Context – Hopwood Hall College is an FE college in Greater Manchester with around 3,000 16-19 and 1,600 19+ learners, and approximately 600 staff teaching and supporting a range of vocational/technical subjects. Between March and August 2020 all our teaching moved fully online. From September 2020 various curriculum delivery models have been in play, including: learners attending college on alternate weeks, accessing their timetabled lessons face-to-face and remotely; learners accessing their learning fully remotely and some learners engaging fully with onsite provision – all these scenarios have been, and continue to be, complemented by access to dynamic and interactive course areas on our main VLE, ItsLearning, as well as the use of OneFile supporting our Apprentices, combined with the integrated use of MS Teams and Zoom to support video conferencing. From January to March 2021, the majority of the college reverted to remote access, with onsite provision recommencing, in stages, from mid March 2021.
Even prior to the move to remote learning, the college had already adopted a blended learning model for a large portion of the provision, in the form of timetabled, independent eLearning (iLearn) sessions on all L2 and L3 study programmes – this model has been developed over the past 9 years. These sessions are planned and developed by curriculum staff, creating opportunities for supervised, independent learning sessions and developing skills through digital. This has always been something that has highlighted the need to continually develop staff digital skills through appropriate and relevant access to digital CPD – and of course, this need has only grown during the pandemic.
Starting point – In the academic year (19/20), leading up to #lockdown1 we did have staff training in play in the form of: weekly blog-style updates shared on our college-wide SharePoint site; planned-in, essential training sessions during our August enrolment period giving key updates on our main VLE – ItsLearning; a calendar of weekly informal training events covering topics including: ItsLearning features and tools and other associated EdTech resources, such as Clickview; and ongoing access to our eLearning team through office drop-ins, staff room drop-ins and our online helpdesk.
We considered our position at the start September 2020 and looked how best to identify staff and student’s needs when it came to digital capability and experience, and continuing to move forward and grow. We decided to use the JISC Digital Experience Insights Survey. This enabled us to roll out a survey to all staff and learners, containing JISC and College specific questions, to gain data and information to inform items such as ongoing training and CPD, as well as other interesting qualitative and quantitative data and information on matters such as: access and attitudes to digital technologies.
What we did – We took information and data from the JISC Digital Experiences Insights Survey (rolled out Nov/Dec 2020). Alongside this we also considered historical knowledge of our staff teams, the needs and requirements of those teams, current trends and considerations about the digital systems we had (and have) available to support TL&A, which included, and still does, our VLE – ItsLearning and MS Teams. From this we devised a plan for digitally focused and relevant CPD, that sat alongside other core training and CPD.
The training we planned, was of course at this point, while everyone was ‘elbows deep’ in #lockdown3, delivered remotely via MS Teams. Not a problem for us as we developed a range of materials, including: slides, help videos and discussion Padlets to facilitate effective, interactive and inclusive training. We planned the training so it not only focused on the tool in question, but also on: relationships to the pedagogy and how tools linked with our main VLE platform; ItsLearning. The linking of the digital system/tool/idea to the pedagogy was critical; in actually fact, always has been and always will be. Research coming through from the GM DBLC forum, alongside other information avenues all state, as one of the fundamental considerations of digital and blended learning is: Pedagogy first, technology second.
Challenges and how we overcame them – There were some challenges to overcome when planning the sessions in terms of roll out – I believe the best way forward with all and any digitally related training is that is arranged and planned in conjunction between the eLearning and Quality teams, and promoted via all available communication channels in the college, including staff booking onto training through our ‘HR Self-Serve’ system. This ensured staff were all aware of the support via this training, and in some cases introduced staff to further avenues of support offered by the eLearning team.
Another challenge to overcome, which is something that I am sure will resonate with teachers across the land, was the best way to deliver remotely, making the sessions informative, engaging and useful. I do think that with the ‘information giving’ nature of some staff training sessions, this could lead to sessions that are not engaging and inspiring. We did endeavor move away from this by:
- structuring sessions to include key and relevant information; –
- setting out netiquette guidelines for the sessions, but encouraging open and productive discussion among the staff teams;
- including clear objectives on the session so staff knew what to expect;
- breaking up the training into different elements, for example, presenting, then watching a video, then opening discussions about said video;
- including clear guidance on links to our main VLE platform;
- promoting sharing of emerging and existing good practice;
- offering key session ‘takeaways’.
Here is an example of one of our slide shows demonstrating the session format.
What worked well – As aforementioned, having ongoing working relationships between the Quality and eLearning team is a vital element to getting the most from our eLearning provision at the College. Alongside this, providing carefully considered, relevant information through training sessions has worked well in that, for many staff, coming to these sessions was time well spent. From the most recent chunk of CPD sessions, we collated feedback: here are some of the positive responses received.
What also worked well, and continues to do so, is providing access to ongoing, informal support as mentioned earlier – this approach gives our wide staff base opportunities to develop their practice through organised training sessions, as well as through access to other on-demand services, such as our VLE helpdesk and the development of our Hopwood digital help area.
How this influenced staff – This particular chunk of training has influenced staff in the respect that it gave staff more confidence, through knowledge and understanding of the use of digital systems to support digital learning, in whatever form that may have come in. It has also served to continue to shape and inform practice throughout the rest of this academic year and beyond.
What is also important to mention here is the support given to teaching staff, staff who directly assist teachers and other support staff in varying departments across the college.
How this helped learners – Again, this particular chunk of training has given staff the knowledge and confidence to either try new systems, or develop the use of systems already in play, all in the name of improving and giving our learners the best experience. This has been reflected in the earlier included feedback comments where staff were enthused about learning new things and trying them out with support from the eLearning team, our Advanced Teaching Practitioners and from within their own departments.
Recommendations – We would always recommend a varied approach to training, using data, information and feedback to plan and deliver a clear and coherent training structure, based on the needs of the staff and, in turn, the desired experience of the learner. We also found that, even though this set of training was delivered remotely due to operational circumstances, not to discount future training opportunities being delivered flexibly – online and face-to-face, or a hybrid of these if possible.
Digital does not stand still! Gone are the days of waiting months or years for software updates and new and exciting apps – this can now be a daily occurrence. It takes time, research, knowledge and understanding of digital systems in order to gain the most out of them, effectively relate systems to TL&A and then to coherently pass this onto teachers and those who support them.
I feel an ongoing, complementary relationship between the eLearning and Quality teams continues to be a vital element for meeting the ongoing digital CPD needs of this varied staff team.
I would also consider the use of future surveys to analyse digital experiences and capacity to ensure training offered continues to be useful and relevant.
In addition to formal, structured training, I would favour continuing with other avenues of support, giving a well-rounded, supportive offer, giving access to support when people need it.