Spotlight on Digital Capabilities

Photo of York Minster

At the beginning of June I attended the latest UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities in York. In its fifth year, this conference has been jointly organised by UCISA Digital Capabilities Group and Digital Education Group, so the conference has strong themes that tie in with the work around Digital Learning and Teaching here at University of Worcester.

Kicking off the conference was Darrell Woodman on the the Art of Bring Brilliant, introducing ideas around positive psychology and challenging us all to be more grateful for the positives we have in our lives. This certainly resonated with me as I’m interested in how we adopt Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset and apply this and other positive psychology methods to developing staff and student’s digital capabilities.

A clear theme across both days of the conference was the focus on accessibility and inclusion, predominant in part because of the new Public Sector Accessibility Regulations that have come into force.  As always you can never get to every presentation on the topic but Holly Tuke, Assistive Technology Advisor, from York St John gave a very personal account and practical demonstration as a visual impaired student and member of staff, of how we can make very straightforward changes to our Office 365 files. The focus on accessibility continued on Day 2 with an active discussion hosted by Julie Adams and Marcus Elliott on some of the work of The Digital Accessibility Working Party. With all institutions working out how best to support our staff and students with this agenda, opportunities to work collaboratively need to be encouraged and UCISA is a great organisation to be supporting this work.

Presenting on some interesting activity happening more locally within faculty and subject areas, Dale Mundy presented on Using Microsoft Teams to support inclusion. Highlighting some of the accessibility features within MS Teams it was intriguing to see how Teams could potentially be used as a small scale VLE. Considering recent announcements from Turnitin at BETT early this year, you could see how potentially this could be adopted.

Sandra Huskinson presented an honest account of the project she and Keith Pond undertook at University of Loughborough on supportting BTEC students’ transition into Higher Education with the project.  Sadly, the project didn’t get the opportunity to flourish but key learnings include involving students in the creation of the learning resources and getting key stakeholders on board.

Taking a broader sector wide view of digital learning and teaching and digital capabilities, there were presentations from both UCISA Digital Capabilities Group on the recently released 2019 Digital Capabilities Survey Report and a highly entertaining, Family Fortunes style session from UCISA Digital Education Group on the UCISA 2018 TEL Survey Report – in this session it turned out the audience won. Chocolate prizes all round!

Embedding digital capabilities within an institution, often needs both bottom-up and strategic top-down approaches, and at times, it can feel like you’re the engineers trying to ensure that both sides of that digital capability bridge can join up in the middle.

So it was beneficial to hear both from Emma Woodcock, CIO at York St Johns as well as Sandie Donnelly and Dan Meer at the University of Cumbria presenting on their approaches to embedding digital capability within institutions.  Presenting opportunities and approaches in clear understandable way is important and a side discussion about the range of terms that we use to describe this activity highlighted the importance of the language that we, as practitioners, use. Linking with the accessible theme, making this topic accessible in its broadest sense to our staff and students is important if we are truly committed to developing and recognising the skills and competencies we all need to live, study and thrive in a digital society.

Tune Varga-Atkins helped bring the conference to a close with her presentation about her PhD  work and looking at the discipline aspects of digital capability. Drawing her presentation to a close with a well-crafted and insightful poem drawn from her PhD gave us an opportunity to reflect on how much creativity goes into our practice as well as some of the more practical elements.

There is never enough time at these events to get to everything and the networking opportunities provided the chance to discuss and explore further some of the key points raised. Some of the conference was live streamed and you can review those presentations via the UCISA mediasite or alternatively presentations are available from the main programme link. I’ll certainly be looking back over the presentation on accessibility from University of Derby but what would interest you?

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