Reflections on… UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities

UCISA Conference – Spotlight on Digital Capabilities 2

Birmingham, May 25-26th 2016.

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Results of a group exercise – our vision for digital in HE
At this conference I presented a paper on the University of Brighton’s Digital Literacy Framework, and was an invited speaker on the panel “Do we still need IT Trainers?”. I also participated in the final panel of the day summarizing the conference where the final question from the audience was what our key take away from the event was.

I focused on shifting identities as my key take away from the conference. Identities suggests more than roles and job titles, which we talked about a lot and are related, but are more to do with relationships and the distribution of power. The key expression is flexibility – we all agreed that IT trainers do much much more than ‘train’ and the term is pretty much redundant. But it is also about the ability recast identities to allow, for example, IT staff to work with students as partners, and to promote both technological innovation and the support of poorly skilled staff. The contexts to this are the increasingly ambitious strategies of institutions in the face of diverse levels of engagement from staff and students.

Some of the discussion was about powerlessness in the face of swings of institutional priorities, and about the low value of roles and IT skills. But there was also a strong thread of empowerment – that as IT people position themselves more closely to the teaching, research and admin aims of the university, and move into supporting people to make choices about technology and practice digital wellbeing, they are supporting the ‘critical’ aspect of digital capabilities that emerged as the key element of digital futures.

In academic development we talk a lot about finding a new role for the lecturer away from ‘chalk ‘n’ talk’, to expert facilitators. The lecturer remains the key source of knowledge, but her or his aim is to facilitate students’ learning towards that understanding, through a social constructivist approach based on exploring through active learning and contextualization within students’ own experiences. This is the kind of learning that is needed to develop ‘critical’ digital literacies, and this was what much of the discussion at the conference was indirectly about. Yes, it involves the facilitator having extensive technical knowledge, but the aim is for students to purposefully gain those skills and embed them into personal practice and identity. Recasting the role of IT trainer towards this kind of ‘expert facilitation’ could be key to the future development of digital capabilities in HE.

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