Author: Chris Melia – TELT

Hosted by UCLan, the DigiLearn Sector has become a collaborative hub for the sharing of digital practice across the education sector – with 470 members from over 200 different institutions to date. The community hosts a regular series of informative webinars, as well as on-going discussions between its many members and organisations.

On Thursday 28th November, we hosted our very first DigiLearn Sector Connect event at Victoria Mill in Burnley. Many of the community initiatives to-date have been facilitated through our active, online Microsoft Teams environment. However, on this occasion we felt it was important to host a physical meet-up as a platform for institutions to showcase their approaches and engage in critical discussion.

Our theme for the event was: “Developing the digital capability of our staff”. Colleagues were encouraged to present their own thoughts and institution’s initiatives in relation to this, and to also engage in a range of discussion-based activities throughout the day.

All presentation slides and recordings from the day are now available in this handy Wakelet collection.

Throughout the day’s discussions, delegates shared their thoughts on large sheets of paper and also via Twitter using the hashtag #DigiLearnSector. In this blog post I will attempt to summarise some of the key discussion points and takeaways, as identified by our delegates.

Artwork by Colette Mazzola

1.What are the biggest challenges we face as individuals, teams and organisations, in engaging staff with a programme of digital development?

On the day we split these challenges into three key areas – ‘individuals’, ‘teams’ and ‘organisations’. However, it became clear that many of these challenges were present across all three areas.

Organisational culture was identified to be of increasing importance, right across the board. Fostering a culture that promotes the sharing of best practice and support to innovate, can prove a big challenge for many educational institutions. A concept of the ‘four faces of change’ – critics, victims, bystanders and navigators, clearly resounded through the day’s discussions, following Steven Hope’s morning keynote.

Fear is a common concern for staff, particularly in relation to cultural change and perceived ‘failure’. Often, staff respond with: “that’s not the way we do it!” or “we don’t see other teams doing it, so why should we?”. This fear is sometimes linked with the protection of intellectual property, which often has the potential to stifle both collaboration and the sharing of practice between colleagues and teams.

To begin changing the culture of any organisation, senior leadership buy-in can often prove a fundamental factor – particularly in aiding with the necessary funding and resourcing required.

With increasing pressures across the education sector, staff CPD is often not seen as a priority, but simply “another thing to do” and potentially “a weak thing to invest in”. Training can often be an easy thing for institutions to cut, particularly when times get financially difficult.

For CPD to really be effective, it needs to be targeted and role specific. Plotting out structured development pathways, can provide staff with a clear indication of where they are currently at and which skills they would like to develop in the future. Time is a huge factor for all concerned – structuring CPD into ‘timed’ blocks, makes things much more achievable and measurable.

2. What resources are needed to create, implement and support an effective staff development programme?

Enthusiasm and passion don’t cost a penny but can really aid the launch and promotion of an effective staff development programme.

Digital leaders, navigators, advocates and champions. Whatever we call our EdTech early adopters, we want to empower them to share, support and help coach their fellow colleagues. These individuals can often foster and lead communities of practice, offering on-going practice-informed support. Every person has individual strengths and areas of expertise, so why not harness these collective skills within a collaborative online environment that also facilitates the sharing of online resources?

Effective reward and recognition can have a big impact on the perceived value of CPD. Gamification and badging provide a real sense of digital identity and achievement – not forgetting that everyone loves some free swag! (badges, lanyards, you name it!)

‘Bottom up’ and ‘top down’ are phrases often referred to in identifying an approach which has equal support from both senior management, and from those implementing it.

Time and opportunity are both key factors, with staff often reporting a lack of dedicated time for CPD that is recognised/reflected in their overall workload. For that purpose, we need CPD that is simple, structured, accessible, and also available through multiple delivery modes (face to face, webinar, self-paced etc).

3. How can we evaluate the impact of development programmes, both on our staff and on the student experience?

Self-assessment tools are a popular choice for organisations looking to measure the impact of staff digital development programmes. They allow an individual to map out their own digital capability across different skill areas, with a view to then re-visit/re-assess at regular intervals along their own pathway. These can prove particularly helpful in building both capability and confidence in the use of technology to enhance professional practice.

There is a common argument of quantitative vs qualitative, with qualitative case study impact and verbal student feedback often undervalued. With students, there are numerous ways in which we can seek out impact, including; attainment and progression – as well as the National Student Survey (NSS), Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) and modular-level evaluation questionnaires. However, is it always possible to directly attribute these improved outcomes to the implementation of a staff digital development initiative?

In an age of analytics, there are now more ways than ever to track staff and student engagement with the latest learning technologies. However, is it possible to really define meaningful and deep engagement, and what about the notion of ‘lurkers’? After all, not all meaningful engagement is necessarily made visible for others to notice.

There is also something to be said about not just ‘seeing’ change, but actually ‘feeling’ change within an organisation – which relates back to the earlier concept of changing organisational culture. Increased participation in student learning is often only noticed and acknowledged by the tutors themselves. This is not always easy to demonstrate or evidence to wider stakeholders.

Artwork by Colette Mazzola

To conclude… the direction of discussion following this event, leads naturally into the theme for our next DigiLearn Sector Connect: “Digitally equipping our students for the modern workplace”. This next event will be hosted at the Engineering Innovation Centre, on our UCLan Preston campus on Tuesday 17th March 2020. Registration for the event is now open, and you can sign-up to join the DigiLearn Sector, here.


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