FERL etc.

I recently read this blog post by Col Hawksworth: Afterglow.

In it Col expressed his frustration that just as he felt things were beginning, things were actually ending.  He saw the dying embers of investment in e-Learning across the wider F.E. Sector.

I know how he feels.

Several years ago when I was the college ILT (and then e-Learning) manager, I had the opportunity to attend quite a number of ‘e’ focused meetings and committees which aimed to support the take up and use of good ILT practice across the sector. Many of these were formulated by the superb FERL team working out of Becta. (e.g. The Ferl Practitioner’s Programme, Preparing for Inspection etc.). Then, about the time of and following Becta’s decision to become more strategic (which hasn’t seemed to do them much good in the long term) the FERL team disipated. Some stayed on and carried on the good work as best they could but many moved onto other areas and continue to ensure that ‘e’ is pedagogically embedded as well as possible. Remnants of the FERL team can be found in all walks of UK ‘e’ life. Just look closely.

For a period until about five years ago, there was an annual FERL Conference and no matter which Becta imposed political title the FERL conference bore, those attending relished every minute. And it wasn’t just the workshops that caused the enjoyment (even though at that time they were introducing a whole host of new and exciting tools, tips and techniques), it was the delegates themselves. Each person had a tale to tell and I for one enjoyed every tale I heard. Those war stories were in pre-Twitter and Facebook days and our community of practice (COP) continued (continues) on the ILT Champions mailing list, which  must be one of the more enduring and successful JISC mailing lists ever.  Many thanks are due to Rob Englebright for holding this together.

Now, like Col Hawksworth, I always felt a sense of sadness when those meetings and conferences broke up. This was because I knew (it was my belief) that we ‘the COP’ knew what was needed to embed ‘e’ and change institutional practice and not the Quangos, to whom the Government went for advice about funding. And I knew, in my heart, that nothing would change. And so, capital money was thrown at the sector, lots of it – but little or no ring-fenced revenue to support staff development.

Over the last six years, one shining light of ILT staff development has been the NIACE led e-Guides programme, which has always received tremendous feedback. More recently this has been funded by LSIS and been seen to complement the eCPD programme which they also funded.  Both programmes, like MoLeNET have been hugely successful and had begun to change the hearts and minds (the culture?) of staff rooms. The eCPD programme had begun to change the culture across wider areas of institutions. Because, we must not forget that ‘culture’ is not a single entity, it manifests itself in many ways; so much so that ‘culture change’ will always require vision and flexibility.

However, all of these programmes have now foundered on the rocks of low investment in staff skills.

As I commented on Col’s blog:

“I hope you come though this and use whatever means you can to disseminate and spread news of the excellent works you have done at Birkenhead 6th Form College. As you suggest (I think) there should be no cut off point and good practice should be allowed to flourish.

Time has proved that my own post-conference feelings (2002-2005 ish) were truly misplaced. Whereas my fears were that nothing would ever happen due to changes in Government priorities and a general failure to understand F.E. (by the Gov), they were wrong. People made the necessary changes happen. The early adopters and innovators (the original Champions and Mentors) are still out there and have worked long and hard to embed the ‘e’ we see being used in such a wide variety of ways today. They should be saluted because without their tenacity both in-post and as they moved on, have made the programmes we now see closing, a reality.

You [must] now take up the mantel and shout out VERY loudly. Keep blogging, keep tweeting and most of all keep up the good work.”

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