Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on March 01, 2018 – Click here for the Spanish version
Encourage students to be resilient, independent and lifelong learners. This is the central focus at City of Westminster College in the United Kingdom. This higher education institution strives to ensure students achieve higher success rates compared to the country’s average, placing among the 10% best-ranked colleges in the country and making it Central London’s Top Vocational FE College.
City of Westminster College (CWC) is working hard to improve student success rates and learner engagement. To do so, their goal is to inspire learners to use digital resources through a friendly virtual environment and to encourage interaction between students and well-trained staff in a stimulating way. “Our approach is that we are the facilitators of learning. Our strategy is to support our students and help them develop their skills and acquire knowledge through their own efforts and develop the ability to evaluate their own progress,” says Esam Baboukhan, e-learning manager at CWC.
Through CWC’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), students have continuous access to class content in and outside of the classroom, and their progress can be measured. “All of these things combined have increased the success rates because they create a really good foundation for students to succeed on their courses,” adds Baboukhan.
The first online resource implemented at CWC was the ClickView, an online system designed to upload videos and track learners as they complete interactive questions. “This was a project implemented first with a challenging group, and the results were very satisfying. We piloted it last year with a group called N.E.E.T, which stands for `Not in Education, Employment or Training,’ so they were quite disengaged. What we found is that video really did engage this type of learner,” explains Baboukhan.
An Inspirational Environment
All resources are available on the Virtual Learning Environment, and to avoid the ‘content depository’ mentality, City of Westminster College moved to Blackboard Open LMS, making the VLE more interactive and attractive for students. “It is working out well, especially the landing page, with a wider range of courses. Every course at the college has a Blackboard Open LMS course, which students use to find information, answer quizzes, and to submit assignments and assessments,” says Julie MacArthur, e-learning manager at CWC.
Baboukhan notes that the change has made it easier to access online content. “Moving to Blackboard Open LMS really improved the look and feel of our previous version. So now when students land on a Blackboard Open LMS homepage, they are presented with a list of courses that we want all students to undertake. To encourage usage, we are trying to make the homepage as dynamic as possible and to change the content on a weekly basis, and that follows some of our learning themes that we have and run every month, so students always expect something new in the homepage.”
In addition, eTracker, a tracking system that links with the Management Information System (MIS), was implemented for both students and teachers. eTracker is a platform where teachers and tutors can create actions for learners, track their progress and provide them with guidance and challenging goals.
Another resource that is greatly used to improve learning is Microsoft Office 365. Every student and staff member has an account with storage and relevant programs. “But what we’ve been pushing for more recently is the use of OneNote for Classroom, because it is far more interactive for students and allows us to capture the learning of those students,” adds MacArthur.
To ensure that online courses are built taking full advantage of the interactive tools, CWC introduced the idea of digital badges to gamify some of the courses. “We believe that gaming encourages learners’ motivation and completion. We also want to ensure that all of our courses have auto completion and tracking by default, and this is something we will introduce by September 2018,” says Baboukhan.
MacArthur thinks that a skilled and concerned staff member is also fundamental to ensure that students find an encouraging environment. “Student support is what really creates the effective learning environment, especially in the vocational context, which is what we really are. We have a section that most deeply focuses on vocational, so we have all the resources we need to make sure the students achieve a good qualification (education) and get what they need.”
E-learning Champions Scheme
With the aim to encourage independence, provide teaching staff with one-to-one support and improve their digital capabilities, CWC launched the E-learning Champions Scheme sometime last year. The pilot program offered three groups of teaching staff with hour-long sessions once a week, in the hopes that they can disseminate skills and help other staff members.
“We think it was a success, and now we are officially rolling it out to a new set of teachers this year. The idea is to use an approach where teachers can go through the scheme and that they will act as mentors or e-learning champions in their schools and spread good practices. It is a success, because we are working the confidence of teachers, and hopefully they will work as mentors in their schools,” comments MacArthur.
CWC is also implementing a digital ambassador scheme, in which a group of student mentors can help other students in the digital arena, such as privacy issues and proper social media use.
Microsoft Showcase School
CWC has been recently recognized by Microsoft as a Microsoft School, a program for schools working to transform education and integrate technology in their classrooms. The college is now working hard to also become a Microsoft Showcase School, a leadership-focused initiative to highlight and support a global community of schools engaged in digital transformation to create immersive and inclusive experiences.
“It demonstrates our commitment to embracing technology to transform education,” says Baboukhan. “We’ve set out some high targets to be in a position where we become one of the leading colleges in the UK that delivers good practices when it comes to using technology to personalize learning, engage learners and enhance the overall learner experience.”
“We use a lot of SCORM compliant materials delivered through the VLE. We use interactive videos that can be tracked in terms of assessment and views, and have plans to use the forums or Blackboard Open LMS to encourage reflection and dialog about students’ learning journey. We really feel this is an important area and it will only grow,” says Baboukhan.
SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) is a set of technical standards for e-learning software that determines how online content and learning management systems work together. Its main advantage is interoperability, and at CWC, it provides access to e-learning content that covers a range of curricular areas and also all general content that is cross-college, related to employability, British values and other topics. The content is created by a software called Articulate Storyline nurtured by SCORM, which gives the teachers the ability to track learner compliance.
CWC hosts over 70 screencast videos demonstrating how all the teaching and learning systems that teachers are expected to use actually work. All teaching staff have access to this content and the videos, of approximately seven minutes each, created by a college team and that include subtitles and captions to make them accessible for staff. “We are only at the beginning of this journey, and we are putting a lot of effort and work to improve the e-learning provision in college in every aspect of our system,” concludes MacArthur.
Photos by: AFP – Tolga Akmen