Guest Blog: Digital Transformation in Bridgend College

I am Digital Lead at Bridgend College and my remit is to enhance the delivery of the curriculum with emerging technologies and drive innovation across the curriculum; not just in IT or the STEAM subjects but in all areas, ensuring all of our learners have a deep understanding of the digital world and the technology it contains.

I have recently developed our College’s Digital Strategy in collaboration with our Deputy Principal Viv Buckley. This process has been a journey of co-construction and consultation and has resulted in a variety of learning opportunities. We engaged a Google professional development partner, Aspire 2Be, early on in the process who conducted a Digital Competence Review in December 2018, establishing a digital line in the sand for us to work from. Through subsequent Vision and Leadership sessions with Senior Leaders, Heads of Curriculum and in-house Learning Technologists, we co-constructed a bespoke plan of digital upskilling across our organisation. Through a series of two-day training sessions which to date has seen over 200 staff trained, our digital transformation is now well and truly underway and we owe a large part of that to Aspire 2Be. We feel that they truly share our People Centred values and have allowed us to strive towards technological innovation across the curriculum.

I often find that when discussing ‘digital innovation’ that many people have differing definitions of the phrase. Are we talking about innovation within the IT/computing/engineering curriculum, academic staff development or the showcasing of fun activities to improve recruitment? Are we discussing reduction of staff workload through technology or enhancing exposure for learners to content through cloud platforms or distance-learning?

There are many aspects to digital innovation and we have to be mindful of the endgame before worrying about the technology. What do we want to achieve? What is the goal? What problems exist that technology could address? We should always strive to put the goal/problem/learning objective first, and then introduce the technology.

Learners of today are increasingly accustomed to instant-access, quick-fire information through the likes of Snapchat, Instagram and other social networking sites. If learners expect this level of access to data in their personal lives, they will expect an equivalent in their professional lives. They will expect instant access to queries about their course, instant notifications about timetable changes and the ability to complete their entire application online. A future-ready college must allow for these processes, either through a student life app, automated chatbots or through access to resources on Classroom and similar. As data becomes more ubiquitous, Colleges will be able to draw increasingly more meaningful insights from that which they collect, and data analysis will become more and more central to an organisation’s practises moving forward. The ICT/Computing curriculum should adapt in this area to support development, as data scientists are in increasingly high-demand across Wales and the UK.

Improving digital skills should be about the technology that is useful within the chosen field of a learner. The creation of websites is now as simple as creating a Powerpoint presentation with Google Sites and there is no reason why every Hair & Beauty learner can’t have their own website advertising their products and services. Smart homes and Internet of Things devices are transforming the healthcare sector and our Health & Social Care learners must be made aware of the benefits and challenges that this technology introduces and how to operate, develop and troubleshoot similar devices. Some of the performance analysis technology used in the Sporting environment is amongst the most advanced in the world and the animation and games design industry is progressing at an alarming rate. Each curriculum area and each sector of society has its own interpretation of digital innovation and while the fundamental skills are transferable and common to each thread, it is my belief that any College’s proposal to improve digital competence across the board must be coupled with the learners’ individual areas of interest. By tailoring a digital experience to their chosen field of study, we are able to explain the relevance of what they are doing and interest them concurrently.

Technology provides opportunities to achieve experiences that would have simply not been possible in previous years and capitalising on the benefits that technology can bring while keeping the learning outcomes at the centre of the design will allow learners to have a far richer experience of education than ever before. We must, however, be mindful of the pitfalls of technology and not allow some of the more negative effects to take hold. There are serious discussions to be had around the adverse effects on mental wellbeing that technology can encourage and everyone involved must do their part to ensure that our learners and our staff are still able to have the time and the headspace to connect with each other and the world around them. The aforementioned instant access to resources, data and notifications must be handled in a controlled way so that staff members don’t feel obliged to respond to queries outside of normal working hours and learners don’t feel overwhelmed by information that doesn’t allow them to have free time to themselves.

Colleges should lead the way in flexible, responsible working and set the example for businesses to follow. Our goal after all is to produce learners who are happy and can meaningfully contribute to society. That will be achieved by engaging them while co-developing technological solutions that enable all members of the College to function to their highest potential.