Getting started with digital – some thinking aloud

An academic recently approached me and said:

“I have been doing things this way for a long time – I want to do some digital stuff, I am on Twitter, I use Facebook I have good skills in Office and Google, but how do get started with changing my teaching?”

It got me thinking. We have lots of material and case studies, we have exemplar teachers and researchers using digital in their practice. But this lecturer just wanted a way (not a place) to start and think.

James Clay has been using a phrase on the Jisc Digital Leaders course when he talks about institutional strategies – “look at it though a digital lens”. So I wanted to think about what that digital lens might look like.

This is very much a first draft – some end of the week, end of the year, thinking – I am looking for feedback.

At the centre of the diagram are three elements that you may want to consider looking at through a digital lens:

  • Strategy, James’ initial idea of instead of having a separate digital strategy looking at existing strategies through a digital lens;
  • Practice, whether teaching, research or administration these activities are made up of our existing practices – what would happen if we looked at and reflected on them in the context of digital;
  • Process, many things happen “because that is the way they have always happened” digital is constantly changing, and we should reflect and think what that means to many of the processes that are embedded in our work.

Around the edge of those three elements is the proposed lens through which to engage with digital:

  • Identify
    Identify individual elements of either practice, strategy or existing tools and systems.
  • Explore
    Look at options for adding a digital element, either content, tools, moving to platforms (VLE, Yammer), or engaging with people in digital networks (e.g Twitter).
  • Benefits and risks
    Identify what benefits might be realised by adding digital elements and assess any risks
  • Deploy
    After weighing different options, benefits and risks, come to a decision on whether to deploy the digital element
  • Reflect and evaluate
    Build a schedule for reflecting on and evaluating the digital element, how can it be changed and built on, should it be continued?

For me the key is in breaking down each of the practice, processes or strategies I suggest a simple diagram to help.

Breakdown the individual elements into simple chunks if for example it is how you teach, start with the things that you are most comfortable with – for some that might be giving a lecture or a tutorial, but for others it might be fieldwork or lab work. Try and look at as granular as you can to populate the diagram.

Once you have populated the diagram use the digital lens approach to:

  • Identify the practice, process or strategy
  • Explore the digital options
  • Assess benefits and risks
  • Decide on if and how to deploy
  • Reflect on, and evaluate the digital option.



You may want to have a set of “digital cues” on hand to help – or even list digital tools?




Example Digital Cues

  • Communication tools
  • Collaboration tools
  • Participation in networks
  • Online learning
  • Virtual teaching tools
  • Tools to develop your digital identity
  • Management of health and digital well being
  • Finding, evaluating, managing, curating, and sharing digital information
  • Collating, managing, accessing and using digital data
  • Critically evaluation of media in a range of formats
  • Design and create digital artefacts



This is very much “thinking out loud” – so at this stage some critical feedback would be welcome – also a little help in populating the diagrams would be nice 🙂

Simon Thomson kindly asked some searching questions – as shown on the image below. My responses below:

Is this an individual lens or an institutional one? 

I see the lens as being used by individuals either strategically – looking at larger issues, for example strategies, or be used by individuals to look at parts of their practice.

Identify – institutional or individual responsibility?

Depending on what level you are looking at, if your looking at strategic issues – then use the lens in meetings and with support, if its for your own practice work with staff developers and peers.

Explore – institutional support

Totally agree – but what does that look like – some institutions a really supportive, and creative, but not all institutions are the same.

Benefits and Risks?

A challenge for everyone – but again support should be there in the institution – if you suddenly decide to do all your teaching in Facebook, then have word with the TEL team, they will definitely help you with the risks; but if you work in an institution then you should be able to articulate the benefits and risks to both strategic approaches and individual practice. This should be part of your CPD.

Deploying digital?

I agree this is challenging – on an individual level, with institutional support staff should be able to make a lot of changes to incorporate digital – the harder challenge is moving things at the strategic level.

Reflect and Evaluate – don’t just throw stuff away

I agree – hence this is a cycle – what doesn’t work in one context might work in another, as staff engage in the process their confidence may grow and hence their digital capabilities will increase.


  1. Lawrie,

    As promised, just some initial thoughts:

    We have been partially exploring this at our institution and recently I have had discussion with our IT development (training) colleagues to try and change the approach to IT training from “this is the tool and how it works” to “this is how you can use the tool for………..”

    We’ve recently deployed O365 across the University and so this is an ideal opportunity to try this approach. So for example, rather than just training people on OneNote we’ve been planning development which focusses on particular “tasks”. Below are some examples:

    OneNote for Collaborative Mind Mapping
    OneNote for (Peer/Formative/Summative) Feedback
    OneNote for Group Discussion

    This approach can be applied to any digital “tool” and helps focus on the “way” to use the tool in smaller “chunks” of learning and hopefully means that the individual leaves the session & can immediately engage in the use of the tool, rather than then having to think of a “why”.

    In terms of the digital lens diagram you have developed, I don’t think that all of the processes should be the responsibility of the individual – so I wonder of this lens sits at various levels within an institution and how this might be presented to reflect that? If the intention is that the lens is for the “institution” to take forward how do we make it meaningful for the individual?

    I’ve added some scribbled notes to the diagram here:

  2. This is nice. In ‘Explore’ I’d incorporate looking to others’ knowledge & experiences e.g. discipline or sector literature. In fact, developing critical eye for tech hype is important thru whole process – tech not neutral & to be aware that there will be unforeseen consequences.

  3. Hi Lawrie,
    Happy New Year, and glad you’re back safe and sound…if a little late!

    Some thoughts….

    1. When it comes to change and L&T, I’m always wary of neat, linear progression diagrams. But how best to illustrate the messy, stumbling, non-linearity of change is always difficult.
    2. I would be tempted to add in somewhere, that when it comes to change, three factors come strongly into play: the people, the systems, the environment. All three need to be addressed simultaneously and appropriately if real change is to occur. Address only one or two and the desired change is unlikely to happen, or it will happen in an unexpected undesired way. I’m sure we’ve all experienced situations where that has happened. Example: a change in the environment e.g. a brand new, expensive state-of-the-art something or other. But nothing is done to address the people (skills/knowledge/attributes etc) or the systems required to support it and maximise its potential.
    3. Strength in numbers. The importance of having/finding a group of like-minded individuals both to help forge the path and for support.

    1. Thanks Paul – you are of course right in the linearity issue – I was thinking that the arrows around the outside of the diagram shouldn’t be arrows?
      I think an outer ring of Systems and Infrastructure, people, and wider context and environment would help.
      Regards number 3, again, yes, maybe describing some sort of Network? That Supports, Learning and Teaching change- maybe each of these lens would be better situated within a network of hexagons – that are interlinked 😉


  • 💬 Dr. Donna Lanclos

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