

 

Learners benefitted from improved digital literacy support both directly (through initiatives such as the e-guides and e-safety) and indirectly through better support material and greater awareness of tutors and other staff.

 

Learners developed a range of new skills such as creating online communities of practice, digital reputation awareness, use of new digital tools such as Skype, e-portfolios, mobile devices, social media, digital cameras and cloud computing.

 

In addition, the learners benefitted from the increase in knowledge of their course of study through sharing information with their peers – this was particularly the case with the virtual study groups where leaners were able to discuss topics raised in class.

 

Benefits to staff

Many of the initiatives undertaken by the project have directly or indirectly impacted upon staff. The total number of staff involved in the project was well in excess of 100 across the partner colleges, given that each college targeted a minimum of 20 staff. For example, the Learning Resource Staff CoP included 35 staff, 66 staff attended a webinar or webinar training, 15 senior managers and 16 members of the corporation board participated in the Yale College ipad project.

 

The Virtual Communities of Practice have enabled staff to share good practice, as have the use of webinar technology. The Learning Resource Staff CoP was focussed on benefitting staff (whilst also encouraging improved services to library users). Furthermore the promotion of webinar software has helped staff in terms of identifying ways of teaching and supporting distance learners, holding staff meetings with remote staff and sharing staff development and good practice opportunities. 

 

Other initiatives aimed at learners have also improved the digital skills of staff, such as the infolio initiative and e-guide project. In particular managers are more aware of the benefits and possible uses of mobile technologies, breaking the perception that mobile devices are a distraction from learning.

 

The use of webinars for staff training was seen as moving ILT staff development away from technical skills to directly impacting on new ways of teaching and learning.

 

The use of the equipment has also had a number of benefits in the assessment process, enabling assessors to conduct professional discussions via audio recording, to video record candidate activities and to provide real time qualification progress data to the candidate. Digital pens are being introduced at the time of writing which have not yet been assessed for effectiveness.

 

The results on the improvement of digital skills amongst work based assessors have been astounding. The number of assessors who are regularly using multimedia for assessing, data recording and teaching has grown considerably. Candidates too are using more and more online facilities, although there has not been the growth in online collaboration between candidates that was prophesied, although a number of assessors are using Facebook.

 

Impact on institutional thinking

Institutional thinking has been affected in a number of ways through the project. The need for adequate training for staff and learners in relation to e-safety is reflected in Grŵp Llandrillo Menai’s new policy on the use of social media. But importantly the policy recognises the educational and employability benefits of these tools, which is in contrast to earlier policies which sought to block access to this type of digital tool.

 

Senior management across the institutions have embraced mobile devices, this has had a noticeable impact on improving their digital skills in terms of engagement with new digital tools (apps) and ways of working (ie increased use of cloud based computing).

 

The use of webinars and videos for staff development are now being adopted across institutions rather than solely being used by ILT staff.

 

Benefits beyond the project institutions

Many of the examples of good practice highlighted by the project have been shared across the partner institutions. In addition, project findings have been disseminated at local and national events as highlighted above.

 

Good practice has also been shared across other projects involving partner institutions including Llandrillo’s Grundtvig ‘Teaching of the future project’ – which involves 5 partner FE/HE institutions across Europe and more locally the Welsh Information Literacy Project (also managed by Grŵp Llandrillo Menai).

In addition, the project outcomes are also being shared across the Colegau Cymru ILT champions network, the Learning Resource Managers network and the Welsh Government’s Digital Council.

 

Other impacts

 

Institutional change

The fact that all of the institutional members have been subject to some form of institutional change during the lifespan of the project has hindered strategic planning because colleges have focussed on integrating systems rather than updating broader strategies. However, organisational change has allowed more experimentation and project teams have continued to develop operational initiatives including changes of direction in project priorities and planning. 

 

The project has demonstrated that change can take place without institutional strategies being in place beforehand. In fact policies have followed on from awareness raising of the project eg the new  social media strategy at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai.

 

Cultural change

The project has raised awareness of digital literacy issues amongst many different staff groups – in particular it has challenged the notion that traditional full time under 19 year old learners are competent in their use of ICT and digital skills. This is particularly the case with e-safety and the increasing importance this has in relation to FE colleges’ safeguarding responsibilities.

 

The project had identified that staff find it increasingly difficult to attend traditional staff development sessions and that bite sized training delivered direct to your workspace (using webinar technology) is a major development in addressing this decline in uptake of ILT training.

 

Many of the initiatives encouraged the use of digital literacy in the classroom and many of the initiatives have embedded this process, particularly amongst groups of FE learners not traditionally associated with high levels of technology skill/usage ie Adult and Community Learners (ACL).

 

Cultural and strategic change is most likely at the point at which campus wide wireless is installed in College.  Mobile devices enable learners to engage with technology in class, as in previous Learning Technology surveys learners felt they didn’t have enough access to IT in the classroom. Moreover staff become more aware of the ‘technology bypass’ caused by their own lack of skills and/or access to up to date devices.

 

Furthermore the use of mobile devices in the classroom is increasingly seen as positive educationally rather than as a recreational or social distraction.

 

Unintended outcomes

The solutions which have gradually evolved through trial and experiment brought some unexpected results. Whereas iPads would have been expected to have been popular as e-portfolio workstations, their small screens are not ideal, requiring a lot of scrolling. Similarly, Blackberry phones were found to be over-complicated and have been replaced with Samsung Galaxys. Now a combination of the use of mobile phone as a modem connected to a laptop has proved to be popular and effective, giving coverage at all locations.

 

Disadvantages/drawbacks

The project has had to overcome a number of barriers:

  • Institutional change – changes to existing partners, particularly in relation to line management and shifts in institutional priorities
  • Infrastructure – many developments require a robust wifi network across the whole institution. In many cases this is only just beginning to be put in place.
  • Staff buy-in – project priorities had changed in order to work with teaching and other staff most receptive to embedding digital literacy. It is hoped the benefits derived from these interventions will encourage more staff to engage (and there is already evidence of this) 

 

(See the full report for further details of achievements against targets).

 

Sustaining and embedding

 

Roll out to other institutions

Owing to the multi-institutional nature of the project it has already been possible to roll-out certain initiatives to partner institutions (and to learn from best practice). Most of the other initiatives can be replicated in other FE institutions with similar learner/staff cohorts. Furthermore, most of the initiatives did not require significant investments in staffing or resources so should not be prohibitively expensive. The project has been well received at the dissemination events already held for the FE sector (see full report for details). The project will continue to disseminate good practice through the Colegau Cymru Learning Resources Managers and ILT Champions networks.

 

Changes in practice

The changes identified in section 8 should be equally applicable in other FE colleges and given than most FE institutions are at a very early level of adoption of the challenge for digital literacy there are many common work and study practices within FE that can benefit from greater use of digital tools.

 

The project has significantly enhanced the role of library and ILT staff in the institutions concerned. Certain aspects of digital literacy were not being covered systematically in many institutions, particularly e-safety. These staff have also provided support in the use of mobile devices, e-portfolios, virtual CoPs and webinar software.

 

Embedding in the institutions

Many of the initiatives developed under the project will be extended or rolled out to other areas of the institution, as noted in each case study.

 

External impact

Impact from the project is already being felt by the partner institutions and local networks are being utilised to extend this good practice to other colleges in Wales. It is hoped that many of the initiatives will be highlighted as good practice in future Estyn inspections to further raise the fundamental importance of digital literacy to the sector.

 

The profile of Digital Literacy is being raised by the Welsh Government through the work of its Digital Classroom and now Hwb groups. In addition, digital literacy features in the new Welsh Government Literacy Strategy (2013) and Qualifications Review (2012).

 

Areas of further research 

An issue which appears common not just to FE institutions but, from our discussions with partner HE institutions in our cluster, to HE tutors too, ‘is why do some staff engage and others not?’ The most common excuse is a lack of time but given that many staff do engage with digital literacy despite many pressures on their time the issue is more one of prioritising. We feel more research is needed in this area as to why some tutors prioritise digital literacy over others.

 

Lessons learned and reflection

 

Key messages

Learners are relying increasingly on the use of their own technology for study and for assessment. Learners are therefore sometimes ‘bypassing’ college technology in order to use technology which they are more comfortable with, have personal control of and which is, possibly, more advanced. This raises issues about provision of public wifi for learners and wifi access to college networks. Of the five colleges in the PADDLE project only Yale have wifi access across their main campus which allows learners to use their own technology in the classroom. Other colleges have some areas with public wifi (these tend to be in public spaces and not the classroom) or wifi access for institutional hardware.

 

Tutors are allowing the use of the learner’s own technology (for assessment) where it is possible to capture and store the use of such technologies (in line with traditional assessment methods). This raises the issue of the barriers to learning faced by the technology ‘have nots’. Again Yale College is tackling this barrier by providing loanable sets of laptops for classroom use.

 

Tutors have mixed opinions as regards using external social media against social media designed specifically for educational use (including Moodle). The general consensus is that learners should be able to use the technologies they are more comfortable with (eg Facebook, Twitter) but that more is needed to be done to educate learners in their effective and safe use.

 

Most institutions, where social media is used, recommend where possible, that learners create different accounts for educational and personal use. However, FE learners seem quite comfortable using the same social media platforms for college work and recreational use unlike in HE where students prefer to keep the two separate. Institutional attitudes towards the use of social media sites varies across the five institutions – with some allowing unrestricted access, others allowing limited access (usually at certain times of the day) and some not allowing any access.

 

The issue of the use of social media is particularly problematic in the context of work based learning. Here the observation was made that many employers block the use of social media sites by staff (and therefore work based learners). In this context if was felt the use of education specific social media would therefore be more appropriate.

 

 

 

Advice for other institutions

Some of the most successful developments have taken place when staff are mentored on a one to one basis or with small teams of staff from their own area. Fitting in training at times to suit staff, often short sessions to fit in with any time when they are free – lunchtimes, twilight, mid morning etc. Bite sized webinars are helping with this.

 

Where learners have lessons with more than one member of staff, with some staff using technology and others not, learners are putting pressure on those staff not using technology to engage with such technologies.

 

In addition, Institutions need to give clearer guidance on what technologies / systems to use for specific tasks. Training is a key factor – flexibility must be built in to any training or dissemination programme offered.

 

Engagement in the subject area (by tutors and learners) and current teaching and learning practices should be analysed and mapped to relevant DL frameworks.

 

What would we do differently

The scale of the project was huge and we realised that not all aims would be achieved but by using a wide ranging approach we would reach a number of key groups of staff and learners. Furthermore, due to the size of the project we have not fully embedded the lessons learned in one institution to the others and ideally a 3 year project would have enabled this.

 

It also became apparent early on that a ‘one size suits all’ approach would not work in every instance. Therefore a range of activities were used to develop digital skills and not just virtual communities of practice (although these did work in certain circumstances).

 

Identifying potential change agents at the onset and working with them may have been more beneficial although we did target staff and learners who were the most receptive. In practice it was often the project team who were the change agents. 

 

Recommendations

 

Encourage staff to engage through the use of small grants to pay for their time or by giving them equipment to work with eg their own ipad.

The colleges have had success with providing small grants (in the region of £1,500) to purchase ILT kit for staff to use in small scale digital literacy projects (some of which feature as case studies on the project website). Feedback has been that the money would be better used to provide staff cover – in order to free up staff time to experiment with new technologies.

 

Learners are developing their own solutions (eg facebook) and they do not always want staff to be a part of this. Institutions should be encouraging this rather than forcing learners to use platforms determined by the institution.

Institutions need to recognise that learners can make effective use of social media tools to enhance their learning and that social media should therefore not be seen as a negative and be prohibited through college policies. Learners should instead be given advice on acceptable use of social media and be given the option of using more educational platforms (but this choice should not be forced).

 

Institutions need to support learners’ use of their own devices – charging, infrastructure, and security (not as much of an issue with HE students, perhaps because of parental pressure with younger learners). However, Institutions must ensure learners who do not have own devices are not excluded.

Learners need to be encouraged to bring mobile devices into the classroom (often they are currently actively discouraged from doing this). Colleges need to ensure wifi is available in the classroom and not just in public areas otherwise digital learning will not be encouraged in class. Facilities need to be available to leave devices securely to allay learner (and parental) fears of loss/damage to devices. Colleges should have provision to loan devices to learners who do not have their own. 

 

This will mean significant institutional cultural change in allowing learners to use their own devices (eg smartphones) in class and seeing this as a positive learning activity. 

Colleges will need to better support tutors in classroom management so that learners use devices appropriately for educational purposes and not recreational use in class.

 

Focus on digital literacy skills relating to activities not equipment or systems.

To ensure digital skills are transferable the emphasis needs to be on what learners need to do as part of their studies rather than teaching a set list of skills. Digital tools and devices should therefore be selected on the basis of how they best support the learning activity rather than an over reliance on a single device/platform.

 

Digital literacy skills and needs are generally common to all groups of staff and learners. The project has therefore identified core digital skills that are needed across the FE sector.

The project identified a core set of digital practices and the skills that correspond to those skills. In general we found that many of the practices/skills were common to all staff and learner groups. We did, however, supplement those core skills with skills specific to certain roles eg tutor, learner etc. The focus should be on generic digital skills appropriate to core digital practices rather than training on specific digital tools or platforms. 

 

Use of ‘hooks’ to encourage take up. Digital literacies need to be sold on their benefits in terms of practical applications rather than simply in terms of improving skills.

When colleges are introducing new procedures or systems they should be looking at how digital tools can facilitate this process and aid more efficient working. The communication and collaboration facilities inherent in many digital tools make them ideally suited to activities requiring staff consultation and engagement. Furthermore, many new systems fail because of breakdowns in communication – the instant and community based focus of digital collaboration should mitigate against these breakdowns.  Moreover, by utilising digital tools staff will be improving their skills without having to find additional time or even be aware they are doing so, hence improving digital literacy by stealth.

 

Awareness of e-safety is essential for all staff and learners in FE. Colleges must assume responsibility for supporting this and not rely on others (eg parents or schools to undertake this work for them).

It is clear from the experience of the project team that the vast majority of learners entering FE are unaware of e-safety issues – particularly in terms of the law but also in terms of the potential impact on employment. Furthermore, little is done to raise awareness of the positive aspects of digital identity management and its effect on improving employment prospects.