FE Skills Window – focusing in

Getting the scope of this project right is essential if we are to achieve our aims and make an impact. In the first few months of the project we’ve been reviewing Jisc content services, running workshops with the community and engaging with people and organisations that are key to the success of the project. We now have a clear understanding of what we’ll achieve – always with the caveat that whatever we develop technically will be led by the users.

Our project vision is to provide simple, flexible and easy to navigate routes to existing Jisc digital content that is directly relevant to curriculum, qualifications and working practices. In order to do this we’ve been having a close look at the existing Jisc content which has, to date, been primarily developed for Further Education.

We’ve adjusted the scope of the project to focus in on content for FE and skills taught within FE colleges. Historically Jisc hasn’t specifically created content services for the skills sector so there isn’t much existing content for us to aggregate (a key objective of this project). Our project is about improving infrastructure that is sustainable and allows for growth, we’re hoping that as content and services develop for the skills sector our infrastructure will be expanded to include/aggregate it. Our model will also point, where possible, to open and free content meaning that anyone from any sector can use the tools we develop.

Skills is still within our project title and objectives, we’ll be engaging with FE colleges and specifically the fantastic Skills Centres within an increasing number of FE college campuses.  To better understand the needs of learners, practitioners and vocational trainers within those Skills Centres we are actively meeting with practitioners in these settings.  This week Susanne Boyle (the project Director at Mimas) had the opportunity to visit and tour the £8 million Skills Centre located on the Glasgow Clyde College- Cardonald Campus. During the tour Jim Taylor, Head of  Construction, described the diversity of learners the Skills Centre supports and the breadth of full time and part time courses, ranging from Introductory craft courses through to HND programmes.

The range of laboratories and bespoke craft sites within the centre was impressive, enabling learners to develop skills in Carpentery & Joinery, Construction, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Thermal Insulation, Jewellery and Silversmithing,  Plumbing and Renewable Resources.

skills_centre

The facilities support individual skills development or small group activities encouraging team working and effective communication.

It was noted that many of the students relish the hands on experiences but some  are less engaged in didactic teaching settings making the availability of interactive digital resources all the more critical. Certainly the small class sizes (max number 16) and modern classroom settings provided the ideal learning environment for inclusion of interactive resources in the face to face sessions but the subscription and licensing costs were noted as potential barriers to more wide scale adoption.

In that regard, we’re really pleased that there are a number of initiatives that have already started in Jisc specifically supporting the skills sector, for example the Interactive Learning Resources for Skills project that is expanding the e-books provision. Augmented Reality was discussed as a potential innovation which would enable layering of  information onto plumbing and electrical systems and construction mock ups enabling learners to re-visit and revise key facts and information at sites distant from the formal learning space.

The Jisc Digital Resources working group, “FE Horizons” is evaluating the FE Skills landscape; Jisc offer to that community and identifying user needs in terms of resources, tools and training. As the name suggests the horizons open to FE Skills learners are many and varied and the “HE in FE” activities of Jisc are reflective of the career paths available via FE articulation routes.

Serendipitously Susanne’s tour of  the Skills Centre happened upon a display of Jewellery crafted by  HNC 1 students of the Jewellery and Silversmithing course. As the final photo illustrates  below these students are well on their way to developing skills in silversmith and  enterprise which should equip them well for their careers post qualification or indeed  further HE studies at one of the partnering Schools of Art.

Looking to the months ahead, as this project progresses we are committed to  working  with FE colleges  and will  continue to look closely at other new Skills Centres within FE to better understand the practitioner and learner needs and ideally provide an evidence base to assist Jisc with the commitment of supporting FE Skills more generally.

Laura Skilton (Project Manager) and Susanne Boyle (Project Director)