I attended the UCISA online event Embrace Digital: promoting the use of digital technology in HE. It was interesting to hear how the university presenting were promoting and embedding digital technologies across their staff. In response to a question about why a university did not use the Jisc Digital Capability Service, their response was that the questions in the digital capability tool weren’t quite right, so they wanted to write their own questions and tailor them to meet the needs of Lancaster. I can quite understand that reasoning. I suppose what I would question, is that when you have limited resources, is the best use of time improving something that exists, or actually implementing that something with staff? If something isn’t quite right, then yes, create your own, however if it is, say 80% right, isn’t that enough? A lot of this falls down to what you are trying to achieve, are you trying to build the best tool ever, or are you trying to use a tool to improve the digital skills of your staff? What is your key objective? How much does it matter that a tool isn’t perfect, if it is good enough, is that good enough? Another reflection on this is, looking at this from a sector perspective. If every university goes down the route of creating their own tools, then there will be a lot of duplication of effort and significant resource allocated. We then have to ask for what gain?
A story I use to tell during presentations and workshops was about someone who wanted to write some poetry on their computer but wasn’t sure how to start. One person said they should use Microsoft Word, as that was the standard word processing tool. Another person said that Google Docs was a better choice, as it was in the cloud and enabled collaboration. Meanwhile another person said that, they should avoid proprietary software and should use OpenOffice as it was free. There was also a Mac user, who said they should use Pages, as that is what creative people used. One person in the corner said, don’t use a computer and that maybe they should just use paper and a pencil. All well and good, but someone wanted to write some poetry and that is what they needed help with, was writing poetry.
The objective of building digital skills is not about building digital skills, that isn’t, nor should be the aspiration. The reason behind building the digital skills of staff, is about enabling and empowering them to use digital technologies for something else, such as enhancing the student experience, improving student outcomes, efficiency, and so on. By focusing on the tool, you may miss the point of why someone wants to know how to use the tool.
This doesn’t mean that everyone should use the same tools and services, and everything should be centralised, far from it. My opinion is much more that when we think about what we want to achieve, we should ensure we have clarity about the aims and the objectives of what we are trying to do. In some cases that may mean using a sector wide service, other times it may mean creating our own institutional tools and services.