Weymouth College ran a Reflective Exploration project in autumn 2021 funded by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) to help practitioners develop their digital skills, especially but not exclusively for hybrid learning, using resources on the ETF’s Enhance Digital Teaching Platform. The project focused on extending digital skills and teaching approaches to deliver in a hybrid setting.
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 the ETF EdTech Mentor Alistair McNaught, who is an expert in digital accessibility.
The Reflective Explorations focused on several distinct themes, related to the specific objectives outlined above.
Head of Academic Studies and Quality Manager James Foster talks about his work on accessibility as a result of professional development on the project.
“For hybrid learning you have to have barrier-free content so that you don’t disadvantage people who are not in the classroom. This raised the need to improve accessibility. As the project progressed, the focus became to ensure we had an appropriate Accessibility Statement and that our learning resources were also accessible.”
James Foster, Quality Manager and Project Lead
James worked with the senior management team and the ETF’s EdTech Mentor using tools and learning from the bite-size training modules on Accessibility on the Enhance Digital Teaching Platform. As a result, the College now has an Accessibility Statement. James has also started to audit and review sample course materials from Health and Social Care, Sport, Public Services and Law courses. He organised external training for the SEND and Learning Support teams on the accessibility features built into Office 365.
“The biggest impact for me was looking at accessibility for disabled learners as we have a large cohort of learners with high needs and SEND in the College. Completing modules such as ‘Accessibility and the Law’ provided me with the insight to take on the audit of resources and writing an Accessibility Statement.”
Barrier-free content is key to successful hybrid learning, both for those working remotely and those in the classroom, so learning platforms and learning resources should be checked for accessibility and staff need to be trained in good accessibility practices.
SEND Co-ordinator Darren Morgan reflects on how the Reflective Exploration project prompted him and the team to rethink the engagement and learning approach for students with additional learning needs including those with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).
The Reflective Exploration project enabled staff with SEND specialisms to explore opportunities and strategies for using digital technologies to provide SEND students with a new learning space that they could take ownership of and personalise, to develop independent and collaborative learning. This followed training on the Accessibility, Dealing with Difference and Diversity and Improving Outcomes modules on the ETF’s Enhance Digital Teaching Platform.
The project prompted a rethink of the whole process of engaging with and supporting SEND learners, particularly given a substantial increase in students with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) enrolling at the College.
The SEND management team realised that assessment of additional learner support needs should be taking place earlier at the point of student enquiry so that applicants could be appropriately referred through to specialist teams before the allocation of their course. This led to the idea of creating an online form to capture learner and parent/carer data that would be easy for learners, parents/carers and staff to use.
They worked on a pilot questionnaire of support needs using Google Docs, with completed information returned in the form of a spreadsheet for easy upload into the student tracking system. The aim was to facilitate a report to show each additional support need and which area the student had applied for before enrolment, saving the Student Support Assistants substantial time capturing this data during the first term. The SEND team has proposed adaptions to the student tracking system and development is underway to record strategies towards and progress of EHCP outcomes.
Darren has started to deliver CPD training sessions with staff to introduce them to the new developments and to give them the knowledge and the practical skills to seek out and adapt resources and develop new ones to best meet the needs of SEND learners. The intention is to incorporate this CPD into Weymouth College’s staff development programme and deliver as required to other programme areas, to new staff and as refresher training.
Assessment of additional learner support needs for SEND learners should take place at the point of enquiry rather than after enrolment and can be done using an online form built in a system like Google Docs.
James Foster and another member of staff ran a VR training course as part of a staff development day. They invited staff from different subject areas to come and view sample uses of the new technology in four areas – Sport, Art, Construction and Engineering – and discuss how they could use it. There was very positive feedback.
Deputy Head of Engineering, Chris Bonney, explored a range of VR tools to make sessions more engaging and not so reliant on PowerPoint slides. The intention was to set up a Health and Safety training exercise using VR software but there was a delay because of Covid. The students who were able to trial the approach really enjoyed it. Chris felt that Health and Safety could be a dry subject to teach and that this would allow a more immersive approach, enabling students to get close to situations that might otherwise be dangerous.
“I have done a lot of work with the use of Virtual Reality as well as 360-degree videos. I have installed two pieces of software for the delivery of Health and Safety ready for delivery in 2022. This will allow students to be in a simulated environment and tasked with selecting the correct PPE for welding at height. It will give students an experience you would not normally be able to have. We have also introduced VR into the delivery of architecture as an added value feature so students can view their houses in a VR environment as well as just on their screens.
“As well as Virtual Reality, I have been creating 360-degree videos on Health and Safety for students to engage in using VR Box headsets. These videos will also be accessible remotely which promotes hybrid and distance learning. The videos will be used as part of my Health and Safety training for full time students and apprentices rather than the use of PowerPoint slides.”
When introducing staff to new teaching and learning tools such as Virtual Reality, it is helpful to show some examples of how they could be used and discuss with staff ideas for how they could deploy the technology in their context.
Deputy Head of Engineering Chris Bonney sets out the two parts of his Reflective Learning Journey
Chris Bonney also explored use of digital tools to give audio feedback to students with very positive results. As a result, some tools are now being used across the staff team:
“The first strategy I implemented off the back of the [Enhance] modules related to digital assessment. As part of my marking in Google Classroom, I installed a speech to text plugin for Google Chrome which allowed me to provide more detailed assessment than I had been doing previously and in a fraction of the time. I have circulated this within the department for use when marking their own units. In a climate where we are having to mark more and, in less time, having this as a feature is of great benefit and is beneficial for both staff and students.
“The students have been engaging with the feedback and acting on the points raised within it. By marking digitally using Google Classroom, as a department we are seeing students provide their own feedback, questioning our feedback and asking for advice on how to improve moving forward. We haven’t always seen this within the department, so this is clearly an improvement.”
Evidence suggests verbal feedback can save marking time and students often feel they have received richer feedback, but it is important to take account of individual needs – for example, deaf students may still need written feedback.
Quality Improvement Co-ordinator and Health and Social Care Lecturer Lesley Kellett describes what she tried and what she learnt in her EdTech Reflective Exploration.
Lesley Kellett completed a range of bite-size training modules in Accessibility, Collaborative Practice, Tools for Digital Learning, PLD: Skills and Networks and PLD: Using Technology. She gained 10 digital badges including a 2-star badge for Accessibility and felt confident in advocating use of the Enhance Digital Teaching Platform to a member of staff working towards her Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) status:
“In my role as a mentor, I am supporting a member of staff who is currently working towards gaining her QTLS status. In my most recent session with her, we discussed her CPD and how she can develop as a practitioner. I discussed the ETF’s Enhance Digital Teaching Platform and showed her how to sign up for this and how to use it to aid her development. She was very interested in how this could support her, and I was able to confidently discuss its benefits and show her how to use it. I felt it was valuable to be able to discuss something that I was using and not just something I had heard about. I discussed some of the modules that I had completed, and we looked together at some of the modules that could support her development. I think the modules have lots to offer someone on their QTLS journey. It may be good to point her to the Awarded Practice wall as well where she can find people teaching in a similar context and comment on / question their experiences.”
The Enhance Digital Teaching Platform has useful resources to support staff who are working towards QTLS status.
Lesley was very engaged by the idea of recording her teaching sessions for HE students on her Health and Social Care course.
“When I was delivering lessons online due to COVID restrictions I was recording lessons, but I do not record face-to-face lessons. I observed a lesson recently in which the teacher recorded her face-to-face lessons, which I thought was good practice and I have asked her to share this with other staff. I decided to look at a module [on the Enhance Digital Teaching Platform] about recording lessons as I think this is particularly important when delivering my HE lessons. The module helped me to consider the best way to record lessons but also made me recognise how the recording of lessons could help in the development of my teaching, as I could watch the video to look at the effectiveness of my lesson. It also made me consider how this could be valuable when supporting staff in the development of their teaching and for those staff who I mentor.
Recording lessons is not just useful for students to help them catch up and be able to recap learning, but also for teachers to critically reflect on the effectiveness of their teaching. It can also be useful for mentors who are working with others to improve practice.
Impact for the organisation
James Foster outlines next steps from the point of view of the project team:
Ofsted graded ‘Good’, Weymouth College is a general further education provider on the coast of Dorset, operating from four main sites. Within the top 20% of the most nationally deprived areas, ten are within the borough of Dorset and six of these have been designated as the lowest 10% of deprived areas nationally (English Indices of Deprivation, 2019).
The College delivers education and training to over 1,300 young people, 500 adults and 500 apprenticeships in partnership with more than 400 employers. The curriculum is broad and varied, offering a range of academic, technical, professional and apprenticeship programmes alongside a substantial corporate training offer for employers, with centres of excellence in Construction and Motor Vehicle Engineering. The College delivers across further and adult education from Entry Level 3 to Level 6 and recently launched its first BSc Honours degree.
Staff use Google Classroom and Office 365. There is an EdTech best practice group which shares resources and organises training.
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.