WHEN artist and innovator Chris Milk wrote “virtual reality is a technology that could actually allow you to connect on a real human level, soul-to-soul, regardless of where you are in the world”, we’d not yet conceived of a lockdown world.

However, when Covid-19 arrived, it was indeed the digital world that kept families and friends in touch, many businesses operational and our national infrastructure intact. 

In education, too, online platforms became enablers that allowed learning to continue despite new societal strictures. 

City of Glasgow College has adopted a ‘digital first’ approach to its new academic year, supported by the work of its Learning and Teaching Academy.

Established this year, the academy enables the enhancement of learning and teaching through innovative pedagogy, appropriate technology and the use of online customised learning spaces.

When Coronavirus hit, the academy responded swiftly by moving to online learning during lockdown and providing teaching staff with support and resources. The college faculties now teach in online, blended and face-to-face modes. 

Tom Duff, Associate Director at the Academy, notes: “I am an advocate of the collaborative teaching model where we nurture independent, resilient students who are proactive in their personalised learning. 

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“The lockdown presented an opportunity for colleges and universities – every type of educational environment – to create lifelong learning that is not necessarily classroom, on-campus based. There’s nothing wrong with a real world lecture, of course, but this now fits in with all the other elements we can offer which allows students to learn in a way that suits them.”

Tom believes educators can either “make do and mend” until on-campus learning returns, or embrace a digital strategy that creates a truly immersive 24-7, 365-day learning environment. 

“This is a world that offers more easily manageable chunks of learning on the go, on your phone, on a desktop, in the library – above all, it’s all about learning as you want to learn.”

While students have embraced the transition, it’s fair to say some academics have needed a little extra help.

That’s where Joe Wilson, Head of Digital Skills in the Learning & Teaching Academy steps in. His learning technology team supported the transition to remote working and online teaching and learning during lockdown supporting academic staff. 

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“Our college closed just ahead of the national lockdown and we moved immediately to remote working, teaching and learning,” he says. “This overnight change in our circumstances really highlighted those innovators who readily embraced a new opportunity.

“As well as Zoom we’re using tools such as Microsoft Teams and other video communication tools that enable staff to create instructional videos and learning development software, allowing us to produce rich interactive content and all integrated through Moodle, our visual learning environment.

“The majority of teaching staff adapted quickly, across all ages. There was a collective sense of seizing the moment, of taking our learning approach to new levels which students identified with and appreciated. For those who have a natural fear of technology and perhaps haven’t had the kind of development needed, we’ve been running an amazingly successful programme of webinars with superb attendance.”

The college is also addressing the fact that a significant minority of young people don’t have free internet access, or a device, by loaning them laptops, dongles and MiFi units. Joe says: “Now is a good time to refresh and return to what is sound pedagogy and sound learning outcomes. That’s why we now have a college standard that we’ve pushed out for our online courses.”
To achieve this teaching staff are asked to standardise and make consistent what they deliver to students. 
“It’s an opportunity for us to say to staff, look, we’ll walk the walk with you. We’ll design courses with you,” says Tom.  “We’ve adopted an approach called ABC Learning, which we’ve run webinars on. Basically these take staff through building the foundations and scaffolding required to deliver a one-hour Zoom lecture. We do a webinar on how to teach large class sizes using Zoom, which outlines using 10 or 20-minute chunks. 

“Students are engaged, they look at a concept, they go off to virtual rooms and have a discussion. 

“Whatever you do in a classroom, you can do in Zoom. You can put your hand up, you can chat, put up a discussion thread, put up notes, put up polls and ask questions.  If 70% get it, 70% can go away and closely examine the concept.

"The remaining 30% can join me in a virtual room and we’ll go over it again. So there’s scope for reinforced and remediation learning. Above all, the Learning and Teaching Academy is here to teach the technology but also utilise the pedagogy the technology brings. That’s a very important part of our job,” said Tom.

The college is also involved in commercial training and apprenticeships, delivering talent directly into the workplace.

“These learners really enjoy this new flipped classroom,” Joe says. “It means they don’t have to travel into college with the current restrictions, unless it’s for a practical lesson. In the main they can do the course remotely, or wherever suits, with their tutor and we’re getting positive feedback.  Similarly, in procurement courses, supply chain management courses or accountancy, for example, we’re delivering to staff who’d have had to come in for just half a day or an evening, so they’re welcoming it.”

Tom agrees, adding: “Students are ready to embrace the future. As they develop an appetite for online learning they will realise they can become lifelong learners – and learn anything.”

This article appears as part of The Herald's The Future Of Education campiagn, in association with City of Glasgow College.

If you would like to become a partner in our Future of Education Series, contact Stephen McDevitt, Head of Digital and Branded Content campaign@heraldandtimes.co.uk