Tools not toys
Equipping ourselves with the right tools can make a big difference to creating effective digital learning resources. Below are some thoughts on how you can find and select which tools to connect and engage with your learners.
How can those in ACL, Work based learning and FE sectors, develop practices around using digital to enhance, underpin or facilitate the learning?
For educators, in many circumstances, the content being taught hasn’t changed for some time and the learning outcomes remain the same. But the way in which educators are being asked to deliver their teaching is being dramatically shifted into new mediums such as online or using digital.
It is important to note that ‘digital’ is the vehicle. When thinking about digital learning resources, ‘digital’ is an enabler to delivering content in ways that differ to traditional ‘in-person’ teaching, but which that can support and underpin those more traditional methods.
The content is still important and a well-designed resource with good content, that is focused on the learning outcomes is more important than using the most innovative, fashionable and flashy platforms.
The digital skills educators in our sectors are taking on, means that there is a great opportunity. This opportunity is to develop confidence and more robust practices around using digital in teaching and learning. Investing time and effort into overcoming these challenges can open doors to tools and techniques that can be a part of a more dynamic experience. For both learners and educators in the future.
Time is not a commodity easily found at the best of times. As with all aspects of delivering content, careful thought and planning should be given to how and why a method of delivery is chosen.
What’s in the Tool Box?
If part of a wider organisation, many educators in WBL, ACL and FE will have an array of supported tools that are available. It is a good idea for educators to explore what tools are available from within their organisations first. Ask your colleagues if there are examples of good practice.
Depending on what is available within your organisation, you may want to look into digital tools a little further afield. 3rd party tools can offer creativity in developing the curriculum. Some allow incredible engagement opportunities. With the right planning, the learning with these tools can be very effective. Expanding the opportunities for learners to study in a more engaging and/or collaborative way as well as being available out of hours.
How do you decide which tools or platforms to use? It can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, or in fact, a needle in a stack of needles. Especially for those who haven’t been engaged in developing digital elements in their teaching before.
There are various sites that list tools for educational use. Top Tools for Learning, for example, offers a list of the most common tools based on recommendations from practitioners and is updated each year.
A good fit
Curriculum design has been an important element of any learning and teaching planning. This shouldn’t be overlooked when using digital tools for learning resources. Many see digital as an injection of innovation, but poor planning of implementing digital tools could be counter-productive to the learning. There should be good reason for any tool use. Not just because it is digital.
The important rule to remember is: what do I need the tool to do? Knowing what you are looking for in a tool can help create a shortlist rather than searching without a proper aim. It is also important to find a tool that is a good fit for the job you are looking to fulfil. Be aware of changing the learning to fit around a tool. Don’t let the tail wag the dog.
Avoid using tools for roles that they weren’t designed for. A square peg in a round hole leaves gaps.
As an example, Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Google Hangouts have been widely praised in supporting online teaching. The best tools for collaborating and allowing learners to work together maybe a great way to encourage engagement. There are many wellbeing positives to acknowledge in group work. But if the curriculum is not designed around it, then the learning could feel clunky. Group activities may not be the best fit for particular learning outcomes. In the Jisc Digital Insights survey from students, around a quarter of students (FE 29%, HE 24%) said they had never worked online with others. So, jumping straight into group activities because the most popular tools are geared for it, without proper planning or learner support, could be a less effective experience for your learners.
Any tool is ok?
It is worth considering how the tool is to be used with your learners. Not all tools and platforms are as reliable as we would like. If investing a lot of time into planning and preparing content, it is worth having a backup in mind. Third party tools are outside of your control. The content and data within are not owned by your organisation. If a service is changed, dropped or disappears without warning, what does that mean for all that planning. Handouts can be called upon if a tool fails to perform as expected. I’m sure I’m not the only person to plan a session to find that the content is inaccessible or even worse, no trace at all on the day of delivery.
It is also worth considering the policies an organisation has on third party tools. It is vital that a tool used complies with all the policies regarding your teaching. In many of the VLE reviews I have run across the sector in both HE and FE, I have seen that clear policies can make robust foundations of understanding what an educator needs to bear in mind when using third party tools.
. Those organisational policies will be purposely written to check that learners, staff and the organisation itself are not put at risk.
- Is the tool GDPR compliant?
- Does it comply with accessibility standards?
- Who owns the data?
- What action can be taken if there is an incident? eg. Bullying or wellbeing
It is not acceptable for educators to use tools where they are unaware if they comply with the organisational policies.
It has always been necessary, not only in the model of teaching and learning from home, that safe use of third party tools is essential when developing digital learning resources.
Fine tune for future use
Listening to other educators around the use of digital learning resources, as well as comparing with personal experiences and asking your learners to feedback [on their learning experiences], will be key in developing sturdy frameworks that can be embedded in your practice.
Investing time and effort into overcoming the challenges of using digital will open doors to tools and techniques that can be a part of a more dynamic experience. For both learners and educators in the future.