Since the start of lockdown, the college has been supplying its students with IT equipment to help them progress with their studies from home, as part of their overarching aim to end digital poverty. 

Glasgow Clyde College has handed out 2,000 items including over 1,600 laptops and netbooks since March 2020 and is on track to distribute 500 laptops, 300 Chromebooks, and 250 internet dongles to over 800 students aided by funding made available by the Scottish Government and the Glasgow Clyde Education Foundation. 

However, while this digital outreach programme was accelerated by learning issues raised by the Covid-19 pandemic, the closing of the digital poverty gap has long been an aim for the college and for Assistant Principal for Student Experience, David Marshall.

The 53-year-old was overseeing a transition of digital services at the college before the pandemic, but the college opted to press on with digital improvement plans in the face of lockdown. 

Marshall said: “This project has been building up for some time now. I took over e-learning 5 years ago within the college so we started to look at the provision we had in terms of support and learning. We came up with the concept of how we could try to increase the digital competence of staff, but also students.

“Digital poverty has been a huge challenge to try and make sure we were able to support access for students.  

“There are two aspects, one you’ve got the access in terms of digital access that is limited for some students, hence the reason we’ve given out so many devices, but you also have the digital skills aspect or digital confidence.

“There is an assumption that because the majority of learners are younger, that they know what they’re doing, but the majority of people don’t have the digital skills that will lead them to employability. It is a case of trying to embed those things within the curriculum and make sure you’re trying to give the right support to give people those digital skills because online learning is not only about the vocational area, but you also need to give people the skills that will allow them to engage with the online experience.“   

“The connectivity aspect for me personally is more of a national imperative. If people have a device that’s fantastic, but if they don’t have connectivity it causes challenges, so the connectivity has to go hand in hand. There is a real need to make sure there is connectivity for people in education. 

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And it is not just students who have benefited from digital training and upskilling, with Marshall adding that a host of digital training and support has been offered online during the pandemic. He said: “We’d spent between March and August of 2020 trying to upskill staff and link across to IT who would try and coordinate the sending out of the thousands of devices over that time.  

HeraldScotland:

“We have delivered for staff about 800 hours of bespoke training, but we have also started moving towards developing a support side as well. It’s a wider project we are trying to look at in terms of digital services we provide and digital support.” 

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“Within the college, there is also a charity called Gift Tech which basically recycles laptops within the college. So laptops and PCs that have come to the end of their natural life cycle, they then get stripped down, cleaned up and are then distributed within the community. That again has been used during the pandemic to make sure we can build our provision in the community to a range of organisations and housing associations

On the issues faced by students with e-learning, he said:  “There is a bit of a presumption that students have digital skills automatically when they come in. As soon as you put people into a remote or blended learning, you lose that belonging with each other, it impacts things like mental health and that is undoubtedly a challenge.  “We know it’s not going to be the same. We had a very high sense of belonging within the college. Around 95% of students would say they felt a sense of belonging. That’s dropped down this year to 82% which is perfectly understandable when you’re sitting on a screen doing Zoom or Teams.

“We have some students who have never been on campus over the course of the whole year, which probably accounts for the drop in the sense of belonging because students have never met each other, never met a lot of their lecturers, so it has been incredibly challenging. 

“There’s definitely a way forward in terms of how we are looking at our learning and teaching for a more blended approach, but it's making sure you can prioritise the right subjects, the right areas, the most vulnerable students to make sure you are continuing to get that face to face contact.”