Digital Research

logos for the digital capabilities agenda stakeholders

Higher Education Policy Institute

This page curates the growing evidence base for adopting strategic whole institution approaches towards developing digital capabilities frameworks rather than relying on individual changes in attitudes and practices.

Rebooting learning for the digital age: What next for technology- enhanced higher education? Sarah Davies, Joel Mullan, Paul Feldman. Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) Report 93 (2017) 

Recommendation 1: Higher education institutions should ensure that the effective use of technology for learning and teaching is built into curriculum design processes. This should include consideration of win-win methods, which offer both improved outcomes and lower costs.

Recommendation 2: To support this, the UK higher education sector should develop an evidence and knowledge base on what works in technology-enhanced learning to help universities, faculties and course teams make informed decisions. Mechanisms to share, discuss and disseminate these insights to the rest of the sector will also be required.

Recommendation 3: Institutions that do not currently have learning analytics in place should give consideration to adopting it at the earliest opportunity.

Recommendation 4: Education researchers should consider how the learning analytics big dataset can be harnessed to provide new insights into teaching and learning.

Recommendation 5: Digital technology should be recognised as a key tool for higher education institutions responding to the TEF. Providers should be expected to include information on how they are improving teaching through the use of digital technology in their submissions to the TEF. The Department for Education (DfE) and the TEF panel must ensure the TEF does not act as a barrier against institutions innovating with technology-enhanced approaches.

Recommendation 6: Higher education institutions should ensure the digital agenda is being led at senior levels – and should embed digital capabilities into recruitment, staff development, appraisal, reward and recognition.

Recommendation 7: Academic leads for learning and teaching should embrace technology-enhanced learning and the digital environment and recognise the relationship with other aspects of learning and teaching.

QAA Subscriber Research Series 2015/16: Digital capability, teaching excellence and the effective use of technology enabled learning (TEL).

The Subscriber Research series consist of small-scale primary research projects intended to encourage collaboration between providers and promote the formation of communities of practice. In November 2015 the QAA announced the call which included a digital capabilities atrand. I put in a bid to this strand shortly after arriving at Hull. It was unsuccessful so I was pleased to be asked to represent LEAP on the stakeholder panel for the winning bid from Sheffield Hallam University; Digital Capability and Teaching Excellence.The findings include these seven key guidelines:

  • Start with Pedagogy
  • Recognise context is key
  • Create a digital capability threshold for institutions
  • Use communities of practice and peer support to share good practice
  • Introduce a robust and owned change management strategy
  • Develop a compelling evidence-informed rationale
  • Ensure encouragement for innovation and managed risk-taking

Research findings 

Changing the Learning Landscape (CLL)

Changing the Learning Landscape logo

CLL was a partnership programme helping HEIs  make strategic changes with the use of technology to support learning, teaching and the student experience. Funded by HEFCE, the programme was a partnership between the Association for Learning Technology, the Higher Education Academy, Jisc, the National Union of Students and the Leadership Foundation One output was How do you Change the Learning Landscape by Peter Chatterton (2015) which looked at challenges in the strategic use of technology and makes specific references to TEL usage by staff who teach and support learning. 

At the University of Lincoln I was involved in a CLL project and facilitated a cross-institution consultation project in collaboration with Jisc. The University of Hull was involved in a CLL project through the Leadership Foundation.

Leading Technology-Enhanced Learning in Higher Education  focuses on examining how strategic change initiatives and the embedding of technological developments, in particular support for digital delivery, may enhance the student experience.

CLL project 9 key factors for driving change

Highlights from the research include:

  • Bottom-up change is more lasting and effective than top down. However, where support from the top was nominal or half-hearted then progress was limited.
  • The students that took part in the research identified that they valued digital interventions that made learning and their lives easier.
  • Four features of senior leadership were identified as being important in the change process: seniority and status, learning technology expertise, knowledge and understanding of the institution and its people and having a vision for TEL.

Research resources 

UCISA (University and Colleges Information Systems Association) 

UCISA logo

UCISA TEL Survey: UCISA have managed a binanual TEL Survey since 2000.  In addition to reviewing the technology in use, the survey looks at the drivers behind the adoption of technology enhanced learning in institutions. Questions include the adoption of TEL by staff who teach and support learning. 

UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey: improving the country’s digital capabilities was highlighted in a House of Lords committee report (2015) Make or break: the UK’s digital future which noted the higher education sector “has not responded to the urgent need for reskilling” and calls for institutions to develop courses to give students the essential skills for 21st century employment. The first UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey was launched in 2014.

Jisc logo

Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework image

Jisc Digital Capabilities Model

The model contains six elements of digital capabilities and describes the skills needed by staff in a wide range of academic, administrative and professional roles. Digital Capabilities Elements Defined suggests requirements for each element and these are accompanied by profiles for teachers, students, researchers and digital leaders.

Jisc Discovery Tool: a set of self-diagnostic questions based on the digital capabilities elements and.currently in BETA. Feedback comprises an overview of current levels of digital capability with suggested actions and activities to build digital capability and a contextual  list of resources to support the building of digital capability. All entries are anonymised and no personal identifying information is held by the system.

How do you change the learning landscape; challenges in the strategic use of technology to support the student experience Dr Peter Chatterton (2015)  Analysis of the strategic conversations with senior managers, staff and students in 58 institutions was undertaken in order to identify trends and direction of change in relation to technology-enhanced learning (TEL) and the student experience.

Jisc Technology for Employability: a study into the role of technology in developing student employability (2015)

What makes a successful online learner? Lou Mcgill, Helen Beetham and Tim Gray (2016) It is our assumption that most learners in post-compulsory settings will experience some online component to their learning and that as they move into lifelong learning/professional development, this component will form a larger proportion of study time. Online learners are not, then, a distinct group of learners: they are post-compulsory learners in particular situations with particular preferences and needs. 

Jisc Deepening digital know-how; building digital talent Helen Beetham (205) This report covers findings from a project funded by Jisc to review how the digital capabilities of teaching and professional staff are currently framed in UK HE and FE. The project also reported on the learning, technology and organisational landscape for UK HE and FE as this influences future requirements for staff digital capability 

NUS Charter on Technology in Higher Education (2010) The NUS report Student Perspectives on Technology (2010) looked at the perspective, demand and training needs of both current higher education students, and prospective students in FE. NUS Charter