Every College needs one: the essential nature of the e-learning facilitator

My colleague Beth Snowden is our e-learning facilitator.

“I’ve been teaching ever since my early 20s and the day when I stepped into a Japanese classroom and I was so scared that my knees wobbled,” she says. Now Beth does a job that didn’t exist when she started out as a teacher.

Beth Snowden: Bradford College Elearning Facilitator

Beth joined us at Bradford College twelve years ago, working as an accredited Microsoft trainer helping staff make use of IT systems. Her role has evolved with advances in technology and developments in education, and Beth is very much on an e-learning journey of her own. She is currently studying for a Masters at the University of Huddersfield in E-learning and Multimedia.

“It’s amazing how things have changed,” Beth says. “Once I ran lots of half or full day training sessions for staff looking at how to use computers. Now a lot of what I do is one to one advice and support on different applications. They say that once a technology is fully adopted it becomes invisible, and I think that has happened here. It’s only when something goes wrong that I have to deal with problems that once were routine.”

A lot of Beth’s support work relates to Moodle, the Smart Board, and Turnitin. These are all systems that the College has bought into, and are therefore prevalent across College. “Turnitin is a programme that identifies plagiarism,” Beth explains. “You can’t teach that without taking into account the bigger picture so I run sessions on plagiarism and technology alongside a member of the library staff.” Beth is also setting up a blended learning programme called ‘Stepping into Web 2.0; Blogging as a Rite of Passage for Educators’ in response to the needs of teaching staff who want to use flexible, reflective and participatory online tools and techniques.

Beth talked about the sense of responsibility that motivates her in her work, and expressed a deep commitment to being an educator.

“We are on the cusp of great change. I feel I have a responsibility to help staff use a variety of tools so they are part of this change. They need the opportunity to experiment, explore and learn from each other. And our students need to experience the new technologies as well. They need to learn how to discern – what is a useful tool, what information is sound.”

Interestingly, while nearly all our students in their teens and 20s are probably adept at using YouTube and Facebook, it is likely that only a minority are actively involved in using tools such as Evernote or blogging. Beth points out an ethical dimension to this: a good understanding of how to use technology and the internet enables democracy. “These technologies can alter power relations,” she says. “They can put the students more in control of their learning, and help them to be active and informed. They can enable them to have a voice.” (Beth then mentions the ‘flipped classroom’ – here’s a case study of a flipped maths class.)

There is a utilitarian element to keeping up with e-learning and the related technologies. “Some of these tools make learning and research much easier,” Beth says. “They can expand your professional and personal networks. And Bradford College will have a major new building in 2014, where technology and space will be combined in a new way – we need to prepare for that shift.”

Beth and I (along with another colleague, Ronan O’Beirne) are doing a free five week MOOC together – a  Massive Open Online Course. I won’t go on about what a MOOC is right now. You can find out by reading this blog entry, or this one, or visiting the course site. The focus of our MOOC is elearning and digital cultures, and this College Ethics blog post is a contribution: it will be shared across the course newsfeed, twitterfeed (#EDCMOOC ) and google plus. Beth is also blogging for and about the course.

So welcome to any new readers from the extraordinary, exciting and bewildering world of MOOC! It’s great to have real world companions in learning such as Beth, as well as 40,000 online fellow students. And welcome to everyone else. It seems to me education has an ethical duty to embrace and reflect on technological change.  I hope all Colleges in the UK have an embedded Beth as they head towards the new horizons that are opening up.

Photo and interview by Ruth Wilson, Bradford College.


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