In the face of dwindling budgets, increasing student numbers, an unknown employment market and heightened competition, FE colleges are increasingly turning to technology to deliver a more valuable education experience.
We know that, if used properly, technology can power a collaborative, self-directed learning environment where students are able to develop new skills, apply knowledge, get better feedback - and even establish links with industry.
But, right now, edtech efforts aren’t always delivering on their potential. The way in which some colleges approach technology purchases is still erratic, without an institution-wide strategy, leaving students as guinea pigs in 'IT-enabled' classes as faculty test whether the latest tech innovations actually help learning.
It’s this issue that prompted our Digital Strategy Development for Colleges report, a whitepaper which provides concrete guidance for colleges wanting to benefit from the edtech revolution. Arguing that a systematic reform delivers better results than ad-hoc purchasing, the report sets out the idea that a digital strategy should seek to address clear objectives for managers.
These, it says, fall into three main categories:
- Facilitating improved teaching and learning,
- Developing students’ independent learning skills and
- Reducing administrative tasks.
Goal 1 - Facilitating improved teaching and learning
While technology itself cannot affect pedagogical change, using technology in transformative ways can power new methods of teaching and learning. For example, digital simulations using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology can help students not only better understand various disciplines, but also help teachers contextualise subjects.
And, perhaps more fundamentally, classroom technology can make content more accessible, consumable, commentable and - ultimately more memorable.
Goal 2 - Developing independent learning skills
The benefits of independent learning for students most often cited include improved academic performance, increased motivation and confidence and the increased chance to be creative and intellectually creative.
However, ensuring that students are accessing learning outside the classroom and taking responsibility to independently progress through their courses is only the first step toward true self directed learning. Using tools for online collaboration and group problem solving, developing or sharing their own learning materials, self monitoring and facilitating peer discussions are all skills that need to be developed too.
Goal 3 - Reducing administrative tasks
Creating time savings is seen as a crucial return on investment when it comes to edtech. This is most often achieved by scaling and automating tasks that were typically time consuming - time that can be instead spent providing value elsewhere in the college.
Of course, this rebalancing of work should not just be seen as a labour saving exercise. By taking away time consuming administrative tasks, technology solutions can prove an investment which gives time back to teachers - allowing them to focus more fully on their pedagogical objectives.
Turning objectives into strategy
So how do colleges take these goals and turn them into a systematic strategy? We believe the key to success is good planning - involve key stakeholders, assess what has been implemented in the past and what ROI was generated.
In addition, when making changes across an institution, gaining buy-in from parties at all levels is important. A culture that encourages innovation is more likely to make progress, and when staff feel empowered to try new things or take risks, this can be incredibly beneficial in the long run.
And, colleges that have invested in technology must establish an adequate framework for its effective use. This includes not only formal incentive structures but also the development of a robust infrastructure and a satisfactory provision of educational technology support. And importantly ROI should be consistently and robustly measured.
It’s clear that with a definitive strategy in place around how a digital transformation project will be evaluated, adopted and measured, technology can successfully support colleges in providing an outstanding learning experience. In today’s education and employment landscape, tech is not a luxury, but a necessity. But it’s not just what tech you buy - how you plan for it, and how you use it is what counts.
Sam Blyth, Director of Schools and FE, Instructure