Case study Organisation: Tower Hamlets College Type of FE provider: College Focus on: Technology
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“Technology is being embraced by the college at all levels, driven from the top down and the bottom up.” Background Tower Hamlets College has 850 teaching and service support staff, who provide learning to more than 9,000 sixth form and adult students at four main locations across the borough, alongside various community venues. Italian born Ilaria Zambotti came to England with a background in communications and teaching in both vocational and higher education. Ilaria is a part-time lecturer for adults with learning difficulties which she combines this with her role as part-time e-learning manager at Tower Hamlets College, where she oversees and delivers e-learning across the college, including organising and delivering e-CPD.
Use of technology Technology is being embraced by the college at all levels, driven from the top down and the bottom up. Part of Ilaria’s role is to develop e-learning projects. For example: • The mobile learning network (MoLeNet) – students use mobile technologies for learning outside the classroom. Students are given hand-held Windows enabled SmartPhones, which they keep for the duration of the project and take with them wherever they go. Ilaria says:
“We’re researching to see whether having mobile technology with learners all the time will improve literacy levels at entry level to level 3. We have high hopes, since technology always works well with this generation of learners – it’s a motivator. Having a new phone with internet access all the time, easy to browse and with the ability to use Word documents, is a status symbol that makes them look cool. There’s also the added advantage of them being able to explore the technology in their own time. Discovering new capabilities by themselves makes them more adept at using and applying the technology. It encourages a sense of achievement and boosts their self confidence.”
• Aspirations – part of a showcase project. Hitherto, recognising and recording the achievements of students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, or with language difficulties, had been problematic. Since many of the learners cannot read or write and their first language is not English, communication is often a challenge so evidence really needed to be multimedia based. • Moodle – a Moodle based course (Moodle is a free and open source web based e-learning software platform) has been customised so that learners have an individual named page where they can store evidence of their achievements. Learners can access this wherever they are (invaluable on trips out into the community) and can choose to include whatever is relevant to their own life. For example, conveying the concept of ‘textiles’ to learners whose first language is not English has been simplified through the use of images, such as showing a clip of people sewing. Additional technology that Tower Hamlets use includes: • YouTube and MySpace – examples of web based facilities used to great effect for students with learning difficulties, as Ilaria explains: “When we’re teaching music, we might for example, search YouTube for relevant material such as music and video. It’s revolutionising the way I plan and use teaching materials and has cut down dramatically on my preparation time. Students can open their own MySpace page, upload their own basic music compositions and share them with selected friends. It means they can be role models for other students with disabilities and it’s great for social inclusion.” • Video – video is used extensively in the classroom, especially in dance, where students can see their own performance on the interactive whiteboard helping them with coordination, awareness and confidence.
Staff continuing professional development Together with her jobshare, Ilaria is responsible for long term planning, creating and updating the college’s e-learning strategy across the curriculum, and is a personal development adviser (PDA), part of an active PDA network which is linked with other professionals around the country sharing best practice. Ilaria also devises and delivers training and events to involve all staff, ensuring they are kept up to date with what’s new in technology and engaging less confident staff.
Ilaria explains: “Our role started only a couple of months ago, so we’re planning long term, working to put together systems to assess levels of expertise. Staff self refer for training too; and they might also come for help after their self assessment review. We have a staff page on Moodle where we’ve set up discussion boards for all managers, teachers and support workers, updated daily. So, for example, any changes in learners’ medication or transportation can be put up there for all staff to access.”
Impact/key lessons Use of technology has improved communication with the whole team – teachers, managers and learning mentors. Pieces of paper can so easily go missing and need to be retrieved from a filing cabinet, while now, with the discussion boards on Moodle, everyone receives automatic updates in their inbox, in real time. What works very well is that all the information is stored in one place, with date, time, and details of who recorded the information. Even very small changes can make a massive difference, streamlining systems and improving communications. New technologies are everywhere now in the outside world. Not many people in our community have access to a computer at home but at the college – in the library for example – everything is computer based. For these learners it’s about closing the gap between what goes on in the outside world and what’s happening in their everyday life.
Future plans E-learning at the college will continue to develop and evolve as staff and students share ideas and experiences across their networks. Ilaria’s goal is to ensure that innovations really do add to the experience for teachers and learners alike: “I want to make sure that technology doesn’t drive teaching and learning but the other way around. It’s about methodology and using technology to enhance that.”
“It’s revolutionising the way I plan and use teaching materials and has cut down dramatically on my preparation time.” RW09/09/CS004
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