Stop moaning, start doing.

We spend a lot of time moaning about what our staff can’t do. We spend just as much time asking why they aren’t doing something about it. So what can we do? Well how about we stop moaning and start doing something? How about we start supporting our staff instead of bringing them down.

I have written a post on the issue of employing staff without, what has been described as, the “skills to work in a digital age” titled Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills? If you want to read the whole thing please do. If not, to cut a long story short, I believe we should. I believe we have a duty, as we do to students, to make sure that staff leave us having benefited from their time with us. I feel very strongly about this.

Dangerous assumptions

If you genuinely operate on the belief that all your staff are digitally capable then you are naive. They’re not. Shock horror not even all of our students are. We make a lot of assumptions about technology and people’s exposure to it. We assume everyone can, and most worryingly for me, we assume that they SHOULD come to us with existing skills.

Take email for example. We think this a basic skill everyone has. Sorry but it’s not. I spoke to a postgraduate student who found email baffling. I have heard from staff who used a different email service at another institution and found Outlook incredibly difficult to pick up. Staff do not need to be shown how to send an email. Most people can feel their way to that task. They need to be taught how to manage mail. They need tips on efficiencies, short-cuts and features they otherwise wouldn’t discover.

Imagine how much time and money we would save if we taught something as basic as email. Our assumptions are costing us and we can’t see it.

Moving goal posts

“For the vast majority of human existence, it was safe to assume that the world in which you died would look pretty much the same as the one in which you were born.” Big Idea: Technology Grows Exponentially

Technology is constantly changing. I wrote a post, a while ago, about Exponential growth, technology and higher education. In short our challenge is only going to increase. Technological developments are not slowing, they are increasing exponentially. Imagine our learning curve as a roller-coaster. At the moment we are leaving the station and slowly inclining. We are staring upward, pressed to the back of the seat, all we can see is the track and the sky. We can’t see the peak. That is our learning curve. We are constantly moving towards the peak but it just keeps getting higher and steeper.

What does that mean for us? It means technology is going to be changing quickly and we need to keep staff skills in line with that change. It means we can’t make a tick list of things they need to know, force them on some training , dust off our hands and reward a job well done with a cuppa. We need to be anticipating the changes and making sure the opportunities are there for staff when they need them.

The dreaded TEF

The TEF is going to put increasing pressure on staff to be experimental and innovative. It’s all well and good for those with confidence. For the majority it’s a daunting prospect. We need staff to have a strong foundation of digital skills. We need them to be able to walk before they are forced to run. That is why addressing the gaps in digital capabilities is so important.

Taking ownership

What we really need is to foster a culture of ownership around development. You can lead a horse to water…

Institutions need to show staff that taking part in development activities is an expectation, not an option. That those who do are recognised and rewarded. That trying to better yourself will be noticed.

Staff need to realise that the only person who can improve their digital capabilities is them. It’s their responsibility. They have to make it a priority. They have to seek out opportunities. Be curious. Nothing in life is handed to us.

Get on with it

Stop moaning about what they can’t do. If we’d spent the same amount of time doing something about what they can’t do we might have made some progress by now.

Show staff they are cared about. Support them. Invest time and money in them. Don’t just talk about it. Do it.

Make staff feel that their development is important. That you want them to develop and succeed.

 

Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills?

Job Interview Image

The question posed in the title of this post is a fair one. Why are we employing people who don’t have the digital skills that are needed to cope in today’s ‘digital world’? It’s a question raised with increasing frequency and one that deserves some serious thought.

I should start by saying that I fundamentally disagree with anyone who says that we shouldn’t employ people without the digital skills we ‘need’. I will spend the rest of this post explaining the various thoughts that lead me to feel this way but as an educator I cannot agree with it. I exist to develop people. You wouldn’t throw a child out of class for not knowing something when they walked in, that’s why we educate them, so they leave knowing more than they did when they walked in. Why shouldn’t that apply to staff?

Supporting people

This is the point that bothers me most about this question. Have we totally lost all empathy for people? Is technology really that important that we stop caring about the people we employ and work with? I hope not. I certainly haven’t. People first, technology second. See my post from the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event.

There is nothing more satisfying than helping someone gain a new skill. It’s one of the reasons I love what I do. Employers have an obligation to develop their people. If they don’t they have failed.

Apparently a lack of digital skills is costing the UK £63billion. Perhaps the issue is not just in HE.

Widening participation

We talk a lot about widening participation for our students. Striving to ensure students from all backgrounds have access to education. Why doesn’t this principle apply to staff?

What do we ‘need’?

So part of the argument is that staff ‘need’ a specific set of skills. What are they exactly? Who determines what they are? Who is the authority on this?

Let’s take academics in the first instance. Is knowledge of Microsoft Office skills enough? If they can do Office and Twitter is that enough? I don’t believe it’s possible to create a list of things we think staff should be able to do. Their work can be incredibly broad. Technology is constantly changing and so do the goal posts.

How do we measure it?

In an interview how do we glean someone’s skill levels? Sit them in front of a computer and watch them perform some basic tasks? That’s a potential answer. Yet again we have to ask what will the test consist of and who will design it?

Institutional Priorities

I had a great conversation with someone who said “I look for members of staff who will bring value”. They did not feel that digital skills were necessarily a priority for all roles.

Academics have a wide range of responsibilities from teaching to research. Institutions have to balance these priorities when employing new staff. If an academic is a capable teacher and researcher does it really matter that they don’t use Twitter? We can help people to get the skills they need to do their job.

Relevance

Technology is not always relevant to people. Why should it be? If I know how to teach and research do I really need to know how to use Padlet? I would argue that we need to ease people in to the use of technology. It’s not helpful to vilify people. That will only serve to alienate people from technology further.

I’ve grown up with technology. Although, it’s worth noting that when I first went to school there was one computer for the whole school. I didn’t get a mobile phone until my teens. Not everyone grows up surrounded by technology and it’s naive to believe that everyone has the same experience.

Read my follow up post But what about staff that won’t or don’t want to engage in CPD?

Highlights: UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities 2

I had a fantastic time at this years UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities 2 (USDC) conference. I was so pleased that the Digital Capabilities group put on another event.

People matter

My biggest ‘take-away’ from USDC is the continued belief that people matter. The featured image for this post was an attendees idea of digital nirvana represented in box form. The message felt particularly pertinent given the discussions we had over the two days.

Be just you. Surround yourself with technology, but remember that humans are still the most important thing. USDC attendee May 2016.

I have often been guilty of putting technology before people. Thinking that using the technology is more important than how it will be used and how it will support learning. I think Helen Beetham put it best:

We should be bringing people with us. Finding technology that relates to them and their practice. That enhances their practice and the experiences of their students.

Most importantly we should be careful that our language, attitudes and behaviours don’t alienate those with lower digital skills.

Metathesiophobia

I had never heard of this term until my former colleague Sue Watling mentioned it in her presentation. Follow Sue on Twitter, check out her brilliant blog the Digital Academic and her post Metathesiophobia and other #udigcap take-aways.

My experience of staff attitudes to technology has most regularly been a mixture of fear and irrelevance.

Frameworks

James Clay (James has written several posts about USDC on his blog elearningstuff.net) described the work Jisc has been doing on digital capabilities and reminded is of their framework on day 1. I live blogged about it on this site in the post Building digital capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency. I really like the Jisc framework. It is clear, simple and well designed. Helen Beetham wrote a post about her work revisiting the framework in her post Revisiting digital capability for 2015.

Jisc six elements of digital capability
Jisc six elements of digital capability

One thing I wondered, whilst I listened to Fiona Handley from University of Brighton talk about the framework they developed, was whether it is even worth doing? (Read Fiona’s blog on USDC here.)

I have lost the plot with frameworks and frankly I’m not 100% certain what a framework actually is. The definition of framework is:

  • the basic structure of something : a set of ideas or facts that provide support for something

  • a supporting structure : a structural frame

Merriam-Webster

The key word, in this definition, is basic. What I fear happens when we take a framework is that we take it and make it far too complex. That in its adaptation we lose the simplicity that makes a framework so accessible.

I for one will not be adapting the Jisc framework. It will drive our work here at Lincoln but it’s perfect, and most helpful, exactly as it is.

 IT Training Teams

I wrote a full post on the panel discussion Debate: Do we still need IT training teams?. Having been an IT trainer it’s an issue very close to my heart. There is a tendency to believe that resources like Lynda.com can be a replacement for the classroom training team.

 

Lynda is brilliant. It has it’s placed. Particularly for the any-time anywhere learning we are told students so desire. It cannot replace the reassurance and skills of the IT trainer. Lynda can’t pick up on when you don’t understand. It can’t change it’s delivery to suit it’s audience. It can’t answer questions. It can’t ask you questions to see if you understand.

IT Training teams can. We need them.

Employing staff without skills

There was a big debate in the room on why we continue to employ staff who don’t have the existing digital skills. This is something that I will be dedicating an entire post to.

For more tweets and activity from USDC check out my Storify

I am rubbish at Twitter

My colleague takes great enjoyment from telling me I am rubbish at Twitter. Those of you who have met us will know exactly who I’m talking about *cough* Marcus. It led me to wonder what does that actually mean?

Too much of a good thing?

Marcus tweets regularly every day. I am more of a lurker. I look at Twitter everyday but probably only tweet every now and again. I go mental at conferences or during Tweet chats but otherwise I can go days without tweeting anything. I follow a number of people who tweet regularly sometimes about the most mundane topics like drinking coffee or the weather. I should probably tweet more regularly but I always think when I tweet, who would actually want to read this?

The life balance

I spoke to a member of staff the other day who said “I don’t want a social media presence”. All I could think was fair enough, I don’t blame you. It’s very easy to get obsessed with social media. It feels a bit like a drug addiction. You crave views, likes and re-tweets the desperation is alike the withdrawal scene in Trainspotting. Do we have to have one? No. Until recently I had a Twitter account but only tweeted once in a blue moon. Social media can take over lives, I saw a friend at the weekend who lamented that her partner was never off his phone. I’ve tried not to let Twitter take over my life. That’s probably why I’m rubbish.

The TMI effect

There is a balance I feel that all people should be more aware of between the mundane and TMI (too much information). Yes I would love to see another picture of your child or what you’re eating for dinner, oh wait, no I don’t. My life is not interesting enough to tweet about constantly and frankly few peoples are.

Being funny

Marcus is ‘good’ at Twitter because he is funny. He has an easy charm that everyone warms to and his personality/general grumpiness comes across in his tweets. I have probably erred too cautiously on the professional side. I generally tweet about work related topics. I always think about who is reading my tweets and am careful not to say anything contentious.

Saying something worth reading

Again, I can’t help but wonder who would want to read anything I write anyway? I have adopted an approach to Twitter that is “if I don’t have anything interesting to tweet, don’t tweet anything”. It’s probably why I’m rubbish.

Getting involved

The one thing I have started doing recently, to try and increase my presence, is to involve myself in tweet chats. I particularly enjoy #LTHEchat which is a weekly tweet chat for people interested in learning and teaching in Higher Education. Follow @lthechat on Twitter to join in. Each week has a different topic, last week was about connected classrooms, and is run by members of staff at HE institutions. A guest is invited to facilitate and pose questions. It’s a great way to connect with other practitioners and have meaningful conversations.

Re-tweeting overload

The one thing I find really annoying on Twitter is people who just re-tweet everything. Yes it’s handy but at least personalise it a little with your own opinion. As a result I try not to do it too regularly.

Conclusion

Yes I’m a bit rubbish at Twitter. But I really don’t mind.