A guest blog posting from Ruth Cameron, digital capabilities project officer (library), University of Newcastle (Australia)
A few years ago, our University Library was included in a discussion about a new education framework for the institution. One of our staff members indicated that digital capabilities weren’t specifically mentioned, and so the library was appointed to fix the problem!
Last year our project team (there are two of us) wrote the students’ digital capabilities framework (opens in new window) with the assistance of an advisory group consisting of staff from careers, the Centre for Teaching and Learning, student retention and success, and each faculty. The careers representative added invaluable information in the form of industry and government reports, outlining what current and future employers will expect of university graduates. We used this information to create an ‘employability’ pillar for our framework, with a companion pillar of equity.
Employers want (and need) graduates with more than basic skills in digital technologies. They require graduates with deep discipline knowledge, and the capacity to apply appropriate digital capabilities to that discipline.
We therefore wrote an employability statement for each capability, to give students and staff a practical idea of what employers will value in the digital future, and how to fulfil those requirements. Our employability statement relating to information, data and media literacies, for example, reads:
“Ability to evaluate digital content; use of analytical skills to manipulate and interpret (big) data; recognition of patterns, and knowledge of how data analysis contributes to targeted decision-making and policy; skills in using different media to create content for different audiences.”
(University of Newcastle Library, 2019, p. 11)
The University of Newcastle was granted autonomy from the University of New South Wales in 1965 after submissions from local students, staff and community members, and our campuses have all been built with strong regional and community support. We therefore identify very closely with the local and wider Hunter and Central Coast communities and industry.
We have extensive outreach and pathway programs and a higher percentage of pathways students than other Australian universities; our university also has the highest percentage in Australia of Indigenous students not only enrolling in but graduating from our programs.
So it was important for our framework to propose equal opportunities for all of our students to achieve the digital capabilities they need, regardless of their preferred instruction method, level of ability, age, gender, socio-economic status, or background. Accordingly we wrote an over-arching ‘equity statement’ into our framework which includes proposals for the university to provide a participatory digital culture where all students can learn to express and support different viewpoints online; an online environment for students to build digital capabilities while complying with digital rights and responsibilities; digital promotion of different languages, cultures and knowledge, extending access for minority, under-represented and vulnerable populations; and many other points. We will make every effort to ensure these proposals are carried through in our implementation work.
Using Jisc’s digital capabilities framework: the six elements defined (opens in new window) as a guide (or more accurately, our ‘go to manual’), each digital capability in our framework includes a statement of what we expect our graduates to have achieved in relation to that capability; an informed, evidence-based statement of what future employers will require; and practical examples, based on the Jisc learner profile (opens in new window) which provides introductory and higher levels of what the achievement of each capability might look like.
The hardwork (implementation)
We established an implementation group consisting of 26 academic and professional staff across the institution, and student representatives. These group members provide us with different perspectives on implementation, which can result in some very interesting group meetings but are invaluable in terms of stakeholder input and engagement.
COVID-19 forced us to make some quick decisions on how to create and situate a ‘digital capabilities portal’ (which has been created as a Libguide with online resources and support, containing tutorials in Word, Excel, Zoom, OneDrive, etc), and the acquisition of an enterprise-wide three-year site licence from LinkedIn Learning. In that sense, COVID-19 did us a favour!
In terms of mapping digital capabilities into courses and programs, we hope to take advantage of the Australian Qualifications Framework (opens in new window) (AQF) review, which will affect curriculum design in all Australian universities. The proposed timeline is from five to seven years, and if the implementation of digital capabilities can be included in that process, it may be seen less as an add-on and more of an integrated, necessary requirement.
Our work this year also includes the creation of a staff digital capabilities framework to ensure that professional and academic staff feel capable of supporting students in these areas.
We have a very long way to go, but our students’ digital capabilities framework is a solid foundation, and the digital capabilities champions in our implementation group also provide great support. Stay tuned ….
Direct link to our framework:
https://issuu.com/universityofnewcastle/docs/digital_capabilities_at_uon (opens in new window)
If you have any queries or would like to know more please contact Ruth direct at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jisc. (2019). Digital capabilities framework: the six elements defined. Available from the Building digital capability website at: https://digitalcapability.jisc.ac.uk/what-is-digital-capability/ (links open in new windows)
University of Newcastle Library. (2019). Digital Capabilities Framework. University of Newcastle. Newcastle