Oh dear, I find myself in the world of Think Tanks! I was warned by my friends that this would / could happen!
The reality is that when you become passionate about creating change, then you have to embrace all the influencers, policies, barriers, noise and discussion and then become proficient at cutting through it and not being diverted. The other choice is to create your own Think Tank, which is exactly what I have done.
On 4th June I launched Digital Colleges with my colleagues, Ian Fordham and Ty Goddard of The Education Foundation. A worthy group of people came to the meeting, hosted and sponsored by Cailean Hargrave of IBM fame.
We had a good discussion about Digital Transformation in FE. I am motivated to do this as it seems there are pockets of really exciting Digital Implementation across the FE Sector but no one has achieved it all across their whole organisation. Digital Colleges aims to highlight these case studies and map them against a roadmap (pathway) that a College could take to implement a total Digital Transformation programme. An ambitious goal!
There were many things to take away from the first of the four meetings the group will have. For me, there was a little too much discussion about eLearning – as though that was the whole issue. It is clearly a motivating point and a good place to start but it is being covered by FELTAG, ETAG and the excellent, newly launched report 'Technology in Education' by The Education Foundation.
Having spent the past 16 years working on the digital transformation journey that SMEs need to take, I have to keep us all mindful that motivation and culture change is the key aspect to achieving the right outcomes. My fear is that we get lost in processes and tasks and forget that without the right mindset for Digital we will never fully embrace the open and random way that we all have to now behave. We need to be open to new things daily and able to accept random data, people and concepts into our lives. Control has gone. Those who 'get' the new digital world are Open, Random and Supportive, but institutions remain Closed, Selective and Controlling.
So where does transformation start? Is it in the classroom? Is it in the operations, marketing, customer service, logistics, IT and HR departments? My observation is that the FE sector has a product (called learning) and it has clients (called students). Then it also has all the people and processes around it to ensure that the 'product' is consumed and the 'client' gains from its consumption.
If the product and client are not marketed to, served, supported and given a great service, then it falls down. Digital enables us to market, engage, create trust, support, track, motivate and even love, unconditionally. The love part of this may not push some of your buttons, but believe me it can. I am not talking about dating sites here; I am talking about building trusted, caring relationships that bond us.
So, again, where do we start? With the teacher? I heard a great quote at our #DigitalColleges event..."teachers are our first students". Or, do we start with the hardware, software, Cloud and basically the provision of Superfast Broadband and access to technology at home and at school?
This leads us to the Digital Inclusion Strategy of the Coalition. I discovered at the #edtechreport launch that 756,000 school age children in the UK cannot go online from a computer at home and 653,000 lack access to a computer at home.
This is a HUGE subject and I am thrilled that IBM as a consulting company are supporting the FE Sector. I fear that not enough large companies are doing this and it is too massive for individual FE Colleges and their leadership teams to solve.
As a whole, the FE Sector is a very attractive client base for those who supply solutions. However, the language of Digital and the language of FE are very different. I have had to learn this over the last three years myself.
I truly hope that Ian Fordham, Ty Goddard and I can make a difference to this challenge and thank those people who came to our first Digital Colleges meeting.
Penny Power is founder of the Digital Youth Academy
You can see who was there on this Twitter list and follow us on @DigitalCollUK and #DigitalColleges. Please contact me on @pennypower if you would like to get involved as a College, Solution Provider or Influencer.