In the first of a new series of blogs, Walter Patterson, Education Consultant, tells us about CDN’s new digital skills project.

The value of digital technologies to learning and teaching has long been acknowledged by colleges. Prior to March 2020, colleges in Scotland had well-laid plans for the steady increase of opportunities for digital learning for their students, to be realised through investment in the IT infrastructure, the development of digital competence in staff and policies such as BYOD.

The effect of Covid-19 on those plans has been likened to a tsunami, with college staff and students alike moving to fully online learning in the space of a few weeks – a position that exceeded even the most ambitious of those plans referred to above. The determination and effort required on the part of all concerned has been monumental – and a confirmation of the college sector’s reputation for flexibility and its ‘can do’ culture.

The digital strategies of colleges recognise the importance of their staff developing digital capability to select and use technologies that enhance the student experience and make efficient use of resources. To set targets for this development of digital skills, colleges have been guided in their digital strategy by the existence of recognised frameworks for digital capability. These frameworks variously identify ‘dimensions’ of digital capability and provide details of skills in each dimension. Of these, the Jisc Digital Capability Framework is probably the best known.

As we emerge from lockdown into a changed world, there is opportunity for reflection on the lessons learned from the ‘dash to digital’ in colleges. Obviously there has been the challenge of ensuring that staff and students had access to devices and networks of sufficient quality to enable their participation in remote learning. A significant challenge was the unpreparedness of many staff for such a rapid and total transformation of their interactions with students, and the resultant call on learning technologists to develop and deliver focused training and support. The further demand for transformed assessment approaches has proved particularly challenging.

CDN proposes to take advantage of the present efforts of colleges in 2021 to re-group and reconsider approaches to learning, teaching, and assessment, to establish the extent to which the pre-pandemic digital capability frameworks have proved ‘fit for purpose’ in the new normal for further and higher education. Colleges are re-examining their digital strategies in the light of the experiences of 2020 and early 2021, so this is an ideal opportunity to harness those considerations for the overall benefit of the college sector.

CDN has initiated a research project to test a hypothesis that ‘pre-pandemic digital capability frameworks have not sufficiently identified the scope of digital competences that are required for learning, teaching and assessment in colleges post-2021’. It is the expectation also that a common baseline for digital capability would be identified by evidence from this research study.

The research schedule includes:
• Analysis of existing college Digital Strategies
• Interviews with senior staff members responsible for digital strategy
• Comparator study with known models of good practice in other UK nations
• Focus groups to examine outcomes and conclusions (to include student representation)

The study formally launched this week – week beginning 10 May, 2021.

Walter has extensive experience of digital learning, teaching and assessment in Scottish education.

Find out more about the project here

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