Embedding digital literacies: strategies and managing change

Reflecting the learning landscape

Today I attended a workshop in the Changing the Learning Landscapes series. The event was held at the University of Leeds and several familiar faces from HEA projects and from last year’s SEDA Summer School were facilitating the day. The first session was by Lawrie Phipps, from JISC who spoke at the Summer School last year. He made some good points about, when we speak to students, which students do we hear from? Who are representing students, on committees and in surveys? He asked us to collect our thoughts about what digital literacies students need to be effective learner. They are online and he also made the distinction between scholarly practices, information and media processes and socio-technical processes were are evolving at different rates. Lawrie also recognised that a lot of digital literacy work builds on the work librarians have done for many years around information literacy. He asked us about some of the barriers to change and inevitably the reward structure in HE came up. He also urged against putting digital at the start of things as it focuses the mind on the technology, which is not what we want to do. It’s about underlying practices. JISC have a lot of resources coming out of the Digital Literacies Design Studio, including an audit tool and various models such as the pyramid from Beetham and Sharpe.

The next speakers were presenting the student voice, from the NUS and Student Union Education Officer at Leeds Met. Both Jess and Tashy ran an interesting session which allowed for active participation – we had to undertake a SWOT analysis of student involvement in digital literacy projects. This was a chance to speak to the colleagues from Newcastle University who were on the same table. Tashy also spoke in some detail about a project at Leeds Met to use tablets on a sports science course with 50 undergraduates. She got the idea from the project after watching a Ken Robinson video about education and worked with the E-learning team. Students were also employed as digital champions to help other students and to help staff use the devices and share ideas about how to use them for learning.

After lunch we heard case studies from the University of Leeds and from University of Hull about digital literacy projects and how they helped them formulate strategy and manage change. A team from Leeds spoke about the Digitalis project which was based in the faculty for Performance Arts, Visual Arts and Communication and used digital story telling for student reflection. Carole Kirk spoke about a metaphor for organisational change by Gareth Morgan based on spider plants who send out runner and bumblebees who can go between the fledgling plants to share ideas and network. Some of the Leeds approaches involved giving grants, having a lite touch reporting and having staff to help share ideas and manage the mini projects. The second case study from Liz Cleaver (who worked on the DELILA project with me) at the University of Hull drew on her background as a sociologist and what we know about people and organisations. Some of her insights involved: seeing the bigger picture and other changes in your organisation, knowing how your organisation works, and that perceptions of reality are relative. I also liked the point that you need a communications plan, but that ‘corridor conversations’ are vital – the chance encounters to sell your message. She also spoke about how we work in silos still and don’t assume that people will know about your project.

The final session of the day from Susannah Quinsee Head of Learning Development at City University was about change management and was a great workshop. She spoke about the similarities between change and holidays – the packing, the unpacking and the memories. She also highlighted how many books there are about change management and leadership- more than there are cookery books. She felt Bregman and Kotter are useful books, but both are linear approaches to change and both are based on the corporate sector. Universities don’t work like that and the steps don’t account for the messiness while change is happening. She felt that understanding your organisational culture was key (Johnson and Scholes) and getting people to own a project is also key, so linking it to other intiaitives rather than presenting it as a new project is vital. Susannah had three really great activities for us to work on in groups. We were presented with a scenario and a bag of tools and resources and first had to prioritise which were the most important, which could be discarded and which could be changed. Resources included things like senior management, money, new staff, workshops etc. We were also given postcards and stickers – which was a lot of fun to create a postcard to ourselves about our project, our approach to change. I enjoyed the session a lot but also took away that we need to ditch the ‘technology’ word, that can alienate people or give them the wrong impression. That we need champions, but they can’t be the usual suspects – you need different people to spread your message. And finally Susannah talked about having a vision – not necessarily a strategy, but a vision and talk to people.

Overall the day captured some of the same excitement I felt during the SEDA Summer School. I would have liked more time to talk to more people at the workshop. But I was reassured that we are all struggling with embedding digital literacies into our universities and that changing learning and teaching approaches is not easy. But there is a lot to be learnt from sharing experiences and the time spent talking to colleagues at Newcastle University was really helpful.

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