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Upside down:Staff and student led digital learning strategies in UK HEIs


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Marketa Zezulkova, Debbie Holley & David Biggins

The tensions of UK Higher Education environment metrics (cf Research Excellence Framework (REF), Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)) can be seen in drivers of digital change at institutional in UK Universities. The increasing measurement and importance of student outcomes and learning gain (TEF) requires institutions to show the impact of their work, both internally and across sector benchmarks.

It is within this context that we conducted a mixed method study exploring technology enhanced learning strategies and their applied frameworks and toolkits. The first two phases of research comprised a quantitative survey with 36 participants, subsequent content analysis and resulted in a draft framework (Biggins et al 2017). This framework has now been explored in the third and last phase through semi-structured interviews with the TEL leaders from seven UK HE institutions.

Our preliminary findings indicate that to meet the requirements and demonstrate the externally set indicators of educational quality, technology enhanced learning (or digital learning) strategies and toolkits are often developed without academic staff and students’ input. The three emerging themes relevant to the Participation through Learning Technology theme suggest that:

(1) Educators are seen as providers rather than end users. The perceived TEL benefits for students have no or less comparable benefits in terms of the educators’ work and life, a change in this policy could impact institutions in terms of the UK Teaching Excellence Framework criteria Teaching Quality (TQ2) valuing teaching.

(2) Students are treated as receivers and users, rather than active participants in institutional TEL strategies and developments, a change in this policy in institutions has the possibility to address the Teaching Excellence Framework Employability and Transferable Skills Student Outcomes and Learning Gain (SO2), in terms of ' students acquire knowledge...that enhances their personal/professional life'

(3) Immediate students’ learning is prioritised over both educators’ and students’ life-long learning and digital capability/competence/literacies development. Here we argue that students of course need to develop skills that prepare them the world of work, but there is wider societal benefit in overcoming the digital divide. Our research suggests the Teaching Excellence Framework policy driver of Employment and Further Study (SO1) encourages a short term perspective of 'students achieve their educational and professional goals, in highly skilled employment.'

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Upside down:Staff and student led digital learning strategies in UK HEIs

  1. 1. | @cel_bu Upside down: Staff and student led digital learning strategies in UK HEIs Marketa Zezulkova, Debbie Holley and David Biggins September 2018
  2. 2. | @cel_bu 2 Introduction: Digital Toolkits Reporting on our third set of data Debbie Holley Head of CEL and Professor of Learning Innovation David Biggins Academic Learning Designer Marketa Zezulkova Lecturer and Post-Doc Researcher Bournemouth UniversityCharles University in Prague
  3. 3. | @cel_bu 3 Session content • Drawing upon these findings, this paper will argue that HE institutions should acknowledge digital capability or competence as a life skill equally important for educators as well students (Beetham 2011; Vuorikari et al 2016; Holley 2017) and consequently provide a space for their meaningful participation (Yanchar 2018) in the development of digital learning strategies. • In our case studies, the UK HE institutions do value academic staff and students’ active involvement and feedback, however, this is not a formal long-term participatory approach, which would enable meaningful dialogue during the decision-making processes. Of interest to the ALT audience, our research discovered a number of emerging initiatives at some of the institutions involved in the research. • This talk will therefore draw upon the overall research findings, as well as these practical examples, while exploring the possibilities afforded by the shift from a top down, measured and managed set of internal drivers to what we term the ‘upside down’ approach. We will explore the potential value of this participatory approach to the UK HE institutions while gaining traction in an environment driven by external metrics and benchmarks, as well as to the academic staff and students from the point of view of their confidence, capacity and wellbeing.
  4. 4. | @cel_bu 4 Research focus Following our work exploring digital competence frameworks for the EU and UK, we were interested in a) How this may be operationalised in UK HEIs b) How academics were being supported/ developed/ in external ‘push’ to deliver ‘tech savvy’ graduates c) To develop a framework for institutions to benchmark their work against (an ambitiously named ‘ontology of digital toolkits!) as part of possible institutional TEF cases to support excellence (Biggins, Holley, Zezulkova 2016, 2017)
  5. 5. | @cel_bu 5 External drivers • Tensions in HE • Sector-wide factors • REF, TEF and KEF • Importance of metrics • Student outcomes and learning gain .. • Driving digital transformation in HEIs
  6. 6. | @cel_bu 6 Methodology 2016 Phase 1 Frameworks 2017 Phase 2 Questionnaire Multi-strategy approach (Bryman 2004; Creswell et al. 2003; Tashakkori & Teddlie 1998; Brannen 1992) 2018 Phase 3 Interviews Semi-structured interviews TEL leaders from 7 UK HEIs Online survey 31 TEL leaders from UK HEIs Jisc Digital Capability EU Digital Competence 2.0 Data synthesis and interpretation (open coding and thematic analysis)
  7. 7. | @cel_bu 7 Emergent themes Theme1 • Technology enhanced learning was inseparable from the overall learning and teaching strategies that educators were expected to effectively put into practice. Theme2 • Educators were seen as providers rather than end users • Students were mostly seen as receivers and evaluators rather than active participants. Theme3 •There was an emerging connection between technology enhanced learning and academic staff and students’ digital capability and competence from the point of view of their wellbeing and life-long learning. Its practical implications will however struggle with limited funding and time as well as archaic HEIs’ structures.
  8. 8. | @cel_bu 8 Key themes emerging • “[Continues talking about the student achievement strategy] In practice [it] means, really training the staff (…) and try to encourage them to think about different approaches, (…) use of some of the different tools, and resources available.” (P4) Theme 1 Staff focus • Our [TEL] centre’s very much geared towards staff but the institution itself would have had strategic goal that the student experience should y’know be the best thing or whatever”. (P1) Theme 2 Educators as providers • “Some teaching staff kind of cover that [digital identity and wellbeing] in their sessions because they deal with things like safe guarding. (…) Also raising awareness of some of the problems (…) the students are left on their own to deal with.” (P3) Theme 3 Digital wellbeing
  9. 9. | @cel_bu 9 Students as receivers 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 Continually Frequently Rarely Never Monitoring Staff Students “We’ve also been working (…) particularly (…) in using the student union and support from student reps and advocates. (…) We did a bit consultation exercise with students and staff (…) [and then] we actually used students to go round to staff to explain (…) what they wanted. We had student ambassadors who would go and support staff in fixing their courses and explain why they thought it was important, rather than us going. So that worked quite well.” (P5)
  10. 10. | @cel_bu 10 A framework for development Theme 2: • Educators were seen as providers rather than en • Educators d users, while students were mostly seen Draft of our proposed HEIs’ digital toolkit framework under the people-centred and learning-orientated approach, the digital toolkit cannot offer the tech tools alone. Instead it must include human interaction and easily approachable supporting content. By this we for example mean videos and blogs about innovative ideas, best practice, problem- shooting, etc. produced not only by the staff and educators, but also by the students. In addition, following the open access, sharing economy and curatorship phenomena, the digital toolkit should ideally include also a ready to use, re-use and remix content.
  11. 11. | @cel_bu 11 Next steps: we need more volunteers to interview! We want to test out our framework and would like to collaborate on producing rich case studies “We don’t have dedicated time to teach the students how to use technology. (…) There’s an assumption that students are all IT proficient, which isn’t true.” (P3)
  12. 12. | @cel_bu 12 Selected References Beetham, H., 2011. Digital Literacy Anatomised: Access, skills, and practices. [online] Joint Information System Committee (JISC) Design Studio. Available at: < literacies anatomy.pdf> Biggins, D., Holley, D., Evangelinos, G. and Zezulkova, M., (2017). Digital Competence and Capability Frameworks in the Context of Learning, Self-Development and HE Pedagogy. In: E-Learning, E-Education, and Online-Training (ELEOT) Third International Conference. Dublin, Ireland, pp.46–53. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-49625-2_6 Holley, D (2017) Bournemouth University: a new vision for learning case study in JISC Developing organisational approaches to digital capability JISC 4 May 2017 Vuorikari, R., Punie, Y., Carretero Gomez, S., and Van den Brande, G., 2016. DigComp 2.0: The Digital Competence Framework for Citizens. Update Phase 1: the Conceptual Reference Model. European Commission, 2017 [online] Available at: < competence-framework-citizens-update-phase-1-conceptual-reference-model> Yanchar, S.C., 2018. Agency, World, and the Ontological Ground of Possibility. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 38(1), 1–14.