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.
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 Digital Transformation (DX) efforts. Relatedly, either over- or under-estimating baseline digital capabilities can leave those who are otherwise eager to adopt new tools feeling disengaged.
To ensure your entire campus community is involved in and guided by your digital strategy, you must:
- Deploy an omnichannel communication plan that engages stakeholders with unifying, jargon-free messaging
- Build a baseline of campus-wide digital literacy with campaigns to facilitate training and upskilling opportunities, and encourage digital experimentation
Deploy an omnichannel communications plan
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.
Digital campus website
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
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.
Build baseline campus-wide digital literacy
Many institutions make the mistake of diving straight into tool-specific trainings for staff and/or students. Before even rolling out these new tools, though, universities have found that it’s easier to identify core digital literacies for their campuses, based on their digital strategy or transformation agenda.
That’s where digital literacy committees come in. These committees use the institutional digital strategy, transformation agenda, or other strategic plans to build a framework for digital literacy that will empower campus and enable change.
Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) is one such university that created a digital literacy framework, to identify the core competencies campus constituents should have in order to build toward a digital future. ARU’s digital literacy framework highlights five core digital literacies, and includes specific skills, behaviours, and actions to build literacy in each area.
What is digital literacy?
The continual process of campus constituencies becoming more confident and proficient in the use of digital tools and concepts, enabling institution-wide digital transformation. Universities can improve campus digital literacy with training, exposure, or guidance.
Digital literacy committees create mission-driven, institution-specific frameworks to advance digital transformation goals
Angila Ruskin University’s (ARU) Digital Literacy Framework identifies core skills, behaviours, and actions relevant to building digital literacy across five key areas.
ARU’s digital literacy framework:
- Section 1: Finding, using, managing information
- Section 2: Working in the digital age
- Section 3: Creating digital content
- Section 4: Digital responsibilities
- Section 5: Problem-solving in the digital world
They even went a step further than most other institutions we’ve seen and mapped their framework onto a ‘Digital Literacy Barometer.’ In other words, a way to measure stakeholders’ level of literacy in each core area. They took the skills, behaviours, and actions for each literacy, and converted them into quiz-like statements for students and staff to measure their literacy levels.
However you choose to identify core digital literacies, or measure your campus’ overall literacy level, you will likely come across three types of personas in your transformation efforts.
Three common digital literacy personas
The Digital Sceptic is often marked by fear of technology and a resistance to digital solutions. You might hear them say, ‘It’s too complicated, and my way has worked for so long.’ They’re unwilling to experiment with new technology for fear they’ll break it, or that it will overhaul their day-to-day functions and introduce complexity.
As you move across the spectrum, you start to encounter the Digitally Curious. These are students and staff who are interested in digital solutions and show their eagerness by participating in trainings for new tools, or high usage of IT support services. However, despite their interest in these tools, adoption of new digital tools remains low.
And finally, the Digital Champion. These are the campus constituents who frequently volunteer to pilot new software or tools, or even pitch potential tools or digital solutions to their department or campus unit. These stakeholders are eager to drive transformation and are likely the people who are volunteering to join your transformation committees or working groups.
The goal in building digital literacy is to move campus stakeholders along the spectrum. You won’t ever move everyone to the ‘digital champion’ end of the spectrum, but you should be trying to convert Sceptics and get campus excited about digital transformation. Most institutions will find their staff and students somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
Regardless of the make-up of personas on your campus, you should be engaging each of them to build their digital literacy.
Converting sceptics: Making digital literacy ‘part of the job’
The University of Brighton has made digital literacy ‘part of the job’ for all staff. By embedding digital literacy throughout staff professional development (PD), they’ve set expectations that to be an employee at the University, you must have baseline digital literacies. Doing so encourages staff to connect new digital expectations with the university’s core educational mission.
Align PD schemes with digital literacy
Brighton embedded digital literacy in professional development schemes accredited by the Higher Education Academy’s UK Professional Standards Framework. Because they were accredited, these schemes were popular among staff seeking recognition. They aligned language between their digital literacy framework and the professional standards outlined in the schemes. In order for staff to apply for and receive recognition through one of these schemes, they must self-certify that they have attained a certain level of digital literacy.
Link digital literacy to the review cycle
Staff’s levels of digital literacy – as measured by digital badges earned, participation in trainings, etc., will soon be considered in academic promotion decisions and during staff development reviews.
Update recruitment and onboarding materials
Brighton has plans to emphasise core digital literacies in job postings moving forward. New staff will have digital capabilities and trainings built into their induction, ensuring a seamless transition from recruitment to working at the university.
Engaging the curious: Fitting digital literacy into busy schedules
Anglia Ruskin University makes it easy for staff that are already interested in digital solutions but aren’t sure how to ‘get started.’ They acknowledge that newly converted Sceptics and the Digitally Curious are less likely to devote copious amounts of time or energy in digital literacy, and therefore offer three training tracks to target both those who are ‘newly digitally curious,’ and those who have been interested in digital tools for a longer time.
The most appealing aspect of these training tracks is that they are ‘bite-sized,’ and the length of the training increases as your competency grows. Those staff members who are least engaged with digital literacy spend the least amount of time on training. The barrier to entry is a mere five minutes a day, for five days, over five months.
Excerpt of ARU’s 5-month Training Plan
Month 1: Finding, Using, & Managing Information
Day 1: Google – Advanced search
Day 2: Feedly – Create your own newspaper!
Day 3: Blogs
Day 4: Google Scholar
Day 5: Accessible documents
Month 2: Working in the Digital Age
Day 1: Working in the digital age (scenario-based)
Day 2: Skype for Business
Day 3: Google Drive
Day 4: LinkedIn
Day 5: Your digital identity
Month 3: Creating Digital Content
Day 1: Open Educational Resources
Day 2: How to search for a Creative Commons image
Day 3: Classroom recording and data protection
Day 4: Using mobile phones for Podcasts via MyPlayer
Day 5: University copyright policy and VLE
Month 4: Digital Responsibilities
Day 1: What are digital responsibilities?
Day 2: Mobile crime stats
Day 3: Mobile phone security
Day 4: Electricity consumption
Day 5: 5 ways to stay healthy online
Month 5: Problem-Solving in the Digital World
Day 1: Which ARU resources do you use?
Day 2: Incorporating Twitter into a Module – Comm4comms
Day 3: What do you do if a technology isn’t working?
Day 4: Reddit.com
Day 5: Lynda.com
Staff can hop on a 5-minute training on advanced Google searches while in between podcasts on their morning commute. After doing this for one week, they will have completed the first level of training on ARU’s core digital literacy area ‘Finding, Using & Managing Information.’ Staff can practice these skills throughout the month, before starting the next module, avoiding information overload. The next module will cover competencies in ARU’s second core digital literacy area, and so on.
After completing all the trainings for one month (remember, that’s only 25 minutes of training if you’re a beginner), staff can earn digital badges to add to their LinkedIn profiles, CVs, and other social media platforms.
Registered users in first year
Digital badges awarded in first year
The trainings double in length for the intermediate track (10 minutes) and go up to 15 minutes for the advanced track. Counterintuitively, the most skilled staff members are getting the most training time – but ARU has found that keeping the barrier to entry low for the least digitally savvy helps engage more people.
In the first year alone, ARU registered 468 new users to their training programme, and awarded 813 digital badges.
The Digitally Curious are likely the biggest segment of constituents on any campus. The ideas below outline four additional approaches you can use (separately or in tandem) to boost digital literacy with this audience. A variety of engagement opportunities has the highest chance of reaching campus stakeholders with differing digital skills and literacies.
Panels and Townhalls
-Cornerstone opportunities to engage with and provide feedback on university-wide digital plans
-Set the tone for campus-wide terminology and key digital literacies
Demos and ‘AMAs’
- -Guided step-by-step demos of new tools
- -Outline real-life examples of how campus members have overcome hurdles with new tech
- -Troubleshooting support and potential use-cases for new tools
- -Give stakeholders a chance to test and practice digital skills in a low-stakes environment
Hackathons and Coding Sessions
- -Gives those with digital savvy an opportunity to creatively brainstorm solutions to problems (e.g., student engagement in large lecture halls)
- -Provide staff tools and support to work on side projects, bolstering innovation
Leveraging champions: sharing knowledge
Digital Champions are the campus stakeholders most likely to convert Sceptics and improve campus adoption of technology – by sharing their own experiences with digital tools in a language that their peers and colleagues can understand.
There are a number of ways to identify Digital Champions on your campus, beyond the self-selective staff and students who volunteer to join transformation working groups and committees.
Find your digital champions
Digital champions – whether staff or students – can share their enthusiasm, knowledge, and experiences with those who are less confident and capable with technological tools.
- Poll campus constituents on which offices/staff members they reach out to with digital questions
- Solicit nominations from department chairs of students and staff candidates
- Analyse the results of university-wide digital literacy audits
- Maintain records of staff and students with digital badges or credentials
More difficult, though, is finding ways to ‘activate’ your Champions, encouraging them to support peers in a variety of low-stakes (but high-reward) scenarios.
Activate your digital champions
- Office hours to troubleshoot tech issues
- ‘Pop-up’ events to demo new software tools
- Shadow opportunities to see how champions integrate digital tools into lessons
- Discussion boards with rotating weekly topics (e.g., share the ‘top three’ benefits of your favourite tool)
Encourage digital experimentation
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. Creating programmes that group Champions with Sceptics and/or the Curious allows for campus-wide participation and is a clear-cut way to leverage Champions.
Students and staff who are directly involved in designing digital solutions are more likely to identify everyday problems in need of transformation. Often, Sceptics and the Curious who participate in hands-on projects with the guidance of a Champion, become Champions themselves, encouraging tech adoption and convincing other students and staff that their digital solutions 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.