Create a digital strategy that advances your university's mission
As university leaders strive to build organisations with greater technological dexterity, many have taken the critical first step of creating a digital strategy. But, what’s next? How do you avoid the fate that befalls so many other strategic plans of just collecting dust on a shelf?
A digital strategy should be a dynamic document, evolving over time and prompting the adoption of new tools and ways of working in responding to student and staff needs. Of course, that’s often easier said than done.
To ensure your entire campus community is involved in and guided by your digital strategy, you must build a common framework for understanding digital tools and concepts—also known as digital literacy. This article outlines three strategies to bolster digital literacy and bring your campus’s digital strategy to life:
Deploy an omnichannel communication plan that engages stakeholders with unifying, jargon-free messaging
Facilitate training and upskilling opportunities while promoting and rewarding participation
Encourage digital experimentation by empowering staff and students to design their own digital solutions to campus challenges
Deploy an omnichannel communication plan
It’s easy for students and staff to ignore new strategic directives – especially when lengthy documents use inaccessible jargon or abstract buzzwords. By widely communicating your university’s digital strategy with clear and consistent messaging, you can paint a vision for what digital transformation (DX) will look like in practice for your campus.
In realising their ambitious Digital Campus initiative, the University of Leicester pursued an omnichannel communication plan. Leaders designed a variety of entry-points to the initiative for stakeholders from across the organisation. By widely sharing digital transformation plans and offering hands-on opportunities for interested parties to learn more, University of Leicester began changing the campus culture – a critical foundation in the adoption of new ways of operating. Consider the following components in their communication approach:
EAB sits down with the University of Exeter to discuss digital transformation
- An animated video introduces the Digital Campus initiative on the project’s homepage. It maps out the key strategic areas that make up the overall digital strategy and explains their connective tissue. The presentation uses colour-coding to distinguish projects at a high-level of maturity from those that haven’t yet begun. A voiceover unpacks any jargon included in the strategy and provides helpful context for proposed digital concepts, tools, and ideas. For example, it explains how a revitalised external website and intranet, a new student portal and app, and new ‘digitally-charged’ degree pathways will work in tandem to realise the strategic goal of a personalised end-to-end student experience.
- The Digital Campus website serves as a single source of truth for keeping the campus informed about digital transformation priorities. It offers news about accomplishments, FAQs, and a dedicated space to ‘join the conversation’ on the University’s internal social networking site. By addressing common questions and bringing digital initiatives under one roof, students and staff know exactly where to go with questions and concerns, or to learn more.
- Cross-organisation steering groups established for each of six strategic priorities bring key campus stakeholders together to avoid duplicated efforts and elevate different perspectives. Steering group members include academics, student services staff, library staff, IT services staff, learning technicians, and graduate student interns. Each group regularly updates its on-going projects, goals, and upcoming events on sub-pages of the Digital Campus website, which helps to promote transparency and open communication with the campus at large.
Facilitate training and upskilling opportunities
Without training resources that build confidence with unfamiliar tools, campus stakeholders – particularly those who are accustomed to a particular way of operating – may feel excluded from DX efforts. Relatedly, either over- or under-estimating baseline digital capabilities can leave those who are otherwise eager to adopt new tools feeling disengaged.
Successful digital transformation initiatives begin with a foundation of training and upskilling staff and students. The following list outlines six approaches you can use (separately or in tandem) to boost campus digital literacy and ensure that programming and training reaches the right audience with the right content at the right time:
Administer short pulse surveys amongst students and staff to understand their current engagement with digital tools and services and where further support and guidance is needed. This allows institutions to develop training programmes targeted at the specific needs of each constituency, focusing on gaps in understanding rather than continuously offering the same trainings on skills development that staff or students already have.
Align workshops with professional standards (such as the UK Professional Standards Framework) to help staff with professional accreditation. Doing so encourages staff to connect new digital expectations with the university’s core educational mission. Workshops should be offered at a range of levels to target different audiences: students, managers, employees, and executive leadership.
Recruit technology champions – both students and staff – who can help facilitate adoption and provide direct support in their own vernacular by explaining how and where digital solutions can plug into the classroom or other university operations.
Host digital takeovers to engage students and staff through hands-on events designed to increase familiarity with digital tools. These can range from panels to discuss possibilities for DX on campus to interactive experiences, like hackathons to design digital solutions for specific problems, coding workshops, or demonstrations and workshops on how to use new tools. A dedicated space and time for the campus to come together and learn about new technologies in a focused, judgement-free zone can foster campus-wide excitement. Ensure that events target a range of stakeholders – from the ‘digital native’ to the ‘digital newbie’.
Update recruitment, on-boarding, and professional development training materials to emphasise digital tools and workflows. New staff should have digital capabilities and trainings built into their induction, ensuring a seamless transition from recruitment to working at the university. Similarly, use this time to capture insights and experiences with digital tools and solutions that incoming staff may have gleaned from other organisations.
Offer badges or other digital credentials for completing digital training and development or for volunteering to mentor other campus community members. Build these badges into university-wide recognition schemes, annual professional development requirements, and as prerequisites for university fellowships. Students can also be encouraged to list these accomplishments on a ‘digital capabilities’ section on their resumes.
Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has deployed several of these engagement opportunities in implementing their Learning & Teaching-focused digital strategy. The university’s Digital Literacy Barometer enables staff to self-assess their own competencies. After identifying areas for development, staff can engage with relevant development activities like ‘bite-sized trainings’ (online courses no longer than 15 minutes each). Upon completing the trainings, staff receive digital badges. A bespoke ‘digital literacy curriculum-mapping tool’ helps academics identify areas to embed digital competencies in their curricula. Students translate these competencies into digital badges they earn alongside their course of study.
Encourage digital experimentation
When institutions introduce digital solutions from the top down, DX can feel foreign and irrelevant to individual students and staff. Without a personal stake in DX, most constituents consider their participation nonessential.
Perhaps the best (though most time- and resource-intensive) way to engage campus stakeholders in digital transformation efforts is to empower them to roll up their sleeves and get involved. Students and staff who are directly involved in designing solutions are more likely to identify everyday problems in need of transformation. They will also become champions, convincing other students and staff that the solution can actually work.
For example, Lancaster University uses a ‘co-design’ approach to involve students and staff in DX efforts. ‘Co-design’ refers to the process of pairing staff with the end-user of a digital solution (whether academic staff, students, or both) to develop digital tools and services together, from ideation to implementation. These projects—such as digital attendance monitoring—promote adoption by increasing stakeholder investment in the end-product.
Lancaster’s co-design initiative prioritises student-led digital projects to enhance the learning experience. A snapshot of the key elements of Lancaster’s co-design initiative follows:
- Each project is championed by a student digital ambassador. Digital ambassadors are undergraduate or postgraduate students who receive an £800 bursary to work on a digital project and share their experiences with the campus community via blogposts and events.
- Digital ambassadors identify a problem they want to solve (e.g., a lack of active participation in large lecture theatres) and work with academic and IT sponsors to design, build, pilot, and eventually roll-out digital solutions (e.g., implementation of TurningPoint polling software to digitally engage students during lectures, and an accompanying instruction guide for lecturers). The partnership allows students to be in the driver’s seat while ensuring continuity and knowledge-sharing if they graduate or are otherwise unable to continue with a project.
- A digital repository of co-design projects introduces the campus community to the 25+ student digital ambassadors and outlines project outcomes, lessons learned, and student-authored blogposts describing their experiences. The repository underscores options for students and staff to get involved, either as a student digital ambassador or as an academic project sponsor.
- Student digital ambassadors present their digital solutions and their experiences in regularly occurring ‘Sharing Practice’ events. Each event is open to the entire campus and is organised by theme (e.g., teaching and learning; student communication; improving engagement). The events give students an opportunity to create deliverables (presentations and final reports) and learn how to communicate and reflect on their experiences for use in resumes or job interviews – a great selling point for recruiting future digital ambassadors.
Any digital transformation journey must begin by engaging the campus community. Each of the strategies above helps to secure stakeholder buy-in and ensures that digital transformation efforts are not ignored or stalled by a lack of awareness and adoption.
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, England
Lancaster University, Lancaster, England
University of Leicester, Leicester, England
“Digital Strategy Environmental Scan”, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
“2018 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK: case studies,” UCISA, 2018
“DigComp into Action – Get inspired, make it happen,” Kluzer S., Pujol Priego L., JRC Science for Policy Report, 2018.