With remote learning enjoying an unprecedentedly high profile, it’s a timely moment for Weston College to launch the UK’s first virtual classroom in further education.
“Over the last six months, video technology has evolved and become much more the norm for delivery of teaching and learning,” said Simon Farr, director of innovation at one of the project’s partners, the education and technology not-for-profit, Jisc.
“The virtual classroom at Weston College allows students and staff to fully engage with one another in real-time while in different locations, with an almost in-classroom experience.”
Barco virtual classroom software and six 55-inch screens with cameras form the basis of the project, linked by Jisc’s super-fast national research and education network, Janet.
“Using digital technology to amplify the ‘human factor’ in teaching might seem counter-intuitive, but using tech in the right way can break down barriers and help educators facilitate learning,” said Jon Hofgartner, director of education technology at the Weston-super-Mare-based college.
“It’s all in the design and implementation. We’ve tried to make our virtual classroom as straightforward as possible, so nobody needs a technical degree to work it.”
In April 2019, Weston led a successful bid to become an Institute of Technology (IoT). It won a share of £170m, alongside 11 other colleges and universities, for its plans to work with local employers to create training, learning and professional development opportunities in technical education.
On October 8 this year, apprenticeships and skills minister, Gillian Keegan, officially opened the West of England IoT in a virtual ceremony.
Ahead of her ‘visit’, she said: “IoTs will be the pinnacle of technical training, offering higher technical STEM education and training in key sectors.
“[Digital education] will be even more important as we build back better from the pandemic.
“By collaborating with businesses, IoTs can deliver the technical knowledge and practical workplace skills employers are demanding like nowhere else.”