Friday, December 02, 2016

Time to Re-Think the System ? Universities , Colleges and Work-based Learning in Scotland


'THE Scottish Government's policy of free tuition for university students has come under intense pressure from principals who said the sector was now "at tipping point". Universities Scotland said cuts had made current funding levels "unsustainable" with the future quality of teaching and research at risk' Herald
It is time to have a radical look at course provision across Work-based Learning , Colleges and Universities. If we want and/or believe in free higher education, then the system needs to change. This both to provide clearer support for learners and for the system to operate within the resources available from the public purse. There needs too to be much greater collaboration and support across these sectors and into Schools.

The system as it stands cannot continue as a three lane highway all funded in different ways with a combination of slip roads that can lead to dead ends for learners . I hope the Enterprise and Skills Review and the new overarching committee finally picks up on this.
A good case can be made to follow up on some of the models emerging in England, where with the support of employers, law , accountancy and many other professions are moving back towards being largely apprenticeship based.

The system often talks about an over supply of hairdressers but an over supply of law students is rarely seen as a challenge, this might seem trite - but the issues need unpackaging and probably requires a programme re-design across all three sectors - putting learners before any institutional or sectoral politics.

If we don't take some decisions here soon - then by the continual salami slicing of the funding for Universities , Colleges and Work-based learning - the system will fail to modernise, be damaged as a whole and diminish the prospects and opportunities for Scottish learners.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What is FE landscape for a prospective supplier

Asked by a client ,timeously as I was about to board train to Leeds,   to sketch out the  FE landscape across UK - so really a view from the train as I hurtle down to chair an e-assessment conference.
Quite appropriately the image is a bit out of focus - Colleges are clear about the destination of their learners but are having a bumpy ride at the moment.

Here is how I think a company selling some innovative  cloud based  learning software into FE colleges might see FE across the UK.  The questions from the client - and answers high level. 

FE seems more diverse than HE across UK how would you describe it ?

Remember FE is devolved so there are different policies and structures across Scotland, Wales , NI and England.

FE is now part of public sector now around 25 Colleges in 13 Regions
Colleges offer -  HE,FE, Apprenticeships, ESOL , school college partnerships and have broader roles around inclusion and employability to all 16+ across region 
Following regionalisation,  there is actually now a much broader spectrum of scale than ever before - now some super giant colleges , some large colleges and a few very small ones.  
Being part of public sector is significant for procurement - now they have to follow government frameworks etc  APUC is main procurement service for the sector  and watch Public Contracts Scotland website. If you want a sale in Scotland route is to get onto framework. Colleges are now more constrained around the investment decisions they can make - but also very squeezed financially.

Northern Ireland 
Already aligned regionally and more homogeneous in size similar to Scotland but less HE delivery in colleges.  

Series of mergers since 2010 now 14 Colleges deliver similar to scotland but perhaps a bit less HE .

Huge diversity of provision the big metropolitan colleges most like those in Scotland, Wakes and NI . Currently undergoing a process of area review that will mean many  more mergers and perhaps a landscape like other home nations emerging ?  Across board - have not been strong delivering HE in FE .  If you are after the big ones look to rebranded 157 Group. 

What are major pain points ?
Funding is issue across all UK FE. In Scotland around a 27% cut over last 5 years - huge drop in PT learners with disproportional impact on equalities . The focus has been on FT courses and 16-24year olds so other traditional FE clients particularly those looking for part-time courses  - older learners , women returners are excluded currently . NI possibly most stable having had greater period to settle post regionalisation . England in turmoil but will settle too post area review .

Education reform across UK in last 8 years follows same pattern, against different educational policies,  but  model seems to be  one of driving changes in schools but keeping funding stable , challenging HE but in the knowledge that they can access international and other research funds , and slashing funds for FE colleges .  FE is the poor cousin - the poorest cousin of all is adult and community learning which has almost disappeared in many parts of UK.

The re-invention of apprenticeships, work-placements , and re-invigoration of college employer links is common theme - which in time may bring some additional funding back to FE.  

Brexit will probably have a disproportionate impact on FE too 

Is there a funding crisis ? 
See in part answer above . Colleges have been delivering in face of severe funding uncertainty across the UK . Against this background there are some real local and even global success stories . But would be fair to say that restructuring and uncertainties around funding have absorbed more leadership time than innovation in important areas like curriculum delivery.

Is there a push towards improving teaching  ? 
Kind of .. The focus in most nations is on improving the outcomes and destination statistics for learners and the quality of teaching is part of the evaluation process  The main focus is on the retention and achievement of learners, alongside that,  evidencing stronger links to industry.

In Scotland Education Scotland do external quality assurance in England , Wales and Northern Ireland Ofsted -so yes but entry and CPD standards need refreshed and don't reflect digital learning so  there are not modern enough drivers to get staff more excited about blended or other innovative ways of delivering. The leadership has been absorbed in restructuring generally and have  not been strong on seeing and supporting innovative learning and teaching practices or using learning technology. But few education sectors have really embedded or changed practices so not just an FE challenge. 

Is there a push to improving student satisfaction ? 
NUS have become much more organised in supporting FE learners across UK in last 10 years . As part of internal and external quality assurance satisfaction rates are monitored at College level and less formally at national level. In Scotland,  Scottish funding Council are about to reintroduce a national survey.   Satisfaction rates are always on agenda of senior management teams . Evidence is and tribute to those working in FE that satisfaction rates have held up well even during period of severe cuts and restructuring.  However,  surveys don't cover those who can't get a place in a college or the external stakeholders who might rightly expect new services and greater flexibility from Colleges.

Are there growth opportunities ?
Yes, in all home nations, and in face of funding cuts, colleges  need to be able to rethink and resize their offerings. How in Scotland for instance could a college offer something online to support the learners who cannot get into a College at moment ?  -see above large number missing out . In England opportunities will flow from training levy - employers will be looking for innovative providers to spend their training accounts with - growth across UK in supporting apprenticeships.

Teachers in schools across UK are being expected to be more familiar with work based learning - Colleges have specialists who can help develop both learners directly and teachers.

If you look at most workforce studies across the UK there is a  shortage of technicians that colleges produce.

Across UK demand for all that further education colleges can offer  is not going to slacken - but colleges do need to innovate faster. 

Ways forward  - look for TES or other national award winning Colleges , College Development Network Awards in Scotland, Beacon Awards in England   - target the largest colleges that win prizes for innovative approaches to learning - if the products and the price is right they will be very interested. 

You didn't ask - but there has been an ongoing push but  in England  to embed more online learning opportunities across FE in England . Check out the #feltag hashtag on the web and Twitter and you will quickly spot the innovators and their colleges. 

If you want to get in front of college learning technologists use ALT . The U.K. Association for Learning Technology and see how you can work with or support Jisc who work across FE and HE in UK. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

#codesign16 Apprenticeship Reform in England and Digital Support for Apprenticeships

Some folks will know I  have been doing work with a range of clients in England around the impact of apprenticeship reforms and the readiness of the vocational system to accommodate what is a seismic change across England.

There will be a lot of useful learning happening through these changes, not least I think the emergence of some  new forms of e-portfolio systems to cope with the tracking and preparation of learners for the much more summative End Point Assessment that all Apprentices in England will now face.

If you are not sure what all these changes are or how they could impact on Scotland. I have some work in progress on the Potential Impact of UK Vocational Reform on Scotland.

In the meantime the  good folks at Jisc are running a sector wide consultation, #Codesign16 around  six topics,  to spark a sector wide  discussion,   over the next few weeks, this  to identify the most promising areas to explore to support the sector with a fiocus on -

What would truly digital apprenticeships look like?

While we don't currently have these massive reforms in Scotland, we do need to look at making the apprenticeship experience much more digital.

In England,  Apprenticeships is a growth area undergoing massive reform, with a government target of three million starts by 2020 this along with  the implementation of the post-16 skills plan will see what is on offer across workbased learning, in schools , colleges and Universities change radically. The employer levy funding beginning in April 2017 will create an estimated pot of  £2.5 bn, a billion pounds more than they currently spend on training and development in England. More effective deployment  of technology will be crucial to achieving government targets whilst maintaining a high quality of delivery.

In Scotland our target is to grow Modern Apprenticeships from 25,000 to 30,000 by 2020 , growing the number of Foundation Apprenticeships , Graduate and Advanced Apprenticships while focussing on overcoming the equality and diversity issues associated with apprenticeships.

To cope with the new system in England Jisc thinks it is the right to build on these reforms, embrace change and embed technology throughout Apprenticeship design, delivery and assessment.
To meet the needs of employers and apprentices in the 21st century.

I think there should be a few Scottish voices in this debate too - our training providers, colleges, universities and schools have much to learn from this discussion.

We need to think about what a digitally supported apprenticeship would look like in Scotland. 

Here is an opportunity to share your hopes and your fears, to tell Jisc what you think might happen, but also what you think should and could happen.

In addition, please can you consider the following questions: These questions are as relevant to the Scottish system as they are to the system being reformed in England. 

·         So what are the issues and problems in embedding technology in delivery and assessment of apprenticeships?
·         How is technology been used to support apprentices as they move through their apprenticeship programme?
·         What are the issues if we are to deliver an apprenticeship programme using a blended or even totally digital approach?
·         What are the problems or issues with using digital assessment methods? What are the potential solutions?

How to get involved

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Playing with Adobe Spark

I spotted a few of my friends chatting on twitter about how useful Adobe Spark is for quickly editing images and adding titles for a range of uses.

It  really is easy to use - the image is local tower blocks in Cardonald coming down last year.
All done in about 10 minutes - when you get used to this tool you could produce nice graphics and images in minutes.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Thinking about Pedagogy , Retention , Achievement , Attainment and a Digital Future in a Scottish College

I had the opportunity today to run a session with the senior management team at Glasgow Kelvin College. The aim of the session was to have a look around the landscape to spot some of the opportunities that lie before Colleges now they have emerged from regionalisation,

This was some of my input in what was a rewarding and interesting discussion with a highly  motivated team. 

I've shared presentation on slideshare and I will make it available too through Google Docs  

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

#OER17 The Politics of Open

Image credit: CC-BY-NC-ND Jon Mould

It is that time of the year again - but it's that time in this decade when the UK probably needs to grasp open learning, before like our borders,  we succumb to our seemingly naturally conservative closed mind sets.  I'll not re-hash the Scottish Open Education Declaration.

If you believe the best education only happens in elite institutions and organisations and we just have to accept that or if you believe one day you will publish all of your teaching notes and naturally it will be a best seller.

Please stop reading here.

Worth noting that the first #OER conference was hosted at Cambridge University and if you are Scottish based have a look at how Edinburgh University is leading the charge .

But you don't have to be an elite institution or work in one to become an open practitioner !

Education is of-course a public good.

Please consider !

What could open practices do for learners ? 

Simply by making more learning resources more accessible in times of fiscal constraints
Encourage new forms of pedagogy and collaborative approaches to learning
Improve the overall quality and availability  of the learning experience
Reach into bits of the community and workplaces that need untoll gated access to learning materials.
Improve productivity and the exchange of knowledge and ideas .
Allow learners to be creators and to encourage them to lead in their own learning.
Prepare them for the real world - it is a sharing digital economy out here !
In time be the engine for much more personalised and non linear learning.

What could it do for teachers and trainers ? 

Improve content discovery,  creation , collaboration , re-purposing and publishing skills
Enrich both teaching practice and subject based knowledge and skills

Break down the artificial institutional barriers around school , college , work-based  and HE learning.

Re-light an enthusiasm for learning, if it is being extinguished by an ever diminishing pool of local resources.

What could it do for your institution 

Improve both the quality of delivery internally and allow institutional reach into many more places and allow you and your staff to become part of the global learning community  - rather than a wee local shop.

By embracing openness you are not giving away your crown jewels - you are helping your own staff and learners - and helping other people too.  Isn't that why you came into education ?

It's not just about opening up content it could be more open forms of certification and other practices too !

Who and what are the barriers 

It could be you if you are not already an open practitioner ?
It could be your institution if it does not have a policy on open learning and creative commons licencing ?
It could be your professional body if it gives no recognition for innovative practices or around the sharing of learning materials ?
It could be your : senior management team,  local education authority, your national government - but only because they don't yet see the benefits of open and need to be convinced.

Whetted your appetite ?   Doing some work in this area already ? 

The call for proposals to #OER17: The Politics of Open is now published at

The 8th Annual Open Educational Resources Conference will be held on 5-6 April 2017 at Resource for London, UK.

The conference will be chaired by social and educational technologist and Wikimedia UK Trustee Josie Fraser, and Alek Tarkowski, Director of Centrum Cyfrowe, co-founder and coordinator of Creative Commons Poland.

The conference themes this year are:

Local, national, and international policy and practice
Institutional/organisational politics
Participation & social equality
Open Party

The deadline for proposals: Midday GMT Wednesday, 16 November 2016. You can read the full call which includes session formats at

If you are interested in #oer/#oep the call for proposals for #oer17: The Politics of Open is published


Call for proposals - open
Submission system - late Oct.
Call closes - 16th Nov.

Review decisions and bookings open -  Dec.

Friday, September 23, 2016

From Outside Looking in : Highland Council and Tablets #slf16

Thanks to Donald Clark for reminding me - that sometimes you need be vocal.

I forget sometimes that now as a freelance consultant rather than someone tied into the education establishment I can voice informed opinions about changes in the system.
On the surface an announcement like this week's one that Highland Council is to roll out
20,000 tablet computers to teachers and learners sounds great.

It is a long overdue development to see a whole education authority in Scotland move into this space , it closes the digital divide , gets a browser in to the hands of every learner and teacher and as importantly into their households too and I hope the programme enables enough wifi and bandwidth in their schools so that these tools can be used meaningfully and that other devices can some along too.

I hope the tablets are not mainly used for note taking. If they use the arrival of the technology to rethink learning and curriculum delivery and engage the learners in this redesign then they will move learning along at pace across the region.

The ambition of the local authority has to be applauded. I hope too someone is having a look at the lessons that should have been learned from wee places like Islay High School who were doing this more than 10 years ago and the numerous pilots with mobile devices that were done across Scotland five or so years ago. I heard unofficially at #SLF16 that some of the cohorts of learners that were involved in these mobile learning initiatives were now getting exceptional results in their school leaving certificates ( Nationals, Highers and Advanced Highers in Scotland) I am not sure that this is being tracked officially anywhere ? Where is Scottish Higher Education with the data and research ?

But here's the rub - tablets don't change practice as much as a laptop would. It's probably too late but if any other local authority is thinking about this , have a look at the global evidence before being seduced by a tablet.

Have a look at Donald's well structured critique from 2013 and have a look too at the commentary . 

I've got a tablet and I use it a lot and it gives me a great window on the world - but when I work and move out into the online world I use a keyboard and a laptop or today my trusty desktop - this lets me create things, a tablet can only consume. I love being a consumer but being a creator - that is way cooler and much more empowering.

My kids love tablets too - but they work on netbooks and laptops !

Update - sometimes it is worth having a rant - the BBC article was incorrect ( fancy that, I thought they were infallible ) In fact Highland Region are going to adopt Chrome Books to sit on top of the well developed Google for Education platform that has been adopted across the region.

I was not saying that Tablets , phones and other devices do not have  a place in learning.