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The Digital Department


Developing digital literacies for teaching administrators


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


Two types of digital literacies?

By Clive Young, on 16 May 2012

As part of TDD Alison and I attended an interesting JISC workshop on ‘digital literacies’ yesterday. There was much emphasis on how skills and practices contributed to both academic and personal online identities. However the literacies supporting each might be different. A distinction emerged from discussions with programme ‘synthesis consultant’ Helen Beetham.

  • Professional/academic literacies and identities, characterised by specialist tools like SPSS, CAD/CAM, LaTex, GIS tools and the academic tools Moodle/Lecturecast/Turnitin. They tend to have  a steep learning curve but the literacies are usually quite well integrated into modules and ‘owned’ by the department and/or the institution.
  • Personal/social literacies/identities  – characterised by cloud-based web services such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube –  designed/promoted as ‘easy to use’ and not usually integrated  unless  part of the academic subject itself (investigating digital technologies etc) and therefore not ‘owned’ by anyone (…should they be?).

There is significant possible overlap, however, where cloud-based services could be used directly in to support academic study (blogs, media etc), to engage in discipline-based ‘research 2.0 activities’, to develop portfolios for employability and establish a professional online identity.

This seems the area where the institution may be able to take more ‘ownership’ – the academic application of web service tools. Some universities (or academic departments) reported they had set up wikis covering technologies and techniques that students themselves can contribute to. It was suggested such wikis could be ‘seeded’ by student volunteers or interns.

A better name than 21st Century Skills?

By Clive Young, on 9 May 2012

There is always an interesting debate on what to call the technology-related skill set required to perform a modern digitally-enabled professional life. UCL refers to them as part of  ‘Key Skills‘, covering a broad range of students’ academic skills, self-management skills, communication skills and interpersonal skills. Doug Johnson in his blog post A better name than 21st Century Skills? mulls over a few names such as ‘survival skills’ and ‘higher order thinking skills’ (HOT) before settling on ‘knowledge worker skills’. He also sketches out a handy diagram (as on the right) which is explained in more detail in an earlier blog post.

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!


Digital Department poster at AUA conference

By Stefanie D Anyadi, on 5 April 2012

Here’s a picture of the Digital Department project managers with our poster at the AUA conference.

The conference was really interesting and useful – we ran a workshop to explore how digital literacy skills of professional support staff are developed at other institutions and how the anticipated outputs of our project could be adapted and transferred.

We’ll link up with interested colleagues in the next couple of weeks and look forward to working together to support the digital skill development of relevant staff groups and to learning from what is happening elsewhere.


AUA Conference

By Stefanie D Anyadi, on 31 March 2012

Looking forward to the AUA Conference in Manchester next week, where we are going to run a workshop. It’ll be a great opportunity to talk to colleagues from other universities to explore the transferability of the project outputs and establish collaborative links.

UCL Staff Survey

By Stefanie D Anyadi, on 26 March 2012

Some of the results of the UCL Staff Survey carried out in autumn 2011 have recently been made available.

The results do have important implications for the Digital Department project, especially as some of the outcomes are envisaged to serve as a key resource for the induction of new colleagues in teaching administration. So we should, for example, make sure we help new colleagues understand the context of their work within the wider UCL environment and to support working across departments. The survey also indicates an interest in skills development, which connects to the aims of our project.

Working towards CMALT

By Stefanie D Anyadi, on 25 March 2012

We’ve this week had the second workshop for teaching administrators working towards completing the CMALT portfolio. Our first cohort consists of 20+ teaching administrators and other support staff, divided into four mentor groups. We’re running workshops to give some structure to the completion of the portfolio and to facilitate group working and mutual support, and have already seen a lot of sharing of good practice. The first workshop, about a month ago, looked at operational issues.

At this week’s workshop, Rosalind Duhs from UCL CALT gave an interesting presentation on E-learning/distance learning: Using moodle to extend student learning. The material from the presentation and subsequent discussion will be useful for the part of the portfolio on Teaching, learning and/or assessment processes. A further four workshops have been scheduled.

CMALT is an important component of the project in a number of ways: it provides a supported certification option for teaching administrators while encouraging reflective practice; the workshops provide a forum to share ideas and identify and spread good practice; it is envisaged that the CMALT qualification can be accredited as part of an AUA qualification, which the Digital Department and the AUA aim to establish. The material produced will (where permission is given) contribute towards a UCL Teaching Administrator handbook, a collection of reference material which will be another important output of the project.

Presentation at Learning & Development Network

By Stefanie D Anyadi, on 25 March 2012

We gave a presentation at a workshop of the Learning and Development Network of the UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences on 20 March. The event was attended by 40+ colleagues from across UCL and beyond. Some helpful comments afterwards about sharing our approach beyond teaching administrators and about integrating relevant central services.

See below for the slides: