Building a digital capabilities framework Part 2

Building a digital capabilities framework Part 2 breaks my new 500 word blog post rule – oops – but also brings together my thinking. This is where I am now with regard to looking ahead for 2016.

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Like attracts like. Those with inclination towards innovative teaching with technology tend to work together in packs while those lacking interest, motivation or who simply don’t feel they have the time and resource to support change, find it relatively easy to continue using traditional pedagogic practice. Sometimes it feels like the world of academia is immune from digital innovation.

Lack of confidence in exploring blended or flipped approaches is understandable. There are enough horror stories about technology fails at crucial moments to put off all but the most digitally adventurous pioneers. For many staff who teach and support learning, digital is for techies and not for them.

Part of the reason for these digital divides is the language. We talk about e-learning but not e-teaching, about technology enhanced learning (as in TEL) but not technology enhanced learning and teaching (as in TELT). For too long there has been an assumption that academics will somehow absorb digital confidence and capabilities like osmosis or will magically become digitally literate overnight. The reality is reluctant, resistant or plain digitally shy academics are less likely to read the ed-tech literature, attend technology enhanced learning conferences or apply for technology funding (when it was available). A consequence is on-campus digital divides. Like ships which pass in the night, the tech and the non-tech practitioners are almost unaware of each other’s presence.

How can you explains what it’s like to face a lecture hall filling up with students and finding the overhead projector won’t switch on, there’s no sound for your video or the presentation you’ve been working on in your office is nowhere to be seen on your network. All of these have happened to me. I’ve been there. I’ve felt the fear.

I think a shift is needed from technology training to technology education.  Traditional on-campus support for using technology is often through ‘technology training’ workshops. These can be the equivalent of the academic lecture and once back at your desk it’s easy to revert to how you’ve done things before. If it’s not broke why fix it?

Pedagogy Wheel. Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/allanadl/8553210313
Pedagogy Wheel. Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/allanadl/8553210313

There is no denying digital capabilities have become complex (the image above shows a sample of the social media style tools available). They involve a working knowledge of different virtual learning and social media platforms; knowing how to find a copyright free image; develop a professional online profile and take advantage of the potential for international networking around subject and research specialisms. We need to navigate the world wide web, authenticating and validating as we go, all the time staying safe and protecting our data. On top of all this is the time and resource implications for developing appropriate digital CPD and academic practice routes, in particular those designed to support the necessary shift from transmission to interactive pedagogies. It’s a lot to ask but it is possible.

There are pockets of digital excellence in any HEI. There are those who get it. The next step is to join these up, not as a separate group but as a whole institution strategic approach, one which is cross disciplinary and focused on the advantages of blending traditional face-to-face teaching practice with the tools technology can offer. The arguments are indisputable. Higher education is still about higher order thinking skills. As Gilster wrote in 1997, a core competency of digital literacy is ‘the ability to make informed judgements about what you find online.’ Supporting graduates to be critical and reflective with regard to the digital worlds they encounter is an essential graduate attribute for 21st century.

Providing opportunities to interact with online content rather than passively receive it, is one of the most effective ways to use and embed virtual learning environments while gaining digital confidence at the same time.  Activities which involve searching, justifying, reviewing, revising, synthesis and problem solving are all ideally suited to developing digital capabilities. The problem is it takes time. What is needed first and foremost is the space, place and resources for academics to develop their own digital skills and attributes rather than assuming it’s all rather a doddle. Because it isn’t. The sooner we recognise this and create relevant professional practice environments which support developing online pedagogies and practice the sooner we will empower academics to do what they do best – teach and research their subject specialisms in a style suited for the students of today – and not those of 50 years ago.

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