Although a regular delegate at Jisc’s annual Digifest I had never before given a presentation so was excited to have had my presentation proposal accepted. The topic for the talk, naturally enough, covered my work as an Online Course Developer on the university’s degree apprenticeship programme. Since the university launched its first degree apprenticeship in 2016 with just 7 Business and Management students, numbers across the university have grown to over 600 involving all faculties and 17 different courses.
With a long history of involvement in work based learning, the university’s early involvement in degree apprenticeships would have been a natural progression along with a small handful of other trailblazers. Roll forward to 2020 and there are now over 90 HEIs delivering degree apprenticeships including Russell group institutions.
Anyway, back to Digifest! Given the rapid growth of our degree apprenticeship programme I knew I had a good story to tell and, hopefully, some useful experience to pass on and for me this reflected a shift in emphasis of this year’s conference. I have always enjoyed the two days spent at the ICC every March but this year I was particularly looking forward to sessions looking at the practical application and development of eLearning tools and methodologies. In this respect two sessions in particular stood out. The first was a panel discussion titled “How do we address the digital skills gap” the second a presentation on how staff and students are actually using technology.
Having worked in the field of eLearning for some time, I’ve found one of the main barriers hindering the greater use of technology has been, and continues to be, time. After demonstrating a particular piece of technology, a frequent, and understandable reaction is “Yes, that looks great but I just don’t have the time to create resources using it…” Coming from a teaching background I can empathise, with preparation, marking, meetings and actual teaching, time is often in short supply In the sessions mentioned above different strategies were discussed in addressing the issue of time. One involved recognising and rewarding digital development, thus partly overcoming the digital skills gap with a carrot based approach. The other approach involved a more stick based strategy whereby developing digital skills becomes part of the standard annual appraisal.
In terms of the contrasting approaches proffered, my starting point is very much carrot based, which doesn’t necessarily need to be physically tangible. The use of technology in teaching can bring measurable gains, with some upfront investment in time, resources can be created that can be used multiple times and thus be time saving in the long run. For example a Moodle quiz can be used for either formative or summative assessment and is self marking. A short video can be quicker to produce than a handout and be a more effective learning resource. Use of tools such as Padlet, Nearpod and Vevox can add meaningful participation and interaction in lectures and seminars with the same resource being re-usable for as long as the modules are taught.
For students the greater use of technology can bring real benefits and Jisc’s digital insights survey regularly shows that students do want greater use of technology even if it is just lecture recordings. Moreover, according a report produced by the European Commission (Human Capital: Europe’s Digital Progress Report, 2017) 38% of workplaces stated that a lack of digital skills was harming business while in the panel discussion mentioned a performing arts student explained how the use of technology in his course had helped him develop the skills he needed to be able to gain employment in his chosen field. One suggestion I am a little unsure about is the rewarding of staff with badges they can wear when they achieve a given level of digital skills, a strategy used by one college, but some kind of recognition for digital development can only help spread good digital practice.
The presentations from Digifest 2020 are now available online to view, along with Andy Taggart’s: Degree apprenticeships – meeting the technical and teaching challenges