Preparing for digital transformation

In this Inside Track article, Professor Neil Morris, Interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Digital Transformation, provides updates on a range of activities in the digital transformation portfolio.

Digital Practice website relaunched. July 2020

First week back

As I write this at the end of our first week back after the Christmas break, I am very aware of the pressures faced by staff and students right across our community. I was pleased to hear from a number of colleagues that I spoke to that they did have a restful break, albeit quiet, and missing family and friends.

Of course, the week started with the news of a national lockdown, and threw us all into a new set of activities to plan, re-plan and adjust to the changing circumstances. The Vice-Chancellor’s blog post from October 2020, entitled ‘We can’t fix everything and that should be OK’, was appropriately re-published last week, and we should all read, take note and act on its contents.

As we plan for the start of term, our digital education systems are all ready and waiting, and there is a huge amount of support, guidance and training available to colleagues via the Digital Practice website. I urge colleagues to make the most of the support available, as it will save you time in the long term, and may help to enrich the experience for our students.

Last week saw the first online Student Education Conference – our annual event to share, highlight and showcase evidence-based practice and innovation in student education – this year focused on ‘lessons from a hybrid teaching world’. The sessions were inspiring, thoughtful and valuable, and I’m sure many colleagues benefited from the insights shared, and will now be adapting and adopting these in their disciplines. Recordings of the sessions will be available soon, and I urge colleagues to engage with these, as a source of inspiration to enrich our interaction with students.

Organising for success

I am pleased to update colleagues about new institutional academic lead appointments that have been confirmed in the area of digital education – these are all key strategic priorities for the University during the next couple of years, and I am confident these projects will help us all to enhance our support for students. More details will follow, but for now, a brief overview of the appointments:

  • Dr Samantha Pugh (School of Physics and Astronomy) – Academic Lead for digital assessment
  • Dr Steven Montagu-Cairns (School of Law) – Academic Lead for Minerva upgrade implementation project
  • Antonio Martinez-Arboleda (School of Languages and Cultures) – Academic Lead for open education; and
  • Helen Durham (School of Geography) – Academic Lead for online education.

I am also pleased to report that the Learning Technologies Team (Minerva Team), which was based in the Library, has moved to join the systems team in the Digital Education Service, creating a single, integrated team focused on supporting digital education systems and implementing new systems, in partnership with other services and stakeholders across the University. This move happened seamlessly last week and you should not have noticed any interruption.

Finally, in this section, I was pleased we made significant positive progress to support enhancements in the IT Service before Christmas, including the appointment of an Interim IT Director, Dave West, and agreeing additional funding to enable us to move forward key priorities and to organise for success. We are all acutely aware of the pressures on the IT Service, and there is a lot of work going on to resolve a number of foundational issues affecting researchers, educator and professional service colleagues, and to prepare for digital transformation. I am providing academic oversight to support the IT Service, and the service continues to be led by the Interim IT Director reporting to Tim Peakman, Chief Operating Officer.

Looking ahead

As you will have seen, we launched the new eportfolio system, PebblePad, last year, and it has already been used successfully to support student welcome and induction, and for a range of reflective activities. This year, we will all be encouraged to think about how this very versatile, flexible system can be used to support reflective activities, professional development and competency-based learning and assessments with our students, and in a range of other areas. In time, PebblePad will become one of the systems underpinning academic personal tutoring, and this is being trialled successfully at the moment. However, PebblePad is capable of supporting many activities in the research area (e.g. lab records, reflective logs, project diaries) and for professional development. Contact Dr Ruth Payne, Academic Lead for the eportfolio project, to discuss how you might be able to use PebblePad in your work.

In the next few weeks, we will be launching our learning analytics system on a trial basis in a small number of schools. This system will provide dashboards containing up-to-date learning engagement information, to inform conversations between tutees and academic personal tutors about academic progress. The launch of this system is the culmination of several years of work to define our Learning Analytics Strategy, agree our Code of Practice on Learning Analytics and to procure the Solutionpath StREAM system. Once we have validated the system in this trial, we will be rapidly expanding its use across the University, given the huge importance of activities to support and monitor our students’ engagement with their studies during this year.

Digital Transformation Strategy update

I wanted to say a huge thank you to all the colleagues and students who have given their time to share ideas, case studies, feedback and thoughts on the Digital Transformation Strategy. It is a strong reminder of our collegiate approach that so many people have engaged with this process in such a positive, reflective manner, during the most difficult of times. I have read and used everything that has been provided, and the strategy is in the process of being finalised for sharing across our community as soon as possible. Given the need for an agile and continuous improvement approach to digital transformation, we will be continually updating the strategy, so please do continue to share your ideas and reflections.

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