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Guest post by Charlie Johnstone, Curriculum & Quality Leader for Computing, Film & TV at New College Lanarkshire: Microsoft Learn for Educator Ambassador
New College Lanarkshire is one of the largest colleges in Scotland, operating across Lanarkshire and East Dunbartonshire, we have 3 main campuses and 3 satellite campuses. Created in 2012 following the merger of Coatbridge College, Cumbernauld College and Motherwell College, we have more than 10,000 students enrolled on a mix of full-time, part-time, evening, and commercial courses.
We offer more than 600 courses across six faculties: Care & Science; Engineering & Automotive; Service Industries; Business, Social Science & Sport; Supported Learning; and Computing & Creative Industries.
The College was named ‘Best in the UK’ at the WorldSkills UK trade skills competition in Birmingham in November 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019, in addition to finishing in the top three places in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and are recognised as a WorldSkills Centre of Excellence.
The Faculty of Computing and Creative Industries has a diverse portfolio embracing Computing, Sound Technology, Music Performance, Film & TV, Photography, Art & Design, Acting and Musical Theatre.
In computing, we offer courses ranging from beginners to BSc Computer Networking in partnership with University of the West of Scotland. The majority of our qualifications are awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the most popular qualification, HNC Computing (equivalent to 1st year BSc) is currently going through long overdue redevelopment which will give us more flexibility than we currently have.
As a team, we became aware of the Microsoft Learn for Educators (MSLE) curricula in June 2020 when most of the team attended Azure Fundamentals AZ-900 training, following this, and several calls with Andrew Bettany and Clare Riley from Microsoft UK, who assisted us in setting up Azure Lab Services, it was suggested that we join the MSLE Institutional programme, which we confirmed in December 2020.
Since then, a number of our staff have been delivering Azure Fundamentals AZ-900 and Azure AI Fundamentals AI-900 to principally our HNC and HND students, up until that point the students had little knowledge or experience of cloud technologies, I have also been delivering AZ-900 training to lecturers from two other colleges in Scotland.
This year, purely due to timing, we were unable to fully integrate the courses into the curriculum, however, we have offered them as add-on courses very successfully. At the moment we are planning for complete integration of at least AZ-900 into our Higher National Certificate courses next academic year.
With more than 10,000 students enrolled, the college is dedicated to continuous improvement, has invested in the latest technology and facilities across its campuses and is a leader in developing UK skills.
Integrating Microsoft skills into the curriculum
We are expecting to start delivering AZ-900 to local unemployed people in the next couple of weeks and are currently advertising the courses through a Scottish scheme known as the Flexible Workforce Development Fund, this is a fund created for SMEs to take advantage of the apprenticeship levy by accessing training up to the value of £5000.
In our experience since starting this process, the impact has been huge, the students are very much enjoying the courses and are engaging with us out with their normal class times to take extra classes in AZ-900 and AI-900. They have been giving us excellent feedback which goes to reinforce the idea that we (and Microsoft) are getting it right with an excellent balance of theory and practical through the labs, I have included a couple of students’ comments below
“When I first heard of the Cloud, I was interested because of how mysterious it seemed, but now that I am learning about it, it fascinates me more and more each day.” Tomas McHendry
“I think as students at the moment we are lucky to have people like Charlie and the other lecturers fighting for the evolution in education we need.” Karen Skinner
What we have learned as a college and as a team, is that if we want to do justice to our students and their aspirations, we need to move from what has essentially been a pilot programme this year to a fully integrated programme next year and beyond.
One of the greatest benefits of our engagement in the MSLE programmes has been the opportunity for staff development, previously it was very difficult for computing lecturers to access quality CPD, partly due to cost and partly due to timetabling, the MSLE programmes have made this easier by removing the largest part of the problem, the cost. As a result, most of my team are studying for at least one Microsoft Fundamentals course.
This does not end with MS Fundamentals, the college is in the process of creating a “CPD Academy”. It is my plan to leverage many more parts of Microsoft Learn to upskill non-technical teaching staff, students and our professional services staff as detailed in the learning pathways in “Digital Capabilities for a Cloud First, Mobile First Education”
Our short term goals have been achieved and considerably surpassed, so focusing on the medium term, my goal is for students to leave our college as “cloud natives”, so next year we plan to move our software development to cloud based using Azure and the associated tools. Moving on further, we are looking at delivering beyond the fundamentals so that the students can graduate with “Associate” qualifications.
We have various new initiatives under way as a result of our work with Microsoft, we are in the planning stages of a number of projects in order to take Microsoft Learn to a wider and more gender-neutral audience and greatly enhance our students’ employability.
The first project is centred around Computer Vision by creating an app in partnership with the college’s hairdressing staff and students, designed to enable students to identify hairstyles from photos (their own or downloaded). Part of the aim of the project is to engage the mostly female hairdressing students with ICT through AI.
The second project is aimed at improving our student’s employability. A major employer and Azure user in Scotland has offered to assist us in moving our software, project management, IT infrastructure and security to a DevOps model, similar to theirs and access to live anonymised data to work with. They have also offered that once we get under way, they will offer students paid internships between years 1 & 2, hopefully leading to employment. The organisations Cloud Manager stated that
“If you can sit a student in front of me for an interview and they can demonstrate that they can develop a data application in Azure and send the results over a VPN to another platform, I’ll employ them on the spot”
Microsoft Customer Story-Leaping into a much better world
Achieving this ability and opportunity in our students is our ultimate goal.
Brought to you by Dr. Ware, Microsoft Office 365 Silver Partner, Charleston SC.