UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities – Part one

I had the pleasure of attending UCISA’s Spotlight on Digital Capabilities last week, a two day event held at Media City in Salford Quays. The event explored how institutions can provide opportunities and support for students and staff to develop their digital capabilities, and featured a host of example projects from institutions across the UK.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to contribute to Lancaster’s Digital Lancaster project with staff from Lancaster ISS. It was great to be able to attend this event with some of those colleagues. There were definitely some great ideas for implementing and embedding digital skills development, including student partnerships, learner analytics and more.

There was far too much over the two days for me to recap every talk, but here’s a few to start off with. I’ll write another post later this week with a few more,

What a digitally capable institution looks like

Gillian Fielding, Digital Skills Manager at the University of Salford

Iain Cameron, Training and Documentation Manager at the University of Aberdeen

Gillian and Iain presented an overview of the recent inaugural UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey (the full report is available here). Lancaster University Library and ISS provided a joint contribution to the survey, so I was very interested to hear the findings.

The survey investigated how UK HEIs are developing and supporting staff and student digital capabilities. Institutions used broadly similar definitions of what is meant by “digital capabilities”, but there isn’t a standard sector-wide model or definition in use. Some responses recognised that capabilities or skills could vary widely between roles and disciplines (something that has been recognised in the Digital Lancaster project so far).

UCISA have proposed that they should “work with other agencies, such as Jisc, to adopt a standard definition of digital capabilities. We recommend institutions use this definition where they have none.” I think a shared definition of digital capabilties/literacies between professional bodies would be a great thing. Some institutions have created their own definitions and frameworks to fit their context (Cardiff and Bath are notable examples) but having a widely-held UK HE definition that institutions can adapt to their own contexts will, to my mind;

  • help increase the understanding of the spectrum of digital practices and behaviours among students and staff
  • help with benchmarking and the sharing of best practice between institutions
  • help students and staff moving from one institution to another recognise the landscape of digital capabilities support and development available at their new institution

A few other notable points:

Library/Learning Services strategies were reported as the second most important internal strategy for driving the digital capabilities agenda in institutions (second only to the Teaching and Learning strategy). Libraries were also noted for their innovation in supporting students and staff:

“Library services seemed to be by far the most progressive, most often making use of new communication methods such as Twitter, social media and videos, in addition to established communications channels.”

This picture was familiar to attendees from the Library sector:

Gillian and Iain offered a picture of what a digital capable institution looks like, based on the findings of the survey.



The full UCISA report is well worth reading for a picture of the support/development opportunities that are currently offered across the UK HE sector. The report will be supplemented by some case studies on different institutional approaches to digital capabilities, due for publication in Autumn 2015.

Building Digital Capability

Sarah Davies, Head of change, Student Experience, Jisc

Sarah’s presentation covered a range of Jisc services, some new, that are being brought together under the Digital Capabilities banner to help institutions embed digital development for their staff and students. At the centre of the service is a revised Jisc digital capabilities framework, a development of their “7 elements” model, which institutions can use to help students and staff understand the spectrum of digital skills and behaviours. This revised framework would be unveiled by Helen Beetham in a later talk (which I’ll recap in another blog post). In addition to the framework are two development programmes;

  • a leadership development programme for HE management staff, to help them understand and design effective digital capability development services


  •  a series of digital skills MOOCs, aimed at academic and professional staff in HE


Triangles were very on trend at this conference.

Rounding out the, er, triangle is a set of diagnostic tools to help students and staff audit their existing digital skills and identify areas for development. A suite of diagnostic tools sounds very useful, however, I can see it would be a challenge to implement on an institutional level.

Building on the previous talk, having shared definitions and tools will help drive understanding, and I have no doubt the materials that Jisc provide will be excellent. Implementing  and embedding digital skills development across a range of professional and academic roles and practices will always be a major undertaking, but this looks like a really valuable range of services to help institutions in this area. You can find out more about Jisc’s proposed Digital Capability services here, and follow the hashtag #digitalcapabilities.

Towards an integrated approach to developing digital capabilities in the curriculum: from theory to harsh reality

Joe Nicholls, Principal Consultant in Digital Enablement, Cardiff University

In the work I’ve done for Digital Lancaster, we looked at Cardiff’s Digidol project as an example of an institutional framework for digital literacies. Cardiff embarked on Digidol just as a new Education strategy was implemented. This Education strategy included “a commitment to “Learning Literacies”, comprising information, digital and academic literacies” so this has given strong strategic support at an institutional level to the Digidol project.

Joe’s talk discussed the challenges of embedding digital skills development for students in the curriculum. Cardiff University Library have seen real success in this area – there are embedded taught Library sessions in over 70% of undergraduate courses at Cardiff, although these sessions only cover a certain element of the digital practices identified in the Digidol framework (primarily centered around finding information, or other elements of information literacy).

Joe has been assigned to lead on Digital Capabilities and Enablement from a role within the Library service, to build on this success. Cardiff are seeking to achieve integrated development sessions in the curriculum, developed in collaboration between academics and a range of professional services (not just the Library), though he did mention that an example of this integrated approach could be seen in sessions developed by Library staff but delivered as part of the curriculum by academic staff. Here’s a really helpful post from Joe that explains the distinction between ’embedded’ and ‘integrated’ sessions in the Cardiff context. As well as taught sessions, Cardiff are creating OERs that can be adapted and customised by departments for their own specific digital contexts.

Joe recommended that digital literacies must be meaningful, authentic and situated in regards to people, roles and practices in your organisation.
This was a great talk, Joe is an excellent speaker and I think Cardiff are doing some really good work in this area. I would be really interested to see examples of the integrated sessions and OERs they have developed.
That’s it for this rather lengthy post. Thanks to all those whose tweets I’ve embedded here! Will be back later this week for a write up of some more sessions!

Approaches to Learning

Hi again. This weeks #ocTEL webinar was really good, Panos was a very engaging speaker and clearly has great enthusiasm for TEL. Looking forward to delving into the resources for this week, though there is loads!!!!

Here’s some thoughts on Noel Entwistle’s model Defining Features of Approaches to Learning in relation to online learning.


Entwistle, N. (2005) Contrasting Perspectives on Learning. In: Marton, F., Hounsell, D. and Entwistle, N., (eds.) The Experience of Learning: Implications for teaching and studying in higher education. 3rd (Internet) edition. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Assessment. p.19. Accessed online at: http://www.docs.hss.ed.ac.uk/iad/Learning_teaching/Academic_teaching/Resources/Experience_of_learning/EoLChapter1.pdf

I found the model a bit problematic really. Couldn’t somebody approach a learning activity with the intention of a Surface Approach (to cope with the course requirements), but actually engage in the activities of a Deep or Strategic approach, though perhaps not as consistently or with the same level of commitment? It almost seems like a model of two successful approaches to learning (one that embodies an intention of high attainment and one that takes more of a transformative intent), and one approach that is unsuccessful. Couldn’t somebody successfully take a Surface Approach (that didn’t result in undue pressure or difficulty) if coping is their desired intent? Don’t a lot of learners do that?

I don’t think that the characteristics of the approaches are sufficiently unique or well defined. Surely somebody with a Deep Approach would put in consistent effort, plan their time and use of materials, etc – these aren’t characteristics that would be unique to a Strategic intention. It also depends on the type of learning activity the student is engaging in; a learning activity without an element of assessment would mean that students who participate effectively are embodying the Deep Approach by default.

I think most people would find that their approach to a course or learning activity would embody a hybrid of these intentions and approaches, and that it could alter over time dependent on their engagement with the subject area and learning material, and other events and responsibilities within their lives.

If I were to apply this to my participation on #ocTEL, I would say that my intention lies between the Deep and Surface approaches. As podling has noted there isn’t really assessment on #ocTEL , though I suppose getting positive feedback on our contributions is a driving motivation, as well as those (virtually) shiny badges!  I have some understanding of TEL and am relating everything I have learnt so far to my own knowledge and experience. I’m particularly interested in learning about how to design effective learning experiences, and learning more about educational theory and pedagogy, as I’ve never formally studied this. HE Librarians such as myself are increasingly getting involved in projects where an understanding of pedagogy would be of benefit so I do have an active desire to learn about the subject; it will help me in my current job with a number of upcoming projects and can only be of benefit professionally. Due to work and other commitments I have to take a surface approach to an extent. I skim the weekly resources and consider what is most relevant to me and my needs. I think with regard to online learning, and in particularly self-directed learning, this could be a valuable and effective approach. I do look to understand how the information inter-relates and am hopefully building a wider conception of the learning technology landscape. I imagine that on the completion of #ocTEL there will be elements of TEL that I haven’t had the chance to fully explore, but I will hopefully have a better conception of what those elements are. And then that’s something to address in my next foray into lifelong learning 🙂

Exploring and experimenting

I started writing this post then came across Wendy Talao’s blog post for Activity 0.3. As well as answering the questions set by the activity, Wendy has also used her blog post to plan her participation for the MOOC which is a great idea. Jim Kerr mentioned doing a participation plan in Wednesday’s webinar, which I thought was a really good way of doing some prep to avoid getting overwhelmed. Set your goals and all that. So I’m going to try and combine the two activities.

A few days on with #ocTEL and I’ve tried a couple of different communication platforms to engage with the course and the other participants. I suppose I’ve stuck to what I know so far. I’ve used WordPress a lot in the past (I used to maintain the blog for the last library I worked at) though I’ve (re)launched this personal blog afresh for #ocTEL. So I suppose that counts as something new-ish, right? I set my profile up on the #ocTEL site and I’ve been using the course reader a bit to find people on Twitter.

I’ve followed a number of participants on Twitter and noticed that I’m picking up followers from the course too, so obviously other people are following the hashtag on Twitter or picking up tweets from the course reader. Twitter has been good for reading people’s blog posts as most people are tweeting when they have posted a new one. I’ve exchanged a couple of tweets with people but no great in-depth conversation as of yet. I’ve been on Twitter since 2009, though I wasn’t a great convert for the first couple of years. I tend to use it more as a news/opinion/links aggregator rather than as a communication medium and that’s mainly the purpose it has served so far on #ocTEL.

I chose the third party blog option for posting my own thoughts, as I got the impression from the course handbook that blogs were the preferred option. I’ve read a lot of blog posts by other participants but only posted a comment on one so far. I think the #ocTEL discussion forum will act as the main platform for discussion to be honest, there’s some really good discussion going on there. I haven’t posted as yet but I will try and do so at some point. I’ve always been a fan of discussion forums, I’ve been a member of a couple of forums related to my interests for years now, and I still think they are the most effective tool for fostering discussion online. Having said that, when I did my online distance PG Dip, participants were encouraged to share their thoughts online on a forum which saw a lot of activity at the beginning of the course, before gradually falling by the wayside (because the forum activity wasn’t assessed, as time went on people stopped posting and focused on the assessed activities).

Participation plan:

1. What tools to use
Often: Primarily Twitter and this WordPress blog to post my own thoughts. I should be able to make the webinars as long as they are always at a lunchtime (early evenings are no good for me as I have a bit of a commute and then a 20 month old to see when I get home). I will try and engage in discussion on the forum where I can. I’m going to try and link up with other participants to join a group soon (I’ll probably do this by approaching people via Twitter or on the forum)
Once-off or infrequent: I suppose it depends on the platform chosen by the group I join. I’ve got a G+ account but I’ve never participated in a G+ group. I’d be open to trying any platform really. I’ll probably try and gather interesting tweets on Storify at some point, but probably only a couple of times over the course. I may try using Scoop It! to curate interesting links relating to TEL (though that may be a bit redundant, there’s a ton of good posters on Scoop It! curating links on e-learning, educational technology, etc already).

2. Level of participation: I’m going to try and set 30 minutes aside each weekday for ocTEL. I’ll use this time to read the course content, check the forum and other participants’ blogs. I check Twitter throughout the day so I will keep up with other people’s #ocTEL musings on a pretty regular basis. I’m going to try and write two blog posts a week. I may have to do that at the weekend. If I don’t quite manage that, then I still should have written one :). If I don’t write any that’s a complete failure.

I’m going to stop titling my blog posts as relating strictly to one or another activity. Hopefully my thoughts should address one or more of the Activities for that week, and I may be able to combine some together. I could always use tags on my posts to make it clear to the tutors what points I am addressing. Yep, I’ll do that from now on.

Big and little questions

Week 1, no wait, week 0 of #ocTEL and a chance to reflect on why I’ve signed up this open course. A bit of background first of all, I’m an academic librarian, currently working at Lancaster University. I’ve had a teaching role for a few years now – my teaching nearly always involves using technology, and I teach students about using technology effectively in their own studies.

Some of the experience I have in TEL includes:

  • Creating interactive tutorials for VLEs
  • Creating podcasts and videos
  • Using social media and blogging platforms for student engagement purposes

And I suppose most essentially, my teaching is about how to use technology to find and manage information, and how to develop the skills to effectively understand and assess information resources.

As a student, I completed a postgrad diploma online via distance learning. It was probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. The technology aspect was part of what made it challenging (it felt very self-directed and at times very isolated) but the technology was what made it possible for me to study while working full time. I feel that right now in my career I’m exactly where I wanted to be when I started that course, so it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

One thing I do find hard about many types of TEL is the social and reflective aspect. By my nature I find it hard to get something down on paper that I’m happy to share with other people, without umpteen revisions and rewrites. I’ve currently repeating Point 2 of these Huffington Post Blogging Tips as a mantra (“Let go of the compulsion to write or blog perfectly”) and I’m hoping that as #ocTEL progresses I’ll find it easier to express my thoughts on TEL. I’m sure there will be lots of good blogging by other participants to act as an inspiration.

My big questions for the course relate to stripping away the technology and focusing on the learning – the experience and the outcomes. I suppose what I’m most looking forward to on #ocTEL is interacting with a range of different people (teachers, lecturers, learning technologists) and learning about experiences and ideas to do with learning technology from outside the library “bubble”. I’d consider myself fairly up to date on how HE libraries are using technology to deliver learning experiences, but I have a lot to learn from outside that rather narrow field.

And I suppose small questions relate to more specific examples of TEL: I’m interested in Open Badges for instance, and would like to learn about interesting ways in which they’ve been used in HE.

Right, that’s been useful for me, and I hope it’s served as an explanation to my interest in #ocTEL. Looking forward to making contact with other #ocTEL peeps out there on the web. See you round.