What was your experience as a student and staff member in further education?

I started BCoT in 2015 as a Games Development and maths GCSE resit learner. In 2016, I was hired as an apprentice due to my social media presence, and I was promoted to a permanent Learning Technologist in 2018. During my time as a Learning Technologist, I worked in a very much student-centred role, I ran the SU for about a year and a half, I created resources for students, from supporting with budgeting, taxes, revision, democracy, as well as teaching resources for teaching staff that used digital tools to enhance student learning. 

How have you handled the COVID-19 situation as a student in higher education?

I started the University of Southampton in September 2020, starting a degree in Education. I am a Course Representative, I am in quite a few committees and I support students from all years and backgrounds in ensuring their voice is heard by the University and our Students’ Union. I successfully led the halls refund petition which resulted in students, who did not return to uni halls, receiving 100% refunds during the third lockdown. 

As a mature learner, and someone with my experience in learning technology, I think I have handled the COVID-19 situation a lot better than most students who may be younger or have less trust in online learning. Honestly, the treatment of students over the last six months has been absolutely awful and at times, I have actually just broken down over it. It’s very odd for me to put myself in the position of a student because I was very much at the other end a few months ago so when I talk it’s very much me and them as in the students. But watching these 18 and 19 year olds just break because they have zero support, zero social interaction, they have been tricked into moving from their homes to somewhere where they’re all alone and having to transition with next to no support. All these companies taking advantage – you need this Freshers ticket, you need to buy this book subscription, no we will not refund your rent and release you from your contract because you want to go home because you’re terrified, alone and suicidal – it’s not fair, it’s horrible, I hate it. There’s no support for university students and it’s so wrong. The Prime Minister could not care less, it feels like no-one could care less. I’m not trying to pull on heartstrings, but we really are struggling and all we’re getting is blamed for the increase in numbers when the majority of us are following the guidelines like everyone else. One of my friends, who studied during the first lockdown, told me that his 14 contact hours a week, went down to a 45 minute Zoom call every other week – how is that fair? But I do want to make it clear that I do not blame the lecturers at all – it’s all new to them as well, it’s frustrating they’re the first point of blame, when really we need more time dedicated to training and more funding towards CPD to ensure our HE lecturers are confident and comfortable delivering online to anxious students. 

What should be the future of education from a learner perspective?

I think online learning is definitely a must-have for the future and it upsets me that students and teachers have been given it in such a negative light. Students relate online learning to the virus, it’s going to be difficult to break that connection. I haven’t had the experience of normal learning in HE so I have nothing to compare our online learning to, but students need face-to-face lectures and social interaction. I think Teams and Meet is great for catch-ups, for informal year group meetings for a ‘coffee and a chat’, and I think it can be great for students who cannot attend the lecture, but I don’t believe it is a replacement. My university, in particular, has opened up to a lot of different digital tools, such as Padlet, Kami and Flipgrid, and I do hope using these edtech tools sticks around. I have been doing alright this year academically, but I would have done better mentally and academically if I was able to go outside, catch the bus to university, attend a lecture, write notes, the normal university experience. Although, it has been great to chat to lecturers using Teams (sorry, my university is completely Microsoft – I miss Google Sheets a lot) or jump on a call to discuss feedback on an assignment especially where I lived about twenty minutes from the university. 

Why did you create the BCoT maths website?

So, as I mentioned, I joined BCoT in 2015 as a maths GCSE resit student, I didn’t get the grades the first year, but with a lot of support from my GCSE maths teacher, I managed to pass in the Summer of 2017. Around this time, I also started developing BCoT’s GCSE and Functional Skills maths revision site. This started as a project from Scott Hayden, my former manager, and honestly I think it was one of the best projects he’s picked out for me. I was nervous at first, obviously, but I guess he did the teacher thing and tricked me into thinking I was having fun and creating something for others, when really I was learning myself. Scott did that a lot and I’m grateful for it, but the maths site was something else completely. I didn’t think much would come from it, to be honest, I was also an unmotivated maths resit student, but the site really did pick up – even when it looked awful. Obviously, I haven’t been able to check it in a white but when I left it was definitely hitting over a hundred unique visitors per day (and that’s unique – so only one of them was me, I promise I wasn’t logging into 100 different computers). I miss it a lot, it was a very good, creative outlet for me, but I am hoping someone has taken it over and will continue to work with resit students to make it what they need it to be. I met a student one day in a Blended Learning session at BCoT, and I started to help him with his maths GCSE, he was an IT student, very much into web design, so I thought – why don’t we get him to redesign the site? The maths site? While he’s studying for his maths? So, yeah, I pretty much did what Scott did to me, to him. It worked though, the site looked beautiful, the student really developed in maths, and he passed in Summer of 2019. 

I love recording with the EduFuturists and it was an honour to be a keynote speaker at Jisc Digifest 2021.