Friday, 15 June 2018

Digital apprenticeships - a brief Q&A

A little CPD was in order to acquire some current insights about the changes made in UK apprenticeships.  The Blended Learning Essentials suite of courses has once again come handy for this through their fourth instalment; Digitally-Enriched Apprenticeships.

I've focused on some parts that interested me, however slightly different this time.  The content prompted me to construct this post as a brief Q&A where I answer my own questions which helped me to reaffirm some particular aspects of the course.

How can apprenticeship programmes make use of digital methods that have a natural fit of what apprentices are expected to do?

This prompted me to recall a chat I had with James Clay when asked about my experiences of when I delivered a digital apprenticeship:

James - "What are the issues you have identified in embedding technology in supporting apprenticeships?"
Me - "An issue I have identified is trying to use appropriate tech that minimises learner interruption in their work."
Me - "Yes, but WBL is about doing real work and acquiring industry knowledge, skills and experience."
James - "Can we provide a total digital experience for all apprentices to enhance and support them? Should we?"
Me - "Yes we can/should use a wide range of blended and flipped approaches, to give more time to get work experience."
James - "What are the opportunities to exploit technology to deliver high-quality apprenticeships more effectively?"
Me - "Identifying on, off and near the job learning first then deciding suitable tech. More -"

The message I was getting across here was enabling more time for apprentices to get more work experience and evidence.  Yes they will need to have off-the-job training on various things, but ultimately apprentices have have pursued an apprenticeship to get that industry experience.  Tangible evidence should then derive from all of the work activities, not making the process more complicated.  Digital technology should be used intelligently to wrap around this process to make it more effective.  As a result, digital technology should help motivate learning, prepare apprentices for a digital workplace and improve the learning, assessment and quality assurance processes for apprentice, employer and training provider.

That said, it is still highly important that the practitioner puts in a lot of effort in analysing what their apprentice's need and how they will respond to this that satisfies the End Point Assessment (EPA) and other related processes.

The 'Future Apprenticeships Toolkit, section 10: Curriculum Design’ suggests the following three issues for consideration;

  • Making sure that the early stages of a programme are sufficiently engaging to retain apprentices through into end point assessment
  • Finding innovative, effective and contextualised ways of meeting minimum Maths and English requirements
  • Integrating technology, or using distance learning to support achievement.

How can these be addressed through creative use of digital technology?

As mentioned above, I feel all of this comes down to putting quite a lot of effort into knowing who your apprentices are and what they need and understanding the work industry and the programme.  Yes some apprentices will have more needs than others, however, if you can tailor the apprenticeship programme to what their needs are, whilst including industry needs (workplace context), you will have a better idea on how and where the above can be integrated.

To sum up, the apprentice wants to get work experience and knowledge of that particular job role or within that industry area.  If you can emphasise this as the forefront of the apprenticeship programme, that will gain attention/appeal.  Then it requires the apprentice to be committed and motivated to be successful, with facilitated support.  I feel it's also about scaffolding an apprentices development throughout the programme and helping them to achieve and exploit their potential.  That should be enough to retain engagement to completion, unless the apprentice has an opportunity to obtain a job at the end of the programme, then that should be a great anchor.

It's been a while since I line managed, trained and assessed the Digital Learning Design apprentices, which became my brainchild when I worked at an FE college.  When I was assessing Digital Learning Design apprentices, I used an holistic approach to structure the programmes more effectively - which I talked about here.  You can see parts of the assessment plan in this video of my presentation slides.

What is an EPA and how can digital technology help make the process easier for all stakeholders?

The EPA is a the final assessment (summative) in the apprenticeship programme.  This is delivered by an independent registered apprentice organisation.  The EPA aims to demonstrate an apprentice's job and work readiness in terms of their knowledge, skills and behaviour.  Ensuring readiness and preparing for submission for the EPA is a key issue of the apprenticeship programme.  The employer and training provider decide whether an apprentice is ready to submit their EPA.  As part of that readiness, an apprentice must achieved all required qualifications and gained all required competencies of their apprenticeship standard.  An ePortfolio containing on-programme assessments (formative) evidence of work practices and reflections etc can show readiness for EPA.  The ePortfolio does not form part of the EPA, it is only to be used to demonstrate that the apprentice is ready to submit an EPA.  The EPA can include the following assessment methods, all of which can be made digital: MCQs; interviews; observations; presentations; journal; ePortfolio.  However, these assessment methods should relate to the type of work the apprentice is doing in the workplace.

Digital technology can be used seamlessly here, if all stakeholders involved are clear on the process and know how to access and use it.  For example, a good Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or ePortfolio system that has the capability to upload evidence, create/support learning activities and allows collaboration and tracking of documentation and being made visible.

As part of the new Apprenticeship Standard, apprentices need to be competent across specified knowledge, skills and behaviours.  How can assessors clarify the difference between knowledge, skills and behaviours?

In the context of workplace learning, they mean:

  • Knowledge - workplace/industry information and technical know-how
  • Skills - applying workplace/industry knowledge and doing it effectively
  • Behaviours - mind sets and approaches required for competence, including interpersonal skills and professionalism

Like when assessing you could approach this in a similar way.  Within the Apprenticeship Standards, you could look for the following to help you set them apart:

  • Knowledge - look for facts/information verbs; understand, explain, describe
  • Skills - look for doing/performance verbs; create, plan, prepare, produce
  • Behaviour - look for act/responsibilities verbs; conduct, respond, demonstrate, take lead

Other than a standard eILP, how can apprentices demonstrate where they are to where they will be once completing an apprenticeship?

An eILP is an electronic Individual Learning Plan that details a learner's starting point and where they are heading to, including milestones and support needs.  I encouraged my apprentices to create a blog and document their learning and thoughts throughout their programme.  This ranged from good practices they found, models and how they could be applied and techniques they had learned for using software and so forth.  Alongside this I used appraisals and a professional development plan to align their professional goals and training.  Having seen their blogs, it also gave me an insight into what they were thinking, obstacles they are experiencing and how they viewed their job roles.  I was able to tactfully bring these up in one to ones which scaffolded their development and allowed me to introduce resources and strategies for them to be more employable once they had completed.

What other creative ways can training providers deliver the 20% off-the-job training?
Typically, an apprentice may spend 80% of their time in the workplace and 20% of their time doing off-the-job training.  This can be in the form of day release with the training provider or training provided by the employer, via face-to-face, blended or online.  Blended learning is encouraged as it is not permitted for all off-the-job training to be delivered via distance learning.
However, I strongly advise using what is already out there and contextualise it to the apprentices needs and role.  We need to inspire and motivate apprentices to be independent and keep up to date and continuously improve themselves.  This comes back to being a modern professional learner/worker that I mentioned at the bottom of this post.  So why not set them tasks or signpost them to some online resources where they can use their time wisely on developing additional skills or improving existing ones in relation to their programme and role.  This will build their independence and develop their digital capabilities in the process.
How can you build a community of practice with apprentices and maintain it's momentum?
Discussions will start and die naturally.  So try not to force them too much.  Apprentices will most likely know when and who to ask for help, whether that be in the workplace or not.  Encourage apprentices to create an online community or one you have set up, or even ask them to cultivate their own Personal Learning Network - this could even form evidence somewhere.

Not only does it support building a network, but in a creative industry it allows people to share and build on others work through peer feedback.  Not everyone gets to see each others work in meetings or one to ones, so it helps make their work more visible - I used Yammer with my apprentices to do just this and I also used discussion forums as etivities.  Jisc did a case study on my practices 'rethinking assessment of work-based learning'.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Visibility matters for digital capabilities

Inspired by my recent debut attendance at the UCISA 'Spotlight' event, which included a workshop by Donna Lanclos and Lawrie Phipps on making our digital practices visible.  I thought I would explore this a little as I found it a really interesting thing to do.

As digital technology has become extremely embedded within our lifestyles, it can appear somewhat invisible.  To me this can pose a barrier for those that are developing their digital capabilities.  When you seek to start developing your digital capabilities, we look to what we know already.  However, if we don't know what we already know how can we progress further?  This can be true for staff when pursuing their own digital capabilities or have some reluctance to engage with digital technology.

Mapping my digital self

In a workshop I was invited to participate in an activity, I was presented a triangle with the words creation (publishing/broadcast), conversation (voices and perspectives online) and consumption (interacting with information) written on the sides of it.  I was asked to re-draw the triangle and map all the digital tools, apps and services I used to those categories.  My digital practices were self-assessed on internal/organisational (inside the triangle) and external/personal (outside the triangle).  I was then asked to use emoji stickers to place on each digital practice to express my emotions towards them.  This would have been an ideal activity to do before undertaking my Jisc Digital Discovery Tool self-assessment.

Below is my digital practice triangle.  I sketched out a much messier version during the workshop, but have tidied it up a bit here.  I'm sure there are many more digital technologies I use and more emotions to add, but this is what I came up with at the time.  When I was placing the emojis on my digital practices I found that I was applying emotional intelligence towards the things I use.  For example, I love using creative tools that allow me to express and develop things.  Or the expressive sigh towards using Microsoft Teams.  The tool is fine and works, however I found my feelings low in the way we use it for managing team projects.  Hence me feeling a bit less enthusiastic about it.  So the beauty in this activity is the cognitive and emotional mapping of what digital we use and most importantly how (the behaviour aspects).

It's help to ask yourself the following questions as you work on your triangle.

  • Think of the digital tools, apps and services you use.  Open up your mobile phone to see what your most used apps are - that's a good starting point
  • Which of these digital tools, apps and services do you use personally and professionally?
  • How do you use them and what for?
  • Why do you carry out these particular tasks with these digital technologies?  If you can find out why you don't do certain things with that particular digital technology that helps you to determine the right tool for the task, as well as identifying gaps/barriers
  • What would you like to do more of with that digital technology?

Further uses

As simple as this activity appears, this is an ideal opening activity for engaging people in developing their digital capabilities.  It starts a conversation that you can have with staff or teams.  Having it visible in front of you allows you to reflect more easily on what you use and how - determining the impact and effectiveness of all things digital to you.

I feel it may be useful to share your own triangle of digital practices and get others to share theirs as that can increase buy-in.  If you show personal interest in a particular tool, app or service (rather than solely an employee/organisational perspective) and you are really enthusiastic about it, others will tap into that and want to share their love for it.  Enthusiasm is infectious, so talk more about the positive things.  Equally on the flip side you could say that about the things we don't like to use or do (which can be useful), but I would always encourage to find positive comments about them rather than get into a downward spiral of negativity.

You could take this activity online and use tools like Thinglink for example.  Upload a blank triangle with the words around the edge and then annotate with emojis and hyperlinks to the tools, apps and services.

Writing love letters was a similar activity that I did during a workshop at the UCISA event.  You could apply 'romance' to a piece of digital technology you use and exaggerate your passion, wishes and frustrations of using it.  Sounds hilarious, which it is!  Again it opens up your emotions towards your digital practices of the ways you can and can't use the digital technology.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

DigitALLy speaking

This is a double whammy post!  I recently joined the Blended Learning Essentials: Developing Digital Skills course and attended a UCISA event.  So I thought why not join the two for a digital skills special... 😜

Engagement to digital skills

I saw an opportunity to join the Blended Learning Essentials: Developing Digital Skills, so I signed up!  I'm providing a short narrative on what I have gained and being prompted about from the course.  Like my previous Blended Learning Essentials reflection I focused on what interests me, and in this case a new lens of my new role in digital practice.  So I will be looking for how digital skills are developed and the approaches and methods used to support it.  However, much of this course was about teaching digital skills to learners.  So I looked at how the material could be used to increase buy-in of staff at NTU.

The main areas of digital skills that were introduced in the course were:

  • Digital identity - taking ownership of your personal information and using it to protect your digital identity and use it to promote yourself.
  • Digital information - how you search, manage and use it in the context of your work.
  • Digital content - creating and publishing digital content using digital tools; creating slides, posters, podcasts, videos, websites, portfolios, charts etc.
  • Digital collaboration - using digital tools to communicate, work collaboratively across teams, departments, and organisations and produce digital content.

All of these are well embedded and often used in many job roles.  But how important do staff feel it is in their work practices?  My role focuses on the digital capabilities of staff across NTU, and I see a lot of staff are using a variety of digital tools and systems.  It can be easy to say that there is no work to be done for some people as they are using them.  But how well in the context of their role?  On the other hand, you may have people saying digital skills is not relevant to my role - how so?  Many jobs have a digital element, even if it's just a tiny part.

A good way to determine what digital skills are required for a job is to look at the job specification (if it is detailed enough).  Identify what aspects of the job require digital skills, may that be using specific software or applications to create documents or graphics, including analysing data etc, right through to managing projects.  These can then be categorised into the areas mentioned above.  These are a good benchmark to question yourself of what digital skills do I need to know about and feel confident in using?  You could even map these required digital skills to specific job roles to help you make sense of what that particular job role expects.

Again, I feel much of this ties into the modern professional learner/worker as mentioned at the end of a post I made earlier this year.  This is where importance meets practice.  The majority of us have these common work practices to fulfil in our roles, perhaps this can be applied as an anchor to enable staff to be more invested in their digital skills?

Emphasising digital capabilities

To me digital capabilities are much wider and broader than digital skills, but they kind of mean the same thing.  Although the language of digital capabilities is not easily understood, it surrounds the meaning of practice rather than just focusing on individual skills.

On the 15th and 16th May 2018, I was very lucky to attend my first UCISA 'Spotlight on digital capabilities', which is in it's fourth event.  I found the event very useful in terms of content and for networking new and familiar like-minded people.  I'm still new in my Digital Practice Adviser role and it was very helpful to get some wider knowledge of what others are doing in the digital capabilities field.  Before I attended the event, I wrote myself the following questions so that I had some personal objectives to go with.  I'm pleased I got most answered but there were a few I haven't, which I will pick up at a later date and carry on finding answers to them.

Project/strategic related questions to ask:

  • How do other institution support and develop their staff digital capabilities?
    • What strategies do they use
    • What framework underpins their vision and strategy
    • What digital technologies do they focus on
    • What data do they report on
  • What are the barriers that staff experience in engaging with their own digital capabilities?
  • How do they deal with reluctant staff and the already digitally empowered?
  • How is digital leadership being encouraged and promoted in their institutions?
  • Which institutions have piloted Jisc’s Digital Discovery Tool?
    • What is the general consensus of their pilot data?  Any highlights worth noting?
    • What plans do they have to embed the tool more permanently in their digital capabilities initiatives?
  • How are new staff or new to role inducted on digital tools and systems?
    • What mechanisms do they deliver this through and how is it managed?

    General/interest questions to ask:

    • What language/terms do they use for promoting digital capabilities initiatives in their institutions?  Digital, digital skills, digital capabilities, digital literacy etc?  How well are the terms understood by staff?
    • Do they focus on all roles (academic, professional services, non-academic, research) or just specific ones?
    • What is the general consensus of how staff perceive the importance of digital capabilities development?
    • Do they track change in staff behaviours as a result of digital capabilities development? 

    What do I hope to gain as a result of attending this event?

    • A more well-rounded knowledge base of digital capabilities and initiatives provided at a range of institutions
    • Strategies to approach digital capabilities development with staff
    • Further awareness of barriers and obstacles institutors experience with digital capability initiatives
    • The kinds of data reported on and how that can be used to develop digital capabilities projects
    • New digital practice training initiatives

    Below is a summary of the main takeaways I came back with, however there are always smaller pieces that you pick up through social media as well joining in face-to-face and online conversations.

    • When assessing peoples digital capabilities, it shouldn’t be about labelling and pigeonholing them.  Whilst profiles and can help predict behaviour they encourage judgement and discrimination.  Assessing and understanding an individual’s digital capabilities is about helping them to discover their identities whilst allowing their digital practices to emerge and become more visible.  Recognise their practices first before being too critical of what they can and can’t do.  Who you are is more important than what you do, which fits into the structure and culture of a university.
    • It is the organisations responsibility to provide a programme or support infrastructure for digital capabilities development.  However, this needs to have the right balance of being owned/motivated by the individual and shaped by the organisation.  An holistic self-assessment programme that can be moulded and developed by the individual would have more impetus long term.  The programme needs to be able to rapidly adapt to internal and external changes.  What will it look like in 5 years time?  Is it able to evolve with changing digital practices?  The programme would benefit from being able to scale within itself.
    • To help improve engagement and development of digital capabilities in an organisation.  It was suggested approaching this at a programme/team level.  It works better in terms of motivation and does not single out any individuals.
    • Could resistance to using digital technology be a digital capability?  In light of the inappropriate use of personal data, could this now be an escalating behaviour amongst people?  If so, how do we overcome this and encourage a positive mind set?  This can tie in nicely with Jisc’s six elements of digital capabilities – Digital identity and wellbeing.
    • Digital is multifaceted; it has many meanings and understandings to some people.  However, the main meanings are: digital is a place – where interaction is happening; digital is a tool – lets you do something; digital is a platform – the place we make it; digital is people – think we’re buying a solution.  As digital practices are so embedded within our lifestyles, they have become invisible over time.  I participated in an activity where I was invited to make my digital practices visible to me and how I felt about them.  There were 3 areas I self-assessed which were: creation – publishing/broadcast; conversation – voices and perspectives online; consumption – interacting with information.  Another activity I participated in was sending love letters to pieces of digital technology.  It allows people to express their emotions towards their digital practices.  I will pick these up in an individual post as it has real significance to individual engagement to digital capabilities.
    • Like NTU others are piloting the Jisc Digital Discovery Tool.  However, one organisation has discussions on how CPD can be modelled and carried out using CPD frameworks and planning.  After people have participated in the tool, there are pathways that people can travel down during different stages of their role, such as: academic (learning and teaching); new to the university, professional services etc.
    • VLEs do not always have to be replaced, but can be rejuvenated by having principles to guide staff rather than conventionally providing templates for people to conform to.
    • To get staff more engaged in CPD events, identifying barriers (institutional, pedagogical and individual – why people resist change) and turning them into enablers can help.  Opportunities to learn like workshops, sharing practice, resources and space to explore are good to offer.  These should include: bringing together activity; discussion and debates; why’s and how’s (demos) early and late adopters; supported by seniors responsible for education.
    • Certification of Microsoft application training appears to be gaining prominence again, as well as being a popular software across the world.  Students are demanding to be recognised for their IT skills as they find it important for employability in having essential skills.  They also find them more valuable than an attendance certificate as they demonstrate learning. can provide opportunities here, but may be more useful for ‘just in time’ learning rather than encouraging deeper learning.  Organisations are offering Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) and Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA), the latter being more advanced.  Some are considering Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE).  Organisations offer core and expert options for MOS and are developing other pathways for students who are seeking further certification.
    • Individuals should treat digital capabilities as not just following what is current or in the moment, but forecasting what may be needed in the future.  There will be jobs in the future that have not been created yet, that will rely upon strong digital capabilities.  Some people may not even be confident or have a liking to Microsoft Excel for example, but we will most likely have to use it in a job at some point.  So we might as well be positive in learning to like and use it.
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    CC-BY Daniel Scott. Unless otherwise stated this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.