The yin and yang of digital transformation and digital wellbeing

This week I attended the Jisc Digital Capabilities workshop in Edinburgh. It was a really good, free to attend event. These kind of events are really useful for the community and I hope that Jisc continue to support them, so many thanks to all involved in organising the day and sharing their work. This post is just a few thoughts on some of the bigger themes and issues that have been going round my brain.  

Firstly digital transformation. The day started with a keynote from the University of Edinburgh titled “Becoming a digitally capable organisation”. Part of the presentation was around notions (and current practice/developments) of digital transformation.  We were presented with a 3 step model starting at digital competence, moving to digital literacy and then digital transformation.

It was really heartening to see that people were at the heart of much of the ongoing work and the development of their new digital ecosystem.  But, and there’s always a but, surely there is another step?  I couldn’t help thinking how do you know when digital transformation has actually happened?  Is it when digitally enabled and data driven services just work for everyone, anywhere on any device? Or is there something a bit more terms of development of people’s critical capacity to understand and be empowered not only to use these services but also be part of an ongoing dialogue to critique and question the context of why any technology is being used?  

When I asked the question how do you know when digitally transformation has happened? I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction and replies including:

That said, there is an undeniable logic in improving some basic functionality like accessing timetables which does seem to be ridiculously difficult. Digital isn’t always “simply better”,  particularly when we know that many digital systems are built, then collect and use data in biased ways. What is the emotional and human impact of digital transformation and how can, or indeed should, we measure it? 

In the afternoon, there was a session around digital wellbeing. The Jisc Digital Capabilities Team have just published some extended briefing papers for both individuals and organisations.  Their definition of digital wellbeing is “the impact of technologies and digital services on people’s mental, physical and emotional health”.  

For every positive aspect of digital technologies, there is a negative.  Whilst many, if not all universities and colleges are going through some kind of digital transformation, the day to day life of our staff and students is increasingly being pushed and pulled by the yin and yang of digital technologies.

During a time of industrial action as we are currently in here in the UK, digital technologies and platforms allow a way to share and communicate, but that also brings many pressures.  Lorna Campbell and Tony Hirst have written eloquenty about this. Yesterday I also heard many similar stories and ones of pressures of getting grant proposals in during strike action. Oh, the irony of being on a short term grant and a funding application deadline being slap bang in the middle of industrial action around pay and conditions! As well as decisions around going to graduations of students you have supported for four years. Whilst all the time you know your inbox, marking, wanting to support your students, and everything else are piling up.  


Where is the space in digital transformation plans have meaningful conversations around what are institutions are transforming into?  Where is the discussion on how we could transform our curriculum and our notions of care and support for the wellbeing (in its broadest sense, not just digital) of all our students and staff? Call me an old cynic, but somehow I don’t think that  the noise around education 4.0 going to address that. These issues are at the heart of my recent book.

Earlier this week I also participated in a Virtually Connecting Session about the Digital Pedagogy Lab that is taking place in the UK next April.  Now if we are talking about transformation, Virtually Connecting is a hugely transformational digitally enabled space and more importantly community. The difference it has made to allow people to connect at conferences and events globally is apparent not only in the joy that is always found in the sessions, but in its sustained growth.

It’s all community driven, no Digital Change Director needed.  We need to have more spaces in our institutions for this type of staff and student development. We need to have more recognition for this type of of activity as being valid and recognised CPD.  In terms of digital well being, personally speaking I can’t begin to explain how good being part of a VC session makes me feel.

So back to the yin and yang. I think in terms of digital transformation there definitely needs to be more attention to (digital ) wellbeing and consideration of how the  services and technologies (both institutionally provided the non institutionally one we all use) impact on individuals and our larger institutional communities, be that departments, schools, directorates etc.

There needs to be ongoing space (both digital and physical) provided for people to come together to develop collective understandings of what needs to be done and what needs to be changed. Channeling Paulo Freire, staff and students need to be able to challenge and change what needs to be challenged and changed.  Maybe then we can actually start creating narratives, evidence of digital transformation that are shared and commonly understood. You never know by doing that, universities could actually disrupt business and get their CEOs and staff thinking, why can’t we be run more like universities.

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