A Conversation around the Digital University – Part 2

Following on from our introductory “A conversation around what it means to be a digital university” post, we are now going to start to look in more detail at the matrix we introduced.

Information literacy based planning matrix

We believe that these four high level headings are key for strategic conceptualization for a 21st Century University. Below is the expanded matrix.

MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012
MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012

The logic of our discussion starts with the macro concept of Digital Participation which provides the wider societal backdrop to educational development. Information Literacy enables digital participation and in educational institutions is supported by Learning Environments which are themselves constantly evolving. All of this has significant implications for Curriculum and Course Design. We see educational development as the primary channel to unite the elements of our conceptualisation.

Over the coming weeks, we will expand on each of the four quadrants, starting with this post which focuses on Digital Participation.

Digital Participation
We have used the term digital participation, as we feel that it is a more inclusive term than digital literacy. Digital participation is a broader social construct with varied implications for educators. As we pointed out in our previous post the term digital literacy currently lacks a clear consensus of opinion. It could be interpreted as almost anything to do with ‘the digital’ and this may lead to the cognoscenti having widely different views, albeit tightly understood amongst themselves, from the more numerous members of the population, who don’t have such a professional interest. This issue arose at the start up meeting of the JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme, where there was recognition that the definition of digital literacy used in the programme may not be commonplace in HE and indeed with the strategic partners for the programme.

In the UK, both the Westminster and the Scottish Governments are recognising and encouraging digital participation across all sectors of society and emphasising the notion of the “digital citizen” e.g. increasing use of web-based consultation exercises, increased moves towards the notion of Open Government. Digital participation, in this context, can be seen as a fundamental part of any knowledge economy or information based democracy and therefore has substantial implications for educators. Digital participation needs to be optimized to ensure continued economic growth in parallel with the development of an informed, literate citizenship. Universities (and indeed the whole education sector) are uniquely placed to lead and evolve this kind of participation for and with their wider communities.

However there are problems with this scenario in that digital ‘coverage’ of the population is patchy, organizations are still finding their way with digital realities. Rapid changes in technology are forcing universities to make decisions based often on purely technological grounds, or delaying decisions for the same reason. It is these issues, particularly related to HE, that our conceptual matrix seeks to address by providing a holistic tool with which to question strategic planning and institutional provision and development.

For the Digital Participation quadrant of our matrix we have identified the following aspects:

• Civic role and responsibilities – how does access to digital resources underpin civic action?
• Community engagement – how can we facilitate more and better engagement between communities?
• Networks (human and digital) – what networks do we need foster?
• Technological affordances – what are the underlying infrastructures and connections underpinning access to all of the above?

Of course, digital participation hinges on information literacy, which will be the focus of our next post. But in the meantime, what do you think? Have we identified the key concepts around digital participation?

*Part 3
*Part 4

Summary of technologies in use in the JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme

The JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme is now well underway. As I reported from the programme start up meeting last October , the aim of this 2 year programme is too

” . . .promote the development of coherent, inclusive and holistic institutional strategies and organisational approaches for developing digital literacies for all staff and students in UK further and higher education.”

with projects:

” . . .working across the following stakeholder groupings in their plans for developing digital literacies: students, academic staff, research staff, librarians and learning resources and support staff, administrators and managers and institutional support staff . . .”

As part of the programme support project, over the last couple of months I’ve conducting our usual technical audits with the projects to get a picture of what technologies and standards they are using/considering to use at this stage. The results of these conversations are recorded in our PROD database.

The projects are due to complete their baselining phase at the end of January, so it has been timely to discuss some of the wider issues around using various technologies with each of the projects. The rest of this post gives a snap shot of the range of technologies the projects are currently using. NB Unfortunately I haven’t been able to speak with the UCL team, but once they have completed their baseline report we will be meeting and I’ll update the data, however don’t expect the general trends outlined in this post to change much.

The map shows the locations of the 12 projects, with links to the prod entry for each. As the programme progresses, I’ll be adding a links to the design studio pages for each project too.

Map showing locations of DDL projects
Map showing locations of DDL projects

The mindmap below gives an alternative view of the data entries for each project (if you click on the picture it will take you to a live version, NB the mind map will be open so you may find it easier to close nodes before exploring it in full).

Mind map of PROD entries for DDL programme
Mind map of PROD entries for DDL programme

The focus of the programme is more on the effective use of technology rather than as with other JISC funded work, the development of technology. On saying that, there are a couple of projects who are planning to develop some mobile applications and there are strong links between the work of the W2C project at MMU in relation the provision of mobile services, particularly with the SEEDPod project, University of Plymouth who have been working with MMU in conducting surveys of students uses of mobile devices. There are a number of approaches to mobile provision. The Developing Digital Literacy as a Post Graduate Attribute project is providing students with ipods to record and share their learning journeys, and to some extent leaving it to the students to find what works/doesn’t work for them. Whereas other projects (SEEDPod, InStePP) are developing more holistic, device and location agnostic approaches to provision of services/content.

So far we have 94 individual technologies and standards. The wordle below gives an overview.

Wordle of technologies & Standards in DDL progamme (Jan '12)
Wordle of technologies & Standards in DDL progamme (Jan '12)

This bubblegram gives another view of the range and instances of technologies and standards. Again if you click on the picture you’ll go to a larger, interactive version.

Bubblegram of technologies and standards in DDL, Jan 2012 (v4) Many Eyes

The projects area all blogging (you can access aggregated feeds here) and WordPress is top of our chart with 8 projects using it, the majority of these are also using institutionally hosted versions. What is also noticeable, is the (relatively) high instances of non- institutionally based services such a social networking sites – particularly twitter and Facebook. At the moment the main (and anticipated) use of both is for general project dissemination, however a number of projects are both to communicate with staff/students e.g. to get people involved in focus groups. The PADDLE project are planning to use existing facebook groups as collaboration/communication point with some of their focus groups.

Other external services such as drop-box (for document sharing), doodle for arranging meetings and a range of google apps (docs, calendar etc) are also being widely used. For the later there is a mix of institutional provision and more general use of, for example google docs for sharing project team related information. As with other programmes and the following a general sector wide trend, Moodle comes out as the most common VLE across the programme.

In terms of standards, the main focus was on packing formats with IMS CP, IMS CC and SCORM all getting one mention each. As we are still in early days, most projects haven’t got a clear idea of what format they will release any content in, however there was an overall interest in, and indeed knowledge of OER (i.e. the DIAL project is building on experiences from a previous UK OER project) and most projects expressed an desire to release any relevant content as OERs.

A number of projects (e.g. The Exeter Cascade Project, InStePP) are looking at greater integration of digital literacies into wider competency frameworks through for example making more explicit curriculum links to institutional graduate attributes; and also through working with other wider programme related stakeholders such as SCOUNL and ALT.

As mentioned earlier, projects are just coming to the end of their baselining work, and at this stage they are keen not to be prescriptive about the technologies they will be using, as they want to be as flexible as possible. Also, key to number of the projects is the exploration of the how, what, where and why of technology use (both hardware and software) of staff and students and then making appropriate interventions/recommendations for wider institutional policies.

When I repeat this exercise next year, I have a suspicion that there may be a subtle shift to more institutionally based services as more content will have been created and being used/shared within VLEs/repositories. As any changes to curriculum provision, and institutional policies, if not in place, will be fairly well scoped by then too. I am wondering if we will see, similar to the Curriculum Design programme, an increase in the use of Sharepoint for more formal documentation and a decrease in use of more informal sharing services such as drop box. At the moment there the project teams are using drop box primarily for the convenience of any time/where/device access.

One of the things I was curious about was if these projects would be more “literate” in their choices of technologies to use, and what would be the balance between use of institutionally based services and more general web based services. I don’t think I have an answer to the question, but I have seen a healthy sense of pragmatism displayed by all the projects in terms of their approaches.

I’ve had some really interesting discussions with projects (particularly Digitally Ready) around the definition of technology and what it was I really wanted to record i.e. everyday /commonplace technologies like email, calendars etc; was I interested in what the project team were using for project management or more what they were using for stakeholder engagement? In fact it’s all of the above – which probably goes some way to explaining the number of different technologies recorded to date. I feel it’s also worthwhile every now and again just stepping back and reflecting on how our expectations of peoples and projects use of technologies (JISC programme digital literacy perhaps?) have evolved. A few years ago, we’d be lucky if we got all projects to have a blog with more than 2 or 3 entries by the end of a programme – now, it’s one of the first things on a projects to do list, and most institutions provide some kind of hosted blogging service.

When we were developing PROD originally it was to record the tools, standards outputs and development processes of very technically focused projects. However as we’ve started to use it more widely across the JISC elearning programme, we’ve used it not just to record what projects are building, but the what, how and when of technologies projects are actually using. In the not so development focused projects such as DDL this is central. I think that this is starting to give us some real evidence of the diversity and commonality of approaches within and across programmes, and give us greater understanding of how actual use of technologies is being enabled and embedded both from the bottom up and top down.

As they move into the next phase of the programme it will be fascinating to see how the projects start to use the findings from their baselining and how that will impact on their next phase of development.

A conversation around what it means to be a digital university

Over the past 18 months I’ve been having a series of discussions with Bill Johnston (a colleague of mine here at Strathclyde) around notions information and digital literacy and of what it means to be a digital university.

We moved from a series increasingly long, and wide ranging ad hoc “in the kitchen/pub” chats to slightly more formal meetings with the idea of writing a paper. However, as the months have passed, we’ve actually come round to the idea of extending our conversation in a more informal way, and (hopefully) to a wider audience via this blog.

In this post, I’d like to introduce you, dear reader, to Bill and the some of the key questions and issues we’ve been been working on.

Bill Johnston is recently retired, but he is still an active Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde. Bill has spoken, researched and published in the areas of critical thinking, educational perspectives on the student experience, curriculum design, and information literacy. Together with Sheila Webber, he developed a credit bearing Information Literacy class for Business School students at Strathclyde University. They also completed the ground breaking and influential study of UK academics conceptions of information literacy.

Early on in our discussions we agreed that using an information literacy framework would provide a unique lens to explore a number of internal and external drivers for institutional change and to explore notions of the term “digital university”. We felt that exploration of this overarching term offered the potential to act as a catalyst for fundamental change throughout an institution from administration to teaching and learning. We deliberately chose not to use the term “digital literacy”, as we felt that at the institutional level, the more holistic notion of a digital university was more encompassing. It was also a term we were both hearing being used both in our own institution and by others. However, we both found it was being used in a very narrow context, mainly relating to digital technology like repositories and/or VLEs. Digital literacy, is also a term that although increasingly being used in HE (e.g. the JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme) it is still not commonplace, and digital literacy is often seen as narrow, computer science related skills, as exemplified by Michael Gove’s recent speech, and not as a developing set of wider ranging competencies as identified by Josie Fraser’s excellent response. Bill and I also believe that digital literacy is an extension of information literacy, and that one cannot exist without the other. So, the “literacy” of the digital university is the literacy of information. This in turn raises wider social issues of digital inclusion and the role universities can play in the wider community, but more on that angle in a future post.

We felt that information literacy could act as a gateway to creating dialogue at the institutional level as it provides the means, knowledge and skills needed to allow meaningful interactions between people, digital content and technological systems. In other words, it affords a way to allow optimization of digital participation and measure progress. Furthermore, in true abstract writing style 😉 , using an information literacy lens provides us with a means to produce a coherent outline of a digital university and suggest strategic developments of the digital infrastructure, learning environment and management culture required to fully achieve the potential of the digital technologies. We are also both convinced that a truly digital university only occurs where there is a fusion between technology and staff/student developments driving innovation and creativity.

The diagram below shows an integrated view of the topic areas of a matrix we have been developing. We feel that these areas are key for strategic conceptualization of provision of the required functionality for any 21st Century University.

Information literacy based planning matrix

Some key questions we’ve identified around these topic areas include:
• What constitutes an information literate learning environment? The physical campus? The VLE? A mix of both? What are the common understandings of information literacy ?
• How can we understand the requirements for the provision of institutional learning environment for the next 10 years?
• What are they key operational requirements from digital infrastructure? To support:learning, teaching, research and management? What balance is required?
• What type(s) of infra-structure is actually needed?
• Is key data about courses easily available for a variety of purposes including marketing, formal reporting requirements such a HESA, KIS?
• Is there ubiquitous, stable wifi connection; refurbished physical teaching and learning spaces as well as state of the art research facilities?
• What are the key digital literacy skills needed by both staff and students currently?
• What are the key digital literacy expectations for/from students and staff?
• What will be the key digital literacy skills needed by both staff and students in 10 years time?
• How can institutions begin to distinguish their unique features and make them explicit to increasingly demanding student (customer) requirements?

Over the next few posts, we’ll begin to expand more of our thoughts behind the matrix, organisational issues and digital inclusion. We’re also very interested in hearing other views, so please, share any thoughts you may have in the comments section.

*Part 2
*Part 3
*Part 4
*Part 5

(Open) Educational practice and (digital) literacy

I’ve been dipping in and out of the JISC online conference this week. As usual, there has been a great mix of live presentations and asynchronous discussion. Two themes have risen to the top of my mind, (open) educational practice and (digital) literacy. I also recently attended the Mainstreaming Open Educational Practices Forum co-hosted by the OPAL and Concede projects and UNESCO. So this post is a sort of summary of my reaction and reflections to issues raised during both these events. Apologies, this maybe a bit of rambling rant!

When working in any new or niche area, terminology and or jargon is always an issue. I’ve always disliked the term “e-learning”, and prefer to talk about “learning”. However I do realise that there are valid reasons for using the term, not least political ones. During both events, the disconnect between practitioners knowledge and understanding of both OER and Open Practice was “openly” recognised ad and discussed. Both terms have meaning in the research world, and in funded projects (such as UKOER, OPAL etc) but for the average teacher in FE/HE they’re pretty meaningless. So, how do we move into mainstream practice? Answers on a postcard, or tweet please 🙂 The work being done by the UK OER synthesis team on Open Practice is one way of trying to address some of these issues, and sharing experiences of developing practice and use of open, or indeed any, content in teaching and learning.

I was somewhat surprised at the UNESCO event that an assertion was made that open educational practice is mainstream, and I was equally reassured via my twitter network that it isn’t. Marion Manton made a really good point “I think it is like the OER use, aspects have always happened but not necessarily called OEP”. This distinction obvious and is crucial as it’s often forgotten. I think we in the educational research and development field too often alienate ourselves from reality by our insistence on using unfamiliar acronyms, jargon etc, and looking at small parts of the picture. Instead of focusing on “open” educational practice, why aren’t we looking at general “educational” practice? “Again, I know there are reasons for doing this, and there a lots of people (and projects) doing excellent staff development work to try and close the gaps. But I keep coming back to questions around why we continue to need to have these false constructs to allow us to get funding to investigate teaching and learning practice.

During the discussion session on digital literacies at the online conference, the notion of empowerment was raised. Increased digital literacy skills were recognised as a key tool to empower staff and students (and indeed everyone in our society). At the open education practice session this morning, the notion of OER literacy was raised. Now this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this and I have to say I kind of feel the same about OER literacy as I do about e-learning. I see the literacies needed for using/creating/sharing OERs as being part of a wider set of digital literacies, which have much wider application and longevity.

Learning objects also came up during today’s discussion, in the context of “does anyone use the term anymore ?” Now, I’m not going to open up that particular can of worms here, but actually the fundamental issues of sharing and re-use haven’t changed since the those heady days. I think the work done by the open community not only has made great developments around licencing materials but has allowed us to look again at the core sharing/reuse issues and, more importantly engage (and re-engage) with these more challenging issues of educational practice.

On reflection, I think my attitudes and leanings towards the wider, general use of terms such as practice and literacy, are really down to my own development and practice. I am an unashamed generalist, and not an academic specialist. When I actually created educational content it was always openly (in one form or another) available. When I’ve been involved in staff development it has always been centred around sharing and (hopefully) improving practice and enabling teachers to use technology more effectively. And I hope that through my blogging and twittering I am continuing to develop my open practice. I do feel though that right now it would be timely to step back and take a look a the bigger picture of educational practice and literacies, not least so we can truly engage with the people we ultimately want to benefit from all this work.

Crowd sourced open source alternatives to SPSS

This morning I was having a PROD call with Peter Kilcoyne from the WORDLE project (part of the current JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme). One area that came up during our discussion was open source alternatives to SPSS for data analysis of their baselining interviews with staff and students.

Peter and his team have done a bit of research and have been looking at SOFA, and some other other possibilities. Statistical analysis is not one an area I know that much about, but I know a lot of people who do have expertise, so I decided to take the tried and tested “lazy web” approach to see if there were any other recommendations from my twitter community. And once again the power of the crowd came through. I even got some email with more detailed information and suggestions of labs I could use in my university.

Below are the collated responses to my initial tweet. R was the most popular choice by far, but if you know of any other alternatives, then please let me know.

[View the story “Open source alternatives to SPSS” on Storify]

Developing Digital Literacies Programme Start Up Meeting

The 12 successfully funded projects in the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme met yesterday (4 October) in Birmingham for the programme start-up meeting.

The aim of the programme is to:

” . . .promote the development of coherent, inclusive and holistic institutional strategies and organisational approaches for developing digital literacies for all staff and students in UK further and higher education.”

with projects:

. . .working across the following stakeholder groupings in their plans for developing digital literacies: students, academic staff, research staff, librarians and learning resources and support staff, administrators and managers and institutional support staff . . .”

The programme has developed from previous user centred work funded by the JISC Elearning programme starting back in 2008 with the Learners’ experiences of e-learning programme, the 2009 Learning Literacies for a Digital Age Study, the 2010 Supporting learners in a Digital Age study and the series of Digital Literacy workshops being run this year.

To help get to know a bit more about each other, the projects gave three minute elevator pitches (which included a very entertaining poem from Pat Parslow of the Digitally Ready project, University of Reading.) Although all have different approaches, as highlighted by Helen Beetham (part of the programme synthesis team) there are a number of commonalities across the projects including:

*common access and opportunity
*impacts of technology on core practice 
*new demands on the sector

Helen also highlighted that at a programme level JISC wants to be able to move forward practice and thinking around digital literacies, build on what we know and not repeat what has gone before. From the short presentations given by the projects, I think there will be a lot rich information coming from all of the projects over the next two years.

As part of CETIS input, I will be providing programme level support around the technologies being used in the programme and collating information into our PROD database. Although the projects are very user-centric, I am particularly interested in surfacing issues around what are the preferred technologies for the different stake holder groups, how are they being provisioned at an institutional level? And, at more holistic level, what does it mean to be a truly digitally literate institution? In parallel with staff/student skills developments what are the technical infrastructure developments that need to be enabled? What are the key messages and workflows that need to truly embedded and understood by everyone in an institution?

I can already see links with the approaches being taken by the DVLE programme in-terms of light weight widgets/apps and mobile integrations with VLEs and other admin processes; and the DIAL project at the University of the Arts as part of its elevator pitch also highlighted links to its OER work. I’ll be writing this up initially as a series of blog posts.

Building on the model developed through the Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes, the Design Studio will also be used as an open collation and sharing space for project outputs. The programme is also going to work with a number of related professional bodies an related membership organisations to help share and promote common sector wide experience and best practice.