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Cathy Ellis

Cathy has worked in the field of vocational education and training for thirty years across a number of teaching, leadership and national policy roles. In her current role as Director of Enquiry and Emerging Practice at Highbury College Portsmouth, United Kingdom, she is designing a Digital Futures strategy to support the College’s 2020 vision to be a world class learning enterprise.  Highbury College (www.highbury.ac.uk) is one of the leading vocational colleges in the United Kingdom and in 2011 was graded ‘Outstanding’ by the UK Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

Cathy combines her role at Highbury College with a research portfolio working on UK and international projects as part of her PhD, under the supervision of Professor Sugata Mitra (TED2013 Prize Winner). She is interested in exploring the interdisciplinary space between emerging technologies and vocational education and training; prototyping new curriculum delivery methodologies based on emergent principles and practice; and developing innovative projects to empower students through technology to achieve their full potential.

Cathy was one of the early adopters of LMS technology in Further Education. She was recognised as one of the most influential strategic leaders of Educational Technology in her sector, winning the prestigious international Greenhouse Award in 2004 for innovation in the field of e-learning. She has spoken at regional, national and international conferences and written several articles on her experience of Educational Technology.

In September 2014 she had an article published on her research in the internationally renowned Journal for Research in Learning technology - http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/24614

and another article  is due for publication in the November 2014 edition of  ‘The Indian Journal for Vocational Education’.

Cathy holds an M.A. in Education from Durham University, was elected as the first FE President of the Association for Learning Technology in 2008, and is a Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce).

twitter: @cathyellis121
email: catherine.ellis@newcastle.ac.uk



“Can learning using the Internet in the context of Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) replace traditional Vocational Education and Training?”

“Skills have become the global currency of 21st century economies” (OECD, 2012), and many countries are now seeking a radical transformation of the process and outputs of skills formation as solutions to the global economic crisis are sought. In the UK, the Further Education (FE) sector is tasked by government with “providing the skilled workforce the economy needs” (BIS, 2013), by delivering Vocational Education and Training (VET) programmes to approximately 5.7 million learners each year. The pace and impact of technological change in the workplace, however, means that the VET curriculum is often out-dated by the time students actually start their courses and previously taught skills are rendered obsolete from the outset  (Frey and Osborne, 2013). Against such a backdrop of ferocious automation, rapid obsolescence of equipment and skills in the workplace, and technological advancements occurring at an increasingly phenomenal rate, how best should VET colleges prepare learners to meet these challenges?

In the UK, a number of recent studies from employer bodies have concluded that many students leave FE poorly equipped for the workplace (CBI 2012; UKCES 2014) and question whether the traditional model of VET is meeting the needs of today’s learners any longer. Then there is the question of those young people who are “not in education, employment or training” (NEET) and how our current institutions could engage with such young people and provide a pathway to a fulfilling life. Could different pedagogies be introduced to engage and motivate such learners?

This demo will give an account of a research project which is investigating whether the method of Self- Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs), which is being adopted in school settings around the world (Mitra, 2013), could usefully form part of the pedagogical spectrum for the 21st century VET institution and develop  the capacity for students to become “self-programmable” workers, constantly retraining and relearning throughout working life, with the Internet firmly established as ‘the durable companion of adult life’ (Castells 2009, p. 91).

Experiments have taken place to date with 150 students across three VET colleges - two in the UK and one in India- in the subject areas of Automotive Studies, Beauty Therapy, Business, Construction, and Hairdressing. Results from this first phase in the experiment cycle will be presented in the demo.  A second round of fieldwork is underway with two additional FE Colleges in the UK which will extend the sample size to 300 students. Two peer review articles have been accepted for publication. The first article outlines the process of introducing pedagogical enquiry into a VET institution and was published in September 2014 in the Association for Learning Technology Research Journal: (http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/24614). The second article describes the curriculum experiments across the three colleges and will feature in the November 2014 edition of the Indian Journal for Vocational Education.