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Colleges hit by lack of time for online skills

'People want to learn but are pushed too hard with their daily commitments'

A major survey of further education staff has found significant deficiencies in the uses they make of technology in their teaching.

Despite millions having been pumped in to step up lecturers' expertise with information and communication technology, the report on their training needs shows that three-quarters needed more help in using online learning effectively with students.

But a massive 86 per cent said they did not have the time to learn how to get better at promoting online learning.

Sarah Price, a manager with the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) for further and higher education, which helped compile the survey, commented: "There is evident tension between these two findings. People want to learn, but feel they are being pushed so hard with their daily professional commitments that they simply are not able to grasp the opportunities available to them."

The survey, billed as the largest ever into ICT skills in Scottish FE colleges, covered 2,500 employees including those in technical support, management and administration. It found that "access to technology has improved though there are still areas, particularly among academic staff, where continuing investment is required". There is "an urgent need" to improve skills and this is being hampered by the lack of a recognised standard qualification.

The report notes that ICT skills have improved, particularly on the back of the much-admired European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) programme. But it adds: "The need to develop these skills directly into the core business of teaching and learning is still very evident and there is still little evidence that any significant proportion of learning is taking place online."

The survey found that, while standards skills had increased considerably since the previous survey in 2001, they had remained "passive rather than active". Familiarity with online learning is also growing, but the improvement in technology and techniques "has been incremental rather than fundamental".

Virtual learning environments are relatively little known by staff.

Video-conferencing continues to be underused. Staff are aware of assistive technologies for special needs students but there is "a pressing need" to turn this into practical knowledge of how to apply the technologies.

The report says that one way forward would be to build on widespread recognition of the ECDL to create a similar qualification covering online learning. But the major barrier of lack of time would still have to be overcome.

The report goes on to urge college managers to take a grip on the situation. "There is a need at all levels for a steady flow of reliable information. Managers require this to inform the strategic planning process, while staff require information on new materials becoming available, techniques and training.

"There is also a need for college managements to communicate their ICT strategies more clearly to all staff."

Managers themselves are not always up to date, with two-thirds saying they needed more training. The strongest demand was in the area of "blue sky thinking", in explaining the potential of new technologies and their ability to transform college activities.

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