Do we really know how to take digital education forward?

As we emerge from the pandemic, how are HE Institutions dealing with digital education? The Covid years showed that staff can use a range of technologies, but they also showed that the teaching practice developed with such technologies is not necessarily of high pedagogical standard/quality – as discussed in March 2022 at the webinar organised by the Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE), called “Experiences in Digital Learning: The Year Ahead for the Practitioner”. Clearly, teaching staff are still unfamiliar with principles of digital education despite these having been around for years, such as those articulated by Professor Gilly Salmon (2011, 2013). Just to give an example, Salmon’s renowned scaffolding model for designing online activities – based on ideas of access and motivation, team building, information exchange, knowledge construction and development – was first published twenty years ago.

The pandemic proved that, contrary to what is sometimes believed, it’s not enough to simply have the technologies and accompanying technical/educational support at hand for people to be able to delivery pedagogically sound digital education. The adoption and implementation of digital education is complex as the keynote speaker, Professor Justin Reich, talked about at the 2022 SEDA Winter Event. By positioning the discipline in a new theoretical Foucauldian context, I argue in a recent paper that the implementation of digital education requires more academic digital education leadership at School and Faculty level (Visintini, 2022).

There is often an institutional assumption that investing in training and technologies is enough for good digital education practice to spread organically. There is also an assumption within the digital education literature that by simply discussing cases of good practice, this will lead to widespread implementation. I believe that both assumptions fail to understand that substantial social change is required to adopt digital education – which is why I’m arguing needs academic digital education leadership to support and often even trigger digital education practice in the first place.

At the University of Bristol, for example, the Faculty of Arts has been investing in academic positions to lead on the digital agenda (and to work alongside the more conventional education leadership). This investment has paid off as it has been able to: address academic misconceptions around technology, change the language about innovation, develop implementation strategies, upskill staff, take care of the barriers that can prevent innovative practices and so on (Visintini, 2022).

So, moving forward, if we are serious about digital education — being in a blended, hybrid or distance learning format — and understand the value it brings to student learning, I am advocating that universities should look at academic digital education leadership. But how we support the HE sector moving in that direction given the current financial environment, is now the question I am interested in exploring. How can we help institutions understand the importance of academic digital education leadership and spend on it? What’s your view on this? I will be very interested in hearing your ideas and thoughts on this topic.

Author biographies: I have been Senior Lecturer in Digital Education in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Bristol since 2017. In this role, I provide leadership and strategic direction in relation to digital education, as well as training and support. Prior to this role, I worked in the School of Modern Languages as Language Tutor of Italian (2006-11) and Language Director, Technology Enhanced Learning (2011-17).

Author social media handles: Twitter @gloriavisi

Further notes: Conference Experiences in Digital Learning: The Year Ahead for the Practitioner. Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE), 03 March 2022.

Reich, J. 2022. Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education at the SEDA Winter Event Post-Pandemic Learning and Teaching: How Well Are We Coping?, 01 December 2022.

Salmon, G. 2011. E-moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online, 3rd ed.; Routledge: New York.

Salmon, G. 2013. E-Tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning, 2nd ed.; Routledge: London, UK.

Visintini, G. 2022. Reflections on an Academic Leadership Approach to Implementing Digital Education in Higher Education, Education Sciences, 12(12), 904

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s