At Digifest 2017, we announced a suite of new resources to help university and college leaders and staff make sure they have the digital skills they’ll need in their increasingly digital environment.
These resources include a digital capabilities discovery tool that will make it much simpler for individual staff – in many different job roles - and their managers to think clearly about their current digital capabilities, to identify skills gaps and create improvement pathways. The development of the discovery tool, and the resources that accompany it, is timely as digital capabilities climb higher up institutional agendas.
Enhancing the digital capabilities of staff has increasingly become a strategic priority for universities and colleges since we began our digital literacies R&D programme in 2011, although even then there were already many pockets of innovation and good practice.
Preparing for the uncertain
But now, staff digital skills are recognised as a cornerstone as institutions build strategies to improve student experience, to boost their employability and to help them develop the digital mindset they’ll need in an uncertain future. And no wonder.
As Kerry Pinney, an academic technologist at the University of Warwick said in her Digifest talk on ‘digital capability: preparing for employability’, “we have to prepare students for a world that may not be what they expect”. We can’t simply prepare learners for the job they think they want, when technological change might have made that job obsolete by the time they pick up their degree certificate.
It’s great to see that many universities and colleges are now taking a strategic approach to digital capabilities and interesting to see the different approaches that they are adopting. In 2015 we developed a digital capabilities framework that identifies the digital skills that staff across an academic organisation need.
We knew the framework and associated resources had been well received and so, in 2016, we followed up 14 organisations to see how Jisc resources were being used, and what approaches were proving successful. The project has shown us that digital practices are widely embedded now, but we’ve also found that even a fully committed institution can sometimes struggle to keep momentum going when competing priorities intrude, budgets get tighter or key individuals move on to other responsibilities.
We’ve recently published change stories from these 14 organisations and they offer some really valuable insights and ideas. Together with a synthesis report on the lessons learned, these make a useful resource for other organisations that are thinking about developing their own digital capabilities strategies.
And we were lucky to be able to welcome representatives from five of the participating organisations at Digifest to share some of their experiences to date.
Persistence pays off
Ross Anderson from North Lindsey College told us that his college has staff with specific responsibility for digital literacies as well as a digital literacies working group, but that the college’s culture is for staff to take the initiative with their own development and also that of their teams. Already there are staff digital champions in each subject area and soon the college will also have student digital leaders to partner with staff and help them improve the digital learning experience for their peers.
Of course, engagement is crucial and Ross told us that they are trying lots of different approaches to see what works best. For him, it is about being persistent and enabling staff to take small steps. They’ve been trying simple, bite-size interventions such as:
- ‘Lunch and learn’ drop in sessions
- A digital learning blog
- Digital toolkits
- Online bite-size courses in key topics
- A regular app club
Measuring the impact of these can be tricky, so North Lindsey College is working with Jisc’s student digital experience tracker pilot to help in identifying what is successful and what is less so. One initiative that looks popular is a new, gamified personal development app called DPDGo! that enables staff to map their progress against areas of the Jisc framework.
It’s about showcasing achievements rather than highlighting weaknesses. Crucially, everyone can start to see their own progress quickly. The college is exploring digital badges as a way to motivate staff to learn and celebrate their developing capabilities. Read more about North Lindsey College’s approach.
A clear framework fosters understanding
We also heard from Fiona Handley and Fiona MacNeill of the University of Brighton who told us that the university launched its own digital literacies framework in 2014 and refreshed it in 2016, to place a clear focus on supporting the professional development of academic staff. It describes a range of literacies across four categories:
- Learning and teaching
- Communication and collaboration
The framework is closely mapped to the Jisc version and, because it has been in development for some time, there has been a chance to learn lessons about what works. It provides consistency and clarity across the university because it offers agreed definitions and a shared visual language, but it is deliberately not prescriptive.
The University of Brighton offers support such as regular workshops on topics including social media and mobile technologies. However, it leaves its schools free to respond to the framework in their own way and to identify practices that are relevant to their subject area and their own development needs. Now, increasingly, staff are cascading the things they have learned to students.
The framework has a clear identity and web presence and there are plenty of associated resources and sources of support. In a clear mirroring of North Lindsey College’s experience, persistence appears to be important: the university has found that engagement with the digital capabilities agenda ebbs and flows but there is always a resurgence when new material is added to the framework’s resources. Read more about the University of Brighton’s approach.
Nottingham Trent University's (NTU's) digital practice manager Elaine Swift stressed the importance of ensuring that staff across the college or university are well supported and that this support is signposted clearly.
After participating in Jisc’s changing the learning landscape programme, the NTU team made a business case for an ongoing investment in digitally confident staff and students. The result was NTU’s digital capabilities framework, closely based on Jisc’s with the addition of four levels for each area of activity and sample activities at each level. The areas of practice, levels and associated development resources are available to staff and students from an NTU Online Workspace (NOW) learning room.
The NTU deputy vice chancellor recently recognised the impact of the framework, saying that “it gives us that common vocabulary [and] allows us to have the conversations on the ground.” Read more about the approach NTU is taking.
At Digifest, Fiona MacNeill gave participants this advice for engaging academics: “Take a multi-pronged approach and find lots of different ways to engage with them – give them no escape”.
The final word on this went to Ross Anderson, who said, “Just start chipping away. Make small wins and bank the bits you can do easily so you just start moving forwards.”
The 14 case studies are well worth a read and you can find them, along with all the other resources, on the building digital capability project page.
The digital capabilities discovery tool is currently being piloted with 16 institutions with a final enhanced version being launched in the autumn after the end of the pilot.