Learning Resources Centres (LRCs) at STCG and beyond have been embracing digital technologies for a long time now. We have assumed that would speed up as technology improved and our customers’ expectations shifted but recent events have accelerated it in a way that no one was expecting.
How did we adapt and what have we learnt to help us shape the future?
The suddenness of the first lockdown meant that many students were unsure how to access or use the systems that they needed. The LRC service manages the Group’s Virtual Learning Environment. We also provide basic frontline IT support for students. When our physical services closed our dedicated Moodle Support inbox quickly got very busy.
Once the initial rush to get everyone set up for home learning had calmed down a little, we started to think about how to adapt other aspects of our service.
There is much more to successful online learning than just being able to access and navigate systems. Studying (and teaching) remotely meant mastering a whole range of new skills. It wasn’t just the obvious technical ones. Students needed to master skills like the etiquette of online lessons and managing their time without their usual structures. We responded to this need by creating a course on the VLE called ‘How to be a Distance Learner at STCG’. This guide was warmly welcomed by teachers and students. At the last count it had 5199 unique visitors and 41641 hits.
Promoting LRC e-resources was another key area. They were already the focus of our collection. E-books and e-resources make it easier for us to give students the information they need where and when they want it. However, we are used to offering a blended service where print and digital resources work alongside each other. We were suddenly digital only. Making sure that teachers and students were aware of what was available and how to use it became more important than ever.
This created a useful overlap between our e-learning support role and our Learning Resources role. Running our Moodle Support service and helping to support Teams gave us opportunities to point teachers and students towards useful e-resources.
Running a successful CPD session on using e-resources in teaching and individual / departmental CPD also played a part in raising awareness. The wider Quality division’s success in embedding CPD via Teams in the Group’s working life made this possible.
Our efforts to make sure students knew about their LRC e-books showed signs of success. We currently have two e-book platforms. If we compare the number of pages viewed in 2019/2020 to 2020/2021 then one had gone up by 66% and the other had gone up by 446%. The latter is slightly inflated because we stopped using a third platform but the trend is clear. In March, STCG came 9th in the e-books in FE usage charts. This isn’t just the effect of lockdown. It reflects a long-term strategy of investing in e-books and providing them at the point of need by embedding them in VLE course pages.
The LRC team were actually able to add to the collection during lockdown by tracking down e-resources that were temporarily offered for free during the crisis. Supporting teaching and learning is the core of what the LRC service does but we’ve also always had a role in supporting reading for pleasure, enrichment and mental well-being.
A lot of our resources to support the curriculum were already online but in terms of fiction and general interest titles we were still largely print based. Getting around this called for a bit of creativity so LRC staff developed the Lockdown Library. This was an area of the VLE where we promoted the range of e-books and online magazines available through our local library services, other free sources and the LRC collection. The mental health benefits of reading for pleasure are huge so we hope this played a part in helping everyone to stay positive.
For many people, a potential risk to their mental health was the sudden need to balance their work with home schooling their children. The LRC’s response to this was the Kids Hub, an area of the VLE that brought together a vast range of fun activities for children. Look out for more about that in a future blog post.
Lockdown also dramatically underlined how important the physical LRCs are in helping to bridge the digital divide. For a lot of students having a study space where they can go and work on a reliable computer with helpful staff on hand is a necessity.
The challenge continues...
Our new challenge is working out how to build a better blended LRC service in light of the lessons learned from our experience of being a digital only one. There have already been some big improvements. Our e-learning support is better organised thanks to our new support portal for staff, the Quality Help Centre. We work more effectively as a cross-group service because we are less tied by physical location. The e-resources collection has recently become easier to access. Online delivery has opened up new opportunities for supporting teachers’ CPD and students’ study skills.
One of the most important lessons of the last year is that we need to be ready to adapt to the changing needs of our learners. (Even if we all hope that future changes are a bit less dramatic.) Digital transformation is about making sure that we have the right tools and skills to do that.
This post was written by Alan Green, Learning Resources Centre Co-ordinator (Kingston College) at South Thames Colleges Group