Guide

Digital strategy toolkit

Digital technologies are creating new opportunities where educators are required to deliver the skills needed for the future. A digital strategy is the road map to providing a digitally transformed experience.

Introduction

Digital technology continues to change the way we work and socialise. The rate of change is only likely to accelerate as new technologies disrupt old models and establish new ways to deliver the products and services we use. We don’t have to look too hard to see how technology is transforming the educational experience in and beyond the classroom.

Technology has much to offer, and academic staff are at the forefront in thinking about how technologies like virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) can provide students with an engaging and personalised education experience, while at the same time equipping them with the skills they will need to thrive in a world where creativity and sustainability go hand in hand.

Who should use this toolkit?

We experience digital transformation differently. Much depends on the work we do and many of us will be at different points on our digital journey.

This toolkit is intended for anyone leading and supporting the integration of digital technologies into learning and teaching. It will help you to align your digital strategy with your organisation's core purpose and digital transformation goals. By using an evidence-based approach you can start to develop the digital capability needed in leadership to create the supportive digital culture your organisation requires today and in the years ahead.

Scenario one: Vision and strategy

Your digital strategy sets out how your organisation's digital vision will be achieved. It is a unifying call to action and the road map stakeholders will use to work towards digital transformation.

Are you refreshing your existing digital strategy? What if there isn’t one and you are starting with a clean sheet? Whatever your starting point is, this scenario will help you to get started.

What you need to know

If you don’t know what your digital destination looks like, it’s likely you will never arrive. Your digital strategy is the road map that stakeholders across the organisation will use to help them achieve a digitally transformed experience. To achieve this your strategy needs to:

  • Show stakeholders where and how the digital strategy is aligned with the organisation’s primary goals and the values that underpin them
  • Encourage stakeholder involvement in digital transformation and show them how their support can turn the digital vision into an everyday reality
  • Allow leaders to be clear about their digital priorities and how they will create the conditions for a digital culture to thrive
  • Support people to acquire the confidence and skills they need for digital practice and be empowered to apply them

Start with a vision

A digital vision declares how your organisation sees its future and it is the basis for establishing a digital culture. It allows stakeholders to connect to the values that will inform digital practice, and more importantly, it is the foundation for your digital strategy.

Digital vision statements highlight the benefits to be gained from adopting digital technology. These gains are important. For example, digital technology can enable people to collaborate more effectively, improve practice and save time. Today, vision statements are increasingly addressing contemporary issues, such as limiting our impact on the environment by reducing our carbon footprint.

A digital vision statement helps us to:

  • Illustrate what the future digital experience looks like
  • Keep stakeholders connected to the values that inform digital practice
  • The foundation for an enabling digital culture
  • Initiate a call to action

What you can do

Start by asking questions

Digital technology offers exciting ways for us to engage with our students, while achieving efficiency gains for leaders. The opportunities and choices provided by cloud and immersive technologies can be perplexing and it is tempting to reach for a quick solution. However, adopting digital technology without a clear vision can be costly and discouraging.

Our guide, Digital at the core: a 2030 strategy framework for university leaders, outlines the questions leaders can ask themselves, such as:

  • What is our level of our digital awareness?
  • Who in the team has the existing digital experience?
  • Do we have enough digital experience?

Similarly, our shaping the future of further education and skills report brought leaders together to explore what good digital practice looked like across a number of themes including, digital pedagogy, the student experience and digital leadership. Using these themes is an ideal way to start the conversation about your institutions own digital ambitions.

Involve your stakeholders

Stakeholders have a wealth of experience. Seeking out and including their views is vital in gaining an insight into how they see the current digital experience. It provides them with a voice in shaping the digital strategy and it enables them to use their practical expertise to ensure digital practice enhances learning and cultivates an engaging digital experience for all.

A stakeholder analysis exercise will show the network of stakeholder groups in your organisation. The digital priorities and needs of each stakeholder group will be different and success depends on being able to harness the skills and experience of each group.

Our vision and strategy toolkit contains numerous engagement activities you can use with stakeholders including: Futures wheel, user journeys and 'how might we...'

The exercises come with instructions on how to use them and the number of people the exercises can facilitate.

If you are starting with a clean sheet, our vision for change workshop brings your organisation’s senior leadership teams together. The workshop helps them to define what your organisation's digital vision should look like, as well as beginning to find the answers to those challenging questions around digital culture and what a good digital experience should look like for all.

Tips

  1. Steering groups are a good way to promote stakeholder voice, sense check key objectives and share the workload. Our member story explains how West College created a digital steering group to drive inclusive and effective digital practice
  2. If you don't have a digital strategy/transformation steering group, consider establishing one or identify if an existing committee exists that can include oversight of digital integration
  3. Involve your governors. Governors bring experience and they can help shape your digital strategy. It will also allow you to show them where their support can make a difference

Further reading

Scenario two: Building digital capability

Once a vision for your institution’s digital future has been agreed, you need develop the capacity to deliver digital strategic goals.

Build the capacity to deliver strategic digital goals

Once there is a unified digital vision, it is tempting to dash off a few goals or objectives. However, if a digital strategy isn’t planned and resourced properly, it is unlikely to achieve the desired outcomes.

It is essential your strategic goals are arrived at through the collection and analysis of the available data. This scenario will help you obtain the evidence you need to determine the strategic goals needed to deliver the vision.

What you need to know

There will be a wealth of internal digital talent, but valuable know-how can’t be leveraged if you don’t know what the existing digital strengths are, who has them and where they are located.

Before we develop and implement a digital strategy, we need to ask:

  • What are our existing digital strengths and where is additional capability needed?
  • What digital knowledge and skills needs to be developed or obtained?
  • Where do assets – physical and digital – need to be re-balanced and additional resource obtained?
  • The state of digital infrastructure and where improvement is needed.
  • Do we have the right governance processes in place to support digital transformation?
  • Where and when key financial decisions to be made.
  • Who our digital leaders are and if we have enough of them.

What you can do

Answers to some of the above points may be known. Stakeholders may have said what they think of the existing digital experience through internal surveys. Other evidence such as how people see their digital skills may be hidden within management processes, and the data must be searched for.

Adopting an evidence-based approach

Our short guide, building evidence-based strategies and skills explains how you can use our services to collect evidence to obtain a 360-degree picture of your organisation's strategic digital needs.

Student and staff

Our digital experience insights survey can help you understand how students and staff use the existing digital resources. Having data like this can inform investment plans for digital technology and help you plan more effectively to adapt to changing environments.

When it comes to taking the next steps to improve digital skills and fluency, our building digital capability discovery tool can help you understand the organisation's digital strengths and where future development activity should be focused. Engaging with the tool can support the development of stakeholders to become more digitally confident which is vital in sustaining digital transformation.

Senior leadership teams

Senior leaders in higher education can use our framework for digital transformation in higher education. This framework promotes collaboration with colleagues and supports informed decision making when dealing with the challenging landscape faced by higher education institutions. Senior leadership teams in further education exploring the wider institutional perspective, will benefit from using our digital elevation self-assessment tool. This enables senior leaders to judge the level of digital integration across areas such as the learner experience, curriculum development, staff experience, underpinning technologies; as well as leadership, culture and governance.

Digital leaders

Change requires leadership and bringing about digital transformation is no different. Digital leaders are needed in the classroom and in programme teams. In short, across all functions. Our digital leaders programme is designed to encourage and support your digital leaders to engage effectively and creatively with digital technology.

Tips

  1. Take the time to write and test the clarity of the strategic objectives – think about the impact you want them to have and what success looks like
  2. Obtain as much evidence as you can. Good data can help to inform and support decision making
  3. Test your strategic objectives against the SMART principles. Alternatively, you might want to consider using the OKR method: Objectives and Key Results

Further reading

  • Digital strategies in UK higher education: A snapshot of the UK HE sector at this point in time. It describes the aspirations universities have for the future, but also the realities of where they are right now, the challenges they face and what they know they need to put in place
  • Sparking a passion for digital skills: This member story explores a tried and tested approach to developing staff confidence. The digital experience insights survey 2020/21 revealed that only 6% of higher education teaching staff felt they received recognition for developing their digital skills. But with more being expected from educators, are they getting the support and recognition they need?

Scenario three: Align digital with other organisational strategies

Digital technology will be supporting essential business strategies across the organisation and your digital strategy needs to show how it is integrated with them.

Aligning digital strategy

Organisations are places where people combine their knowledge and skills to deliver a product or service. If you take a few minutes to write down the multi-disciplinary nature of your own organisation, your list might include academic staff, administrators, technicians, data analysts, finance managers, estate managers, and the multiple roles associated with educational support. All provide services to support the organisation's core purpose.

What you need to know

Your stakeholder mapping exercise (scenario 1) will have revealed which of your organisation's many multidisciplinary roles will be keenly interested in shaping the digital strategy. These are likely to be the people who provide the digital network and infrastructure, librarians and learning resource managers, as well as those who provide study support and services in training and development.

What you need to do

Look for the golden thread between these services. Developing a digital strategy does not mean reinventing the wheel. Your digital strategy should seek to make the most of the material and resources already at your disposal. These can include the learning, teaching, and assessment strategies that guide programme delivery.

There will almost certainly be a procurement process for obtaining new equipment. And don’t forget to acknowledge training plans for staff development; especially those related to digital skills and acquiring the confidence needed for digital practice.

Showing how your digital strategy is aligned with these existing plans will promote effective coordination between them and enhance digital transformation activity.

Areas for alignment might include:

  • Teaching and learning – our digital pedagogy toolkit has been developed to support professionals who are responsible for curriculum development. The toolkit can support a strategic approach to embedding digital practice
  • Accessibility and inclusion – we offer guidance to help you get started with accessibility and inclusion and embed best practice into your digital transformation plans
  • Library and digital resources – our range of library support services can help to keep your services aligned with your institution’s digital objectives, by assisting with purchasing digital content subscriptions and academic software
  • Digital infrastructure – this will be a significant partner in supporting digital transformation
    • Our infrastructure review can help you assess how effective your current infrastructure is, and compare it with best practice in the sector. That way, you can develop sustainable infrastructure to support your needs
    • Our cloud professional services can help you to enable digital change for the benefit of staff and students – transforming your organisation and digital experience

Tips

  1. Avoid silos. Aligning multiple strategies takes time and effort. Reduce the workload by bringing the owners of these strategies into the discussion
  2. Some strategies, such as procurement, are less visible than others, but the processes they support can be critical and have financial consequences. Increase the visibility of these strategies so people can understand why they are important
  3. Planning to change a key system or process? Remember to assess how this change might impact on other systems and colleagues

Further reading

Scenario four: Future proofing

Your digital strategy will need to adapt to changes driven by economic and social and technologic trends.

The right strategy can quickly turn into the wrong strategy. To avoid this, leaders need to future-proof their strategic plans so that they can adapt to significant trends quickly and smoothly.

While your digital strategy will be focused on integrating and embedding digital technology to improve the student experience today, leaders must also keep up with the latest technological advancements, such as artificial intelligence (AI). AI is expected to change the way many industries work, raising questions about what the future of work might look like and the skills people will need.

What you can do

Future proofing is the process of anticipating and preparing for future changes, trends, and advancements in technology and society in order to maintain relevance and in some cases, competitiveness.

Look for the trends

Start by asking what are the digital trends most likely to impact on education and what might the new normal look like? Some of the current trends that are already impacting on education include:

  • Achieving carbon zero
  • Introducing sustainable practice
  • The move to hybrid and personalised models of learning
  • Migrating to a ‘learn everywhere’ experience
  • Changes in the way we plan and organise work

The vision and strategy toolkit includes a trends analysis tool that offers leaders a structured method to help you make sense of trends, including types of trend such as 'mega macro' and 'micro trends'.

Trends currently impacting education

Carbon zero and sustainability

Digital technologies are seen as part of the solution to meeting carbon reduction targets. However, using digital is not always a zero-carbon experience.

Our exploring digital footprints report looks at how education can start thinking about its future in a sustainable way. The report can assist you in making informed decisions about procurement, on-premises IT, cloud technologies and remote working.

Our building the future intelligent campus guide is an ideal vehicle to start those discussions about energy saving and other ways to achieve cost efficiency.

Artificial intelligence

Whether it is chatbots or digital assistants, artificial intelligence is likely to lead to more adaptive learning environments, and your digital strategy must be ready to guide your organisation's thinking and action in preparing for these changes. The national centre for AI in tertiary education is there to ensure we can support you to obtain the knowledge and skills you need to effectively adopt these technologies.

Tips

  1. Think ahead – don’t wait for future to knock on your door
  2. Regularly define what 'good' digital practice and 'success' looks like in the context of trends listed above
  3. Regularly ask if your digital culture is supporting teams to adapt quickly

Further reading

This guide is made available under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND).