Back at the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event at the end of May we had a discussion on the need for IT training teams.
A casual question to a sector wide mailing list recently about what IT training teams are called resulted in a number of replies of Lynda.com! It seems that a number of universities have done away with their IT training teams altogether, or reduced them to one or two, presumably very busy, individuals. In this session the panel will discuss this shift in institutional provision, consider the risks, and consider how training teams may need to evolve.
Delegates to the event were invited to submit questions in advance and I want to take this opportunity to expand my views and thoughts on the discussion and the questions, including some questions we never had time for. See my previous post that discussed showing value and priorities.
One question that we didn’t get to answer was on how we identify and engage the digitally invisible? Those staff who avoid the digital, won’t engage with the training and are generally invisible.
Now we know that some would call this a generational issue, it’s to do with age, which we know not to be true.
The invisible are, and making some generalisations here, are not going to undertake surveys or diagnostic tools. They are unlikely to attend training sessions or visit training websites. Despite people assuming that everyone reads every e-mail, the invisible will ignore or delete e-mails about digital. These staff aren’t always ignoring digital, they may use some tools, but they aren’t looking to build their capabilities, they are happy where they are and their current level of skills. There will be a spectrum of skills across this group, some will have low capability in using digital, some will have what would be considered quite capable. The invisible are also silent, they are not the kind of people who will be heard complaining about digital.
It’s as though they don’t exist.
So how do we engage with the invisible? How do we ensure that these staff build on the skills they do have and continue to develop their digital skills and capabilities?
There are many ways to do this, apart from obviously not appointing them in the first place!
Kerry Pinny from Lincoln has written two very good blog post on these subjects. Her first post on the subject, Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills? She says
Why are we employing people who don’t have the digital skills that are needed to cope in today’s ‘digital world’? It’s a question raised with increasing frequency and one that deserves some serious thought. I should start by saying that I fundamentally disagree with anyone who says that we shouldn’t employ people without the digital skills we ‘need’.
In her second post she reflects on the feedback in her post But what about staff that won’t or don’t want to engage in CPD? and provides some ideas on how to engage those staff, who are often invisible.
Employing people without digital skills is still an issue in that is often avoided by organisations for various reasons, usually historical and legacy reasons. Job descriptions rarely mention digital or technology, looking over lecturer job descriptions you rarely see any mention of digital. I have seen requirements for good office skills and a willingness to use the VLE. What does good office skills actually mean? At events we have asked staff if they are good with Word, most say yes, then ask them if they use styles consistently and effectively and for most staff groups the answer is no. As for willingness, if you are applying for a job you probably will no doubt be positive about being willing to use the VLE and other technologies, things may be different once you are employed. One potential solution for this is about been very clear about what is expected from staff and being explicit about what those expectations are. For new staff that willingness could then be transformed into mandatory training to meet those expectations.
Another solution is to focus on taking an institutional strategy and placing the responsibility on delivering on that strategy to departments. Those departments, as in the departmental managers, ensuring that all their staff are buying into the strategy and know what those staff need to do as individuals, to help deliver on the strategy, and what skills and development they will need.
There is also potentially a communication issue, ensuring that these staff get any key messages about the use of digital. If sending e-mail isn’t working, then think about doing things differently. I use to attend meetings in order to discuss issues face to face, another method was a physical paper newsletter on digital and learning technologies. I actually use to take the time to hand deliver this to offices and workrooms.
Finally, understanding the motivations and fears of these staff can be critical to helping them become not only visible, but also start to engaging with their own personal development and building their digital skills and capabilities. Most of these invisibles are actually happy where they are professionally, they like their jobs, they like the culture and don’t really want to be part of a changing culture. Showing them new shiny stuff generally won’t engage them, showing them solutions (that involve digital) that will solve real issues for them, probably have more chance of success.
So what strategies do you use to engage with the invisible?