Saturday, January 14, 2017

Thinking about institutional On-Line Learning and Adding Value




This week,  back from the tropics,  I caught up with my emails and projects, had a tour around Kelvin College and caught up with Jason-Miles Campbell who looks after all things JISC in Scotland and we did our usual brain dump on what we are seeing across Scottish FE and HE - though some of these messages just as relevant for Scottish based training providers.

These are my own quick reflections.

1. Things are still going too slowly - FE and  HE institutions have focus on full-time students in classrooms and lecture theatres but they are not doing enough to support either these learners , part-time learners or perish the thought potential learners that are not yet in the institution or based in the workplace , through flexible  on-line offerings. Perhaps a change in the funding landscape is required to drive new behaviours ?

2. Having a virtual learning environment,  electronic whiteboards in every classroom  and great institutional wifi coverage are not on their own sufficient to change the learning paradigm. Surveys of full-time learners go someway to mapping out the services they need - but what about part-time learners , potential distance learners and employers ? What are institutions doing to close the skills gaps and confidence of teachers or to encourage new models of delivery ?  More work needs done on the entry and CPD standards for FE staff in particular.

3. Eduroam is still not embedded in all the places it should be . It makes it easy for academic staff to pick up wifi in any institution and encourages collaborative working . Makes it easy too for learners to move between campuses and institutions. Why are there still a number of centres resistant to Eduroam ?

4. If you follow the tenders coming out of Public Contracts Scotland - then you will have seen this year some big contracts to purchase on-line content for both College and University courses appearing from a number of institutions. Paid for content has a place - but would be good to see some more institutional development around the thinking required around the creation and  sharing of re-sources. Why are more institutions not thinking about content strategies, particularly around how they encourage more open practices among teaching staff?

5. Some developments spawned by a more proactive take on changing delivery models in FE in England are offering excellent staff development and content collaboration partnerships. There are some great models from Heart of Worcester College on content front , from UFI trust ( Citizen Maths and more )  , the Education and Training Foundation  and others on the staff development front and lots of really useful developments coming through from JISC . There still seems a lack of ambition and drivers in Scotland in this space. Given the different landscape a Scottish FELTAG model should be inclusive of schools , colleges , training providers and Universities - who all drink from the pump of public funding. This is beyond the bailiwick of any of the current agencies - can the institutions be collectively more ambitious?

6 Shared services, which was a big part of the modernisation agenda driven by SFC,  seems to have run into a wall.  Its hard to spot examples other than the collaborative procurement models from APUC   I hope someone corrects me and shows me some good examples of shared services in operation perhaps across the FE/HE divide ?  - other than of-course the great work of Jisc.

7. If Colleges are to make more of the opportunities that are arising from the growing apprenticeship market - they need to quickly start learning from some of the market leaders . There is a lot to be learned from organisations like http://apprenticeships.qa.com/  and probably scope too for some productive cooperation.

8. Moodle has its limitations as a VLE when it comes to ease of content creation and management and delivery to a broad range of mobile devices. A lot of  institutions are now wrestling with content mirrored across three or more server rooms - a growing challenge,  as finally the graphics  , music and video production sections have worked out how to upload content for teaching and assessment purposes. For institutions who are interested in moving more of this up into the cloud and thinking about giving learners a better all round experience - perhaps its time to take a long hard look at the new tools that are emerging for institutional delivery. The IT crowd will be worried about ease of migration and provisioning of the system. Canvas is really worth looking at . Spotted in last few weeks that Norway is one of first European countries to adopt Canvas as the VLE of choice for the University sector . It is worth a look at how this market is changing http://mfeldstein.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/e-Literate-European-LMS-Market-Dynamics-Fall-2016.pdf 

9. The new inspection model for Colleges could do with some more detail around new delivery models to help encourage new ways of supporting learners. The old model of awaiting an aspect report that gives some examples of progressive pedagogy seems clunky in what is increasingly a faster paced  on-line world.  Now staffing and responsibilities have settled down again - we could do with some more open on-line communities in this space to share best practice.  Would be great if these were inclusive of HE , FE and training provider practitioners from across Scotland.  Everyone is wrestling with same challenges around staff skills and delivery technology.

10.  It is superb news that Gary Maclean from City of Glasgow College won UK Master Chef   It is great news for the FE sector in Scotland as a whole . FE is the skills engine of many workplaces and delivers the skills training that simply does not happen in Higher Education . I hope it gives the sector back some more self confidence and it is picked up in  the Enterprise and Skills Review   Recent reforms have often underplayed the deep links that Colleges have to the workplace and the practical nature of skills delivery that is embedded in both the delivery and the  qualifications system in Scotland.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Report from @IPPRScotland "Equipping Scotland for the future: Key challenges for the Skills System in Scotland " Some Observations



The two upcoming brands of Malt Whisky in the Philippines

I came back to the  publication of  A report  by IPPR, Scotland, sponsored by FETL that  explores the current and future challenges facing the Scottish skills system and makes suggestions on some key areas for action.

It is a thorough piece of work, though one that you might have expected to come with a confident and joined up voice from within the Scottish FE system.

I had a look for some informed critiques on this excellent piece of work. It will probably start arriving once the paper has had broader circulation and folks have battled through their new year emails . I see it is being raised in a question at Holyrood today,  that may stimulate some further debate  - here is my tuppence worth.

The IPPR Scotland report outlines six priorities for action for the skills system in Scotland: I've set them out here with some commentary. I think it is worth too setting this paper alongside the ambition of the reforms that are currently moving at pace through the English system.

My overall reflection is that we need to speed up our thinking in this space in Scotland.  While a lot of focus has been on  the reorganisation of delivery structures to reflect the public funding available - we have perhaps been marking time around the bolder thinking that has in the past been a hallmark of the Scottish vocational system. It is often overlooked that like Scottish Whisky this can be a successful export if we are bold and get our thinking right.  This is not about sectors - it needs built around a learner's journey


1  Embedding an outcome approach and setting a clear national purpose of the skills system – it is not clear what the overall purpose of the skills system is
I think this also stretches into Schools and University system - some sectors or parts of it have forgotten than deep links to industry and employers  are significant for learners and for the CPD of teaching staff.
Outcomes should be for learners with institutions being rewarded on their delivery,  but these should be around distance travelled - so that the  resources follow the learners need for support. We can have both a high achieving and a more equitable system - this should not be seen as mutually exclusive.
2  Regional integration of the skills system – not just college regionalisation but across the skills system
While large structural reforms and regionalisation  are referred to frequently in the report this must mean more than simply College Regionalisation - The report does not pick up that there are a significant number of Regional DSWY groups with no College representation
There needs to be clearer vehicles for employers, local authorities, Schools , Colleges , Training Providers and Universities to engage with.  Perhaps there are still too many separate funding streams and this discourages real cooperation.
How in practice are skills investment plans (SIPs) and regional skills assessments (RSAs) really aligned with College Outcome agreements and how are the other delivery partners involved ?  If Colleges shape their offerings around these then all parts of the supply chain should be doing this too.
Also worth reflecting that though Colleges are now regional - there is greater disparity than ever in the size of these regional colleges.
You can be global and still reflect the needs of local learners.
3  Clarifying roles of learning routes within the skills system – there is too much confusion and duplication between routes at present
The University system has in many cases needed the carrot of additional funding to support articulation and the acceptance of HND/C students into the 2nd and 3rd years of degree programmes.
While there is increased investment in apprenticeships - the articulation links for these are very uncharted. How easy is it to switch and get due credit from an SVQ3 in to an HND or Degree programme ? or SVQ4/5 into post-graduate study ?  
The system seems to ignore the growth in wholly work based  professional routes in areas like accountancy and law spawned by English system of paying fees for Higher Education.  There are likely to be more wholly on-line global offerings arriving too. The system could get more confusing without some clear guidance and coordination.
4  Learners and employers co-designing a responsive skills system – the funding and implementation of the Apprenticeships Levy in Scotland offers opportunities in this regard
The levy is being used in the main to deliver the system in England not to re-design the system or the underpinning standards that support the system - the state is paying for this bit . Should the system not be redesigned around learners , employers and those who deliver the skills system.  You can't write out training providers , colleges, universities  and in time schools who all have a stake in delivering a responsive skills system.
There needs to be a more explicit expectation on employers. Reforms in England all about them making a contribution and having a greater say in the system.  
If it is going to be based on qualifications and assessments you need to use SCQF and make better use of SQA in this mix . There is a lot of experience in the system.  
5  Improving flexibility of learning so that learners can learn at a pace that suits their needs
Innovation here is being led by a few UK based training providers who are delivering directly into a growing number of Scottish employers and supporting apprenticeships in the main.  Colleges and Universities have been incentivised to focus on full-time learners in the 16-24 year old cohort.  There needs to be some fresh thinking and some fresh stimulus around the flexible learning agenda. This bit of innovative , flexible , on-line delivery has atrophied in the main-stream but there is lots of experience around Massive Open On-line courses and around open educational resources that need brought into mainstream delivery.
6  Increasing transferability of learning so that learning can be built up over what will be longer working lives, potentially in multiple careers and for multiple employers
There is much more scope for SCQF but we are not far away from having a national qualification transcript. We already have all of the elements in the Scottish Candidate Number and if you think digital rather than paper learners and employers should be able to access a single on-line transcript of learner achievements.
There is no mention in this report of the importance of core or transferable skills. Perhaps there is some wish to dilute this ?  - but for learners:  numeracy , communication skills and digital literacy will underpin most occupations in the future.
Finally as a footnote - I batter things into this blog so I should never be a spelling or grammar pedant (that in my opinion is the job of a good sub-editor)  However , I did spot Principle being used on a number of occasions in this report rather than Principal ;-)

Friday, January 06, 2017

Happy New Year to one and all - and make 2017 special


Hope you are all ready for another busy and productive year . I've not blogged much since early December as we were off visiting extended family in the Philippines over Christmas and New Year - here is a wee tropical tonic.


Philippines 2016/17

Looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones in the year ahead.

All the very best for 20017