Digital Community of Practice

An ETF funded OTLA Digital Project for South Tyneside

December 2018

About South Tyneside

Hello and welcome to our third project digital newsletter.

South Tyneside is a great place to live and work! We have so much to offer, including a rich cultural heritage, spectacular scenery and a strong community spirit.

We have an excellent skills base for sectors including Advanced Engineering and Manufacturing, Business Process Outsourcing, Port and Logistics, Low Carbon Energy and Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles, Construction, Leisure and Retail, Culture and Tourism and Health and Social Care.

The education and training offer aims to cater for the current and emerging skills requirements. Online learning will be an important strand of this.

About the project

There are a great number of small but perfectly formed training providers operating in South Tyneside who perform a great service for South Tyneside residents. However, it's often difficult to keep up with the latest trends. This is why we aim to share ideas, develop skills and the capabilities of staff and students in our Digital Community of Practice.

In this newsletter you can find out about the progress participating providers are making.

Promoting and Embedding English and Maths

CFNE provides post-16 education and training. Occasionally learners aged 14-16 attend full time. CFNE provides specialist support for vulnerable learners, particularly young parents. The range of provision has expanded and also includes Initial Teacher Training.

CFNE understand that developing life and employability skills must include promoting and embedding English and maths across the curriculum. Self-assessment has evidenced that the delivery of English and maths is as good. However, it is a key area for this provider to improve in order to demonstrate outstanding teaching, learning and assessment.

The aim is therefore to explore through action research what specific areas require improving and how can a digital approach improve the promotion and embedding of English and maths.

Project Successes

CFNE has conducted detailed research with practitioners. From this research CFNE identified some practical ways to improve, some of these were non-digital, for example, in arranging sessions for Functional Skills tutors to update vocational tutors in English and maths targets and delivery techniques as well as the use of homework and extension activities.

Practitioners have attended a number of CPD sessions to explore what digital approaches would add value to their approach. CFNE now has found a suitable vehicle in using Google Sites (including Google Classroom) to overcome any barriers learners may have in accessing digital delivery.

CFNE has established a Google site where English, maths and vocational tutors can co-ordinate, promote and embed English and maths across the curriculum. Approaches have been piloted with a Level 3 full time programme to good successes with learners developing their digital skills, continuously increasing their participation with the project through increasingly submitting their work and assignments on the site, extension tasks and independent learning have been easier for learners to engage with as they’re available on the site (such as BBC Bitesize) and it has also saved tutor time as submission of learners work is now predominantly digital.

Project Challenges

Staff travel and work between two centres which makes co-ordination and communication more difficult so developing the Google site has helped address those issues. The biggest challenge faced has been that tutors have limited time to produce additional resources to upload to the Google site. To combat this tutors have tasked the group of learners accessing the site to produce a resource as part of their own learning making it even more interactive.

Looking Ahead

Now that the project has been fully embedded self-assessment will be undertaken using the JISC self-assessment tool. This will be to measure changes/improvement and distance travelled in effective practice and use of technology. Tutors of vocational subjects delivered within CFNE have stated that they are more likely to embed Functional Skills within their delivery by accessing the resources available on the Google site so this will be adopted as best practice across all provision.

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Developing Links with Employers

AutismAble provides specialist education and training for those learners on the autistic spectrum. For many learners, the pathway to employment can seem distant. It is often difficult to get work experience or any other experience of the workplace. Additionally, many employers are hesitant and untrained in how to support the needs of a learner with autism. This might be in either simply delivering informative and motivational talks, offering work experience or interview opportunities to learners.

The aim of the project is to establish a ‘digital bridge’ with local employers and, through effective partnership, improve the learners’ experience and understanding of the work place.

Working collaboratively, AutismAble set out to create videos with employers that can be used in the learning environment regularly and repeatedly to enhance understanding.

Project Successes

Learners have been involved from the outset in developing their project approach. They have created their own Padlet for sharing ideas and have created digital newsletters for parents and employers, for example. Through a Business Administration Study Programme, learners have planned and organised an Employer Engagement event in April 2018. They presented successfully to a group of employers, speaking of career aspirations and barriers to access. Two employers have given assurance and joined the digital project.

One of the employers has provided a Digital Skills Master Class in image editing. Learners have created storyboards for employer interviews.

Learners and practitioners also attended a SEND Employment Workshop in Gateshead and have established new employer links. ASDA and the Customs House are now active project participants.

The videos have recently been developed and are ready for 2018-19 delivery.

Project Challenges

Accessing paid employment and work experience remains as long-term significant issues for some learners with autism. There are short term successes in terms of improved employability and improvements in teaching, learning and assessment. The long term impact, however, is around employment. Further work to improve employer understanding and develop learner employability skills will continue to be needed, incorporating both digital and non-digital approaches to reduce reluctance of their engagement due to time/financial concerns. Some learners were anxious about being in a video and it being shown to others but familiarity with the video creation process has helped with this.

Looking Ahead

AutismAble will be utilising the videos developed in its delivery model for 2018-19. They will conduct further research with learners and practitioners to determine the extent to which improvements have been made in teaching, learning and assessment. Further self-assessment will be undertaken using the JISC self-assessment tool. This will be to measure changes/improvement and distance travelled in effective practice and use of technology. Learners have continued to engage well with the project and are producing feedback videos discussing their positive experiences to be used in publicising the project with South Tyneside Training Provider Network and on South Tyneside Council's website.

Online Teaching and Assessment

SHCA learners are both employed and unemployed. Employed learners work in various health and social care roles. Action research with both tutors and learners indicated there were some delivery problems. It was sometimes difficult for learners to get to scheduled sessions due to work commitments and shift patterns. Training and updating is needed regularly. The travel distance, time spent travelling and associated costs for both employed and unemployed learners were also factors in determining why changes were needed.

Distance and blended learning was the solution to be explored. SHCA looked to pilot Google Classroom as a way to address these issues and at the same time reduce the administration work and costs associated with producing paper based work products to learners.

Following some initial training, The Safe Handling of Medication course was uploaded onto Google Classroom and piloted with a group of learners. This has been successful. Further research and feedback from learners had helped SHCA to identify what worked well, what did not and what was liked and not liked about the delivery.

Project successes

The pilot of Google Classroom has worked well and SHCA is now looking to introduce this for all the courses they deliver. Paper based materials will remain available for those who prefer.

SHCA has been able to learner from good practice elsewhere and apply to learning. For example, Plickers has been introduced into all delivery sessions in place and is being used at the beginning of each session as a way to check understanding from the previous session.

A suite of suitable laptops is being purchased to ensure that IT access is not a barrier to learning. Other aspects of delivery are being trialled online. For example, SHCA hope to use Google Forms to provide more regular course feedback which can be used to plan improvements in subsequent delivery.

Sunderland Home Care have continued to expand delivery through Google Classroom throughout their provision and are achieving high success rates with no reduction in achievements in comparison to classroom based learning. Learners have responded well to the platform with resoundingly positive feedback received and it has also sped up tutor grading of paperwork as this is submitted electronically.

Project challenges

Google Classroom was new to both tutors and learners. Seemingly small barriers needed to be overcome, for example, in creating a valid gmail account or access code. Learners had variable digital skills levels which creates practical problems to be resolved prior to beginning learning. IT access was limited but this should be resolved with the purchased suite of laptops. Some formatting issues were experienced initially with uploading forms and this was rectified through small changes and re-uploading to Classroom but this did incur some staff time outlay.

Looking ahead

SHCA are aiming to deliver more courses through Google Classroom as it is a much more accessible platform for their learners to engage with. It has streamlined their assessment processes and internal quality assurance as both can be completed digitally within the platform so expanding this across all provision is the aim as this will also have the benefit of reducing their carbon footprint through a reduction in staff and learner travel as well as printing and paper use. SHCA as well as the other providers are planning to share the successes of the project through a presentation with South Tyneside Provider Network and by publicising the project on South Tyneside Council's website.

Bringing it all together

Following the success of each of the three projects that have been undertaken plans are underway to share the process with the South Tyneside Training Provider Network through a presentation as well as South Tyneside Council's website. The Skills Service at South Tyneside Council will also send a communication to their network of training providers to publicise the good work with the hope of encouraging other providers to see the benefits of undertaking a digital approach to learning.

Further action research will be conducted with learners and practitioners. The JISC benchmarking tool will enable us to evaluate the digital distance travelled. Self-assessment against the Common Inspection Framework and practitioner self-assessment against the professional standards will also inform progress.

The project has benefited from specialist training for Google Classroom and associated products along with further training and accreditation through Gateshead College’s Level 4 Digital Educator's Award.

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Presentation at Ramside Hall

Click the button to see the presentation of our project to the OTLA Final Dissemination Event at Ramside Hall, Durham on 17th December 2018.

For further information about this project

You can read more about this project on the Excellence Gateway at