Cymru as you are: Why FE Colleges in Wales are turning to Canvas to help take them to the next level

Further Education colleges occupy a crucial, yet broad role in communities. Focused on vocational training and helping people develop the skills they need to get into work or put their career into a higher gear, FE colleges serve a varied range of students – some young, some already years into working life; many attending in urban centres, others commuting in or accessing courses from rural areas.

This versatility is why hard-working, flexible technology is so important – and two colleges in Wales have chosen to adopt Canvas to meet these needs. We spoke to Kate Pearce, ILT Team Leader at Gower College Swansea and Catherine Evans, Teaching and Learning Manager at Coleg Gwent in Newport, to find out what they are looking to get out of the technology at their institutes.

Gower College Swansea – using technology to cross borders

Kate Pearce explained how Gower College Swansea will be looking for Canvas to take their offering to the next level: “The reason we chose a new learning platform is to cover two crucial areas for us – work based learning apprenticeships, and our engagement with people in the area who are unemployed or in low income jobs. Our existing VLE wasn’t doing the job of helping us effectively manage both.

“The nature of our College means we’re often working with people offsite – distance or work-based learners. Upgrading our technology means they can access the content remotely without compromise and means the individual courses can be branded and focused on those groups specifically, in look and feel as well as content. It helps those students feel more of a part of the College even when not on campus.

“The distance and blended learning approach will be at the core of us growing our work-based learning and apprenticeships programmes. Our engagement with getting people into work will be a focus for the College and is a key area where Canvas can support us. The apprenticeship levy also means that we’re able to deliver apprenticeships in England. To start with, we’re delivering facilities management courses in Bristol, so again, quality distance learning is essential because so much of the courses will happen online.

“Assignment submission and tracking will be useful too. For students in FE, having the ability to submit a portfolio or exam in a range of different formats, from any location is a real benefit. And when the results come back, they can opt in to be alerted to them by push notifications on mobile or tablet.

“A key part of Gower College Swansea’s offering is the Better Jobs, Better Futures programme. It specifically aims to offer support to people in the Swansea area who are seeking new or better employment. Acting as a link between education and the world of work, the programme also assists local businesses who are looking to hire, ensuring participants end up with the skills to be a good fit with companies in the area.

“The programme offers things like job searching, contact with unemployment offices and roll-on, roll off courses. Technology like Canvas will be instrumental in helping keep in contact with people on the programme, and coordinate the various services offered.”

Coleg Gwent – stretching and supporting students

Catherine Evans also shared her take on what new technology like Canvas can offer Coleg Gwent: “For me, it’s about engaging learners. They want to be active participants in lessons, they’re used to finding stuff out online rather than having it dictated to them by teachers. This means when it comes to classes, there needs to be something beyond knowledge transfer, even when working from distance.

“We’ve got five campuses, each unique in their own way and with students with different types of backgrounds. Technology can help us keep a consistent culture within the college. We want to wow students, have them really enjoy their learning.

“Our students come here before going on to higher education, or jobs and we must prepare them for that. Now so much of the world of work is about problem solving using technology. Independent learning is so key. It's also about collaboration – but that isn’t always face to face. Canvas will help us bring all of these things into courses fluidly and consistently.

“All of these skills are part of our pledge to help students push themselves further. For those who need more support, they can practice again and again and build the skills they need while those who are more easily meeting learning objectives can explore further. Using a VLE is one of our key tools to stretch and challenge learners in this way.

“But there’s no use having the technology and all these plans if the system is hard to use. We wanted something simple to get used to, to reduce the number of steps between staff having a great idea to improve teaching and learning and putting it into practice. Canvas makes it easy to create and integrate new resources and it links seamlessly with other programmes like Office 365 and Blended Learning Consortium tools. It’s all very self contained and straightforward.

“We work very closely with employers – we have employer forums where we ask them what they’re looking for in new applicants. We work on our curriculum based on this and the information ends up going into course materials. As an FE college, we act as a bridge between education and work and having the right technology is an essential tool to fulfil that role effectively, offering flexible learning for our students.”