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Keynote: 4th Annual Further Education Technology Forum and FELTAG, six years on…

This week I am looking forward to contributing to the 4th Annual Further Education Technology Forum in London. It’s a great opportunity for me to spend a day learning from and listen to colleagues who work for FE providers and I very much value the practical insights that the day affords me.

This year, due to some fortunate circumstances beyond our control, I am delighted to speak together with Bob Harrison, whom I have known and worked with ever since I became chief executive of ALT in 2012. Bob was one of the first people to engage with me as a new arrival to a then brand new ministerial consultation group. Amidst all the politics that I as a newcomer was largely unaware of, Bob was always ready to listen, to learn and to change his mind – three qualities that I have since only encountered rarely in such contexts and together we contributed first to FELTAG, then to ETAG and to every policy development regarding Learning Technology in FE since. We share a passion for what FE is all about and our closing keynote comes under a heading which gives us scope to explore all the key issues, entitled as it is ‘Re-Invigorating the FELTAG Agenda and Discussing the Edtech Strategy- Evaluating Progress To Date and Discussing Priorities Going Forward’.

Like Bob, I have spoken at this annual conference before and in 2016, when the world was still a different place, I wrote this talk: Group, Action, Technology, Learning, Empowerment, Future… FELTAG inside out. In this talk, there were a few key moments that still ring true three years later:

And my concluding thought then was this: It has been over a century since Thomas Edison predicted the demise of books in schools and his predication has failed to come true. It’s also been over three years since that first meeting of the FELTAG group. We are now beyond FELTAG, we are finally living the future that’s always been just beyond the horizon and that’s a lot of responsibility for each of us.

A year later, I focused my keynote talk on Talking about #FELTAG: keynote on workforce development in Learning Technology. The talk focused on very practical and urgent needs identified in relation to two key sector needs: Digital Skills development in the workforce and Accreditation fit for a (digital) purpose? In FE Week, I concluded “that FELTAG set out, .. that ‘digital technology was not the end goal in itself’. … As an action group we [FELTAG] set out how Learning Technology can help meet the increasingly challenging demands in Further Education. Not primarily for economic or political gain, or indeed to the benefit of the employers, providers and developers involved. It’s the learners and the diverse constituency they represent and the contribution they make that is at the heart of the system. The kind of transformation you can witness in Forth Valley College and beyond demonstrates what’s achievable against all the odds. Against all the bleak headlines of recent months and years, it left me with a note of hope for the work we do as professionals across the UK and the future of FE(LTAG).”

That still rings true now.

Then, last year, against an increasingly dark FE landscape, my keynote looked at FELTAG – 5 years on: what more can we do and this time I took a more critical look at what progress we had made:

Now, this year, in a year which has seen strong activism and advocacy for the sector, strong political engagement on behalf of colleges and the whole vocational education system, I want to try and focus on two things (and you can access my slides here): first, to share some very practical resources with my audience to share the particular expertise and knowledge from the community I serve, the Members of the leading professional body for Learning Technology in the UK. A community whose Members are increasingly taking on more responsibility and more senior roles as organisations recognise that they need the kind of specialist skills and insights that Learning Technology professionals have in order to take effective decisions about how to use technology for learning, teaching and assessment.

One of the resources I will share is a new, expanded framework for professional recognition. Developed with the input from many of our accreditation Members and peer assessors, this framework provides pathways to peer-assessed accreditation for Learning Technology professionals in the UK and internationally. It includes core competencies and core principles of professional practice as well as guidance on ethical considerations and reflects the broad range of professional roles that require an increasingly specialist Learning Technology expertise.

Another new development to share in relation to the accessibility and inclusion agenda at the heart of the Department for Education’s Edtech Strategy is a growing set of webinar recordings and resources hosted by ALT in collaboration with the Further Higher Education Digital Accessibility Working Group (FHEDAWG). The series now includes topics such as ‘Inclusivity by design in Virtual Learning Environments’, the ‘Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) explored with policy makers’ and ‘Digital Accessibility as a right’ and all recordings and content from the sessions is freely available to all.

The other issue I want to focus on in my talk, is that Learning Technology and by extension being a Learning Technology professional, is inherently political – and our role is to not only manage the risks involved for staff and students, but to face up to some of the big questions that using technology in education at scale brings with it: issues around privacy, transparency and the well being of learners. We need to continue to focus on access, inclusion and equity. We need to acknowledge that the skills required to tackle such questions goes far beyond digital literacy or even data literacy and I want to champion the role of the Learning Technology professional in that endeavour.

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