Taking stock: how we got to where we are

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.

A Digital Journey

A Digital Journey

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.


All Aboard- Skills Metro Map

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’.

Jisc Six Elements of Digital Capability

Jisc Six Elements of Digital Capabilities

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.

Thank You!

Thank you! We are so pleased with the tremendous support shown to the project by those who participated in the recent Symposium in Galway. The ideas and suggestions that were scribbled down on the postcards we handed out, have been really useful and give us lots of possible avenues to explore (plus a few extra stations on our Metro Lines!). It was great to get the opportunity to speak with so many of you about our work and to get feedback through the survey and the twitter feed. Suggestions are still very welcome at any stage in the project.

It was a busy time for the project team and we followed it up with a project review presentation to a distinguished international panel in Dublin the next week, where we also got a chance to touch base with some of the other exciting projects funded by the National Forum. It’s great to see such enthusiasm and creativity across the sector.


Now that we’ve released the first draft version of the Digital Skills Framework, we’re moving on to the next of our project stages, including the development and trialing of a range of online learning materials, linked to badges. On the badges front, we’ve also been experimenting with the various available platforms, comparing and contrasting their features and exploring how they might integrate with or complement the capabilities of the learning management systems already in use across the sector.

For those of you who follow us on twitter (@AllAboardHE) you might also have noticed that we’re beginning to pass on links to useful resources and projects we come across, categorising them in terms of which particular topic or Metro Line they correspond to. That’s the explanation for the seemingly cryptic hashtags such as #AABlueLine, #AAYellowLine, etc.

Over the next couple of months we’re going to be busy preparing for a new academic year and welcoming new waves of students and re-energised staff into our institutions. It’s going to be a busy, but really exciting time, so make sure you keep an eye on @AllAboardHE for all the latest developments.

Free Lunch – there is such a thing!

On Friday June 19th, the All Aboard! project will be playing a very active role in the “Getting real about virtual learning” event in Galway.  This is the annual Symposium on Higher Education hosted by CELT which is open to all. Many of those who have participated in the past see it as a nice way of rounding off the end of another academic year and a great chance to pick up new ideas, swap stories and strengthen friendships.

CELT15This year’s keynote speakers are excellent presenters with a wealth of experience and perceptive insights into both educational theory and practice.  Sian Bayne (Professor of Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh) starts the day off with a provocative topic – if you can replace teachers with technology ,what happens when you give it a go (even if just for fun!)?  Sian has been teaching on Edinburgh’s highly regarded MSc in E-Learning (now called ‘Digital Education’) and on their fabulous “Digital Cultures” MOOC (I have to say that as someone who got a ‘certificate of completion’).

This will be followed up by a discussion on ‘open practices’ and teacher/student identity in online spaces, facilitated by Catherine Cronin.

Doug Belshaw is the next keynote speaker. Until recently working for the Mozilla Foundation (he now runs his own consultancy (Dynamic Skillset)), Doug is one of the key advocates for digital literacies and digital badges. His work is very much grounded in the real practice of teaching and learning across a range of educational levels and as one of the key figures in the Open Badges movement, we are delighted to welcome him.

We’ll also take the opportunity to share some of our ideas, including our draft Digital Skills Framework with participants and to give you scope to input to our work.

The afternoon will be where we will all get a chance to learn about a wide range of interesting online, blended and flipped learning projects and initiatives. Victoria Pavry will speak about how Epigeum coordinates consortia of institutions to develop high quality online learning materials for higher education, Mark Campbell will showcase some of the fascinating work of developing apps to teach anatomy, and we’ll hear from many other contributors who have kindly agreed to participate.   In parallel, Sharon Flynn (in association with Wikimedia Ireland) will be facilitating a Wikipedia edit-a-thon on the theme of ‘Scholars and Scholarship’.

The ‘free lunch’?  Well, yes, and free coffee, and free tickets to the whole event, after all we want All Aboard!


Crowdsourcing our Digital Skills Framework

The All Aboard! project team have the honour of being asked to develop a ‘National Digital Skills Framework’ for Irish Higher Education. As those of you who have been following our work (since we started in February) you’ll know that we’ve been busy reviewing, comparing and contrasting just some of the many excellent recommendations and suggested frameworks that various Digital Literacies projects and organisations have put forward. As ever, JISC in the UK provides a particularly rich treasure trove of high quality projects and reports, so also do the various working groups established by library organisations in this country and elsewhere. There’s certainly no shortage of possibilities, particularly if the focus is on the information skills dimension.


There is also, however, a great deal of agreement as to what the broad categories should be, just perhaps some variation in emphasis, nomenclature and perspective. In All Aboard! we intend though to be quite broad in our definitions and tend to use the terms skills and knowledge rather than literacies, but there’s plenty of argument in the literature about exact definitions of each of these and where each sits in the hierarchy of meaning. Perhaps we’re just being naive (although we’d like to think of it as ‘pragmatic’), but we’re not too angst-ridden about some of the finer details of some of those debates because our aim is to broaden awareness and confidence of technologies across anyone and everyone who engages with higher education, whether students or staff.

We also want to, if possible, avoid over-formalising the framework in a way that might lead to it ossifying and indeed which turns it into a bureaucratic artefact or a lumbering, outdated behemoth. Again naively (or, in this case, we’d like to think ‘optimistically’) we’d like to help establish a fluid but meaningful framework which everyone can feel is useful and, hopefully, also to which they feel a sense of ownership. That’s what we think ‘national’ should mean: something that we all own, share and shape.

OK, so what does that mean in practice, then? Well for a start it means that we intend to start the process off by suggesting some broad headings; listing skills, knowledge and capabilities by means of example; providing training materials (for self study, or group use); and welcoming contributions from anyone who is interested.

In effect, we’re looking to ‘crowdsource’ the framework and its components, recognising the tremendous efforts many of you have already put into this type of work, giving due credit (through CC and similar licensing), and connecting all those of us who are busy providing training workshops, taught programmes, etc, in digital technologies in education.

We will be collating as many existing resources as we can find and mapping to the emerging framework and have already started doing so as part of an exercise which also aims to identify the gaps — areas in which we will develop (shareable) new materials.

If you’d like to contribute (perhaps notes for workshop activities, online lessons, video clips, etc) please do get in touch with us. It’s your framework, your resources. We really do mean it when we say “All Aboard!”