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Transformations University of Westminster - DigitISE

Project Name: Project DigitISE

Lead Institution: University of Westminster

Project Lead: Fiona O'Brien


See the full Transformations programme playlist

 

Background

The University of Westminster this year (2013) celebrates 175 years since its foundation. Situated in the heart of the West End of London and in Harrow the University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Our students form one of the most diverse student populations in the country. Like our philanthropist founder Quintin Hogg, we offer opportunities to those who have the aspirations and ability to learn and to put their learning into practice in their working lives, whatever their background. 

 

Our students tend to be busy people, often with family commitments, and working alongside studying. This profile can present challenges when trying to attract students to extra curricular and non-assessed activities.

 

Aims and objectives

The aim of Project DigitISE was to explore digital literacy and its relationship to employability for our students. In outline the project sought to:

  • Research student attitudes to and take up of technology, the skills required to use it effectively and the relevance of these skills to their employability
  • Research what messages are effective in persuading students of the relevance of the full range of digital literacy skills for employability
  • Test the above with a pilot programme marketed at undergraduates in spring 2013
  • Integrate the delivery of such skills through multidisciplinary teams
  • Produce a draft strategy for the University around digital literacy skills

 

The work was directed by a Project Board, with key stakeholders from across the academic community (two academics including the Dean of Westminster Business School; a careers advisor; the Deputy Chief Executive of the students' union; the Associate Director of Internet Services; an Academic Liaison Librarian; the Communications Manager, Information Services) and chaired by Deputy Vice Chancellor Rikki Morgan-Tamosunas and managed operationally by a Delivery Group, chaired by Project Manager, Fiona O'Brien. The Delivery Group, which focussed on operational aspects of the work consisted of librarians, IT trainers and academics working closely together to devise the pilot programme and draft the digital literacy strategy and student social media guidelines.

Context

This was a timely piece of work for the university which is undertaking a major review of teaching: Learning Futures@Westminster, to which Project DigitISE is also very relevant, as the university seeks to anticipate and accommodate new ways of delivering learning and engaging students. A separate piece of work in the University, a Change Academy project, seeks to integrate information and digital literacy skills into the curriculum, making use of the ANCIL framework and Project DigitISE and its findings will feed into this. Both pieces of work aim to increase the digital literacy of the Westminster student and raise the profile of the importance of these skills in our graduates.

The business case and key drivers

We had been aware that the take up for library skills sessions was low in comparison to that for branded IT sessions. Feedback once students had attended the library sessions was good, indicating that they fulfilled a need, so we wanted to explore our students' understanding of digital literacy skills especially as they relate to employability in order to market our sessions more effectively and increase take up.

 

 Early in the life of the project our Deputy Vice Chancellor indicated that she would like to see a draft digital strategy as an output of the work. By taking a student centred view of this work we hope to offer insights as to what "messages" work in persuading students of the value of digital literacy for their studies and then employment. Project DigitISE has provided the groundwork for understanding our students better and in researching what needs to happen next. For example a final task of the project is to host a series of faculty based workshops for academics in autumn 2013  to define what a digitally literate graduate looks like for their subject discipline. As a result of the Get the Digital Edge event we have drafted some student guidance on using social media, which will be hosted on the Get the Digital Edge web page - a legacy that will act as a hub for information for staff and students in future

One of the key drivers for this work is graduate capability and employability with an expectation that students will become increasingly demanding of the university and the benefits of studying with us as opposed to competitors. Recent research by RLUK indicates that training offered by the library service is a strong predictor of overall course satisfaction and we intend to capitalise on this by strengthening the "brand " of our skills and training offer regardless of which department in the University is providing it. 

JISC resources/technology used

 

  • University of Greenwich Digital Literacy questionnaire. We adapted an existing questionnaire from the University of Greenwich to survey our students as to their use of technology and their understanding of and attitudes to digital literacy skills. This would be useful to repeat in 18 months to 2 years' time.
  • Professionalism in the Digital Environment (PriDE) http://digilitpride.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/109/. We are using these Open Educational Resources from the University of Bath to develop and deliver the faculty workshops in September 2013 to define the digitally literate graduate.
  • P3M Project management infokit http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/infokits/project-management/index_html. The project manager made use of these resources in planning and delivering the work; specifically when setting up the Project Board and Delivery Group and ensuring key stakeholders were engaged with the work as well as creating key project documentation: the project plan and budget. The infokit provided clear information about how to undertake these tasks.
  • SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy(DL) http://www.sconul.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/coremodel.pdf. This work, already known to the project team, underpins our approach to digital literacy and will inform future work alongside ANCIL.
  • Digital Literacies Institutional audit. This documentation has not been used in the life of the project so far, but will act as a useful prompt in developing the work further as part of Learning Futures@Westminster since it covers aspects of staffing and infrastructure to support and develop digital literacy capacity within the institution.
  • Supporting Learners In a Digital Age https://wiki.brookes.ac.uk/display/slida/Home. Although this work did not focus on employability specifically, it too will support further work to be undertaken after the end of the Jisc Transformations funding in providing prompts to underpin the implementation of Learning Futures@ Westminster

 

Outcomes

 

Achievements


In November 2012 we undertook a survey of students to establish their understanding of and attitudes to digital literacy - this resulted in 563 complete responses (we extended the questionnaire in order to elicit more feedback from certain disciplines that were underrepresented in the first tranche) and the headline findings are detailed on the project blog. In follow up focus groups, we probed more about the digital skills training that is currently on offer at the university and found that awareness is low, marketing channels not as effective as we thought and the titling of the training sessions not well understood  by our students (library training = how to take out a book). Students called for simpler, more direct calls to action and one place where they could look to find out about digital skills training. A second round of focus groups explored the notion of the digitally literate graduate and here the students called for more guidance from the University as to what employers want and how they should be presenting themselves and their skills

Our student event, Get the Digital Edge, which took place on March 21st 2013 had 100 attendances (some people attending more than one session)  and confirmed the focus group findings about how we communicate our digital skills training offer to students and in a related piece of work at the University we have been advocating a unified approach to study skills so that there is a single "brand" to promote to students which is serviced by a diverse range of professional and academic services teams e.g. IT Training team,  Academic Liaison Librarians, Learning Development Advisor and Careers Development Centre. Following the Get the Digital Edge day the Delivery Group for the project was tasked with developing resources and approaches to sustain the work. A presentation at the University's annual Learning and Teaching symposium in July featured a call to action to embed these skills in the curriculum wherever possible.

 

As a result of this survey and focus group work we have a clearer understanding of our students and their attitudes to digital literacy and employability. We know that our marketing and communication efforts need to be more nuanced in terms of messages and that we need to find more effective ways to direct communication to the student body. The work has confirmed the need to integrate these skills in courses as well as provide sessions at lunch and twilight times. The work of drafting a digital literacy strategy has begun and will be passed to the Learning Futures@Westminster initiative for further development. We realised once we had a first draft that the document needed to have wider circulation before it is ready to go through the committee cycle.  Once published it will be linked to here.

 

Benefits

As noted above the groundwork undertaken as part of this project will be used in the upcoming Learning Futures@Westminster initiative. The survey findings can inform digital skills planning as well as other IT plans within Information Services. It and the findings of the focus groups have prompted the project team to consider how it communicates with students. The survey activity has confirmed what we already suspected i.e. that whilst some students are confident in their use of digital media others remain unsophisticated in their use and would benefit from further support from the University. The project has confirmed the idea that the University needs to streamline the offer to students and promote it via a range of channels including Blackboard. The draft digital literacy strategy will also be handed on to Learning Futures@Westminster for further development

 

Drawbacks

In all elements of the project where students were involved we struggled to get attendance i.e. students signed up both  for focus groups and for the Get the Digital Edge day and then did not turn up on the day.  This was found to be a common occurrence at the University and is attributed to the "study and go" habits of busy London students.  Engaging the wider University with this work has not yet been achieved and needs more sustained effort.  This is due inpart to the short term nature of the project, no sooner had we got the data from the survey and focus groups and the findings of Get the Digital edge event than we were starting to wind down for the end of the project. However, we intend to pass the baton to the Learning Futures@ Westminster initiative to continue on this and embed the work further. Prof. Barbara Allan is leading the Learning Futures work and has been a member of the Project DigitISE Project Board so is well placed to see this through.

 

Key lessons

 

  • 87% students think they are digitally literate therefore our messages about training and development in this area need to be nuanced. Hence the title of our student event - Get the Digital Edge - which we will continue to use beyond the life of the project
  • There is an opportunity for us to offer training on how to use mobile devices for study (Less than 2% students are doing so already, although around 50% like to use learning resources when travelling. Note: Since this finding the University, through the Flexilearn project has introduced Blackboard Mobile Learn, which reports 20,000 users of the mobile app)
  • The findings of the survey and focus groups are of use across a number of departments 
  • Students want a simpler one stop for information about and  access to digital training (this also emerged from the Academic Support stream of Learning Futures for study skills in general)
  • We need to either  a) strengthen our marketing and communications around extracurricular training or b) embed the training in courses or c) both
  • Cross disciplinary working for Get the Digital Edge Day in particular was both effective and fun! 

 

As part of our dissemination strategy we have targetted a number of conferences to present our work:

 

 

and we are planning a project report for the Journal of Information Literacy.

 

Sustainability and outputs

As noted above the work of Project DigitISE is being handed over to the Learning Futures@Westminster initiative and in preparation for this the project manager has written an internal report detailing the achievements of the project and what it is being passed on.

 

The project has produced some guidance for students on using social media, which we are happy to share - a recent conversation with the Head of Students Affairs indicates that inappropriate online behaviour is a hot topic and source of many complaints he receives from students.

 

As noted above, the draft digital literacy strategy will be handed on for further refinement as part of Learning Futures@Westminster

  

Appendix

Project Digitise blog

Get the Digital Edge web page