It’s just over a year now since a rather innocently posted blog sought to ascertain whether anyone was interested in developing a joint proposal to Ireland’s National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning on the topic of digital literacies. The ‘innocence’ was in the suggestion that (a) this might be developed in a completely ‘open,’ online and inherently non-competitive basis; and (b) that perhaps someone else would love to take up the idea and follow through on it, with me gracefully retiring to the sidelines! The post triggered contacts through email, phone calls and the classic little chats that form so much of the social glue on this island. Another blog post appeared, mails crisscrossed, articles shared and the good work of others in JISC, Educause, NMC, ALT, ILTA, NDLR and the like, ransacked and taken hostage, before a final proposal was submitted by the few folk left standing when the deadline fell.
Surviving a light grilling by an independent, international review panel at the first cut of the proposals, the project reached the final rounds where the proposers were called to make their case and slug it out with competing bids in the ornate setting of the library of the Royal Irish Academy, surrounded by dusty tomes asserting their longevity over these new-fangled digital upstarts. This time it was more roasting than grilling, but through luck, we survived yet again and got the funding we sought with the responsibility to deliver on our as yet ‘vapourware’.
Of course, in a project such as this we’re not starting from scratch, the work of so many others with which all of us in learning technologies are familiar, gave us a good basic foundation for the development of a framework and a set of resources that, we hope, might better fit the particular needs of the Irish HE sector and its broad community. We also believe strongly in the benefits of collaboration and have always welcomed ideas and suggestions, actively seeking out contributions wherever the opportunity arose. Having partners in the project team that spanned the library, staff development, learning technologies and teaching and learning communities also helped to keep in focus our desire for a cross-cutting approach that would be accessible and adaptable to all in higher education whether staff, students or faculty (to coin a UL term!). Brainstorming, doodling and literature reviews all fed in to the process which really switched into gear when the project staff were employed in Jan/Feb and provided points of contact and connectivity with colleagues elsewhere.
The work of so many projects supported by JISC in the UK has to be acknowledged as crucial to our ability to quickly move onto a working model of our digital skills framework. The inherent generosity of open publication (and creative commons licensing) serves not just public accountability but also stokes the fires of subsequent innovation. For those of us who teach Learning Technologies, then work such as that of Beetham and Sharpe has long been regarded as key references and we were certainly familiar also with the excellent work of those in the Library and Information Services organisations such as SCONUL, along with European and UNESCO output. Even our own past projects such as the European e-Competence Initiative provided some experience regarding academic staff development in digital technologies. The publication of the National Forum’s ‘Digital Roadmap’ (and the extensive consultation which informed it) and the European High Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education’s “New modes of learning and teaching in higher education” were also timely.
Our approach in drafting the Digital Skills Framework was to look for opportunities to address the broader, overarching issues of ‘working and living in a digital age’, without losing sight of the need for something which would be seen as practical, adaptable and which spoke to the needs of our various communities. Whether that’s an excuse for a framework which mixes levels of granularity/detail and skills with attributes, I’m not sure, but it does reflect our desire to be pragmatic rather than simply theoretically self-consistent.
We were particularly excited when we heard Helen Beetham present (at EdTech15 in Limerick) the latest version of the Digital Capabilities Framework for JISC – anxious in case there were core areas we’d missed – and inspired in particular by her use of the term ‘wellbeing’ which we felt far more richly captured those dimensions of digital ‘being’ than the alternatives with which we had been juggling (such as ‘citizenship’ and ‘responsibility’ for example) and led to a tweet of acknowledgement and seeking permission to echo it within our own context.
Hexagons, tiles, circles, mind-maps, star charts and more were toyed with as possible visual representations (I think tartan even featured at one stage, but thanks to the whisky that inspired that suggestion, the details and rationale are also long lost), but the project title of ‘All Aboard’ resonated all the more strongly when Blaneth paused on a ‘tube map’ infographic. Following ‘extensive consumer testing’ over coffee, the idea took hold and meme-d its way into the project, being launched at the Galway Symposium in June. Of course we could argue over the details of particular stations on each of the tracks, and indeed, that’s fine, they probably will be modified in the light of feedback and experience. It’s also possible to debate the broad categories that constitute the Metro/subway/tube/underground lines – again, our view is that this is a working model on which to build future work – but the review of other existing models shows broad agreement in the need to capture skills, knowledge and attributes as well as allowing for creativity. Simplifying the category labels into word-pairs we hope will also help demystify much of the jargon which all too often obscures ‘the digital’.
The two frameworks are, inevitably, very similar, but they also differ in a number of respects. For example, we chose to make strong use of verbs, to show our intent to be seen as practical, and we wanted to make overt the recognition that different communities might take different routes, even though they intersect and cross-over in multiple places (eg the ‘Teach & Learn” track which recognises that we all learn and often also have to explain to and support the development of others, but at the same time provides a clear ‘point of entry’ for students and staff). Of course, a metaphor is merely a tool to help give shape to an idea, and can easily be overplayed, but we hope that, at least in our current context, this simple idea might facilitate engagement and participation more effectively than a more traditional set of headings, sub-headings and the like.
That’s the intention, anyway. Let us know what you think.
Finally, we have really appreciated the fact that working in this area has led to so many useful, supportive and encouraging conversations and exchanges of ideas. With Helen Beetham and Sarah Davies taking time to talk with us recently and discussing complementary work in other areas that are directly or even just tangentially related (such as students as change agents, professional standards frameworks, etc) there is surely plenty of scope for an archipelago of collaboration.