Building the foundations of a digital culture

John Sumpter
John Sumpter

Creating a digital culture is increasingly a vital component to staff and student success, yet culture can only be nurtured and developed over time. The ability to build those foundations that encourage culture to evolve are the skills of a digital leader.

A man presenting to colleagues in an office.

Leadership in digital transformation is one of the top three digital priorities for higher and further education, as highlighted in Jisc’s 2022 teaching staff digital experience insights survey. Leaders must set strategic direction and establish a working environment that promotes digital-first thinking by inspiring others to consider different choices and envision the future.

Start with the strategy

Firstly, understand where your organisation is right now and where you want to go and contemplate the consequences of inaction. Remember, decisions about improvements should be evidence-based and driven by objectives.

Secondly, consider how to communicate the company vision effectively by empowering your workforce to use their knowledge and expertise to make positive changes. Our vision for change and planning for action workshops can help you identify drivers for change, develop ideas, overcome barriers and begin planning with clear actions.

Next, develop a high-level strategy, with digital embedded, that is achievable and well-resourced with senior management buy-in.

Put people first

The phrase 'digital transformation' drives thinking about new technologies and infrastructure that will enable organisational change. It’s important to remember, though, that people are an integral part of that journey. What use is it having innovative technology without the people behind it?

Teaching staff expected to embrace blended learning, for example, need time and support to develop digital competence and confidence. Sadly, the digital experience insights report shows that only 38% of institutions provide guidance to staff about the digital skills required in their role. This emphasises that employees need appropriate training and support to develop their digital skills and transform along with the institution.

Sadly, the digital experience insights report shows that only 38% of institutions provide guidance to staff about the digital skills required in their role.

Reward, recognition and performance management are part of this and will go a long way to supporting and motivating staff, which in turn will help organisations to thrive. People want to feel appreciated for good work. Yet, the survey showed that only 16% of staff received rewards or recognition for the digital skills they developed.

To help staff develop, it’s useful to link formal evaluations to goals around developing digital competencies and culture. Expanding employees' learning abilities will enable them to feel more digitally empowered.

Inspire through leadership

Leaders should make it their business to keep up to date with technological advances and lead by example.

Trust staff with time and space to experiment and learn how to enhance their teaching using new, digital approaches. Staff who are inspired and encouraged to explore and innovate will learn from successes and failures and help to introduce new ideas and ways of working across the whole organisation.

Trust staff with time and space to experiment and learn how to enhance their teaching using new, digital approaches.

Looking beyond the sector for creative, solution-driven techniques, like Amazon’s working backwards approach, can help staff break out of traditional ways of thinking and working. Encourage staff to showcase what they have discovered and acknowledge their great work.

Understand pedagogy is changing

As educators, we want students to leave college and university prepared to meet the needs of a rapidly changing society, where technology is ever more ubiquitous in the workplace. Providing them with appropriate digital experiences during learning will develop these necessary technical abilities. 

Digital pedagogy has developed throughout the pandemic and has become part of the new future. Remote or hybrid working is, in general, here to stay, and the same goes for teaching and learning. A blended learning approach allows for traditional in-person teaching combined with remote or online learning, which is, perhaps, the best of both worlds.   

Make technology easier

To create an experience focused on the student, the digital learning environment should be straightforward and well-connected. Ensure that the infrastructure is reliable and easily accessible, and that it best suits the teacher's delivery methods. 

This may be easier said than done, though. For example, Jisc's infrastructure review can assist you in assessing the effectiveness of your current infrastructure compared to sector best practices. In contrast, Jisc's virtual learning environment review helps you improve the student experience by evaluating your current position and offering recommendations for the following steps to take.  

People need to be supported by technology, not hindered, so assistance and advice should always be readily available. In addition, everyone will benefit from a unified digital ecosystem that they have been training to use and understand well. 

Finally, it’s important to remember that no digital leader is an island and will require the ongoing support of colleagues and fellow senior leaders. An external network of fellow digital leaders can also be helpful and Jisc has an active digital leadership and culture forum you can be part of. 

About the author

John Sumpter
John Sumpter
Programme lead, leadership and culture, Jisc
John is responsible for the leadership and culture agenda and the digital leaders program at Jisc, which enables like-minded people and organisations to better adapt to technological change.