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Widening participation in further education


"An educational entrepreneur" was the Becta evaluation team's assessment of Peter Funnell. Peter runs Create (the Centre for Research in Educational Applications of Telematics) and is also head of learning development at Suffolk College, which is an accredited college of the University of East Anglia. Oh, and he's chief executive of the Televersity for Suffolk Company.

Telematics? "The branch of information technology which deals with the long-distance transmission of computerised information," explains The New Oxford Dictionary of English. It's a tool that Peter believes is especially pertinent to the learning needs of those living in the remote and dispersed rural communities of Suffolk and East Anglia.

Create, a self-funding research centre of Suffolk College has explored the potential of ICT to widen participation in vocational and lifelong learning and identified the Internet as the resource best suited to delivering education to potential learners who might otherwise be disenfranchised by circumstance or physical location.

Peter's intention is "to provide personalised access to learning on demand" to such a constituency by using the Internet to reach learners at home, work or at learning centres. Modules can be offered at any time of the day, seven days a week. Training and support is tailored to cater for individual needs.

Already, the Televersity company is offering a range of distance learning programmes, one of which - developed by Peter and a range of community partners - is an introduction to key Internet and business skills, leading to Open College Network accreditation. Televersity is also supplying learning packages to more than 50 small to medium-sized firms in Suffolk that lead to nationally recognised qualifications.

Negotiating and manoeuvring in the present mixed economy education marketplace requires a particularly robust adroitness and it is here that Peter's aforementioned entrepreneurial skills come to the fore. Partnerships have been developed across education and business communities in Suffolk and a number of initiatives have been created.

Were these Peter's only achievements we would be celebrating an organiser, a motivator and fund-raiser supreme. What sets him apart, and what the Becta award has recognised, is his singular determination to, "find new ways of achieving clear educational outcomes by using new technologies, so liberating the creative potential of individuals."

Learning; anywhere, and at any time. It's a phrase much used in education circles at the present time. It's an idea with enormous potential. It's also a working reality, an educational vehicle that brings enrichment and nourishment into the community. And that's what Peter Funnell and his team are steadily building in Suffolk.

Action points

* Focus on personalised learning on demand

* ICT supports wider access to learning

* Need for community and publicprivate sector partnerships to develop effective ICT solutions

* The primary challenge is educational not technological


Brasshouse Language Centre in Birmingham is the largest specialist language centre in the country catering for a wide variety of learners many of whom have little experience of, and few relevant skills in, ICT. It's estimated that 70 per cent of students have no home access to a computer. Introducing new technologies into such an environment rquires sensitivity, patience and not a little determination. Enter Henriette Harnisch.

Henriette has been at Brasshouse for two years. In that time she has helped move technology "out of the self-access corner and into the language classroom" and has been steadily developing and introducing strategies for the integration of ICT with more traditional teaching methods. To the point that "technology is now something that the tutors and ultimately the students use with increasing confidence". And although language study remains the centre's main focus, the successful infusion of ICT means that Brasshouse now includes, "learners in the realm of technology-enhanced language learning who would otherwise would not have been participating".

Fundamental to this achievement has been the creation of a learning climate where the introduction of new technology nurtures the learning process. By setting up a collaborative structure between staff and students and encouraging suggestions and criticisms, Henriette has been able to establish a dynamic where evaluations are integral to delivery and conclusions are built into future developments. Underpinning this incremental, evolutionary approach is an ethos of inclusivity which should ensure that the growth of ICT "does not become an initiative restricted to a few people but improves learning for all".

Driven by personal commitment and sound educational planning, this initiative seems set to flourish. But, as we all know, the path of technology does not always run smooth. Who could have foreseen, for example, that French language students would be not be able to access learning material on the Birmingham LEA Education Grid because the word "French" was on a list of circumscribed words. It happened.

The core technology aids at Brasshouse are the Internet and the interactive whiteboard. The Internet was initially used to bring authentic material into language lessons but its obvious educational potential has encouraged staff to develop and improve their ICT skills. And while still employed primarily for research, Henriette expects that the Internet will, in the longer term, become established as a communicative interactive teaching tool.

Interactive whiteboard technology was chosen as it was perceived as a non-threatening and familiar learning tool, well known in a previous incarnation to staff and students alike. Henriette believes that she can present it as a newer, more dynamic version of the "Miss at the Blackboard" model. Presently, three whiteboards are being used at the centre but there are plans for further expansion.

Those at BETT 2001 will have been astonished at the array of "must have" high technology teaching aids. What Henriette's success at Brasshouse demonstrates, however, is that the best tool in education, as elsewhere, is the appropriate tool. "The most inspiring resource," adds Henriette, "is the teacher."

Action points

* ICT is exploited as an additional tool, one of many, in the teacher's toolkit

* Tutors need to be trained to use ICT in a pedagogically sound way

Exploring language learning through ICT allows development of secondary IT skills for students

* The Internet is a natural for language learning: an authentic, up-to-the minute resource at the touch of a button

* ICT, and particularly the Internet, promotes authenticity, removes geo graphical barriers and acts as a huge motivational factor

Hugh John

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