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Adapting approaches to assess the quality of remote learning in FE

How colleges can adapt their approaches to assess quality of remote learning – a look at a successful strategy providing benefits now, that can be taken forwards into the next academic year

In this article, we explore the successful strategies employed at Leeds City College, part of the Luminate Education Group, to quality assure remote provision and inform future decisions about how the curriculum is delivered for maximum impact.

Remote learning and remote education are terms that are synonymous with the Coronavirus pandemic. However, leaders, teachers, and learners interchange the terms to give them different, and sometimes unhelpful meanings. Remote education is a broad term that encapsulates any learning outside of the classroom where the teacher is not present in the same location as the learners. Remote education does not solely rely on technology, nor does it have to be synchronous.

The quality of your curriculum does not change when learning is remote. Everything we have learned about improving the quality of our curriculum still applies here. Remote learning still needs to be carefully sequenced with personalised progress at the heart of its offer. A strong curriculum should be just as meaningful inside and outside of the classroom.

Managing remote learning was a new concept for many educators to get to grips with. It felt, for a long time, that remote learning had a definite home in Further Education, and that the pandemic lit the touchpaper at an alarming rate. Assessing the quality of a provision’s remote learning is critical if it is to be successful. To do this, the vision for what remote learning looks like should be clear to every member of staff. Without knowing what they are aiming to achieve, it is hard to then quantify if the vision has been successful. At Leeds City College, our work with Tribal Quality Mark has supported us to quality assure our provision.

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As a college, the remote learning vision was created and shared with all stakeholders. This vision set out the expectations and culture in which we wanted remote learning to flourish. Staff were all briefed with the vision and had an opportunity to reflect on it. Staff then self-assessed their own remote learning skills and knowledge, alongside their digital skills which were used to create support plans and future CPD programmes. Having foresight about our remote learning offer, and how best to support staff on this journey, enabled us to rapidly upskill staff to have the confidence to make the appropriate decisions about how to adapt their curriculum to ensure that the most important building blocks of knowledge were understood first. This curriculum ‘redesign’ afforded staff the opportunity to revisit their curriculum offer and strip it back to the basics.

Assessment and feedback, whilst remote learning is taking place, are still as important as when learning isn’t done remotely. Learning isn’t different when it’s taking place outside the classroom. At the inception of our remote learning offer, giving learners feedback was deemed more difficult as instantaneous verbal feedback was not so natural over a video call. However, through continuous assessment of our offer and redefining our approach, our feedback strategies have evolved. Teachers now record verbal feedback through applications that learners can access from any location and can listen to and revisit them at any point. This gives the learner the opportunity to engage with the feedback multiple times at their own pace. It also allows them to feel ‘connected’ to their teachers as the intonations of speech allow them to find the emphasis in the feedback. Underlining words may have a similar impact, but the spoken word is far more efficacious.

Assessing our remote learning assessment strategies was another key element we needed to ensure was appropriate. Our ongoing work with the Quality Mark accreditation had already provided us with the framework for robust self-evaluation and continuous improvement of this element, so the string foundations were already in place to apply to our remote delivery. Assessment is built into many of our online learning platforms that we subscribe to. Collating impact and usage reports of these at regular intervals allowed us to see emerging trends and correlations. For instance, we noticed that as the instances of personalised teacher feedback on these systems increased, so did the accuracy of learners' answers. We could see that feedback was impactful. As a result, teachers made a concerted effort to increase their feedback on these systems. Also, it was apparent that learners were accessing these systems at times that we could define as ‘non-traditional’. As part of our wellbeing strategy, learners were encouraged to consider the time they were accessing these systems and then contacting their teachers. This had a positive impact on the appropriateness of timely communication and enabled staff to feel supported and not isolated when teaching remotely.

Moving forward to the next academic year, we’re using research conducted by the English and Maths and Quality Teams, alongside the Quality Mark framework(?) to improve our remote learning offer. Research has shown that learners have a strong preference for ‘live’ sessions for GCSE Mathematics and have stated that the ‘most engaged’ online subscription website is used because it is ‘easy to navigate’. During the induction period of 21/22, learners will be surveyed on what online subscriptions they have prior knowledge of. This will enable the teams to offer differentiated levels of support so learners can make the most of their time when learning remotely and not spend excessive amounts of time trying to familiarise themselves with the websites. Staff will also be aware of what systems learners have used and we can consider if our offer meets the needs of the incoming cohort of learners - or whether we have to adapt what we subscribe to for maximum impact in the next academic year. Further work with Tribal’s Quality Mark in the new academic year will ensure our English and maths provision continues to improve and meets the changing demands of blended learning.

Leeds City College's English and maths transformation with Quality Mark