Blog: October 2017

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Being an NEC intern

NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury

Today's blog is the second posted by NEC Marketing Intern Rea Duxbury, pictured above. Rea worked with NEC during the summer and has now returned to the University of Cambridge, where she is studying in her final year for a degree in human, social and political sciences. You can read her previous blog post here: 'How do we reverse the decline in mature student numbers?'

Being an NEC intern

Before applying to be a marketing intern with the National Extension College I had not heard of the organisation and was not aware of what it did. However, after working here for three months I believe that I have gained a good understanding of NEC, the richness of its history and the climate around distance learning.

This is due to the fact that I have been given genuine responsibilities and tasks to do which has not only made me feel like a ‘proper’ employee but has enabled me to quickly get to grips with the terminology used in the office and the priorities of the charity during its busiest months.

Fortunately, just like the flexibility of NEC courses, I have been given the flexibility to explore what I am interested in. For example, being a Politics and Sociology student I am interested in a career in policy. Therefore it has been fantastic to be able to put together a short policy paper for Cambridge Labour MP Daniel Zeichner on lifelong learning and NEC’s role as a pioneer within the sector for over 50 years.

I have also enjoyed looking at ways to improve NEC’s social media presence, mostly because I get to read so many inspiring case studies from students! As well as the short policy paper and social media, I have designed eshots, analysed data from introductory assignments to gain a better understanding of STEM students and put together mailing lists for the new guide to courses.

I have become a lot more confident in my abilities and the skills that I can bring to the working world when I graduate next year. For example, I have never liked maths and didn’t think I was particularly good at spreadsheets, but after analysing data on the introductory assignments I feel much better about these two areas. Creating comparative graphs and calculating response percentages would have definitely phased me before I was given this project.

It is this hands-on experience which will not only make me more confident when applying for jobs next year but will enable employers to see that I have made an effort to gain experience during the summer months. As NEC founder Michael Young said back in 1988: ‘the old education fed by the acquisition of book knowledge will not be appropriate for many of them. These new students will need practical skills’.

As someone who is particularly interested in educational inequality, it is only through working at NEC that my eyes have been opened to the importance of adult education and how much more support needs to be given to mature, part-time and second-chance learners. However, it has also made me feel more optimistic about the future. With people living longer and great technological advances, individuals don’t have to go straight from A levels to a degree or from a degree to postgraduate qualifications but can keep returning to learning throughout their lives, making organisations such as NEC more and more important.

In the world of unpaid internships I would like to highlight that despite the fact that NEC is a small charity, it does pay its interns - an example many other organisations should follow. On its advertisement of the internship, its description as a ‘small, friendly office’ has rung true and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here.

Going back to university in the next couple of weeks I would like to thank both NEC and Murray Edwards Gateway Programme for the opportunity it has given me. I look forward to seeing NEC grow over the next couple of years. With new courses, partnerships, website development and an Instagram account on the way there is lots to be excited about!

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Thursday, 05 October 2017

Teachers, technology and the future of learning

Woman wearing an augmented reality headset

This week’s blogger is former NEC GCSE English student Naila Din. Now a freelance arts advisor and business coach, Naila turned to teaching as a second career after studying graphic design at university and working as a graphic designer in the world of web design before embarking on a career in education. Her enthusiasm for education and the integration of technology into the classroom prompted her to further develop her knowledge in this field with a Masters in Digital Media, with a particular focus on the future of education. This blog post is the first of two about the impact of technology in the classroom and looks at what technology means for teachers. The next post, which will look at the impact of technology on students, will be published in the new year.

Whether we teachers like it or not, technology has firmly established itself in the classroom and education is evolving fast as a result. Rapid technological change puts pressure on teachers to redefine their role as they must continue to be students themselves throughout their teaching career if they are to be fully effective practitioners.

Many, perhaps most, teachers are in an unfamiliar place, with little idea where technology is going to take us next in education and what systemic impact it will have. What’s more, we are pretty much in the dark when it comes to understanding the world we are preparing our students for once they leave compulsory education.

We take it as read that technology dominates the lives of students when they are outside the classroom. Virtually every student in secondary school, college and university carries one or more personal devices with them. The numbers of pupils in primary school with a smart phone is growing. From the age of two or three, children are proficient users of i-pads, with their intuitive learning platform.

One thing we can be sure of is that the degree to which teachers embrace technology varies across the education sector. Why is that? A 2008 study by Baek, Youngkyun Jung, Jaeyeob, Kim and Bokyeong in Korea demonstrated that external factors influence the extent to which teacher integrate technology into their classroom practice. The researchers found that many educators are reluctant to experiment with technology, a reluctance that is more pronounced the older they are. The study also shows that the strength of teachers’ desire to appear competent, cooperative and conforming to technology standards is a strong determiner of the extent to which they integrate technology into their classroom practice.

Many teachers continue to see technology as a teaching tool that helps students communicate in a learning environment and gives them a means to demonstrate their learning. However, educational institutions that aim to give teachers training in technologies for learning with the aim of them being always on top of relevant technological developments are fighting a losing battle (an expensive one), such is the speed at which technology is evolving.

So on what principles should schools, colleges and universities base their approach to technology for learning? These are the two I would propose above all others.

First, the creation of a flexible learning environment that enables teachers and students to be partners in learning.

Second, a shift in thinking about the dynamics of the teacher-student relationship to one that encourages innovation rather than conformity, and recognises the importance of emotional intelligence in collaborating to achieve a shared goal.

This is tough in a sector in which team work is liable to be viewed as cheating. It demands recognition by educators that learning be seen as a series of challenges rather than a cycle of lessons. Such an approach enables gaming technology to assess the progress of individual students, making possible differentiation of teaching, for example. Games-based learning can already record and report on students’ engagement and progress in real time on digital tablets, including the monitoring of students’ eye movements.

Gone is the option students once had of being passive receivers of instruction. Increasingly, technologies such as augmented reality are placing teachers in the role of facilitator rather than educator. As a result, continuing professional development for teachers must begin to include as standard coaching and mentoring skills to support students in thinking creatively, with the emphasis placed on how to think rather than what to think, a theme I discuss in 21st century teaching: what and how to think, a previous blog post I wrote for NEC.

Under this pedagogic model, students cannot be other than active agents in their own learning. Children starting school in 2017 will reach retirement age somewhere around 2084. No futurologist can tell us in detail what the future looks like for that generation, or for their teachers. One thing we can say for certain is that adaptability to change will be vital for teachers and students alike.

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