Building digital capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency

Jisc six elements of digital capability

I am sat in Birmingham listening to another of James Clay’s greatest hits. If you don’t know what I’m talking about read James’s blog. I am happy to call it a greatest hits keynote because I never tire of hearing it.

(I am writing this on my phone as the WiFi here is awful!)

James talks about the digital capabilities discovery tool. The tool has broken some of his perceptions about his online behaviour. He scored low on promotion. Clearly his perceptions of himself were wrong. The tool will be available to everyone in the summer.

The most valuable thing about the tool will be the development of the resources to accompany it. It’s all well and good showing what you can’t do. But we need to.make sure we have a solution available.

So what does digital capability mean? We need to gain a shared understanding within organisations. For example to some just being able to use Office is capable to some.

We need to understand that people who don’t engage with social media will struggle to use other communications tools. It’s not about Twitter. It’s about the transferable skills gained through its use.

James used the example of the release of HIV patient data to demonstrate that it wasn’t caused by human error, it’s lack of digital capabilities. How can we expect people to know how to deal with data if they’ve never had training?

An interesting observation is that academic staff job descriptions do not include digital or technology. What does that say about our expectations and the seriousness with which we take the digital?

“How do we know what we know?”

James asks “where is Barclay’s biggest branch?”

The answer. Their app. A modern organisation needs to be digitally capable.

It’s so true look at HE. Where is the biggest classroom? It’s the VLE. It is the most visited resource (aside from the pub) at Universities.

We need to take advantage of it and do it well. Staff need support to do that. They weren’t born with those skills. We need to facilitate their gaining them.

Technology, Digital Capabilities and the Language of Change

Communication and resilience are key to change. Here here. We often neglect people and focus on the service. Change effects people differently but all change is disruptive. This is the basis of David Walker’s presentation. How do we avoid alienating everyone?

When we think about technologies we shouldn’t be distracted by the shiny stuff. I like to think of this as not doing stuff for the sake of it. Do we need to change? Is the disruption worth it? How do we support people through? How do we communicate?

David says that HE has taken a developmental approach to change rather than transformational. We’ve been in the brink of transformation for years but we’re yet to take the plunge. The learning curve is only going to get steeper.

How will people react to change? Badly? Well it’s largely down to poor communication. So true. Someone described it as setting the ‘hares running’. The rumours get out, Chinese whispers start and the message is completely different and much more frightening than it was when it was sent out.

Our language doesn’t help. What the heck does excellence mean for example. We need a common language. What works for business won’t work for engineering. We need to understand all contexts to get the message right.


So how do we implement change?


Benchmarking your students’ digital experience


We’re now talking student engagement with Ellie Russell, Student Engagement Partnership Manager, NUS, and Sarah Knight, Senior Co-design Manager, Jisc.

(I am getting RSI from blogging on my phone. I regret this decision. No WiFi so needs must)

So we’re looking at how we involve students in our learning community. It already kinda happens. Students unions, involvement in curriculum design and committees. What I was most pleased to hear was the acknowledgement that sometimes student engagement activities focus more on the warm and fuzzy feeling we get from doing it. Rather than looking at the results and impact.

So how do we involve students in the digital?Consider:

Are students involved from the start? In the design? What about training and support?

So, how do we measure student skills and experiences?

I love that after all the research Sarah Knight has done WiFi is the thing students are most concerned about.

Sarah suggests that we are not taking advantage of involving students in the development of our strategies. There is a real power in this. To persuade staff to improve their digital capabilities leaders said they want case studies, not from the teacher, from the learners perspective. This is something Jisc is working on. I look forward to those.

Jisc have created a student experience tracker. 11,000 responses have been received during pilots. A report will be released within weeks. Interesting that students are not told about how their data is held. Most surprising is that that’s something they are concerned about.

71% of students responded that their learning experience is improved when technology has been involved. We should be shouting loudly about this. Perhaps it will persuade the ‘negative Nelly’s’ to start using tech in their teaching.

Amber Miro Award winner 2015: Lessons from a Learners’ Toolkit


Hamish Loveday is talking about the learner toolkit he’s developed. I am really enjoying this talk. XXX is speaking my language. People first, technology later.

(I’m on the la

Let’s start with people. What do they want to achieve and what can we do to achieve it. Technology is there to serve us and what we do. It shouldn’t drive what we do! So Hamish overcame an issue with the VLE, its inflexibility, by building a platform of their own. Learning gained from the process was more valuable than the building of the tool itself.

It’s important to give people space to innovate. All too often workload gets in the way of ideas. We have them but don’t have time to implement them. YES. So true. So often I think of things I would like to do. They get to the bottom of the list and remain there. Institutions need to understand that progress can only be made when we are given the space to make it. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Never assume anything. Don’t be afraid to test your idea. Make a minimised version and test it out. This is very true but you need the space to create and the skills. ICT departments are often reticent to install something that is not supported by a company. Their fears are legitimate no doubt but it does make innovation very difficult.
The learner’s toolkit collects all the learning materials and training resources in one place. I like the use of profiles to help users navigate to content. The fact that something so simple was achieved by 2.5 people in a couple of months is staggering. It all seems to be down to the fact that the team were left alone to do it. They also knew the value of the long game. There are no quick fixes. The team are now looking at allowing other members of staff to contribute content to the toolkit.

Supporting staff to embed inclusivity and accessibility in their practice


Alistair McNaught is now talking about inclusive practice. Why is inclusivity important? Well look at the numbers 35,000 numbers identify themselves as having a specific learning difficulty.

Barriers are everywhere but they can be overcome.

Alistair uses a fantastic exercise to demonstrate how different people like different methods of communication. We all closed our eyes, assuming the experience of the visually impaired participant, and raised our hands when an option we liked was offered. There was a real mixture of preference. The key is we can’t assume what people like or need.

My perceptions have been changed. Text is the least popular method of communication for deaf students. Uh oh, hang on. That’s pretty much our primary method of communication. Listen + read = write. That’s how we study. Or at least that’s how we are forced to study.

Inclusion is the oxygen of digital capability.

Alistair says that we should manage our expectation on the inclusivity of resources of our staff based on differing levels of people’s skills. A novice might use heading styles in text whereas an expert will do that and release it in multiple formats. We can’t assume that everyone knows how to do everything. It’s no good handing over the guidelines that state what people should do to be inclusive we should support them with the skills to be inclusive.

Online learning and digital capabilities – the theory and the reality


Online learning and digital capabilities – the theory and the reality
Kathryn Wenczek, IT Learning Centre Manager, University of Oxford and Silke Prodinger-Leong, Client Success Consultant,, a LinkedIn Company

Silke Prodinger-Leong showed that there are lots of different interpretations of digital capabilities and of online learning. She shared a number of statistics which demonstrate the prevalence of online learning and it’s importance to educations future. have created a playlist based on the Jisc digital capabilities framework. I’ll take a look and update this blog with my feedback on it.

Kathryn Wenczek from Oxford University talks about her implementation of They had issues with capacity. Technology is updating too quickly to keep up. So they began by offering some online courses e.g. ECDL. Uptake wasn’t high. They bought a campus licence and did a soft launch to spread the word. Lots of promotion using posters, badges and social media.

Lynda has been in place at Oxford for 9 months and 4700 signed up. 1634 of those users are actively engaged. The most popular course are programming and statistics. Does this indicate we’re not doing enough to support students in this? Or are these extra-curricular studies?

The reports are limited as they decided not to provide Lynda with the necessary information. This is something they lament. Kathryn also found that the playlists need improvement to be more manageable.

The team will now review their marketing and offer Lynda learning labs to provide a quiet physical space for studying Lynda materials. They are also hoping to flip the classroom more.

So has Lynda worked for them? Seems so. In my opinion Lynda is a beneficial addition to a robust training and support programme NOT an alternative. To be truly useful in HE we need to embed it in our teaching by flipping the classroom, creating custom playlists and encouraging a culture of self-help. It should also be embedded within our CPD provision. Not have it seen as an alternative.

A Content Strategist’s role in decision making for digital design


Not having learnt her lesson from James earlier, Ellen de Vries, Content Strategist, from Clearleft, begins by asking the group to name the location in her image. Naturally versions of Roady McRoadface are offered. Never ask the internet anything, or a room of conference attendees who are hyped up on coffee and free biscuits.

(I have to confess I am not sure what this talk is about. I was distracted setting up this blooming laptop)

Ellen is a content strategist. She cares about language. Particularly, making a message easy for everyone to understand and has the best learning outcome. Ellen describes the language tools we need to use. Use consistent messages, know your audience, use the right vocabulary and find your voice.

Language in itself is a tool for building understanding and concepts.

What is confusing? Do you find it difficult to explain? How would you summarise it? These are three important questions to ask yourself when you’re working on something. She suggests this as a good activity for teams to do during a project.

Ellen talks about her company’s use of personas as an effective way to understand our clients/users’ needs. To be honest aren’t these just user stories? Something already well known?

Interestingly she advises that, whilst it’s easy to give communications to external consultants or your marketing department, we should do it if it’s our message that’s going out. We understand it. We know what we want to say.

Our patterns are often invisible. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone come in with fresh eyes.

If I had to sum up this talk I would use the words: user stories.

(This post was made very difficult due to some excellent Twitter banter distractions)

Debate: Do we still need IT training teams?

Computer Lab

Do we need IT Training teams? In my opinion. Yes. is NOT a replacement.

This is an issue close to my heart. I was an IT Trainer. Are these teams expensive? Yes. Do we have impact? Not necessarily at the scale the powers above would like. Do we make a difference? Yes to every person that comes on our courses and learns something.

Debate: Do we still need IT training teams?
Chair: Sarah Knight, Senior Co-design Manager, Jisc

  • James Clay, Project Manager, Jisc
  • Fiona Handley, Senior Lecturer in Learning and Teaching, University of Brighton
  • Ellie Russell, Student Engagement Partnership Manager, NUS
  • Fiona Strawbridge, Head of Digital Education, University College London
  • David Walker, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning, University of Sussex

Fiona doesn’t see the demise as inevitable. Instead she thinks teams need to reflect on what they do and how they do it. Ditch manuals and three hour training courses and look at alternative ways.

Our biggest issue is getting staff to get to see that improving their skills IS important.

Ellie says students still value the face to face. They enjoy the personalised experience. A blended approach is necessary.

James Clay emphasises that technology has changed and it will continue to. I wrote a post on the exponential curve a while ago titled Exponential growth technology and higher education. James questions why we are employing people without the necessary skills in the first place and if we do we need make sure you have the budget to support that training.

Evolution is the answer, not replacement.

If you ask people whether they like face to face learning they will generally say yes. We still need to provide for those who don’t. James says to be careful of the question as it can be leading.

Can we trust staff to manage their own development? James would argue if they don’t know what they don’t know then no. If they do then fine. It was argued we need to use gap fit analyses to show people what they need to know.

Sarah said that we need to make people capable of using technology. Not just showing them how to use a technology. Too true. We should make it so people aren’t afraid to pick up something new.

Pressure from student needs is seen as a way to persuade academic staff to participate in development opportunities.

How do we share the little things, that we assume other people already know?

We need IT Trainers. The learning curve is only going to get steeper. We need to ensure we are inclusive. Offer multiple methods.

Live blogging: Genius or Madness?


I have owned these domains for years and yet I have never got around to setting it up. Chiefly because there is always something else I should be doing.

So why have I finally got round to enabling this website? Well tomorrow I will be attending UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities 2 conference and thought what better time to finally set up my website.

I am thinking of taking my first foray in to live blogging. Genius idea? Or total madness that I will abandon shortly after starting.

Why not tweet?

Tweeting is something I love doing at events and I plan to do so at the conference. It’s particularly powerful for sharing pertinent points and interesting revelations. Tweeting an event is sometimes called microblogging. So why don’t I just use Twitter?

Well I can only tweet 140 characters, at the moment, which has it’s pros and cons.

Pro – Succinctness, powerful, brevity

Con – Not a lot of flexibility

If you add a link or tag others you’ve lost a lot of characters. Once they drop links, @’s and media from the limit as the propose to, details here,  it will be far more fit for the blogging purpose.

Plus, you can have too much of a good thing. Tweets lose some of their power when they are lost amongst hundreds of other tweets made at the same time. Less is more.

Laptop, tablet or phone?

WordPress have a fabulous app which means I can blog from my phone or a tablet as well as my laptop. I don’t know whether this venue will be lecture style or tables, or whether sockets will be frelly available.

If there aren’t tables then the laptop and tablet are uncomfortable to try and balance on the lap.

My phone at least allows me to blog from anywhere but again can be very uncomfortable and the accuracy of my ‘typing’ can go rather awry.

Annoying my neighbours

There is something very annoying about the quiet clacking of a keyboard when you are trying to concentrate. I don’t want to annoy the people sat around me. Or worse distract them with the ungraceful balancing of my laptop.

Phone it is.

Seeming ignorant

I have been brought up to look at people when they are talking to me. I am one of those weird people nodding away emphatically at the presenters at conferences. There’s nothing worse than getting no feedback from an audience whatsoever. I’ve been there. It’s very uncomfortable and leads to embarrassing moments of overcompensation.

If I am glued to my device blogging will the presenters think I am not listening or worse that what they are saying is boring?


I think my biggest challenge will be concentrating on what’s being said whilst trying to write something quickly which needs to make sense. Grammar is not one of my strongest skills. Yes I can come back later and tidy it up but I don’t like to chuck out any old rubbish online.

I’m going to write one anyway at some point

The main reason I am going to try it is because I am going to write one anyway at some point. So I may as well do it when the memories are freshest.

Preparation is the key

I’m going to get all of my posts set up so all I have to do is complete the body text.

Wish me luck.