Westminster Briefing – Embedding Digital Literacies in your University

Photo of students with iPads

Image (cropped) courtesy of University of Fraser Valley (Flickr)

Back in February of this year the House of Lords select committee on Digital Skills published a report titled ‘Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future. This was intended to be a call to action for the incoming government after the general election. The report essentially outlined that the UK is at a tipping point. There is a significant skills shortage which has yet to be addressed to secure the UK’s place as a global digital leader.

A few of the key recommendations made were…

  • making digital literacy a core subject at school, alongside English and Maths;
  • viewing the internet as important as a utility, accessible to all; and
  • putting a single ‘Digital Agenda’ at the heart of Government.

Digital Literacies has been a topic of growing importance in the sector for a while now. This report has helped focuses much-needed attention on it and shown recognition at least from parts of the government that this is something that needs to be addressed.

Thursday the 18th June saw a one-day conference hosted in London by The Westminster Briefing titled ‘Embedding Digital Literacies in your University’. There were presentations by both Educational Organisations and Universities (see below)

  • Gemma Long (QAA): What impacts might the inclusion of digital literacy have?
  • Sarah Davies (Jisc): Embedding digital literacy; building digital capability
  • Dr John Craig (HEA): Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age
  • Alastair Clark (ALT): Reporting from the Annual Survey 2014
  • Katharine Reedy (OU): Embedding digital literacy: the Open University story
  • Dr Charles Inskip (UCL): Workforce development and digital literacies
  • Catherine Naamani (University of South Wales): #BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

Link to PDF of presentations here Westminster Briefing – Digital Literacy – 18-06-15.

The morning sessions focused more on aspects of policy whereas the afternoon covered best practice and examples. On the whole the day was useful and highlighted the importance that Digital Literacies/Capabilities will play in the educational landscape over the coming years. Particular areas of note are Digital Literacies/Capabilities becoming an element in QA, as already seen with the QAA. Also, Digital Literacies will come to play a growing part in institutional recruitment, appraisal and promotion processes (a number of UK Educational institutional already doing this).

Another important message was for an Institution to successfully build its Digital Capabilities it will need a unified approach across the entire organisation. From Professional Support Services and Academic Department through to Senior Management and it was critical that Senior Management not only endorsed the process but played an active role in driving it forward.

If I were to voice any criticism with the event it was that the examples of success and good practice came from institutions like the Open University. As interesting as it is to see such inspiring work, you expect that both staff and students will have already bought into the concept whether consciously or not. I can imagine for institutions where the staff are unengaged and/or senior management don’t actively make Digital Literacies/Capabilities a priority it will be difficult to transpose those examples into successful and lasting changes. I would have liked to see more suggestions on how these organisations can develop their Digital Capabilities in the face of such adversity.



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