Developing colleagues’ digital communication and collaboration skills

Coventry Adult Education Service

This project took a diverse approach to Coventry Council colleagues’ digital skills development with individual tutors experimenting with use of Google Jamboard, Forms and Sheets and setting up and managing Zoom webinars. The council staff, who were the learners using the resources, commented via video feedback that they had expanded their skills and gathered some very useful evidence for their Essential Digital Skills (EDS) portfolios.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


This project aimed to use an action research approach to investigate digital learning and the effectiveness of learner-led digital activities. We wanted to detail what methods of delivery would be best suited to fully engage learners will low or no digital skills using the EDS framework. The focus group was Coventry City Council staff who needed to improve their digital skills for work and for daily life. We hoped to see how the activities impacted on engagement, achievement and progression.
We used three interconnected methods of delivery:

  1. use of a video conferencing platform (Zoom); The use of Zoom enabled staff to learn how to use a platform that could be used outside of the workplace to communicate with family and friends, enriching life skills.
  2. use of Google Jamboard to foster learner collaboration; The use of Jamboard gave a rich evidence gathering, collaborative, interactive formative assessment tool for learners and tutors.
  3. use of Google Sheets to promote learner collaboration online; The use of Google Sheets enabled synchronous and asynchronous working on a group activity.


The aim of the project was to support learners (in this instance Council staff) to improve their digital skills for work and also within their daily lives. With circumstances due to the pandemic moving learning and work online, it has never been more important to support people to develop their digital skills.

The staff targeted were in those areas of the Council where use of digital skills for communication and work were low. Learners may have had no access to IT equipment other than a mobile phone. Thus, we are focussing on ‘hard to reach’ learners who are becoming increasingly disadvantaged in the modern world. As mentioned above, learners will learn how to use a video conferencing platform (Zoom) as a means to communicate for work purposes and in their daily life i.e. to communicate with family and friends and to help their children.

The action research also considered activities to foster online collaboration through the use of tools including Google apps, Jamboard and Google Sheets. The Google Suite was an online offer available for tutors to utilise as part of the wider online teaching and learning experience created through the COVID-19 pandemic. Tutors were instrumental in choosing these approaches.

“We have shared our findings as well as some of the projects we have created for ourselves and inspired each other to try different methods that each of us have created for our own classes when appropriate.”

The tools were also chosen by the tutors because of a curiosity to develop new ways of interacting with learners in an online environment that was ever evolving. The impact was measured against how well the learners engaged with the activities and how they used their new digital skills to better communicate both at work and in their daily life.


An initial advert was listed on the Staff Intranet to capture the interest of individuals who want to develop their digital skills as well managers who know that they have identified staff with low/no digital skills. The initial expressions of interest were captured via a shared document by the Council’s Admin team (Appendix 1).

The expressions of interest were then followed up and processed via a newly- designed Initial Advice & Guidance (IAG) form by the tutors within the action research group. The forms were used to note learners’ starting points (Appendix 2).

Individual learners were supported at every stage to get them to be able to engage online and were introduced to the online conferencing platform, Zoom. Three ICT tutors delivered the teaching of skills to enable learners to participate in EDS. Basic skills in the use of the internet, applications – such as Google Classroom, Google Sheets, Zoom and email were delivered to staff using pre-Entry Level 3 community learning courses to enable participation in EDS at Entry Level 3. Some staff members did not have the basic skills to engage prior to attending sessions with Adult Education.

The research project enabled the tutors to ‘think differently’ about their approach to EDS and their delivery styles. The new thinking brought about creative use of digital collaboration tools (Google Jamboard and Google Sheets) and the effective use of Zoom. Each tutor as a member of the project team facilitated one aspect of the activity.

Screenshot of a learner setting up a Zoom meeting

Figure 1: Screenshot of a learner setting up a Zoom meeting

The learners took part in the EDS activities during class time and then as homework, putting the strategies into practice in their daily lives (e.g., setting up a Zoom meeting with family or friends) (Appendix 3). The use of Jamboard was found to be very effective as a means to facilitate formative and summative assessment (Appendix 4). Learners collaborated on a Google Sheets activity that brought about skills in team working and sharing (Appendix 5).

Screenshots of Jamboard activities

Figure 2: Screenshots of Jamboard activities

Feedback from learners was gathered in written, recorded audio and visual forms on a weekly basis (session by session), and on completion of a unit of activity to clarify that learning had taken place. The reason for the differing forms of evidence/feedback was to embrace additional online tools, personalising feedback for learners who would normally have a face-to-face conversation with their tutor. It added variety to the gathering of evidence, analysing achievement of learning objectives mostly for formative assessment.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

The creation of the activities brought about an invigorating experience for the tutors, as practitioners. The use of a ‘multi-use’ document that captured initial advice and guidance and primary learning objectives made it easier to target activities to individual learner’s needs.

The processes of trialling the digital activities and receiving feedback from peers and learners enabled changes to be made to each activity and a growth in the approach to teaching learning and assessment practices.

Individual tutor reflections (Appendix 7) also improved subsequent delivery of the activities. Online practices (use of Jamboard, for example) helped teachers and learners build up an evidence base and the Jamboard activity was also very useful as an assessment tool. Learners really enjoyed engaging with the Jamboard and its use created new ways of capturing learner responses to activities set using online versions of sticky notes. It was quick and ‘convenient’ with a real sense of immediacy as tutors could post images or stickers saying ‘well done!’ which appeared right away.

Tutors have also collaborated, asking their peers for feedback on work they had created. Managers from vocational areas of learning are asking for training in the use of Jamboards for their tutors after hearing about its success on this programme.

“…using formulas in Google Sheets, working collaboratively so the learners could see what the other learners were doing. If a learner made a mistake, the other learners could easily offer advice and encouragement.”

Engagement with the digital tools enabled learners to see their learner journey through the activities creating a ‘can do’ attitude and collaboration and participation were enriched by the activities. The increase in collaborative working also supported asynchronous learning and allowed learners to ‘catch up’ if needed. The asynchronous part of the collaboration came about because one of the learners was at work and unable to attend the class but was still able to take part in the group exercise at a time that was convenient to them and input into the Google Sheets.

Evidence of learning and impact of learning was able to be captured on the equivalent of one sheet of paper, recorded digitally (Appendix 2).

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

As a result of the project more emphasis has been placed on the upskilling of Council staff with no/low levels of digital skills, enabling them to achieve the EDS qualification as a route to further CPD and greater digital inclusion.

Use of Jamboard enabled collaborative approaches to be developed, with learners and teachers working together on various aspects of the EDS qualification (see examples in Appendix 8).

The sharing of cross-curricular good practice stemming from the project proved motivational. This was showcased during a whole Service event which took place in April 2021 during an online staff development event. Many tutors commented that they would find the activities useful to trial in their respective curriculum areas.

The tutors involved in the project have experienced their first delivery of sessions to the whole service and are now being invited to other curriculum areas to share the project findings. Communication has also increased within the team of tutors as they explore more options such as an application called Mote, which can be used for recording feedback to learners.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

Learners have engaged with the activities and their feedback has helped activity revision for future sessions. Some learners have developed in resilience and independence, for example, trying out activities in a supportive, collaborative space can encourage people to ‘give it a go’.

Learners have shown a more developed realisation of how digital skills impact their lives at work and home. They are also implementing their EDS learning within their daily work activities, empowering efficiencies and productivity. Examples of learner feedback illustrate this (further examples can also be seen in Appendix 3).

“Today’s learning about Google Sheets was really informative, as I am already doing my Level 1 maths and that helps me doing my tables and graphs. I enjoyed working together with my classmates and the way our tutor guides us.”

“Today’s lesson was very informative… I just need more practice and I will be able to use this skill in my work I carry out for the City Council, thank you.”

Learners worked towards targets set, evaluating their own progress as they achieve targets which may be written and/or oral. The learners’ individual learning plans therefore formed part of the evidence of progress and impact.

Screenshot of Jamboard activity

Figure 3: Screenshot of Jamboard activity

The demonstration of learner skills was collected through recordings of activities e.g., a learner hosting a successful Zoom meeting. Learners ‘know’ the skills they have acquired and how to use them effectively at work and at home.

(Further examples can be seen in Appendix 6).

Learning from this project

This project contributed to an ongoing developmental state for the EDS programme, especially the varying aspects of collaboration on learning and assessment for learners and tutors alike. Improved inclusion was the forerunner for this project and the aim for it and beyond, instead of looking inward, we decided to look outward, to ‘think outside the box’. The improved inclusion related to the bringing together of individual tutors that had been working in silos on the delivery of their teaching and learning remit. The tutors became a ‘team’ again. The creativity that was once a vibrant part of the delivery of digital skills, was re-ignited through collaborative working and the development of the project from conception.

Working digitally actually supported assessment and helped evidence learner progress. Before conducting the research, we previously felt that digital facilitation would be more difficult as we had to move away from face-to-face learning. Additional ‘sharing’ sessions and development sessions have been planned over the coming months to enhance delivery of teaching and learning activities.

There is now a new ‘open door’ to finding different innovative ways of working to facilitate initial, formative and summative assessment. The discovery of new tools for gathering evidence of learners’ learning has created a continuous professional development aspect to the thinking of the tutors. No longer do they have to ‘just fill in the assessment paperwork!’

“I have been able to offer a different approach for each learner to accommodate their style of learning, their reasons for learning different things and their requirements within their own individual jobs or personal projects.”

There is a correlation between this project and the results that have come from the collaborative ways teaching and learning has been conducted which tell us that use of digital platforms can impact the lives of tutors and learners alike. The digital skills gained bring a ‘social’ and ‘well-being’ element to the learner journey as they use the skills learned to communicate in their communities and abroad.

This project has highlighted the need for EDS in the lives of all staff, especially staff that have been disadvantaged and excluded for lack of digital skills.

The ICT curriculum team are now exploring ways of offering EDS to ESOL learners and encouraging more cross-curricular collaboration, looking at ways of embedding EDS into the ESOL programme.

It is very early within the life of the works that have been opened up. There is more to explore, try, investigate and implement and share. We look forward to seeing how these activities continue to impact on engagement, achievement and progression.