Awards for inspiring digital practitioners

13th December 2013

Inspiring digital practitioners who use technology to make learning more inclusive and engaging were recognised with NIACE awards sponsored by Jisc, as part of the Learning at the Digital Frontier event.


The Digital Practitioner of The Year awards were judged by a peer group of current technology practitioners, previous award winners and representatives from both Jisc and NIACE, who unanimously selected three winners.


Simon Pearson, from Weston-Super-Mare, was labelled as “unable to learn” as a child, partly due to his severe dyslexia. He decided to become an IT Lecturer aged 36 and after struggling to grasp the learning required he found ways to make the materials more accessible for himself. This led to a job at his college working in IT support developing new and innovative techniques of making learning inclusive.


In 2012 Simon set up Puzzlebox Learning as a non-profit Community Interest Company to support other learners facing similar barriers. Most recently he has worked with the awarding organisation APT awards to design a qualification offering skills in using assistive technology to both students and their support staff, to ensure that technology is used to the greatest effect in learning environments.


Lisa Darkin works in rural Shropshire and has developed Get Shropshire Online, a programme that matches first time internet users to volunteer mentors, on behalf of leading local charity Shropshire Rural Community Council. Training the mentors herself, Lisa has developed a network of 50 volunteers running groups and in just two years the project has supported over 700 people to get online. In the last year Lisa has adapted the model to support people who are left particularly vulnerable and isolated by not being online, including family carers.


The Manchester Adult Education Service Digital Mentors and Champions is a team of 13 volunteers led by Nuala Trace and Kath Castle. The volunteers, former learners themselves, are placed within third sector organisations, community centre and library classes to mentor new learners through computer courses. Since Nuala set up the programme in 2011, over 40 learners have gone on to gain qualifications. In 2012 Kath set up a successful pilot programme to train confident ICT learners to become champions, through a specially-tailored training and support programme.


Due to the high quality of nominations, NIACE and Jisc also recognised the achievements of the following finalists:


  • Daniel Scott at Barnsley College for his work training staff in their use of technology
  • Andy Smith at Blackpool and The Fylde College for building an open source learning system for work-based learners
  • Steve Hardwick, Karen Niblett, Jonathan Galtry and John Whalley at East Riding of Yorkshire Council for their work on developing online and distant learning provision
  • Stephen Wileman and Ian Holt at South Staffs College for enabling learning through Augmented Reality

A special Finalist of the Year award was also presented to Catherine Langstreth from Bolton College for her tireless work on the curriculum design for Maths Everywhere, the brand new maths app that launched at the event.


Robert Haymon-Collins, Jisc’s Executive Director Customer Experience, who presented the awards, said:


“Jisc was delighted to support the NIACE conference this week by sponsoring the Digital Practitioner Awards. All three winners are excellent examples of the critical component that makes technology such a game-changer: it’s all about the people.


“Through individuals such as Simon, Lisa and Nuala and Kath’s team of volunteers, with their passion and determination, technology is being used to transform the lives of people across the country, enabling them to access learning, improve their lives and take full part in today’s super-connected communities.”


Susan Easton, Programme Manager for Digital Learning at NIACE, said:


“Staying on top of new digital developments and gaining new skills is an issue for many adults. What our remarkable award winners clearly show is how learners and practitioners can work side-by-side to effectively address it.


“I’d like to extend NIACE’s congratulations to all of this year’s nominees, who were of an exceptionally high standard and proved that many digital practitioners go beyond the call of duty to enable quality learning to take place.


“We’re also very grateful to Jisc for supporting our conference and for its commitment to making these important awards happen.”