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Sparking a passion for digital skills: a tried and tested approach to developing staff confidence

The digital experience insights survey 2020/21 revealed that only 6% of higher education teaching staff felt they received recognition for developing their digital skills. But with more being expected from educators, are they getting the support and recognition they need?

If we’re encouraging colleagues to develop their digital capabilities, then they need the time, opportunity and incentive to do so. Collaboration is crucial if we are to equip our teaching staff with the skills they need to prepare students for the future.

Chris Melia, an educational developer at the University of Central Lancashire and one of our 17 community champions, has been instrumental in fostering a community of practitioners sharing educational practices across the UK and beyond. Here he shares how the team at the University of Central Lancashire’s Centre for Collaborative Learning set about it.

Staff digital capabilities

Chris Melia

"We're very proud of DigiLearn, our internal development programme for staff, and the DigiLearn Sector, our externally facing community, in which Jisc has been a valuable partner.

"Over the last few years, we have been involved in developing communities of practice relating to technology-enhanced learning, initially at a faculty-level. This was about encouraging colleagues to talk to one another about teaching and learning, to share experiences and to informally identify those acting in the role of “champion”.

"We also collected and published case studies and examples of best practice, as resources that colleagues could incorporate into their CPD. We facilitated opportunities for them to share their experiences at a variety of events, which started our thinking about how we could build an initiative that incorporated staff reward and recognition."

Encouraging good practice

"Something that came out of the 2020/21 Jisc digital experience insights survey, was that only 6% of higher education teaching staff felt they had received any reward or recognition relating to their development of digital skills.

"To us, this was particularly alarming, and further supported our decision to incorporate more reward and recognition within our development offer. The report findings suggest that these factors may often be overlooked by the sector.

"The UCLan DigiLearn programme is structured around a tiered framework with three levels (practitioner, advocate and champion). The starting point is a self-assessment tool built around the six themes of the Jisc digital capability framework – and designed to help staff with identifying skill gaps. Based on the outcome, colleagues are then guided to a variety of related resources – including online courses, case studies, blogs and webinars."

Continuing professional development

"Throughout the three award levels, staff are encouraged to expand their sphere of influence and share what they have developed in their practice. There is a key emphasis on personal development, but also the mentoring of others – which makes for a more effective peer support model.

"We want to encourage colleagues at all stages of their digital capability journey, and to recognise and share innovative examples of practice from across our communities."

Recognising achievement

"We wanted to instil a sense of pride and offer something tangible as recognition, which is why we developed our own bespoke badges for each level of the framework.

"Once a colleague has compiled their evidence for a particular level, they are asked to submit a portfolio for review. If all criteria have been met, they are awarded a digital badge which can be added to their email signature and online profiles.

"In addition to digital badges, staff are also issued with physical pin badges. The response to this ‘gamified’ approach has been extremely positive, with photos of badges regularly being shared amongst community members.

"For us as a Centre, including the authentic voice of our academic colleagues has been crucial. Their contribution has become increasingly important and directly informs many of our internal developments. We want to help colleagues to feel valued, and that is where the recognition comes in."

"Another core part of the process is that colleagues at champion level are asked to annually revalidate their achievement. Each year, they must reflect and demonstrate how they are fulfilling their champion role. For example, they may have given a presentation, contributed a blog post or acted as a mentor to other colleagues."

Widening the circle

"Building on this effective model, our next step was to invite in other institutions. This is where the DigiLearn Sector comes in, our award-winning initiative and hub for collaboration and knowledge exchange. We took the concept of our internal initiative and developed a diverse community of practitioners from across the sector.

"The DigiLearn Sector is not just for universities, but also for colleges, schools and other organisations/sector bodies. The community continues to be mutually beneficial, as we learn from others and facilitate that learning between organisations. Once a community like this has been established, most of the day-to-day activity – the actual collaboration – looks after itself.

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