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The Digital Department


Developing digital literacies for teaching administrators


Archive for the 'Digital literacies' Category

Summer school: Technology and Change in Higher Education

By Clive Young, on 20 July 2013

summer_schoolLast week with colleagues Martin Oliver and Cat Edera from the Institute of Education (IoE) Stafanie Anyadi and I ran a very successful summer school entitled ‘Technology and Change in Higher Education’. Both the IoE and ourselves have related projects under the JISC Digital Literacies programme and we were keen to explore some of the issues around emerging practices, roles and identities related to the changing technological environment.

On the first day Stefanie and I focused on the issues that had been highlighted by our The Digital Department project and the work we had done around the CMALT programme. We were fortunate to have a very lively group of participants; academics, support staff and administrators who were very happy to share ideas and experiences.

We first explored the notion of changing identities, how rapid technological and institutional change resulted in a fluidity of job roles, often expanding quite extensively from the standard job descriptor. Individuals seemed to be creating their own ‘operational space’, often moving flexibly between ‘academic’ and ‘administrative’ or support roles. This was not exactly the ‘third space’ professional enviroment that Celia Whitchurch [link to Celia’s paper] described – although some of our participants identified themselves as such – but a more adaptive professional environment in which previous academic/support boundaries were blurred. This fluidity was not without its problems. Several challenging issues were discussed.
  • Authority had to be self-generated instead of being inherent in the job role
  • Individuals had to create their own networks of influence.
  • Professional development and career progression routes were less clear
  • The boundary-jumping aspect may be ‘transgressive’ and challenge institutional ideas of identity and affiliation
  • It might be difficult for colleagues and the institution to relate to fluid roles and recognise individual expertise
  • This may result in border or ownership issues of issues that can be manifested as barriers
  • Recruitment and induction into these ‘personally-constructed’ roles can be another problemThe group noted that restructuring if well implemented could be way of providing a ‘snapshot’ of these dynamic changes and route for the institution to accommodate them.
summer_school_groupThere were many positives. Such adaptive roles could help students navigate though existing ‘chains of support’. The importance in this respect of the Teaching or Departmental Administrator was mentioned several times. Technology could play a large role in providing a breadth of support for students and staff but often a human ‘broker’ was still much appreciated.

We completed our session by exploring the important role of new pedagogies in this process, how as e-learning had become mainstream it needs a wider group to support it. More communicative designs (using forums especially) also encouraged changes in the types of e-learning support needed and this was particularly evident in distance learning and high-tech blends of campus learning, which often took on aspects of distance learning anyway. Indeed the complexities of the increasingly rich digital environment needed skills in how to ‘signpost’ students, how to engage students in communication, how to ‘align’ their activities with the learning outcomes, but also how to support them in the wider range of digital literacies required.


TA Training Needs Analysis (TNA) Workshop

By Clive Young, on 10 December 2012

Many thanks to all those who attended the TNA workshop on 6th December. The workshop was run jointly by the Project and Jo Lambert, ISD IT Training Manager. It was designed as a follow-up from our TA Questionnaire from earlier in the year which established UCL use of digital tools, confidence and interest in using new tools. The TNA workshop aimed to analyse a bit deeper what TAs do in practice and map this against tools and especially training.

The project is conscious that although we have developed materials around e-learning as part of the CMALT programme, a whole range of university and productivity tools are also used by UCL TAs and we wanted to think how they could be supported. Jo worked with the group to identify common admin tasks, for example around communication, assessment and attendance management. Early in the new year she will report back to the project and the UCL TA community to suggests how common tasks can be mapped to tools and training. We will also be working with Jo to identify any gaps in the current support and training provision.

Enabling innovation and change – Part 1

By Clive Young, on 24 June 2012

At the ICA Network conference: Educating the Net Generation in the Life Sciences at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano last week one of the main themes was how universities can support innovation in today’s fast moving and emerging educational environments characterised by social media and cloud services. This is undoubtedly a challenge. I gave a keynote on our The Digital Department (TDD) project and how we were beginning to uncover a complex pattern of digital literacies and identities that needed to be developed and supported to enable any significant change in this area. I admitted this could be overwhelming but TDD also points to a community-based model of change which might help us achieve our ambitions.

I started by reminding attendees of an older model of change the MIT90s transformational model which was used a few projects in UK HE in the early 00s both to describe and benchmark where universities were in a technology change process.

Basically this model any innovation always started with localised projects then became co-ordinated in some way before becoming integrated with mainstream workflows in a transformative stage and eventually were embedded in the processes of the university (review, quality, finance etc). Only then could innovative change really occur at an institutional level.

Like any reductionist model MIT90s has its limitations but it does highlight the problem of moving from local to institutional innovation. Essentially it emphasises there are a number of steps to go through (whatever you call them) to enable this to happen.

To understand the steps better we can now apply the familiar Rogers 1962 model of diffusion of innovations. Rogers provides the human perspective of change and you can usefully align MIT90s stages to Rogers to see which groups of staff might be involved in each stage. In short the innovators initiate localised projects and but it is only when change becomes coordinated  and then transformative that the majority of staff become engaged.

It is now well understood to ‘break out’ change from the innovators to even the early adopters (i.e. go from localised to co-ordinated) is challenging first identified by Greoffrey Moore (1991) as the ‘chasm‘. Over a decade ago Jamie McKenzie (1999) noted that the chasm occurs because  ”the characteristics of late adopters are profoundly different from those of early adopters” and – after Moore – “crossing the chasm between these groups…requires a mammoth campaign that includes special attention to the vastly different needs, perspectives and demands of the late adopters. He concludes “what works for pioneers does not work for the later group“.

To me this begins to explains the ‘chasm’, why processes of change are slow in universities and the  persistent problem throughout the HE sector of why so many very good educational innovation projects fail to become mainstream and fade away as funding dries up.

In the next blog post I’ll suggest how these insights may be combined to provide a more sustainable, practical and perhaps productive approach of change drawing on what we have been  doing with TDD and other initiatives.

Credit: Rogers diagram


Emerging hybrid staff roles in the new e-learning environment

By Clive Young, on 21 June 2012

Keynote for ICA Network Educating the Net Generation in the Life Sciences, 21 June 2012, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy


Workshop at AUA Conference

By Stefanie D Anyadi, on 24 April 2012

The Digital Department team offered a workshop at the recent AUA conference in Manchester, which was an excellent opportunity to meet and talk to colleagues from other universities and colleges.

The workshop led to interesting discussions on what constitutes digital literacy.  Creativity and innovation were seen as important aspects of the digital literacy. Digital literacy needs to be considered at individual and group level, and relates to a range of literacies needed for a person’s job roles. It was noted that many students have very high expectations and assume they have very good digital literacy skills when this is often not the case.

Organisations should get the message out to employees, “this how we work and why we work this way”. A number of organisations try a top down approach to influence what tools are used and how. Colleagues observed that people will always try to find a way around restrictions although it was agreed more autonomy in choosing tools can also cause problems.

It was interesting to get a glimpse as to how the administrative support for degree programmes and modules is organised in a range of universities with some much more centralised than others. The role of teaching administrators varies widely with regard to digital literacy and digital skills support: in some universities they play an important role in supporting staff and student digital literacy while in others this area is the sole responsibility of lecturers and/or a central service.

We are planning to keep in touch with our workshop participants – their input will help us ensure that our project is relevant and useful beyond UCL!


JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme

By Stefanie D Anyadi, on 19 February 2012



The Digital Departments is one of a number of digital literacy projects funded by JISC. You can find an overview of the programme at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/developingdigitalliteracies and updates via the various project blogs.

The Guardian Digital Literacy Campaign

By Clive Young, on 10 January 2012

The Guardian newspaper has just launched a campaign to improve IT and computer science teaching in schools and universities. They are running a series of live  Q&As this week with teachers, lecturers and experts from technology companies such as Google and Microsoft…and want input from as many teachers, lecturers, pupils, parents and developers as possible. Throughout the week, in the paper and online, the Guardian “will be looking at how employers feel about the scarcity of digital skills among the UK workforce, going to schools to talk to them about how they teach IT and computer science, hearing from ministers such as Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey and visiting the Bett education technology show in London“. An interesting initiative to follow, supported by Google.

How to Develop Digital Literacies in Yourself and Others

By Clive Young, on 9 January 2012

Doug Belshaw, a researcher/analyst at JISC infoNet has devloped an excellent Slideshare on digital literacies. He asks;

If literacy is just ‘reading and writing’ then why has so much ink been spilled over such a simple concept? Is there just one ‘literacy’ to rule them all? Or are there multiple literacies? Is what we do online a ‘literacy’?

Doug believes there are eight essential elements to digital literacies and that definitions of digital literacies should be co-created to have power. In this presentation he points to useful resources (from JISC and elsewhere), asks some questions as conversation starters and provides some practical examples of how you can develop digital literacy skills in yourself and others.

Helen Beetham on digital literacy and the role of the university

By Clive Young, on 2 December 2011

Helen Beetham, well-known through her work for JISC, HEFCE and her model for learning activity design, is a leading light in the field of e-learning policy and practice. In this lecture, she explores how digital technologies are changing the needs and expectations of students, how universities can respond, and what opportunities the new digital landscape presents for universities to reposition themselves as institutions of public knowledge. A presentation at the University of Greenwich earlier this year.

Helen Beetham: Digital Literacy and the Role of the University #LTAlectures from Educational Development Unit on Vimeo.