Post Compulsory Education in a Digital Age

All things Post Compulsory Education. A place for educators to become reflective practitioners.


April 2016

Prevent and Fundamental British Values

David and I attended a seminar last week, delivered by Professor Paul Thomas from Huddersfield University,  surrounding the Prevent Legislation and some discussion around Fundamental British Values.
It really made us consider how we tackle these issues in our own practice within Higher Education and, in turn, how our trainees implement both Prevent and Fundamental British Values (FBV) in their specialist areas.
Although this legislation has been prevalent recently, it seems that observing both in the classroom is still somewhat of a conundrum to practitioners. I’d like to get some thoughts on this from anyone who would like to share their experiences, good practice examples, organisational directives or indeed teaching tips.
Thanks and I look forward to your comments…..
Gemma #gmcgregorpcet

Differentiated objectives

Last week, our PGCE/ Dip HE class considered and discussed the value of using differentiated objectives within an inclusive learning environment.  We drew from Bloom’s taxonomy to adapt one commonly used objective.  Please use the comments box to submit your examples and we can discuss these in class on Tuesday.  Deborah

Differentiation in PCET


Deborah Jones

The Education and Training Foundation has identified to us as facilitators of learning three specific standards in terms of differentiation:

  • Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn
  • Plan and deliver effective learning programmes for diverse groups or individuals in a safe and inclusive environment
  • Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge

For starters, as a reflective tool, it is important to evaluate how well your teaching meets individual needs and how well your learners learn and make progress.

Let’s firstly consider how learners may be different. The theory of Andragogy has given us the insight that it is imperative to pay consideration whilst planning that learners have different prior knowledge, experience and skills. Learners work at different paces, have specific interests, may have barriers to education which affect motivation, learn in a specific way and could have specific learning and individual needs.

Differentiation by objective can be levelled at individual learners and can assist in the facilitation of an inclusive learning environment. Outcomes which draw on Bloom’s Taxonomy and the learning domains can assist with differentiating objectives to ensure inclusion. Differentiation by product and assessment could also be considered, along with including extension tasks for those who could be challenged further in terms of higher level learning.

How do you ensure that you fulfil the ETF expectations and what evidence could you provide to demonstrate this?

Some questions to ask whilst carrying out reflection on this area of inclusive practice are:

Do you plan session content to remove barriers and aid motivation?

Do you plan for using a variety of resources and are they planned to meet the individual needs of the learners?

Will the learner develop transferrable skills? How?


Do the objectives include all learners and are they SMART?

Could each learner achieve?

On reflection, did all learners engage?

So how is it possible to provide evidence that we are fulfilling this expectation of our role in inclusive education?


Please share your thoughts on how PCET teachers may provide evidence towards the ETF standards and develop their inclusive practice.


Technology and Education


David Nichol

This blog seeks to respond positively to the key trends in the Information Communication Technology industry and in particular within education.  The most significant of these being:
There continues to be a revolution in mobile learning and with it a growing expectation that users should be able to access materials and information from anywhere.  The move towards greater online learning is part of this trend.
Changing expectations of students
The student intake of the Digital Native or Google generation sees young people who have grown up with computing as ubiquitous communication and information-searching tools.  Their expectations are that their diverse computing equipment will interact seamlessly and that computing tools will be available to supplement both social and learning interactions.
Global Communities of staff and students
Academics and teachers work within communities that span organisational and national borders. The ability to communicate and share information internationally is increasingly important. Students own social networks, particularly as our international student intake grows, need to be facilitated.
Currently, education is involved in a period of technological change.  The new developments of numerous platforms and applications allow a much greater use of technology in a range of tasks, including student / tutor collaboration, online peer to peer learning and both summative and formative assessment options.  These new technologies allow information, communication, social interaction and new business and learning opportunities to be created, developed and implemented much more easily than previous technical architecture.  Web 2.0 or the social Web as it has become known, is transforming the way people use technology to do business, access information and connect with each other.  It has revolutionised the way we are entertained and altered the way we learn by providing an opportunity towards a much more personalised learning approach.
Online & Distance Learning
Distance learning can be subdivided into two categories: technology-enhanced learning and technology-delivered learning.  The former supplements traditional face-to-face classes and the learner has frequent opportunities to meet face-to-face with the instructor.  On the contrary, in the later learning situation, the learner is never in physical proximity to the facilitator.  However, to maximise the benefits of distance learning, it is highly likely that combinations of various delivery methods and new technologies may be incorporated into conventional lecturing, in order to meet the different learning styles and tastes of a large group of students.  This is known as a blended approach to learning.
By its very nature blended learning is an ambiguous term when considered in educative and pedagogical terms.  Blended learning and the blended experience can be considered any form of learning that incorporates blended learning as a teaching methodology.  Further, the learning capacity of the learner is enhanced or developed by the integration of technology.  Blended learning allows for innovation and experimentation through the creative use of curriculum design and of learner expectation.  The caveat, though, is that this creative and evolving approach is difficult to measure.  It is also complex to justify due to the developing nature of the learner involvement which can contradict formal validation and measurement processes used by Educational institutions to quality assure the academic credibility of similar traditional learning programmes.
There are a number of reasons that drive institutions to use blended learning.  Economy is certainly high on the agenda as is using technology.  The ability to maximise the potential of large cohort student groups within the same delivery mode is a very seductive strategy from an economical perspective.  There is though, other more complex reasons including work life balance, changing demographics related to University competition and increased flexibility of learning options and of course widening participation and accessibility.  The reliance on traditional modes of face to face learning is now being superseded by greater accessibility to information technology.  The acknowledgement and use of such technology are changing the learning geography of both the learning provision and provider.  In short, students learn differently using this type of blended platform, increasing the independence of the learner and increasing the duality of responsibility of the deliverer and their relationship with the learner. 
The development of web 2.0 technology ceaselessly prompts new approaches to information retrieval and sharing.  New genres of social networking sites are on the increase, adding to the list of already existing social media.  The social media covers online communities, network gaming, instant messaging, blogging, micro blogging, forums, groupware, peer-to-peer and media sharing technologies, emails, virtual worlds, texting, and all other social network sites.  All these new technologies are available to educators everywhere.  At my place of work, across all areas, there is a drive to introduce technology into all modules and programmes.  In order for staff to engage fully with this philosophy, there is a need for a deeper understanding, from a practical and theoretical base, to what benefits these new technologies can bring.  It is finally worth mentioning that although from the literature there are sound educational principles of using technology to support and enhance the learning process, there is another driver that needs consideration.  The world we live in today is empowered by technology, and it is changing the course and direction of many things, replacing past methods, and enforcing humanity to join the bandwagon or be left in limbo.  Potential students, who may choose to come and study at any HE or FE establishment in the near future, will do so with an expectation.  That expectation is of a campus that is IT enabled and where programmes of learning have been designed and are taught using the latest technological developments.

Examining technology enhanced assessment in HE

Gemma McGregor

My research has led me to the core principles of assessment in general and, while I am focussing on formative assessment, it must be noted that summative assessment is equally important and valid. Assessment of learning, which draws from a behaviourist and cognitivist view point, is imperative within a higher education setting.

Due to the fact that academic qualifications carry with them both accountability and certification it is clear that one strategy cannot be substituted for the other and both must work alongside one another to provide a true picture of learning that has taken place.

“Summative assessments are essential in certifying learner’s achievements and establishing what is typical and reasonable.” Oosterhof et al (2008:82)

Although assessment of learning will undoubtedly remain part of the higher education landscape it is often described as a more of a surface approach to learning. Entwistle (2000:3) claims the intention of this kind of assessment is simply to allow a student to cope with the task, an exam for example, and sees a course as “unrelated bits of information”. Formative assessment, however, lends itself far more to a deep approach to learning whereby students “monitor the development of their own understanding.” Entwistle, McCune and Walker (2000:3)

For the purpose of this study, however, assessment for learning is the major area of focus. This approach draws upon the co-constructivist view point outlined by Biggs and Tang (1998) in Tiwari and Tang (no date) who believe that:

“ …true meaning cannot be imposed or transmitted through direct learning alone but is created by the learners through their learning activity. Therefore, if meaning is constructed, learners should be expected to give proof that the desired learning has occurred.” (Biggs and Tang as cited in Karsten, Dunbar-Krige and Muller 2012:28)

This view is also heavily supported by other research by Askew and Lodge (2000), Costa (1991), Watkins et al (1996) and Carnell and Lodge (2002) primarily in that they advocate the approach to evidence based learning which requires a shift from receptive transition models such as assessment of learning and summative assessment to a co-constructivist approach allowing for intrinsic learning and encouraging students to demonstrate their depth of knowledge. This kind of learning aims to create meaning and therefore is not just an assessment of their ability to perform well in examinations.


In order for this depth of learning to take place feedback has to be brought to the forefront of this method of assessment. Since this kind of assessment for learning is ongoing and should be developmental, the giving of timely and constructive feedback should constitute a key element of its successful implementation. Nichol and MacFarlane (2006) advocate a model of effective formative feedback. This model includes seven stages and, as part of my research, I wanted to ascertain whether or not the use of formative assessment tools suitably support this kind of self-regulated, student centred and inclusive learning. The seven stages are as follows:

  1. Helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards)
  2. Facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning
  3. Delivers high quality information to students about their learning
  4. Encourages teacher and peer dialog around learning
  5. Encourages positive motivational beliefs and self esteem
  6. Provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance
  7. Provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching

(Nichol and MacFarlane 2006 : 205)

According to Brown and Knight (1994:1) assessment is at the heart of the student experience. This is evidently reinforced by the national student survey data which confirmed that, between 2009 and 2011, student’s experiences of assessment were the areas that they were most dissatisfied with.

In particular, students commented on the quality of the feedback they were given and at which points throughout their study they received it Price et al (2011:36). Following this data, The Burgess Report (2007) made way for a shift from using solely summative assessment within higher education, claiming that simply ‘signing off’ a person’s education with assignments or module exams does not fit with the ideology of lifelong learning. And if, as Ramsden (1992:187) implies, students feel that the ‘assessment defines the curriculum’ then we should be thinking far more critically with regard to how we monitor achievement. Are our current strategies fit for purpose and do they meet learner needs?

Although the co-constructivist approach is applied within a HE setting, does the format we currently employ really encourage a less passive and more active approach to their learning journey?


Portfolio based assessment in higher education

There is evidence to indicate that, while portfolios have been used within the HE system in the UK, they have mainly been used to demonstrate learner progress for summative purposes Baume & Yorke (2002), Brown (2003) and Nystrand et al (1993) and less often as a developmental, formative working document. However, a report commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills outlines the need to not only apply portfolio systems as a summative assessment tool but that using this to support ongoing assessment allows for

“increasing emphasis on the development of skills such as communication, scholarship and critical analysis.”

(DfES The future of Higher Education 2003 as cited in Klenowski, Askew and Carnell 2007:278)



Technologically enhancing the portfolio approach

The integration of multimedia seems like a sensible and current way to develop this type of portfolio based assessment technique but there needed to be considerations made in order to make such a large, albeit, timely change. This is supported by Price (2011) who would argue that altering how we assess and which method we use, requires significant movement in other areas of our programmes to facilitate such a transition. In order to make the leap from the traditional to the technological there was a need to gather examples of current practice and research to judge technology as a way of enhancing our current methods.

Vonderwell et al, (2007) Mackey (2009) Lin (2008) and Wang (2009) all seem to share the opinion that online or e-learning supports engagement, offers opportunities for collaborative learning and assessment and can make students take responsibility for their own learning. These findings indicate that there are most certainly additional benefits to taking the collaborative e-learning route.

Pachler et al (2010:716) defined formative e-assessment as ‘the use of ICT to support the relation to prior achievement and attainment of intended as well as unintended learning outcomes’.


Agenda for Technology

Technology has entered the forefront of HE with the aim of the academic and the technologic working far more in partnership than ever before. This is so much so that even some of the theories that underpin education in general and the training of teachers have evolved to show the advances in methods of teaching, learning and assessment. Church (2011:31) speaks of a Digital Taxonomy, using the skills and attributes from the well theorised Bloom’s Taxonomy (1948) to incorporate technology enhanced learning into the education system. Edwards (2011) makes an interesting and, in my opinion, valid point that

‘if it was deemed necessary to create this version of such an iconic tool then this indicates that the digital word and education are now deeply interconnected’ Edwards (2011:72)

This idea of digital literacy brings with it the need for a shift from tutor to student for some who may not be comfortable with this new skill set. This signifies to me that there could be a training need for some academics. The Higher Education Academy report, Transforming Assessment in Higher Education (2012), discusses the need for a whole departmental approach to the integration of such technologies into an existing curriculum. The report also sustains my suggestion that training and continuing professional development for staff would need to be a core instrument supporting change

“Institutions will need a planned and sustained staff development strategy to support the implementation of such a change, underpinned by dedicated substantial resource for staff development.” Higher Education Academy (2012:15)


Risk of exclusion?

Inclusive practice is another consideration to be made when examining both existing practice and opportunities for new ways of assessing learning. Katseva (2004) as cited in Seale (2006) reflects that technology can disable a student further

“when it is developed without considering accessibility because it marginalizes segments of the population” Katseva (2004) as cited in Seale (2006:25)

While this can, of course, be true, more recent documents such as the Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme report entitled What’s Next for Digital Inclusion (2011:1) makes a very clear statement that “technology can help everyone learn” by offering assistive technologies and accessibility options that traditional modes of study can not offer.

It is arguably the responsibility of those developing and facilitating the technology to ensure that these options are clear, utilized correctly and thus foster empowerment rather than confinement.

In reality, from student opinion, what the literature advocates and how education is moving towards a digital era, there seems little reason not to adopt a forward thinking and progressive approach to assessment using e-portfolios and multimedia.

With evidence to suggest that e-learning and assessment for learning offers so many opportunities to students, paradoxically, it is still so underused and I find it difficult to justify why. There are so many intrinsic benefits to support the use of technology. It lends itself to inclusive practice, collaborative working, autonomous learning, collegiality, real time reflections and immediate feedback amongst others. Although, as with all new strategies, there are limitations it is the people who develop and use the tools that have the ability to minimise them if they embrace the idea of technology wholeheartedly.







Challenges of mentorship in the Post Compulsory Sector.

Gemma McGregor


Initial teacher education within both the compulsory and post compulsory sector is heavily reliant on the expertise, experience and subject specific knowledge that can be shared by experienced teachers, trainers and practitioners.

As teacher educators the value of support, advice and guidance of those already working in an ever changing learning landscape is invaluable to us when encouraging our trainees to become current, reflective and research focused professionals.

It has always been somewhat of an anomaly to me, however, that the support for mentors in the PCET sector appears lacking in comparison to that of early years, primary and secondary settings.

Increasingly, workloads of PCET colleagues continues to grow and, while some forms of CPD are given precedence, the benefits of mentoring a colleague or student are overlooked.

The potential to enhance your own practice by becoming a mentor is wide ranging, developmental and rewarding.

Often, however, mentors are ill supported by organisations to undertake such a worthwhile role, meaning that securing a mentor becomes more of an inconvenience than fostering a professional relationship.

Since the Education and Training Foundation introduced the Professional Standards (2014) and the Society for Education and Training was formed, there has been another call for professionals to join a community that focuses on up- skilling the post compulsory arena, including mentoring new or inexperienced teachers.

The idea of this kind of collaborative forum for our sector is, essentially, a sound one however, since deregulation, I ask the question whether there truly is a feeling amongst those working in the sector that these extra activities are simply a drain on their resources, time away from achieving targets and, indeed, more of a workplace headache than an opportunity.

For those training to teach in compulsory education there appears to be a far more rigid, supportive and formalised mentoring system. This seems to continue to be a luxury not afforded to post compulsory organisations.

Why? Our sector is, in my opinion, ever the poorer relation with less budgets, lower pay and equally high targets – especially since the Leitch Review (2006) and the ever growing workplace learning agenda under the current government, where vocational learning, apprenticeships and ‘on the job training’ are, arguably, a route to advancing the UK’s position in the global economy.

With PCET and FE continuing to be considered the ‘last chance saloon’ for those who feel they were failed by the compulsory system, a place for students of all ages to engage in education at all levels of teaching and learning, now spanning from functional skills to foundation degrees, are we not now in a position to invest in the future of the sector by investing in those who invest in their students?


Why use Ed Tech?

Gemma McGregor
Why use technology they said?

What if it doesn’t work? What if it fails? What if I can’t figure it out? What if I just don’t like it? All questions I have heard recently while trying to develop a higher education programme and make it more current – oddly, that was not the students.

Why is higher education lagging behind both compulsory and further education when technology enhanced learning is, and in my opinion should be, at the forefront of any stage in our education system?

Changes to long standing programmes, in terms of technology, appear to strike fear into the heart of some seasoned academics who, for a range of reasons, are filled with dread at the prospect of, heaven forbid, using an iPad, smartphone or tablet to enhance assessment strategies or allow for a more flexible delivery of their lectures.

Cries of “switch off that mobile phone” can still be heard across campus.

Surely, in the current climate where a smart phone can support research, allow for collaboration and facilitate information sharing we should be encouraging this kind of forward thinking. This kind of instantaneous access to a wealth of information is an obvious benefit to the students of 2015 and yet they are still being discouraged from accessing it.

Many students, including the more mature, have already surfed the Web, blogged, tweeted, podcasted and Facebooked their way to higher education and, through consultation, have found some of the more traditional approaches to HE teaching lacklustre, draconian and, quite frankly, reminiscent of their school days – while their lecturers are simply wondering why the ‘blackboard’ has changed colour and if the overhead projector is broken.

I would have thought that there was a glaring opportunity to welcome, alongside more traditional approaches to teaching and learning, the integration of new and exciting digital teaching and learning experiences.

Particularly for those of us who are teacher educators, should we not make the commitment to our students to meet pedagogical challenges in a way that is accessible and flexible for them? Where is the modelling of best practice?

Have I been unrealistic?

For some, the use of technology is considered to dilute the ‘academic content’  and using a Kindle will never replace a real book in terms of academic prowess but I don’t understand this . Am I missing something?

I thought, perhaps naively, that the days when being an active participant in a higher education programme meant you were restricted to a classroom, lecture theatre or, indeed, the library building were long gone.

When the introduction of mixed media allows for real time ‘light-bulb moments’ to happen and, at the click of a mouse, opinions can be gathered, feedback sought or help accessed then I’m keen to be part of that revolution.

When a wifi hotspot is something you think you need to see the GP about and you feel the vocabulary associated with information technology would warrant a distance learning course in a foreign language there must be something amiss.

So, technology, an opportunity or a threat? Your strength or your weakness?

A question that may never be answered here if it is either of the latter…..I’ll let you get back to your OHP.

Times are changing and it is time to accept the new and enjoy a new era in technology enhanced teaching and learning.

Twitter for Research?

Is it possible to use Twitter for research?  Read on to find out..twitter-guide-lse

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: