Dorothee Leslie, Vice-Principal of Fife College

Fife College Leading the Way in Creating a Blended Learning Experience

Dorothee Leslie, Vice-Principal of Fife College writing in The Scotsman newspaper, 17th September 2020.

The call to close all five of Fife College’s campuses in March this year was an incredibly tough, but necessary, decision. As a place of learning we’re used to having our classrooms, workshops and study areas buzzing with students, and to halt that and temporarily suspend the teaching of so many people was tough to take – especially for all of our hardworking lecturers and staff who have dedicated themselves to their students over the course of the academic year.

But we had anticipated this as the situation was evolving in March and knew that no matter how long it took, we’d be ready to bounce back into action when it was safe to do so, and it was with huge satisfaction that we are able to reopen our buildings to students this month for the start of the new academic year. While not everyone will be back in class at first, those with practical elements to their teaching will return, and we will be applying a blended learning approach for others.

So, to have new and mature learners finally back in class is a great step and just reward for all of the efforts we and colleges like us have been putting in to make campuses safe for students and staff. Across each of our buildings, we’ve introduced measures that are becoming more and more commonplace across Scotland at present. One-way systems are in place in hallways, we have guidance in each room with regards to social distancing, and hand sanitising stations have been installed.

This is in addition to more regular cleaning of facilities, and a guide for students on how to keep safe on campus with details of how our track and trace system operates. But while we hope that these measures make those students who are returning feeling safer at the College, it’s simply not possible to have all students back on campus at this time.

For those who can’t return, it’s important that they don’t miss out on their education. Early on in the pandemic, we invested heavily in digital technology for students, at one stage going out and delivering 300 devices around the region to students. We’ve continued this investment since then in a bid to ensure that every student has access to the resources they need to continue their learning from home.

We’ve also developed a system to live stream and record lessons as they are happening so that those who are at home can still view lessons and ask questions of the lecturer as if they were in class. It’s also recorded so that those who aren’t able to tune-in at the time can watch it later at a time convenient to them.

Ensuring a high-quality learning experience is important for Fife College, but we’ve also been working hard to ensure that our students don’t miss out on the social side of the college experience either. Attending college is a hugely exciting time for any student, and too often we forget that the Coronavirus pandemic has robbed many of the life experiences that this brings as well.

Our student's association has done great work to put on a virtual Freshers’ Fayre, a film club offering free movie screenings for Freshers’ Week, and even an online quiz with ‘The Beast’ Mark Labbett from ITV’s The Chase chairing it. We hope this will go some way to giving students the college experience they deserve and put them in the best possible place as they progress through their studies.

What cannot be doubted is the challenge that is faced by students across Scotland at this time. Figures published by the think-tank IPPR at the end of last month painted a worrying picture, predicting youth unemployment hitting six-figures by the end of the year. We know the challenges that we will face going forward, which is why we have to do everything we can now to prepare for it.

The recently published Higgins Report looked at what Scotland’s economy would look like after the pandemic, and called for an education-led recovery, stating that “As in the aftermath of 2008, colleges will need to be at the heart of the recovery effort.” We, and other colleges around Scotland, are ideally placed to react to the needs of any future jobs market, and to provide the skills Scots will need to gain employment in the future.

We know this will be a big task, and colleges will need to offer more places to students looking to start or to change their careers. Fife College however is ready for the challenge, and as we enter the new academic term we’re looking forward to providing tens of thousands of our students with the opportunity to progress in life.