Step2Skills, which provides adult learning and employment support in Hertfordshire, recently ran two Reflective Exploration projects in the use of educational technology (EdTech) funded by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). The aim of the projects was to help practitioners develop their digital skills, especially but not exclusively for hybrid learning, using the resources on the Enhance Digital Teaching Platform.
This project focused on engaging learners and maintaining good mental health when delivering remotely and in hybrid settings, looking in particular at ‘flipped learning’ and use of Google Classrooms.
Hybrid learning is when learners are simultaneously attending the same delivery session from different learning spaces. Some learners will be physically in the classroom or workshop and others attending the training virtually, using different technologies and connectivity to join. The challenge is how to optimise learning activities for both groups of learners.
The staff involved were:
Participants were supported by ETF EdTech Mentor Sarah Simons.
Participants used the bite-size EdTech training resources on the Enhance Digital Teaching Platform, focusing on:
They obtained 1-star digital badges for completing modules. Some also progressed to 2-star and 3-star badges which require submission of reflections and resources. For example:
The Project Lead and each of the three participants tried different tools and approaches but then shared practice and worked collaboratively to overcome issues, make progress and take forward successful ideas for wider adoption. The tools and new teaching strategies were tested out on a range of learners engaged in community learning, as well as in accredited programmes.
Project Lead Karen Julier found the ‘Dealing with Difference and Diversity’ modules on the Enhance platform particularly helpful. As a Digital Lead part of her role is to develop CPD for other staff, so her activity on the project involved a mix of trialling tools in her own classroom and developing resources and training for the organisation.
Karen reviewed her use of a preferred online quiz tool with a new group of ESOL learners when she found that some learners were struggling with answers:
“I have been working with an ESOL group online for a couple of weeks and last week I used the same Kahoot quiz that I would usually. I could see that three learners were not answering correctly and missing answers. I checked learning in a different way, and they could all answer. I checked with the learners and discovered that they found reading under pressure very difficult and therefore got themselves a little stressed out with the time counting down and just pressed anything. This is a big lesson learnt for me, as I have only taught ESOL in a classroom or ESOL learners that have good reading skills. In future I will consider and extend the timings on these types of quizzes or use something else entirely.”
Learning point: Learners will vary in their response to digital tools. When starting with a new group of learners, it is important to review how they respond to the digital tools being used and to check for feedback.
Karen tried out collaboration between learners when she found that the digital skills of her class varied a lot – in line with advice from the ‘Accommodating different levels of digital skills’ module. Learners on her Word and Excel courses had a very wide range of digital ability. The first session was quite difficult as two learners were struggling with basic digital tasks such as copy and paste. Karen asked for a volunteer from the class who could work with the two learners who were struggling to keep the lesson flowing. This kept these learners engaged and allowed Karen to continue with the curriculum and stretch tasks with the others. The second class had a better and calmer atmosphere, with everyone learning and engaging in the digital tasks. Everyone completed the reflections on Google Classroom where some had struggled the previous week. Karen said, “I am going to consider having a volunteer for my online classes next term and use breakout rooms if the levels differ to this extent as I have seen how this can improve the learning.”
Learning point: Pairing more able learners with those who are struggling can be effective in accommodating different levels of digital skills in the same class.
In her CPD role, Karen delivered accessibility training and also created crib sheets for teachers on some accessibility functions in Google Docs and Word covering text to speech, speech to text, and translation with a view to:
Jess Wall comments on her reflective exploration.
Advanced practitioner Jess Wall works one to one with members of the teaching teams and provides professional development for the team. She focused on flipped and hybrid learning to identify how different learning models can enhance teacher wellbeing and how to communicate that to teachers to increase buy-in.
Jess was able to change the narrative around new models of learning, namely flipped learning and hybrid learning, by removing the element of ‘instruction’ and instigating informal chats. Changing the language to describe the models had a significant impact, for example, talking about ‘pre-lesson research and prep’ instead of ‘flipped learning’. Teachers seemed surprised that they were ‘allowed’ to do that, and it changed the mindset. She also focused on demonstrating how these models would benefit participating teachers, for example, by providing opportunities to save time in the longer term. This resonated especially well with colleagues who were less comfortable with digital tools.
“I have used the flipped learning model, coupled with reflections on accessibility and wellbeing, to enhance my current workshops. I have done this by giving learners a variety of ways in which they can leave the screen/virtual class to go and do their own research in their own way.”
Jess trialled a flipped learning approach with the family learning team. She had a discussion with the team about how to engage children and families more in virtual classrooms and help them to do more independent work, therefore reducing stress for the teacher. As a result, they decided to try this flipped learning approach – though not described as such – by giving instruction to the parent or carer in the session, then sending the families away for the parent/carer to complete the activity with the child, facilitating independent learning and ensuring time away from the screen for digital wellbeing. Learners were also encouraged to do additional research to enhance the activity and feed back to the group to increase everyone’s knowledge.
As the project developed over the ten weeks, the plan to construct an exemplar course on ‘models of learning’ was changed to the idea of ‘drip-feeding’ content. Jess added top tips learnt from the Enhance modules and reflective practice onto her Advanced Practitioner Google Classroom for tutors to access.
Learning point: Terminology such as ‘flipped learning’ or ‘hybrid learning’ can be a barrier to teachers/trainers, especially those who are less confident with tech. Using clearer descriptive terminology and focusing on benefits for teachers not just learners can make a difference to adoption.
See Sophie Burtenshaw’s comments on her reflective exploration.
Sophie teaches maths to adults in community settings. Some lack confidence and skills using digital technologies and have limited access to IT. Many have barriers to learning such as dyslexia, language barriers or mental health issues such as anxiety.
Sophie took a lot from the modules about Accessibility and Dealing with Difference and Diversity. She wanted to focus on making her learner platform, Google Classroom, more inclusive in order to better meet the needs of different learners in the context of Functional Skills maths.
She streamlined her Google Classroom to make it less intimidating, changed fonts in documents to increase accessibility, and put a Text to Speech reader at the top of the Google Classroom so that learners could paste text into it to help their understanding rather than having to ask the teacher. She found an online maths dictionary which she also added to the top of her Google Classroom so that if a word/phrase came up that her learners were not familiar with they could just check online.
She started using interactive online worksheets for converting between metric units of measurement. She found these were more engaging for learners and less threatening when they made a mistake. She also gave them links to online games including Snap and Pairs, so that they could practise conversions without the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ on a piece of paper.
Learning point: Curating your learning environment and learning resources to build in inclusive options for the needs of different learners, especially those with barriers to learning, can help learners to make more independent progress and build confidence.
Sophie was interested in the Rosenshine’s Principles set out in the Technology, Personalisation and Effective Learning module. She reflected on how these principles would apply to learners with barriers, especially those with dyslexia as this is a common issue in the community learning service. Rosenshine advocates using small steps to scaffold the learning, asking questions to check understanding and provide models to help learners develop skills in problem solving. Sophie already used online quizzes a lot to help her learners with dyslexia who needed more repetition to reinforce learning. She used the quizzes to check understanding. She also used videos because, again, her dyslexic learners found them useful as they could repeat them as many times as necessary in their own time to build their learning incrementally. Sophie mainly sourced good quality videos from the internet but had recorded some of her own to show exactly how something was taught in class. She now decided to try making her own videos again and to get feedback to see if this was more effective.
“I have just made a short video which I have sent via WhatsApp to a group of learners, explaining the way to solve a certain problem that one learner had asked about (from an assessment I had set). I have asked learners for feedback (good or bad). These videos as well as links I post help to provide mathematical models and scaffolding for learners who need it as per Rosenshine’s principles. I think mathematical models are incredibly important for learning, and I do try and use them as much as possible.”
ESOL tutor Anna Wolak wanted to focus on resources for ESOL learners.
Anna added a PowerPoint to Google Classroom for her ESOL learners to refer to after the session with embedded voice recordings and videos to pre-teach vocabulary for the next class. Learners were asked to go through the PowerPoint and revise their pronunciation. Unfortunately, they were unable to listen to the recordings at home as Google Classroom would not allow sharing of sound, so Anna presented the PowerPoint in the lesson and emailed the ICT team for a solution. In class, learners were able to pronounce the vocabulary from the first PowerPoint correctly and felt more confident when using new words in simple sentences. Learners decided that they were happy to receive group emails with similar PowerPoints to learn new words on their own devices. They all received the second PowerPoint during the session. The PowerPoint had different activities. Learners could then listen to the ‘answer key recording’ to check their results. Learners used the Google Classroom comment box and shared their results.
Learning point: Embedding audio recordings and videos in PowerPoint for ESOL learners to pre-learn vocabulary and practise pronunciation independently ahead of lessons can be very effective. When embedding audio and video in PowerPoint slides hosted on a learning platform such as Google Classroom it is worth checking with the ICT team that these will be accessible to learners using the learning platform externally.
Outcomes from the project include the following:
Early indications suggest that:
Key learning points from the case study are summarised in the introductory section (see above).
Step2Skills is part of the Adult Care Services Division of Hertfordshire County Council. Most provision is focused on courses for adults in health and well-being, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), English, skills for work, digital skills and mathematics, reaching approximately 5,000 learners per year. Class sizes are on average around 12–15 with a wide age range from late teens to pension age. The Step2Skills Study Plus programme helps young people aged 16–24 take the next step into further education, apprenticeships or a career. Step2Skills also provides workforce training for local employers.
In autumn 2021, the ETF’s EdTech team supported 10-week Reflective Exploration projects to help teachers and trainers in six organisations to develop their digital pedagogy by engaging with EdTech resources on the ETF’s Enhance Digital Teaching Platform. The six projects were funded by the Department for Education.
The aim of the projects was to encourage participants to undertake bite-size training on the Enhance platform, apply and reflect on what they had learnt, submit reflections and resources on Enhance to gain digital award badges, and engage in pedagogic dialogue about those reflections and resources on the Enhance Awarded Practice Wall after gaining their badges – helping to build an EdTech community of practice across the sector.
The projects were asked to focus on the digital skills needed for effective hybrid learning environments. As indicated above, hybrid learning is when learners are simultaneously attending the same delivery session from different learning spaces. A more detailed definition of hybrid learning and what it implies can be found in the ETF Enhance Learning Ecosystem slides by National Head of EdTech and Digital Skills, Vikki Liogier.
The six organisations involved in the Reflective Explorations were at different stages of development in providing hybrid learning and the stories reflect this – with some focusing on the building blocks to enable effective hybrid learning such as accessible teaching resources and understanding of a wider variety of digital tools.