Student engagement with digital learning at @RNNGroup (which includes Rotherham College, University Centre Rotherham (UCR), North Notts College and Dearne Valley College) has been boosted by providing hundreds of free laptops to their students.
The laptops were funded by RNN Group to help disadvantaged students access remote education throughout the pandemic.
RNN Group Head of Quality and Learner Experience Rebecca Blackburn says throughout the pandemic the Group has worked extremely hard to ensure all students are able to access blended learning and fully remote, online learning.
“Last summer we took proactive steps to make an investment and support those in digital poverty. We placed an order for 600 laptops via Dell (one of our partners); it was a bit of a risk as we weren’t sure at that time exactly how many students needed a laptop, but we wanted to be able to provide equipment quickly and at the time there was a delay in supply because demand was so great.”
Rebecca continued: “To succeed at blended learning – and more recently for many students, completing fully remote online learning – we have to make sure that all students have access to the right resources to be able to participate in and complete work that meets the needs of their course. That might involve Google Meets, webinars, videoing assessments and writing assignments, but if a student doesn’t have access to the right equipment to be able to do those things, it can put them at a disadvantage. We strongly believe that every student should be able to access a high-quality education regardless of their situation.”
The initiative has had a huge impact on students who were previously struggling to access learning and engage in blended delivery activities.
Rotherham College UAL Level 3 Diploma in Music Performance and Production student Kalem Cutts is one student who received a laptop.
Kalem says: “I got the laptop in November last year due to my financial situation. At College we use Google Classroom and Google Hangouts a lot and although I have a phone, it was difficult to be on a video call and try and be part of the Google Classroom – I wasn’t doing the work. Getting the laptop has meant that I can not only do college work but it’s also given me a chance to get in contact with friends and be more social and feel less isolated from the world.”
Dearne Valley College Motor Vehicle student Fadl Almashriky has also benefited from receiving a laptop.
He says: “It has really helped with learning online; especially with studying maths and English and learning theory for the motor vehicle course, completing college work and watching videos.”
The laptops are not only being offered to 16-18 year olds but also to those aged 19 or over, such as UCR Professional Practice in Health and Social Care student Faith Jacobs. She says receiving the laptop has made learning for her much easier.
Faith said: “I was really struggling; it was so difficult trying to look at PowerPoint and be on video call as part of the class. Using a laptop is really beneficial to me because I’m Dyslexic and I learn visually, through imagery and through colour.
“If there are any students who don’t have a laptop it’s definitely worth checking if they are eligible to get one. It has helped me so much and it is a really good quality laptop and has a decent size screen too.”
As well as ensuring all students have access to their course learning materials the laptops are also an important step to ensuring that students are developing much-needed digital skills.
Rebecca says: “The impact COVID-19 has had on businesses is huge. Their response to pandemic has seen a major shift towards higher level digital skills and knowledge and as result, this is something we need to prepare our learners to respond to. Many organisations have accelerated processes towards automation and it’s reported that 50% of the entire workforce will need reskilling by 2025*. We were fortunate as a Group that we could respond quickly and had a good foundation of digital skills across the Group already being developed.”