Why should colleges prioritise digital technology?

25 Nov 2018, 5:00

Using tech effectively throughout your college is about creating equal opportunities for all learners, explains Deborah Millar

Our job is to prepare students for their future. If we don’t teach them to use digital technology, we’re not preparing them for the real world of business and industry.

Two of the three colleges I’ve worked at have embraced technology, allowing every learner to access the content in their preferred way. But not all colleges do this successfully.

So why should colleges prioritise tech?

1. Learners are different

When 17% of learners in further education and skills provision have a disclosed special educational need or disability, it’s not good enough not to be making the most of the inclusive learning technology that’s available.

I’ve seen the difference with my own eyes, as students with disabilities become just another learner in the room.

Take one student – let’s call her Laura. She’s a fantastic performing arts student but she’d always been dependent on other people reading out her lines to her in order to learn them, due to her dyslexia. Who wants to be singled out for having to carry around different-coloured handouts, or large-text versions of scripts? Since she has had access to the Immersive Reader tool, all that has changed. The tool can shade out all the lines except the one you’re reading, break the text into syllables, add coloured filters, make fonts easier to read or simply read out the text to you.

Students with disabilities become just another learner in the room

2. Life gets in the way

Teachers who are using tech well are creating equal opportunities for all learners to access the material, from anywhere. Students might get ill, they might be parents, they might have to hold down a job. Life sometimes gets in the way, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to learn.

A student who had a two-hour bus journey saw her approach to learning revolutionised when we showed her how to access it online.

In fact, in FE, it’s our job to provide an opportunity for learning at a student’s preferred time. If they need to learn at 3am, what’s that to us?

3. It allows teachers to use their time wisely

Teachers are an expensive resource – but videos can be watched online without them. If the teacher has done their job correctly, they will have made sure the knowledge is already in the learners’ minds before they come to class, which then becomes a time to deepen understanding and correct misperceptions.

When used well, tech also allows teachers to differentiate in a classroom with a huge range of abilities.

4. It extends learning beyond the classroom

If the homework is to find a hair-colouring disaster, students can share their examples in real time via OneNote or Pinterest. The teacher can weigh in and ask, “How would you correct this?” and other students can chip in with ideas.

In a context where hours have been drastically cut over the years, tech enables you to extend the collaborative learning beyond the classroom.

5. It transcends geography

Tweet-meets are just one example of connecting students with employers. In my class, an ex-student working at a design studio would give my students a virtual tour. Students would then prepare questions to tweet – and share their work and get feedback.

Just recently, one of our staff members took a course on using Skype in the classroom. The next thing I heard, she’d arranged for a series of childcare specialists from all over the world to deliver presentations to her students.

And last week, one of our animal care teachers Skyped Lisbon zoo for a tour of their rare animals.

In short, tech removes barriers to learning – whether they are geographic, financial or related to a disability.

Of course, we need to make sure people are educated about the difference between screen time that educates and screen time that’s a waste of time. But this will only happen with greater understanding of the learning technology that’s out there. Teachers and managers in FE – and Ofsted inspectors – need to push themselves out of their comfort zone and become learners again. Only then will they begin to truly appreciate how to use tech well, and what a boon it can be for learning.

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