The Rapid Evolution of the Public Education Sector

By Joe Wilson, Head of Digital Learning, City of Glasgow College

Joe Wilson, Head of Digital Learning, City of Glasgow College

I was asked to make a contribution around how things like Artificial Intelligence, Cloud, Blockchain, IoT, Big Data and AR/VR are having an impact on the industry sector I work in. The answer to some who think the public education sector moves slowly, may surprise you.

I work in vocational education, to readership in the US, a community college, to colleagues in Europe a technical and vocational college. Our courses have to be cutting-edge to prepare learners for industry. At course level, all the technologies and practices associated with Industry 4.0 feature in the relevant programmes, so add cybersecurity, robotics, data analytics. If it’s happening in a specific industry, it will appear in an appropriate curriculum. In some courses we have drone pilots conducting surveys for new builds and maintenance contracts.

The college occupies two new builds in the centre of Glasgow, Scotland, one in the centre of town and one a Riverside Campus, a short distance away. Both are smart buildings, flooded with Wi-Fi, designed for bring your own device and housing a variety of innovative learning spaces designed for 35,000 learners. The classrooms and workshops are all equipped with the latest equipment and wireless data projectors. I am very privileged to work in a space like this.

"Assessments are all run through our similarity detection engine Turnitin, which is used both as plagiarism detection engine and more usefully as a rich feedback tool"

We are currently rolling out a national programme for the National Manufacturing Institute, Scotland, to support teachers develop, not their practical knowledge of these technologies, but the pedagogic skills to work in new ways with their learners and their peers cross institutionally. We have an ongoing project with a partner and the national awarding body in Scotland, The Scottish Qualifications e-portfolio to a digital portfolio of their work.

In our Riverside Campus we have 360-degree Virtual Reality Simulators for the next generation of global deck officers. They can pick a major harbour anywhere in the world and are assessed on their ability to work as a team on the bridge and navigate their ship safely to shore, in any sea condition and at any time of day. It is so realistic, standing on the bridge can make me seasick.

The challenge is how we embed these technologies in our administrative systems and in our teaching and assessment practices across the college. The candidates coming out of our ship simulators can still be faced with traditional learning and teaching in a classroom and dependent on the awarding body may still have to face pen and paper examinations. We need some of the external regulatory frameworks to flex to allow our teachers and learners to make full use of our Wi-Fi enabled campus, our virtual learning environment and all of the new collaborative technologies that we can deploy to support learners. Currently, we need to pick the technologies that reflect the aims and the outcomes of the learning. If the eventual assessment is still an essay, then while we can support learners with lots of digital materials, references, videos , collaborative spaces and new tools to support study techniques, ultimately we have to give them lots of essay writing practice to prepare them for their summative assessment. This limits the cost effective deployment of AR and VR and some other assessment technologies.

We have a rich suite of tools that we can use with learners. Our virtual learning environment is currently Moodle but we are looking at D2L and Canvas as cloud based solutions that could potentially offer both a more reliable service and a better mobile learning experience. Assessments are all run through our similarity detection engine Turnitin, which is used both as plagiarism detection engine and more usefully as a rich feedback tool. We are exploring both Google Education Apps and Microsoft 365 and how the respective systems can support new forms of learner interaction.

The ongoing competition between Google and Microsoft for the education space is good news overall for learners and teachers , but as yet neither of their offers really can take the place of the academic management that a virtual learning environment delivers, but they are very useful adjuncts. The data that comes from our VLE and other systems give us a rich dashboard giving us the analytics to support the learner experience.

Access to some technologies can be dependent on course. We support Mahara as an e-portfolio solution for any course that wishes to use it, OneFile a specialist portfolio tool for learners on some commercial apprenticeship programmes and a host of other solutions. Some staff use Wakelet extensively with their learners, Google Sites, Adobe Spark and a range of other solutions. Providing the app or platform is GDPR compliant and accessible, it can be used in learning and teaching.

I’ve worked as an independent educational consultant and have appraised a range of platforms and technologies over the years.—They all come with own benefits and challenges—the main thing is backing technology that fits the aims and outcomes of the learning and making sure it is as future proof and really operates with open standards. I don’t have an open cheque book; we operate within tight financial constraints within a regulated procurement regime. If I need something, I either need to use the existing national frameworks that are available through APUC, the national College and University buying consortium, or I have to raise a tender through Public Tenders Scotland.

Externally we look to the support of Jisc and the Association of Learning Technology who help us with practical advice and peer networking as we steer our staff and learners in the digital future.  

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