Community Conversations: Paula Philpott on Agility in Serving Students

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John O'Brien, EDUCAUSE President and CEO, talks with Paula Philpott, Head of Learning Academy, South Eastern Regional College, about the ways her institution stays agile in offering student support.

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John O'Brien
President and CEO

Paula Philpott
Head of Learning Academy
South Eastern Regional College

John O'Brien: Welcome to another Community Conversation at EDUCAUSE. It's my pleasure today to introduce you to Paula Philpott, she's the head of the Learning Academy at Southeastern Regional College in Northern Ireland. Welcome, Paula.

Paula Philpott: Great, thank you so much for inviting me. I'm always really conscious that coming from Ireland that we talk really quickly so I'm going to try not to do that in this particular conversation, but do feel free just to rein me back a little. So yes, I work within Further Education and Further Education spans that space between secondary, your school education, through into higher education. So we teach everything from a level one through to level seven. And so we have that space for professional technical education but a range of profiles within that in terms of age groups, demographics, et cetera.

O'Brien: One of the things we're talking a lot about these days is agility. How have you brought agility to the challenges of COVID and teaching and learning, learning and teaching?

Philpott: We've been really fortunate because our director of curriculum is also director of information services so over the IT. So that's where we possibly unusual in that curriculum and IT are married together under the same senior manager and because of that the linkages between what's happening in terms of the digital works really effectively. So in the area that I have responsibility for, which is really trying to bridge the gap between how valuable people see the technology and tutor and students' abilities to be able to use that effectively. I think the linkages are really clear for us there. So I think, yes. I mean, obviously we've been running Wiki webinars. We have done that for the last 7-8 years with our staff. So we have middle Mondays, which focus on blended learning. We had webinar Wednesdays, which surface good practice across the curriculum and share that and that gets shared between curriculum areas in that way. But obviously then we introduced teams on Tuesdays and women at CPD. So again, just a range of ways in which we try and reach out and connect with staff but probably the biggest way that we've done that for the last 10 years. And we'll continue to do that. Even in, in this environment online is to we have peer mentors avoid and teach other people's classes team teach with them, peer observe them. And these are teachers who teach themselves, but for a proportion of their week support other teachers and that piece arraigned against creating that sense of community and connection. Collegiality has been really important not just in the lead up to the pandemic but actually throughout the pandemic as well. So to do something differently, to not have to really rationalize why we're doing it this way but actually just to, to to kind of explore the opportunities in the space and see what works, what doesn't, and and to know that, you know that things will work and some won't and that's okay. But what we find from our feedback from our students has been that what they've appreciated most is the effort that's gone in to really try and to create that environment for them where they feel connected and supportive and sooth.

O'Brien: I have a friend, also Irish, who when he uses a word that I have never heard before or uses describes something differently he always quote somebody saying that we're separated by a common language. And so I love the differences in how we describe things within our, the same language in particular. I love that you seem to use the word, the words of digital poverty to describe where we use digital divides. I think that's just so much more brutal and honest. And I, and I love that. I also noticed that you also say learning and teaching, whereas for whatever reason we always say teaching and learning I think it's actually kind of telling that you you say learning and teaching again has it always been that way?

Philpott: Yeah, no. it was a conscious decision to restructure that so same way with we don't, we don't land in staff to talk about remote learning or it's it's learning online or on campus. It's still learning. It doesn't matter. And, you know, obviously it's just even a societal way. There's been a real push to not say staycations. It's a holiday that, you know, staycations when you stay at home, you don't go anywhere your house. You know, if you decide to go and visit a local tie in and have a holiday there, it's still a holiday. It's not a staycation. So it's trying to, I suppose just create a different mindset around that. We really get that as a college, we get quite frustrated sometimes when we see remote learning because all the connotations of disconnectedness of feeling isolated and so on. So again, I think language is really important than the space, because we want to speak into people's lives in a way that builds them towards the destination that we're going to. So, yeah, so digital poverty for us is that you refer to that idea of not having potentially internet or digital technology or maybe minimal access. Cause often we forget, we would have students who come back and say, well, I do have wifi. That's really prone, it won't let you stream, you know, the, the live sessions and and also some really rural communities where internet is just, it's just difficult to get, you know adequate internet at that point. So definitely the divisional divide in sort of embracing that holistic approach I think helps go into that. Those who would possibly be disadvantaged in the CS have access to both the devices and connection.