Weston College is an Ofsted outstanding college of further and higher education in Weston-super-Mare in the southwest of the UK. It provides education and vocational training to nearly 30,000 learners across the country that include school leavers, on-work apprentices, degree students, prisons and adult learners looking to get back into education or to be re-skilled. To broaden the possibilities for the learners, Weston chose a 24-seat weConnect virtual classroom.
Engaging for all the different audiences
Like most other institutions, Weston found itself rapidly mobilising remote learning at the outbreak of Covid-19. As utilisation of conference-style software grew, the College also recognised that they should ultimately seek out a longer-term solution that meets their requirements for digital education. Dr Paul Phillips, CBE – Principal and Chief Executive - was determined that the College move forward and asked Jonathan Hofgartner the College’s Director for Technology, Learning Resources and Progression Skills to find a solution. Jonathan points to their desire to put the pedagogy “front and centre” in all discussions about remote learning solutions. “It's not about the technology,” he says. “It's around your intentions and planning for that lesson. Hopefully, [the technology] makes it easier in terms of engaging with the audience and giving them an experience that is as comparable as we can to a face-to-face session. It was also important that the solution be engaging for all the different learners they cater for, many of whom are entirely remote.”
Non-verbal cues during teaching
Very quickly, Weston identified the in-class experience as important for everyone concerned. The College anticipated that remote meeting fatigue may grow among learners, so they were looking for something that allows for body language. More specifically, a solution where the teacher can move around, express themselves and maybe bring things into that space for the remote learners to see and connect with. weConnect allows this.
They also wanted to help teachers to pick up on some of the social or non-verbal cues as well. Jon commented: “When the teachers are looking at the students in front of them, how can we make that really visual so that they can maybe see if a student is trying to think something through or maybe doesn't quite understand the description of something.”
Applications in all areas of the curriculum
Weston is already preparing for future digital delivery models with its partners at the West of England Institute of Technology. The virtual classroom will allow partners to share teaching across the region, on specialist areas. This gives all the IoT students access to cutting edge research and guidance, no matter where they are across the West. The College is also involved in finding the best way to attract and cater for, notably, adults returning to education. In many cases, they might be trying to get the education and retraining while working around family time or part-time work. How can Weston provide a model that enables them to learn in that sort of space? “We will be thinking about that and we will be advancing different delivery models,” according to Hofgartner. “The weConnect virtual classroom will be part of that for certain groups of learners. There are applications in all areas of your curriculum where you could use this,” he adds. “Looking at it as a solution within further education, it also gives you that breadth to look at things like office space and employee engagement.”