In attempting to write this blog post to sum up what 2012 has meant for Digitally Ready, the JISC-funded project here at the University of Reading to support staff and students in their use of digital technologies, I quickly found myself resorting to clichés of ‘journeys’ and ‘coming home’. Describing to a colleague what overarching message I was trying to get across apparently put him in mind of a flock of birds migrating south for the winter before returning home – a rather gentle metaphor for an action-packed year, but one that has grown on me.
2012 for Digitally Ready has been about engaging the University community with the digital literacies agenda to pave the way for the strategic developments we are expecting in the new year.
This time last year we invited staff and students to write their Letters to Santa to tell him – and us – what they would like for a Digital Christmas and New Year, and we have taken on board the issues they told us are close to their hearts.
Initially, the project focused on University strategies and policies. Our institutional baseline report was completed at the end of January, and Digitally Ready was set to start tackling some of the challenges presented by an institution as collegiate in structure and culture as Reading.
But major changes in University administration, not least of all the arrival of a new Vice-Chancellor, proved challenging and at times frustrating for the project team, delaying plans and discussions.
Migrations, as is well known, are prompted by changes in habitat. When plans for a digital strategy to encompass Teaching & Learning, research, marketing and support were put on hold, we decided to try a different tack – a departure of sorts – to focus instead on training and development, community building, and local initiatives with staff and students. Individual development and institutional development, after all, go hand in hand and drive each other forward.
Digitally Ready has worked with the University’s Centre for Staff Training & Development (CSTD) and the Digital Development Team (DDT) to more effectively support staff looking to develop their use of digital technologies, and to offer staff more opportunities to share good practice and ideas, to network and ask questions. The new staff training and development programme includes more opportunities than ever to become digitally ready.
We continue to offer more informal opportunities for staff to get involved through our Teaching & Learning Showcase events and Teaching & Learning Seminar series, as well as the Digital Development Forum.
The project team have been running workshops and events with staff and students throughout the project, and we celebrated our successful first project year with a special event in July, ‘Digitally Ready for the Future: Sharing Good Practice’.
It was at this event we launched our Digital Heroes series to celebrate those who have put themselves at the forefront of digital developments to achieve more in our work here at Reading.
Next week, Digital Digest, a new collaborative e-newsletter with the latest news and comment about digital ‘stuff’ happening across the University will be launched.
Furthermore, the Digitally Ready project team is co-ordinating a range of smaller enhancement projects across the institution to support the University’s internationalisation, student engagement and employability, e-Learning, and staff training and development agendas, building on existing good practice. For example, we are working to embed blended learning into delivery and assessment of the University’s Academic Practice Programme (APP), specifically designed to meet the professional development needs of new lecturers.
More importantly, many of our projects see staff and students working together to develop their use of digital technologies, feeding into discussions around student development and hopefully contributing to the establishment of a formal staff-student partnership programme at Reading in the future.
We’ve also completed our research into digital literacies for student employability, one of the priorities in the University’s Corporate Plan. The study focused on work-related placement learning (WRPL) and puts us in an excellent position to inform the ongoing process of fully embedding placements into the curriculum, and to help embed digital literacies within the employability agenda. Our interim research report with relevant findings and recommendations is available, with our final report to follow in due course.
If I haven’t exhausted the metaphor yet, 2013 will see a return to more strategic climes. We’ll continue to implement local initiatives on the ground until Easter, before the project moves into its final evaluation phase, but strategic developments, too, have been gathering momentum.
Digitally Ready has secured the support of key senior members of staff. Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell contributed to a project video and spoke at our celebration event, and the team is working closely with the Associate Deans for Teaching & Learning, including Julian Park of the Faculty of Life Sciences who chairs the Digitally Ready project steering group and represents the project at senior committee level.
A recent visit by TEL expert Neil Morris from the University of Leeds prompted delegates to formally recommend to the University’s Sub-Committee on Delivery and Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (DELT) the development of a digital learning strategy, and to address certain key issues around the use of technologies in Teaching & Learning.
In 2013, Reading should see a move towards University-wide policies, infrastructure provision, and implementation plans, and Digitally Ready will have gathered together a body of evidence and pulled together a community of practice, ready to consider again a wider digital strategy for the University.