Report on “Innovative Learning: Driving Educational Change” event



Rebecca Mogg, Deputy Chair of the CILIP Information Literacy Group, has kindly provided a report on the Innovative Learning: Driving Educational Change event that took place at the Manchester Conference Centre on Tuesday, December 8th, 2015.


Being a librarian, the vast majority of events I attend are for librarians and these are usually focused on information literacy.  So I was really pleased to have the opportunity to attend this one-day conference for educators in Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE) at the Manchester Conference Centre on behalf of the CILIP IL Group.  And I was even more pleased to find that I wasn’t the only librarian in the room!

The packed programme featured a good balance of high-level, strategic presentations and case study examples of innovative practice.  Digital literacy was a common theme throughout the day, from both presenters and delegates.  There was recognition of the need to develop students’ digital literacy and concern that digital literacy is not always being defined correctly and is instead being associated with IT skills such as programming.

So much was discussed in this event so, to keep this post to a reasonable length, I’ve opted to provide what I felt were the key points and highlights:

Keynote speakers

The first speaker was Lord Aberdare, a member of the Select Committee on Digital Skills that published “Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future”. See our earlier blog post about the report.

Lord Aberdare focused his presentation on objectives two, four, five and six of the report, highlighting in particular that women still only represent 30% of the IT workforce and there is a need for more female role models in IT.  There is an ongoing need to encourage girls to study STEM subjects.  The report also argues that the Government should aim to be amongst the top five digital economies in the next five years, and endorsed the aims that, by 2020, everyone who can be digitally capable will be and that at least 10% of the workforce should have high level digital maker skills.  In FE, there needs to be strong partnerships with industry, more digital apprenticeships and all apprenticeships should include a digital element.  In HE, courses need to be more flexible – longer, shorter or include a sandwich element – to meet the requirements of employers.

Comments and questions from the floor and on Twitter expressed support for the report’s objectives and recommendations, and concern that nothing has yet been done by Government to take its recommendations forward.

Bob Harrison from the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) followed, with a plea that FE realigns its assets to better enable learning in the modern age.  Bob argued that old pedagogy is still driving education in FE and HE, and the UK needs to change its approach to teaching and learning.  Instead of investing in buildings and facilities, funds should be diverted to removing cultural barriers and enabling teachers to change the way they teach so they can take best advantage of new technology.  The “digital native” idea is a myth; students need to be taught how to make best use of technology.

Bob argued that FE will need more teachers but with a different skills set to deliver technology enabled learning.  It’s not about spending lots on technology; it’s about changing mindsets.

Charlie Leyland, Higher Education Policy Advisor at HEFCE, then talked about some key projects and aims of HEFCE.  She highlighted that there is going to be increasing focus on an outcomes and market-driven education sector that can demonstrate it is meeting the needs of employers.

Charlie referred us to the recent Changing the Learning Landscape report, which outlines the impact this programme of funding has had on the implementation of technology enhanced learning in HE in England.  She also referred us to the case studies on the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education website.

Charlie then moved on to talked about HEFCE’s Learning Gain project.  HEFCE have defined learning gain as “improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development made by students during their time spent in in HE”.  It looks at a broader range of outcomes than assessment results.  So far, 13 pilot projects have been funded to test and evaluate measures of learning gain.  The intention is that the project’s outcomes will enable teachers in classrooms to better determine impact/outcomes, ensuring that innovative teaching is leading to better student outcomes.

Future plans include refreshing question banks on learning resources to better reflect innovations in this area, and exploring ways to capture feedback from undergraduate and taught postgraduate students that is not covered in NSS and PTES surveys.

After the coffee break, Amy Solder, Director of the innovation lab Nesta, talked about their “Decoding learning: the proof, promise and potential of digital education” report, which explored how technology can support effective learning.  The study found there is a wealth of online resources available to teachers and learners, but limited innovation in the area of supporting online dialogue between teachers and learners.

Amy advised that the focus should be on learning, not technology – if you just do the same thing as before but with technology, you’ll get the same outcome but for more money.  Don’t evaluate in terms of how many computers, etc. you have, but in terms of how they are used.  Make better use of what you’ve already got.  When redesigning the curriculum, think what you want to achieve and design around it, rather than starting with the technology.

Aligned with Bob Harrison’s presentation, Amy supported the view that the investment should be in teaching practice, rather than technology.  The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of teachers.  Student performance highly correlates to teacher performance.

Case studies

The day then moved onto the case study presentations, from which I’ve selected a few to talk about in more detail:

Peter Kilcoyne, ILT director at the Heart of Worcestershire College, presented on how the college has taken a top-down approach to implementing blended learning across the curriculum, and the rationale for taking the approach.  In addition to the need to make cost savings, the desire was to improve students’ independent learning and digital literacy to prepare them for the future, and to enable ALL students to have the same opportunities to access engaging learning opportunities offered through technology.

The amount of blended learning provided purposely varies according to the level of learner, with level two learners receiving more face-to-face contact time than level three.  Teachers are encouraged to re-use existing resources that are publicly available wherever possible.  The focus has been on making the Virtual Learning Environment a place where students ‘do stuff’ rather than ‘get stuff’, and it is recognised that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate.  Instead, teachers have been encouraged to develop blended learning materials in a way that suits their course.  Examples include flipped classroom, test preparation, knowledge delivery, work placement reflections, projects and stretch (taking students to a better grade).  IT rooms are booked at specific times for students to work on their blended learning modules.

The impact has been an increase in learner success rates by 12% in 4 years, improvement in independent learning skills (reported in feedback from learners and teachers), increased flexibility in learning, and increased geographical reach.

Peter ended by talking about a consortium of FE colleges that has been formed to develop Open Educational Resources (OERs) for blended learning.  They will be focusing the next round of resources on digital literacy Level 2 & Level 3 and employability, so watch this space, or contact Peter if you want to get involved.

Dr Aleksej Heinze, Senior Lecturer at Salford Business School, gave some learning points he’s acquired from running a Digital and Social Media Marketing MOOC.  Tips included:

  • Consider how to handle positive and negative feedback via a variety of channels outside the MOOC, e.g. comments on Twitter
  • Create engaging online video – short, involving a range of speakers, include some captions to reinforce key points and provide transcripts. Don’t underestimate the time involved in developing videos
  • Consider how to provide references to resources that all students can access. They often had to resort to suggesting older materials.

The day ended with a panel discussion about balancing use of learning technology safely and making the most of it.  Key points included:

  • Personal privacy is a subjective issue; individuals have different expectations around personal privacy
  • Young people need to be more aware of how the information they put online is used, e.g. by marketing and commerce, and how to work safely online
  • The answer is not to block their access to online services; people who want to get through to young people will find a way and we will never keep up with all the services that are available.

This conference gave me insight into current conversations and directions in education that are valuable in providing context to my roles at Cardiff University and on the CILIP IL Group committee.  I will be looking out for further opportunities to attend similar events outside my own profession.

Find out how the CILIP Information Literacy Group can sponsor your attendance at similar events

Explore our resources on information literacy and digital literacy teaching

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