Abingdon and Witney College serves small towns and the rural community in Oxfordshire. The college has a good reputation for its ability to work in partnership with schools and employers. The implementation of a new digital literacy induction for students and staff builds on the College's recent improvements in access to computers, broadband and wireless, a new staff development programme which supports digital literacy and e-learning skills and pedagogy, and two learner voice conferences. The project development has helped the College to understand and support the use of technology for learning, instead of assuming that students and staff already have the knowhow to use technology.
The College has engaged in a number of internal and external projects, which has led to the identification for the need of a digital literacies programme. First was engagement with the JISC Learner experience of e-Learning programme. The College’s ILT Development Coordinator, Ellen Lessner, was a member of the Synthesis and Support Project for the JISC Learner Experiences of E-Learning programme, bringing up-to-date research findings about learner support needs in technology-rich learning environments into the College for consideration.
Second, the College also contributed a case study to the JISC Learning Literacies for a Digital Age (LliDA) project, which brought the issue of the development of digital literacies to the attention of senior management.
Third, the College participated in a pilot Becta survey of further education colleges on the use of technology. This showed that over 90% of people had access to computers and raised questions about how the College was responding to this change in access to IT.
In 2009, the College held its first learner voice conference, inviting students to discuss their expectations of technology. The lack of attendance at these sessions showed "something about how students felt about belonging to the institution for one thing" (Ellen Lessner). Some students who did attend said they didn’t know they had an email address, which should have been a key channel for staff communicating with their students. This led to the recognition that students needed some form of induction early in their courses, to understand which technologies were available and how to use them effectively.
The college Principal went out and spoke to students.
We wanted to test with the students…whether or not we were investing…money in the right places in relation to how they would use e-Learning because our perception may not be the same as theirs. So, for example, I did a lot of talking with students, individual groups. You know, if we had x amount of money to invest, should we be investing it in more machines around the place or should we be investing it in wireless?
Teresa Kelly, Principal
Evidence from the College's LliDA case study study showed that the college
did not have a coherent system for giving students information about what technology and technology tools were…[or] how they might be used to support their learning... Some staff members were not confident about using technology and wouldn't be able to tell their students what the college can offer or what they are able to do with the technology.
Source: Digital and Learning Literacies Final Report for the LSIS Excellence, Innovation and Improvement Fund project
The initiative comes from the lack of digital literacy... If the entire world is using tools and technology and we're not providing them, and that's what people expect, why would they come here? They've got lots of other choices of places to go... We're aiming to be outstanding and we're not going to get there unless we move and change the way we teach and what we provide.
Ellen Lessner, ILT Coordinator
What has happened?
The College developed a digital literacies induction, with the support of an LSIS Action Research project. This allowed for the induction materials to be developed in ways which meet the needs of first and second year students by providing video and text options. The College has also improved infrastructure and support for increased opportunities for students to learn to use technologies, and set up a staff development programme.
Over the past 12 months the College has reviewed its Information and Learning Technology and e-Learning strategies and Teresa Kelly, the College principal, has taken direct responsibility for e-learning and related implementations. The project started with a working party made up of key people in the college to discuss and outline what needed to be included in digital literacy inductions. This group included learners, senior managers, academic staff, librarians, subject learning coaches, and IT specialists. The aim was to bring about a culture change that viewed technology as part of everyday life and recognised its full potential for improved communication as well as learning and teaching.
The working party made recommendations about the need for staff and students to develop their digital literacies through induction. The LSIS funded Digital and Learning Literacy Induction (DALLI) project then supported the development of online package that be accessed by groups and individuals. The package is updated as necessary. Currently, all students undergo a formative assessment for IT skills as part of a Functional Skills assessment. A one hour digital literacy induction session is provided for all full time students. Students arriving later in the year can also access the information.
Seven section digital and learning literacy induction
This seven sections induction has both text and video sections. The video aims to be accessible for higher level Entry and Level 1 students.
All new full time students who complete the Digital Induction with their tutors get an Abingdon and Witney memory stick.
Library infrastructure & support
Surveys and evaluation before and after development of DALLI helped to identify infrastructure issues
The college now has wireless installed at all sites, including better access to computers on the Abingdon campus. There is increased investment in staff support through the appointment of six part-time e-learning champions. Each college staff member has a set number of one-to-one hours to spend with their allocated e-learning champion. The library area on the Abingdon campus has been physically rearranged, opened up and linked with an area which includes e-learning, study skills and student support. The new space is called the LINK (http://www.abingdon-witney.ac.uk/advice-and-support/libraries-llc-services). This is an outcome of listening to learners. The space is for students and staff to work together, to have access to a range of technologies along with access to e-learning champions’ expertise. The new library infrastructure is helping to provide visible access to student services, social areas and quiet areas. The library has employed mentors to help students get 'just in time' help with research and writing skills. The aim is to enable greater learner independence and self reliance.
The college applied to join Becta’s Technology Exemplar Network as a 'developing provider' and was successful. From others in their network, the College took the idea of applying minimum standards of IT skills for all staff and recommending minimum standards of e-Learning skills for teaching staff. To comply with the recommended standard, the College has agreed that of the 30 hours mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for all academic staff, three hours is now for mandatory e-Learning training, and will be linked to appraisal.
In addition the college secured funding from the Learning and Skills Improvement Service for the CPD Anytime Project that allowed them to develop online resources and information about e-learning, to be accessed by those who couldn't get to formal staff development sessions.
What has been the student experience of these initiatives?
Since the development and implementation of DALLI, the College has ensured that all students and staff have the opportunity to develop their digital literacy skills. All new students have access to the same information about basic digital and learning literacy at college, in text and video formats, available online and portable on a USB stick. This means that students are not dependent on the skills and knowledge of individual tutors. Learners who start a course late, or at different time of the year have access to the information.
The DALLI project has enabled the digital literacies induction to be made more usable by all staff. It now has additional accessibility features for students. Installation of the new JISC Techdis Toolbar allows individuals to customise the Wordpress installation by font size and colours and includes a dictionary and text read back facility. The college also has Read and Write software is installed throughout and this is compatible with the DALLI package.
An evaluation of the first iteration of the digital literacy induction demonstrates the success of the project to date. 89% of the 260 students who completed the evaluation reported that they had experienced the induction on their course. There was a high level of engagement with it, with 78% reporting that they had done the activities. High levels of satisfaction were reported with each of the sections of the package. The evaluation also highlighted areas for improvement in the induction design for future developments.
What has been achieved?
The second year of the learner voice conference (2010) had good participation, involving 30 students participating in open forums, one of which invited them to discuss their experience and expectation of using technology in College. The College now has a Student Corner page linking to the successes of the learner voice conferences and students films.
A survey of staff engaged in the DALLI working party, showed they liked to work together and felt they had an impact in the project.
Participation in any cross-College group is always - well, almost always! - a positive and constructive experience (&, sadly, almost a luxury): gives an opportunity to share ideas and experiences and meet with colleagues we normally wouldn't: the DALLI w/p was no exception.
Source: Staff Survey
Being a new member of staff, it was a good opportunity for me to meet with colleagues from around the college.
Source: Staff Survey
Staff noted that participation in the working party had made them more interested in student learning issues. It had even resulted in staff thinking about pursing higher studies with a focus on learner experience.
DALLI forced me to think about the student experience in ways I hadn't before, and made me realise what a huge gap we had before it was introduced.
I would very much like to pick up my MA in Online and Distance Education as I feel this would be very useful to my role.
Source: Staff Survey
Senior management support was perceived as essential and very valuable.
I liked the cross section of people, they gave relevant feedback from their own point of view. I think it was this mix that was particularly helpful. Also good to have an SMT member there, crucial to the whole thing I thought.
Source: Staff Survey
What advice would you give to others?
Through this induction package the college has been able to at least partially realize some key institutional objectives for 2012, including
- "Our students are learning in a modern and exciting environment"
- "Our college is recognised as creative, innovative and professional. Others will aspire to be like us because we set and achieve high standards in all our work."
(Source: Meeting college objectives)
The project has been a key driver to help the college to begin realising its strategic objectives. The approach adopted at Abingdon and Witney for digital literacies induction has begun to provide students with access to information which will help them develop IT and learning skills to use on their college course. It has also facilitated staff collaboration on curriculum development and learner support. In addition, the project has helped to:
- hear students' voices and enable them to articulate their expectations and needs for learning in a digital age
- develop a CPD programme and support for staff to develop their teaching methods for a digital age
- engage staff and students in the DALLI working group, enabling sharing of ideas and experiences
- support the development of a culture of digital innovation in the college.
As Ellen Lessner argues:
If people are spending a significant amount of their life online using technology and we’re not supporting them to use it appropriately in College, then we’re not doing our job.
Ellen Lessner, ILT Coordinator
Links to further resources
Papers and presentations
- JISC Techdis Toolbar allows individuals to customise the Wordpress installation by font size, colours and includes a dictionary and text read back facility.
Resources to download
Job description for the role of Student Mentor (Word doc)
A selection of handouts from the induction session
Example video from the induction session