Why we need to talk about digital

This week I’ve attended in person, and remotely, the 19th SEDA conference: Opportunities and challenges for academic development in a post-digital age. It’s the first time I’ve been at a SEDA conference and although I knew a number of the delegates, it’s always refreshing to be interact with other (related) communities.

Keith Smyth, and Bill Johnson and myself ran a session called “Visioning the Digital University – from institutional strategy to academic practice“. The session was based around the work we have been doing in exploring what a digital university actually is and the work Keith and colleagues did for the Napier University’s digital futures project.

During the session there were many questions in the room and on twitter about the use of “digital”. Do we need to use the word? Aren’t we all post digital now? Digital, that’s soo 2010 . . .

We don’t have an answer to the question ‘what is a digital university”, rather we have developed a set of prompts and themes to enable conversations around what it might mean to take place. We hoped, and have seen, that these prompts force people to have meaningful, and contextual conversations about actual and future practice and developments. Our first blog post introducing our thoughts was titled ‘a conversation around what it means to be a digital university‘. Enabling meaningful discussion has always been at the forefront of our thinking.

But why the emphasis on digital, and why do we persist with this? Well, because “digital” is a very powerful word. From the BBC to IBM to the UK and Scottish Governments, digital content and digital solutions are everywhere. They are the future – despite being very similar to pre digital solutions and content! In education, Jisc are now providing “digital solutions for UK education and research”, have programmes of work around the “digital student”, the “digital institution”. Digital is firmly on the agenda for the foreseeable future.

Digital is also key part of most emerging strategies for universities. What it actually means is still open for debate. That’s where providing a tool like our matrix can actually start to unpack some of the more fundamental issues around what it means to be a university in the 21st century. You can get the ear of a PVC using the word “digital”. You can roll your eyes all you like, but that is really important in terms of the future of educational development. Digital is also a really useful way to engage with our colleagues both academic and in support services who perhaps don’t engage at the same level as SEDA delegates with digital and post digital discourse. The Digital Futures work at Napier exemplified this.

So let’s reclaim “the digital”, and use it to help all of us move forward our educational development and educational technology agendas.

image of digital spelt using scrabble tiles

image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fbz/187634854/ {{cc-by-2.0}}

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