Member storyA teacher talks with students in front of a computer.

Digital by design: how Belfast Met are driving digital transformation

With an ambitious strategic plan for 2021-24, Belfast Met has digital at its forefront. One of five core objectives is ‘digital by design’, but what does it mean and what is the college doing to meet this goal?

In simple terms, the college will continue to improve how it works by using digital solutions to enhance the learning and teaching experience, with our strategic planning services playing a key part in this work.

As part of a pilot scheme, the college used the digital elevation tool to evaluate its overall digital framework, highlighting what was working well and identifying the areas with room for improvement. This overview played a valuable part in the development of a digital manifesto that focuses on creating engaging, inspirational, and inclusive digital solutions.

One of the manifesto’s main concepts is to ensure any new service or solution has learner and teacher expectations at the heart of its design. The college has 10,000 students across 26 curriculum areas and with a strong blended learning offer, the need for teachers to keep pace with digital learning is essential. This is something the college focuses on from day one for all new staff members and where the building digital capability discovery tool proves invaluable.

Stephen Kennedy

Stephen Kennedy, technology enhanced learning manager, says:

“When we initially launched the tool, we did it with a simple guide, firstly to staff and then eventually to students. It was slow to start but we now have good staff engagement and analytics we can work with to review our digital skill levels and to make comparisons with others in the sector. Using the tool whenever we have an intake of new staff helps us to remember the importance of keeping digital capabilities at the forefront of people’s minds.”

The college holds an annual staff Continuous Professional Development (CPD) conference and Stephen also uses this as an opportunity to promote the discovery tool to existing staff, reminding them of how easy it is to log in and self-assess their digital skills.

“It gives our teaching and support staff the opportunity to reflect on their current confidence levels and consider what next steps to take to bolster their skills even more. Our head of curriculum is very clear that we support our staff in relation to their digital capabilities and empower them to use the tools that can help.”

In highlighting the digital needs of the staff, the reports generated by the building digital capability tool have led to Stephen and his team introducing a new platform for staff personal development. The platform has been set up using Canvas, (learning management system), and works as an interactive learning tool. With easy click-through options to a digital checklist, staff can further develop their skills and boost their confidence in delivering blended learning. In-platform links also allow staff to explore video content and external learning apps while they navigate the training experience.

“Our intention with this platform is for it to be our ‘centre of excellence’ shop window for new staff. The heads of schools, curriculum managers, and the executive team can also log in and see how well the platform is being used. The data available is detailed enough that we can see which courses have the most engaged staff and which curriculum areas we may need to encourage further.” 

When it comes to measuring learners’ capabilities, the college has been using the digital experience insights surveys to gather student feedback since 2018. The results provide the college with valuable insights into student opinions and allows it to benchmark its performance against others in the sector. This is also a key factor in updating senior leadership on the college’s ongoing digital progress. Aidan Sloane, director of corporate services, drives the digital by design agenda and Stephen says being able to share the survey results with him and his fellow executive colleagues, has been particularly useful.

Survey fatigue can often be a stumbling block on the path to gathering a wide and useful range of views. Stephen says the ease of sending reminders through the survey platform makes the process much smoother and gives the college more options to encourage learners to engage.

“We’re able to send repeated survey invites in seconds. Crucially, we can see who hasn’t responded, we can easily extract that information and it means we can incentivise student engagement by offering vouchers. We can see clear demographics, we can break down the data by age, by course, and being able to do that quickly is a huge plus for us.”

The Northern Ireland skills barometer provides an insight into the region’s skills landscape, growth sectors, and future skills needs. The emphasis is firmly on employability with a strong focus on the importance of skills in technology.

“Our relationship with Jisc has been pivotal in terms of appreciating the challenges in planning and devising our digital strategy and realising our ambitions.”

As the learning environment continues to evolve, digital tools and technology to support learning and enhance the experience for staff and students alike will be needed more than ever. Belfast Met’s digital by design objectives are in place and prepared to meet those needs.

Stephen’s advice on building a strong digital framework to support the continuing needs of staff and students is simple:

“Don’t be a busy fool. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when you can harness invaluable tools already available to help your institution to reach its digital goals.”

Further information