My job in higher ed: Jade Mountain, Head of Digital Content at Pearson College London

My job in higher ed, UK higher education, innovation, education innovation, digital transformation, digital learning

After working in higher education for over 16 years as a lecturer, head of department and consultant, Jade Mountain is now Head of Digital Content at Pearson College. She is passionate about developing and empowering staff to provide students with the best possible learning experience.

To do this, she has designed and delivered mentoring schemes, established ‘by-staff-for-staff’ development programmes and led whole organisation improvement and innovation projects. She understands that digital education can transform the way we teach and learn and works with staff to help them confidently integrate digital education into their existing pedagogic methods.

Her mantra? It's the teach-nology, not the technology!

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What does your work as Head of Digital Content involve?

If we just look at my job description, I’d say that my primary responsibility is ensuring that any online material or content is of the highest possible calibre and easy, safe and secure to access. The actual day-to-day operations, however, are entirely different. I typically start by checking in with the projects that I’m currently working on, as well as evaluating how previous projects are performing. At the moment, I'm working on redesigning and redeveloping the look and feel of our VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) for Escape Studios.

I also like to keep up-to-date with what others in our field are doing. Then there’s some boring stuff; the inevitable ‘fire fighting’ and unexpected requests or meetings that one always has to make the time for.

Because there are lots of different strands to the day, it's important to check in with both myself and my team to make sure that we're all aligned with our overarching goals and strategies. Everything that we do is contributing to our ‘bigger picture’; to promote what we're doing and to encourage people to come along with us on the journey.


What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of your job?

I recently realised that the biggest challenge for me is to accept that others are not as evangelical as I am about technology-enhanced learning. I often want everyone to be as excited as I am and they're not because they're not me - but that's fine. Driving change is incredibly challenging but also very rewarding. Sometimes you can't achieve your initial goal straight away so you have to think of a way to get a foot in the door.

When approaching a project, I've learned to think about the business goals, evaluate the cultural temperature and assess alternative methods and routes. Some of the most rewarding projects I've worked on have been the ones that have evolved out of not doing what I wanted to in the first place and creating a new path. 

In terms of rewards, there are visible and tangible ones like introducing new platforms. I am very proud of our VLE, for example. When I joined in August 2016 it was the first thing that needed a huge overhaul, and when I look at it now I absolutely love it and think it’s fabulous!

I’ve been working in education for nearly two decades and I was on the chalkface. I was a lecturer and then head of department, and I've now taken a slightly different 'behind the scenes' role. I'm still so passionate about working with and inspiring others and getting them to embrace change in order to grow. So what I love is when a tutor comes up to me, often just in passing in the hallway, to say that they tried something new that the students loved.

If you look for rewards you’ll find them but if you look for obstacles you’ll find them too.


How do you ensure that technology is adopted by different individuals at different levels?

Firstly, I think we're fortunate because we are a smaller institution: if we were larger, we wouldn't be able to do as much of what I call ‘bespoke training’ as we do. We would probably need to adopt mandatory training sessions. As a smaller institution, we can run more ad hoc, informal workshops and drop-in sessions.

I often approach tutors personally about what they want in terms of technology, by seeing what they’re working on and understanding if we can collaborate together. A collaborative approach that is supportive, respectful and allows you to bounce ideas off each other is what works well for us.


Pearson Business School is a boutique institution and the only business school in the UK to be based within a FTSE 100 company. Do you think other FTSE companies will follow your lead?

We are definitely leading the way on this and I think it will encourage others to follow.

Pearson’s tagline is “the world's learning company” and we’re in a great position to offer an excellent learning experience. But Dyson, who aren't FTSE 100, have recently launched the Dyson Institute. It makes perfect sense. If you know about business, you can teach people about business.

I have no doubt that more organisations will follow and we’re already seeing employer engaged education becoming a bigger part of university thinking, with the introduction of degree apprenticeships being one such example.

Pearson College London Campus.jpg                                                   Source: Pearson College London

Your school mantra is “designed, developed, delivered by industry”. What does that mean for students?

Students go to university for an experience, and it's a wonderful experience for lots of different reasons, but ultimately I would say that most people want better life opportunities from the point of graduation. Education that is not just inspired by industry but delivered in conjunction with industry benefits from higher exposure to the corporate world.

Our graduates are industry-ready for a number of reasons. We have industry experts involved in the entire lifespan of the academic experience. We work with giants like Unilever, L’Oreal and The Mill from course design all the way to course delivery - and then right at the end when helping students with career placements and internships. Mentoring programmes, guaranteed internships, industry briefs and workshops are part of the student experience here.

From day one our students are taught by industry experts. At Escape Studios, for example, our students are mentored by leaders within the industry. In the Pearson Business School students get access to essential work experience through guaranteed internships. All students deliver online industry briefs and attend industry workshops where they get to pitch to these businesses, making the academic experience more well-rounded.

When we think about higher education decades ago, students were expected to come out knowing things. Nowadays industries want students to come out doing things: being skilled and possessing the ability to hit the ground running. And that's the place we get our students to. Their career starts from day one outside of Pearson College.

How did the rise of social media change the way universities reach and communicate with their students?

We are using social media to not only reach current students but also prospective students. Increasingly, students want instantaneous feedback and we can give them that on social media. For prospective students, we run live campus tours on social media during A-level results day. We've also got a new platform where prospective students can connect directly to current students to see behind the scenes.

As a society, we want everything and we want it now. And I don't see why we shouldn't give students that; why should someone have to wait until a member of staff is back in the office to receive a reply? We should be responsive within a very short period of time and we should be engaging with people on their preferred platform.

Any institution that is not using social media is losing out.

Are you only using social channels or have you also adopted chat bots?

We use chat bots on our website because we understand that people value instant feedback and sometimes require out of hours support. I'm also keen to incorporate them in our online learning provision to make it more personalised - it’s definitely on the agenda.


You’ve held different positions in higher education. What has been the biggest change since you started working in this industry?

Well I'm delighted to say that there’s been a shift from higher education as a tutor centric experience - you know, ‘chalk and talk’ on the stage - to the student's experience. HE is finally waking up to the fact that a successful university needs to meet the needs of the students. Students want to be busy; they want to be active; they want to be engaged; they want to collaborate with each other and they want to have an independent student experience.

I really did see lots of tutors at the beginning of my teaching journey stand there and talk at people for hours and hours and hours: surely that that can't be enjoyable for them either?

What we see now is more flipped and experiential learning. Project and study-based work is much more student-centric.  For example, students are preparing videos before they come to class, sharing them in class and collaborating online by adding comments to threads, engaging in discussions and being discerning about the information they choose to put online.

When students learn like this, they do better. If you had a job where someone just talked to you all day long, you'd go insane. But when someone says: "here's an outcome, go", you know the learning process is going to be a lot more unpredictable and exciting. So that's the biggest change I've seen. I love it because I enjoy seeing students grow and develop.


Where do you think the future of education is heading, particularly in terms of learning?

I think we're going to see a much more equal weighting between academic and industry-based input, both in course development and course delivery. In the internet age, learning has to remain current. There has to be an outcome - you don't just learn for learning's sake: it has to take you somewhere. And if that somewhere is a career or job then we've got to get industry much more on board to help create work-ready graduates. With this in mind, I think more institutions are going to develop partnerships with industry leaders. I think we're going to see more work-based learning degree apprenticeships, partnerships and projects.

I also think the future of education is going to become much more personalised and flexible, as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’ approach. There will be more of a focus on learning pathways that are influenced by outcomes and ability.

We'll certainly see more online learning. I came across some statistics that said by 2020 we're going to have hundreds of millions of students in our institutions globally. There is no way that bricks and mortar universities can accommodate everyone anymore. We've got to be thinking about how we can accommodate them in alternative ways. Online learning will continue to grow but it will become more sophisticated.


We spoke a lot about online learning. What is your opinion in terms of student engagement and retention when it comes to online learning?

We run a lot of Escape Studios courses online because we appeal to a global market and we have very good retention rates with those particular students. There are a lot of professional users who want to work on their VFX or their animation skills but we also know that, particularly with younger students, they also want the closeness of community which can be hard to nurture if you're working entirely online.

Online learning doesn’t work if you literally pick up face-to-face lecture teaching and just pop it into a new format. It requires a different set of skills and techniques. You've got to go the extra mile and you've got to do something different when you move learning online. It's important that academics involved in the course design and delivery make sure the students feel engaged throughout their experience.


What are you most excited about for 2018?

Enabling more staff to embrace technology-enhanced learning and getting more and more of our industry partners collaborating with us in that aspect is what excites me most about next year.

That’s my priority: empowering staff to be more autonomous and confident in the way they use technology for teaching.

I'm also really excited about the reinvigoration of some of our professional courses at Escape Studios. When Pearson College took over Escape Studios they were a professional business and we began to build up the undergraduate courses bit by bit. Now we are implementing some really high quality, state of the art online courses and I'm really excited that we're going to start growing our competition in the professional market again.

My job in higher ed is a monthy series. Read the rest of our interviews.

My job in higher ed UK higher education innovation education innovation digital transformation digital learning

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Tania Roquette

Tania Roquette

I am the Head of Solutions at FULL FABRIC. I am passionate about education and technology.

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