Syd Rimmer winner of this year's Post-16 Teaching category in the ICT in Practice awards, talks to Dorothy Walker

10th March 2006 at 00:00
Syd Rimmer's construction students are building their future with the help of ICT. "They are developing self reliance, self motivation and self management," says Syd. "Nothing pleases me more than seeing the students in control of their learning."

Syd is lecturer in construction at Barking College in Essex. He has been using ICT in his teaching since the 1980s, but it took almost two decades before he became truly excited by the power of technology. After that, things began to move fast; Syd's inspired use of e-learning systems won him first place in the Post-16 Teaching category of this year's ICT in Practice awards.

Over the years Syd has experimented with a long list of technologies to help his students learn, and admits he has had his share of "negative experiences". He recalls developing a computer-aided learning package for Higher National Certificate (HNC) students. The idea was to learn about a construction topic on screen then take a computer-based test. "They were really confused," says Syd. "They thought the whole thing was a test."

Three years ago, when he arrived at Barking College, it was his students who inspired him to try another approach. They had been using a learning platform, which offered online materials to support their lectures and assignments. But a major change of software was under way and Syd had decided to provide resources via a website rather than employ the new system.

"The students came to me and said: Syd, we liked the way we were working last year - why have we changed?" he explains. "It was the first time in my career that students had taken the lead in their learning."

His first task was to persuade the college that he should be the one to decide how the learning platform would work for his students. "They were my courses, and I wanted the template to reflect what I was trying to achieve."

He won his case and set to work. Rather than drip-feeding the students with resources week by week, he wanted to reflect everything they needed to know for their course. "My model was transparency - students could see very clearly what the course was about and what they would be expected to do."

First to be published was an assignment profile, showing all the assignments that lay ahead. "That was a real kick-start," says Syd. There was a magic moment when a student arrived with an essay to be marked. "It was about databases - and we hadn't covered databases in our lectures. He had seen the assignment and gone ahead and done the research on his own.

The essay covered all the bases, so I asked him to present a short session on databases to the class."

The college uses Moodle, the open source learning platform. Available free of charge, the software is designed for delivering online courses and encouraging learners to collaborate. Syd uses it to enhance rather than replace his lectures. "The best thing about Moodle is the clarity and simplicity with which materials are presented to the user. When I used to put resources up on a website, students would follow a few links and they wouldn't be able to find their way back," he says.

Students can enjoy video clips which bring construction skills to life.

"When materials are online, they use them - and they will rerun a video or game over and over again, because they love messing about with computers,"

says Syd. "In the summer, when they are supposed to be on holiday, students are logging on to see if there is anything they should be looking at, because they want to get on with their studies."

Syd trains fellow professionals, and would like to see more teachers trying out e-learning with their students. "People from other colleges ask me for materials, and I direct them to our site. But some never even log on to have a look," he says. "We need communities of practice to help spread the word among teachers. The students don't need convincing."

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