Engaging learners in active dialogue around their digital expectations and experiences

From the work we have carried out over the past 3 years with Helen Beetham, Dave White, Rhona Sharpe, Liz Browne and Ellen Lessner, under the Digital Student project and the Change agents’ network, the development of the student digital experience is complex and should be informed by learners’ expectations and experiences of technology. Learners should have opportunities to share their ideas about how their digital experience can be improved. Presentations from learners to senior managers and governors can be powerful enablers for driving change. How many colleges have a student representative on their digital strategy working group? Feeding back to learners on how their ideas may or may not be taken forward is also important so their views are valued and you are closing the feedback loop. My recent presentation summarises the key findings from these projects.

When asking colleges the question – how do you currently gather learners’ expectations and experiences of technology?, there were some excellent examples of practice from short surveys in VLEs at the end of each module, learner voice surveys, focus groups, student rep meetings, digital literacy surveys, SPOC etc. Although when we discussed this in more detail, there is still a lack of emphasis on the digital aspects and also a lack of analysis and bringing together of the data collected to have a ‘digital lens’. A longitudinal view is also rarely available. Hence the work we are carrying out under the Digital Student Data Service.

Asking colleges, how do you engage your learners in the development of the digital environment/digital strategy? is a more difficult question to answer. At course level there are mechanisms and channels to encourage feedback, but less so at a strategic level. The importance of engaging student unions and class reps in these discussions was raised as something we need to do better. Look for opportunities to encourage learner participation in digital working groups for example.

Learners in our Digital student studies saw the digital experience as an opportunity to contribute and get involved. Digital engagement methods such as social media, padlets, twitter walls, vox pops etc are popular and once established can be used for other issues too. Digital students are different – it is important that the experience of different groups is represented. Learners can get involved in different ways e.g. advocate, researcher, representative, intern, change agent, project lead, buddy, mentor, designer. This is an issue which can help change relationships between staff and students.

There are some excellent examples of practice from colleges who are appointing digital leaders, digital ambassadors, digipals as a way of empowering students in discussions and decisions around their digital experience. Blackburn College, Procat, Portsmouth College and Barnet and Southgate College are all seeing the benefits of working in partnership with their learners to drive forward curriculum change with technology. See the presentation from the HE Digital Leaders course on Students as partners.

A reminder of the resources and guidance which is available to colleges and providers to support them with gathering their learners’ expectations and experiences of technology. These include:
Digital Student card sort and guidance on running learner focus groups
Digital Student learner profile form
Digital Students are different posters
Enhancing the student digital experience postcards
Jisc – NUS Benchmarking the student digital experience
Enhancing the student digital experience online guide
Developing successful student-staff partnerships

Enhancing the student digital experience postcards

Enhancing the student digital experience postcards

I would like to hear your ideas on how you are engaging your learners. Please follow #digitalstudent to keep updated on the developments of the Digital Student project for skills and also around the developments of a possible digital student data service.

Outcomes and Destinations Data for Further Education

The BIS Outcome Based Success Measures Consultation sets out detailed proposals for using student outcomes as a key metric for Further Education. The new experimental data set created by BIS to support this activity provides an indication of sustained student outcomes.

An emphasis on destination and the data available changes the way FE is evaluated and will have significant impact on FE providers. This impact is not yet clear but providers will need to engage with the new metrics and data and use it in a range of activities such as strategic planning, monitoring, understanding local needs and reporting.

Jisc is exploring the newly published data and is interested to understand what new information, insights and opportunities it offers for FE providers.

We are taking an agile co-design approach and wish to engage FE providers in the exploration of this data and its potential. We will be developing experiments with the data to make it useful and usable to managers in their future work. This will include asking for feedback on concepts, insight into your concerns and good ideas and validation/challenge of our assumptions.

There is place for Jisc to bring together this destination data set with other information we are working with to make it more valuable to our customers.

We call the stage we are at the “alpha’. This means we will evaluate where we stand in Feb 2016 and decide if there is a place for Jisc to support the sector.

Get Involved

Jisc use a co-design approach for all our developments and would value collaboration with managers and decision makers (deputy principles, MIS managers, vice principles, curriculum managers) in FE colleges.

  1. willing to feedback on our working assumptions and give us insight into your anticipated needs and opportunities
  2. willing to review concepts for how the data could be presented to you in useful ways

Our first request is for your input/feedback on what we think will be the areas where destination data will be used. These are:

  • strategic planning
    How do you feel you will  be making decision about sources provided in light of the new data and evaluation framework?
  • understanding local needs
    How might the data be used to help you meet the needs of local populations, businesses etc?
  • monitoring
    How might the data be used in monitoring quality and demand for our courses?
  • reporting
    How might the data available impact on the way you report?
  • other
    Are there other areas where you feel the data will be used, where you have needs or ideas?

Delayed trains, jumping from planes and vehicles for debate at the AoC Conference

Two weeks ago I set off hopefully to attend the the AoC Annual Conference and Exhibition 2015 at The ICC, Birmingham, little realising that if FE thought it was experiencing troubled times then our railways system is so much worse.  Monday evening and the Euston to Birmingham railway line was experiencing a perfect storm of vandalism, broken freight trains and a signalling problem which meant a simple 1.5 hour journey turned into a 4.5 endurance trip via Northampton and Stafford finally checking into my hotel just before midnight.

My reason for attending – to listen and learn direct from the sector, finding out first hand their issues and priorities so that we can shape our current service and better plan our future activities to support colleges through this challenging period.

I’m hoping this will be evident in both the support offer that we are currently developing for those colleges undergoing area reviews, see my previous blog and also inform the development of our Co-Design visions that set the parameters for how we innovate over the next 18 months-2 years and will be out for consultation after Christmas – watch this space for more news on how to get involved in this key consultation.

Tuesday morning and the buzz of the conference kicked in and revitalised me.  From the opening keynote which included a speech by Professor the Baroness Wolf of Dulwich CBE and Skills Minister Nick Boles who both talked about apprenticeships, although from different perspectives.  It is however clear that Apprenticeships are the future growth area with the Minister stating that currently the FE Sector secures 37% of apprenticeship funding with 60% going to private training providers and suggesting FE should be more ambitious and aim to deliver 67% of an increased apprenticeships training budget by 2020.

Lucy Adams, Managing Director of Firehouse and a founding partner of Disruptive HR and Lord Ian Blair QPM MA (the 24th Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police 2008) closed day one with two very lively and entertaining presentations on managing change, making this challenging subject interesting and innovative whilst highlighting the very serious issues faced by the sector in responding to these unprecedented levels of change including my favourite quote by Lord Blair: “Leaders are like tea bags you only know how good they are when the they get in hot water”.

In the exhibition hall there was a constant stream of visitors to stands as delegates moved between parallel sessions and the main hall, offering solutions and services for most FE needs. Key amongst these, of course, was the Jisc stand manned by Account Managers and Subject Specialists advising on the spot or arranging call backs for the more in depth queries. And I have to say I managed to find the time to have a caricature done and also experience a virtual reality parachute jump courtesy of The Army – the only way I ever intend to voluntarily leave a plane.

Day two continued in the same vein lots of choice and options over parallel sessions with The Big Debate at lunchtime serving up a serious dilemma over which session to attend having a focus on Apprenticeships and Area Reviews, both areas of interest for me and Jisc. After discussing with my colleagues also attending we divided and conquered managing to attend 4 out of the six options, and all were equally good and informative.

Although I only attended for two days my overall impression was that the conference was a huge success, well organised and a pleasure to attend. I came away having learnt a lot and also having had some seriously good food at the Gala Dinner served by students from Derby College, while learners at Derby College, South Cheshire College and Eastleigh College provided kitchen preparation support for the dinner.

Well done AOC and see you next year.

Summer of Student Innovation 2015 Engagement in FE and Skills

Working with students on the Summer of Student Innovation is one of the best parts of my role at Jisc. It is great to hear the ideas that learners have to improve learning and make their life better in education.

This year we made a few changes to the competition. First to engaged more learners in FE and Skills by running separate competitions targeted at learners and apprentices, working with AELP to engage learning providers, as well as working with Jisc’s account managers and encouraging college staff to support teams from colleges to submit ideas. Secondly we made it an ideas only competition, so teams were no longer required to have the technical expertise to build their idea, but just to come up with a design. The aim was to engage more females and learners from non-technical backgrounds (but we always had a good subject spread).

We also ensured that marketing materials were more inclusive. The marketing used social media, blogs and podcast, web banners and brochures, institutional contacts and stakeholder bodies.

At a recent meeting with the Learner Engagement working group for the FE and Skills collaboration we shared some numbers around this year’s Summer of Student Innovation that also showed how far we have progressed on achieving these targets of engaging more learners in FE and Skills and a more diverse group of learners.

Summer of Student Innovation 2015 – Engagement in Numbers

This year we had ideas submitted from 80 teams compared with 38 last year. Over 12,600 votes were cast and 43 teams reached their voting target to be considered. In total 25 projects were funded, 9 student ideas, 10 learner ideas in FE, 2 apprentice led and 4 start-up projects.

Ideas submitted by Sector 2015

Ideas by Sector 2015

Ideas by Sector 2015

There were 22 ideas from FE and Skills compared with only two in the 2014 competition which represents an impressive increase in participation. The teams attended the four day design sprints alongside teams from universities; they completed the design tasks and pitched their ideas to a selection panel in August. The FE teams were accompanied by a member of staff from the college. The six ideas selected by the panel in August consisted of four ideas from colleges plus two ideas from apprentices under the apprentice competition.

Some people thought it was not fair to pitch FE teams against HE team and to also have them work together in the design sprints. However I think we can conclude that the teams from FE were more than capable of holding theor own and designing excellent solutions. We had already seen the Lingoflow team from Sussex Downs College deliver a successful product in the 2014 competition, so it was good to see teams with similar flair participating from colleges this year.

Ideas by Gender

Learner ideas by gender 2015

Learner ideas by gender 2015

I also looked to see how the submission and success of ideas mapped to gender. As teams varied in size and gender mix (which was a positive) I decided to use the gender of the team lead as an indicator and only looked at ideas (45 in total). In 2014 the ideas submitted by females were 21% (8:30) where as in 2015 it was 33% (15:30). The balance was more even in learners ideas in the FE competition with 47% compared with 22% in the student ideas competition. In 2014 only 4 out of 20 of the winning teams were led by females, however in 2014 this had increased to 8 out of 20.

Attendance at design sprints

Attendance at design sprints by gender

Participation in the design sprints show a slightly different picture with 28% females to 72% males (around 100 people). The lead facilitators were females and we had an equal number of male and female mentors. This may be a result of some large all male teams attending the design sprints, but most of the other teams were of mixed gender.
The outcomes are positive. We have shown that good ideas can come from FE and Skills, they can compete with teams from universities and be winners. I was particularly enthused by the teams of apprentices that participated this year. We have always seen teams led by females being successful in the competitions so it is good to see this continuing to be the case and doing what we can to promote equality in the competition.

Ideas by category

Ideas by category 2014 vs 2015

Ideas by category 2014 vs 2015

Since that start of the competition we have looked at the number of ideas submitted under various categories.

The balance of ideas across the categories has remained quite constant.Except for the second year we have seen an increase in the number of ideas around career progression and employability. The inclusion of apprentices in the competition may have been part of the reason but we are still seeing a growing need from learners for support around careers and employability i.e. finding a course and getting a job/apprenticeship.

Another observation was the large number of ideas in the student (HE) competition relating to student life. This is a broad category and does end up including all the ideas that are only just in scope. They were also the ideas that were less likely to reach the qualifying number of votes or be winners of the competition.

Next Year
We are currently planning the Summer of Student Competition for 2016 (yes there will be one). The aim is to continue to attract more quality ideas from across all learners. However we have also learned that our efforts are better focussed on support less ideas better. So the competition in 2016 will be looking to attract a lot more ideas from all learners. Expect it to be even more competitive, we want the best ideas, so start thinking about getting teams ready for the Summer of Student Innovation 2016.