Leading by example - a new era of tech savvy colleges

By Victoria Wilson

First published in FE News - http://bit.ly/1V21o1r

Helen Dennis, director of marketing and information at Bilborough Sixth Form College, explains how the further education sector can benefit from working more closely with the software industry to improve student retention and achievement.

At a time when budgets are under increasing pressure, it is more important than ever for colleges to encourage their students to complete their chosen pathway through further education and achieve well.

This is a key focus for Bilborough Sixth Form College. We have been working with Capita to develop a mobile technology solution designed to make it easier for teaching and non-teaching staff working in colleges to improve student retention and achievement.

A future less ordinary

Our marketing strapline at Bilborough is 'a future less ordinary' and we take our role in delivering this vision very seriously. But this ethos is just as relevant to us as a college and one way we have embraced this is through our work with Capita.

Student record systems have been used by colleges for many years to store information such as students' contact details and record the latest attendance or assessment grades. In colleges like ours this kind of data is held centrally, making it easier for staff to find what they need to do their jobs.

But we wanted to take this a step further and put information in front of staff that is relevant to them, wherever they are and whether they are directors of faculty, teaching staff or tutors. We wanted to remove the need for staff to 'explore' our computer systems to find the information they want and instead turn them into the 'data drivers'.

Mobile technology was the answer and Bilborough College has been working in partnership with Capita to bring this vision to life. The Staff Advantage solution offers colleges a role-specific dashboard of real-time information that teaching or non-teaching staff can access and update, using a tablet or web browser.

The app knows who our teaching staff are, as well as who they teach. This means that they can see details of their students' progress simply. Over or under-performance, disciplinary issues and other causes for concern are be immediately visible to them. Staff can also drill down and find more details or enter notes quickly and easily for an individual student or group.

Having a mobile solution means that a member of staff can monitor a student's grades and attendance and communicate with them, or their parents, directly wherever they are working. Teaching staff can create and mark assignments and even keep an eye on their students' punctuality from whichever device they choose. Before they would have had to spend time searching for the information they need in different places or be tied to their desk.

Shaping the future of technology

It is vital that college staff are free to spend as much time as possible on ensuring young people complete their courses and achieve the best possible grades. At Bilborough, it is easy to foresee the use of mobile technology becoming pivotal in the drive to ensure students get the help they need from our staff to succeed – from enrolment through to results – as they become increasingly aware of the power of having information at their fingertips.

The further education sector has an important role to play in ensuring that tomorrow's technology meets the needs of colleges and helps them to tackle the issues they face. By working more closely with the business world, colleges can harness the wealth of expertise that exists outside of the sector. This is essential to driving the direction in which technology needs to develop to ensure young people get the support they need to succeed.

Helen Dennis is director of marketing and information at Bilborough Sixth Form College

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