There has been a lot written in the press about the impact of technology, and senior managers in institutions are being bombarded with adverts for workshops and events that offer “space and time for leaders to gain insight into the digital revolution”. In reality many institutions are already prepared, and capable of meeting their technology aspirations and tackling issues that need to be addressed by leveraging existing sector resources and advice.
Working with across a range of institutions with Partners on the LFHE led CLL programme we identified a numbers of concerns that should be high on institutional agendas for 2015.
An over-riding complaint from students is about inconsistencies in how staff use technology in their practice, across teaching and learning, communication and other areas outside of the physical and virtual learnings spaces. Many students also perceive that their own digital literacy practices are more developed than their tutors. However, we need to unpick the issues. Consistency is not the same as uniform, and leadership teams will need to be able to strike a balance between consistency, personalisation and how these align with the expected “student experience”. For example recognising that certain inconsistencies between different academics are part of the value of an education experience.
More flexible approaches to Technology
Whilst there is still a student demand for computer suites, more and more students want their learning material, timetables and assessment feedback in a format that they can access in different ways. For many this is on a mobile device; but students also want to use their own laptop.
Strategies that support Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) need to be flexible, and recognise a set of core activities that students need. Pioneering institutions in this area have discovered a range of issues to be overcome e.g. inconsistencies between different devices (some smartphones are not “smart”), use of specialist software (such as complex statistical packages) and other considerations such as power to charge devices. The overriding message from students is that they are very keen on mobile access for both on and off-campus use and mobile apps can be highly effective in facilitating high levels of student-staff engagement.
Joining the dots (or connecting the nodes)
There is a growing realisation that institutional systems need to develop with a more joined-up approach in order to provide better information for all stakeholders, especially students. However, joining up systems also brings benefits to academic, administrative and support staff and senior management. Integrating student records systems with the VLE, electronic management of assessment and e-portfolio systems can have huge benefits, including supporting student retention and managing workloads of staff and students.
As mentioned above, student perceptions of staff digital literacy is mixed. This can impact on evaluation of modules and courses and how students perceive their overall student experience. Whatever the digital capability of staff, strategies need to be in place that allow and support staff through the integration of technology into their own practice, be that in teaching and learning, research or in supporting and administering these activities. Integrating technology as components for staff undertaking accreditation, such as UKPSF, is one way to widen take up, but as the technology changes there needs to be ways of equipping staff with the literacies to adapt practice and adopt emerging technology. In addition, greater reuse of existing digital resources should be a priority for institutions, both as a time saver, but also to model resources and encourage further development.
Scaling and embedding
There is a canon of good practice in the field of Technology Enhanced Learning across the sector; and every institution can identify and celebrate its own successes. Senior managers are now facing the challenge of how to scale and embed some of the excellent work generated from bottom-up initiatives. In many cases this will not require large capital spends or change programmes; ensuring that TEL and digital literacy for staff and students is on the agenda of Deans or Heads of Departments would be a sensible place to start. Engaging students in the change processes can also help spread good practice. Additionally, looking at the resources and advice available from Jisc and the partners it is working with can also help.