Anthony Bravo reflects on his college’s moves to improve on its blended learning.
Anyone who read my recent expert piece in this publication (Edition 174, May 16) will know that BCoT is grappling with the implications of blended learning, like many other colleges.
I believe achieving truly outstanding teaching, learning and assessment can only be achieved through creativity and innovation and today that includes the development and implementation of digital technologies.
Our strategic vision has been built around three key points: Where do we want to go? What do we need to do? How do we do it?
The first question is easy — we want to go towards outstanding teaching, learning and assessment.
What do we need to do? We need to enable our lecturers to use, produce and adapt engaging, interactive and pedagogically effective materials.
These should be easily accessible to students, on and off site, and use ILT whenever possible to widen participation and enrich the learning experience.
How do we do it? I had three tactics in mind — using digital tools in the classroom, getting staff sourcing and developing content, and an hour a week blended learning.
This evolved into three key approaches: the skills of our staff, the resources available, and engagement with our students.
We understand that every individual’s experience of IT will have started long before they are in college
The digital capability of staff is fundamental; we need to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to deliver our vision.
All the ‘best practice’ ideas come into play: ILT inductions for new staff; mandatory training and development; sharing of good practice; and conducting skills audits to inform our training priorities.
Amongst other things, we’ve also turned our poachers into gamekeepers and have digital media apprentices supporting staff in developing content.
We need to invest in resources, ensuring a robust network that gives us the capacity, infrastructure and equipment to deliver an outstanding ILT experience.
We are moving to Google Apps for Education as a replacement for our existing virtual learning environment, which we feel is easier to use in the classroom.
September will also see a timetabled hour of blended learning, and we’re redesigning some of our existing learning spaces to ensure we have capacity to deliver this.
External software packages, such as iGVS, are also extremely helpful.
Content-sharing platforms not only encourage sharing, but provide an opportunity to capitalise on possible efficiencies too.
Our final ‘how’ strand centres around our students.
We understand that every individual’s experience of IT will have started long before they are in college and will vary dramatically.
It is important to recognise that some may not have the necessary skills to engage with content.
Part of the how, then, is to ensure that our students’ skills are audited and that they are supported to access content appropriately.
We were one of the pilot institutions that took part in the JISC Learner Digital Experience Tracker project earlier this year.
This has given us valuable information about how our students use technology and to benchmark ourselves against other institutions’ data.
One of the outcomes is that we are now developing a student digital induction programme including video and interactive content.
As I read this back, I have to acknowledge our plan sounds deceptively simple, but we all know it will not be without challenges.
For one, how do we ensure pedagogically sound content to ensure blended learning works?
We’re recruiting a blended-learning manager to oversee the quality of learning materials.
Should we provide rigid templates? We think probably not; the precise methods and the balance of the blend will depend on the nature of the curriculum, the course level, students’ access to and ability to use technology, the course structure and the physical location of staff and learning areas.
So not rigid, but a clear framework of expectations, based on Hopwood.
Our Ofsted report (May 2016) stated that “Teachers make particularly innovative and effective use of ILT to engage and motivate learners”. It shows we’re officially ‘on the road’ but we know that there will be many milestones and challenges up ahead.