Member storyCollege students working at computers

From the farm to the sports hall: ‘Discover Digital’ at Barnsley College puts digital learning in every space

When Barnsley College embarked on a digital transformation project that would span all service areas across all 14 campuses, Rachel James, assistant principal for teaching and learning, had a challenge ahead of her.

Rachel wanted to bring digital into every learning space, from the farm to the sports hall, to bring each subject to life and allow for a new way of teaching. Rachel knew the project was ambitious and that securing senior leadership support and funding would be key to getting it off the ground. She would offer three pieces of advice to any other institutions starting their transformation journey; do as much research as possible, be clear about your vision, and be confident in your strategy. Jisc’s digital elevation tool also proved to be a vital resource during the planning and implementation of the project.

Rachel says:

Rachel James

“There were two parts to it; one that made us realise how far along the journey we had come and to really praise and commend the team for that, and another that allowed us to think about what we still needed to do and then generate new ideas. It really helped us reflect where we were on our digital journey and what we needed to prioritise moving forward. The elevation tool gave us confidence and direction as a team.”

The Discover Digital initiative was launched as a result of the team’s hard work and planning. It started as an event series including Women in Tech and Eco Tech for staff and students, local schools, and the wider Barnsley community.  

“Next, we invested in a Discover Digital space, where students learnt how to use the room and the technologies at the same time as the teaching staff. It really created a safe environment to bring technology into the classroom and was a natural and collaborative approach to bring digital technology in to the curriculum. For staff who found moving to digital technologies daunting, this approach was particularly helpful.”  

Something Rachel discovered as she started work on the project was the importance of an award scheme to allow staff to measure their progress and to really feel invested in their learning. At the end of the first two-year cycle, 86% of all staff, not only those in teaching and learning but across all support departments, had engaged in the Discover Digital award scheme. Three teams had already completed gold just two months into the new cycle, so to maintain the momentum, the digital transformation team has now introduced an additional innovator award. 

Transformation: the bigger picture 

Alongside the digital changes, Rachel and the team are working towards transforming all learning environments to be inclusive and flexible to provide the best possible teaching and learning experience. They want to seek input from students on how they learn best, and ask teachers what kind of environments they want to teach in. The feedback will hopefully translate into even more flexible learning spaces. In subjects like Maths and English, perhaps considered hard to teach in a non-traditional style, the college is also looking at how they can engage students in different ways. 

“If a student hasn't enjoyed studying maths previously, we want to bring them into a learning environment where they feel comfortable and engage in their learning. This space doesn’t have to remind them of a traditional school setting. We bring VR into maths and the students love it."

“Also in the classroom for English, VR is used to take learners into the text they’re studying; and the digital technology brings the subject to life in a totally different way.”

Technology for all 

Outside of the college, the digital transformation extends to local schools and the community. Staff were recently invited to get involved with esports as a wellbeing initiative, something that will form part of the college’s next step in their digital innovation programme. The college works with local primary schools to educate them on the computing curriculum through play-based learning, sport, esports and physical activity. Rachel wants to develop this further, offering external students the chance to explore the facilities and get a taste of esports, led by learners at the college. 

“Our esports department will continue to work with over 1000 local primary school children as we discover new ways to support the local community in our projects. Esports is a great subject that supports wellbeing, brings out confidence and engages learners of all ages.”  

While the transformation within teaching and learning is an important part of the Discover Digital project, Rachel’s vision was to see the whole institution embrace digital technology and see the learner experience as one that begins for everyone as soon as they walk through the college doors. At a recent development day, the team went above and beyond by delivering from 6:30am to reach every member of staff.  

“Recently the Learning for Living and Work department hosted a session in the Discover Digital space, working alongside the digital transformation team with Age UK. This was a cross generational piece of work where the local community learnt how to use VR. They had an enjoyable new experience and it really shows the impact of offering digital support to everybody.” 

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