From education to employment

FE Guild must create technology-confident workforce

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology

Maren Deepwell, chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology, argues that the creation of a technology-confident teaching force will be a measure of the success of the new FE Guild.

The importance of professionalism for teaching and learning in Further Education and across other sectors cannot be underestimated and the proposal to establish an FE Guild sends a clear signal that this is a point on which policy makers, professional associations and practitioners agree.

The publication of Professionalism in Further Education, the Final Report by the Independent Review Panel chaired by Lord Lingfield, has provoked much debate. The Association for Colleges (AoC), the Institute for Learning (IfL), the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE) and others have responded positively to the report, backing the proposed FE Guild.

Lord Lingfield’s panel developed and refined the idea of the Guild, first proposed by John Hayes, former FE and skills minister. And, of course, there will need to be further thought and refinement as the Guild takes shape, not least in the important role technology has to play in professionalisation.

With so many varied learning contexts, the provision of professional qualifications, training and development across the FE and Skills sector is a complex undertaking. Digital technology, from personal usage to large scale implementation, is of singular importance to those who teach and those who learn alike, as it has become woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.

Throughout history technological advances have always driven learning and teaching. New tools, materials and techniques shape how we can understand the world and enable us to shape and make and think about things differently. Just as advances in metalwork or printing have shaped what we teach to new generations, so does digital technology. There are specific subjects which depend on it, from computer aided design, to media and communications and computer science to name but a few, but of course the impact of digital technology is felt across all subjects, across all areas of life. Learners and teachers encounter technology in situations from shopping to research, from personal communications to work.

Thus digital technology is important to teaching and learning everywhere and in order to provide effective standards for professionalism and professional development, we need to take it into account also. The question is, what aspect of it is important? Is it a matter of being able to make use of it to facilitate learning? Surely yes. Is it important that teachers have awareness and knowledge of personal data management and security? Yes. Would it be useful for teachers to be able to encourage the creative and innovative use of technology amongst learners and lead by example? To use it for assessment, to broaden access, to support part-time or long-distance learners, to provide access to leading research?

The uses technology could be put to are many. The teachers who are able to do so with confidence are few. Technology changes rapidly and we are always having to catch up.

The debate about how to teach technology related knowledge in schools comes to mind. There is a need to learn about, with and through technology throughout the curriculum. Not simply to embed technology, but to foster awareness of and reflection on it. And our current and future learners will grow up to need teachers who can do this across all subjects and who receive the support and development to be able to do this. It is a real challenge.

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), an independent membership charity whose mission is to ensure that use of learning technology is effective and efficient, informed by research and practice, and grounded in an understanding of the underlying technologies and their capabilities, and the situations into which they are placed

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