I recently attended the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference, bringing together academic developers, learning technologists, IT trainers and information literacy specialists together to explore approaches to developing staff digital capabilities. In this post I look at the JISC Digital Capabilities framework and how it applies to learning and teaching.
At York, the Information Services Teaching and Learning Team are developing institutional guidance and supporting departments to embed digital capabilities as part of the York Pedagogy. Complementing Information Services, within the Academic Support Office E-Learning Development Team we offer development and training on how digital technologies can support learning, teaching and assessment practices. Our specific support is in developing learning activities and the use of learning technologies to achieve specific learning outcomes with students. From the conference, it was clear that designing digital capability skills development involves a three-way alignment between desired digital capabilities, employability (graduate attributes) and the curriculum (learning outcomes):
The JISC digital capabilities framework (see JISC Building Digital Capability for further details) offers a structured way to assess your own current capabilities, priorities for development and model for embedding skills within curricula. Presented by James Clay, a proponent of the applicability of the framework to all staff and students, it captures aspects of digital skills development for academic professionals, learners and educators. Whilst it is not prescriptive in the specific tools or activities that you should develop, as suggested by Helen Beetham, the framework can be tailored and refined to particular contexts.
Pulling on some of the ideas of the framework, there are elements that the ELDT can particularly support. As an example, digital learning and self development may depend upon structured online learning activities, utilising the supported learning technologies available (see the York TEL Handbook 4.4). Digital creation may be shown through forms of assessment such as video production, portfolio or website (see the York TEL Handbook 6.3). Communication, collaboration and participation depend on experience interacting with other people in online environments, whether formalised (such as through Yorkshare VLE-based activities) or informal (with learning activities that use social networks). Within the ELDT we can advise on the interplay between use of digital technologies and intended learning experiences, as well as offer training on multimedia and other digital assessment formats.
Whilst the JISC framework grabbed a lot of attention, it is by no means the only model. Other institutions (the University of Brighton, for example) have listed specific capabilities, though refining this from an extensive list of tools to generalised practices to emphasise that digital capabilities are transferable to and between contexts. As an example, rather than developing capability in a specific tool (e.g. WordPress, as this site is built on), instead the capability would refer to using a blog platform for a specific audience (e.g. how would you know how to use WordPress vs Blogger). The All Aboard Digital Skills Map parallels the JISC model in many ways, but identifies some of the specific tools and approaches that characterise aspects of the framework.
From a learning and teaching perspective this is an important, if nuanced point. When we support students with a specific tool, we need to ensure we develop the capability to extrapolate from the specific to the abstract. This may include what cues a student should look for to achieve a specific task across multiple systems. Being both specific and general is a fine balance, as with instructional design the clarity of task instructions, expected outputs and deadlines must be complemented with the technical training/support to undertake the task with a specific tool (see the York TEL Handbook 5.1 which covers such approaches). Part of this design must acknowledge that not all students are digitally confident, contrary to what we may expect.
One approach to digital capability development which appears to have mutual benefit for both staff and students is where student partnership has been embedded. Through partnership approaches, students deliver training to other students and staff. Jane Secker, LSE, described how students co-delivered digital literacy training, but also through the partnership highlighted knowledge gaps of students and staff that training and resources could support. Finding out what apps students are using, how they are using them, and what we might learn from students’ use of technologies could provide insights into how new tools may support new learning experiences. Similarly, as instructors, our discipline knowledge will enable students to make decisions about the most appropriate tool for the task, why certain apps might not be appropriate or have flaws. Crucial then is a dialogue that grounds use of digital technologies within the subject context but with relevance to students (particularly in relation to graduate attributes).
For further information, do take a look at the conference presentations and also the JISC Digital Capability project pages. Keep an eye out for further advice on embedding digital capabilities from us in Academic Support and the Information Services team over the Summer.