Publications: Science Omega Review UK Issue 1

Understanding the digital world

Children using laptops
In the face of funding constraints and competitive new providers, universities and colleges need to ensure that their staff are making the best use of digital technologies in the workplace. This goes beyond keeping their skills up to date.
Helen Beetham
As the value employers place on digital literacy continues to grow, Jisc’s Helen Beetham underlines the importance of developing these skills in young people…

Digital technologies are ubiquitous, touching every aspect of life from medical care to entertainment and from education to government. Real-world locations are being digitally encoded and everyday objects are having digital capabilities embedded in them.

In line with other governments and the European Community, the UK government sees digital literacy as a foundational capability for its citizens, necessary for participation in social and economic life and for access to basic services. The new information and communication technology (ICT) curriculum for schools goes further: it insists that learners become digital creators and innovators as well as skilled users. A generation of students is coming forward with new kinds of digital know-how, but they need support to translate this into study and workplace success.

Skills for a digital economy
As 90 per cent of new jobs require excellent digital skills, improving students’ digital literacy is an essential aspect of developing employable graduates and college leavers. Rather than a checklist of software applications, employers want people who can communicate effectively across digital media, who have a repertoire of skills and the confidence to adopt new systems as they emerge. This broad-based aptitude is something only the university or college experience can readily provide. Jisc aims to help universities and colleges to:

•  Engage employers in curriculum design, using a skills dashboard to match student and employer needs;

•  Access proven diagnostic tools, resources, and learning objects to develop students’ digital capabilities;

•  Choose and maintain systems that support access by employers, building long-term partnerships for skills development.

Building organisational capacity
In the face of funding constraints and competitive new providers, universities and colleges need to ensure that their staff are making the best use of digital technologies in the workplace. This goes beyond keeping their skills up to date. Confident, innovative staff allow organisations to move quickly into new areas, reach new student markets and deliver new kinds of programme.

The Developing Digital Literacies programme is working with a range of higher education (HE) professional bodies to enhance the skills of staff in all areas of the business.1 An institutional audit tool has helped dozens of providers to assess and enhance their digital literacy provision for staff and students. In further education (FE), Jisc has supported the development of new, nationally accredited continuing professional development (CPD) modules for teaching staff, while Regional Support Centres (RSCs) run a wide range of free-to-access training courses and workshops tailored to the needs of local colleges. Shared services and national digitisation/resource discovery projects – such as the new Research Education Space – can help institutions to make cost savings,2 and green computing can contribute to major reductions in carbon.

More resource is also being invested in developing expertise so that colleges and universities are equipped to find their own digital solutions. This might mean helping deliver a high-quality learning experience across devolved campuses (SeedPod project), supporting administrative staff to take on new digital roles (the Digital Department), or tackling digital exclusion in colleges across North Wales (the PADDLE project). The Changing the Learning Landscape programme provides digital literacy consultancy and offers a wide range of infokits and organisational tools on topics from collaborative media to virtual learning environments.

Defining the new student offer
Students are already taking ICT provision into account when choosing their courses and have an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the role digital technologies play in their learning experience. Indeed, students are finding more and more that they need digital skills to access learning at every stage, from enrolment through to assessment and workplace support. Forward thinking colleges and universities are going beyond basic ICT provision to make digital capability a brand identifier and a hallmark of their student offer. At the University of Greenwich, the Digital Literacies in HE project has developed digital capability as one of five core Greenwich attributes. It is supporting students to network with potential employers using social media, as well as building bridges with student bodies at partner colleges and universities.

Jisc is also helping colleges and universities understand the benefits of moving towards a ‘bring your own device’ approach in which students are supported to use their own technologies for study, or can access them through loan or purchase schemes.3 Being able to rely on students’ personal access to resources and networks allows for radical learning approaches. For example, if self-directed study time is being used more productively, in-class time can be focused on challenging issues, or devoted to creative and collaborative work. Colleges are using infokits and advisory services to ensure their ICT environment supports seamless access to online resources, allowing digital skills to be integrated into every aspect of learning.

Many of the important challenges facing society require innovation across subject areas and sectors. More and more data will be openly shared, allowing the emergence of new kinds of research and development and putting digital research and development at the heart of business performance. Capacity building in the sector is ongoing in areas such as open data management, open scholarship, cloud computing, virtual research environments and digital enterprise. These are skills that educators need today and students will need tomorrow.

Rising to the challenge
Jisc’s vision is to make the UK the most digitally advanced education and research nation in the world, by enabling the education sector to fully exploit the potential of digital content and connectivity. Continued investment in ICT infrastructure is essential if the UK is to provide world-class research and learning, and to maintain a high reputation in an international marketplace. Demonstrating the benefits of a strategic approach to digital literacy helps staff respond to change, while open resources, exemplars, and networks of change agents give students a better chance to develop the skills they need for workplace success – and to understand the digital world they live in.

For further information on developing students’ digital literacy, visit


Helen Beetham
Digital Literacies Consultant

[This article was originally published on 20th March 2013 as part of Science Omega Review UK 01]


Previous: The digital in the detail
Welsh Minister for Education and Skills Leighton Andrews sheds light on the country’s plans for delivering technology teaching in schools...

Next: Digital literacy
A case study involving the small country of Wales...


"Universities and colleges need to ensure that their staff are making the best use of digital technologies in the workplace."

Very sad that until now, universities did not know this and a great insight from this deeply meaningless informational garbage.

Once I heard a similarly deep insight:
"I love music. But only GOOD music."

Why is informational pollution not yet considered an issue?

J Henno - Tallinn, Estonia
It is good to see such a well-written article that shows just how permaculture can be used to help ourselves and others. I hope lots of people read this and are inspired, especially those who can fund projects/do this themselves.

Commented Alida Bedford on
Permaculture: overcoming the challenges of climate change Ltd, Ebenezer House, Ryecroft, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire ST5 2UB
Tel: +44 (0)1782 630200, Fax: +44 (0)1782 625533,
Registered in England and Wales  Co. Reg No. 4521155   Vat Reg No. 902 1814 62