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Students at Plumpton College using VR headsets
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Students at Plumpton College using VR headsets
©Jisc and Matt Lincoln

Getting students ready for the changing workplace

Technology is transforming learning for staff and students at vocational specialist Plumpton College. At Jisc, we’ve been supporting the college to trial new technologies and blended learning techniques – giving students the skills they need for the changing workplace.

All young people are comfortable using every type of technology – it’s the colleges that need to keep up.

According to James Maltby, learning technology manager at Plumpton College in East Sussex, while this is a widely-held belief, it simply isn’t the case.

James Maltby, learning technology manager at Plumpton College
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©Jisc and Matt Lincoln

“It’s a misconception that all students come to college with strong digital skills. 

"They’re used to using apps on their phones, but don’t necessarily have good transferable skills. At Plumpton, we focus on giving students the skills they’ll need in the workplace, both directly after college and in years to come. Our technology-focused training shows students how they can apply those skills to other programmes or applications.”

Ensuring teaching increasingly reflects industry

Plumpton is a further and higher education college specialising in land-based courses. This refers to agriculture, horticulture, and other topics useful for rural economies, so subjects include everything from equine studies to adventure education and motor vehicle repair.

Technology is being increasingly used to teach subjects like these, to reflect what’s happening in industry. James says:

“Digital technology is just going to get more and more embedded in industry within the next 10 to 20 years.”

In the agricultural field, this could mean things like sensors and satellites to track livestock, automated tractors, or using data to predict harvest conditions. This will require farmers to have a greater understanding of not only using these technologies, but also how to interpret data.

“We need to make sure these skills are fully developed into the curriculum now,” says James. “So, our students are prepared for the future.”

Using a blended approach

The focus at Plumpton is on ‘blended learning’: mixing digital technology with traditional teaching practices, rather than thinking about them separately. One of the biggest shifts, says James, is the move away from a suite of computers where students go for ‘IT time’.

“We’re now moving towards an approach where tech is embedded in many different parts of the curriculum.”

At Plumpton, they’ve trialled different approaches, including investing in 360-degree video technology and using virtual reality headsets in the classroom. Students have been experimenting with creating immersive content for their peers. Level 3 agriculture students created a video on how to milk dairy cows to teach Level 1 and 2 students best practice. Students lead these projects. They devise materials and create storyboards and scripts.

Sam Coles, director of teaching and learning, said:

“More and more students studying at Plumpton College don’t have a farming background.

“So, using resources like virtual reality in the classroom helps to embed learning prior to being in the environment.”

The college also takes the technology out to local schools.

“It’s a great way to show prospective students the amount of technology used in the land-based sectors, and how we can prepare them for their future careers, where technology will be used in everyday practice,” says Sam.

Plumpton students and tutors are also trialling different software to encourage active learning.

“Rather than using PowerPoint in our lessons, which is quite passive, we encouraged our lecturers to start using interactive software like Nearpods for developing lessons,” says James.

This software can create quizzes and polls and students can give instant feedback.

“It synchronises prepared lessons to all students’ devices, making learning more interactive and collaborative.”

These blended learning approaches were inspired by the college’s relationship with Jisc.

“I’ve been to a lot of Jisc workshops,” says James.

“They have helped me understand blended learning on a strategic level and how we can start embedding it at Plumpton. That’s been a huge benefit of our collaboration with Jisc.

“Jisc was instrumental in making projects like our virtual reality one happen,”

He says he found his Jisc account managers’ support and advice really useful. They made it easier for him to collaborate with other local colleges.

“It’s surprisingly difficult to know who your equivalent colleague at another institution is, but Jisc account managers knew all the people in different organisations. They created a network amongst us – locally, but also nationally. Jisc also worked with us on evaluating the project and broadcasting results to our network and wider education community.”

James continues to use our data and statistics to keep up with what other colleges are doing in technology.

“We use Jisc surveys as a benchmark to see how our digital technology compares with other FE and HE colleges,”

he says. He also uses the digital capability framework to develop training to make sure colleagues keep up with the skills they need to teach effectively.

“We have a major digital skills drive at the college and are using the framework to shape our training sessions. We don’t focus on ICT skills now, it’s about the wider competencies, rather than specific programmes.”

The importance of connectivity

Plumpton’s digital projects rely on fast and reliable interconnectivity through the Janet Network.

“All our digital infrastructure is based in Janet, including our domain names,” says James. “The specialist support we get with that connectivity from Jisc is vital.”

James was recently awarded a research fellowship to develop the college’s use of technology in its land-based courses, particularly virtual reality and collaborative learning.

“We continue to move away from technology being a passive thing to something that students interact with regularly as part of their learning,”

says James, who wants to work with us again to share his research findings with other colleges and universities.

“Things are constantly changing with technology. If you’re going to keep up, you need to be looking outwards all the time. Our relationship with Jisc is a way of enabling that. It’s collaborative, which is really important for the college’s long-term approach to digital technology.”

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