STUDENTS are returning to colleges across Scotland for the start of the new academic year. Of all those in society who have been disadvantaged by 18 months of lockdowns, social distancing, and all the associated public health measures necessary to fight this awful virus, students have had a particularly tough deal.
These formative years should be among the best of their lives: the point at which younger students transition to adulthood as they embrace new learning environments offering independence and specialist study to nurture their skills and discover lifelong friendships.
As professional educators, we relish the opportunity to help turn the dreams of these young – and often not quite so young – learners into reality and this year we are excited to return to more face-to-face learning, as we go beyond level 0.
Over the past 18 months, tertiary students in our colleges and universities rose valiantly to the significant challenges presented by the pandemic and deserve great praise for their fortitude and adaptability to remote and digital learning.
This year’s return to college is markedly different to last year. It is now clear that the vaccination programme is affording significant protection, certainly against the more deadly and serious effects of Covid-19.
At City of Glasgow College, we have no hesitation in urging all our staff and students who can get the vaccine to do so; as we know, getting vaccinated provides protection not just to the individual but also to the whole campus community.
We have therefore organised a vaccination bus to be located on our super campus in early September for any member of staff or student over 16 who hasn’t yet taken up the opportunity to be vaccinated.
Indeed, our top priority, remains the safety of all our students and staff. With that in mind, let me set out some of the measures we shall be deploying in August and September on campus – and these will be updated as many more students return to campus in October.
Our decisions are always aligned with the latest clinical and Scottish Government guidance.
First, we do not expect the full return of staff to campus from the beginning of term; our blended learning model will continue, and we shall be piloting a new model of hybrid working, with staff engaged in practical teaching or essential support typically on campus more often than those in academic or back offices services.
We shall keep this phased return under constant review.
And, in addition:
• Unless exemptions apply, face coverings must continue to be worn in all communal areas whenever inside the building
• We shall continue to encourage staff and students to undertake personal lateral flow testing twice weekly, providing kits free of charge
• Naturally, we expect anyone with any Covid-19 symptoms not to attend campus, but to remain at home and immediately arrange a PCR test
• Our enhanced cleaning regime will continue, with ample hand sanitiser and wipes across the college estate
• We are reminding everyone of the priority of good personal hygiene in fighting Covid-19, encouraging frequent hand washing and wiping surfaces and keyboards before and after use;
• We will maintain one metre social distancing in classrooms and workshops until end-September
• We will enhance ventilation and we already monitor Co2 levels in our intelligently designed super campus.
Our excitement and anticipation of the start of a new academic year is heightened this summer with the publication by the Scottish Funding Council of a groundbreaking report on the future of tertiary learning in Scotland.
Commissioned a year ago by Scottish Government Ministers, SFC’s ‘Coherence and Sustainability: A Review of Tertiary Education and Research’, this report underpins how we emerge as a tertiary sector to rebuild post-Brexit and re-energise our economy after the consequences of the pandemic, with a skills-led recovery.
The Scottish Funding Council has stepped up and taken a long-overdue, system-wide focus, drawing heavily on last year’s Cumberford-Little Report on the need for a single tertiary system that is agile, collaborative, and inclusive.
SFC’s focus on stimulating collaborative activity and breaking down hierarchies and silos is a driver to tackle deepening inequalities, complicated pathways to progression and greater partnership working.
SFC is similarly right to focus on boosting system leadership – as investing in today’s and tomorrow’s leaders is a pre-requisite to enable the scale of system change needed.
They should be commended for bringing a much sharper focus on the impact of colleges rather than their outputs. Moreover, the current model focuses unduly on inputs and arbitrary targets and acts as a disincentive to deliver the real time professional knowledge and world skills needed by our learners and employers. We need something more aspirational.
SFC’s report unquestionably goes into territory that is challenging, but they are doing the right thing by tackling this head on. The challenge is one that, ultimately, falls to the Scottish Government, though all actors in the system have a responsibility to support the broader view SFC has proposed.
For Government, the priority is to act boldly with pace and SFC is right to propose some tight timescales. We trust that the scale of the political ambition matches the scale of the profound challenges ahead.
New event will highlight benefits of hybrid model
CITY of Glasgow College is currently developing the concept of ‘hybrid learning’ and will share its insights at a Learning and Teaching conference in September.
The Let’s Get Phygital symposium aims to reflect on the mix of digital and physical learning that learners and teachers are now experiencing.
Head of Digital Skills, Joe Wilson
Open to all, the conference will explore blended approaches and share the latest trends.
High on the agenda will be the college’s new Visual Learning Lab (VLL).
A first for a college in Scotland, VLL technology will allow lectures to be delivered simultaneously to students on campus and to those studying remotely.
When the term begins, the VLL and a range of systems will let the college offer face-to-face teaching along with online engagement, and still be able to comply with 1m social distancing measures.
However, once these are relaxed, the hybrid model will continue as the college believes it will deliver a richer learning experience that will improve student attainment and overall satisfaction with their courses.
Head of Digital Skills, Joe Wilson, said the coronavirus pandemic has raised awareness of the advantages of technology and speeded up the adoption of good practice.
“We know already that learners are ready for this new approach and it is in no way diluting the important relationship between a teacher and the students, nor the cohesive aspect of learners working together,” he pointed out.
“They are still going to meet face to face but the new future is allowing learners to work more at their own pace, with a richer set of resources, giving them more collaborative experiences online alongside the workshop or classroom.”
A further digital development at the college is the switch to Canvas by Instructure as its new Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to replace the current platform, Moodle.
“Canvas will give our learners a much better mobile learning experience as it works more cleanly and efficiently on phones and tablets, and comes with a suite of collaborative tools which again makes it easier for people, wherever they are, to work in a group or submit assessments,” said Mr Wilson.
“It also has the ability to create individualised learning journeys. There are algorithms in the system that will allow a learner who has passed an assessment to access more advanced work, while someone who has struggled will get more support.”
The platform includes Canvas Commons, a repository that enables educators to find, import, and share resources which Mr Wilson said would help the college extend its reach throughout Glasgow and Scotland and also globally, supporting the sharing of open educational resources.