Sparking imaginations and saving energy: teaching environmental technologies at Bradford College

“The UK is a country that could face power shortages. We use more and more energy, and we don’t produce enough. Power is essential to our everyday way of life. That’s why the College has courses and initiatives to help people learn about alternative and sustainable technologies at work and at home.”

Barry Noble (centre) with apprentices and solar panels.

Barry Noble (centre) with apprentices and solar panels.

Barry Noble is one of the College’s passionate advocates for sustainable working and living. He grew up in Calderdale, leaving school to become an apprentice – working as a plumber and heating engineer installing boilers in textile mills and people’s homes. He gradually moved into teaching, starting at Bradford College in 1999, with a period at Burnley.

“I’ve always been involved in teaching and apprenticeships,” Barry says. “You start as an apprentice, you become a tradesman and you take on an apprentice – it’s a very sustainable model that’s been going for hundreds of years.” 

Most of the courses Barry teaches on provide training for apprentices and trades people and employees in construction and engineering, to help them upgrade their skills and get industry-recognised qualifications. “We were one of the very first National Skills Academies set up to promote renewable energy,” he explains. “We provide training in low carbon or zero carbon technologies where you use little or no manufactured power, and lowering the consumers energy bills, and working with the environment in mind.”

Fuel poverty is a key issue that Barry confronts. “If you spend more than ten per cent of your income after tax on energy, you are in fuel poverty,” he explains. “New technologies help to address this, providing fuel that is more affordable to ordinary people.”


Fuel poverty in the Leeds City Region. Bradford West, where the College is based, has a high ranking. (Data from Leeds City Region).

Bradford is built on wells and watercourses, used to power the textiles mills that grew up in the 19th century. “We need to return to using these natural resources to gain our power,” Barry says. “And we need more on a local level and scale.”

He gives the example of a mini hydro in Hebden Bridge, where an Archimedes screw set in the river is powering a café and retail outlet. Barry also speaks highly of heat pumps, a potentially greener way of heating homes. “As gas prices go up and the price of heat pumps gradually comes down, these will take off. People can come to us to learn about the  technology,  installation and maintenance requirements, and to make informed choices about what’s on offer.”

“We want to spark people’s imaginations as well as give them strong and solid skills,” Barry says. “For instance, plumbing is everywhere, from tiny pipes the size of a ballpoint pen in pharmaceuticals, to huge power stations steam pipework systems . Plumbing  has transformed  our quality of life.”

Barry explains how damp in a house – caused by poor plumbing and ventilation – can breed bacteria and lead to disease. He emphasises the importance of technologies serving to improve working conditions: one of his heroes is John Fielden, the 19th century mill-owner, innovator, MP and campaigner who fought for the introduction of the Ten Hour Act and other measures to improve the lives of mill workers and others.

The government’s efforts to improve energy sustainability face challenges. ”Leeds City Region is full of hard to treat old properties. Planners are opposed to external cladding, so all the upgrading has to be done inside, and that can be costly and be a large construction project. This has reduced the the demand for alternative technologies. But it is all waiting to happen.”

Bradford College 17th May 2013

Barry is involved in a number of outreach activities for the College. He is advising the Council on the use of photovoltaic panels, and Kirkgate Centre on energy usage in their community building. He has linked up with other local projects to help them promote or make use of alternative energy sources. The College also runs a two day environmental awareness course for anyone interested in sustainable technologies.

“We need to look at what can be done locally to improve the quality of life,” Barry says. “We can all switch off lights, we can all make less use of cars. My vision is that every learner at Bradford College should become aware of environmental issues that impact on the planet.  We should encourage our learners  to learn how to work better with natural environmental resources.”

interview and text: Ruth Wilson. Photos: Paula Solloway.


Supporting students who are deaf or hard of hearing

Bradford College has an unusually high number of deaf students.

There are two main reasons for this: firstly, there is a higher incidence of disability in general and deafness in particular in Bradford. Secondly the College has a very positive reputation as a place for deaf people to study and this attracts deaf students from across West Yorkshire and beyond. Most are aged 16 – 24, but there are students of all ages, with a number in their 60s and 70s. They include anyone whose hearing loss impacts on their studies.

I spoke to Learning Support Tutor Nicola Storey and Team Leader Chris Thornton to find out about their work and the ethics issues it raises.

Christopher Thornton and Nicola Storey, Bradford College Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team

Christopher Thornton and Nicola Storey, Bradford College Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team

Meeting Nicola and Chris
Nicola is a qualified teacher of the deaf – it is apparently very rare, and outstandingly good for a College to have a qualified teacher of the deaf. Nicola is just that, and in addition she has an MA in Deaf Education. Chris is a qualified note-taker, has trained in the use of technological aids, and has advanced qualifications in British Sign Language (BSL). Between them they have years of experience.

Nicola did not intentionally set out to work with the deaf – her interest and commitment has developed through years of working with deaf and hard of hearing students. “I was a student here, studying health and social care. I moved straight from that into being a support worker, helping students with special needs,” she says. Later, Nicola went to university in Hull to study social policy. She continued to work for the College in the holidays, and on graduating returned as a full time senior support worker. She had a spell lecturing in IT and basic skills, and then went on to do the MA.

For Chris, it began with having friends who were deaf. “For most people who learn sign language and work in this area, it starts because someone in your family is deaf. But not me. I grew up in Doncaster and for some reason my path seemed to cross with lots of deaf people. I remember playing football with deaf kids my age and experiencing the frustration of being unable to communicate. In my final years at school I went to Saturday classes and passed Level 1 and 2 BSL and did some work experience in a local college.” Chris started working aged 16, spending ten years in different areas of deaf education in Wakefield. He has worked at the College since 2010.

Some of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team (back row) with students (front row). Nicola and Chris are in the centre of the back row.

Some of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team (back row) with students (front row). Nicola and Chris are in the centre of the back row.

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team
There is a team of 16 Communication Support Workers, supporting our deaf students.  They all have advanced sign language qualifications, and they are part of a wider team of some 70 staff providing learning support to students with disabilities. “The role is very diverse,” Nicola says. “You can be supporting someone understand when to use capital letters, and then be giving advanced support to someone doing research for a Masters. A support worker has to work across all subject areas, from basic skills to postgraduate level.”

British Sign Language is a relatively new language,” Chris explains. “Because there’s no literal word for word translation from English to BSL, and with the range of courses we do here, often we find ourselves working with the deaf student to  devise new signs as the need arises. This is the beauty of our team – we are so lucky to have people at that level.”

In addition, some of our students have weak  English language skills – signing is their first language, and English may be an emerging third or fourth language. .

The service covers all education support needs relevant to the student’s course, and support sessions such as counselling if someone needs this. If a student wants to get involved in other areas of College life, those departments then set up the relevant support.

The ethics issues
“Confidentiality is essential,” Nicola says. “Complete translation is also key. You have to interpret everything, communicate an entire message – emotion, force, intention, message. That’s important to equal access, opportunity and treatment, and being heard and understood.”

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team only uses its trained and qualified support workers as for interpretation and support, and does not involve family, friends or volunteers as translators.

There are two ways in which deafness is defined. One is a medical one, where deafness is a physical impairment or loss of hearing. The other is cultural, where people identify themselves as members of a deaf community, and view this as positive.

“Its big D and little d,” says Chris, “with the Deaf community claiming a capital D. We have both kinds of students – those who do not particularly identify themselves as Deaf tend to be people who’s loss of hearing has started later in life.”

The team does not make judgements on this, and they work across a continuum of hearing loss. Students are required to have medical evidence confirming their disability if they want support, but otherwise it is for the individual to decide how they define and perceive their deafness.

“There is an on-going debate,” Chris says, “as to whether deaf students are better off in a dedicated school for the deaf, or whether they should be integrated into mainstream education. That discussion is probably not going to be resolved, and there are benefits on both sides. I guess we are all working here because we believe students should be able to attend a College and have the chance to do well.”

The hard work has results….
The proof is in the pudding: apparently our deaf students often do well, through their own hard work and with the highly professional College support. One recent student came straight from school on a Level 1 IT course and now has a degree in business administration. Another, Neelam Hussain, is winning lots of awards and competitions as a hairdressing student, including a Rising Star award in the recent Oscar-style FE awards ceremony held annually by the college.

Its great to meet Nicola and Chris and find out all this. Repeatedly in this blog, interviewees are demonstrated the active and considered ways in which the College works to provide opportunity and a positive experience for anyone wanting to study. The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team is integral to this.


Saying ‘cheese’: members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team line up for a group photo.


The Association of Community Support Workers

Bradford College runs classes in British Sign Language – see the community learning prospectus for more information. Neelam Hussain, the student mentioned above, is featured on the front cover of that newspaper style prospectus!

Not just a sporting chance: ethics and sport in Further Education

Danni Baker is a course tutor on Level 1 Sport at Bradford College, and she teaches across all our sports courses, levels One to Three (so up to the equivalent of A Level). She also runs the Higher Sports Leadership Award, and our women’s football team.

Bradford College Women's Football Team

Bradford College Women’s Football Team: Danni is at the back, in blue.

Danni ran through a number of ethics issues relating to ethics and sport in Further Education – some of them are addressed explicitly with the students, but it was clear as well that much is communicated through students participating in sport and building relationships with the students through sport.

Sport for all
Danni saw this as central to sports teaching at the college: the need to ensure that sport is for everyone.  “We’ve got some very talented students who are rising  high in their sport, but its important as well to focus on enrichment. We get the students to think about how they pick teams – everyone picks the highly skilled first, or their friends. It doesn’t need to be like that. When you pick a team you can offer fair opportunity, you can help weaker players to take part. Sport really is about taking part, not just winning.”

Playing by the rules
The College has a code of conduct, and the sports lecturers go through it with all new students. “The ground rules of respect and tolerance are the same in sport.,” Danni says. “We also talk about the importance of respecting the referee and sport officials.  We show the students good role models and bad ones – there are plenty of bad role models in football!”

Ethical issues
“We often look at current affairs – the Olympics, for instance, gave us lots of positives to discuss, and the Paralympics. Each week, sport is in the news: cheating, adultery, drugs, racism and so on. I use these issues to debate in class. It is interesting to hear students’ opinions.”

Gender equality
I was interested to learn that we get more boys and young men on our sports courses than women. Danni said that many want to be footballers, and she commented on the fact that football is a very male-dominated game. “To counteract that, we offer some sports that appeal to girls, like netball, and we run things like the women’s football team so that girls have an opportunity to break into perceived male dominated sports,” she explained. “We have girls doing boxing and badminton. It’s also about changing the boys’ mindset. The women footballers are not afraid to get involved in the boys’ game, and the boys can see how good they are and they respect that.”

Disability equality
We have a number of disabled students at Bradford College who are doing really well at sport. “Sometimes the disabled students teach us all a disability sport and we all play it, which is a lot of fun,” says Danni.  “Everyone gets to see that these are real sports, skilful and challenging.”

Danni explained that through the Higher Sports Leadership Award, our students are involved in organising activities for a group of disabled adults who come twice a week to participate in sports activities, as part of their Entry Pathways course at Bradford College. “Our students help them, they get experience as coaches, and lots of insight,” she says. “The interaction afterwards is amazing – before, the Entry Pathways adults would sit on their own in the café, and now our students join them voluntarily to chat. I love Wednesdays and Thursdays just for that, to see our students mix with Entry Pathways adults.”

Managing aspirations
“Very few sports students make it to be professionals footballers – it’s a matter of luck and skill and other things,” Danni comments. “So we have to help them have those goals but at the same time manage expectations. We want them to understand that there are other options, that are also very rewarding. “ Danni says that in one module, all the students have to come up with a business plan built around sport. “Its like a dragons’ den, and the tutors sit on the board. The idea is to help them see new possibilities and develop business skills.”

The ethics of inactivity
Danni praises the College for getting involved in the Global Corporate Challenge, which gets teams of staff (all volunteers) walking 10,000 steps a day for four months. Her final point is one that applies to us all:

“One thing I feel strongly about,” says Danni, “is the way in the UK everyone is sat at their desk or in their car, and they don’t have anywhere near enough physical activity. It’s a social wrong, its not just about individuals. We need to change the culture.”

Danni Baker, sports tutor and lecturer at Bradford College.

Danni Baker, sports tutor and lecturer at Bradford College.

A bit about Danni: Danni grew up in York, and always loved sport, particularly football and tennis. She completed the BTEC National Sports Diploma at York College and then went to St John’s University to do a degree in physical education and applied social science. She got a job lecturing back at York College, alongside being a self-employed tennis coach.  She is also a UEFA B football coach. “It got a bit crazy ,” Danni says. “I was working all hours, and I felt I’d been in York a long time and it was time to widen my horizons. So I took six months off to go travelling, and after that I came here.” She has been at Bradford College about six years.

Dramatically good: the ethics of performing arts in further and higher education

Damien O’Keeffe is Curriculum Team Leader for Media, Music and Performing Arts at Bradford  College, where he lectures in performing arts to further and higher education students.

Damien O'Keeffe (left) in the PaperZoo production of 1984, with former Bradford College student Ben Eagle, and John Hurt.

Damien O’Keeffe (left) in the PaperZoo production of 1984, with former Bradford College student Ben Eagle, and John Hurt. Ben is now studying at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

Damien started by outlining two main strands to the ethical debate concerning performance:

“There’s what we put out and our responsibilities as artists and communicators – because live performance is very immediate and visceral. And from a teaching point of view, we have to consider the material that we offer to our students, how we guide them in what they want to express.”

Creating a safe space
One of the key things is to create a safe environment for students and staff. “A rehearsal studio has to be a space where you can explore without embarrassment,” Damien explains.

The staff increasingly find that young people want to create drama that explores big issues such as body image, sexuality, addiction, family difficulties. “All drama is conflict,” Damien says. “The ancient Greeks knew that – and it means that drama can be a place where you can explore things that are happening in the world that you don’t understand or are frightened of. However, less experienced students sometimes act out very personal conflicts, and this can make them vulnerable.”

Expletives deleted (sometimes)
It also means that the lecturers have to be prepared to challenge things that are potentially offensive or difficult. “This is not as censorship,” Damien explains. “It is about enabling students to understand the impact of how they express things. If you swear all the time, it becomes meaningless – yet a well-placed expletive used carefully has major power.” The students are given a short history of major media landmarks in the use of obscene language, and they are introduced to some Shakespearean insults. “We aim to enrich vocabulary and improve the effectiveness of the drama our students create.”

The YouTube effect
Up to a few years ago, drama students would only be seen when they put on a live performance. There might be the occasional video or audio recording, not easily available. Damien and I discussed the fact that now a drama student can go home, put themselves on YouTube and broadcast to the world.

“We have to cover netiquette on all our courses,” Damien explains. “If you put your work out there, you must expect criticism, and it’s on the record. We don’t want to curtail freedom of expression or the embracing of new technologies. That can be good: casting directors, other performers and professionals may see what you do, and it can lead to good things. But the whole population can see it and you have to be careful about that.”

The College’s drama courses also explore self-presentation as a way of empowering the students. “They need the space to be themselves but also they need to understand that your ‘self’ changes according to the space that you are in. We teach students how to centre and be strong in themselves. This is the kind of thing that can help you throughout your life, whether you have a career in drama or not.”

The drama curriculum – a fine judgement
The courses take on a wide variety of students – some have been drama enthusiasts for years, taking part in lots of performances. Others have had almost no experience of theatre.

“We try to give students what they need rather than what they want,” Damien says. “It’s a fine judgement; you don’t want a hidden or assumed curriculum. It would be easy to let the students carry on doing what they know and like – ‘Bugsy Malone’, ‘Grease’, ’The Little Shop of Horrors’ and so on. So we give them new challenges – anything from ancient Greek drama to contemporary playwrights.

“The studio is a way to explore difficult things, but there is so much that is dangerous in the world – the studio is also a place where the students can discover beauty, redemption and light because that is what is often missing from the students’ lives. All this makes teaching drama a wonderful job.”

Damien in rehearsal for the summer 2013 production of Hard Times.

Damien in rehearsal for ‘Hard Times’.

Damien is from Bradford. He went to local schools, where two inspirational teachers gave him and many other young people a passion for drama and the opportunity to take part in it. He studied drama and media studies at Manchester College, and then gained a degree in performing arts from Middlesex University. He has worked as an actor, and in theatre education outreach at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and Leicester Haymarket Theatre. He is a founder member of PaperZoo, a theatre company set up and run by teachers and students.

Useful links
Bradford College students: Oh What a Lovely War, 13 and 14 June 2013.
PZ LogoPaperZoo’s next production: Hard Times, showing in Leeds, Bradford, Saltaire, Otley, Settle, Halifax and Bury.
Damien’s personal blog: Flawed Monkey
Photo: Damien in a performance of ‘Ruffian on the Stair’ at Bradford College’s Yorkshire Craft Centre, with Julia O’Keeffe.
Interview and text: Ruth Wilson, Bradford College

Guiding non-traditional learners through higher education: a lecturer reflects and researches

Danielle Chavrimootoo is a Senior Lecturer in the College’s School of Teaching and she is Year 1 Leader for the BA Education Studies degree.

Danielle Chavrimootoo

Danielle Chavrimootoo: Senior Lecturer, Bradford College School of Education

“The degree I work on is for people who are interested in working in education, but who for various reasons are not ready or able to study for a teaching qualification,” Danielle says.

She explains that the students are nearly all ‘non traditional learners’. “We have individual students who come from very disadvantaged backgrounds and face many challenges in their personal lives. Some are carers of children or relatives, possibly on their own. Many are mature students, and most have been out of the education system for some time. Many have issues of confidence, and some need to develop their literacy and communication skills in order to do well on the course.”

Every potential student is interviewed before being offered a place. “There is a tension between being flexible – making it possible for someone who is keen to study to come and join us – and ensuring they are able to cope with the course,” Danielle says. “This is a group of students who have a lot to offer, and we want to be inclusive but also make sure people succeed.” Danielle’s work is therefore part of the College’s commitment to widening participation and guiding students who want to progress but are uncertain about their options.

Across the UK, year 1 in higher education is a vulnerable year when students may drop out. Danielle’s task is to help each cohort of students on her course through the first twelve months. “We have modules that help develop personal, academic and communication skills,” Danielle explains. “We provide a lot of one to one support and encourage groupwork. I monitor attendance and talk to students as soon as there is an issue. We make sure students are aware of all the support that is on offer across the College.”

Student ambassadors on the Education Studies Degree.

Student ambassadors on the Education Studies Degree at Bradford College.

Danielle has set up a student ambassador scheme, where Year 2 students on the Education Studies Degree offer support to those entering Year 1, and she is always on the look out for possible mentors and inspiring speakers from the cultural backgrounds represented on the course.

To explore the issues and come up with more solutions, Danielle recently applied to the College’s internal grants scheme to carry out quantitative and qualitative research into barriers to attainment among South Asian women learners on the Education Studies Degree. “I’m looking for practical outcomes,” Danielle says. “I want the research to make a difference and to ensure the voice of our learners is heard.” She’ll be reporting on the research later this year.

Danielle herself went straight from school into the world of work: finance and then human resources. However, a severe illness, during which she nearly died, led her to change direction. “I wanted to do something that was socially responsible, and I wanted something which was more rewarding.” Danielle did a degree in Applied Social Studies and then a PGCE. “I sort of fell into teaching,” she says. “I taught for a five years at Leeds City College. Then I came here to join the academic staff in the School of Teaching.”

Danielle volunteering at St Augustine's drop in for refugees and asylum seekers.

Danielle volunteering at St Augustine’s drop in for refugees and asylum seekers.

When she went to university, Danielle also began volunteering with asylum seekers and refugees at St Augustine’s Centre in Halifax. Last summer Bradford College allowed her to spend several Wednesdays at St Augustine’s to help set up a careers drop in for refugees, with Calderdale and Kirklees Careers service – a drop in which is still going strong.

“I meet refugees in Halifax, who remember me, who say ‘you helped give me confidence’,” Danielle reflects. “It’s an amazing feeling when that happens.

“It’s the same here at College. You want to help people to do their best, but when you hear students’ stories you realise its not surprising some people don’t flourish in education – they have so many challenges to face and some are trapped in cycle of oppression. One of my students shed tears of joy last week. Despite all the barriers she has faced, she is on target to obtain a first class honours and has won a prestigious competitive scholarship to do a Masters at a university in the East of England.“

Danielle has a religious faith which provides the basis for her ethical values and her commitment to helping disadvantaged people and communities. “You’ve got to be passionate,” she says. “What you believe in matters. It’s not been easy for me, not everything was given to me on a plate. But if people are given opportunities and the right help, and they have the determination to work hard then they can progress.”

Danielle is a member of the College’s Equality and Diversity Committee.

interview by ruth Wilson, photos by Ruth Wilson, Danielle Chavrimootoo and St Augustines.

Learning about ethics in pharmacy: from religious principles to massive robots

Victoria Wilkinson is a pharmacy technician who now teaches at Bradford College.

“In your average pharmacy, there are more technicians and assistants than pharmacists, and those are the groups we train here at the College” Victoria explains.

“Once this was a predominantly female profession, but there are growing numbers of men coming in, and we get people of all ages, from 16 to in their 50s. It’s a great career because there are so many areas you can work in: aseptics, which involves sterile environments; radiopharmacy, where you work with the radioactive pharmaceuticals
used in nuclear medicine; stores; purchasing and clinical trials to name a few. There are good jobs in NHS hospitals, but there’s also the army, teaching and pharmaceutical companies, so it’s an important and varied specialism.”

Victoria Wilkinson. Pharmacuetical Science Tutor, Bradford College

Victoria Wilkinson. Pharmacuetical Science Tutor, Bradford College

Victoria and I talked about the ethical issues that pharmacy technicians have to address:

“All technicians have a code of ethics set by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). For the last two years, membership has been mandatory, and there is a student code of conduct which students refer to when in training. For us, the patient comes first and that’s something we always emphasise. The findings of the inquiry into Stafford Hospital have made headline news, and it reinforces the importance of ethics for all healthcare staff.”

Another area is personal ethics. “There are some people who will not dispense the emergency morning after pill because of religious principles. We encourage open, tolerant and respectful discussion on sensitive topics like this. It is in fact legal for a pharmacist to refuse to dispense the pill, but they have to register this in advance with the GPhC and they have to advise the patient of other places where they can get the contraceptive.”

Another area students can feel strongly about is branded and generic drugs, where pharmaceutical companies charge a lot for patented and protected drugs for a 12 year period from the date they are released onto the market. “It’s the companies’ way of recouping their investment in research and development,” Victoria explains. “But there is a downside – cost. And for instance there is not enough research into areas such as antibiotics, possibly because that is not an attractive commercial option for the big companies.”

Victoria also teaches relevant areas of the law to College pharmacy students, and she recites a long list of legislation that is relevant. I ask whether a pharmacy technician might spot something like inappropriate or corrupt prescribing. “It is the job of the pharmacist to clinically check prescriptions so they may be more likely to identify something, but a technician could also spot something like this.”

Other areas for discussion are human error and how to minimise it, health and safety issues and data protection. “Working in a hospital or pharmacy you might well see the prescription of someone you know, or bump into someone out and about who you’ve seen as a patient,” says Victoria. “You have to manage those situations professionally.”

We talk briefly about the introduction of massive dispensing robots into hospital pharmacies. “You enter the prescription and the robot finds and packages the medication,” Victoria explains. “If the programming is right and the drugs are in the right place, it makes things safer. So humans still have to get everything right.” Does it lead to loss of jobs? “No, I think it gives the pharmacy staff more time to be with patients, which is what matters most.”

Victoria got her first job at the age of 16 at Bradford Royal Infirmary, and trained one day a week here at the College. She then became a full-time arts student at Bradford College, eventually doing a degree in fashion design. “I went back into pharmacy  as a locum technician, working anywhere in the country, just to make money while I waited for a fashion job,” Victoria explains. “But I got placed in Quality Control and suddenly something clicked and I fell in love with the job.”

Victoria has many years practical experience working in the NHS. While hospital-based, she gradually built up teaching skills, and in 2011 she jumped at the chance to work at Bradford College, where she helps provide training to our student pharmacy technicians.

The award-winning Bradford College Pharmacy Team (Victoria is in the back row).

The award-winning Bradford College Vocational Science Team (Victoria is in the back row).

Victoria’s team is celebrating right now: they have won several awards including most recently Partnership of the Year for the work with City Training Services and the Pharmacy Development Unit (University of Leeds) in the NHS Yorkshire and the Humber 2013 Apprenticeship Awards for National Apprenticeship Week.

They were also highly commended for the Provider of the Year category for these awards. Last year they won the College Team of the Year award. Two of their students are nominated as Rising Stars 2013 in the Further Education Awards, and  the team has been shortlisted for the Cogent UK Life Sciences Skills Award for Provider of the Year – to be announced by Science Minister the Rt Hon David Willetts.

So pharmacy at Bradford College is going strong – and lots of fingers are crossed for forthcoming awards!
Find out about Bradford College’s pharmacy courses.

photos and text by ruth wilson, bradford college

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.