Digital discovery: engaging users

You want your staff (and in time also students) to use the Digital discovery tool, but they are short of time. Staff may be wary of measures that could be used to monitor their practice, and tired of messages about improving their digital skills. So how do you encourage them to engage?

Our pilot process has established six principles for engaging users:

  1. Establish the voluntary and private nature of participation
  2. Explain the individual benefits – both in general, by having a safe space to explore digital practice, and in your particular context, e.g. by linking the discovery tool to other initiatives and/or to career development opportunities.
  3. You could also mention organisational benefits, e.g. better planning and targeting of staff development, to clarify that data collected from the discovery tool will be used in this way.
  4. Find engagement opportunities that fit in with existing staff practice and presence e.g. meetings, curriculum design workshops, lunchtime sessions.
  5. Send out clear messages in a range of media, ideally with endorsement from staff and student bodies as well as senior stakeholders.
  6. Ensure there is suitable staff development and support in place so staff taking the discovery tool can review their report and plan any new development activities. Of course the pilot will help you plan and prioritise staff development for the future, but you should also be prepared for the short-term demands created by the pilot process itself.

Settings

The setting in which users meet the Digital discovery process is important to establishing trust and encouraging engagement. Some users will feel safer in a peer-group setting, while others will prefer complete privacy. You may want to offer both options.

Who introduces the process (e.g. manager, mentor, staff champion) makes a difference to how it is perceived. Ask your staff and student representatives what they advise to build confidence in the process. Our Community of Practice came up with the following suggestions.

  • Team-based – with teams going through the Discovery process in parallel and discussing their results
  • In the context of an existing staff development activity, e.g. embedded into a workshop or accredited course
  • As part of a new staff development offer, built around the content of the Discovery tool (more guidance on building a staff development offer will be available soon)
  • In the context of appraisal or PDR, or less formal conversations with managers and mentors
  • In a completely self-directed context, in which the benefits to individuals and the privacy of the process are clearly articulated

Effective communication

Consider what platforms and media your users rely on, and what kind of messages will make them want to engage.

  • Many users will be intrigued by the idea of a digital self-assessment, and by the quiz-style interface. Use screen shots to gain their interest.
  • Make sure they understand that they are not being judged or monitored, but offered an chance to find out about their own strengths, weaknesses and habits.
  • Some users will be motivated to help improve provision for others. Make sure they know that their responses – though they are anonymous – will help to build up a picture of people’s development needs.
  • What other digital initiatives will users know about? Refer to them in your campaign, so users feel that by engaging with the Discovery journey they are ticking off another strategic agenda – and that there is some joined-up thinking.
  • Ask representatives of your user groups to design the messages and help you target them: they know which platforms, channels and styles of communication are likely to succeed.

Your communication about the Discovery process should be positive and reassuring. You could keep the text of your invitation very simple:

Discover your digital capabilities! The Digital discovery tool helps you to reflect on your digital expertise and confidence. Find out how to make digital technologies work for you – and get noticed for the skills you have already.

Promotional posters you can download and customise will be available here soon.

There are also ideas in the Guide: Engaging your Learners, written for the Digital tracker pilot but equally relevant to the Digital discovery tool.

Incentives and barriers

Depending on your organisational culture and policy you may be able to offer staff an incentive to engage, such as counting towards a staff development requirement. Some organisations are finding digital badges effective at engaging staff: others find they are not so popular. Consult your e-learning team for advice.

If you are planning to engage staff in a live event you should offer refreshments and a friendly welcome.

The main barriers to engagement identified by our community of practice experts are:

  • Lack of time
  • Lack of clarity about the benefits
  • Concerns about monitoring and a ‘deficit’ model of staff skills
  • Cultural issues unrelated to the specific project e.g. lack of reward for developing teaching excellence

You will know which of these (or other issue) is most likely to concern your staff. Plan ahead and take mitigating action. For example if time is likely to be the main issue, offer the discovery tool in time already set aside for staff development or professional meetings.

Planning support for users

Using the Digital discovery tool is technically straightforward. You can download your own copy of the Guidance for end users – available on users’ dashboards at log-in – so you are ready to respond to any technical issues they may have.

You will need to plan support for staff after completing the Discovery tool so they can act on the feedback they receive.

  • You could plan for users to use the tool during a special day/week/month of activities around digital capability, at a particular site, or during a particular meeting or workshop. This makes it easier to provide face-to-face support.
  • Staff developers, appraisers, mentors and managers could be made aware of staff who are undertaking the discovery process, and be ready to respond if feedback is shared with them. This means involving those staff in the planning of the project and making sure they are resourced to respond effectively.
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Click to read the data in detail

  • You could make an audit of all the staff development opportunities that address digital issues (resources, staff/student champions, workshops etc). Working on this is a good way of building links across the institution. Perhaps you can signpost users to these resources from a new landing page so they see immediate benefits from the project.
  • Staff can be encouraged to take their digital strengths further by joining a special interest group, e.g. around the use of video in learning,  simulations, or the digital humanities. These communities of practice may be informal and short-term, but they are still valuable sources of expertise and peer development.

When they signed up for the pilot, organisational leads were asked what support was available to help staff with their digital capabilities. Only 13% mentioned some form of mandatory support i.e. at appraisal or induction. More than a quarter said that provision for staff was insufficient or not thought through. The Digital discovery project is an opportunity to build on existing resources and make digital development more of a priority.

Evaluating the process

Users will be directed from the results page to a short evaluation survey. The results will be used by the Jisc project team to support the ongoing development of the Digital discovery tool. Please encourage your staff to complete this form, which is completely anonymous. They may be interested to know that the tool is in development and their views are making a difference.

You will also be given support to run a focus group at your organisation, and asked to fill in a questionnaire about your experience.

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