Photo Helen Richardson, Learning Innovation Manager at Gateshead College

Education That Gets You Ready for the Real World


Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Aug 21, 2017 – Click here for the Spanish version

The workplace is very different from the academic environment, and when students graduate college, they may not yet understand what it means to be a working professional or how to carry out their profession fully. In many cases, students are not taught what to include in a CV or resume in order to stand out from the crowd, as most colleges don’t teach these skills and students are left to figure it out on their own.

Gateshead College, in Gateshead, England, aims to ensure their graduates are well-prepared for the working world. Helen Richardson, learning innovation manager, and Stuart Horn, e-learning technologist, have come up with a variety of methods to help students in every field to reach their maximum potential and get ready for what they will face when they leave college.

Gateshead College has five campuses and over 5,000 students. They deliver higher education courses, post-graduate education, part-time programs and apprenticeships.

They have implemented three main initiatives to help students prepare for life after college.

The Careers Team

This is a dedicated team within the college that works alongside with the teaching staff in order to support students to acquire the skills they will need to land their dream job. These are some of the initiatives they have in place to successfully help students:

1. The Careers Team has partnered with entrepreneurs in the area, one for each faculty (catering, business administration, etc.), and they visit the college once a month to talk to students. This exchange allows students to ask questions about the field they are interested in joining and entrepreneurs provide them with feedback on the things that are important to learn, master, and expand on. This motivates students, because as Helen says, work life is very different from college life, and if a student is studying culinary arts, the end goal for them is to become a chef and not continue being a student. Seeing individuals that represent their future goals in front of them motivates them to become better students and professionals. The careers team makes sure that all students take part in practical work experiences before they graduate.

2. The careers team has a Learning Management System (LMS) called ‘On-Track,’ designed just for this area of the college, which allows the careers team staff to follow student progress. They have access to students’ CVs and can professionally assess whether a student is ready to enter the workforce, as well as the subjects, extracurricular activities, or additional skills they might need to acquire. This helps prepare the students by the time they graduate.

3. Helen, along with JISC (a non-profit organization in the United Kingdom that promotes the use and investment in education technology), have come up with several projects that use technology to enhance students’ learning and employability. First, they came up with the cARv Project. Helen was aware of the fact that sometimes a paper CV is not sufficiently accurate in letting the employer know about the skills the candidate has – especially a person who just graduated and probably has little to no experience in the workforce. She came up with an idea to insert augmented reality (a live or indirect view of a physical and real-world environment that is transmitted via a computer-generated input, such as audio or video) in the CV. With the help and funding of JISC, she filmed a short video of students performing a certain skill or task, for example chopping food, while the student talks to the camera and introduces him or herself. Then they generate a QR code for the video and include it in the CV with an opening letter giving the employer instructions on how to access the video. The employer can then scan the QR code with their phone and the video immediately pops up on their screen. This way not only does the student stand out, but the employer has an idea of who the student is and what their skills are, and can make a more informed decision.

Using Software to Make E-Learning Course Design Easier

1. Stuart Horn says that Articulate, a software tool that allows you to build interactive e-learning courses, has been a great addition to their Blackboard Open LMS. The e-learning team realized that instructors had a difficult time embracing technology. However, they also realized that when they effectively present the technology to each teacher and thoroughly explain how it works for their specific courses, they understand it better and are more open to embrace it. For this reason, H and the e-learning team have begun to make e-learning packages using Articulate. The process is so easy that they can personalize each course with the specific tools and content each teacher needs for their course.

2. Stuart has also been able to identify certain problems that faculty members have and tries to fix them using technology. For example, Travel and Tourism students hadn’t quite understood how to use technology in their studies, and most didn’t have the funds to travel around the world. As a result, Stuart created an interactive map of the world in Articulate and applied gamification into the pedagogical approach to get the students to be able to ‘travel’ through technology. For example, there’s an effective and fun way for students to learn world capitals. By using the Articulate map with Google Expeditions along with an interactive white board, the students can connect dots representing the capitals with their respective country. When they get a correct answer, a picture of that city pops up so they can learn what it looks like and the main interest points.

Implementing the Best Technology Available

Helen explains that she is all for technology in education, but that it can inhibit education if it is used without purpose and without considering the advantages and uses that the technology will have in a specific classroom.

1. Students in catering school have to be able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills to customers. With that in mind, Gateshead College opened its very own restaurant, Enfields Kitchen, and they invite the local community to eat there. When students have to present exams, the restaurant opens up and the students go into the kitchen with a camera on them the entire time. The students are watched live from the dining room by the paying customers. This makes students more mindful about how they handle the food and encourages them to conduct themselves professionally at all times. This also allows students to look at the footage after the exam so they can complete critical peer and personal reviews of their work, and assess what they need to improve on and which mistakes they made. This, Helen explains, is an effective way to use technology to enhance learning.

2. The college also uses technology to teach staff about technology. Since the college’s e-learning team is small and there are many faculty members and departments, it would be too time-consuming to teach each instructor individually how to use technology effectively. Helen, along with JISC, invented what they call the Innovation Chain. This means that Stuart meets with his team and 10 faculty members, for example, and teaches them about the tools and software available and what they can do with it. Faculty members are then asked to teach what they have learned to three other faculty members while using a Wiki, and record themselves on how they teach others. Then, the Wiki can be uploaded to the LMS so that other faculty members can log in and view it. This way, they can share valuable information with minimum effort.

3. Stuart shares that he is constantly talking to students to see what they are using in terms of technology. According to him, it would be wrong to apply types of technology that students do not use. Alternatively, the college aims to find out what the new and interesting tool are and looks for a way to implement them into existing technologies in an effective manner.

5 Tips to Get Ready for the Professional World While Studying

1. Use technology to self-assess your skills.You can record, photograph, and/or document your progress so you know what to work on, what you excel at, and track your overall progress.

2. Use technology to stand out to potential employers.All CVs look the same. With design, creativity, and some technology, you can create a CV that stands out from the rest. Make a video resume that shows your skills and energy to make an impression on the employer.

3. Be resourceful with technology to help you in what you need to work on.There is so much information online, you can learn practically anything. Take full advantage of those resources and reach out to experts to give you guidance. Experts in different subject matters can help guide you on what is important for you to know and how to make yourself stand out.

4. Master time management. Take e-learning courses anytime, anywhere, to build your skills at your own pace.

5. Start scouting for jobs before you graduate.This way, you will know the types of opportunities available, how the industry is evolving and what employers are looking for. It is always good to know how to perform well at an interview, even if you do not get the job. Ask for part-time jobs that can help you get a foot in the door of the industry of your choice and gain contacts and inside knowledge.

Bonus: Tomorrow, when you are a working professional, you will thank those who take the time to reach out, stand out, work hard, and get ahead.

Helen says that she will continue working to keep Gateshead College at the forefront when it comes to integrating technology in education. According to her, the college is full of forward thinkers who are continuously trying to develop and implement the best technology possible. The college believes in the power of gamification and the amount of learning that occurs when students are having fun. For this reason, they asked a games teacher to work with the E-Learning department to come up with fun and engaging ways to enhance learning. But as always, and most importantly, Gateshead College ensures their students are prepared for the real world and can leave college with the job of their choice and well-prepared to satisfy their employer. At the end of the day, that is the purpose of a college education.


Photos by: AFP – Scott Heppell