From education to employment

Research from the front: A Developing Digital Project

Matt Gordon, English Lecturer, Waltham Forest College & Jan Calvert, English lecturer, Shipley College

The Education and Training Foundation (@E_T_Foundation) is the expert body for professional development and standards in Further Education (FE) and Training in England. 

Through their work, the ETF supports teachers and leaders across the Further Education and Training sector to help them achieve their professional development goals for the benefit of learners and employers across England. 

Since its inception, the ETF has supported a range of activity to improve teaching, from small scale projects involving single departments or individuals to region-wide activity promoting change and sharing of effective practice.

This work focuses on empowering practitioners to focus on effective practice that is most helpful for their own challenges. The wide range of activity that they deliver is brought together under the banner of Outstanding Teaching Learning and Assessment (OTLA).

In September 2020, the seventh phase of OTLA projects funded by the Education and Training Foundation was launched, with the collaborative research project between two general FE colleges’ GCSE English Language students and lecturers one of 36 projects exploring approaches for teaching English and Maths in the post-16 sector.


The intention was to investigate how two practitioners in separate settings could work together to develop students’ confidence in transferable skills and in the demands of the subject.

The overall objective was to produce collaborative, inter-college evidence-based research.

The research was centred around this question: how can we engage GCSE English students using digital technology for learning?

We aimed to:

  • encourage post-16 learners to work collaboratively and online with others they may never meet and where they are separated by distance.
  • seek to address current challenges in teaching, learning and assessment during online and face to face lessons via the deployment of digital or web-based resources.
  • engage with, and positively develop, the student’s view of the subject itself, exam questions, and with new ways of learning.
  • enhance attainment, retention and progression for such learners.


We have been delivering co-teaching, learning and assessment methods across multiple digital platforms, such as delivering live and recorded webinars.

We have been collecting results in the form of questionnaires and surveys, aiming for around 100 student responses across both colleges. Although questionnaires and surveys run the risk of being ‘data-rich, but information poor’, the forms used have allowed for both multiple choice skills development and open questions. 

The completion rate has been high as students find them accessible and relevant. We have also responded to individual students after completion of the surveys to discuss their learning needs and ways to progress. In the near-future we hope to conduct in-depth face to face interviews with learners on site, aiming for 10 responses (5 from each college).

Teaching notes and survey methods will similarly reflect ‘learner voice’.

GCSE English November 2020 survey summary 

Evidence was collected continuously via real-time review of student’s engagement in the webinar sessions, in class via the practitioner’s reflections, participants’ survey completion, face-to-face interviews with learners, anonymised completed tasks and subsequent feedback and results of assessments.  

The practitioners met online on a regular basis to collaboratively reflect on how our teaching and learning practice was developing in the current context. Central to this aspect is the teachers sharing and reflecting on practice in terms of online versus face-to-face delivery, and how we responded to what worked well/not so well.

Feedback from students was used to inform how the practitioners design and deliver subsequent sessions, facilitating students’ insight and impact on their own learning and how we incorporate this information and thus influence lesson planning.

Expected Results

We hoped to understand from the participants – students and practitioners – more about how post-16 learners (including adults) can be encouraged to help themselves learn, progress and achieve in the subject via digital tools.

Additionally, we wished to engage with, and positively develop: digital teaching, learning and assessment practice (TLA); the student’s view of the subject itself and with formal assessment tasks; build on and enhance student’s self-confidence and transferable skills relevant to the modern workplace…Currently, we are half-way through completion of the project.

Results will also be gauged by how students engage with the adapted TLA and the project in general; student work / feedback exchanges as well as in their confidence in approaching exam-style questions and assessment objectives; their enjoyment of the subject; and in formative in-class assessments, mock exams; and ultimately in summative assessments.

Further research

We would like to invite practitioners in the GCSE English Language re-sit domain across the FE landscape to participate in further research, informed by the outcomes and objectives from the current OTLA project will be published in summer 2021.      

Matt Gordon, English Lecturer, Waltham Forest College & Jan Calvert, English lecturer, Shipley College

Future FE Pedagogies – Vol 1

The Future FE Pedagogies journal was categorically not intended to be a ‘how to improve your e-learning skills’ guide – there are professional associations, websites and online materials fulfilling this function already. 

Rather, we aimed to provide for time poor colleagues a series of think pieces: nuanced analyses of the potentialities and challenges of TEL for our practice.

Future FE Pedagogies – Vol 1 Preface

David Hughes


Future Pedagogies – The Context

Bob Harrison


Rethinking the improvement of teaching and learning in a virtual environment through unseen observation

Matt O’Leary


Free, easy and fit for purpose TEL: lessons learned the hard way by a non IT whizz

Martin Compton


Research from the front: A Developing Digital Project

Matt Gordon &

Jan Calvert



Pedagogy at the centre – getting the blend right

Eddie Playfair


Ways of Engaging: some approaches to developing learning skills

Ian Duckett


The Proverbs of TEL

Howard Scott


Digital Practitioners creating “artfully-crafted, student-centred, learning experiences”

Nigel Ecclesfield & Fred Garnett


Moving a class online

Dave Cheseldine


The Reality of FE TEL Post-Covid-19: Thoughts from the bike by an FE Teacher Educator

Jamie Heywood


An open letter to the Secretary of State for Education: preparing FES teachers and trainers to ‘teach well’ in a digital world

David Powell



Vikki Liogier


Related Articles