22 September 2015

This month, TES has been reporting on the state of digital skills in the FE sector, including how the UK is at least three years behind North America in terms of effective use of technology in education. We asked Associate Trainer Dave Foord why he thought this might be the case.

One of the problems with technology in education, is we have spent too much money on the technology itself and not enough money (and time) on CPD for the staff using it. There has been a gross misconception that simply investing in interactive whiteboards, virtual learning environments (VLEs), laptops, tablets etc. is going to make a difference.

Are senior leaders to blame for this? If you look at the numerous case studies and reports looking at organisations that have worked effectively with technology in education, the underlying, recurring theme is support from senior leaders. Without this you are always going to struggle.

Do senior leaders need to have high levels of personal digital skills, to be able to lead in this area? It obviously helps, but I don’t think it is essential, as long as they recognise and value the importance, and give proper support to this area of work, and consult with people who do understand the issues fully. Providing staff with the right technology will only make a difference if staff have appropriate and quality structured CPD - over a longer period of time than just one inset day. This will give staff the time and confidence to experiment and reflect on new mechanisms and identify training needs for individual members of staff.

From my experience, the other reason we are trailing behind other countries is due to resistance from teaching staff. Many teachers incorrectly think that investing in learning technology will do them out of a job. There are also various unhelpful reports in the media suggesting that using computers or tablets have limited positive effects in the classroom. Both of these issues do need to be managed by senior leaders. Many FE providers have reacted to the funding cuts, by simply asking teachers to do more with less, often asking them to move 10% of the teaching online without giving them any reward for doing this (only increased marking loads).

This approach is not going to bring teaching staff onside, nor will it reduce their fears or concerns. The good senior leaders are the ones that can effectively manage and reduce these fears, find mechanisms to reward staff, all while working in the tight financial constraints we operate in. Over the coming years I predict that senior leaders will fall into two distinct camps – those that can support this area, and those that cannot. The ones that can will become lucrative and highly attractive employees. The risk then is that the wealthier organisations will be able to attract and keep these people, leaving the poorer organisations struggling further.

In terms of a simple quick win: I have long argued and still believe that whenever investing in any learning technology, 10% of the budget should be directly tied to CPD activity to support the use of that technology. This simple step doesn’t cost the organisation any more money, would make a huge difference to the return on investment and would be relatively easy to manage. If this is a first step taken, then it is a step in the right direction.

Dave FoordDave is a former FE and HE lecturer who specialises in the use of learning technology as a trainer, consultant and resource developer. In recent years he has supported many organisations with the strategic and practical side of introducing blended learning models with FE and improving their use of learning technologies.

For more information about Dave please visit his website.