12c. Westminster AES

Bridging the Gap

Westminster Adult Education Service

This project actively engaged learners with diverse needs and disabilities to access components of the Essential Digital Skills (EDS) qualification by simplifying them into bite-sized tasks. Key to the success was the collaboration of EDS tutors with Diversity and Inclusion tutors who together reviewed and redesigned existing materials to better suit the needs of these learners.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


We have been mindful that the EDS qualification is complicated and challenging for many learners with diverse needs and disabilities: components include navigation elements such as menus, hyperlinks and browser navigation control. There is a vast gap between Entry Level qualifications and the EDS qualification so our project aimed to bridge the gap so that learners with diverse needs and disabilities would be able to progress without feeling disadvantaged or overwhelmed.

Furthermore, we identified a need to support their daily digital literacy, thereby preventing them from being excluded from everyday tasks, e.g. universal credit, accessing medical appointments, etc.

One of the significant tasks was to adapt existing resources to make them more understandable by reducing words and adding images, to ensure that they were inclusive and accessible.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 programme. It took place in the Diversity and Inclusion department of Westminster Adult Education Service. We started working with the Pre-Entry Level beginners ICT class over a 12-week period. For some learners, they had never used a computer before and were very unfamiliar with typing, using a mouse and any functions that many of us take for granted. 90% of learners did not own a mobile phone. In term 2 we were able to extend the reach of the project to include an additional group of learners, whose digital operating level was more advanced at Entry Levels 1 and 2.


Our team took the following approach:

We started by trying to encourage learners and carers to engage with computers by sharing a simple PowerPoint and an A4 set of visual images providing step-by-step instructions on how to log on at home. Due to limited uptake of this, it was difficult to provide homework tasks. Also, some learners did not have computers at home.

In the classroom, with one-to-one support, all learners were able to log on to a computer. We discovered that without being able to practise between sessions, much of the learning was forgotten. A further consideration was that without a teacher or support assistant at home, learners did not have the confidence or ability to work outside the classroom. We therefore took the decision to extend the duration of the course for this group of learners so that they could practise and repeat small tasks to aid their long-term memory development.

In term 2 we worked with Entry Level learners, which led to more success. These learners were able to log on and follow instructions, though still needed support before moving on to EDS content. We also found that these learners were more actively involved because they were more aware that they are taking part in the research project.

The research project team devised simple tasks and resources in collaboration with the EDS tutors. Each step was broken down for learners and practised, to ensure sequential learning and to aid long term memory, before moving on.

As learner confidence grew, we were able to increase levels of activity to two tasks over a five-week period. One learner in the first group has now become a digital champion and is supporting other learners. As the project progressed, we recorded our progress on a Padlet, which is shown in the screenshot to the right.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Having realised that we needed to try our approach with a different group of learners, we found that the resources were extremely effective. Our ‘what’s in a name?’ resource (Appendix 4.2) enabled learners to show how they could change the font, embolden text, underline, change colour and this led to a visible sense of achievement with the learners. The second resource was a research task that involved learners using the cut and paste function to add images and text to a PowerPoint template. This task invited learners to choose images themselves and also encouraged them to find out more about iconic people, such as Nelson Mandela. The third resource was an internet quiz comprising 15 questions in which learners were required to research and/or upload images. Their engagement, motivation and increased confidence were evident as they competed against each other to complete the task within an hour. It was clear to see that they had all progressed during the project and it was so encouraging to see how much they enjoyed taking part.

With each of the tasks described above, breaking them down into step by step verbal instructions was important. Not only did this lead to success with the tasks themselves, it also increased confidence and learners were able to take pride in what they had achieved. We learnt that the best results came from modelling the task rather than giving written instructions.

Below we share some feedback from learners in relation to task 1:

I was able to do the task easily as it was explained to me.

– Learner, LA

I found the task easy.

– Learner, SH

Because I was in the ICT Beginners class I was able to do the task and I was able to work by myself.

– Learner, HS

Feedback from task 3 was very positive and they collectively asked if they could do something similar again. (Learners in Foundation Skills L2).

Organisational Development

We collaborated with the digital skills department to better understand the EDS curriculum and the current challenges faced in its delivery to mainstream learners. We identified ESOL specific challenges and used this knowledge to inform how best we would break down the EDS tasks to meet the needs of our learners with diverse needs and disabilities. The experiences broadened our horizon on the complexity of the EDS qualifications and the difficulties our learners face in terms of employment as well as daily life if they remain disengaged with the digital world. In addition to this, digital poverty was an underlying issue that is present for learners with no requirement for additional support. This in turn emphasised the ever-increasing gap between those who are fully conversant with the digital world and those who are not.

Learning from this project

What worked well:

  • Two digital champions have been appointed within the Diversity and Inclusion team (both learners). The digital champions are going into lower level groups to support learners there. This is a very positive outcome of our research project and will be beneficial for all involved, in terms of employability, learner self-esteem etc. This initiative will continue after the project and will potentially lead to a more structured peer to peer support system within the organisation.• Liaising with the digital team was key to the success of this initiative and closer collaboration will continue after the research project ends.
  • We learnt that modelling and visual resources are more effective for learning than written instructions.
  • We learnt that breaking down tasks into small steps led to success.
  • The third task demonstrated the distance the learners had travelled during the project.

Even better if:

  • We are hopeful that the gap will be bridged so much that learners will be able to progress into a formal EDS class. Some learners are likely to do this in September, but we hope that our project will make it easier for others.
  • The first group would benefit from an extension to their course, so they can complete some of the resources and can visibly identify their progress on a termly basis.
  • We were inspired by a project being carried out by the project team at Haringey Adult Learning Service which involved peer to peer mentoring. This could be an outcome for us and perhaps we could collaborate with this team to make this happen.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    Our project provided time and space for us to come together to challenge our assumptions that learners with diverse needs cannot attain EDS qualifications. By engaging in research activities with the learner, we found that they are able to perform tasks and produce assignments, as it is tailor made for them. We started from a position of learners being novices at using the computer and moved onto learners who can complete basic digital skill tasks.

  • 3. Inspire, motivate and raise aspirations of learners through your enthusiasm and knowledge.

    Our research project demonstrates this standard through the following quotes from learners:

    “I have enjoyed being the class, I learnt in login and wait, I did a PowerPoint presentation, I have done some quizzes, I did some typing, and I sent my work to you via Teams and id CHECKS and telling time. Also researched Black history, we did famous Sportsmen”.

    “We learnt about emojis and put things in the chat”.

  • 5. Value and promote social and cultural diversity, equality of opportunity and inclusion.

    We were able to provide a learning experience where all of our learners thrived together in a mixed ability setting. Their uniqueness provided a richness and depth to learning outcomes.

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    HS has been asked if he wants to move into another a more advanced group where he will be studying Digital Skills Entry Level 1; he has agreed.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Project Padlet

Appendix 4: Project Activities and Resources


Digital Poverty Alliance. (2022). ‘Together we can end digital poverty once and for all’. [online]. Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

Holmes, H and Burgess, G. (2021) ‘Pay the wi-fi or feed the children. Coronavirus has intensified the digital divide’. University of Cambridge [online]. Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

12b. Haringey ALS

Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Project

Haringey Adult Learning Service

This project investigated how a range of foundational skills can be supported and embedded in the development of essential digital skills through an informal learning approach.

The aim of the project was to develop peer-to-peer support relationships via collaboration, with low-level learners receiving digital support from higher-level learners. By triangulating the arrangement with tutors, we aimed to use peer-to-peer support to improve learners’ confidence and ability in class and to help them participate in our ever-increasing digital society.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Haringey Adult Learning Service (HALS) identified a support need for ESOL and literacy learners who have low-level digital skills. This project explored how peer-to-peer support could benefit both high-level (mentors) and low-level learners (mentees) through a peer-to-peer fusion model, with learners developing foundational and digital skills.

HALS embed the 5 Cs model of fusion skills into the curriculum, and these skills underpinned the project. For more information about the 5 Cs, please visit our 5Cs model Padlet.

These fusion skills form part of 56 foundational skills identified by McKinsey & Company, the Distinct Elements of Talent (DELTAs), that will help citizens thrive in the future of work (June 2021). McKinsey & Company (2021).

There were two strands to the project:

  1. Mentors to improve their fusion skills
  2. Mentees to improve confidence with Essential Digital Skills.

The intention of this project is to act as the foundation for the creation of a peer-to-peer support culture across HALS, with a dual focus on both mentors and mentees.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. The peer mentors were Level 1 and 2 learners (Digital TLC volunteers) who had good digital skills and the mentees were lower-level English learners.

We began with 12 volunteer peer mentors who we matched with one learner (mentee) each. The context is adult learning and the mentoring sessions that were carried out in the learning lounge area were curated and monitored by staff.


Stage 1:
Facilitate Digital TLC Workshop to design the marketing and promotional activities in order to set up the Open Learning Lounge. The Tender Love and Care (TLC) group consists of learners and volunteers who want to make a difference and promote a more inclusive and a better place to thrive at HALS. The group has different subgroups, and the Digital TLC subgroup that took part in this project is made up from Level 1 and Level 2 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) learners with improved digital skills.

Stage 2:
Train up a group of HALS learner volunteers to support lower-level learners in developing digital skills and crucial transferable skills based on using our own 5 C’s Model. Tutors refer nominated learners from their classes to the group. Learners are paired up with Digital TLC volunteers for support.

Stage 3:
Hold tutorials with the participating learners to track the development of their foundational and Essential Digital Skills (EDS) and encourage this learning to be disseminated in the classroom.

Co-design tasks to enable the TLC to run drop-in sessions collaboratively, share skills and knowledge amongst themselves and provide support to lower-level learners with their EDS and foundational skills.

Stage 4:
Run presentation of outcomes across the service in dissemination events including class visits, team huddles and lunchtime talks by both learner groups and practitioners.

Stage 5:
Encourage the creation of video diaries by the participants.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment


Mentors involved in the project were motivated to take part to improve employability skills such as communication, problem-solving, and creative thinking.

By participating in this project of peer supporters, I hope to improve my ability to encourage other peers to work together in a positive way. I would like to be able to generate ideas on how to better improve the skills of learners I support by knowledge sharing. I hope to be able to communicate more effectively to gain skills to support others with digital skills.
– HB, mentor

I am taking many courses to improve myself, also to have better job opportunities. The reason why I wanted to join TLC peer-to-peer fusion was, first of all, to test my teaching skills and have an opportunity to improve my communication, observation and creativity skills, which will be required during this process. I am sure that the outcome from this will be a win-win situation, as I believe that you learn while you teach.
– GD, mentor

The impact of providing support to peers was beneficial to mentors, as the experience of adapting to meet the support needs of their mentees provided skill-development opportunities outside of those initially identified (such as listening in addition to communication). The experience of being able to support others through sharing knowledge and skills supported mentors to develop skills with building relationships and teamworking.

I am very happy from this experience because it helped me to develop my listening, also my communicative skills. The person, E, that I had to help, he trust (sic) me his email account and together we achieve to recover his password. The experience was very nice and helpful for developing new skills.
– OL, mentor

I am delighted to be part of this great project. My skills improved in teamworking, collaboration, communication skills throughout while communicating with my mentors, colleagues and mentees.
– JB, mentor


Mentees gained essential digital skills that will allow them to access resources and participate in their courses on digital platforms. Some mentees benefited from learning targeting individualised skills to deal with a particular problem, like recovering and changing a password for an email account.
Skills acquired during the project included:

  •  logging on and off MS Teams
  •  downloading and uploading files
  •  opening and viewing files
  •  cut and paste
  •  inserting a digital signature
  •  recovering and changing the password for an email account.

Mentees benefited from receiving support to learn digital skills, and also had the opportunity to develop communication skills, which is of additional benefit to ESOL and literacy learners. Feedback from mentees included:

Checklists were also created to help track each mentee’s progress.

At a peer-to-peer celebration event, one of the mentees had the opportunity to hear their mentor speak about the project and their own experiences. The mentee and mentor discussed their experiences together at the event, with the mentor sharing that she had been a total beginner when she started, which the mentee commented was a huge inspiration to her. They talked together about how they had both benefited from the experience and learned from each other, and how their digital skills and wider skills improved throughout the project.


Feedback from tutors on the support learners brought back to the classroom is noted below.

E needed support with changing the password on his email account as the account had been set up by someone else and he was unhappy that they had access to it. The peer-to-peer support provided an opportunity for him to work with a mentor to identify the steps to change his password. The impact this had in the classroom was E was able to feel confident accessing his emails to receive links to activities he was required to complete as part of the course. It had a positive impact on his confidence and feeling safe in the knowledge his information was secure.

– Caitríona, ICT Beginners Tutor

RC was able to enrol via ‘web enrol’ for the first time independently after getting peer-to-peer support. Previously he had to complete a paper enrolment form. The impact to RC was that he was able to have more agency over his learning and also to give him greater confidence when he is choosing further learning, as he knows he will be able to enrol online independently.

– Tutor

Some valuable feedback was also provided by Pre/Entry English tutor, S:

These learners are extremely low level and despite my 15 years of teaching experience I often find it really difficult to get them to understand concepts. Concepts and tasks have to repeated again and again

Our initial approach was to teach the mentees the skills that they wanted to learn. Tutor S requested that specific aspects of learning could be individualised by the tutor to meet the learning needs of a specific group. This approach was adapted. S indicated to the mentors the specific skills the learners from her low-level English group needed to improve on. Mentees received support on those specific tasks. A checklist of mentees learning illustrated in Figure 2 was produced for each learner and returned to the tutor. This method was then adopted across all of the support sessions.

Tutor S feedback following the session:
In terms of what was really useful: discrete activities supporting learners to get logged on to Teams, access classroom and upload files.


The over 50s group participated in a peer support session. Quotes from the group representative included:

“Several of these people have really next to no digital skills.”

“Glad there was such a good turnout.”

“I am really looking forward to seeing this programme and relationship progress!”

Mentee Support Log

The Mentee Support Log, completed by mentors, also documented the skills required, shared and the impact for the ment


The screenshot below shares some of the data captured during the project via the Mentee Support Log. The first column includes skills required by the mentee, the second column skills shared by mentors with the mentee and the third column records the impact on the mentee.

Videos and pictures illustrating our project in action

You can access a variety of videos from our mentors and mentees on our Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Padlet board, as well as in Appendix 2, learner case studies. Below are some images of our mentors and mentees in action.

Figure 5: Peer to Peer mentoring sessions

Peer Mentoring Showcases Mentor and Mentees Experiences

Further examples of the impact of our peer-peer fusion skills project on mentors and mentees are evidenced on our Padlet board, under the column mentee and mentor experience. An example is shared below:

Further Quotes from our Peer Mentors:

The quotes below further illustrate the impact of our action research project in relation to teaching, learning and assessment:

I supported my Peer Mentee to improve his learning by how to get onto Microsoft Teams and navigate around the screen, to get to his class. Then he could access the work his teacher put on his Channel.

– J, Peer mentor

The meeting with Peers was successful. Improved IT skills for Mentee.

– P, Peer mentor

My mentoring relationship with my mentee was very positive, he was very eager to learn and always contacts me for help.

– F, Peer mentor

The relationship with my mentee is providing me with key skills that I will need in Team Management.

– H, Peer mentor

My mentoring relationship with Mentee was very supported and we worked well in a team. The Mentee appreciated the help he learned.

– B, Peer mentor

Organisational Development

As an organisation, we are looking to continue to use this approach, nurturing a culture of peer-to-peer support, and supporting documenting the impact of this culture with video diaries capturing progress and joy in the project. Our plans going forward include:

  •  establishing a regular culture of peer-to-peer support within the classroom;
  •  continued use of the Open Learning Lounge as a space for developing the foundational and digital skills of HALS learners, and as a centre for resources which will continue to grow as the peer-to-peer support continues;
  •  continuous staff support to adopt the peer-to-peer support model.

Promotion events took place across the service where learners, staff and stakeholders were getting familiar with the project.

Figure 8: Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Project promotion events

The peer-to-peer support practice became popular with our learners, staff and stakeholders. Our lovely Digital TLC volunteers recently provided peer-to-peer support for the Over 50s community group. This group were very delighted about the digital support they received and wished to further participate in this project. Below are some photos of our eager peer mentors’ and mentees’ experiences with our stakeholders.

Figure 9: Peer to Peer and individual mentoring session for stakeholders

The peer-to-peer support model enabled our staff, learners and stakeholders to have access to an informal learner-centred method that improved digital access to all of the participants as well as TLA by enabling learners to bring the learning back into the classroom. This method also fostered improved employability skills across the spectrum. Peer mentors/mentees became better at collaboration, communication, planning and digital skills.

Learning from this project

Mentor feedback shows how much the mentors enjoyed taking part in the project and how it increased their employability skills. As part of the project, they received training in how to provide support, which provided them with a variety of tools to support their peers. They also increased their own digital skills by creating and uploading videos to document their experience, and creative thinking by reflecting on the impact of the training they provided.

Mentees improved their digital skills, being able to access digital resources that will support their learning, and they, in turn, can support other learners in the classrooms. Having access to targeted, one-to-one support, provided an opportunity to upskill in areas that directly addressed their areas of need in relation to digital literacy, with an added benefit of improving communication skills.

Tutors benefited by extra support, which meant they could concentrate on their lessons and spend less time providing support for essential digital skills in the classroom.

During the project, feedback from a tutor identified that the peer-to-peer support for her learners would be even better if it was more structured for her learners. She identified key skills that would specifically benefit their learning experience that should be provided during the peer-to-peer support. We adapted the mentoring model with the tutor providing support topics that were shared with the mentors.

Mentors mentioned that they would have benefited from role play in their training. We implemented this as role play is a very useful activity for building confidence and communication skills.

Following the programme some peer mentors are considering progressing to teaching assistant roles.

The peer-to-peer support enabled me to gain experience in sharing the digital skills that I learnt with lower-level learners and improve my skills in planning and working collaboratively with others. It gave me confidence and now I am thinking of progressing towards a teaching assistant role.
– G, Peer mentor

The project team’s research findings in relation to other similar research projects shows similar positive impact.

For example, previous research demonstrated that peers learning from other peers is the path to follow (De Boer et al, 2013; Koster et al, 2010). These positive results align with our findings where all students can feel accepted, make new friends and enhance their employability skills.

The participants’ growth and progress as the session increased was noticeable. It was transparent that the mentees looked up the mentors and that they were forming strong bonds.

– Owusu, 2020

We hope our project research outcomes will assist others who would like to implement a peer program at their institution.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    Our project provided time and space for us to come together as a teaching team to challenge our assumptions and build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners. There were discussions with colleagues about should we provide learners topics on what digital skills they need to improve on or give them the freedom to choose what they want to learn. These depended on learners’ individual needs and what worked for one learner did not work for the other. In conclusion, the peer-to-peer support was a great aid in the classroom as more learners gained digital skills and were able to better participate and support peers as well as a continuous interaction within staff themes from different departments.

  • 11. Manage and promote positive learner behaviour.

    During the programme we managed and promoted positive learner behaviour. A culture of mutual support and learning. Mentors interacted and supported each other sharing skills, knowledge and behaviour. Mentees brought back the knowledge they gained to their classrooms and further shared with their peers. The project enthused learners to develop a positive supportive behaviour across HALS.

  • 17. Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge.

    This learner-centred peer-to-peer approach enabled learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge by supporting each other individually and in their classroom. They were continuously learning new digital skills and experiencing fusion skills throughout.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Support Log

Appendix 4: Video Diaries

Appendix 5: Mentor Training Resources

Appendix 6: Project Padlet

Appendix 7: Project Short Film


De Boer, A., Pijl, S. J., Post, W., and Minnaert, A., (2013). Peer acceptance and friendships of students with disabilities in general education: The role of child, peer, and classroom variables. Social Development, 22(4), 831-844.

Koster, M., Pijl, S. J., Nakken, H., & Van Houten, E., (2010). Social participation of students with special needs in regular primary education in the Netherlands. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 57(1), 59-75.

McKinsey and Company (2021). Defining the skills citizens will need in the future world of work. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 11 February 2022].

Owusu, P., (2020). ‘Peer to Peer Mentoring: A Multiple-Case Study Evaluating the LINKS Peer Support Program’. Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository, pp.44 – 7062. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 11 February 2022].

12a. Barnsley MBC

Supporting learners to develop their knowledge of digital terminology

Barnsley MBC – Adult Skills and Community Learning

This project developed teaching and learning strategies and resources to support Entry Level 3 digital learners to develop their knowledge and understanding of digital terminology, as this was proving to be a barrier in embedding this knowledge into their long-term memory.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Learners on dedicated digital skills courses wanted to become more self-sufficient and were willing to continue to develop their skills independently. It was identified that these learners were struggling to embed digital terminology into their long-term memory and, when undertaking independent study away from their sessions, were unable to develop their skills due to not being able to remember the meaning of terminology.

The project aimed to develop strategies to support the development and understanding of digital terminology and ensure this knowledge was embedded into the learners’ long-term memories. Digital tutors would undertake research to identify which teaching and learning strategies would support this development.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and we worked with adult learners with low level digital skills. We worked with two different groups of learners, one a Level 1 Essential Digital Skills (EDS) group and the other an Entry Level 2 EDS group. We aimed to identify the most successful strategies to support learners’ understanding of key terminology and ensure it is embedded into their long-term memory. In Barnsley, 24% of adults don’t have all 5 basic digital skills (as outlined in the EDS Framework,, 2019), and only 44% of adults indicate they have used all 5 of these skills recently, therefore this provision meets the needs of the local community (Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, 2019).


Our ICT and Digital Skills team wanted to explore and develop relevant and engaging assessment strategies and resources to support the development and understanding of digital terminology with adult learners who have low level digital skills.

We initially worked alongside a Level 1 Essential Digital Skills class and, for the purposes of the action research, we split the learners into two groups giving them two different tasks, but with the same expected outcome. One group was given a set of tasks with direct instructions, e.g. ‘change the title text to bold’; the second group had the same task but their instructions included an explanation of why they were applying the task, e.g. ‘Make the title text stand out by applying bold’.

The learners were assessed by completing an exercise which required them to explain their understanding of the terminology so that the answers could be compared. We wanted to identify if the instruction document with more information was more effective in the learner gaining a greater understanding of the terminology.

It was identified that it was not the learners’ comprehension skills that were preventing them from progressing; it was their lack of understanding of the key terminology used.

Online content was created to support the learners with their development of interactive bite-sized quizzes using Wordwall. These quizzes reinforced the same terminology with the intention of encouraging learners to be able to independently apply these terms. The quizzes ranged from matching-up exercises to cloze activities and wordsearches to help with correct spellings, as well as timed exercises that ran randomly.

Mini assessments were used to check understanding of the terminology and the results were more positive with learners being able to easily articulate the meanings of digital terms.
The new bite-size online quizzes we created are now being used with an Entry Level 2 group of Essential Digital Skills learners and have been adapted for the terms required at this level. Feedback from the learners has been collected with the results of their assessments informing future practice. One learner indicated that:

The matching exercise helped me to focus on one definition at a time and I was not overwhelmed with lots of words all at once.

with another learner stating,

I preferred the matching game so I could eliminate the incorrect answers and be able to identify the correct answer.

The tutors contributed to a Padlet on a weekly basis to document their reflections and achievements within each of the sessions and this was the place where results from the research were stored (See Barnsley ASCL OTLA 8 Padlet).

The first project activity aimed to address how to improve the comprehension skills of learners to support them to interpret internet searches independently.

Initially, different sets of instructions were given to the learners with one set containing short and direct instructions and the second set containing additional text and further explanations of the word processing functions.

After completion of the set task, it was identified that neither set of instructions supported the learners to achieve the expected end goal and it was a lack of understanding of key terminology that prevented the learners from achieving the expected outcome.

There was then a focus shift where strategies to embed key terminology were now the priority and a variety of mini bite-sized online interactive quizzes were created.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The use of the interactive quizzes resulted in the majority of the learners increasing their working knowledge and understanding of digital key terminology. The learners fully engaged with using this style of resource which promoted their enthusiasm for wanting to do more such activities. This was especially true away from the session as the instant feedback motivated them to continue doing the tasks independently to improve their skills.

Assessment by the tutor identified that the interactive resources had supported learners’ understanding of key terminology and the learners’ engagement with the resources; due to this, they are now being used with Entry Level 2 learners to develop their terminology understanding. These resources will be used with all levels of learners to support the embedding of key terminology and they have the opportunity to be used with learners across the whole of the service.

As the action research project gathered pace, the learning was shared with the whole Digital Skills Team. Collaboratively it was decided to use the mini interactive assessments more widely within the digital skills learning programmes (Appendix 3). Tutors created a wider knowledge base of assessment to prevent learners from being able to guess the correct answer and the use of more images to support ESOL learners. This was using learning from the OTLA 7 project (ETF, 2021).

This has now been developed to be used with Wordwall where the learner identifies themselves when undertaking the assessment and the tutors is able to use the assessment results to inform their next steps with learners (Appendix 4). The action research will continue after the end of this project to identify the impact of using these newly adapted assessment resources, but early indications show that learners are eagerly engaging with the resources.

The instant feedback that learners gain from using the online assessment tools has promoted them to access them away from the sessions, supporting self-directed learning. For learners who do not have access to an internet enabled device, the activities are also available in print format to encourage further study at home (Appendix 5).

Organisational Development

Use of a Collaborative Padlet
The Padlet became a working document and a shared space where the tutors reflected on the development and impact of the resources. It was also used as a discussion platform with the tutors and their line manager. It was an excellent source of reference when a new tutor joined the project.

Developing tutors’ confidence in their current practice
Tutors reflected on their current practice and developed varying resources to meet the diverse needs of learners and support them to work more independently. Tutors wanted to create innovative resources and adapt their strategies to help learners to learn. The interactive resources were well received by the learners and resulted in developing their understanding of key terminology.

Tutors developing as Reflective Practitioners
The action research project created frequent opportunities for tutors to focus on aspects of their established teaching strategies and to collaboratively, with their line manager, explore opportunities to develop and try newly-designed interactive resources to improve learners’ confidence in their understanding of key digital terminology. One tutor used Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory to support the development of their own learning: ‘through the transformation of experience’ (Kolb, 1984). This tutor is now supporting a newly qualified tutor to develop their reflective skills.

Building collaborative relationships with colleagues
Throughout the project, there have been good opportunities to share effective practice and develop the mentoring skills of one particular tutor, as she is currently working alongside the newly qualified tutor. The tutor has been encouraged to lead on the sharing of her ideas within team meetings and staff development sessions. The sessions she has led on have been opened up for all staff to attend and this has supported the tutor’s confidence in delivering to her peers.

Learning from this project

Learner feedback shows how the change to using the varying online interactive resources promoted their understanding of key terminology and how they were able to independently identify them. The user-friendliness of the resources motivated the learners to use them away from the session and the instant feedback from the resources encouraged the learners to continue to use them. The resources were used initially with a very small group and for the project it would have been more beneficial to have been able to use these with a wider audience of learners. The resources are now being used with more learners, working at a range of levels, but a larger range of feedback would have better supported the results of the action research.

The cohort of learners that were identified for the initial research project were on a short course with the service, and as there was a shift in focus from the original brief, this left a very limited amount of time to develop the resources and gain feedback from the learners. We therefore had to utilise two cohorts of learners, with the research from the second cohort only focusing on the amended project objectives rather than the original.

The action research has allowed the lead tutor to develop as a practitioner as she has embraced the project. As a practitioner she has reflected on what was working well within her current practice and also how she could adapt the resources to become more creative and innovative to meet the diverse needs of her learners and support them in developing their independent learning skills.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs

    Being part of the action research project gave us the time and space to be able to question our current practices and work on an area that had previously been difficult for learners. Being able to conduct our own research was beneficial as we were able to apply it directly to our own practice and cohort of learners. The improvement in the learners’ understanding of the terminology was evident from their comments and the assessments that were undertaken.

  • 3. Inspire, motivate and raise aspirations of learners through your enthusiasm and knowledge.

    Our project enabled us to raise aspirations of the learners by the development of the different styles of assessment methods and giving them the satisfaction that their knowledge of terminology was engaged in their long-term memory. They also felt confident in using these key terms away from the safety of the classroom. Instant feedback from the online resources and being able to access the resources away from the session motivated the learners to develop their knowledge and skills outside taught sessions.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    The project supported learners to have the confidence to use online resources away from the session and continue to develop their independent digital skills.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Collection of interactive resources

Appendix 4: Examples of Wordwall Result Options


Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (2019), Barnsley Our Borough Profile [online] Available at: [accessed 18.5.22].

Education and Training Foundation (2021). [online]. Anthology of practitioner research reports (2020 – 2021). Available at: [accessed 18.5.22]. (2019). Essential Digital Skills Frameowrk. [online] Available at: [accessed 6.6.22].

Kolb, D A., (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

10c. Islington ACL

Supporting the Essential Digital Skills of ESOL and low-level English students

Islington Adult Community Learning (ACL)

This project road-tested a powerful, in-house PowerPoint resource aimed at supporting ESOL and lower-level English learners to develop their knowledge and confidence in the application of Essential Digital Skills (EDS). Students reportedly enjoyed being able to use these new skills in their learning, their everyday lives and even to submit better quality homework. A rewarding by-product of the project was that colleagues developed new approaches in their teaching and acquired and shared new digital skills of their own into the bargain.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Islington Adult Community Learning (ACL) sought to address the Essential Digital Skills deficit of learners in the Borough by utilising a multi-layered, bespoke PowerPoint resource to introduce a step-by-step guide to a range of highly relevant digital skills in an accessible, visual and practical way. This resource was the product of ACL engaging in a previous OTLA project with the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). This latest project responded to feedback about using the resource, developing it further and refining its use in the classroom and for independent use by students. This term saw a return to face-to-face teaching. A return to the classroom has enabled adults who are digitally excluded at home to benefit from this project by using a variety of handheld devices.

Other Contextual Information

Islington ACL is a Local Authority Adult and Community Learning provider that operates out of dedicated spaces in libraries, children’s centres, community spaces and partner venues. Three experienced ESOL and English tutors participated in the project together with up to forty of their students. They included a Pre-entry Level/Entry Level 1 English class, an Entry Level 2/Entry Level 3 ESOL class, an English Grammar class and two dyslexic students who engaged in one-to-one support with their tutor.


Among the challenges experienced early on in the project, tutors initially battled with a resource so substantial in size that the digital resources available in classrooms and learners’ personal devices could not cope with downloading and viewing it. The resource covers a series of separate but connected topics and individual slides have multiple animations which make it a large file. Unfortunately, the colleagues originally involved in creating the resource were unavailable for this stage of the project. However, this afforded the new project team the opportunity to explore ways of reducing the size of the resource, eventually scaling it down into themed slide sets, for example, ‘presenting work’, ‘meeting apps (Zoom)’ and – as demonstrated below – ‘keyboard and keyboard skills’.

Screenshot of EDS keyboard skills PowerPoint.

Another issue that presented itself was that this versatile and well-produced resource was created on modern computers with the latest software. This highlighted the limitations of the technology and outdated software available to tutors in some of the learning spaces. Fortunately for this project, the service has invested significantly in upgrading computers and software since the start of the year, which will contribute greatly to the EDS development of both learners and tutors.

Having cleared these hurdles, and in order to establish a baseline of digital skills, tutors conducted an initial skills audit (Appendix 6) to determine extent of digital literacy, access to and use of digital devices and level of digital skills confidence of their learner cohorts. This helped identify those aspects of the resource that would be of most usefulness and relevance to each learner.

Tutors were also encouraged to keep a diary of the activities undertaken whilst utilising the resource and to reflect on its application and impact on learners. An important aspect of the project were the bi-weekly meetings of the whole project team. These provided an opportunity to feedback on progress, share successes, discuss and overcome challenges and to contribute development suggestions.

The project deputy also made mid-term and end of term visits to classrooms to engage with learner participants and to hear first-hand the impact of what they had learnt through using this resource in the classroom. The detailed notes taken during these meetings and classroom visits have helped inform the findings in this report.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Tutors involved in this project commented positively on the impact this research has had on their teaching, learning and assessment activities (see Appendices 2 and 3). Collec tively, they had appreciated the benefits of being part of a community of practice (Wenger, 1998), being able to share experiences, learn from each other and explore insights. As one tutor commented:

After seeing [my colleague’s] marking of homework in PDF format, I reached out to her as I wanted to improve my marking technique, too.

Individually, tutors were able to express how incorporating EDS into their teaching had A learner practising their digital skills.
enhanced the learning experience of their students and opened up new possibilities for
assessment activities. One tutor, who had focussed on incorporating the Zoom chat
facility in classes, described feeling personally ‘more confident’ about introducing digital skills into lessons. They had now started to plan for it and found using Zoom chat, for example, ‘very useful for writing activities, brainstorming and other tasks’.

Another tutor felt the project had ‘encouraged me to investigate alternative ways to set homework’ including, as the example below demonstrates, supporting students to use Padlet, which was enthusiastically embraced.

While teaching an online grammar class at Level 1/Level 2, this tutor also devised a homework activity using MS Forms. At the first attempt twelve learners completed the task, including three learners who hadn’t submitted their homework before. Buoyed by the success of this activity, the tutor has gone on to present a workshop on using MS Forms for assessment available to all tutors in ACL.

It has been inspiring to see how each of the tutors involved in the project have felt compelled to adapt or create another feature or theme for the EDS resource to meet the specific needs of their learners.

A good example is reflected in the comment of one learner whose tutor told us:

He would now be able to read his emails on being shown how to use the Speak accessibility function on his iPhone. He was amazed to have his texts read aloud too.

Another student with dyslexia put it even more succinctly:

You literally changed my life.

Organisational Development

Islington ACL has implemented considerable change in supporting learners developing their digital skills. This is most evident in the swift migration to online teaching and learning in response to classrooms closing because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This EDS project has highlighted a raft of new opportunities for promoting the use of technology in teaching and learning and in supporting learners in its use. Moreover, learners have been encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning through stretch and challenge activities whereby, for example, they created and presented coursework using digital technology (see Appendix 5 for further details).

It has been pleasing to report on the positive collaborations among tutor colleagues, sharing information, problem solving and inspiring further experimentation. In turn, this has fostered even greater positive relationships with learners who have had their lives transformed by their tutor introducing them to digital technology, as one learner put it:

Thank goodness I have learnt about this now!

The project team have shared the resource with other institutions nearby, but have not had any feedback from them as yet. Internally, project participants from three curriculum areas have already begun sharing their insights with staff from other curriculum areas, including devising new resources in online workshops. We look forward to them presenting further their creativity and innovation in forthcoming Inset days.

Learning from this project

In reviewing the reflections of tutors involved in this project, several key themes emerged (see Appendices 2 and 3 for a comprehensive exploration of these themes). Firstly, tutors said they felt encouraged to investigate and innovate. Secondly, they could see more clearly now the barriers experienced by their learners’ digital exclusion or lack of confidence in their digital skills (see also Appendix 4). There was a universal appreciation of the benefits to be had from working collaboratively with colleagues and timetabling for that to happen. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the project heightened awareness of the transformative impact of embedding EDS in these ESOL/English classes and the ripple effect it had on other areas of learners’ lives.

There were some challenges early on, but the project team readily adapted to modifying the resource themselves when it became necessary to do so. Linked to this was the importance of having up to date software and technology available to allow quality teaching and learning of EDS to occur.

While not a particular concern for this project, conversations were had about possible ‘institutional resistance’ to introducing a ‘digital skills experiment’ into non-digital skills curriculum areas. One of the welcome impacts of engaging in a recognised evidence-based research project like this one is that it validates the activity and places it firmly in the domain of maintaining and developing professional standards. It also underlines the importance of disseminating and discussing the findings widely with teaching colleagues and across all tiers of management.

Looking ahead, participants in this project are already working on their own innovations to add to the resource. A next step would be to invite teaching staff from other curriculum areas – vocational and employability, maths and family learning, for example – to incorporate the EDS resource into their activities. It is anticipated that participants in this latest project will act as mentors to those who respond to this invitation.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 9. Critically review and apply your knowledge of educational research, pedagogy, and assessment to develop evidence-informed practice.

    Within our own organisation the project supported cross curriculum collaboration and an extension of this project is to encourage other curriculum colleagues to develop and share their own EDS resources. Action research and evidenced-based research within ACL is increasingly being seen as having a role to play in meeting objectives like closing the digital skills gap among local residents, raising standards of teaching and learning and promoting professional collaboration to the benefit of the service.

  • 10. Share and update knowledge of effective practice with colleagues, networks and/or research communities to support improvement.

    Tutors took part in bi-weekly meetings with the whole project team to discuss their own practice and share how it had impacted on their learners. Tutors were encouraged to engage learners to speak openly about participating in the research and the impact it had on their learning. This provided a useful triangulation for assessing the overall impact of the project.

  • 16. Select and use digital technologies safely and effectively to promote learning.

    The project focused on developing online resources that would give learners the underpinning knowledge and skills to support their own online learning. It was encouraging to see how quickly the digital skills acquired fed into their personal online activities with social media as well as enhanced confidence in accessing online resources for independent learning.


Appendix 2: Tutor Reflections 1

Appendix 3: Tutor Reflections 2

Appendix 4: Case Studies

Appendix 5: Learner Work Demonstrating Before & After Intervention

Appendix 6: Pro forma Templates


Wenger, E (1998) Communities of Practice Learning, Meaning and Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Read the team’s previous action research project.

10a. Essex ACL

‘Teaching nuggets’: go-to resources for supporting ESOL and low-level literacy learners with digital skills.

ACL Essex

This was a project to exemplify cross-curricular collaboration between IT, English and ESOL colleagues in the creation of fun, easy to use resources that promote good digital skills and literacy teaching practice. These resources were intended to be complete and ready to deliver in any classroom.

ESOL, English and Digital learners participated in the project and had the opportunity to reflect on and review the ‘nugget’ resources and the impact on their learning. We unearthed a real hunger for collaboration between our areas. Furthermore, the project has promoted a practical approach to resource creation and sharing that is having a reach throughout our organisation and beyond.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Ensuring no one is left behind on the journey to digital literacy and being confident in participating in life in the digital age, had become a priority for us post lockdown.

In some cases, asking tutors to explicitly teach digital skills to ESOL/literacy learners was not an option as tutors themselves lacked confidence. We also noticed that offering ESOL/literacy learners a place on a digital skills course was prohibitive as IT tutors felt less equipped to differentiate.

We had observed that in the abrupt move to online teaching our already time-poor tutors had become overwhelmed with the volume of new material, links, ideas, and resources available to them. The rationale was to give the resources an immediately practical application, rather than anything steeped in theory.

Therefore, we set out to create quick, easy and fun resources that any tutor, regardless of subject specialism, could use to encourage learner confidence using tech. Moreover, the collaboration would embolden IT tutors with their understanding of how to approach differentiation for ESOL/ literacy learners whilst teaching digital courses.

Other Contextual Information

ACL Essex is the leading adult education provider in Essex and has adult community learning centres in most of the major towns in the county. The eight sites across Essex deliver a combination of centre-based, online live and online self-study courses.

Functional Skills English, ESOL and Digital Skills tutors, based at different centres across Essex, were invited to participate in the project by Curriculum Leads. Tutors attended an online workshop to collaborate on ideas for the teaching ‘nuggets’.

As the resources were developed and made more accessible, more tutors from across the service were invited to use them and subsequently participated in the project.

The learners who participated were attending accredited ESOL, Supported Learning English, Functional Skills English and Digital classes from pre-entry to Entry Level 2. They were given the opportunity to give feedback on the teaching nuggets and reflect on their digital progress.


We initially started by focussing on ‘pitching’ the idea to teaching staff (Appendix 3). We presented the phases of the project as the following:

  • Phase 1: ideas sharing
  • Phase 2: contribution of content
  • Phase 3: development of content into physical / digital resources
  • Phase 4: trial and results.

Screenshot to show resources produced during planning phase of the project.We consulted staff about using their time to:

  • participate in an interactive webinar
  • create and maintain a collaborative space
  • submit ideas for the content of the resources
  • assist in producing the resources
  • trial the resources with learners and collate feedback
  • any additional ad hoc sharing of ideas and thoughts.

Once we had gathered tutors and managers who wanted to be involved, we delivered an interactive webinar (Appendix 3) to generate the first ideas for resources. The resource ideas needed to be moulded into a specific ‘template’ to ensure they were usable and could be easily accessed by time-poor tutors.

An initial set of these ‘nuggets’ were then trialled by tutors at opportunities that we felt would integrate well with existing lesson and course planning. We made the ‘nuggets’ accessible to staff via TEAMS, internal team meetings, word of mouth and a Padlet (See Appendix 3).

Feedback started to come in via MS forms, photos of learners in the classroom engaging with the activities (‘nuggets in action’) and another Padlet for written reflections of using the resources.

Images showing learners developing their digital skills.

In January we identified, via the support of our mentor, that the project needed upscaling in terms of the amount of teaching nuggets being produced as well as the generating of feedback. She encouraged us to re-assess who was involved and how we were assigning tasks to participants. We brought new people on board (tutors low on hours or those with developmental feedback from Observations of Teaching and Learning) and this, as predicted by Chloë our Mentor, resulted in more output and more feedback. This increase in production was an uplift we all needed and from there we saw the enthusiasm to share the project through the organisation and beyond grow. We increased the broadcast reach for the ideas as finished nuggets via an internal Ideas Room, curriculum managers’ meeting and a blog on PDNorth FE Tapestry and NATECLA East of England website.

Additionally, we discovered that to make these resources ‘accessible’ to staff they needed to be in places where staff go to plan. Our approach of sharing internally and via Padlet was, we realised, not hitting the brief of these resources becoming part of a tutor’s natural planning arsenal. In a team meeting, ESOL staff identified Skills Workshop as one of their top places to source new resources:

Screenshot of polled responses to what is your go to for planning lesson activities.

So, we contacted Skills Workshop and they have published some of the ideas.

Device of the DayScreenshot of keyboard confidence resource.
Supermarket Sweep
Keyboard Confidence
Identifying devices and icons

We scheduled a final session with participants to conclude findings and gather feedback on just how usable they now find these.

When we have come to the end of the project, we thought more about the ethical considerations around who the work belonged to and how it should be credited when sharing. In the final meeting with contributing participants, we posed this question to them and asked if they felt their input had been sufficiently credited. Some people felt they had not. As a result, we have ensured practitioner names are attached to all resources shared on internal and external sites.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Tutor feedback from ESOL Intermediate doing the ‘Join the Library’ nugget:

Used with 8 Intermediate students… They were all familiar with borrowing books: one had already used library computers, but the rest were surprised to find out the many facilities on offer. They were particularly surprised by the crafts available and that there were so many things for children. None had heard about the Library of Things and were interested in this.

They enjoyed searching the website together. They supported each other and it prompted good discussion. By supporting each other, they found all the info they wanted. It took about 30 minutes (also inc some extra discussion/vocab about genres of books).

Digital Skills Tutor Feedback on Identifying Icons nugget:

I used this as an opener in all six of my Digital Skills classes. They all really enjoyed it and gave positive feedback on Teams. It was a little easy for some of them (L1s). I liked the fact that they could see their answers and then have another attempt to try and get a better score; so learning directly from it.

Learner feedback on Supermarket Sweep nugget:

This was good for me as my keyboard skills are not very good. My spelling is not very good but the computer was able to guess what I meant which helped me with my list. I need to do more keyboard skills.’

It was good to put a list together and easier to get into the website than I thought. I copied my list in and this helped me recognise the words.’

I am a beginner keyboard user, so I am very slow. It was interesting but I need more practise.

The nuggets encouraged easy steps to digitise existing activities. As such, learners have increased access to activities which naturally embed digital skills. For example, a generic writing task, such as writing an invitation to a friend for dinner, can be transformed by encouraging real time use of digital resources. This could be done by typing a real email on a mobile phone and sending to the tutor rather than a paper version of an email template.

For example:

Screenshot of an email from learner.Aside from the impact on learners, the project has facilitated improved collaboration between curriculum areas. The group sessions for generating ideas provided a platform for sharing that didn’t exist before between IT, English and ESOL teams. Finding the opportunities has been hard (due to the nature of our organisation spread over 9 venues and our current workload) but the opportunities have opened up visibility of ESOL/literacy issues to the IT curriculum and communication on enrolments has increased.

Additionally, the teaching nuggets, encouraged time-poor tutors to understand that improving learner access to digital opportunities is neither difficult or time consuming or a high brow idea. One tutor, whose most recent Observation of Teaching and Learning saw an action plan to digitalise some of her writing activities and created the ‘live emails’ resource, reflected:

I love how easy it is to not only to use this format, but also to share samples anonymously for correcting as a class. I will definitely use live emails again.

Tutor feedback has been that they have been empowered by their ideas being shared widely, and this has had an impact on morale and a sense that their CPD and new approach to lesson planning is now having an impact. “Feedback on Device of the Day has brightened a gloomy week” reported one of our participants.

The enthusiasm for this ‘off the shelf’ lesson planning concept gained traction with extended and senior leadership. Our vice principle reported that he had “ideas for nuggets on sticky notes all over my desk” after the project was shared in an ACL ‘ideas room’ event.
Literacy learners and tutors are a resource poor section of our provision. This project has plugged a gap to an extent. For example, one of our participants who works across English and Supported Learning has expressed how inspiring the project has been for creating and accessing fresh resources.

Organisational Development

ACL Essex is an educational service which is divided and managed by curriculum area – not by geographical area. Although Microsoft Teams has allowed better team building within each curriculum area, with team meetings now better attended than ever, there is little collaboration across the curriculum areas. We believe that this project has offered an opportunity for tutors to come together, consider other disciplines and to think more creatively to develop digital teaching nuggets.

Although the current focus is on supporting and encouraging digital opportunities for learners with low literacy skills, the project has the potential to embrace more curriculum areas as we encourage all learners at all levels to actively engage with the digital world, improve their skills and grow in confidence.

Moving forward, we want the project to have a legacy. We intend to develop further nuggets to be made available on topics such as online safety, sustainability, accessibility, British Values and numeracy.

Our technology manager has been enthusiastic in promoting the collaboration between the curriculum areas and the digital platforms we use. The nuggets will be embedded as part of a planned Digi Fest event in the summer. This has been a great improvement for the question we came up against in terms of how we would give the nuggets’ reach.

Learning from this project

What went well: when we communicated the idea for this the response was great within the platforms we shared. Having IT, ESOL and English practitioners was so inspiring and really highlighted how real and relevant this project was.

Even better if: this has been about scale and timing. We were slow off the mark with producing the content and spent too long in recruiting staff, pitching the idea and generating ideas. This left us little time to give the finished resources a platform and therefore generate the volume of feedback in the timescale.

An additional challenge was things we couldn’t control, such as lots of staff absences and cover, which means some work didn’t get done in as timely a fashion. We reflected and scaled back and focused on just a few nuggets creating a template for future development.

Lastly, we, like any content creators, worry about the ‘updateability’ of the resources. Against such a fast-changing educational backdrop and with sustainability in mind, we chose not to produce hard copies of the bank of resources we created – rather to only make the resources available via the digital channels mentioned above. However, that still leaves us with the challenge of how and how often we should update the nuggets. Even within the timescale of the project, one nugget on the topic of ‘online form filling’ around an activity to order lateral flow tests in real time, started to feel like old news. We hope that by really promoting the simplicity of turning an idea into a nugget by using the simple Nugget template, will mean that we can just keep on collecting the ideas as they come in rather than update existing ones and as such can build an interesting back catalogue of teaching ideas.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    Our project allowed space for IT, English and ESOL teams to share their expertise and understand the pedagogy and value of different approaches – in a way that does not happen regularly. For example, using verbal recollections to relay steps in a process underpins processing of language (e.g., use of imperative) but also allows to breakdown and simplify processes required to be successful in digital tasks.

  • 4. Select and use digital technologies safely and effectively to promote learning.

    This project offered an opportunity to promote functional digital skills across multiple curriculum areas. By embedding the ideas from Digital Skills Framework within other areas, we were actively facilitating the teaching of themes around staying safe online.

  • 6. Develop collaborative and respectful relationships with learners, colleagues and external stakeholders.

    From the offset the project focussed on bringing staff together. We focussed our attention on promoting the project to multiple curriculum areas and setting up a collaborative space for ideas to be shared in. We facilitated an interactive webinar as part of the idea forming stage and this was received as being uplifting for practitioners who have often felt they work in isolation. Lack of time and space to work across curriculum areas is cited by tutors as a barrier to sharing of practice in our organisation which is spread across multiple sites throughout the county. This project opened up avenues for how this can be overcome.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Planning and collaboration resources

Research Poster

This project also produced a poster for display at the NATECLA National Conference 2022. You can view the poster below and access a PDF copy via the curated exhibition Wakelet.

Sharing and Dissemination

In addition to the resources being shared via The Skills Workshop website, the project lead wrote two blogs about the project:

Bates, A., (2022). ‘Teaching Nuggets: Demystifying digital’. FE Tapestry. Available at: Teaching Nuggets – PDNorth #FEtapestry [accessed 8.6.22].

Bates, A., (2022). ‘Teaching Nuggets: De-mystifying digital’. NATECLA East of England. Available at: Teaching Nuggets: De-mystifying digital – NATECLA East of England  [accessed 8.6.22].

7b. Darlington College

Development of IT skills within the ESOL classroom

Darlington College

This project centred on developing IT skills among low-level ESOL students enabling them to access aspects of IT to enhance their learning.

Full time ESOL students were taught IT skills which they cascaded to other ESOL students. We intended to build a ‘community of practice’ where students could actively participate, learning from and supporting each other’s development (Vygotsky,1978; Lave and Wenger, 1991).

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Embedding IT skills in the ESOL classroom is very beneficial (One Stop English, date unknown; ETF, 2021). Lack of IT knowledge and skills presents barriers for many of our ESOL students. Lockdown further exposed the lack of IT skills with ESOL students unable to access online learning, resulting in several students being unable to complete their courses, hindering their progression in English. Additionally, some students struggled to understand and follow tutor instructions. To support our students, we developed a project where full-time ESOL students passed on their IT skills to those in the adult pre-entry and entry one classes.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and took place at Darlington College, a medium sized general further education college in the North East of England. The college provides a wide range of courses and has a thriving ESOL Department with four permanent and three temporary staff. The classes range from part-time pre-entry to Level 2 (English and maths) classes, as well as a full-time programme for the 16-18-year-olds.

We worked with two groups of students: full-time 16-18 and pre-entry and Level 1 ESOL.


We adopted an action planning process, involving the following stages:

Planning Stage:

  • After initial team meetings at the beginning of the project, we recognised full-time ESOL students lacked confidence in their IT and communication skills and so we needed to build up their skills and confidence.
  • Students were invited to be part of the project and informed what it would involve. Although initially apprehensive, they were reassured they would be supported, guided and given time to prepare by the IT tutor.
  • We discussed and agreed topics they would prepare and how they could present them to their peers. The following topics were chosen: turning the computer on and off, accessing Google Chat and using Google Meet. Students would present using PowerPoint.

How the planning was put into practice:

  • A chronological order of lessons was decided by the students.
  • The project lead liaised with the IT tutor ensuring time was secured for the delivery of the lessons.
  • Once they were prepared and confident, full-time students delivered to the pre-entry class with the support of the IT tutor.


  • Both full-time and pre-entry students were given reflection activities (Exit Tickets) to complete. These were adapted to the level of the students to gain insights into the effectiveness of the presentations.
  • The tutors met to ascertain what went well and what could be improved going forward. The feedback was mainly positive; however, it was felt the full-time students should be better prepared for the next round. They needed to be confident about the topic, prepare more informative slides and avoid simply reading from them to enable them to connect more effectively with the group being taught.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

By the end of the sessions, the pre-entry students could turn a Chromebook off and on. They could also access Google chat which greatly increased their confidence.

The full-time students gained confidence in their ability to communicate as well as improving their IT skills. The experience has ensured their learning experiences have been broadened, made more interesting and engaging and relevant to the ‘real’ world. CN for example, told me he felt “delighted” (his favourite adjective!) after his teaching experience. He told me it had helped his pronunciation (an area he needed to develop).

Furthermore, the skill of ‘risk-taking’ was evident and students could see that mistakes are to learn from. Self-management was also developed, students were empowered and encouraged to use their initiative and autonomy. AH felt very uneasy during the presentation because he had not prepared well. He recognised that but kept going. He completed the lesson but felt he could do better and asked if he could take another in the future so he could improve.

In addition, communication skills were developed resulting in increased confidence when speaking to others, particularly to those they did not know. This is a life skill that will help students in their future job search or progression to higher levels of study. For example, MG stated he was very nervous and found it difficult but has since presented in other classes and said he felt much better.

The pre-entry students benefited from being taught by students who could empathise with exit ticket example with smiley facestheir difficulty in understanding the English language. In addition, they learned skills which will enable them to access learning online. See exit ticket example to the right.

They also were exposed to technology which will be built on to support them in learning English through different channels. This will lead to improvements in confidence which will empower students to integrate more into society.

The ESOL team also benefitted, and learned from, a student-led approach. For some this was a new approach and ‘letting go’ was a concept not always easy to adopt. Having seen the benefits, it is hoped this will become a consistent approach within the ESOL classroom. For example, two members of the team stated they thought the project was a new and exciting idea, whilst one teacher, whose class was taught by the 16-19 years old, stated her students really enjoyed the sessions and learned some basic IT skills following the experience and she is keen to repeat the activity. In addition, it is hoped the collaboration across the team will also be embedded into the wider curriculum.

On my part, I learned to cascade knowledge gained from teaching an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum in a creative manner. This involved sharing good practice around skills development as opposed to just supporting language development.
There was a great deal of emphasis on collaboration within this project. This came to fruition via students from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and languages, working together. Tutors also collaborated much more than previously.

Organisational Development

The project created an opportunity for staff from different curriculum areas to meet, share ideas and teaching and learning and assessment approaches. In the busy world of FE, these opportunities do not occur as frequently as we would like. It was, therefore, fortuitous to have the privilege to work so closely with colleagues. Working on the project additionally helped to raise the profile of the ESOL department. For example, more regular and productive meetings with managers, more colleagues involved and more recently, the introduction of peer teaching into maths sessions.

Attending the Tees Valley English and Maths conference gave us the opportunity to share our work with other centres in the area. The chair of this meeting said she would share all I had imparted in a document which would be cascaded to all participants. This raised the profile of the project and our team whilst enabling us to get useful feedback from other ESOL practitioners. In addition, the project was shared at the Bell Foundation meeting where it was met with enthusiasm and interest.

Learning from this project

What went well:

All those involved found the project to be both a rewarding and positive experience. After some initial trepidation, people readily joined in and did their very best to ensure the project was a success. Feedback was extremely positive and the majority of those involved would like the activities to continue. One of the most pleasing aspects is seeing students grow in confidence and begin to take responsibility for their own learning. This student-led approach to teaching and learning has informed the ESOL team and demonstrated an approach that can be deployed elsewhere in the college. For example, this practice is currently being used within maths sessions. CN and MA (the higher-level maths students) are teaching the Entry 2/3 group for the last two session of the academic year. Because of their previous experience, they “jumped” at the opportunity and according to their IT teacher, are developing some wonderful resources.

Even better if:

The full-time students had been better prepared for their lessons. Several of them were a little shocked at the reality of teaching and one even asked if he could do it again because he felt he did not deliver well which shows his commitment to the project.

The tutors were also taken by surprise, and we all agreed that we had overestimated the ability and confidence of the students. Based on this, more support was given to ensure the students were better prepared.

The full-time students need to practise more, ensuring they know the topic well prior to delivering topics. They also need to understand the importance of communicating clearly and ensuring their presentations are ‘lessons’ and not simple modes of displaying a collection of information.

All colleagues need to be on board. One was reluctant from the outset. This colleague teaches the higher groups so did not participate in the project although she was party to all the meetings and many of the discussions surrounding it. Without doubt she was very interested in knowing how the project progressed and expressed her pleasure at its success.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of students.

    The approaches used were new to many of the team who initially struggled with students having control of the learning. Through meeting regularly, gathering feedback from students, and discussing progress with them, we were able to constructively and honestly reflect on what worked best in our teaching and support each other to make improvements. Regular reflection enabled us to appreciate the benefits of the approach used, enhancing our teaching practice whilst additionally encouraging effective relationships with each other and our students.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and students

    The project’s success hinged on effective collaboration on many different levels. Initially, full-time students and teachers worked together to decide on topic delivery, needing to build up trust and confidence in each other. In classroom teaching sessions students increasingly relied on each other to help with communication and the execution of practical activities. Collaboration was further needed to provide honest feedback on activities so their usefulness could be effectively assessed and any improvements made.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    This project developed IT skills for ESOL students who struggled with the concept. Being taught by other ESOL students helped to lessen language barriers enabling them to express their difficulties more readily. Those teaching the sessions were able to recognise difficulties other students had in using IT and, with the teacher’s help, support them appropriately to understand and use IT more effectively.

    As a result of the project, most students have grown in confidence in using IT. In addition, the project helped teachers better appreciate students’ difficulties and find more effective means of working to enable them to meet challenges and overcome barriers to learning.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Feedback Forms

Appendix 4: Student Prepared Teaching Materials

Appendix 5: Students working in classrooms

Appendix 6: Examples of Students’ Work


Education Training Foundation (2021) Effective digital skills teaching in the context of digital exclusion: ESOL and non- formal learning, available on: Essential Digital Skills CPD programme – The Education and Training Foundation (

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University

One Stop English (date unknown) ESOL Support: IT in ESOL, available on:, Date accessed: 11.02.2022

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

6a: Burton and South Derbyshire College

Exploring digital approaches to reading
and writing

Burton and South Derbyshire College

This project aimed to investigate the validity of new digital approaches deployed in the Learning Resource Centre (LRC), focusing on enhancing digital reading and writing development.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


This research sought to determine the validity, relevance and impact of digital approaches which strive to improve and develop reading engagement and writing for learners within vocational areas. Learner observation indicated that awareness of valuable digital resources such as the e-textbooks could be pivotal to improving learners’ attainment and understanding, as well as enabling greater digital access to our LRC collections and services. Using collaborative digital writing platforms to promote learner confidence in writing was another area of exploration, with the aim to upskill learners’ digital capabilities further and develop confident understanding and use of digital technology for improving levels of literacy.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. The research engaged participants from different departments across our FE College. The first approach was developing reading skills and access to our digital textbooks with a Level 2 Health and Social Care group. Secondly, we explored the improvement of writing using digital approaches with an Entry Level ESOL group and, finally, we worked with vocational learners from across the college to develop their digital reading skills.


The project leader, in collaboration with the Health and Social Care department, identified a suitable group for the study. The Level 2 Health and Social Care group were selected as their tutor recognised a clear need for the learners to become more familiar with their online textbook to increase their awareness of researching online and improve their digital reading habits. A short survey with the learners was conducted to ascertain their current reading habits and approaches to reading as well as exploring their thoughts about reading and wellbeing themes (Appendix 3a). Sessions on reading and accessing digital textbooks were delivered with the group and data was obtained through surveys to capture their thoughts on this initiative.

As part of the College’s Digital Wellness week, the Health and Social Care group also participated in the new Essential Digital Skills programme, which was supported by LRC staff. The new online digital course included content that required significant online reading to be conducted before assessment. Learners were observed and interviewed as they participated in the course.

Module data generated from the programme was gathered to reflect on the pace of reading, specifically if the design of the content was accessible and how the course impacted on teaching, learning and assessment practices and how digital access could be improved.

We also ran a ‘writing camp’ with an Entry Level ESOL group who worked collaboratively (supported by LRC staff and an external organisation Higher Horizons) to write a novel within one week using an online programme. Higher Horizons are an organisation enabling engagement with Higher Education through outreach work. The one-week camp involved the learners planning a novel collaboratively and writing using a digital programme through Google docs, especially adapted so writers could write, edit and collaborate in different chapters to collectively author the novel ‘The Unwelcome Newcomers’ (Cooks, 2022).

Case studies and semi-structured interviews were used to capture learners’ feedback, as well as observation of participants composing and creating the novel. Discussion with tutors, support staff and learners ascertained whether the participants’ confidence levels had improved and provided an opportunity to investigate whether the structure of the week had engaged their interest and encouraged them to develop their writing skills.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The focus on digital reading highlighted the importance of building and maintaining personal reading habits that can be a crucial aspect of success for learners. In the session, the inclusive features of ebooks were explored (Appendix 3b), such as highlighting, audio options and notetaking facilities, allowing learners to extrapolate and engage with text whilst simultaneously utilising digital literacies.

Giving learners directed instructions (Appendix 3c) allowed them to explore the features of these digital texts and they commented upon the usefulness of formulating questions prior to reading the extracts to master their understanding. The intervention clearly indicated that there was scope to develop the reading extracts and perhaps incorporate further sessions with elements of study skills e.g., advanced notetaking techniques whilst reading the text.

Data analysis from the Essential Digital Skills programme (Appendix 3d) indicates interesting results about the demands of reading online. Learners were scanning the information rather than employing detailed reading strategies and engaged more with the interactive elements, such as quizzes, which demonstrates that further integration of these assessment techniques would potentially enhance engagement. Reducing the text for each module and improving the layout of the information would assist with engagement and accessibility (Appendix 3e).

Developing Entry Level ESOL learners’ writing skills using a digital approach demonstrated that the initiative had a positive impact on the selected learners’ writing skills. Learners commented that they found the first day of planning difficult. Interestingly, no digital applications were used at this stage to help them formulate the plot. Once they were writing in the LRC, using computers and the Google docs layout provided more comfort; they mentioned the security of typing and access to tools such as the spellchecker to improve their writing. The digital approach and the interface of the document allowed them to design the text with ease, and, more importantly, it may demonstrate that the thinking process is occurring more naturally through digital practice. The process of drafting, improving, and checking revealed that the digital approach provided learners with the confidence to view themselves seriously as writers.

Organisational Development

More effective communication and working practices have emerged as a result of the supportive collaboration between curriculum and support staff. One tutor commented that several of the learners are now more confident using narrative tenses and are happier to share written stories.

The ESOL tutors also commented on and recognised the positive effect on their learners’ autonomy as a result of working with wider college teams and spaces. The recognition that others in the organisation can support the learner journey gives both learners and teaching staff an enriching dimension and allows learners to feel they are part of a wider learning community. Following the relinquishing of Covid restrictions, learners felt energised using the LRC and breaking away from classrooms. The presence of both groups increased in the LRC, especially during non-timetable periods (breaks and lunchtime) and they were more likely to come and ask for assistance as they became familiar with LRC staff.

Learning from this project

The research has provided insights into the study skills needs of learners; their responses showed that they needed support in being more motivated, developing concentration and remembering. These observations suggest that these topics should become the foundation of future study skills and reading sessions. Many respondents perceived reading as unimportant and the preferred activity was using their phones, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity to develop new sessions to explore the rapidly transforming models of accessing reading materials.

Learner access to relevant digital resources and textbooks has increased and this has had a positive impact on learner achievement through increased usage and assimilation within assignment work, with learners using the interactive tools to highlight, copy and search. Learners commented that using ebooks was:

Very very useful, [a] great aspect on my course.
… really good. I really enjoy my time as it is easy to understand.

These techniques can be further developed with the focus on more active methods such as making notes, taking the key ideas to paraphrase and writing summaries of chapters. We hope that this will lead to learners further developing the skills of analysing and critiquing what they read.

Embedding digital information skills into the curriculum means that LRC staff have upskilled their digital capabilities to deliver new methods of information literacy. This has also highlighted the need to develop a better technology-rich environment with greater mobile devices to enable collaboration.

Some writers found writing fiction challenging as they were used to producing transactional writing as the norm. The majority enjoyed the freedom of this approach and excelled in the chance to explore and apply their creative talents to produce a novel in less than a week and discover the merits of self-publishing (Appendix 3f).

The writing camp showcased the affordances offered by technology to support writing. The framework of the programme nestled within the Google documents allowed the novelists to work through and collaborate on multiple chapters, adding characters, scenes and plot twists with ease. Learners remarked that they preferred the digital approach as they had access to the editing tools to refine their words, improving grammar and spelling as they wrote.
The adoption of digital tools and techniques offers a unique opportunity to extend the reading and writing skills of learners.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technologies and support learners in their use of new technologies

    Our project had the aim and focus of engaging learners as active users of digital technologies to further enhance their reading and writing skills. The technologies such as e-books, Google docs and a bespoke platform were utilised to engage learners at scale to achieve their aims. Through research, we investigated learners’ engagement with these technologies and how they allowed learners agency to become confident users.

  • 20. Contribute to organisational development and quality improvement through collaboration with others

    The project has supported important strategic developments. One element of the College Skills Promise is to develop learners as Digital Experts. Having knowledge of, and skills in, the latest digital technologies will set learners up for their career in the 21st century workforce. In recognition of this Burton and South Derbyshire College (BSDC) has developed an Essential Digital Skills programme which the LRC team have supported by previewing and checking the content. During the college-wide Digital Wellness week LRC staff supported learners to enrol and participate in the course. Reflecting upon learner engagement will further enhance the quality of the resource as well as collaborating with other colleges who have also started to use the course to develop their learners’ digital skills.


Supporting vocational trainers in prisons to embed EDS in their courses


This project investigated the barriers preventing vocational trainers from embedding digital skills in their course delivery. By creating a bespoke training package with vocationally contextualised resources, these barriers have been reduced and colleagues are better prepared and more confident to support their own learners with the development of digital skills and awareness.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Many of the vocational workshops and teaching spaces in prisons have limited access to technology resources and equipment due to their location within the prison establishment. For example, workshop spaces are not connected to the education computer network or Virtual Campus. As a result, trainers tend not to adopt digital approaches in their delivery.

This results in a number of barriers to learning: some tutors lack current, up-to-date knowledge of the digital world; some tutors lack confidence and experience in embedding digital learning; learners do not develop their digital skills while studying vocational courses. This is not an isolated issue and is something experienced by vocational trainers across the FE sector (Cattaneo, Antonietti and Rauseo, 2022; Prisoner’s Education Trust, 2021; Prisoner Learning Alliance, 2020).

However, embedding digital skills does not solely rely on the availability of digital technology (Sailer, Murböck and Fischer, 2021; Sailer, 2021). Therefore, this project aimed to better understand the wider barriers preventing vocational trainers from embedding digital skills into their delivery to inform the design of a bespoke training package and creation of resources to be used by vocational teams across the West Midlands region.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research activities were carried out with the vocational teams across the West Midlands prison group, with a specific focus on working with vocational trainers from HMP Hewell and HMPYOI Stoke Heath. We worked with three subject specialists, each from a different area of vocational study: catering and hospitality, construction and industrial cleaning. The training package and resources were disseminated across the whole of the West Midlands region, totalling eight different vocational teams.

Image of 'starter and enders' task cardThe resources we chose to create were inspired by the ETF’s ‘Digital Skills Starters and Enders’ cards (ETF, 2018). These are already used widely across the prison education estate and are a simple, quick way of embedding digital skills into lessons without the use of a computer.

We have adapted this format to focus specifically on vocational subject scenarios, for example, a chef creating a recipe database in a working kitchen or a builder creating a social media presence for their business.

A Padlet board was used to gather and collate evidence throughout the project, including examples of the resources created and tutor and learner feedback. More details of this can be viewed in Appendix 3. Please view this alongside the report for additional context.


Phase 1 – Recruiting Subject Specialists

Subject specialists in each area of vocational study were identified by the regional manager. All three specialists were briefed on the project aim during a face-to-face meeting with one of the project leaders.

Phase 2 – Pilot Study

Subject specialists were introduced to the pilot study activity: a Facebook Group Template (pictured here on the left). They were briefed in how the activity should be carried out; learners were invited to fill in the template using information they created for a fictional business linked to their subject area. Subject specialists carried this task out, collecting a number of good examples of how their learners utilised the template and kept a reflective log about the impact of the digital activity on their teaching (see Appendix 3 for further details).


'Facebook' template

Phase 3 – Identifying Current Strategies Embedding Digital

Project leaders had planned to sit down with specialists to go through schemes of learning to identifying pre-existing opportunities to embed digital skills. However, this was not necessary with the two specialists as they already had a bank of ideas for digital activities they could create.

template ideas

Phase 4 – Planning, Drafting and Creation of Bespoke Resources

Subject specialists were briefed on their task; produce three activity cards that embed digital skills without needing the use of technology.

The project leaders took the final three ideas from each specialist and entered them into the template for the final resource. An online shopping example from a Construction scenario can be seen here on the right. The full set of cards is on the Padlet

Example resource (buying hardware online)

Phase 5 – Dissemination of Resources (with training)

A set of the relevant activity cards was shared with subject specialists with guidance from project leaders on how they might be used.

A WhatsApp example is shown here. Tutors were encouraged to record their thoughts and learner feedback received when using the resources.

Phase 6 – Collection of Feedback and Conclusions

Feedback was collected from those tutors who trialled the resources via a Microsoft Forms feedback sheet, in-person conversations and written feedback sheets.

An example of one tutor’s reflections can be seen here on the right.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The sharing and modelling of the use of the ETF’s generic digital skills ‘Starter and Ender Cards’ prompted and inspired the tutors in the project team to work with vocational specialists to produce creative, contextualised designs for digital skills development activities for prison learners without access to a computer. This process began with design of catering and hospitality themed cards and is now developing further with construction and cleaning-based resources.

Image of a storyboardThe resources produced empowered learners to develop digital, writing and communication skills as they drafted business Facebook pages like the one shown here, recipe website content and online review site content.

These activities gave learners an authentic experience of digital platforms and services such as Facebook, Trip Advisor, recipe repository websites and online purchasing systems for specialist equipment.

The vocational specialists also had an opportunity to trial their new resources with learners and to begin to refine them based on initial learner feedback.

This aspect of the research activity opened up an opportunity for the production of learner-led, co-designed digital skills development strategies and resources, which can be incorporated into future schemes of work as learners suggest the platforms and digital tasks they would like to explore next.

Following on from one pilot study activity (the creation of a Facebook Group Template), the catering specialist decided that having a blank template for learners to fill in was a very effective tool for the Food Safety course they were delivering. They created a blank ‘booklet’ for food safety guidance which is now an in-cell stretch and challenge activity that is available for each cohort of learners (see Padlet).

Organisational Development

Work on this project has led to improved communication and an increase in collaborative working between the tutor project managers and the vocational specialists who are working directly with learners. Co-working and co-creation with OTLA projects 2a and 2b saw increased creative collaboration between Novus digital champions on digital learning design.

Vocational specialists have expressed an interest in having more communication between vocational teams from different establishments and access to a place to share resources, ideas and questions. Our initial thoughts are that a MS Teams group could be set up and all vocational teams from the West Midlands added to it; project leaders are currently discussing this option.

The project management team have widened their professional network and profile by disseminating research outcomes to peers and now have the opportunity to set up digital skills learning networks by showcasing their successes and encouraging vocational tutors in other specialist areas to create digital learning resources.

Learning from this project

Drawing of an imaginary chef (with all the wrong PPE - wearing flip-flops, with a nose piercing etc.)

Image of an imaginary chef (with all the wrong PPE!)

This project has confirmed that specialist vocational tutors wish to integrate contextualised digital skills development into their sessions but felt that the lack of access to digital devices and networks in classes made this impossible.

What tutors needed was some inspiration in the shape of the sharing and modelling of use of ‘for instance’ resources which suggested the types of templates that they might use and the kinds of platform and task they could focus on.

Once engaging resources, such as realistic templates for online tasks using authentic colours and layouts, were modelled by the project team, tutors ‘ran with them’ to design engaging paper-based activities. The leveraging of existing popular strategies such as integration of the case study avatar ‘Chef Steve’ (here shown in a hazard spotting activity) from previous vocational learning activities added familiarity for the learners and encouraged even more engagement.

If digital and English skills development resources are created in one vocational specialism, these can be used as powerful models for other specialist areas, all that is needed are some ‘why not try this?’ examples to encourage and empower vocational tutors.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    Due to the lack of technology in vocational spaces, trainers have no choice but to be creative and innovative when designing was to embed digital into their delivery. Collaborating with each other, and digital champions, empowers trainers to share and develop ideas that ‘think outside the box’. Traditional methods for embedding digital are not possible in these spaces, so trainers have instead implemented strategies likes interactive display boards, interactive phone templates and simulated website pages.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    Working with multiple subject specialists meant a really positive team-working mentality was built in right from the start of the project. Specialists worked closely with project leaders throughout, sharing ideas and feedback at each step of the project. Positive relationships were also developed between the tutor and learners, as they supported the project by trying out different activities and providing feedback.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    This project aimed to support vocational trainers in identifying simple, yet effective, ways to embed digital without the need of technology, as this is often the main barrier to embedding digital skills in teaching and learning activities. By supporting colleagues to update their own knowledge of how to use digital skills, they were able to see the benefits of sharing this with their learners. As this project focused on digital skills outside of using physical technology, trainers were encouraged to explore contemporary digital content, including social media, showing they are up to date with what is being taught in other FE settings.


This project was carried out (and report written) by Ashleigh Whitwell (Project Lead) and Ellie Whitehall (Project Deputy).

With thanks to their mentor Lynne Taylerson and Research Group Lead Bob Read, for their support.


Appendix 2 – Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3 – Project Padlet


Cattaneto, A.P.P., Antonietti, C. and Rauseo, M. (2022) How digitalised are vocational teachers? Assessing digital competence in vocational education and looking at its underlaying factors, Computers & Education, 176, pp. 1-18.

ETF (2018) ‘Digital Skills Starters and Enders’ cards. [online]

Prisoners’ Education Trust (2021)

Prisoner Learning Alliance (2020)

Sailer, Murböck and Fischer (2021) Digital learning in schools: What does it take beyond digital technology? Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 103, 2021 ( )

Sailer et al (2021) Technology-related teaching skills and attitudes: Validation of a scenario-based self-assessment instrument for teachers. Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 115, 2021. (


English and digital tools in the prison classroom


This project explored how to improve the embedding of digital tools within English sessions across Novus’ provision. The project set out to research, design, and deliver a bespoke training offer for teachers of English across prisons in the West Midlands.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


The Centre for Social Justice (2021:4) released a report which cited prisoners as being frequently amongst the most ‘digitally excluded’ members of society. Furthermore, the Coates Review (2016) made recommendations regarding a need for increased incorporation of digital skills within the prison curriculum. This project was informed by previous and existing CPD training offers made available by Novus relating to enhancing the learning experience through effective use of digital tools that have been developed since the publication of this report.

Image showing Novus' whitelisted websitesWhen commenting on the Coates Review, Crabbe (2016:6) highlighted that a key theme related to prison staff being ‘risk-averse’ when it came to using information technology. Additionally, it was discovered that the Virtual Campus (VC), whilst widely available across the majority of prison establishments, was felt to be too difficult to access. It was the aim of this project to further demystify the process of accessing the VC to enable colleagues to make greater use of digital tools accessible via the VC (see left), enhancing the classroom experience for learners.

A lower-than-expected utilisation of digital tools being used to enhance learning, teaching and assessment within English teaching, particularly across the West Midlands was identified by Novus digital leads which led to the project being situated within this region.

This project therefore aimed to investigate the reasons behind the resistance to the use of digital tools within learning and further raise awareness of the digital tools available to colleagues to support their delivery. This was intended to be achieved through the creation of a tailored set of training delivered across the West Midlands region.

Other Contextual Information

The setting for our project was all prisons situated in the West Midlands region (Lot 15) with a focus on English. The region comprises of: HMP Birmingham, HMPYOI Brinsford, HMP Featherstone, HMP Hewell, HMP Oakwood, HMP Stafford, HMPYOI Stoke Heath and HMPYOI Swinfen Hall. As part of the project, we were able to connect with colleagues to deliver training and provide support to them with their embedding of digital tools into their delivery.

Leaders for the project were both based at prison establishments within this region and have a combined 11 years’ experience teaching within this context. Project leaders worked as joint Virtual Campus Digital Champions within the West Midlands and were committed to supporting colleagues to utilise digital skills to enhance the overall learning experience.


Note that examples of digital assets and comments from participants in the project phases below can be found on the project Padlet (shown below, also see Appendix 3).

Questionnaire (extract)

Phase 1

A MS Form-based questionnaire was shared with all colleagues involved in the delivery of Functional Skills English across all prisons within the West Midlands region. A total of 9 responses were received from six of the eight prisons across the Lot.

The purpose of this MS Form was to establish a starting point in terms of embedding digital into their delivery across the region.

Replies assisted project leads in assessing where tutors felt they were able to embed digital well already. They also enabled project leads to react to responses relating to specified barriers which could be addressed within the training offer as well as gather previously unconsidered ideas surrounding which digital tools to incorporate into the training package.

City and Guilds SmartScreen image

Phase 2

A pilot was conducted using the two prison establishments at which project leads are based. The pilot training programme made use of BKSB Live 2 and City & Guilds SmartScreen (see left) to introduce the digital tools that could be employed within the prison classroom.

Phase 3

A review of the pilot training offer provided was conducted using quotes from focus groups and one-to-one discussions which took place immediately following delivery of pilot training package.

Consultation also occurred with a member of the Teacher Education Development (TED) Team within Novus. Novus’s TED team were formed during 2020 and have developed a wide range of CPD for colleagues across Novus delivered in a variety of ways. Project leads discussed the most effective methods when delivering training or disseminating information to colleagues that can be used to enhance delivery such as participant packs like the one shown above.

Image showing 'how to use GoConqr training'

Phase 4

The project was expanded to include the Learning on Screen and Go Conqr tools to the training offer and delivery was extended to an additional three sites within the region: HMP Featherstone, HMP Birmingham and HMP Swinfen Hall.

Image showing materials created by the project team

Phase 5

Direct participants created further digital learning resources and shared these within the region via VC  – Virtual Campus 2, example shown here. Further feedback was collected from these training sessions delivered to colleagues.

Image showing a slide from dissemination event

Phase 6: Dissemination of findings.

Two separate sessions entitled Enhancing the Learning Experience: Utilising Digital Skills in the English Classroom were prepared and delivered at the 2022 Novus day of the LTE Group’s Teaching and Learning Conference. This involved colleagues, not just from the West Midlands but across all Novus sites including Novus Cambria.

Tutor feedbackOutcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Use of the initial survey acted as a really effective scoping activity to determine where pockets of enthusiastic digital learning existing practice lay and what the barriers were to wider learning technology use in Functional Skills English delivery. Analysis of the feedback surveys allowed a bespoke CPD offer to be planned and facilitated across the West Midlands region initially using BKSB Live 2 and City and Guilds SmartScreen. Feedback added to the evidence on what further support tutors want and where their interests lie.

The CPD provided allowed the project team to effectively model a range of different learning technology tools and contextualised English learning resources including Learning on Screen and Go Conqr. The tutors attending found the training beneficial.

Tutors were able to familiarise themselves with learning resources available on the Virtual Campus that they were previously unaware of and use these in their practice.

Tutors noted that extending use of learning technology, for example the use of short video clips as discussion stimuli and accessing screen archives, has widened their resource repertoire and resulted in learners being far more engaged than they were in the past.

Organisational Development

This project supported the development of colleagues’ working practices by further empowering them to incorporate the digital tools available into their delivery. Participating in the projects enabled the project leads to establish a starting point for the confidence levels of colleagues and work towards increasing these as the project progressed.

The training provided empowered tutors to familiarise themselves with the learning resources available on the Virtual Campus such as the screen archive Box of Broadcasts (BoB) and empowered them to extend their practice by making educational video clips which have resulted in prison learners being far more involved in group discussions.

As a consequence of the project, there are five digital tools that have been identified as proposed routeways into further embedding digital into English delivery consistently following the development of a bespoke training offer: City and Guilds SmartScreen, BKSB (in particular their Skills Check activities), Hemingway App, GoConqr and Learning on Screen.

The project team were also able to extend their professional network and raise their profile by presenting and disseminating the findings and outcomes of this research. A video showcased at the Teaching and Learning Conference demonstrated how the range of digital tools leveraged by the project could be embedded within English delivery. This resource is now available to all colleagues via the Novus Personal Growth and Development webpage.

Learning from this project

Work on this project has revealed that there is definitely enthusiasm for the extended use of learning technology by English tutors in a prison environment. Numerous challenges and barriers to leveraging technology exist, including ready access to platforms and devices, familiarity with how to obtain platform user accounts and provision of CPD to extend digital skills and pedagogy. An initial scoping activity was valuable to determine where existing good practice sits and where there is enthusiasm for further learning technology development.

Once a clear picture of the existing landscape has been established, learning technology showcases modelling the use of contextualised examples, in the case of this project in English learning, give tutors the exposure, ideas and impetus they need to become more effective and enthusiastic users of digital tools. Once prison tutors experience how popular use of resources, such as videos for discussion prompts, are with their learners this gives them encouragement to experiment further with learning technology and digital pedagogy.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    This project took the approach of teachers as learners. Participants needed to embrace digital as a way of offering innovation to them as teachers. It was the intention of the project that these would then be passed on in creative ways to their learners, supporting them in their access to and development of different concepts.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners

    This project enabled us to not only strengthen the collaborative relationship between project leads as Digital Champions for the region, but also build collaborative partnerships with colleagues at establishments beyond those at which project leads are based. This collaborative working between colleagues has resulted in the sharing of a diverse range of speaking, listening and communication resources to be used with learners across the region which make effective use of the digital tools available.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use

    Our project shared with colleagues who, perhaps previously, held sceptical views relating to the use of digital tools in their delivery and shared more widely across the West Midlands region how these same tools could be used effectively to enhance their delivery of Functional Skills English qualifications.


This project was carried out (and report written) by Ashleigh Whitwell (Project Lead) and Ellie Whitehall (Project Deputy).

With thanks to their mentor Lynne Taylerson and Research Group Lead Bob Read, for their support.


Appendix 2: Learner case studies

Appendix 3: Project Padlet


Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) (2021) Digital Technology in Prisons: Unlocking relationships, learning and skills in UK prisons. London: CSJ.

Crabbe, M.J.C. (2016) Education for Offenders in Prison. Journal of Pedagogic Development Volume 6, Issue 3.

Prisoners’ Education Trust (2021)

TES (2021)

Prisoner Learning Alliance (2020)


Using simulations to build essential digital skills in prison learning


This project evaluates the use of simulations to support learners in developing digital skills in practical contexts previously excluded in prisons, for example, performing online transactions, accessing social media. It also considers how prisoners with digital design skills can be involved as ‘learner-designers’ in the production of simulation prototypes.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Simulation is often used in education and training when access to the ‘real thing’ is notAn image of a 'smartphone simulator', a tool made in Powerpoint and used in prison contexts possible or involves risk, for example, pilot training in aviation (Masson, 2021). We were keen to explore the potential of using digital simulations for Essential Digital Skills (EDS) delivery in the Prison Education Framework (PEF) context where public protection is a priority. Simulations can provide a safer, more accessible and richer learning experience and can also be more cost effective as they can be accessed on-demand, at the learner’s convenience. We wanted to find out whether these potential benefits could be enjoyed by learners and staff on prison education programmes.

Other Contextual Information

Novus had already developed a concept resource to simulate the functions of a smartphone which this project used a starting point of our research activity. We planned to test this smartphone simulator with learners as the first stage of our research into the use of simulations.

A Padlet board was used to collect and collate evidence from the project including screenshots of simulations designed, tutor, officer and learner feedback, research methodology details and potential next steps.


Phase 1:

We identified areas of the Essential Digital Skills (EDS) qualifications that prison learners find challenging (e.g., online transactions) and reviewed our past experience in using digital simulations and in involving learners in collaborating on their designing simulations.

Phase 2:

We met with the design team at the Digital Creation Centre to identify which simulators would be most valuable for learners and to plan the first steps in the design process. We created a feedback form for use with learners, colleagues and digital learning specialists who piloted the existing smartphone simulator. We also carried out research into how simulations can be made for enhancing digital skills development in the prison context.

Phase 3:

We piloted the smartphone simulator and gathered feedback from learners and officers and, with a view to planning for sustainability, we used the findings to begin to form ideas about the possibilities of creating this type of content by expanding the extent of our collaboration with HMPPS. The response was very positive – “It’s had a really good response! Particularly with learners who aren’t quite confident with tech etc. Comments such as, ‘I didn’t know you could do that,’ would come from learners who didn’t know that you could perhaps use your phone to tap and pay in the same way as you would with a debit card.” “When I first was introduced to the simulator… it inspired me to try and create my own interactive resources using PowerPoint I have since made a mock-up of a Twitter feed and this is a regular template I use to deliver lesson content.”

Phase 4:

The CCCs were given ideas for possible simulation development including a Zoom interface, a conference call, a Trip Advisor rating site, a My Builder interface.

Design work was begun on prototypes. See below for examples:

An email client simulator

An email client simulator

A photo filter application of the smartphone simulator

A photo filter application of the smartphone simulator

A video call simulator

A video call simulator

An online transaction simulator

An online transaction simulator

Extensions of the original smartphone simulator to include web browsing

And extensions of the original smartphone simulator to include web browsing

Extensions of the original smartphone simulator to include online banking

…and online banking and payment options.

However, it proved difficult to be able to transfer simulations from the CCCs due to the low bandwidth on site. This meant further feedback from learners was limited to the original smartphone simulator.

In light of this bandwidth issue we decided to utilise the CCCs in a different way, developing another questionnaire based on Brookfield’s 4 lens reflective model (OCSLD) (2013) to gather feedback from learners and staff about their role in the design of the simulations.

Screenshot of a twitter chatPhase 5:

We began to extend our professional network and signed up to present a session at a Digital Sprint CPD conference hosted by the LTE Group,

We also took part in a dedicated Twitter chat as part of a weekly #ukfechat. Our topic was simulation use and digital skills learning in prison:

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The feedback from both learners and tutors on their experience of using the smart phone simulator was very positive and encouraged us to continue to plan to develop similar resources. You can read feedback comments from learners in the image on the from both learners and tutors on their experience of using the smart phone simulator

Tutors were equally delighted by the impact it had on learners. One tutor (see Appendix 2) completed our first Digital Literacies lockdown CPD programme and introduced the iPhone simulator into her sessions once she returned to face-to-face delivery. She said the learners were ‘amazed’ by the interactive phone. One learner who has been in prison for 18 years ‘had never seen anything like it!’

Another tutor agreed that the phone simulator would be ideal for learners to use as an introduction to phone technology, especially for any learners who have not had a smartphone. They also suggested that other simulations could be created with Facebook, WhatsApp and other platforms being careful with the content that is showcased.

An officer supervising these learners commented that simulations allowed them to experience the hands-on experience of digital tools for the first time. She added that participating in a discussion around smartphone use was really useful to allow learners to understand how digital tools now inform so much of our personal and working lives e.g., shopping travel, paying bills, seeing a doctor, staying in touch with family.

Organisational Development

We have benefited greatly from regular meetings with our colleagues working on two other OTLA research projects (2b and 2c) as we have been able to discuss the key features of simulations as teaching and learning resources whether they are paper-based or electronic. We intend to continue develop these links with staff in different vocational areas.

In particular, our project activities with colleagues in our Content Creation Centres have provided us with opportunities to provide further advice and guidance on simulator design and the use of simulations around the prison estate (and further afield). This will assist in the modernising of the e learning available to prisoners on the Virtual Campus 2 platform or in other institutions.

Ideally, we would aim for each studio to be working together as one department so we can utilise the strong members of the teams. We still have some system and bandwidth restrictions but the team are looking into resolving those issues and there is the ability to share assets and work across the centres through MS teams.

Learning from this project

Input from prisoners using the phone simulators was very valuable in helping to determine the ideal target audience for these tools. We now know that older prisoners serving longer sentences greatly appreciate exposure to tools and interfaces which are entirely new to them. Younger learners recently in prison are already aware of mobile technologies and how to use them so find them less engaging and valuable.

Tutors who introduced the simulators in their lessons reported how the activities provided opportunities for learners to acquire not only the skills involved in using the device but to develop their understanding of key vocabulary associated with the everyday tasks in shopping, travel, banking, use of social media e.g. download, upload, tweet, Bluetooth.

The smartphone simulatorFindings from our own project together with discussions with colleagues on our two other OTLA projects also confirmed for us some of the key features of effective simulations whether they are paper-based templates, PowerPoint slides or electronic interactive software.

Authenticity, use of colour, accessible and simplified layout are important.

For example, after seeing how engaged learners were in using the electronic smartphone simulator one tutor was inspired to create a Twitter feed template in PowerPoint that she now uses to present an overview of her lessons.

We have also learned much more about the potential of our Content Creation Centres to involve learners in creating or modernising courses by making them more engaging and interactive to the target audience. We need to balance the number of people working on projects with those who are being trained on the software.

Once we have a pool of skilled personnel, we can customise the teams as required for the intended project. This will allow prisoners performing design work to work with real clients on realistic industry projects giving them valuable, authentic work experience as designers.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    The project expanded on an existing innovation, the smartphone simulator, to design prototypes for a new range of digital tool and device simulations for use in prison learning. It also allowed prisoners with digital design skills to work in authentic commercial scenarios for a client to a defined brief.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners

    This project enabled us to strengthen the collaborative working between areas of different organisations in design and delivery of digital learning. In particular, the collaborative working between colleagues working on two other OTLA projects (2b &2c) has resulted in the sharing of perspectives and resources which in time will be used with learners across the region.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use

    The project supported colleagues and prisoner learners in designing and using digital tools more effectively to enhance their delivery of prison learning and qualifications.


This project was carried out (and report written) by Claire Holland (Project Lead) and Steve Grix (Project Deputy).

With thanks to their mentor Lynne Taylerson and Research Group Lead Bob Read, for their support.


Appendix 2: Case study

Appendix 3: Padlet board


Gibson, D. (2009) Digital Simulations for Improving Education: Learning Through Artificial Teaching Environments. London: ISR

Masson, M. (2021). Use and Benefits of Simulators. EASA Community. [online] EASA Community. Available at:   [Accessed 12 October 2021].

Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD) (2013) Brookfield’s lenses [online] Available from: Accessed on 25/02/2022.

Skills for Life (2021) Essential Skills – digital. Skills for Life. Available at:  [Accessed 16 October 2021].

West, S. (2021). How to use digital simulations to prepare students for future careers. Times Educational Supplement. Available at: [Accessed 12 October 2021].