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Bolton College wins an FE Oscar!

26 March 2019

AoC Beacon Awards 1

Bolton College has won an Association of Colleges’ Beacon Award – the equivalent of an Oscar in the Further Education sector.


The College picked up the prize for ‘Most Effective Use of Technology in Further Education’ for Ada, the College’s 24/7 on-demand chatbot. Beacon assessors described Ada as “potentially a game changer for the whole of the FE sector.”


Senior managers and staff from the College’s Information Learning Technology (ILT) Team travelled down to London for the awards, which were presented by Dave Gorman - comedian, author and TV presenter. 


Now in its 24th year, the AoC Beacon Awards showcase best practice and innovation in colleges. The awards also highlight excellence and help share best practice across the sector. For the first time, the awards were presented at the annual TES FE Awards ceremony.


Described as the College’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa, Ada functions as a virtual support teacher on behalf of teachers and support teams across Bolton College’s campus. The chatbot is named after Ada Lovelace, regarded as one of the first computer programmers.


The service has so far responded successfully to more than 80,000 questions from learners and can support everything from the delivery of GCSE maths and hairdressing courses, to the college’s employability curriculum.


Bill Webster, Principal of Bolton College, said: “This is an outstanding achievement for Bolton College and our Information Learning Technology Team. 123 colleges from across the country entered the awards, and the final shortlist was very strong, so to be shortlisted then win is a testament to the cutting-edge work being carried out by the team.


“Hundreds of our students have been involved in the development of Ada. Computing students have helped carry out vital development work, which has allowed them to work on the latest AI technology, thereby enhancing their future employment opportunities.


“The plan now is to roll the tech out to our partners in the Group, starting with the University of Bolton. This technology has been getting significant interest from across the sector, and we look forward to supporting its dissemination.”


Aftab Hussain, Bolton College’s ILT Manager, said: “Last year we won a Bolton Business Award so to be recognised again for our work is just amazing. However, this is just the beginning for Ada - we are about to launch an iOS app for the service and we have published an Android app and an Amazon Alexa app which enables learners to access Ada via their smart speakers. There is so much more Ada is capable of; it is a very exciting time!”


Paul McKean, Head of FE & Skills, Jisc, said: “Jisc is delighted to be the Digital Partner of the Beacon Awards this year and to witness first-hand the amazing work taking place across further education. Bolton College are worthy winners.”


David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Each year the standard of entries is extremely high and this year is no exception. This makes choosing the winner so difficult, especially with so many worthy entrants.


“Colleges are inspirational places to learn because education and training is delivered by expert teaching staff in industry-standard facilities. Bolton College should be proud of their award.”


To view all photo from the awards, please click here.