“Meeting the digital needs and expectations of students can feel like an overwhelming challenge – identifying quick wins and next steps can turn indecisive conversations into motivating actions”
Rebecca McCready, learning and teaching adviser, Newcastle University and Member of UCISA user skills group
Demonstrate visible leadership
Enhancing the digital student experience involves the collaboration of many roles and stakeholders including students, schools, departments, curriculum teams and supporting services. For maximum impact a senior member of staff with broad influence will assume overall ownership and responsibility for driving the digital vision forward and developing and realising the digital identity of the institution. This leadership will be clearly communicated and publicly upheld.
Our digital leaders programme complements our detailed guide on leadership which offers guidance and highlights the importance of the leadership role and how this differs from the change management function.
Oxford Brookes University has developed an open access version of their online course developing leaders for a digital age aimed at FE leaders and decision makers with responsibility for the learning experience, the curriculum and the digital learning environment.
Our guide on usability and user experience highlights the importance of commitment from senior decision-makers to design the right tools and systems for staff and students.
Governance is an aspect of leadership that is important to FE. Several FE colleges are working on initiatives to ensure college governors are supported to contribute to digital leadership and to make effective decisions on digital strategies.
Case study - Plumpton College
Case study - Heart of Worcestershire College
Embed the digital vision in institutional policies and strategies to provide integrated solutions
The vision for the digital aspects of the institution should both encompass, and be embedded in, all major strategies, especially those focusing on: learning, teaching and assessment; research and knowledge transfer; IT infrastructure and support; information services; estates; inclusion and widening participation; employability; libraries and learning resources; data management; recruitment and marketing; student services; and communication.
One of the recommendations form our research into FE learners’ expectations and experiences of technology is that college leaders and managers should initiate a group to develop and monitor their digital strategies. They further recommend that leaders and managers should take steps to ensure these strategies are informed by staff and student perspectives as well as ensuring that the strategies are underpinned by local and national evidence.
Case study - Prospects College of Advanced Technology
We have developed a benchmarking tool in collaboration with the National Union of Students and the change agents' network. In developing the tool we drew on discussions with students as to which aspects of their digital experience they feel entitled to - the things they really need to be in place if they are going to get the most from their studies.
The benchmarking tool will help you to assess what your organisation is already doing to support students' digital practices and what it could do to make things better.
Satisfy other institutional priorities
You may find it useful to map how a robust digital infrastructure and a holistic approach to developing the institution’s digital capability can support other institutional priorities such as internationalism and the development of new markets or improving employer engagement to enhance the vocational relevance of learning programmes. This may highlight the centrality of digital technology as mission-critical to other priorities and leverage further support.
Our building digital capability project is working with stakeholders and sector bodies to explore aspects of digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency. The project aims to provide clear guidance over what digital skills are required, and equip leaders and staff with the tools and resources they need to improve digital capability at a local or institutional level.
Establish digital technologies as a routine consideration when reviewing or planning any new project or improvement to services.
Case study - University of Liverpool
The developing digital literacies working group at the University of Liverpool includes representation from all faculties, professional services and the student’s guild.
From 2015, the seven elements of digital literacy we've identified will be used as a framework to incorporate digital literacies in all new modules and programmes.
The revised technology-enhanced learning strategy recognises digital literacy as a graduate attribution and aspiration.
Case study - Reading College
Beyond the curriculum
Explore how digital technologies can support the wider student journey and be used to address non-curriculum issues that impact on student satisfaction, eg access to wireless networks (wifi) in all areas of the institution, logging maintenance issues in student halls of residence, finding accommodation, work placements and information on bursaries, or even locating an available washing machine.
It is interesting to note that the UNITE student insight report 2015 identified that for the first time students believe wifi is the most vital feature of any accommodation. 78 percent of students surveyed said wifi internet access is ‘very important’ and rated it more highly than cleanliness and cost.
Explore how technology can be used to ease administration and tackle common student and staff frustrations without losing clarity on the overall purpose and main objectives.
Identify those who will carry the vision forward
The designated leader will be supported and informed by others, possibly those with a defined champion role and those who act as agents for change (staff and students).
Harness the support of specialist units and identify others with formal or informal influence that can support the vision including external stakeholders drawn from businesses, the community or other education providers and partners.
Case study - Manchester Metropolitan University
At Manchester Metropolitan University the digital environment and digital curriculum are seen as critical in creating an outstanding, inspiring and sustainable environment for learning.
This work is supported by colleagues in two central university teams - the Learning Innovation (LI) team and the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) - with both teams working collaboratively to support effective pedagogic implementation of technologies in learning, teaching. CELT hosts a good practice exchange and publishes an in-house journal as well as offering staff MA and PhD scholarship opportunities.
Research into the key issues, critical success factors and enablers in scaling up online and distance learning is just one example of the many projects the LI team are involved in.
Our guide on leadership explores who should be in the change team and the importance of actively engaging all those affected by any changes – in this case, developments to the digital environment and the impact on the learning experience.
Empower others to act and secure wider buy-in through devolved planning, distributed accountability and resources. Maintain momentum and focus by recognising and rewarding the successes of individuals and teams, ensuring these are widely promoted across the institution and where possible, throughout the sector.
Case study - Oxford Brookes University
To recognise their valuable role in the curriculum design process, ePioneers at Oxford Brookes University are able to achieve accreditation via the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) endorsed Future Consultants programme.
Strategic support that makes it possible for staff to be innovative with digital technologies and proactively engage students
Our research across schools, HE and FE have highlighted the importance of supporting staff to motivate and inspire students. In particular our FE digital student research identified that many staff feel underprepared to use technology for learning, and that they are often not rewarded for their experimentation.
The research identifies proactively engaging learners; supporting staff to use technology for learning, and publicly rewarding staff as key priorities. Our work also showed that although students are keen to engage with staff on technology for learning, they do not as yet feel that their voices are being listened to.
Examples from FE where providers are adopting holistic strategies to address these issues through a variety of cross-college initiatives are included in our case studies.