Digital at the core: a 2030 strategy framework for university leaders

The Jisc learning and teaching reimagined report related to this framework is now available: It is an excellent report and one that we will be looking at closely.

As the sun rises on this new dawn for higher education it is illuminating new digital models of learning and teaching, while at the same time casting a shadow of darkness across some traditional, increasingly old fashioned, ways of working.

David Maguire
Interim principal and vice-chancellor, University of Dundee
Chair, learning and teaching reimagined

The report finds the biggest challenges facing our sector to be:

  1. Embed digital at the heart of university culture – Leadership and vision are essential for transformation as digital becomes a central feature of learning and teaching.
  2. Invest in the short term but with a long-term strategic view – Most university learning and teaching infrastructures need significant upgrades to support the expansion of online learning and teaching. As this is a rapidly maturing field, careful long-term planning is needed to ensure investment is strategic.
  3. Explore new economic models for high-quality blended learning at scale – Scaling up high-quality blended learning and teaching takes considerable time and investment. If the shift is to be sustainable, affordable and widespread, work is needed on the economics that will allow transformation.
  4. Embrace blended learning in curriculum redesign – Focusing on learning design, with student involvement, will ensure that it achieves high-quality outcomes and makes a difference by shaping fully accessible and inclusive learning.
  5. Expand the digital skills and confidence of students and staff – Significant and rapid progress has been made in improving the digital capabilities of students, staff and leaders but there is much more to be done, and increasing all-round digital confidence remains a priority.
  6. Communicate the benefits of blended learning – We have evidenced a significant increase in the acceptance of digital learning and teaching but further attention is required to understand and meet shifting perceptions, both within and beyond the sector.
  7. Strengthen the response to digital poverty – The digital divide was brought into sharp relief in 2020 with students’ differing levels of digital access. This remains a priority concern for all groups and additional resources are needed to level up opportunities.

We are facing many of these at the RAU. It has been a huge cultural shift to move online and there is still considerable work to be done in bringing the whole institution with us.

In order to counteract these challenges the report makes a series of recommendations. These make a good basis for any future planning.

  1. Universities to use their strategic and structural planning processes to effect the digital
    transformation of learning and teaching, ensuring that sponsorship is provided by
    governing bodies and executive teams.
  2. Universities to review their strategic investment in digital learning and teaching.
  3. Universities to make investment plans to mitigate the heightened cyber security risks
    that arise from greater dependence on digital technologies.
  4. Universities to think radically about the scale and scope of their learning and teaching
    activities, prioritising blended learning approaches wherever possible.
  5. Universities to accelerate the adoption of blended learning, with close involvement of
    students in all aspects from design to delivery.
  6. Universities to ensure inclusivity and accessibility are integral considerations in
    curriculum redesign.
  7. Universities to ensure their professional development plans include digital training, peer
    support mechanisms and reward and recognition incentives to encourage upskilling.
  8. Universities and sector organisations to establish research to remain in step with the
    changing digital preferences and expectations of prospective higher education students.
  9. Universities, government and funders to provide additional funding or means to reduce
    digital poverty as a barrier to students accessing higher education.

There is a recording of the accompanying launch webinar which features VCs from Edinburgh, Aston, Falmouth and Sheffield Hallam, the CEO of AdvanceHE, director of policy at UUK and others.

Thanks again to Jisc for the report and accompanying materials.

Communities: Support through sharing

Jisc have done a stellar job of not only supporting the FE and HE digital learning community but also highlighting the real benefits of communities during the last couple of months dealing with Covid-19.

Their website now features an article entitled Communities shining through COVID-19 which features some quotes from e-learning people including yours truly! Communities also featured very heavily in their most recent Jisc Inform. And you might be able to catch me at the start of this great video on the importance of communities (22 seconds in).


The communities idea stems from our Jisc community champions work at Digifest earlier this year.

Sometimes it is tricky to look outward when you are so busy, but for me it is what has kept us all going.

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Bigging up communities

The other day Jisc posted a little video taken at Digifest 2020. The video featured Steven Hope, Head of Independent Learning at Leeds City College, Esam Baboukhan, Microsoft Learning Consultant and I chatting about communities. It was the result of a 20 minute session that we took part in as part of the Jisc community champions 2020 activities. You can watch the video here or from the tweet below.

Today I was interviewed by Hannah Tennant from Jisc for an article they are writing on communities. I waffled a lot (as I do) but I think one thing that crystallised for me was how communities have helped us during the Coronavirus period.

The main ways are:

  • Filtering out the noise – there was so much information flying around as we pivoted our courses online but communities helped separate the wheat from the chaff.
  • Collating and organising resources – communities and individuals took all this information and organised it. I saw lots of collated lists with explanations on why these resources were useful.
  • Training – the countless webinars and training events have been a huge help, especially on areas and tools we are relatively new to – like MS Teams. My favourite so far has been the Jisc event on Planning for the end of lockdown online.
  • Sharing best practice – communities have helped us share best practice and come up with consensus as to how we, as the online learning/learning tech sector, should act.
  • Sanity check – for those working in smaller organisations it is often difficult to know if you are on the right track. Communities offer reassurance and allow you to have confidence in your actions.
  • Advocating – communities are a little like mission groups in that they advocate on your behalf to senior management. Being able to cite suggested approaches from an established community makes your case.


Image from the Planning for the end of lockdown online webinar. Attendees were asked to indicate where on the line they were in starting to prepare for September delivery. How reassuring to see others were also far from ready.

So thanks to some of the communities that have helped so much during this busy time:

  • Jisc – They’ve put on lots of events and surgery sessions, created a Coronavirus page, set up a useful Coronavirus Team site and the Jiscmail groups keep us all going.
  • ALT – They have produced some great reports and their weekly newsletter is essential.
  • AdvanceHE – Lots of very well though out guidance and support.
  • DigiLearn – A great Teams based community with lots of fantastic practical webinars.
  • HELF – Discussions on the Heads of eLearning Forum (HeLF) list are incredibly useful at a strategy level.
  • UCISA –  In particular the Digital Capabilities Group and the Digital Education Group.
  • Twitter – Always useful.
  • OER communities – too many to mention but sharing is most definitely caring.

Student Digital Insights Survey

At the end of last year we ran the Jisc Student Digital Insights survey.

This is the second year we have run the survey so we were both nervous and interested to see the impact some of our ongoing work has had on the students experience.

Louisa Gostling, studying on the MSc Business Management course was the lucky £50 Amazon voucher winner selected from RAU students who completed the survey

Louisa Gostling, studying on the MSc Business Management course was the lucky £50 Amazon voucher winner selected from RAU students who completed the survey

We are waiting on the bench marked data which will allow us to compare ourselves with other institutions but there are clearly some positive trends that we are happy to see. There is also still lots of work to be done!

  • We got 168 responses. This is a little lower than last time but still a reasonable response.
  • We have tried to do some comparisons with the previous survey data. Quite a few questions have changed but there are a few direct comparisons. Some significant increases include (2018 data is in bold). We can pat ourselves on the back for these!:
    • Reliable wifi 88% agree [80%]
    • Teaching spaces are well designed for technology use 52% agree [40%]
    • I am told how my personal data is stored and used 43% agree [12%]
    • VLE – reliable 80%  agree [62%]
    • Overall, how would you rate the quality of your organisation’s digital provision (software, hardware, learning environment)? 82% [74%]
    • Overall, how would you rate the quality of digital teaching and learning on your course 78% [57%]
  • Themes from the free text analysis include:
    • Request for more lecture capture and video content, or voice recordings of lectures
    • Staff training – especially on new CleverTouch screens
    • Student training – for those other than 1st years, outside of lessons, on industry tools, on assistive technologies, building on study skills sessions, on a multitude of areas including O365
    • Rooms – more sockets, updated tech, more study space
    • There is still work to do on CELCAT, myRAU, Gateway (getting better but still improvements can be made – mainly around content) and the student portal.
  • We also asked students about the tools they use and the training they would like on them. While some students may not actually recognise what tool they are using (for example Panopto) this is helpful in identifying areas for us to prioritise.

toolsWe will be sharing more results from the survey when all the bench marked data has been shared by Jisc.

Student digital insight survey

Yesterday we launched our Student digital insight survey for this year.

The student Insight survey is a national survey run by Jisc which aims to find out more about how students use digital technologies and how this affects their experience of learning.


We last ran this survey (or the previous version of this survey) in April 2018. You can read more about the results and see a presentation we gave at the Data matters conference in January 2019.

Changes to the last survey

The majority of questions are the same as the last survey we ran and we will be very interested in comparing results. Have we made improvements? Or are there still clear indicators of work to be done?

We have however added in a few new questions. These have been shamelessly stolen from feedback in webinars and mailing lists (apologies I can’t recall which institutions they are from). The first new set of questions relate to digital skills. They ask our students about how important different skills are and how they would like to learn them.

skillsThe second set of questions are about the tools we use e.g our VLE, video system, tech in teaching and study spaces etc.


We are taking a softly, softly approach to the survey but will be promoting through the following mechanisms:

  • Email to all students
  • Ticker bar on Gateway (our VLE)
  • Digital screens
  • Through the myRAU app as a banner and a news item
  • Information on social media sites
  • Posters
  • Through the OurRAU news
  • By sharing slides with our academics so they can mention the survey in lectures

We will report back next month on how it has gone.

Results from the Student digital experience tracker

Back in April we ran the Jisc Student digital experience tracker and are now ready to share the data more widely.

The tracker is a brief (10 minute) online survey that all our students were invited to participate in. The survey  gathers data on students’ expectations and experiences of technology at their institution. It is run annually and each institution’s data is available for that institution to use, the data is also benchmarked against other institutions.

We asked all our students (in all year groups) to participate. They were sent the link by email, the survey was also advertised on the Student Facebook site and other social media, by posters and by academics. 218 of our students responded to the tracker (18 % response rate), this breaks down into:

  • Male (44%), female (56%) gender split (Q2)
  • 1st year (56%), middle year (15%), final year (18%), Masters/postgrad (10%) stages of study (Q3)
  • 20% self-identified as needing to use assistive technologies (Q6)

We are really happy with the response rate and the make up of students seems representative of the University. We also had a good split across centres.

Our key metrics were interesting. We are clearly at the start of our digital transformation with lots to do but the metrics show clear priority areas: 1) digital as part of learning and teaching 2) digital and data literacy of our staff and students.


The key findings were that:

  • The amount of technology available at RAU is fine – students want us to make it more user-friendly and get better at training staff and students in how to use it
  • Wifi is very important to students but they actually think our coverage is OK
  • Students like consistency – on Gateway, in lessons, in tools
  • Students want us to prioritise online, free, up-to-date resources
  • Students don’t feel they are getting the right amount of digital training in tools they need for their course or in the skills they need for the work place
  • Students like computer rooms, printers and charging points
  • Students want more multimedia – videos (of lectures) and images
  • Students appreciate IT support and would like more help with technical issues

We have been working on an action log which takes the form of a ‘You said. we did’ spreadsheet. Highlighted areas are given a response in the following way:

  • We did (current resolution)
  • We will do (future resolution)
  • Why we can’t do it (explanation)

The log covers areas from accessibility, communication and data, to digital literacy, digital spaces and library resources.

We will be sharing these with students over the next few months.


Academics have also been invited to look at more detailed analysis of the data if interested – this includes further benchmarked data (against other institutions and GuildHE institutions) and a summary of all the free text responses. Potentially the raw data could also be distilled and analysed at the centre level.

There has already been agreement that the survey will run again. Hopefully earlier in the academic year (November?) so as to not coincide with the NSS.

Jisc Digital capability discovery tool

Improving our staff and student digital capability is a key aim of our digital strategy. We are investigating a number of ways in which we can do this is in a strategic way. With this in mind we are participating in the Jisc digital capability discovery tool pilot.

The digital discovery tool supports individual staff and students – in universities, colleges and training providers – to reflect on their digital capabilities. It presents a series of reflective questions that relate to the different elements of capability. The tool is based on the Jisc digital capabilities framework.

Jisc digital capability model

Those who use the tool are presented with a series of ‘discovery questions’ looking at digital areas including: creativity, teaching, innovation, information literacy, wellbeing, productivity and collaboration. The questions aim to assess users’ confidence and experience with a host of real-world digital practices. Just by answering the questions, users are made aware of digital practices they already have and new ones they might try.

Jisc digital discovery tool

The initial log in screen

Users can then download a report providing them with a score in each area and guidance on how to improve.

My score is shown below in a graph.


Marieke Guy’s report graph

As Jisc explains:

Organisationally, the digital discovery tool can be used to raise awareness of the range and importance of digital capabilities, and to encourage personal development. Conversations about digital capability can be taken forward with a common reference point and some shared terms. Digital capabilities become more familiar and less threatening.

The Digital discovery tool is not meant to monitor individuals, but staff could choose to bring their results into appraisal settings, or professional development reviews. While personal findings remain anonymous, aggregated data views are available to organisational users of the service. These can be used to help understand the organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, and priorities for development.”

Anonymised data from the tool can be extracted and used to help shape training strategies.

We are currently using the tool only within the IT services team but may roll it out further later in the year. The main thing is for us to have a plan for how we can support staff to improve their digital capability once they have explored and assessed it using the tool.

Focusing on the VLE

As discussed before on this blog Jisc have been conducting a light-touch review of our Virtual Learning Environment (Gateway). The review has looked at areas including student engagement, curriculum delivery and accessibility.

Last week Zac Gribble and John Sumpter from Jisc visited the campus to run a series of focus groups with staff and students looking at what works and what could be improved with our digital delivery. The will be delivering a report with recommendations for improvements.

Students talking to the Jisc team about Gateway

Students talking to the Jisc team about Gateway

The Jisc team enjoyed meeting the focus group attendees and were impressed with our Gateway content.

John Sumpter commented that: “RAU are in a good starting position for taking things forward” and that “reviewing your VLE use is an ongoing activity that compliments your digital strategy”.

Staff in the VLE focus group session

Staff in the VLE focus group session


Reviewing our VLE

When I was at university in the mid 90s there wasn’t a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). I seem to remember file stores and floppy disks galore but no central repository of learning resources.We just carried everything around with us – and bad luck if you lost anything!

The actual term VLE was first coined in the late 90s (by whom I cannot tell?) but in the US the descriptor Learning Management Systems (LMS) has always been more prevalent. Wikipedia offers an indepth history of VLEs for those interested.

Today VLEs are a given at Higher Education institutions. The 2016 UCISA TEL survey found that 100% institutions who participated had some form of VLE with the split being roughly 50:50 between open-source Moodle and Blackboard, other platforms barely got a mention. The 2017-18 survey is now underway and we are likely to see a new generation of VLEs, like Canvas, making headway. At RAU we have had a Moodle system for over 7 years – we call our VLE Gateway. On the whole we are happy with what we have, but as is often the case we feel we could be doing more to engage students, encourage academics and support our digital delivery.

Enter the new Jisc VLE review service. It’s not well advertised yet but as part of a provider’s subscription Jisc will review their learning environment for them. The VLE review will help us to “understand how our platform is being used, what areas could be flagged as best practice, in addition to highlighting barriers and challenges that are preventing your staff and students from getting the best of your VLE. The process will review: Curriculum delivery, Communication & Collaboration, Content management, Student Administration, and Technical. This approach helps identify and put in place the process, tools and digital capabilities necessary to meet learners’ needs. Furthermore, It’s a useful tool to build a business case for changes in IT infrastructure, staff development activity and create an ongoing mechanism for dialogue between departments“. [Jisc’s words]

The Jisc team have been allocated user accounts and will be spending time in our VLE looking at it from a student and staff perspective. They are also coming on site in mid-March and will be running focus groups and interviews with students, staff and those involved in the technical delivery of Gateway.

A course module in Gateway

A course module in Gateway

The plan is not to change our VLE – though many providers are doing that. The aforementioned 2016 UCISA survey found that over half of the institutions which responded had conducted evaluation reviews over the last two years. The plan is to make what we have more user friendly, more engaging and just…better! Easy right?! 😉