Jasmin Hodge, Learning Technology Coordinator at Forth Valley College, tells us how the new Forth Valley College Digital Community on Microsoft Teams came about…

Forth Valley College stopped face to face learning on Tuesday 17 March. As the last learners left our campuses a small team of staff sprang into action with one mission – to rapidly roll out the FVC Digital Community to all staff.

Before events took over, we had been discussing the possibility of developing a staff community to share best practice in the use of digital tools for enhancing the learning experience. As many universities began moving to remote learning and teaching, our initial intentions rapidly evolved to a community that would support lecturing staff in moving to this new reality we all knew was just around the corner.

On Tuesday 17 March, the college campuses closed at 1pm at short notice, due to one confirmed case of Covid-19, which meant that all staff now faced the immediate reality of remote working. It soon became apparent that the digital community had to rapidly expand, to ensure support was there for everyone.

The team of staff driving the community forward had a shared vision of ensuring that the community spirit in the College was maintained as much as possible in these difficult times. The team understood how close an organisation we already were and how great the existing community strength was. The reality was that come Wednesday morning, we were not going to be able to walk into any of our campuses and greet and converse with our colleagues in the usual way.

Students are the heart of any college community and although the FVC digital community is aimed at staff, the team knew that to provide remote classes and an online student community, staff had to be supported not only to use their technology at home but also to be confident in using the right platforms to continue Learning and Teaching.

Just two weeks after closing face to face classes, staff created their own department staff teams and classes on the same Microsoft Teams platform. They have uploaded learning material, integrated existing resources on our Moodle VLE with their Teams class and some have held real time meetings with their students. A remarkable achievement considering most had never used Teams or ever hosted a web conference!

The FVC Digital Community continues to grow and evolve on a daily basis. It is effective in bringing both curriculum and service staff from all levels in the organisation together, giving them a space to do their work as best they can and have social interactions with colleagues and the wider College. Staff use the community to ask questions on anything to assist with remote Learning and Teaching, remote working and collaboration. They are now supporting each other with solutions and it’s not always left down to the VLE and IT Teams. Drop-in sessions are available several times a week for staff to join (with a coffee!), to ask questions to an expert panel. Staff from right across the College are also using the community for important announcements.

In parallel to this, the community is fast becoming a useful repository of useful information for lecturers to help them deliver remote learning to the best effect. It’s an excellent space for staff to share useful resources and best practice.

Another very exciting development was a wellbeing element organised from within the community. Some staff are running online fitness and Zumba classes, within our Social and Wellbeing channel, paving the way for more fun things to come that help to keep a strong sense of community spirit. As we have all become used to the challenges of remote working from home, our community is rising to meet the challenge with new channels being added, including tips and ideas for keeping our kids engaged and entertained, as well as student support resources. The newest development within the community is a channel for staff learning and CPD opportunities to support our new ‘normal’ way of working and helping all staff to develop new skills they never had the chance to.

There is a real sense of pride across the community with staff getting involved, supporting each other and being there for each other in these very uncertain times.

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