As those working in education attest, technology is an important part of everyday life. It is no longer an optional add-on to teaching and learning.
Because of this – and sometimes also driven by a desire to get ahead of the curve – many colleges are rightly making large investments in infrastructure and the digital environment. The crucial question is: are they simultaneously investing in their teaching staff?
Unless those working within education institutions are supported to develop digital skills and given time and encouragement to innovate in the curriculum, digital investment is unlikely to translate into positive experiences for staff – or for students.
This week, the education and technology not-for-profit Jisc published the results of its national survey exploring how teaching staff are currently using technology, how teaching staff feel organisations are supporting their technology needs, and how they are developing digital professional practice. This feedback is invaluable; it can inform the educational digital environment and the broader college experience.
Equipped for the digital workplace?
Students need opportunities to develop digital skills throughout their educational journey, ensuring that they are equipped for the increasingly digital workplace. There is also evidence that substantial numbers of learners look to their teachers for support in using digital technology. Therefore, teaching staff must be equipped to respond. That means supporting them as they build confidence with digital tools and encouraging them to develop their own uses of technology.
Of course, with stretched resources across the education sector, ensuring that all staff have sufficient time to be creative and develop their practice is increasingly challenging. However, teaching staff feel their organisations could do better: alarmingly few respondents to Jisc’s survey agree they receive reward or recognition when they develop digital aspects of their role, or agree that they have time and support to innovate.
Closing the digital skills gap
With the identified digital skills gap in the UK, teaching staff need guidance about the capabilities they are expected to have and regular opportunities to develop them. While it’s true that individuals have a responsibility to develop their own professional practice, both in their discipline area and in relation to their use of technology, there must be an organisational culture in which this is nurtured, recognised and rewarded.
To prepare for the technology-enhanced future – manifested in Education 4.0 and Industry 4.0 – teaching staff must be equipped with the resilience to navigate the ever-changing digital landscape. The Independent Commission on the College of the Future is learning a huge amount from institutions throughout the UK, asking what is working well already and assessing how colleges can play a co-productive role in future innovation. It is clear that the sector can meet the challenges it faces if creativity and curiosity in our educators is fostered. Let’s continue to enable a world-class student experience for all and inspire and support the sector’s most valuable asset – its staff.
Sir Ian Diamond is chair of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future and the UK’s national statistician