The focus group was set up a couple of years ago to hear from students about the digital skills they have and how they learn to use new technologies and resources. A recurring theme was that students often don't look to teachers for advice on or practical help with all things digital. The Library and Learning Technology Service started working on a plan to enable students to help other students develop their digital skills and knowledge. Don't assume from this that we necessarily agree with Prensky's Digital Native proposition, we just recognised that students have a great influence on each other.
It was around this time that JISC were inviting bids from the 'Celtic Nations' (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - SWaNI) for their Learning and Teaching Innovation strand (Grant 10/10: SWaNI FE). Our bid was successful (along with 6 other colleges) and our PEDL Project (Peer eGuides promoting Digital Literacy) received funding for a year.
Funding Details: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/fundingopportunities/funding_calls/2010/09/grant1010
Since January 2011, we have been developing the eGuide approach and although the JISC funding finished in December 2011 we have continued to make refinements and will open the eGuide Programme to all courses across the college in the next academic year.
You can get an overview of the PEDL project here:
The final report is here:
In essence, we asked course tutors to identify a student who had good digital skills and who was already seen by the others in the group as someone they could approach for help. We viewed the interpersonal skills as important, if not more so, than the digital skills. We explained the programme and the eGuide role and then provided core and further training in the essential digital tools and resources used in the college based on the results of an eGuide Skill Audit.
A similar briefing was given to the student groups studying on the same course as the eGuides where we stressed that the eGuides could help them with some digital problems but mostly their role was to direct students to the online skills portal (TARDiS - Tools And Resources for a Digital Society) or to specialist Library and ICT staff. A reflective journal, a staff mentor and regular debriefing meetings all help maintain the eGuide engagement with their role.
During the funded period, two cohorts of eGuides were trained and supported and many lessons were learnt. Some of the main lessons for others wishing to adopt a similar approach to student skill development are:
- Ensure staff identify potential eGuides according to the criteria mentioned above rather than cut corners and ask for volunteers (a student vote would be more preferable than a free for all).
- Two eGuides from larger course groups works well due to mutual support and reminders.
- Regular contact of small groups of eGuides and their staff mentor helps maintain enthusiasm for the role.
- Start the programme early in the academic year, probably earlier than you might think advisable. Students have greatly valued the early support from their peers.
- Some recognition of the extra effort that eGuides are making is appreciated. Providing refreshments at some meetings, high street vouchers before Christmas and possibly a 'star prize' for active Guides etc.
- Regular feedback sessions where eGuide experiences are genuinely listed to and acted upon to improve the programme further.
For the next academic year we will be providing eGuide sweatshirts.
The students themselves have requested this and feel that they could have helped in a wider capacity if they had been more easily recognised.
I remember an early meeting of the project staff where we considered doing something like that but rejected it as rather patronising.
I am often surprised what students value and want - all the more reason to keep asking them!!!