Wednesday, 30 May 2018

DigitALLy speaking

This is a double whammy post!  I recently joined the Blended Learning Essentials: Developing Digital Skills course and attended a UCISA event.  So I thought why not join the two for a digital skills special... 😜

Engagement to digital skills

I saw an opportunity to join the Blended Learning Essentials: Developing Digital Skills, so I signed up!  I'm providing a short narrative on what I have gained and being prompted about from the course.  Like my previous Blended Learning Essentials reflection I focused on what interests me, and in this case a new lens of my new role in digital practice.  So I will be looking for how digital skills are developed and the approaches and methods used to support it.  However, much of this course was about teaching digital skills to learners.  So I looked at how the material could be used to increase buy-in of staff at NTU.

The main areas of digital skills that were introduced in the course were:

  • Digital identity - taking ownership of your personal information and using it to protect your digital identity and use it to promote yourself.
  • Digital information - how you search, manage and use it in the context of your work.
  • Digital content - creating and publishing digital content using digital tools; creating slides, posters, podcasts, videos, websites, portfolios, charts etc.
  • Digital collaboration - using digital tools to communicate, work collaboratively across teams, departments, and organisations and produce digital content.

All of these are well embedded and often used in many job roles.  But how important do staff feel it is in their work practices?  My role focuses on the digital capabilities of staff across NTU, and I see a lot of staff are using a variety of digital tools and systems.  It can be easy to say that there is no work to be done for some people as they are using them.  But how well in the context of their role?  On the other hand, you may have people saying digital skills is not relevant to my role - how so?  Many jobs have a digital element, even if it's just a tiny part.

A good way to determine what digital skills are required for a job is to look at the job specification (if it is detailed enough).  Identify what aspects of the job require digital skills, may that be using specific software or applications to create documents or graphics, including analysing data etc, right through to managing projects.  These can then be categorised into the areas mentioned above.  These are a good benchmark to question yourself of what digital skills do I need to know about and feel confident in using?  You could even map these required digital skills to specific job roles to help you make sense of what that particular job role expects.

Again, I feel much of this ties into the modern professional learner/worker as mentioned at the end of a post I made earlier this year.  This is where importance meets practice.  The majority of us have these common work practices to fulfil in our roles, perhaps this can be applied as an anchor to enable staff to be more invested in their digital skills?

Emphasising digital capabilities

To me digital capabilities are much wider and broader than digital skills, but they kind of mean the same thing.  Although the language of digital capabilities is not easily understood, it surrounds the meaning of practice rather than just focusing on individual skills.

On the 15th and 16th May 2018, I was very lucky to attend my first UCISA 'Spotlight on digital capabilities', which is in it's fourth event.  I found the event very useful in terms of content and for networking new and familiar like-minded people.  I'm still new in my Digital Practice Adviser role and it was very helpful to get some wider knowledge of what others are doing in the digital capabilities field.  Before I attended the event, I wrote myself the following questions so that I had some personal objectives to go with.  I'm pleased I got most answered but there were a few I haven't, which I will pick up at a later date and carry on finding answers to them.

Project/strategic related questions to ask:

  • How do other institution support and develop their staff digital capabilities?
    • What strategies do they use
    • What framework underpins their vision and strategy
    • What digital technologies do they focus on
    • What data do they report on
  • What are the barriers that staff experience in engaging with their own digital capabilities?
  • How do they deal with reluctant staff and the already digitally empowered?
  • How is digital leadership being encouraged and promoted in their institutions?
  • Which institutions have piloted Jisc’s Digital Discovery Tool?
    • What is the general consensus of their pilot data?  Any highlights worth noting?
    • What plans do they have to embed the tool more permanently in their digital capabilities initiatives?
  • How are new staff or new to role inducted on digital tools and systems?
    • What mechanisms do they deliver this through and how is it managed?

    General/interest questions to ask:

    • What language/terms do they use for promoting digital capabilities initiatives in their institutions?  Digital, digital skills, digital capabilities, digital literacy etc?  How well are the terms understood by staff?
    • Do they focus on all roles (academic, professional services, non-academic, research) or just specific ones?
    • What is the general consensus of how staff perceive the importance of digital capabilities development?
    • Do they track change in staff behaviours as a result of digital capabilities development? 

    What do I hope to gain as a result of attending this event?

    • A more well-rounded knowledge base of digital capabilities and initiatives provided at a range of institutions
    • Strategies to approach digital capabilities development with staff
    • Further awareness of barriers and obstacles institutors experience with digital capability initiatives
    • The kinds of data reported on and how that can be used to develop digital capabilities projects
    • New digital practice training initiatives

    Below is a summary of the main takeaways I came back with, however there are always smaller pieces that you pick up through social media as well joining in face-to-face and online conversations.

    • When assessing peoples digital capabilities, it shouldn’t be about labelling and pigeonholing them.  Whilst profiles and can help predict behaviour they encourage judgement and discrimination.  Assessing and understanding an individual’s digital capabilities is about helping them to discover their identities whilst allowing their digital practices to emerge and become more visible.  Recognise their practices first before being too critical of what they can and can’t do.  Who you are is more important than what you do, which fits into the structure and culture of a university.
    • It is the organisations responsibility to provide a programme or support infrastructure for digital capabilities development.  However, this needs to have the right balance of being owned/motivated by the individual and shaped by the organisation.  An holistic self-assessment programme that can be moulded and developed by the individual would have more impetus long term.  The programme needs to be able to rapidly adapt to internal and external changes.  What will it look like in 5 years time?  Is it able to evolve with changing digital practices?  The programme would benefit from being able to scale within itself.
    • To help improve engagement and development of digital capabilities in an organisation.  It was suggested approaching this at a programme/team level.  It works better in terms of motivation and does not single out any individuals.
    • Could resistance to using digital technology be a digital capability?  In light of the inappropriate use of personal data, could this now be an escalating behaviour amongst people?  If so, how do we overcome this and encourage a positive mind set?  This can tie in nicely with Jisc’s six elements of digital capabilities – Digital identity and wellbeing.
    • Digital is multifaceted; it has many meanings and understandings to some people.  However, the main meanings are: digital is a place – where interaction is happening; digital is a tool – lets you do something; digital is a platform – the place we make it; digital is people – think we’re buying a solution.  As digital practices are so embedded within our lifestyles, they have become invisible over time.  I participated in an activity where I was invited to make my digital practices visible to me and how I felt about them.  There were 3 areas I self-assessed which were: creation – publishing/broadcast; conversation – voices and perspectives online; consumption – interacting with information.  Another activity I participated in was sending love letters to pieces of digital technology.  It allows people to express their emotions towards their digital practices.  I will pick these up in an individual post as it has real significance to individual engagement to digital capabilities.
    • Like NTU others are piloting the Jisc Digital Discovery Tool.  However, one organisation has discussions on how CPD can be modelled and carried out using CPD frameworks and planning.  After people have participated in the tool, there are pathways that people can travel down during different stages of their role, such as: academic (learning and teaching); new to the university, professional services etc.
    • VLEs do not always have to be replaced, but can be rejuvenated by having principles to guide staff rather than conventionally providing templates for people to conform to.
    • To get staff more engaged in CPD events, identifying barriers (institutional, pedagogical and individual – why people resist change) and turning them into enablers can help.  Opportunities to learn like workshops, sharing practice, resources and space to explore are good to offer.  These should include: bringing together activity; discussion and debates; why’s and how’s (demos) early and late adopters; supported by seniors responsible for education.
    • Certification of Microsoft application training appears to be gaining prominence again, as well as being a popular software across the world.  Students are demanding to be recognised for their IT skills as they find it important for employability in having essential skills.  They also find them more valuable than an attendance certificate as they demonstrate learning. can provide opportunities here, but may be more useful for ‘just in time’ learning rather than encouraging deeper learning.  Organisations are offering Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) and Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA), the latter being more advanced.  Some are considering Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE).  Organisations offer core and expert options for MOS and are developing other pathways for students who are seeking further certification.
    • Individuals should treat digital capabilities as not just following what is current or in the moment, but forecasting what may be needed in the future.  There will be jobs in the future that have not been created yet, that will rely upon strong digital capabilities.  Some people may not even be confident or have a liking to Microsoft Excel for example, but we will most likely have to use it in a job at some point.  So we might as well be positive in learning to like and use it.