Developing digital champions

Building a TEL agenda through local ‘champions’ is not a new idea: a network of ILT champions was established by FERL as early as 2000 to spread new ideas among teaching staff in FE. The approach worked because individuals on the ground are best placed to understand and progress change in their own setting, and because enthusiasts need time, resources, and peer support if they are to develop their expertise.

The JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme found from a baseline audit that a wide range of roles and strategies are involved in helping an institution respond to digital change. That means having digital champions in diverse strategic areas, as well as in departments and professional services. Baselining also confirmed findings from research that many digital practices are acquired informally through contact with peers, and that this is true of both students and staff. This points to local peer champions being a highly effective way of taking forward digital literacy issues.

Students as digital pioneers

Students are often more digitally confident and willing to explore than staff. Their digital know-how is a resource that institutions need to draw on, particularly in a ‘bring your own device/service’ environment. Once there is an explicit culture of students supporting each other in technical matters, staff feel more comfortable calling on them for help. Through projects such as InStepp at Oxford Brookes and DLinHE at Greenwich we have examples of students feeling empowered by their involvement in change, and benefiting from new personal and work-related skills.

For students to be effective change agents they need appropriate reward and recognition. This might be monetary reward for working on digital projects or providing ICT support. Or it might take the form of accreditation or enhancements to their portfolio of skills. Oxford Brookes offers structured training and recognition to their e-pioneers, while at the University of Exeter postgraduate pioneers participated in an internship programme. An opportunity to scope and direct their own change projects is itself rewarding for many students.

Further resources

Design studio page on students as digital pioneers

Teaching staff as digital champions

Like students, staff champions need to be recognised for investing in their own digital practice and for developing others. Early career staff and PGRs can particularly benefit from being recognised as digital experts, especially if this is framed in terms of scholarship and innovation rather than support. Institutional roles, secondments and awards all show that digital literacy is being taken seriously as a career path. The DDL programme has mapped digital literacy work to the UK Professional Standards Framework and there is also a digital literacy lens on the Vitae Researcher Development Framework to demonstrate the potential career benefits to individuals.

Even the most enthusiastic staff are time-pressured so it’s important they have things to do that align with their existing work, such as embedding digital literacies into curriculum design, or creating digitally-rich activities that reduce staff workload (e.g. incorporating peer assessment and review, having students author learning materials). It is also important that champions work on issues that matter to their department. While opportunities to meet and share ideas with other institutional champions are essential, there should not be a generic approach to what they do: the whole point is to take forward local agendas with a digital focus.

Opportunities to network beyond the institution are particularly important to keep champions up to date and interested in the issues. Circulate details of relevant email lists (e.g. JISC-diglit), webinars and face-to-face events.

Further resources

Staff development page on the design studio

Pioneers in partnership

Teaching staff working in partnership with student pioneers has proved a particularly effective model, with each bringing different kinds of expertise to a shared challenge. Professional staff are also important champions and well placed to embed digital literacies through their ongoing work with staff and students. Teaching Administrators at UCL have been supported through CMALT accreditation, while e-learning staff at Plymouth have been reorganised around digital literacy support. Other projects have to develop staff in Careers/Employability, the Library, and Learning Development. Through the DDL programme, ten professional bodies (including ALT) are working to build digital capacity among their members. And there are digital champions in a wide range of organisations beyond HE, opening up the possibility of further partnerships for change.

Further resources

HE professional bodies involved in JISC DDL
JISC digital literacies webinar series


Helen Beetham, for the Jisc Developing Digital Literacies programme

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member

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