Andrew Hunter

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Minimising disruption to on-campus and online teaching and learning

From the deployment of new education technologies to the remote management of college software systems and processes, FE institutions have had to adapt rapidly since the end of March.

Moving learning online

When colleges were forced to close their campuses for face-to-face teaching to help limit the spread of Covid-19 they very quickly moved thousands of students to online learning. The sudden switch to remote delivery meant college IT infrastructure had to cope with the increase in demand to ensure students and staff could access key college systems at home.

The challenge was maintaining a secure online environment while supporting the use of technology in learning and teaching.

Despite the fundamental change to how colleges were operating many business processes still had to take place, from the fulfilment of statutory obligations to maintaining cashflow in order to pay staff and suppliers. With more staff working remotely, some of these presented additional compliance responsibilities.

Colleges have had to transform existing on-campus processes to online, requiring supporting systems to be updated to allow students to enter their details, submit evidence or coursework and access a wider range of payment options. Some colleges were able to adapt quicker and manage the process of remote learning better than others. Given how diverse the sector is – institution size and locations, breadth of subjects and mix of full and part-time learners – this is understandable.

Improving operational efficiencies

Yet amid all the business continuity requirements and remote service delivery demands, it’s been encouraging to see many colleges take this opportunity to innovate by using technology to improve operational efficiencies – from virtual open days to paperless admissions.

Innovation doesn’t have to mean revolution. Few colleges can afford to replace the legacy technology investments they have already made. Instead, many have looked to integrate and enhance existing infrastructure. As colleges prepare to re-open their campuses this autumn, what can the sector learn from lockdown to help minimise disruption and create an effective online student experience? Here we look at three areas:

1. Applications and enrolment

Enrolment days, typically with queues of students waiting to sign forms, need to change to limit movement and social contacts on campus. But by replacing paper-based elements of the process, colleges can reduce pinch points on campus, and students can complete the necessary administration online.

Implementing a payment solution that integrates with your website and management information system allows students to pay directly for their course as part of the enrolment process. For those students who require fee assessment, this provides an easy way to enrol and pay without any interaction with the college.

2. Exams and assessment

A secure, auditable student information system is essential for keeping learners’ data safe. Integration with college LMS, VLE and Student Portals allow teaching staff to support blended learning and carry out assessments that can then be automatically recorded in your college MIS. Having easy access to accurate student data may be essential for future centre assessment grades - not just for exam certification, but for progression to further learning or their chosen career path.

3. Communication and engagement

For colleges now evaluating education technology, adding greater personalisation will be key to boosting engagement – in teaching and in student services such as wellbeing and safeguarding.

It’s important that communication tools are accessible for staff and students, easy to understand and provide a holistic view of college life, learning and support. Digital engagement tools need to be secure and provide regular, timely and personalised updates.

This where FE has the potential to use automation and artificial intelligence more innovatively. Even before lockdown we were starting to see the rise of new technologies like digital campus assistants have a significant impact on the learner experience, with chatbots deployed to enhance a range of services used by students, teachers and support teams across FE institutions.

Supporting technology-powered learning

We are delighted to be hosting a joint webinar with Collab Group where our panel will be exploring some of the challenges and opportunities for colleges looking to plan a post-lockdown digital strategy to deliver more education and manage more processes online. Find out more and register your place for ‘Delivering effective and engaging technology-powered learning’ on Tuesday 6 October at 2pm.

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