The SFA responds to FELTAG

Tablets and phones by Zak Mensah

Following the publication of the FELTAG report and the somewhat confusing response from BIS, across the FE sector there has been a lot of discussion about the implications of FELTAG, the 10% online delivery particularly getting a lot of attention.

I have attended a lot of events and meetings where we have discussed FELTAG, and though there was a lot of positive comments about ensuring our learners gained the necessary digital skills for future employment, the challenges of ensuring our staff have the necessary skills and training to deliver on this often came to the fore. In addition the 10% dominated many of the discussions, partly as it wasn’t clear what was online and what wasn’t? Most people were sure that “searching the web for information” was not online delivery, whereas computer-mediated content and assessment probably was. What was less clear was if discussion forums or webinars counted towards the online 10%.

This week the SFA released their response to FELTAG, and as one of the major funding bodies for Further Education this has been eagerly awaited in the anticipation that they would clarify and clear up the implications from FELTAG.

We now need to record on the ILR for the proportion of the Scheme of Work which is delivered “online”.

The 2014 to 2015 individualised learner record (ILR) includes a field which asks for the proportion of the curriculum design (scheme of work) delivered by computer-mediated activity rather than by a lecturer. This is activity which replaces face to face lecturing time including webinars, but not time spent on researching information on the web. 

It is good to see the clarification that webinars are considered to be online and as expected that researching on the web isn’t.

However it will be interesting to understand in more detail what is included and what isn’t. I consider all the following could be used to replace face to face lecturing time.

  • Having a discussion online using a forum on a VLE, or within a Google+ community.
  • Researching using online and digital collections, ie not using Google and the web, but using specific digital resources, such as an e-book library; the British Library Newspapers Archive; a collection of online journals.
  • Creating a blog and commenting on the blogs of others.
  • Having a discussion on Twitter, using a single hashtag.

The SFA also clarifies what they understand by the 10%.

We are not expecting providers to convert 10% of learning delivery in each programme of study ‘en bloc’ to online to meet a ‘directive’. Rather, we are encouraging providers to establish a strategy to determine where the adoption of a greater ‘blend’ of delivery and assessment types adds most value to a learning programme…

There was some discussion that the 10% could be an aggregated 10%, however the statement from the SFA implies they are expecting every programme to adopt blended learning in some format.

The challenge will be designing, developing and delivering the computer-mediated activity to meet this 10%. Unless the staff have the necessary skills, it will be a difficult process. It is one thing to use learning technologies for the odd activity here and then, it’s another thing to plan and schedule in 54 hours of online delivery into a 540 hours programme. The response from the SFA does indicate that colleges shouldn’t just convert the 10%, but it is clear they are expecting providers to strategically establish processes for implementing 10% (or more) where it “adds value” to a programme.

In many cases I would suspect that some courses already are meeting the 10%, it’s just that it isn’t part of the formal scheme of work. In this instance, the challenge will be for the teaching staff, how they will reduce their face to face time by 10%.

The other response from the SFA is that they will be looking at current use of online delivery this year, combine with the IRL information from 2014-15, to then get the data that “will be used to gauge the current volume of online delivery and establish a baseline to inform funding policy development and implementation for future years.”

The response to this has to be either, start now, don’t wait… make sure you train the staff. Though I am sure some providers may think that if they don’t start the process of change, the policy might disappear in the future…

It is good that we are getting clarification and the real value of FELTAG is getting the message out that the use of learning technologies should be used where it adds value to learning and improves the learning experience.

Image Credit: Tablets and phones by Zak Mensah

Taking the time for ALT-C 2014

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Last year I missed ALT-C, the Association of Learning Technologies annual Conference, as I had literally just started at Activate Learning. Though the conference coincides with the start of the academic year in FE, I did manage this year to attend the second day at the conference.

This has been for me for over ten years one of the best conferences on learning technologies, the topics, issues and subjects that are covered are inspiring, informative and certainly make you think about what you do and what you are going to do.

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The sessions at this year’s conference have been just as inspiring and as good as I have seen in previous years. I particularly enjoyed Catherine Cronin’s keynote and the session from Dave White.

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As well as the informative sessions, it is also good to make contact with fellow learning technologists from HE, FE and other sectors. Sometimes the conversations over coffee are as useful and interesting as the sessions in themselves.

It’s a pity that I could only make one day this year, but I certainly am going away with lots to think about and follow up over the next few weeks.

So how do you make children eat broccoli?

Do you eat broccoli?

Do you eat broccoli?

If you have young children you will know how challenging it can be to get them to eat new foods, or eat those that are healthy.

When asked why they won’t eat, let’s say broccoli, children (and to be honest some adults) will say they don’t like the taste, they don’t like the texture or they don’t like the colour. The end result is that they won’t eat the broccoli.

What they will not say, any may not realise, are the potential benefits of eating broccoli.

Broccoli is high in vitamin C and dietary fiber. It also contains multiple nutrients with potent anti-cancer properties, such as diindolylmethane and small amounts of selenium. A single serving provides more than 30 mg of vitamin C. Broccoli is also an excellent source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells.

Or to put it more simply…

Eat your greens, they’re good for you.

But…

They won’t focus on the real health benefits of eating broccoli they will focus that they don’t like, they don’t like the taste, it gives them stomach ache. They will talk about how they prefer chips, that they have always eaten.

In many ways helping staff in using specific learning technologies for teaching, learning and assessment is like eating broccoli.

If you discuss the use of various technologies, you will hear from teachers and lecturers that they don’t like certain aspects of the tool or service, for example the look or the colour. They might say how it won’t allow them to do something in a particular way. Often you will hear them say, that though the tool does lots of things well, because it does one thing badly, or doesn’t have that feature, then they won’t be able to use it. They don’t like the taste, they don’t like the colour, they prefer doing what they have always done.

So how do you get children to eat broccoli?

Well shouting at them to eat their greens, generally doesn’t work with children.

If you try and explain the health benefits of broccoli, this generally fails too.

Sometimes you can try and mask the broccol, maybe with cheese or in extreme examples chocolate.

Though, personally, I find the best way to get children to eat new (and healthy) foods, is to create an environment in which they are not only willing to try new foods, they do so, and also seek out other new tastes on their own. This means they want to not only eat broccoli, but also, then want to try other things.

This isn’t easy or simple, but it does have the greatest impact.

So how do you make people eat broccoli?

Image via Steven Lilley on Flickr

ocTEL: Activity 2.2: Learner Diversity

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Here are some thoughts on another ocTEL activity, this one is focusing on how technology can be used to support learner diversity.

Try to find one example from your own practice, or an example or resource from elsewhere, that you think exemplifies good practice in taking a technology-enhanced approach to addressing a key aspect of learner diversity.

It could be an example of a freely available assistive technology, or a set of online guidelines for designing a culturally inclusive curricula. It might be an example of an initiative, such as the college2uni podcasts produced by Edinburgh Napier University, which provide ‘just in time’ guidance at key points in the academic year for Further Education students coming in to University in the second or third year.

Approaching this task I was reminded of how we integrated ebooks at Gloucestershire College.

When we undertook a library survey, it was apparent that there were some groups of learners for whom the library wasn’t their first choice as a place to learn. This was backed up by the data from the Library Management System. More challenging was linking that data with retention and achievement data.

Research from the University of Huddersfield and others indicates that those students who use more books and/or e-resources are the same students who complete and get higher achievement rates. This is a correlation, not necessarily a causal relationship. However it is useful to understand that the data backs up a personal hunch that using a breadth and depth of resources does improve achievement. Also, motivated students who visit the library are also those who complete their studies.

One such group were IT students, who when asked for further feedback talked about how the space wasn’t meeting their needs, they preferred to remain in their area, or studied at night (when the library wasn’t open).

So the question was, how could we encourage these learners to make effective use of the resources available, also, how could we increase their usage of resources? We knew that encouraging their use of the library space was a potential strategy, the fact that they weren’t using it, didn’t necessarily mean they would start using it in the future.

So rather than bring the learners to the library, the plan was to take the library to the learners, using technology to make this happen, through the use of ebooks and other digital collections.

The ebooks for FE collection was a useful resource, containing a range of books. There were many suitable titles for the IT students. The IT students were also making good use of the VLE, so the relevant titles were made available as links on the VLE. The academic staff encouraged the use of ebooks in the class, using appropriate pages in lessons and making reference to them when needed.

The physical books were still available in the library, so from a learner diversity perspective they had choice about which resources they could use. It wasn’t just about choice, it was also about context and location. A book can be read easily when travelling, whether physical or ebook. An ebook can be accessed when the library is closed. A physical book is useful to have open, when you are using your main device as a creation tool, or when making notes, rather than task switching on a single screen. The text size of ebooks can be increased on some readers, for those with visual impairment issues.

The ebooks were just one part of a wider range of resources made available to the students, alongside strategies to improve teaching and learning.

Using technology as a solution to the “problem” for me, exemplifies good practice in taking a technology-enhanced approach to addressing a key aspect of learner diversity. Not using technology for the sake of using technology, but using it to make a difference by solving an issue.

news and views on e-learning, ILT and tech stuff in general…

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