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Digital Literacies at the University of Reading

Project: Digitally Ready

Institution: University of Reading

Programme: Developing Digital Literacies 


"Digitally Ready has worked bottom-up and top-down in the University, to raise awareness of the importance of digital literacies with senior management, students and staff"


This is an edited version of the project's institutional story (final report). Please refer to the original for details of all references and additional information.





“The project has been the launchpad for strategic change at the University”.

(Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor, Digitally Ready celebration event, April 2013).


The University of Reading has varying levels of digital literacies, needs and aspirations across a wide range of academic and professional roles. Some students and staff are demonstrating good practice in a range of digital contexts, supported by a technical infrastructure and dedicated professional support services. But, whereas staff and students within ‘pockets’ at the University demonstrate a strong commitment to digital literacy, there is a need to develop opportunities for raising awareness of the significance of Digital Literacies across the whole of the institution and to all stakeholders; and to develop new strategic approaches to equip staff and students with the skills and capabilities to work in a digital age.


Driven by a number of factors such as the University’s objective to improve the employment prospects of its graduates, a number of academic “champions” who are innovating with technology and the eagerness of professional support staff for working in a digital age, the Jisc-funded Digitally Ready project (2011-2013) set out to raise awareness and offer opportunities to students and staff to develop their digital literacies for working, learning and living in a digital society and, at the same time, to create a body of evidence to inform strategic decisions in the university.


During the period from July 2011 to July 2013 the project has engaged in a variety of activities: workshops about Digital Literacy; bringing together key stakeholders for formal and informal meetings and events; “show and tell” sessions for staff to share practice, and maintaining an active blog with contributions from the community thereby raising awareness of the significance of digital literacies for staff and students; offering opportunities for development and creating a strong community of practice.


Digitally Ready worked with a number of students through the University’s work placement schemes to understand the student experience and create opportunities to further to further develop their digital skills and competencies with the aim to enhance their employability and work-placement prospects.


The project has engaged with senior management to raise awareness of the importance of Digital literacies for the institution and contributed to a new strategic direction related to Technology Enhanced Learning. Most of all, the project has celebrated the success of twenty local initiatives within the institution by bringing together students and staff with opportunities to develop their digital literacies and by creating evidence for further strategic development within the institution.


Headline achievements


Digitally Ready has worked bottom-up and top-down in the University, to raise awareness of the importance of digital literacies with senior management, students and staff; to enhance the institutional provision of opportunities for further developing digital literacies, and to improve the employability prospects for students. The project as whole has played a significant role in driving, engendering or supporting a wide range of changes and developments including:


Ongoing commitment from senior management to support and develop the digital literacies of staff and students at a strategic level, as evidenced by the following:

  • The Vice Chancellor championing the project, giving keynote speeches and attending all its major events
  • The new Learning & Teaching Strategy 2013–18 refers to a strategic commitment to develop and incorporate evolving technology-enhanced learning methods, […] to ensure that students and staff have access to the best learning environment possible
  • The formation of a Technology Enhanced Learning Strategy Group, chaired by the Pro-Vice Chancellor (T&L) in January 2013.  It is in the process of developing a TEL Strategy and creating implementation plans for priority areas.  These include ambitions for a university wide programme of culture change towards a more pervasive use of technology throughout core business and working practices
  • University commitment to experiment with new teaching approaches for the digital age through the development of a small number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) within a Futurelearn membership and a new project to engage staff with teaching online
  • University funding for initiatives and projects that are related to the development of student digital literacies. The project has funded a number of small scale initiatives that were match –funded by Faculty funds


Contribution to preparing the institution to anticipate and meet student and employer expectations within the digital literacy domain, through:

  • The improvement of the current university internal placement schemes to reflect findings from the project's research on students’ digital literacies and employability. The schemes are now promoted on a skills basis, a direct change from the projects findings
  • The development of workshops to promote student development and digital literacy awareness. The Student Careers Centre offer sessions that are placing more emphasis on the digital capabilities needed for looking for employment and the School of Systems Engineering is now running workshops on digital literacy as part of the curriculum 
  • The development of a strategy for online training for graduate students by the Graduate School to prepare researchers for future research and employment


The development of new sessions and schemes for developing the digital literacies for staff through:

  • The redesign of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice programme to develop the digital literacies of new academic staff including the use of TEL and blended learning approaches
  • The development of a community for sharing of practice and a forum for discussion through the internal “Show and Tell” sessions and the use of a university blog for the community to participate 
  • New development sessions on Web 2.0 for all Library staff


The implementation of the University’s student engagement agenda. The project has enthused and enabled academics and students to work together on a number of initiatives that have provided evidence for a the establishment of a new university-funded scheme Partnerships in Learning and Teaching (PLANT), which supports student-led initiatives. 


The development of conceptual frameworks 























Dissemination of the project’s work in major national conferences (Pelecon, HEA, ALT), led by students on the project as well as staff. 


Key drivers


The main drivers for the Digitally Ready project were the existence of silos and lack of joined- up thinking among academic and support communities as well as a perception of a need for strategic direction in the area of digital literacies. Enhancing digital literacies for student employability and engagement with the university and continuing to build upon existing institutional projects have been a strong focus for the work.


Silos and lack of joined-up thinking. The University of Reading is a diverse institution with five faculties, local discipline- based cultures and a strong research focus. Innovation happens in pockets within the institution and there are many examples of innovative good practice in the area of digital literacies. However, there is no joined-up thinking and approaches to developing digital literacies for student and staff are patchy and spread across the institution. Therefore, there was a need to create a forum for discussion and sharing of practice and bring together a community of practice in order to break down the “silos” both on the academic and the support sides. The project offered the opportunity to capture practice, share it and create a community.


Strategic Direction. An important characteristic of the institution is that innovations happen “bottom-up” but despite the momentum created, sometimes they cannot achieve change at the strategic level. Despite the existence of a number of university strategies and policies that have clear implications for the development of digital literacies for both students and staff there are no explicit plans to address them. At the same time, the university was in the development stages of a University Digital strategy, which was aimed to up skill the institution’s entire work-force.

The project offered the opportunity to raise senior management awareness and to influence the development of a strategic direction in this area and take advantage of strategies in development to address the Digital Literacy agenda at a strategic level.


Student employability. The University views student employability as one of its core objectives, and wants to ensure all of our students have the opportunity to experience work-based and placement opportunities whilst at the University. The Thematic Review of Work-Related and Placement Learning which recommended that every undergraduate programme should have a work placement scheme embedded within the curriculum from the 2011/2012 entry. Digital literacy is a key aspect in improving employability aspects and the project provided an opportunity to conduct research and identify ways in which the university placement schemes could provide opportunities to further develop students’ digital literacies for future employment.


Student engagement. At the same time, the University values the student voice and input and sees them as partners in education. The project was seen as a way to pilot student/staff partnerships within the areas of curriculum and pedagogic developments and expanding opportunities for students to engage in research, while focusing on the development of student and staff digital literacies, e.g. working together using tools in the VLE thereby developing both the student’s and academic’s digital literacy.


Build upon and exploit existing work and achievements. The institution has a track record of developments and projects concerned with the use of technologies and digital literacies. To mention but a few, we participated in the e-benchmarking exercise in 2006, and developed the Pathfinder process as a way to support Schools through Periodic Review, moving from a focus on quality assurance to one of quality enhancement with the use of technology. Building on this, other projects have been undertaken to develop and shape infrastructure, support, practices, expertise and attitudes, such as the This Is Me project to enhance understanding of Digital Identity, Using Video for Assessment and Feedback (ASSET) and DEVELOP, both funded by Jisc, to enhance academic practice and pedagogy, The OULDI project focused on enhancing curriculum design and delivery, including using more digital technology in the process. Another example of developing student employability includes the establishment of a Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) in Career Management Skills (CMS). This is based on earlier work developing and delivering a compulsory, credit-bearing module taken by all students using a blended learning approach. The project was perceived as way to build on the achievements of these projects to bring about institutional change. 


Organisational context


The University of Reading is a traditional university currently undergoing structural changes, with a collegiate culture and strong research focus. Innovation tends to be localised within the disciplines and schools, with a number of local “champions” leading change. The institution is committed to student development and engagement through a number of funded placement schemes that provide students with the opportunity to enhance employability prospects. There is a diverse range of digital literacies and attitudes among students and staff.


Characteristics of the Institution. The University of Reading is a traditional university with a strong research focus. It is a collegiate institution with a number of committees that are making decisions and within the presence of administrative and academic management as two parallel systems. The institution has been characterised as risk-averse, non-directive, and as adopting an evolutionary approach to change. As a consequence, strategic change at an institutional level could be progressing very slowly. As an example, despite many innovative projects in the area of technology and learning (section 2 – building upon existing work), the digital literacies agenda was not formally recognized or explicitly mentioned by University strategies, policies or plans. In addition, those involved with the project here perceived a lack of senior management awareness on the implications of the digital age on the institutional infrastructure, support, working practices and student expectations. Another example that was highlighted at the baseline exercise was that, whilst the current technical infrastructure is robust, and extensive support is available to both staff and students, a lack of agility is hindering developments and more importantly, future planning for technological infrastructure was not addressed in a strategic approach.


Structural Change. During the life of the project, the institution was undergoing major organizational change. At senior management level, a new Vice-Chancellor, a new Pro-Vice Chancellor (T&L), a new Director of IT Services and a new Director of Career Service were appointed in the first year of the project. At a lower Institutional level, there were new Appointments of Associate Deans (faculty level) and changes in the management and structure of CDoTL (with the responsibility for this project). Some of these changes have been positive for the project but have also affected its direction in terms of moving away from strategy development to focus on local innovations that would provide evidence for future strategic developments. These are highlighted in section 1- Headline achievements.


Culture. The institution has strong school- and discipline - based local cultures and many innovations are driven from the bottom- up. Developments are localised within schools and disciplines with pockets of good practice and localized communities that are the result of individual initiative. This results in a wide diversity of academic practice, provides the opportunity for niche expertise to develop and a strong reliance on local academic “champions” to innovate and bring about change. As a result, there is a diverse range of digital literacy expertise and attitudes across the University.


Staff. The academic staff involved with the project could be described as early adopters of digital technologies and their application in teaching, and some of which had advanced skills and digital literacies and awareness of students’ employability needs. These local champions, Digital Heroes, provide valuable feedback to their colleagues and the institution and serve as examples to inspire and influence others to follow. In addition, we worked with academics that were eager to adopt practices for the digital age, but did not have the capacity to do so. These were paired up with students on small scale projects which enabled both parties to enhance their digital literacies, for example the use of wikis to support students with placements, .


The project worked closely with professional support staff such as the Library, Careers Centre, Centre for the Development of Teaching and Learning, Digital Development Team, Study Advisers and IT Services. The staff engaged with the project are generally well aware of the importance of digital literacies for their own work, for academics and for student learning and employability. Generally, they consider themselves as agents of change whilst supporting staff they are eager to inform strategy and influence senior management with evidence gathered from initiatives on the ground in the institution and external influences.


This broadly based nature of professional support services provides a wealth of diverse development opportunities and guidance for both staff and students, capitalising on the experience of a wide range of skills within the support teams. However, there was a lack of coordination of the support teams with an apparent "silo" culture and lack of joined - up thinking. By working together, the project has provided the opportunity for collaborative work and joint initiatives.


Students. In addition to working with the Student Union, the project engaged with a variety of individual undergraduate students, some involved with other university schemes, and some working closely with academics or looking for vacation employment. The students were enthusiastic and eager to learn and contributed immensely in the project (http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/digitallyready/our-students/ with some presenting their work to the Vice-Chancellor.


The University’s strategic objective to develop students’ employability prospects, is complemented by an active campaign of student development and engagement via a range of initiatives: the Reading Experience and Development (RED) Award which encourages students to undertake extra-curricular activities; a research programme for students (UROP) to undertake research with key academics during their summer vacation; and a Summer Employment Experience & Discovery scheme (SEED) which is an innovative, summer project-based internship scheme for University of Reading students and local / regional business and enterprise. In addition to the above schemes and since 2011, the University has been working to promote the Student Engagement Agenda with the aim to engage students and staff collaboratively in the design and development of curriculum-enhancement projects (small, School/Department based projects which actively involve students in the design and delivery of the curriculum).


The baseline report highlighted that despite the various student surveys, the institution had little knowledge of student expectations, attitudes and use of technology and little knowledge of employer expectations in terms of student digital literacies when they entered employment. The project has funded students through the schemes mentioned above to explore methods of best employing new digital literacy skills within our work-based learning enhancement priority; to explore the types of digital literacies students are expected to have across a range of business sectors. Moreover, we worked together with the curriculum enhancement projects to pilot small scale initiatives that would inform the creation of a new funded scheme in the University.


Project approach


The approach we took was to carry out a baseline exercise to identify current practice and address the gaps (summarised in the previous section). We worked across the university with academics and professional support groups using our current knowledge of the institution, its culture and structure.  For example, we used the current student development placement schemes (UROP, SEED) to engage students with the project as well as using our academic network to identify students and academics that had an interest or were already working on initiatives that were related to digital literacy. Part of this work was to undertake research in the area of placements and digital literacies . We brought people together to share their practice and offered a forum for discussion and run a number of workshops for students and staff. A key element of the project was to micro-fund initiatives, which have made a big difference to achieving small scale innovations and to inform strategy development. Engaging senior management and especially our Vice-Chancellor who has contributed to the project’s events has been crucial to the awareness of digital literacies for other managers in the university.


Working with current institutional initiatives and organisational structures. Rather than creating a separate agenda, the project worked with the University’s existing initiatives to ensure that the digital literacy agenda is seen as embedded within current strategies and interests. For example, we worked closely with existing placement schemes that were the subject of discussion at university committees; we identified individuals who were eager to benefit from the project’s support to make changes to their teaching practice, and we capitalised on existing communities of practice to promote the work of the project, including the piloting of a social enterprise network (Yammer).


Student engagement. The project has worked with a number of students (ca. 15) in a variety of ways: students as partners in digital projects with academics, students as researchers, students presenting their experiences to inform work on the project and students undertaking work directly for the project (through the current university placement UROP and SEED schemes).


Research in digital literacies and work related placement opportunities. Digitally Ready has carried out research into digital literacies for student employability, focusing on the University of Reading’s embedded and extra-curricular placement schemes. The research has engaged with staff, student, and internal and external employers who had experience of receiving Reading students for placements or graduate employment. The study has investigated: how work-related and placement learning opportunities help students develop their digital literacies; staff, student and employer needs, and expectations and experiences. The research was undertaken by students and made recommendations that have been implemented.


Conceptual models. In our project we did not try to define digital literacies for the institution, instead we used the definition provided by the programme. This was deliberate as we felt that we wanted those involved to define it for themselves. We have extensively used the pyramid model developed by Sharpe and Beetham, to communicate the ideas and concepts to our communities of practice and in our workshops. We have also adapted this model for employability skills as part of our work in researching digital literacies and work–placement opportunities (see above).  The project has created a Digital Literacies and the AAAR model for personalising learning that has been used by the school of Systems Engineering.


The development of an academic community for sharing practice. The project has run about 22 events over the two year period, which has been attended by a variety of staff. These were a mixture of external speakers who were bring a fresh perspective from the sector and other institutions, to “show and tell” events for internal practitioners to benefit from their colleagues practice and innovation and students offering perspectives  talking about their own experiences with placements and digital literacies. These were attended by the VC and other senior managers in the university, to demonstrate commitment to this agenda.


Micro- Funding Initiatives across many disciplines. The project has funded (ca £500) over 20 small-scale initiatives in the area of digital literacy. Example projects include the use of blended learning to deliver the currently under development accredited Academic Practice Programme for new lecturers; recording lectures and using podcasts for mathematics; use of voting systems in the classroom; flipped classroom approaches; student - led portfolio blogs to document, supervise, and publish coursework; supporting student placements via wikis; how to make interactive sculptures; the development of online materials to support student wellbeing; Students creating videos for student recruitment; Online chat to support student learning and employability (developed by students); research in students’ uses and attitudes to technology; the use of e-books in the school of Pharmacy; Understanding students’’ experiences with Digital literacy, employability and placements in the School of Human and Environmental Sciences; Using technology for Student communication and the transition to HE; developing a Blended Learning Framework for the Biosciences; employability in the Biosciences(Embedding global employability skills for the Biosciences and Students’ and employers’ global employability perspectives).


These initiatives aim to enhance the digital literacies of staff and students involved and make a change at the departmental level and in some cases at the university level. By investing in people and giving them ownership of these initiatives, we are growing our overall institutional capacity to engage with the digital agenda. In addition, these small initiatives have provided evidence to inform strategic initiatives currently under way. We advertised the micro- funding by seeking staff/student partnerships and asked interested academics and students to fill in an application form. The selection of the small projects was done on a range of criteria linked in with the objectives of the project, and those funded are overseen by the Project Officer and manager. Staff and students funded have been contributing to our blog showcasing their work (most the small initiatives are currently under development and will be completed by 31 July 2013). Each one will be evaluated separately and will feed in to the overall project evaluation.


Workshops for student and staff. We have developed new workshops for students focusing on employability, and digital identity. We have created a new category (Digitally Ready) of staff development sessions that can be searched online that brings together all the sessions that can prepare a member of staff to be digitally Ready and are integrated into existing development  provision. We have also created digital resources on our blog to support current academic staff (see section on outputs).


Senior Management Engagement. The project took the opportunity to engage the new Vice- Chancellor as a champion for change in the project, who has shown an active interest in the digital literacies agenda and a commitment to participate in a number of key project events as a keynote speaker. The PVC (T&L) has also participated in a number of events. In addition, an Associate Dean for the Faculty of Life sciences was appointed as the Chair of the Steering Group. In addition, all the small projects below have had an involvement by senior managers at school or faculty level to ensure a level of sustainability for the future. An example of this is the fact that some faculties are funding UROP initiatives on the development of students’ digital literacies.


Informing university committees and working groups. The project has been informing the decisions of relevant university groups at the university, either as a matter of updates or on request. Examples include the Student Development and Employability Sub-Committee and the recently developed TEL Strategy Group that drew upon the project’s work to inform the new T&L strategy.


Working across the institution. The project has worked with many academic disciplines and with the key support departments to reduce the “silos”. Our academic stakeholders represent all university faculties and all key professional support staff such as Careers, Digital Development Forum and Staff Training and Development. We have held a number of regular project meetings with these stakeholders and have collaborated in events and other project activities (as an example see workshops above). 




Project blog

See the Digitally Ready project page in the Design Studio for full details of project outputs which include case studies, conceptual frameworks, reports, workshops and an evaluation framework.


Benefits and beneficiaries


The project has benefited a number of stakeholders and has had a significant contribution to the institutional readiness for digital literacies. Below is a summary of benefits, and more information can be found in the Evaluation Report (section 3.2 and Appendix 14).


Alignment and integration of digital literacies with strategies, policies, plans and standards. The project has been championed and driven forward by both the Vice-Chancellor and PVC Learning and Teaching and has informed the development of the new Learning & Teaching Strategy 2013–18, recommended the formation of a Technology Enhanced Learning Strategy Group and influenced the development of a strategy for online training for graduate students by the Graduate School to prepare researchers for future research and employment.


Staff learning, development, recognition and reward with regard to digital literacies. The development of new sessions and schemes for developing the digital literacies for staff through the redesign of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice programme to develop the digital literacies of new academic staff, the development of internal “Show and Tell” sessions and discussion forums to share practice as well as the role of Digital Heroes


Alignment and integration of digital literacies with student engagement and employability. The project has contributed to preparing the institution to anticipate and meet student and employer expectations within the digital literacy domain, including the improvement of the current university internal placement schemes, the development of a strategy for online training for graduate students by the Graduate School to prepare researchers for future research and employment and the development of a “Framework for Digital Literacies and Work Placements” that has been used to communicate and disseminate findings internally and externally.


Regular benchmarking. The project has contributed to the benchmarking of digital literacies, through the production of the baseline report, through the workshops with staff and informing strategic work. It should be noted that the institution has taken part in the e-learning bench-marking exercise in 2006.


Ubiquitous access to appropriate ICT infrastructure. The ITS Group were part of the project team and Steering Group and through this the project has informed their current ICT plans, e.g. campus-wide WiFi coverage, review and invest in the infrastructure for the VLE, invest in lecture capture, e-assessment and feasibility review for BYOD (Bring your own device)


Digital Literacies Governance. Responsibility for digital literacies for staff and students is owned by different groups within the institution such as the Library, Career Centre, Digital development, Graduate school, Study Advise etc. The project has brought these groups together and has enabled them to take ownership of the digital literacies agenda, although it would be opportune to review how joined -up these groups are and whether there are adequate usable and accessible guidelines for different stakeholders e.g. programme teams, academics students and support staff. The small projects have had an impact at developing digital literacies at a local level, and have raised awareness among staff for digital literacies governance.


Organisation, resourcing and support for digital literacies through digital literacies workshops for, cross-institutional project groups, integrating with current institutional initiatives, micro-funding for small initiatives and the development of a community of practice.


A number of benefits have been accrued from the mini-projects a summary of key successes  is listed below:

  • Engaging students in educational innovation has been a powerful mechanism to implement change in respect of both staff and students. 
  • Engaging students and staff in a “real” sector challenge (e.g. construction chat), has resulted in a sustainable online community/resource that may be developed as a business. 
  • Capturing/recording of tutor content (e.g. screencasts, podcasts, lecture capture) has been found to support student learning in a number of ways.  
  • Video has been adopted as a powerful communications tool to support changing culture and “hearts and minds” e.g. in awareness-raising.
  • Research into how students adopt technologies has identified key issues such as lack of awareness of what’s fully possible and such research can therefore lead to improved uptake.
  • Adoption of new learning models (e.g. flipped classroom) that improve student-tutor engagement (including more detailed and focused feedback).
  • Mini-projects develop the staff and student digital skills.
  • Mini-projects raise awareness of the value and importance of technologies and digital skills for employability amongst those staff/students who undertake the projects. 
  • Raising awareness of the value of cross-disciplinary skills.   
  • Most staff and students who participated in mini-projects appreciate the importance of “digital readiness” to student employability and placements. 
  • There has been significant senior management support for the mini-projects. 


Project contribution in terms of outputs and outcomes to Jisc and the sector - further information on the Digitally Ready project page.  


Sustaining and embedding


Based on the evaluation of the project as a whole, the recommendations for the project to be sustained are detailed in the full report and will be presented to the Delivery of Enhancement in T&L Committee in the Autumn Term 2013. The Evaluation report contains further detailed information on continuation plans.  In summary these are:


Micro-funding. Sustain the process of micro-funding small innovation projects.


Community of Practice. Sustain and further develop the project cross-institutional Community of Practice


Professional Support Services. Sustain the working relationships among professional support services and further develop joined-up professional support services for programme teams, academics and students.


Promote and implement TEL at School/Faculty level and through existing university processes. Align with School Planning and Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (SPELT) process


Staff Development. Continue to offer opportunities for staff to develop their digital literacy practice through development 


Student engagement and development of their digital literacies. Build upon and further develop student engagement within current and new initiatives and embed opportunities for develop their digital literacies.


Consolidation of DR project resources. Based on the project resources create a library of digital literacies practice, guidelines and student stories to further support innovation and networking within the community of practice. 


Senior Management Engagement


Benchmarking. Keep up-to-date with HE sector developments


Other Developments. Investigate alignment of the digital literacies agenda with the institutional HEAR initiative, explore external collaborations, partnerships and funding and employer engagement


Lessons learned and reflection


Lessons learned can be summarised as the following broad areas.  Full details are available in the Design Studio as well as the full final report.

  1. Lesson learned in developing student digital literacies within work placements
  2. Lessons learned in connection with producing the various project outputs/outcomes
  3. Lessons learned  about effectiveness of innovation and change processes
  4. Key lessons learned  from the mini-projects
  5. General lessons learned  from undertaking the project