Adrian Sharkey

Why do digital capabilities matter?

In 2015 the House of Lords published a report on the need to improve the country’s digital capabilities, Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future. It was an eye opener and didn’t pull any punches. Among the findings, the report stated that 35% of existing jobs would be automated over the next 20 years and that higher education had not responded to the urgent need for re-skilling. The report goes on to outline that digital skills are all encompassing, affecting all areas of the economy including industry, agriculture, health care, financial services as well as public and consumer services.

Added to this is the expectation of students now paying £9,000 a year in tuition fees. Higher education is seen as much more of a transaction and students expect to be given the skills that make them employable. With expectations from government and students, higher education has a large responsibility in providing the relevant skills for a successful digital economy, to both staff and students.

What are digital capabilities?

Higher education agencies like UCISA and Jisc have come up with a definition and a framework for digital capabilities:

‘Digital capabilities are those that fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society.’

 

 

Digital capability covers a wide range of areas and is embedded in all teaching and learning. There is a big assumption that students these days are computer ‘savvy,’ and while they may spend a lot of time online and be comfortable with different applications and devices, that doesn’t necessarily translate to being able to evaluate information, analyse data, having a credible online identity etc.

The six elements of digital capability:

ICT Proficiency

Be comfortable using different devices, applications and services and know which ones to apply to particular tasks. An ability to keep up to date with ICT and deal with problems when they occur.

Information, data and media literacies

Being able to evaluate information, analyse it and present it in different settings, use data in applications like spreadsheets and databases to query it and run reports. An understanding of laws around data, like copyright and data protection. An ability to interpret and a critical approach to media messages.

Digital creation, problem solving and innovation

Present work and ideas using blogs, web pages audio and visual tools etc. Understand different digital research tools, analyse and present the results. Use digital tools in different settings to present ideas.

Digital communication, collaboration and participation

Effectively use forums, social media and other digital communication tools. Collaborate on projects and work with people from different organisations and backgrounds using productivity tools like G-suite. Use digital tools, social networking etc. to participate in online learning, professionally and personally online.

Digital learning and development

Be able to learn online, monitor progress and showcase achievements. To teach and design online learning opportunities.

Digital identity and wellbeing

Be able to project a positive digital identity across different profiles and understand the reputational risks and benefits of participating online. Use digital tools to pursue personal goals, manage work life balance online.

What next?

  • Digital capability needs to be seen as an institute wide responsibility, across all departments.
  • One of the first steps is to assess your own digital capability, this can be done using the Jisc Digital Discovery Tool, while this is aimed at staff, some institutions have used it with students also. There should be a student discovery tool in early 2018.
  • All opportunities should be taken to embed digital capability into the curriculum, staff and students should be encouraged to co-create digital resources.
  • Example digital capability profiles for staff (including support staff) and students. Jisc have made a start on this.
  • Make digital capability part of everyone’s Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and Performance Development Review (PDR).
  • Look at certification and accreditation.
  • Encourage digital good practice, offer rewards for innovative digital teaching and for student achievement.
  • Provide the digital infrastructure and university wide tools to allow students and staff to develop digital capability.

Further resources

Technology Enhanced Learning Team in DCQE

The IT Training Team in IS

Jisc – Building digital capability

The 2017 UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey Report

Jisc – Student digital experience tracker 2017

Dame Martha Lane Fox – Richard Dimbleby Lecture

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