Taking Pinipa for a drive


One of the things we like to do in Futures is try new things out to see if they can make a difference to how we manage and present our projects.

We have been looking at how we can provide a better view of progress of our project to our key stakeholders, the steering group and engage the user group in the development of the final service.

One service that we recently tried was Pinipa. This is an engagement tool for projects, which aims to make collaborating with stakeholders easy.

Before we trialled Pinipa we had three main channels for the project:

  • We had regular steering group meetings and reports.
  • For the user group we used a mailing list, this was mainly for announcements, there was some discussion, but not much.
  • We also had the project blog, which we have used mainly for event reports and articles, such as reporting on ALT- C or the importance of data literacy when it comes to working with personal data.

In addition to those main channels externally we used Twitter quite extensively to engage with users and share news. Internally we have been using Yammer to share internal project updates and news. This was aimed both at the staff within the directorate of Digital Futures and the Jisc Account Managers.

What we wanted to do with Pinipa was to provide one site for all our key stakeholders to find out more about the project and to engage the user group in discussions.

We wanted to show the different workstreams of the project we were working on, not so much the detail, but high level workstreams. We did feel that Pinipa was able to give an overview of the project, however as with any kind of new tool or service there was a learning curve in how to use the tool from an user perspective and we didn’t feel that we were showing clearly the progress of the project and how it was broken down into the different workstreams. We do know that Jisc members want to have an insight into the project, so we are reflecting on how we can embed this into existing channels.

One feature of Pinipa was the ability to ask stakeholders to make key decisions about the project, what we struggled with this was what would be a meaningful key decision about the project that we would expect the stakeholders to make. Most of those key decisions had been made much earlier in the project lifecycle. So we liked that feature, but didn’t use it. For projects in an earlier stage, with more options open, that key decision feature might be really useful.

One aspect that did work well, was demonstrating all the different events and conferences where the project team were presenting on the topic of digital capabilities. Although the tool didn’t offer an ideal way of presenting these events within the timeline, it was useful to be able to bring them to the attention of stakeholders. We know that the Jisc members would like to know when the project is going to be talked about, so we are going to ensure that future events can be easily found.

We also wanted to use Pinipa was to make it much easier for Jisc members to provide feedback and engage in discussion around our projects. Pinipa had a useful discussion function that we wanted to use to elicit input. Though we did attempt to engage Jisc members, the participation was very low or non-existent. While we recognise that this is always a challenge, we will redouble our efforts to use our existing channels to effectively engage with Jisc members and give them the opportunity to input into the project.

Overall Pinipa is a great tool for oversight and communication and would work really well for a range of projects, particularly if used from the outset. From the building digital capability project perspective it wasn’t the right tool for us at this stage.

Do you know how to use the Twitter?

A guest post by Ros Bell, first an introduction by James Clay.

When writing my previous post on Twitter I did ask my network on the Twitter the following question and used a Twitter poll for their responses.

So have any of you ever attended a training session on how to use the Twitter?

You can see in this unscientific survey that 75% of people who responded to my poll on Twitter (and so were using Twitter) had not attended a training session on Twitter, but a quarter had.

I was interested to see what training people were doing on using Twitter so here is a guest post from Ros Bell who is the  AV & New Technology Coordinator at The University of Manchester Library and details of the workshops she runs on using Twitter.

using the Twitter

Twitter workshops

If you asked my colleagues what my job entails, they’d probably say that I’m the ‘person who knows about apps and technology and stuff’, and I’m happy with that.

I was first asked to run a workshop for members of the Library’s Teaching and Learning team, on how to keep on top of information online. There was a feeling that people were missing out on important information in their field of interest, that they were constantly playing catch up and feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available. Knowing this, I decided to split this workshop into three sections:

  1. Finding information
  2. Collating and organising information
  3. Dissemination

You can use Twitter for all three of those things, but my aim was to get people using the most effective tool for the job. With that in mind, I decided to focus on Feedly, Evernote and Twitter.

Most people attended the workshop to get a better handle on Twitter – pun very much intended. Often times they hadn’t heard of, or didn’t use Feedly or Evernote. Many would pick them up after the workshop and use them regularly, but it was Twitter that seemed to motivate people to come in the first place. When running these workshops with my colleague Kev, we would often hear phrases like, “It’s overwhelming”, “There’s too much stuff” and “Is anyone reading what I post?”.

Rather than giving a painstaking guide to what we cover in the training, I thought I’d try and answer those three questions as best I could. With added funny tweets that I love throughout. I can’t promise that they will have anything to do with the subject matter, but I can promise that they will be excellent.

“It’s overwhelming”

Yes. It is. There’s no getting away from it, so you’d better embrace it. You will never absorb all the information you want to from Twitter, so make your peace with that. The best way that you can make the most of Twitter is by following the right people. Here’s how to do it: Spend some time on Twitter. Look back over hashtags from events and conferences you’ve been to. Follow speakers or facilitators from sessions you’ve enjoyed. Follow people from your LinkedIn. Look at their timelines and if you like something they’ve retweeted, follow that person too.

If you’re not following too many people, you’re probably following the wrong people. It’s time for a cull. Do it monthly. If you’ve never spent that much time on Twitter, chances are that you’re only following the few accounts that Twitter asks you to choose when you first signed up. So unless you are genuinely interested in seeing every tweet from an account, unfollow it. Be strict when you do your Twitter culls. You don’t need to announce that you’re culling, this is not MySpace and we are not in 2001. If you don’t need to see it, or if it’s not relevant, then unfollow.

“There’s too much stuff”

This is essentially the same as the last statement, but I’ve split them up for the sake of accurately representing my experiences with novice Twitter users.

You’re right. There are 310 million active Twitter users per month. Most of it is nonsense. But even discounting 70% of it as white noise about stuff you’re not interested in, there is still way too much stuff. Especially if you follow news sites. The Guardian, for example, posts multiple times per day and of course they do, they should. But you don’t need to see that. Your Twitter timeline is a precious commodity and to get the most out of it, it has to be lean.

Enter: Lists.

Lists are a Twitter wondertool that, for some reason, the Twitter overlords have hidden away in settings (go to the profile page of the account you want to add to a list, click the cog icon and ‘Add/Remove from List’). Lists are great for catagorising and are good for those accounts that you only really want to keep an eye on, rather than fully follow. For instance, you could create a list for News sites and add all news that you’re interested in to that list. That way the constant posting isn’t disrupting the flow of your timeline, but they are all there and ready for you to read when you want them. You can make public or private lists, but be aware, if the list is public, the accounts will receive a notification letting them know that you’ve added them to a list. This becomes important if your list is entitled, “Sympathy follows” or, “Useless nonsense: The Garbage Accounts”.

The filtering possible with lists is a lot more limited than I would like, but it does the trick in the short term.

“Is anyone reading what I post?”

I don’t want to say ‘no’. But… no, probably not many to start off with. It is highly unlikely that you will get notifications blowing up your phone when you first join Twitter, but the more you get involved with conversations, the better you’ll get at Twitter, and the better you are at Twitter, the more interactions you’ll have.

Hashtags are a good way to get your tweet seen, but use them sparingly. The 90’s and 2000’s brought us death by PowerPoint. The 2010’s bring death by hashtag.

death by hashtag

Obviously this is an extreme example, but hashtag overuse make your tweets unreadable and renders them entirely pointless. Unless you’re doing it for comic effect, but that’s a different blog post entirely.

Think of hashtags as a way of categorising tweets by theme. If you’re a beginner, try searching for a hashtag before you use it. Perhaps it’s already in use for a different topic, maybe there’s another active hashtag but with different wording. Take time to use hashtags properly and you can use them to discover interesting people and conversations that you might never have seen before.

My final top Twitter tip is to know your audience. I run six accounts, for various outlets in my life. Personally, I find it easier to keep everything separate. But however you work, making sure you tweet interesting and relevant content to your followers will help you build up a strong twitter profile and hopefully help you extend your network.

Digital Capability and Human Resources

It’s not often I get to talk about digital capabilities with senior Human Resource managers. Especially not over champagne and a cream tea at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. But someone has to take on the tough assignments, and a glance at the theme of this year’s Universities HR conference (hopefully) explains what I was doing there. This year the HR community is focused on The Changing Face of Work and the Conference was invited to explore ‘How can we best equip our organisations to respond to our increasingly digital world and to meet the needs of our Generation Z employees?’

I was invited to talk about the Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework in collaboration with ECC, the organisation that manages the Higher Education Role Analysis (HERA) scheme and the similar scheme for FE, FEDRA. One of the first things I did in my talk was to shift the question away from the generational one to ask how all staff can thrive in a digital university. I argued that all universities are digital in ways that we can readily see – the devices in students’ hands, the virtual learning and research environments, the involvement of digital systems in all our activities. But they are also digital by virtue of changes in the world beyond that are not so easily seen – the global market in students, the demands of the digital economy, and the availability of alternative routes to knowledge and accreditation. The meaning and value of work inside the university is changed by these trends too.

With that thought, I looked at how work in the wider economy is changing. A report I wrote for Jisc last year – Deepening digital know-how: Building digital talent – discusses this in more detail.Future of work slide 7

I pulled out some key themes and asked whether they are features of work at the lower end of the ‘knowledge economy’ or whether they also affect the working lives of academics and education professionals. We quickly concluded that work inside the academy faces many the same changes, from casualisation to the increasing use of data and metrics. In fact I went through each of these trends and was able to trace them in university work, through a combination of statistics and quotes from my own interviews with staff.

Delegates then talked abFuture of work slide 19out the challenges and changes they were noticing as HR managers. Some of these were familiar to me, such as the chance to reframe the relationships of teaching staff to their students and subject matter (the ‘guide on the side‘). Others were less so, such as the complexities that arise when managers are facebook ‘friends’ with staff who report to them.


When it came to thinking about how best to support staff in these changing times, I introduced the Digital Capabilities Framework and talked about how it is being applied in practice. Sandra Walton, a Senior Consultant for ECC. then described how she has used the framework to update the role descriptors for three different staff roles, thinking about the different demands of the role in 2006 and 2016, and projecting ahead to 2026.

I finished with some conclusions from my report, for further discussion:

  1.  Digital practice and identity are intrinsic to professional practice and identity
  2.  Accreditation, appraisal and CPD processes should  interface better with personal technologies/digital ID
  3.  Organisations need to develop digital specialists alongside generic digital capabilities for all
  4.  Recruit, retain, reward and recognise digital talent, across all roles
  5.  Effective digital leadership means leadership in a digital landscape, not (only) leadership with digital tools
  6. Be a workplace that fosters digital wellbeing

Photos from workshop 1If you are interested to find out more about how the framework is being taken up by different professional bodies, look out for more blog posts here and join the discussion #digitalcapability.

Go do Twitter

Twitter Bird

We know that staff who use tools such as Twitter are more likely to be able to understand the nuance of a tool such as Yammer or Slack. Those who don’t will probably struggle. The solution is not go do Twitter, but to realise that when introducing new tools, if you have an understanding of the digital capabilities of your team or staff, you can ensure that any training materials or workshops address not just the technical aspects of any new tool, but also the nuance of why it is being introduced and the ways in which it can be used.

Within the Jisc Digital Capability framework one element is that of digital communication which we have described as:

The capacity to communicate effectively in a variety of digital media and digital forums; to communicate in accordance with different cultural, social and communicational norms; to design communications for different purposes and audiences; to respect others in public communications; to maintain privacy in private communications.

Within the discovery tool there are various questions and feedback that relate to the use of Twitter. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should “go do Twitter”. Being digitally capable doesn’t necessarily mean you even need to be using Twitter.

Over on my blog I have posted a couple of articles on my use of Twitter. The second is about how “we are all rubbish at Twitter” and there isn’t one way or a right way to use Twitter. However, the first is a history of how my identity on Twitter came about and how I used it initially and where I am today when using Twitter. One key aspect for me was that many of the skills I gained in other tools and services (such as Usenet) were transferable into Twitter. But those same skills and the experience in using Twitter were also useful when using other tools such as VLEs and online conference platforms.

When it comes to introducing a new VLE or online tools and services, understanding the digital capability of your staff, especially their digital communication, collaboration and participation capabilities will ensure any new system is welcomed, adopted with good utilisation of the full functionality.

Think about how you would introduce a tool such as Yammer across an organisation, part of Microsoft 365 (Google Apps has a similar tool in Google+). Often these tools are introduced with the focus of the training on the technical aspects of the tool: this is how you post, this is how you add an image, this is how you create a group, this is how you turn off e-mail notifications…

What is often missing is the nuance of the tool, why the tool should be used and what it can do, what it replaces and what is new.

Those people who are confident and familiar with other tools, such as Twitter, Google+ and even Facebook in some respects, will see Yammer for what it is and be able to use it reasonably effectively. Having said that it is sometimes useful to even provide guidance on the why the tool should be used.

What Yammer can do is replace many of the functions that we use e-mail for and for which it does badly. Using e-mail for open threaded conversations and discussions is never a good idea and fills people’s e-mail inbox with what many would regard as noise, but some would regards as essential and critical.

Really e-mail works best as a 1-2-1 asynchronous communication tool, whereas something like Yammer is a great one to many and many to many communication tool. Similar things can be said about other tools such as Slack, Basecamp and JIRA and how they differ to communication via e-mail.

The key issue for adoption and use of such tools is the capabilities of the staff who are to use them. If they have low levels of digital communication, collaboration, participation capabilities then it is possible and likely that they will not take advantage of the benefits and features of these tools.

If you ask staff directly about their digital communication skills, they will probably look at their use of e-mail and think I can do that. Assessing your own skills is a challenge and something we looked at when developing the digital capability discovery tool.

Building digital capability in the library

LILAC 16 Keynote by James F Clay CC BY-NC 2.0

LILAC 16 Keynote by James F Clay CC BY-NC 2.0

Last week I was in Dublin for the LILAC 2016 Conference. This international conference, is the Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference. LILAC is organised by CILIP’s Information Literacy Group. The LILAC committee is made up of a team of information professionals from all aspects of library and information work who are dedicated to improving information literacy.

I was invited to deliver a keynote on digital capability and decided that I would talk about what we understand by digital capability and how we could build digital capability in the library and the role of library staff in doing that, as well as looking at what digital capabilities library staff should have.

An online version of my presentation is now in Slideshare.

The presentation reflected on the need for all staff across an institution to be digitally capable.

Effective use of digital technology by university and college staff is vital in providing a compelling student experience and in realising a good return on investment in digital technology.

I went through how Jisc has created a digital capability framework that has six core elements, building on existing work in this area. The framework allows staff and institutions to map the skills required by different roles. I discussed how Jisc working with stakeholders and sector bodies, aim to provide clear guidance over what digital skills are required, and equip leaders and staff with the tools and resources they need to improve digital capability at a local and institutional level.

During my keynote I explored the history and background to the building digital capability project and the importance of staff within libraries understanding their own digital capability and, as well as supporting and building the digital capabilities of others. We explored how we could provide a library lens on the digital capability framework and possible next steps for staff wanting to build their digital capability.

LILAC 16 Keynote © All Rights Reserved image by Vincent Hoban, UCD Media Services https://flic.kr/p/FKBQXq Image used with permission.

LILAC 16 Keynote © All Rights Reserved, image by Vincent Hoban, UCD Media Services, https://flic.kr/p/FKBQXq Used with permission.

I was pleased with the presentation and got some very positive feedback, both in person and across the Twitter.

After the conference people have been writing blog posts and these

Jess Haigh in her blog post remarked:

The thing I’m going to do more of, assess my digital capabilities and actually use tools such as our VLE to their full extent-which I am very guilty of not doing.

David Bedford in his blog post said:

It is important to consider the role of the library in supporting the development of non-academic members of the university community? Digital skills, including the ability to find, evaluate and use information online, are important across the university and the library may be able to help.

Nice final comment from Andrew Walsh, who enjoyed my keynote and in his blog wrote:

Finally was James Clay. His subject matter was a bit more run of the mill, talking about digital capability rather than being as free as the other two with topic (he is currently working for JISC on a project around this, hence the focus of his talk). Even so, James is an old hand at this sort of things and put on a really engaging, amusing and lively performance… just what was needed on the final day after the conference dinner!

Overall it was a great opportunity, thank you LILAC, to talk about Digital Capabilities and the work I have been doing on the project and the role and importance of Information Literacy professionals in helping to build digital capability across an organisation, as well as themselves gaining an understanding of their own digital capability.

Anonymity and identity

Following on from my post about posts across the web on identity, James Davis, Jisc’s Information Security Manager provided the following blog post which expands on the topic.

With increased awareness of state surveillance schemes, people are looking towards cryptographic technologies such as tor and bitcoin as a perceived means to regain a degree of anonymity and privacy online.

These technologies may be readily accessible, but understanding the protection they provide your identity is a little harder to grasp.

Perhaps this is because anonymity seems to be such an intuitive idea, whereas in reality the workings of cryptographic systems, peer-to-peer networks and online identity are much more complex. Different technologies provide different types of anonymity, identity and privacy.

Bitcoin is often promoted as an anonymous alternative to mainstream currencies, but the system is far from anonymous. Bitcoin addresses, from and to which the currency can be transferred actually represent identities within the system. Not only that – every single transaction is broadcast over the bitcoin network and can be viewed publicly. In some respects it’s a less anonymous system than cash based transactions. Bitcoin users are encouraged to retain some anonymity by generating new addresses for each transaction, but even then, managing and maintaining those identities is the only thing that allows you to assert that you own your bitcoins.

Tor (the onion router) provides a means for hiding the source of web traffic, by wrapping it in multiple layers of encryption and routing it through several intermediate systems. What’s often overlooked is that tor doesn’t protect you from disclosing your identity within the contents of your communications. It can take significant discipline to avoid doing this. Here’s a recent blog post that reveals how even tor hidden services can frequently be deanonymised through this type of mistake.

As well as providing different types of anonymity and identity, these privacy enhancing tools are valuable to society. This could pose some interesting questions for institutions of the future: is control of a bitcoin address sufficient to identify a student enrolled on a MOOC if all you wanted to know is that they were the same student you taught the prerequisite courses to? Would future regulation of cryptocurrencies necessitate that these types of identity be tied to a “real world” identity?

Digital anonymity

Blurred Digital Leadership

One of the six elements of digital capability as outlined in our published framework is digital identity Across the web on various blogs, there have been some interesting articles and views on identity.

I really started to engage with the web in 1997 and back then the default behaviour was to be mainly anonymous or if you wanted to be identified, you used a “handle”. I remember on the ISP usenet group I frequented I was known as jimbo. However by the mid-noughties engaging with a professional body of learning technology professionals, I started to move from anonymity to using my actual name, James Clay. This really started with tools such as Twitter, Flickr and even Facebook! However one core tool for me was using WordPress for my e-learning blog and actually wanting to raise my profile in the learning technology community. When writing on this blog I started to use my real name. Since then I have been “James Clay” on the web and social media.

Over the last couple of months so, there have been some interesting blog posts on identity, anonymity and residency which will be of interest to those interested in digital capabilities.

Donna Lanclos (who was a presenter at our  Jisc Digital Leadership Programme) posted on her blog a post entitled Resident Anonymity?

In this post Donna discusses does it matter if people are anonymous on the web?

Students, novices, anyone trying things out and wanting to see what happens might well value the freedom that comes from anonymity, the ability to try something on and discard it without it scuffing the identity that everyone already knows them by.  Anonymity can facilitate creativity, risk-taking, a feeling of safety.

She contrasts this with the views of an individual who attended one of her workshops about the vitriolic comments anonymous people made on newspaper websites. She finishes off with the following

I am interested in having more public conversations about the motivations to be hidden while making work and words visible.

When managing an online identity for many people they want to be anonymous and don’t want to be public. Understanding the motivations behind this, as well as the motivations to be public will help people about their own public and anonymous digital identities.

Our own Lawrie Phipps on his personal blog responds to Donna’s post and links it into our work on digital capabilities, specifically digital identity, in Digital Literacy and the problem of balancing Presence and Anonymity

He reflects on the negative aspects of anonymity, but then asks what advice can we give people on the positive sides of an anonymous web presence.

I have been going through some of the Jisc Digital Literacy and Digital Capability resources and trying to identify some work that helps both students and staff understand the situations where online anonymity is a positive. Most of the work talks about the importance of understanding digital and developing a good online presence, and in the new Jisc Digital Capabilities work this is also emphasised.

He finishes with the following question:

With the Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework there is an underpinning element of identity and well being, what advice and guidance should it contain to promote the effective use of anonymity and pseudonymous presence.

Well that certainly is a question we should be looking at in helping individuals to build capability in the area of digital identity. What are your thoughts on anonymity?

Earlier in November, Eric Stoller, wrote about the geo-social anonymous network, Yik Yak.

People have posted a lot of good things on Yik Yak, but they’ve also posted a lot of hurtful content. Unfortunately, anonymity plus mobile proximity can lead to an environment (due to hurtful content) that (at least on the app) is hostile. This has lead to multiple conversations about banning and/or monitoring Yik Yak. While Yik Yak has been cooperative with law enforcement officials when unprotected speech gets posted, a lot of content posted on the app that falls within protected speech has upset a lot of people.

His view on Yik Yak is summed up as follows:

My opinion on Yik Yak is that it’s like a lot of our digital engagement channels, it represents “us”…good, bad, and ugly. Yik Yak can be a source for good. There’s a lot of supportive posts, non-offensive humor, and if news is breaking, there’s a good chance someone is posting about it on the app.

More recently Eric noted on the Twitter on an interesting and positive use of YikYak by Loughborough SU in getting students to freely discuss any questions they had about drugs.

Over on the ALT Members discussion mailing list, there was a discussion on a similar topic, the mis-use of social media, and this was summarised and published on the ALT website.

Recently Sue Watling from Hull University asked the ALT-MEMBERS mailing list for advice on developing a policy document on the use of social media which in particular addresses misuse:

I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions for dealing with misuse of social media, for example students using anonymous apps (like yikyak) for inappropriate behaviour likely to cause distress to others, both staff and students

Sue has followed her original post with a post compiling responses to her original question. As this is an area that may be of wider interest to the community, and with Sue’s permission, we’ve reposted an edited version of her compiled list.

Across the web the concept of digital identity is being discussed online (also offline in meetings and events I have attended). Understanding the concept of digital identity is an important aspect of digital capability and as seen in the digital capability framework is a foundation of many of the other digital capabilities. Think how important identity is in respect to communication and collaboration for example.

So what are your thoughts on digital identity?

Working with the Heads of Educational Development Group

This is a write-up of a workshop I ran for HEDG in November (yes finally! I have been working with universities in Australia since then – more in a following post). It is always good to work with educational developers, a group of people who are alive to the need for teaching staff to develop their digital confidence, and who are at the forefront of digital developments whether through curriculum initiatives, accredited courses for teaching staff, or one-off digital events. And of course educational developers are always open to being challenged, to reflecting deeply on current practice, and to playing with boxes and bits of coloured card 🙂

The workshop was a chance for me to learn more about the issues facing educational developers as universities become more digitally mainstream. Of course I also wanted to talk about the digital capabilities framework, and for us to consider ways in which it might be used in practice.

Six-elements1In my presentation I reviewed some of the reasons for treating the digital revolution as a moment of discontinuous change for higher education, from the questions we address (and our methods of inquiry), through the content of the curriculum and the demands made of graduates in employment, to the expectations students have of their learning environment. I looked at the evolution of Jisc’s framework, with new features such as:

  • the inclusion of data literacy alongside information and media literacy as an essential way of understanding and engaging with knowledge;
  • the expanded sense of innovation to include creative production and organisational/practice change alongside more conventional ideas of digital scholarship;
  • the inclusion of digital wellbeing and the use of ‘digital identity’ to mean authentic practices of the self in digital spaces, rather than simply the projection of a positive persona;
  • the ambition to make the framework applicable to a wide range of professional and academic staff (as well as researchers and students) in recognition of the role digital capability plays in all kinds of educational and para-educational practice.

After some discussion I asked each table to design a box. Inside each box was the framework plus other tools (their choice!) to help them to embed digital capability among teaching staff. On the outside of the box were words and phrases that would really encourage staff to pick up the box and look inside.


Before they could even use the box, HEDG members identified some issues that their institution needed to get right. These included:

  • technology that is up to date, robust, and ‘just works’ at the times and in the spaces where it is needed;
  • a commitment to professional development – especially the time and opportunity to try new practices with support, with colleagues, in a spirit of playfulness/curiosity/inquiry, and without judgement or fear of public failure;
  • strategies for Technology and for Learning, Teaching and Assessment that are integrated and are followed through with resources, recognition and other necessary support;
  • ‘the right people’, whether professionals, colleagues, or student champions/buddies, who are using digital technologies in practice, in contexts that are similar enough to make sense to new users, and who are available (can provide timely technical, pedagogical or moral support).


Given those institutional commitments, some of the things HEDG members wanted inside the box were these:

  1. ‘Imagined futures and cautionary tales’; ‘time travel’ or postcards from the future: compelling visions of a staff and student experience in which digital technologies are successfully integrated, along with stories of what can go wrong (or what can go differently/unexpectedly). Scenarios as tools for thinking with.
  2. Classic educational principles reframed for a digital age; or learning activities/tasks reframed with digital mediation; ensuring that new digital practices are underpinned with sound pedagogy and established ways of working.
  3. (Similarly) Digital approaches ‘mapped’ or ‘hooked’ into familiar teaching tasks such as curriculum design, learning support, assessment, marking, giving feedback, evaluation; emphasising what technology particularly enables and where face-to-face or print-based approaches are equally/more appropriate.
  4. (Example) Roadmaps for realising the imagined future in practice: described as a ‘backwards mapping’ of strategies.
  5. More on the difference between ‘transactional’ and ‘transformational’ approaches to the use of digital technologies in student learning.
  6. More evidence of the link between digital proficiency and learning/lifecourse outcomes, and between digital proficiency and excellent teaching (I think we’d all like this!)
  7. Examples of learner analytics in use: both practical tools such as dashboard services, and case studies or narratives of effective use to enhance learning/teaching/the student experience.

With so many good ideas to work on, it’s understandable that less thought went into the outside of the box or the ways in which these tools might be made attractive and relevant to staff. In fact, some participants said there was no need to ‘sell’ the contents if they did the right job. However, the consensus was that staff are most interested in innovations that:

  • help them to work smarter, not harder
  • help them to deal with student-related issues such as higher numbers, greater variety of backgrounds and prior experiences;
  • genuinely and demonstrably enhance student learning;
  • make the teaching/learning experience more interesting, exciting, engaging.


Overall this is probably the most helpful list of staff/educational development tools I have been able to draw up since I started work on this project, and I am grateful for the Heads of Educational Development for engaging so willingly (and playfully!) with the task. I really hope the coming year sees some of these tools being developed: look out for those boxes!

It’s a question of style


In applications such as Word and Powerpoint you have styles. In online tools such as WordPress and Moodle you also have styles.

Reflecting on your own capability in using styles in applications, would you consider yourself to be:

  • Proficient
  • Confident
  • Competent
  • Aware
  • Unaware

Your response to this question provides a real insight into your actual and potential personal digital capability.

Styles can be used (obviously) for formatting documents easily and quickly, over selecting individual text strands and then formatting using the various tools in the menu (or button bar). Using styles means that if you wish to update your body text or your headings, you can update the style and this then updates all instances across the document. For those who use styles this is pretty obvious, but there are large numbers of people out there who have yet to discover how styles can be used in their documents and presentations.

Styles in Word

However often missed is the use of styles in documents for other aspects of digital capability that come much more easily once you have understood and mastered styles.

Using styles means that documents are more accessible than those that don’t. Talking to staff about accessible documents, I have heard people retort that they create accessible documents because they use Comic Sans! Using styles, headings, sub-headings, means that the document is much easier to navigate when using a screen reader.

Using styles in documents, also means that you may start using them when creating web content in blogging software such as WordPress or a VLE such as Moodle. Rather than using formatting tools, which results in the use of <SPAN> and <DIV> tags, using appropriate styles such as <H1>, <H2>  and <P>  means that the web content is more easily navigated using a screen reader.

Styles in WordPress

Tools such as Course Genie relied on the use of styles to create learning content from Word documents, unless you used and understood styles, these tools were much more challenging and difficult to use.

Effective use of styles means that your documents will more easily conform to a branding style or guide. This means using templates may be easier. If you understand styles and how they are used, this means that you can create better and more easily used templates aiding digital creation and collaboration.

Knowing that you can use styles, also tells me that you can create long form documents with a Table of Contents automatically created using styles within that document. These documents can then be more easily shared and collaborated on over one which is created in an ad hoc manner.

One issue that arises when introducing new digital technologies is that staff struggle with new tools or ways of working, often this is because they are missing basic ICT proficiency in using applications, tools and services.

Creating accessible documents is easy, if you are already using styles, but if you have no awareness or understanding of styles when creating documents and presentations, this adds an extra layer of skills that needs to be gained before you can start moving onto the actual task of creating accessible documents.

So how do you gain those skills?

Well one of the issues is that, often people don’t know they need to know about styles and as a result not only don’t see it as a priority when it comes to their personal development, they are not even aware that they should know about these things.

Digital capability is not just one thing, but understanding how skills and knowledge builds on existing skills is important when building digital capability in individuals and across an organisation.

So I will leave you with a final question, how do you build basic digital capability in your staff across your organisation?

Digital literacy as a marker of excellence – working with the QAA

Recently I spent a busy couple of days at the QAA’s Quality Enhancement Network events on digital literacy. As a brand new review theme for 2015-16, digital literacy attracted a large number of delegates – around 90 across the two events – to hear about previous work in this area and to share practice around the review topic. It was great to have an opportunity to talk about Jisc’s long record, from the modest Learning Literacies in a Digital Age study in 2009, through Supporting Learners in a Digital Age, to the 12 institutional development projects under the Developing Digital Literacies programme (2011-13). That programme took digital capabilities out of libraries and e-learning teams and allowed new, whole-institutional approaches to flourish. (It also took Jisc into partnerships with a range of professional bodies, laying the basis for the current co-design approach.) Some of the institutional case studies which presented at the two QEN meetings originated with Jisc-funded projects from that time.

The greatest interest from delegates was in the current Digital Capabilities challenge, and the digital capabilities framework in particular. More than half the delegates stayed behind after the close each day to discuss how the framework might be used in their institutions, and how they could be part of developing practical tools and services based on it. My impressions are that:

  • institutions with well developed approaches to digital capability are interested in the option of local or customised tools, but most institutions want off-the-peg tools of proven quality and value;
  • curriculum design and personal appraisal/review remain key points for intervention around digital capability;
  • digital issues are now well integrated into most PG Cert courses for teaching staff, but sometimes this has been at the expense of giving the issue specialist attention and support;
  • some of the most interesting work continues to be done at the level of the subject area and embedding into the curriculum;
  • there are plenty of useful, generic resources for both staff and students which are not currently being shared across institutions or even within institutions as effectively as they might;
  • while people are developing different approaches to this issue, the prevailing mood remains one of collegiality and open sharing.

Feedback on Jisc’s contribution has been very positive, according to the QAA. Slides from the two events. If you are from a QAA subscribing institution you can contact enquiries@qaa.ac.uk to receive all the slides and resources from both events.