The competitive, globalised market for higher education demands that universities be very clear about the kind of education they offer. The processes described in this snapshot are taking place in an institutional context characterised by:
This snapshot focuses on the development of a framework for technology-enriched learning within this context, based on the concept of graduate attributes for a digital age.
From VLE to PLE
Brookes’ current eLearning Strategy 2008-11: Personal Learning Environments for digitally literate learners (https://mw.brookes.ac.uk/display/c4el/Strategy) heralds a move from a course-centric model based on the institutional VLE towards a more personalised, learner-centric model (PLE).
Learning is an active, social process
The strategy is underpinned by the principle that learning is an active, social process in which, through multiple, formal engagements with institutions throughout our lifetime, and active, informal engagement in professional and social life, we strive to become critically autonomous and self-regulating members of a learning community. For learners to develop these attributes, the University must ensure that they can: shape their own learning environment and their interactions with it according to their circumstances, develop their identity as learners through active membership of groups and communities of relevance to them and experience high quality, professionally authentic learning opportunities.
Our research of the student experience of e-learning at Brookes (Benfield, Ramanau and Sharpe 2009, Ramanau, Sharpe, Benfield 2008) and the national JISC Learner Experiences of e-Learning programme confirm that currently learners’ development of abilities to use digital technologies is uneven and frequently a hostage to fortune. Consequently it is necessary to explicitly embed development of such abilities into students’ learning programmes.
Graduate attributes for a digital age or Digital Literacies
Acknowledging that learning takes place in a technology-rich world, the strategy asserts that:
“Brookes graduates should be digitally literate, self-regulating citizens in a globally connected society, capable of handling information and mediating their interactions with social and professional groups using an ever-changing and expanding range of digital technologies.”
We believe that some of these attributes can and should be specified at a generic, University level but acknowledge that many will be discipline-specific. We are therefore working with academic Schools on specifying the digital literacies Brookes graduates will develop during their programmes and undertaking curriculum redesign and development activities with them to map these attributes across programmes.
Benfield, G., R. Ramanau and R. Sharpe (2009). “Student learning technology use: preferences for study and contact.” Brookes eJournal of Learning and Teaching 2(4).
Ramanau, R., R. Sharpe and G. Benfield (2008). Exploring Patterns of Student Learning Technology Use in their Relationship to Self-Regulation and Perceptions of Learning Community Sixth International Networked Learning Conference. Halkidiki, Greece.
The need to develop digital literacy applies to all members of the University, whether staff or students.
The Academic Progression Initiative has given us the opportunity to work with Programme Development Teams whose courses are affected to make explicit what digital literacies they expect of graduates in their disciplines, how these are articulated across stages and modules and what support mechanisms are available. We are also engaging with key student groups, such as Student Representatives to develop more effective induction processes.
At the same time we are targeting support provision at the development of new teaching staff (PCTHE) and reviewing PDR and CPD for existing staff in academic related and administrative roles.
We argue that one benefit of a Brookes education in this digital age should be that its graduates become digitally literate, by which we mean that they should be:
A Framework for Digital Literacies
We are using these over-arching principles to develop a framework within which the University can work towards describing the generic and discipline-specific digital literacies a Brookes graduate should have, and the kinds of learning activities that facilitate their attainment.
How are digital literacies different from information literacies?
As learning processes, acquisition of digital and information literacies go hand in hand. Both must be embedded in programme specifications and design. Recognising that the two are closely related, we decided to develop a conceptual model for digital literacy which built on an established model for information literacy, the SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy (http://www.sconul.ac.uk/groups/information_literacy/seven_pillars.html). We suggest that in the digital age, as well as being proficient handlers of information, graduates need to be adept at using digital tools to manage the human interactions and processes concerned with knowledge building. We have therefore overlaid the dimension of working with others onto the SCONUL model, as follows:
In our strategy we suggest several lifelong learning skills that our learners will need to develop in order to effectively use Brookes’ online learning environments, including:
We are now developing these generic attributes into a more detailed taxonomy for use in curriculum development and to promote a common language for a review of our existing transferable skills specifications (http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsd/2_learntch/trans_skills.html). Our current thinking, as of March 2009, is described in the paper, Digital Literacies: some examples (Francis, Benfield et al 2009) available online at: (URL t.b.c.)
This taxonomy will also be used as a framework for best practice exemplars in the institution. An example of this is the Oxford Brookes LLiDA snapshot: Communicating architectural understanding in video (http://www.caledonianacademy.net/spaces/LLiDA/index.php?n=Main.OxfordBrookesUniversity).
The primary vehicle used at Brookes to support programme development teams in mapping graduate attributes onto programme specifications and course descriptions is the Course Design Intensive workshop programme. This format was devised by educational developers in the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD) and Media Workshop (Computer Services) and has been in use since 2003. The format is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of contexts and is described in Benfield (2008).
For more information on the origins, development and benefits of the CDI workshop format, download the briefing paper, produced for the Higher Education Academy as one of the outputs of the Oxford Brookes Pathfinder Project (https://mw.brookes.ac.uk/display/GR001/Home).
The idea is to develop the practice of course design and development in expanded, multi-disciplinary teams, by linking academics with educational developers, learning technologists, subject librarians and other theme specialists.
Reference Benfield, G. (2008). “e-Learning Course Design Intensives: disrupting the norms of curriculum design.” Educational Developments(9.4): 20-22.
The impact of the programme of Course Design Intensive workshops carried out in the period 2003-2008 was professionally evaluated by an external consultant. The evaluator’s report is very positive and is available for download, together with an executive summary, from the CDI programme wiki at: https://mw.brookes.ac.uk/display/CDIs/CDI+Evaluation.