Ensuring the efficient and beneficial use of technology within differing learning environments was the aim of this project. Plumpton College aims to provide an inspiring and innovative learning experience, and technology plays a key role not only in developing how students learn and progress during their education, it also gives students the digital skills needed for their futures.
Evaluation of Blended Learning models
A combination of 'Lab' and 'Station' models was found to be the most suitable and effective for a further education environment, alongside 'Virtual'. 'Lab' was used to warm the class up, and group activities, with 'Stations' used for independent study and activities; 'Virtual' was used for revision sources and assessment, but after the lesson.
An evaluation of the different types of Blended Learning resource was carried out by teachers and students, to see whether the use of these would be positively impactful.
Overall, technologies which could be used long-term and by everyone proved the most impactful; for example, VR was proven to be too difficult for the majority of teachers, for this to be effectively used, even though it created new learning opportunities. Resources such as Nearpod, and Powerpoints were identified as the most easily embedded into the most amount of classrooms.
Student's had their say in the project through a Student Survey which was sent out after the Blended Learning case studies, in order to get opinions on the technology usage at Plumpton, and how happy students' were with teaching methods. Activities on the Virtual Learning Environment were not being used as frequently as classroom-based activities. Using Blended Learning could help bridge the gap between the two, to encourage students to use technology in their everyday study and so not view the VLE as separate to the classroom, but interconnected.
What did we end up learning, about Blended Learning?
Plumpton identified three key learning points that came from this project, which suggest that Blended Learning, despite barriers, is effective and positively impactful for students' learning experiences:
- Mixing traditional teaching and technology can be more effective than using either one separate from the other. However, technology should only be used if it enhances student learning.
- Students expect technology to be part of their learning, just as technology has progressed in their daily lives. The learning styles of students are changing, adapting to the influx of technology in our culture; teachers must view the use of technology as a part of their teaching strategies.
- Students need to be empowered, in order to develop digital skills for the future workplace. Blended Learning helps develop digital skills cross-college, and at the students' home and work.
Students' suggested that teachers needed to develop better practices for utilizing technology outside of the classroom; this could be done through practical, technology-based activities, and distance learning elements within their course. Blended learning could develop staff digital skills, so they are then able to deliver using technology remotely, as well as in-class. This is crucial for allowing students access to information, and digital skills and experience for their progression after college.
What were the barriers to Blended Learning?
The project found that there were two major factors which affected the ability of teachers to plan and use Blended Learning in their lessons:
- A certain level of digital skills is needed within teachers in order for them to choose the best Blended Learning model for their programme or course. This requires training, before teachers can understand how technology can be applied in their specialist area. On the other hand, learning technology staff sometimes do not have enough knowledge of this specialist area to fully support teaching staff. Teachers must be confident in themselves in embedding and demonstrating new technology to students.
- There must be the availability of new technology within the college infrastructure, to allow teachers these opportunities in the beginning. This means, access to appropriate hardware, software, and reliable internet. Also, the sustainability of technology within practical lessons is more important than the impact of technology in an 'ideal' classroom - simpler activities and technologies that are consistent have a greater, more positive impact.
Overall, Blended Learning can be an effective method of improving not only teaching practice, but most importantly, student learning. Blended Learning can be successful when technology is used effectively, appropriately, and with a mix of best teaching practices and effective training. Overcoming digital skills barriers within teachers and within college infrastructure is necessary first, in order to implement outstanding blended learning. The development of staff digital capabilities has to be at the forefront of continuing professional development (CPD).
Looking ahead - to Virtual Reality?
Despite the necessary training needed to implement blended learning, and technologies both in and out of the classroom, the progression of technology cannot be ignored by education.
Working with local technology companies, the University of Sussex and Brighton University, the learning technology team at Plumpton continues to trial ways of introducing and embedding technology into learning and teaching, into vocational study. Why?:
- New learning experiences: VR provides an opportunity to learn without risk, such as in the motor vehicle case study, or operating equipment virtually as part of students' programme.
- Recalling studies: VR is a powerful way of letting learners access and retain skills and knowledge
- Situated learning: VR ensures that learning is accessible to all students, through virtual tours of locations that are oterwise inaccessible for some students. Making these learning experiences interactive also improves engagement, and interest.
- Accessing skills: assessment activities that are normally observed, i.e animal management or equipment handling, is immediately suited to VR. Students enjoy making 360 degree videos for themselves, their studies, and to demonstrate their skills and achivements in their e-portfolios.
James Maltby, learning technology manager, Plumpton College:
“Technology is now almost ubiquitous in further education, but that doesn’t mean teachers and trainers, or employers for that matter, are able to integrate digital techniques effectively with their normal working practices. We need to be able to provide our staff and partners with tried and tested models of blended learning.”
"Teaching is about adaptability. We don't know how the digital landscape will look in a year's time, never mind five, so we need to enable staff to be as adaptive as possible. Keeping a broad base is essential for a land-based college, and since VR is becoming more widely available in the world outside college, we need to prepare our learners for using it."