HETA Digital Academy: reflections on embedding digital technologies

Management team at cluster of computer terminals, undergoinmg training at HETA

Scott Rorrison is the Teaching & Learning Improvement Manager at Humberside Engineering Training Association (HETA). Here, he explains the work he has been doing under the auspices of the Education and Training Foundation’s Advanced Practitioner Connect Outstanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment project to embed the use of digital technologies there.

Some people think the Ofsted Self-Assessment Report (SAR) writing process is a waste of time and consider it a box-ticking exercise. Me, I’m the opposite. I can’t bear the thought of just going through the motions, especially with something as important as reflection. During my SAR reflections I noticed a lack of the use of digital technology in our classrooms and workshops. You could say that many of our sessions were old fashioned and required a lift.

Incorporating digital technologies into our curriculum had been a stumbling block for a long time; we’d had MOODLE for many years, but never managed to roll it out. Tutors were not confident. They’d had training, but it was inconsistent, and no incentives existed to encourage staff. We’d reached the point where people would roll their eyes in meetings whenever the acronym VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) was mentioned.

In summary, we had a very mixed bag of tutors; some were using edtech confidently in sessions, whereas some struggled to use Outlook. Furthermore, the majority of leaders and managers were unsure how to move forward and didn’t know what technology could offer. We were asking ‘what can technology do for us?’ rather than ‘what do we want the technology to do?’.

Moving forward
My main source of influence and development is Twitter; I’d seen that a lot of people were successfully using Google and Microsoft Education suites. I’d seen the excellent work Basingstoke College of Technology and its digital team (@BCoTD1g1tal) were doing with G suite and seeing as though I’d toyed with Google whilst teaching welding at a previous college, I wanted to go down that route. However, my current employer was already using Microsoft Office 365, so to avoid confusing staff with too many options I decided to go all-in with Microsoft.

Again, Twitter was a big help here; I’d seen that Elaine Topham (@ElaineTopham) at the Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education (GIFHE) was doing excellent stuff with Office 365 so I started following her on Twitter. One day, a post that she retweeted popped up inviting people to a Microsoft Bootcamp in Leeds. I applied for it, but thought it’d be an exclusive event, so I was chuffed when I was accepted.

The bootcamp
Heta award badgeAt the bootcamp I learnt how to structure staff development programmes; the most useful thing I learnt was about staff incentives. I saw how GIFHE (@gifhe) and Teesside Uni (@TeesUniLTE) had used staff recognition incentives to drive company-wide development, so I decided to rip the idea off. The main benefit of the bootcamp was that it encouraged me away from an obsession with accountability and appraisals towards encouragement, trust and recognition.

The project
The overall aim of our project at HETA was to improve pedagogy within vocational sessions through the use of digital technologies. The plan of attack was:

  1. Train our leadership and management team to work collaboratively using cloud-based software (MS Teams, Word Online and PowerPoint Online), then award them Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) badges.
  2. Train delivery teams as above (with their training to be more thorough and delivered over a longer period of time).
  3. Train student council reps as above with the aim of supporting tutors within sessions.
  4. Reward with recognition pin badges when evidence of success posted onto the company Yammer network.

Progress can be seen in many tangible ways:

  • Our leadership and management team have all achieved their MIE badges. Additionally, a quarter of the leadership team have successfully achieved a gold standard pin badge.
  • Student council reps have all been shown how to use MS Teams, Word Online and Powerpoint Online. Whenever possible, student council meetings are run via MS Teams.
  • Delivery teams are making excellent progress through their training and lesson observation data is showing that there has been a significant increase in edtech usage in sessions.
  • Yammer has exploded! It’s now full of evidence of edtech being used and many staff use it to share good practice.

We’ve also come up against some barriers to what we are trying to achieve. For instance, some teams and departments have engaged with the pin badges and see them as a bit of fun, whereas a lot see them as derogatory and childish. It’s evident that some of our staff are learning from development and implementing skills gained from their training, but don’t wish to advertise the fact (because it’s not cool).

Little successes
Sometimes, though, it’s the little things that tell you that you’re making headway. One day, I was observing a session and learners were instructed to get into groups and design a presentation. Immediately, a group of learners shouted “Ooh, we’ll use Microsoft Teams!” Having thought the group’s tutor hadn’t really engaged with the process, I immediately realised that he had, albeit covertly. Some people, that incident goes to show, just like to get on with it.

You can follow Scott Rorrison on Twitter: @larkinhull. Further details of the Advanced Practitioner programme are available on the ETF website.

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