Mention the word strategy, and some people will switch off straight away. When we talk about digital strategies you might lose even more of your audience if they’ve decided they’re not technically-minded. But with digital coming to play such a crucial role in further education (FE) and skills - being recommended as a core skill in all college programmes in the Sainsbury review of technical education and part of Government's post-16 skills plan - it’s not something that can be ignored.
Digital isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a necessity in the modern world. A digital strategy that unifies effective use of technology to enhance teaching, learning and assessment, and makes processes more effective and efficient, is a must for providers to deliver for learners and stay competitive.
In fact, the government views it as such a crucial factor in colleges being able to survive the post-area review landscape that it has been made a core requirement to access funding from its restructuring facility.
Whether you’re starting your digital strategy from scratch or looking to revise an existing one, there are some fundamental questions you need to ask.
What do I need to know?
This may sound like an odd question, but bear with us.
The creation of any strategy involves making a proper assessment of the world, before deciding your role in it. You wouldn’t go to battle without first having an understanding of your opponent, their strengths and weaknesses. Creating a digital strategy should be no different.
Not that technology should be seen as a foe of course – far from it. But if you haven’t done your research, then how do you know what’s right for your college, and where you need to go?
Start by taking stock of the digital landscape beyond your four walls to get a true picture of all that’s available to you.
Where am I now…
Once you understand what’s out there your next step is to look at where your organisation currently sits. Think of it as a health check for in-house digital.
This should be done both from an infrastructure point of view, in terms of the hardware and software you have at your disposal (including cloud services), and also practice; how are you and your staff currently using digital? Does it support aspirations for digital to be a 'common core' across all programmes? This will facilitate better understanding of what you do have, in terms of equipment, facilities, skills and curriculum design, before starting to think about and identify potential improvements through technology.
Colleges going through the area reviews in England will be very aware of what is quite a sizable challenge. Something they will find useful is our free technology review tool that gives visibility of technology systems and effectiveness within their organisation.
For those in the skills sector or colleges in the nations and regions, there is other support available, for example, an eMaturity self-assessment that we offer through our subject specialist team.
…and where do I want to go?
Now’s the time to get aspirational. Where do you want to be in five years’ time? This is the moment to consider long-term goals, and the digital solutions that will get you there.
If you want to grab hold of new opportunities in the government’s ambitious vision to create three million new apprenticeship starts by 2020, forge closer relationships with a local university or merge with another college in your area, you will need to consider how digital can support your offer to distance learners – covering everything from connectivity and access, to online courses, content and resources. Or create new efficiencies through increased use of technology, such as sharing back-office systems or moving services to the cloud.
Salford City College are putting the finishing touches to a five-year digital strategy. One action from this will be better supporting independent learning and thinking and equipping learners with digital capabilities for the future, by converting learning resource centres into state-of-the-art digital learning zones and operating a bring your own device (BYOD) model, to empower them through digital.
What does success look like?
An important point, and one that can be easily overlooked, is how you’re going to know when your strategy has been realised.
While the strategic aims of one provider will likely look very different to another, in all instances there will need to be put in place performance metrics, which can be monitored and reported against.
These should be impact measures, rather than project milestones. For instance, launching new online content would be an action milestone, whereas its effect – to enhance learner engagement in independent learning – would be the impact objective.
In other words, the action is something you’ve done, and the impact objective is a clear and positive affect on behaviour. So, the measure of success would be the improvement in student achievement and satisfaction.
Who’s going to help me get there?
Successful strategies are not made by one person alone. Other people need to have a say both in its development, and take responsibility in its delivery – governors, managers, teachers, support staff and students too. Everyone has a stake in your digital vision, and if they don’t buy into it, it’s not going to be effective.
From consulting with a range of roles from the beginning by forming a steering group, through to appointing an owner to each impact objective responsible for turning it into reality, multiple parties need to be involved and invested in digital, to create a pervasive digital culture. This needs to be underpinned by a community of best practice and development opportunities, where digital skills are shared amongst staff, so that all have the digital skills required for this new world.
At Activate Learning this approach to an all-encompassing digital strategy has been embraced whole-heartedly. Its Pass It On development model enables staff to acquire and cascade new skills, there are communities of practice for support, and members even encouraged to sit in on classroom sessions with learning technologists to see what students are working on and start thinking innovatively about how they can use this. All activity is supported by senior managers, who monitor progress against goals and projected timeframes.
Support to get you started
No matter where you are with your digital strategy Jisc is here to help with expert advice and guidance, whether that be comparing technology services and costs, curriculum design or staff development. Contact your account manager for support.
You’ll also want to take a look at sector guidance on effective digital practice in UK FE and skills, which includes a section on the strategic approach to digital with tips from providers leading the charge and may consider participating in Jisc’s digital leaders programme, to acquire the tools and knowledge to help your organisation respond more effectively to technology-driven change.