Building a digital capabilities framework Part 1

In my new role I will be working with colleagues on the TEL Team to develop a digital capabilities framework. There is already excellent work being done at the University of Hull to support students, for example the Digital Student site at

Digital Student Home page from the University of Hull at
Digital Student Home page from the University of Hull at

There is also the Hull Employability Awards where one of seven sets of criteria is Digital Literacy and Knowledge Management. Attributes include the following recommendations for demonstrating digital confidence and capability:

  • Choose and use digital tools and appropriate blends of technology to suit needs
  • Use both generic and specialist digital tools, data sets and service effectively and efficiently
  • Locate, access, understand, critically evaluate, manage and use information in multiple formats (including digital and physical) from a wide range of sources
  • Manage digital identities and public-private boundaries in online social spaces to maintain professional reputation, stay safe and cope with distractions and digital overload
  • Engage with and collaborate in online information and communications networks.

Externally to the university there is the Jisc Digital Capabilities framework at 

Digital Capabilities Framework image from

Jisc have also developed digital capabilities profiles which include sets for teachers, learners and researchers and map across the the model above.

There is also the Jisc NUS Benchmarking Tool which adopts a different approach. Firstly this establishes the starting point, then suggests what Developing, Developed and Outstanding digital practices might look like developed as part of the Jisc Digital Student Project and the Jisc Change agents’ network

I can’t miss out my old time favourite which is the SCONUL 7 Pillars of Information Literacy through a Digital Literacy Lens and the first framework to recognise the importance of accessibility and digital inclusion.

I think it’s important for a DCF to be relevant to the world beyond the university and the educational sector.  The Government’s Digital Inclusion Strategy was published December 2014, a few months before the Make or Break the UK’s Digital Future report. The strategy includes ten actions which the government will be taking forward in their drive to achieve digital inclusion which seems to me the best approach to begin with. Inclusion not exclusion. In particular Actions 3, 4 and 8 may be useful for developing a baseline of digital capabilities for HEIs.

3. Give all civil servants (replace with academics) the digital capabilities to use and improve government services (replace with student learning experiences). Methods to achieve this include identification of the digital capability needed to do jobs and provide services to users, mapping out what skills individuals have at present, then provide training* where needed to fill any gaps.

4. agree a common definition of digital skills and capabilities – in this case the definitions that Go ON UK will consult on, agree and publish (see below)

8. bring digital capability support into one place through Go ON UK.

The starting point for all frameworks must be No 4; a common definition of digital skills and capabilities. The GoOn framework and set of Assessment questions both offer useful starter conversation points while the Digital Unite website has sets of digital skills resources to help achieve confidence with the five areas identified in the GoOn Framework. These areas are:

  • Managing information – find, manage and store digital information and content
  • Communicating – communicate, interact, collaborate, share and connect with others
  • Transacting – purchase and sell goods and services; organise your finances; register for and use digital government services
  • Problem-solving – increase independence and confidence by solving problems using digital tools and finding solutions
  • Creating – engage with communities and create basic digital content
GoOn UK Assessment questions downloadable from
GoOn UK Assessment questions downloadable from

Do you feel confident with all of these?

I think they offer a solid baseline of generic digital capabilities on which to build. We should all feel capable of managing these digital ways of working and if not, know where to go for appropriate support and resources.


  • I have a problem with the word training when it comes to technology enhanced learning and teaching and believe it would be better re-framed as Digital Academic Practice. Combining technology training with a digital form of CPD and teacher education, which includes digital pedagogies as well as practices, may help make it more relevant to academics than technology training on its own has been doing so far.

More about this in Building a Digital Capabilities Framework Part 2.

Why digital capabilities matter

Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework image from 

Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future was published by the UK government in February 2015. It contains the recommendation for defining the internet as a utility service, which should be available for all to access and use. It calls for the entire workforce to embrace current technological changes and acquire new and differing levels of digital skills needed to interact with digital technologies. These skills being necessary life skills as digital literacy is needed to fully participate in society (p6).

The impact of the internet on the educational sector and the need for adaptation to new digital ways of working is clear. There is reference to the ways digital technology can challenge traditional methods of delivering education and how teachers need to adapt and educational institutions must place greater emphasis on providing every citizen with adaptable digital skills (p7). The report contains the greatest details for schools and FE but makes some specific references to HE. This includes the need for digitally-skilled graduates (p10). Because digital literacy has become an essential tool underpinning almost all jobs (p11) universities should  ensure all graduates are digitally competent (p12)..


Introducing digital capabilities

image of a cat looking at a laptop with the txt On the Internet no one knows you're a cat

image from

We need to understand the internet.

We need more conversations about the impact of the internet on professional and personal lives.

We need to agree what constitutes digital capabilities and skill-sets.

A digital capabilities resource centre within an HEI might include the following:

  • develop a professional online identity
  • communicate professionally online
  • create an effective online presentation
  • source copyright free content
  • knowing how the internet can support subject specialisms
  • staying safe online
  • protecting data online
  • evaluating and authenticating online content
  • reliably telling the difference between peer reviewed knowledge, public information and personal biased opinion
  • understanding how everything online is monitored, tracked and recorded
  • knowing digital footprints are permanent
  • looking on google to see what information prospective mentors – partners – employers have access to
  • taking advantage of the affordances of digital connection and collaboration for learning, teaching and research
  • supporting and enhancing learning and teaching with effective online resources and activities
  • ensuring graduate attributes include those of the digital kind
  • understanding the social impact of the internet
  • understand both benefits and barriers of digital ways of working

Paul Gilster in Digital Literacy (1997) suggested digital literacy was about ideas not keystrokes. Nearly two decades on, technology has advanced to such an extent that a working knowledge of relevant keystrokes has become essential. Digital capabilities today should include ideas as well as keystrokes.  Glister also described the ability to make informed judgement about ‘unfiltered’ content a core competency and this need for criticality remains core to any digital capabilities framework.