A Welsh academic is visiting UCOL Te Pūkenga to see how the institution is meeting the needs of neuro-divergent learners and implementing digital learning.
Constance Henry, an Essential Skills Practitioner from Gower College Swansea in Wales, touched down in New Zealand last week for a two-week visit of UCOL's campuses.
The purpose of Constance's visit is to find out how UCOL Te Pūkenga is supporting neuro-divergent learners — particularly learners with dyslexia — and implementing blended learning, i.e., on-campus, online, and in-work.
Constance has been touring UCOL's campuses and meeting with teaching and support staff to discuss how they foster an inclusive learning environment for neuro-divergent learners. She also met with Massey University Professor James Chapman, an expert in learning disabilities, to discuss the past, present, and future of education in New Zealand.
In her varied role, Constance teaches learners communication, literacy, and digital skills. She also works with Gower College Swansea's Neurodiversity team to help train staff on adaptions to teaching methods to be more inclusive. She helps teaching staff develop their digital skills and create inclusive and engaging learning materials.
After reading that that UCOL Te Pūkenga Horowhenua had received a Dyslexia Friendly Quality Mark from Ako
Aotearoa, Constance was keen to see what she could learn from UCOL and take back to her college.
"I was looking to visit an institution that had dyslexia high on the agenda, with a record of accomplishment in digital and blended learning. I am focused on staff training and development and wanted to work with an establishment that embodied these qualities. It was a tall order, but UCOL ticked all of the boxes," says Constance.
After making initial contact with UCOL Te Pūkenga in April 2022, Constance secured funding through the
Welsh Government's Taith international learning exchange programme for a two-week visit.
Gower College Swansea is a multinational education provider with a strong international agenda. It has recently won a Beacon Award for Internationalism, being named the top international college in the UK.
"The college is keen to make connections with other providers worldwide to collaborate, learn from one another, and share best practice. So, this CPD (Continuing Professional Development) opportunity fitted right in with the college's philosophy and vision."
Constance says meeting with Vicky Beckwith, UCOL's Literacy and Numeracy Leader, to find out how UCOL Horowhenua received the Dyslexia Friendly Quality Mark was a great experience.
"It was interesting to hear about the process of applying for the Dyslexia Friendly Quality Mark and how staff completed dyslexia training through Microsoft Educator. It was great to see that the teaching team was already doing a lot of good things in terms of inclusive teaching, so they only had to make a few adjustments to provide the best service for dyslexic learners. The teaching methods that suit those with dyslexia actually benefit all learners, so it is a win-win."
"I hope to take back what I have learned and see how Gower College Swansea can look to implement additional training for staff and work with the British Dyslexia Association to be a dyslexia friendly education provider too."
Constance was welcomed onto each campus with a mihi whakatau. She says she values how Māori culture is embedded into life at UCOL.
"It has been amazing to experience the biculturalism. Wales and Gower College Swansea have a strong Welsh cultural identity and seeing the Māori culture embedded in UCOL was inspirational and heart-warming."
Another highlight for Constance was her tour of each campus' trades facility.
"I was impressed to see students building a house inside the Manawatū trades centre, which would then be sold and taken away on a truck. In the UK, most of our houses are made from bricks, so that is not something we are able to do."
"Each UCOL campus has its own unique style and personality, with a variety of courses provided. I have been introduced to so many passionate and dedicated learning providers who have been so generous with their time and experience to share with me."
During the last few days of her visit, Constance will be spending time with UCOL's digital learning team to see the great work they are doing, and meeting online with the neurodiversity community.
"I have had such an unforgettable experience and want to thank everyone who has made me feel so welcome. Hannah Ramsay, Business and Industry Partnerships Project Coordinator, really has been amazing at making sure I get the most out of my experience and meet such a vast and varied group of subject experts."
"I have made some really good connections with some departments and there will be some collaboration between Wales and New Zealand with our colleges in the future to really share what we offer. We all have learners' experience, wellbeing, and journey at the centre of what we do, so being able to share and work together will be a great experience for staff and students alike."