The 2015 Academic Practice and Technology conference at the University of Greenwich focused on ‘Flipping the Institution: Higher Education in the Post Digital Age’. There was a huge range of sessions to choose from, so this is just a flavour of what I took away from the day.
What is the post-digital age – and are we there yet?
The ‘post-digital’ theme ran through the conference and there were interesting discussions across sessions – and on Twitter – as to what we mean by ‘post-digital’.
The notion of a ‘post-digital age’ seems to be based on the assumption that digital tools are now ubiquitous and taken for granted. If we accept that we are all digital citizens, then we can move the focus away from the technology itself to what is happening in the spaces it creates.
The pervasiveness of digital technologies brings with it new learning needs and keynote speaker Jonathan Worth emphasised the need to teach ‘of the digital’ not just ‘in the digital’, educating students to be engaged critically with digital tools, platforms and resources.
Others pointed out that the digital does not yet reach everyone; ‘digital confidence’ is not the same as ‘digital literacy’ and we should not make assumptions about the digital awareness of what keynote speaker Nick Bryan-Kinns referred to as the ‘mobile first’ generation.
This understanding underpins work being carried out by Jisc on digital capability and digital wellbeing – identifying the capabilities staff and students need in order to ‘thrive in a digital environment’. Helen Beetham’s presentation focused on ‘how learners’ digital practices are challenging traditional approaches to learning and teaching’ but also led to discussion of the diagram of the six elements of digital capabilities recently produced by the Building Digital Capability project.
The six elements of digital capabilities, ©Jisc, CC BY-NC-ND
Digital capabilities in practice
Developing staff and students’ digital capabilities was shown in practice in the presentation by Jenny Fisher and Hayley Atkinson (Manchester Metropolitan University) who discussed assessing a Social Care and Social Work module by group animation. There were several advantages to this innovative assessment:
- students developed digital skills for employability
- work was shared with a wider audience
- they were ‘making something real’
- and the finished animations could be ‘gifted’ to the organisations to use
Of course, the tutors had to be able to create animations themselves, so they gained this new skill as well as having more interesting work to mark!
You can read more about this innovation on the Animation, communication and social care blog
Students’ experience of digital learning
The conference concluded with a performance by four University of Greenwich students giving a learner perspective on ‘flipped teaching’ and digital learning more generally. Based on research amongst students and reflecting real situations and opinions the three short pieces, interspersed with audience feedback and discussion, highlighted:
- different ways of working on ‘out of class’ tasks (in particular video lectures)
- challenges encountered by students with work and/or caring responsibilities
- technical issues and lack of access
The performances underlined for me the need to work with students to understand the knowledges and contexts that they bring to their learning at university, the capabilities they need as 21st century graduates and how we can equip ourselves and other staff to help close the gap.