UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities

IMG_3479The UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference in Birmingham, 25-26 May 2016, was a thought-provoking event with excellent speakers and delegates. This year’s conference focussed on the digital capabilities of staff in HE and FE.

One recurrent theme was introducing change and change management. Several speakers referred to challenges surrounding the introduction of new technologies, changes in relevant policies, and modifying institutional cultures.

James Clay (Jisc) usefully brought up Jisc’s Building Digital Capability project – interestingly, a number of speakers referred to Jisc’s digital capability framework. James also stressed that when it comes to digital capabilities, we often “don’t know what we don’t know”. To help bridge this gap, Jisc are planning to launch a tool for testing staff’s digital capability level (to be released as full public beta over the summer) as well as a course for digital leaders.

David Walker (University of Sussex) emphasised that change in HE is developmental, rather than transformational: it takes time to manage and take effect. One of David’s main points was that the language of change, transformation, excellence and innovation can often be perceived as threatening and generate resistance. In practical terms, managing change should be about acknowledging concerns, addressing insecurities and sustaining communication – or even overcommunicating, if necessary.

Sue Watling (University of Hull) also focused on the fear of change as one of the main obstacles for innovation. Staff who are technologically shy and have low levels of digital confidence tend to avoid training sessions and continue to exclude themselves from the digital teaching experience. Sue added the notion of NAYs (Not-Arrived-Yets) to the well-known model of digital residents and digital visitors to help conceptualise all the groups of staff we should be reaching out to.

The idea of the language of change causing resistance was also echoed Helen Beetham’s closing keynote. She reminded the audience that ‘it is not the technology in itself that is transforming education and society; it is, rather, the creative ways in which people are using technology to educate and drive change’ (Radical interventions in learning and teaching, NUS 2014).

The practicalities of developing digital capabilities was another common theme. Hamish Loveday (University of Dundee) stressed the importance of putting people and processes before technology, which is an approach adopted in University of Aberdeen’s Learners’ Toolkit. Alistair McNaught (Jisc) focused on removing barriers to learning through supporting staff in embedding accessibility and inclusivity in their practice. The Jisc guide on delivering an inclusive digital student experience may be a good starting point here.

Jane Secker (LSE) gave an inspirational talk on developing a sustainable series of courses in digital literacy through collaboration of various departments to avoid duplicating efforts. She emphasised the importance of critical digital literacy, i.e. knowing when to use technology and when not to use it. Fiona Handley (University of Brighton) demonstrated the University of Brighton’s Digital Literacies Framework and explained the rationale behind it.

Another important topic was that of student engagement and building partnerships to develop digital capabilities. In this context, Ellie Russell (NUS) and Sarah Knight (Jisc) mentioned the Jisc NUS Benchmarking tool – the student digital experience. Moira Wright and Eileen Kennedy (UCL) talked about “how the owl and pussycat went to UCL”. This referred to their work with students who were given the opportunity to reflect, through play, what digital literacies they need at university. Also, in a panel discussion, the participants emphasized the role of the student voice as a form of putting pressure on lecturers to enhance their skills.

All in all, this was a very inspirational event and it was clear that many of the attendees came away with a lot of ideas for supporting the development of digital capabilities at their institutions. The presentations are available on the event programme page. There has been a lot of Twitter activity during and after the event too: #digicap.

Author: Agata Sadza is an Academic Developer in Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of West London

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