During the pandemic, Jisc and The associations of colleges (AoC) conducted some research, resulting in a report Shaping the Digital Future of FE and Skills. Amongst other things, the report highlighted the need for government to invest in a centralised Further Education (FE) and skills digital content search and discovery platform that highlights high-quality content.
It was clear that tutors and practitioners struggle to keep up with fast-paced technological changes and struggle to adapt their teaching practices to suit blended/hybrid teaching environments. Further research made it apparent that searching for content was time-consuming, search results were not organised, and teachers spent more time and effort recreating content, which increased their workload.
To help address these needs, Jisc, The Open University and Ufi came together to develop a content discovery platform for FE teachers. After spending two years of sector engagement, research and analysis, we have developed a proof-of-concept design intending to co-create the next phases after garnering feedback from the FE sector.
What is VocTeach Discovery?
VocTeach Discovery is a digital content discovery platform designed to aggregate quality teaching resources that teachers can access, download and use in their teaching programme. Some will also define it as a Netflix for teachers. The platform’s main aim is to alleviate some of the pain points teachers expressed during our research and improve the quality of online and blended learning.
Currently, in its proof-of-concept phase, the platform utilises machine learning and smart algorithms to deliver a more personalised search experience based on each user’s search needs, providing more accurate recommendations on different search objectives like subject area, outcomes and qualifications or teaching levels and ultimately making it an efficient, cost-effective, and timesaving solution. At the same time, the platform creates a safe, friendly space where teachers from all home nations collaborate, share ideas and come together to access content and, in the future, upload and share their content.
Evaluation and Co-creation Strategy
Input from the users (teachers, supporting staff) plays a central role in shaping and developing the next stages of VocTeach Discovery. We are now in the initial evaluation phase of product development, seeking feedback from the FE sector on the platform design and its primary intent. The idea is to bring together multiple parties to assess and evaluate the prototype jointly, provide meaningful insights and ideas and openly participate in developing a mutually valued outcome.
The benefit of using a co-creation approach is achieving a better product design based on the end user’s desires, reducing risks associated with high research costs and a high customer churn rate. Cocreating with the FE sector is key in highlighting new design attributes for a fully developed platform and, more importantly, answering the fundamental question, “if we build this, will you use it.”
A selected group of FE colleges now access a fully working prototype platform. There are about 1300 sample resources on construction and engineering, which the colleges can access, download and use in their teaching. The evaluation phase aims to assess the platform’s need in the sector and test the features’ functionality and design. Therefore, we combined Integration testing and user acceptance testing (UAT).
Evaluation Tools and Testing
Integration Testing: Ideally, the teachers were asked to perform tests of the functions and features using various test cases and report defects or bugs. User Acceptance Testing: The main objective of UAT is to see if the product design features and functionality meets the desired business requirements. The aim is to validate that the product can perform to its preliminary specification and is usable from an end-user perspective. It is important to note that the environment being tested in this case is a prototype and not a complete product. Behaviour Testing allows us to see how users interact with the platform as they would on a day-to-day basis. Here we check individual activity on the platform that helps us simulate and predict their actual behaviours. Behaviour testing exposes gaps between what users say they will do and what they actually do. This reveals design features and changes needed to bridge gaps based on actual requirements.
A good representation of FE staff (practitioners, managers and leaders) across the UK is vital to support the product’s evaluation success. Therefore, we had to utilise a more flexible evaluation approach to reach a wider audience. A VocTeach Discovery website for was created to share the product’s vision and mission with walkthrough videos and online surveys to gather useful feedback from the FE sector.
One challenge we faced was that FE college teachers and staff were strapped for time. Their day-to-day activities allow little time to participate in co-design or co-creation activities; therefore, obtaining a good representation and sample size from different college users/staff nationwide results in extended evaluation efforts, cost and time.
Another challenge is getting accurate qualitative and quantitative results. The qualitative methodologies rely on respondents accurately and honestly providing feedback; often, in surveys, respondents may not feel encouraged or comfortable providing honest answers, and they may also be reluctant to offer negative feedback, as it may present themselves or their colleagues in an unfavourable situation, leading to biased results.
To conclude, the success of the next phase of VocTeach Discovery highly depends on whether there is substantial evidence of a need for a product like this. While it is encouraging to hear anecdotal positive voices, it is far more reassuring to see encouraging behaviours in actual use. Ultimately the product’s success hinges on providers’ appetite to share their content because, without content, the product will lack user stickiness.
We will love your feedback if you are part of the FE sector. Your views will contribute to a potential key sector resource.
Useful Links Link to website - https://vocteach.ac.uk/ Link to practitioner Walkthrough video Link to leader’s walkthrough video Link to practitioner online survey Link to leader online survey