Michael Smith, Head of Teaching and Learning Innovation, Barking and Dagenham College
This year has seen seismic changes to normal patterns of working and to our understanding of what digital technology can do for senior leaders, tutors and learners. The challenges posed by working online have served as real (and often immediate) demands for us to acquire new skills, use new technology, and develop different ways of working.
 
The impact on classrooms has been considerable. The very notion of a ‘physical classroom’ has been reframed to one of virtual design. Communication and collaboration, hallmarks of any effective learning environment, are still of course possible, but require creative solutions and considerable endeavour from educators. It is with this in mind that we can appreciate the value and necessity of professional learning in supporting and developing us to tackle such challenges effectively. For us, the Career Colleges Trust Digital Leaders’ Programme represented exactly this.
 
The programme saw our curriculum managers participating in a comprehensive series of interactive online sessions and independent learning activities. Its launch could not have been more timely - beginning in the last week in March. This was effectively the beginning of our move to remote teaching (and working) and ran through to the end of June, spanning a period of twelve weeks. The programme placed a significant emphasis on strategic planning in the context of online learning, considering the nature and design of each curriculum in online environments as well as supporting each team’s development.
 
The design of the programme allows leaders to experience online learning from the perspective of a student. This was critical as many had not experienced this type of learning before. It capably demonstrated some of the possibilities that online learning design offers, alongside the different challenges that might be encountered. Facilitation of the programme was led by an instructor and the approach was highly collaborative; aiming to draw out an individual’s understanding and experiences – and then to build on these.
 
At the end of the twelve weeks, each leader developed their own digital strategy, drawing on what had been covered in the programme. This represented an important and practical step in considering and defining the ‘what next?’ as we moved into an intensive period of planning for the 2020-21 academic year.
 
As we now reflect on the progress and impact to date, we have seen a greater engagement from leaders across the college in the design and delivery of digital learning CPD activities. This has seen the creation of a ‘digital innovators’ group - a network of teaching staff that meet frequently to share practice, trial new approaches, and develop learning resources for others. We have also established a series of bi-weekly online CPD sessions entitled ‘Create, Learn, Share’ in which college tutors share solutions to challenges they have encountered when teaching online. The emphasis here is on presenting real experiences and sharing authentic work.
 
We have seen considerable impact in localised curriculum areas too. To illustrate, one curriculum leader created a bespoke digital learning CPD programme for his staff, working closely with the College’s Digital Learning team. This was to ensure that the specific programme and subject-specialist needs of his team (in the context of digital learning) were fully catered for.
 
As a starting point, staff self-assessed themselves via our College’s ‘blended learning framework’, to recognise their own distance travelled and identify areas needing further development. Masterclasses took place, including how to use Google Jamboard and developing student workbooks. Work on mindset was also a feature, helping staff to map how they could provide continuity and variety for their learners through the embracing of new technologies. This work is continuing and will do so for the foreseeable future.
 
The Digital Leaders’ Programme has helped frame our strategic thinking as to how staff can develop, change and adapt in light of the new digital agenda that has been catalysed by Covid-19 – and will continue to offer much longer term cross-college benefits as we move forward.
 
By Michael Smith, Head of Teaching and Learning Innovation, Barking and Dagenham College

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