Audit reflections - LLIDA
Introduction to the study describing terminology choices and the reasons behind the study.
digital literacy, learning literacy, learning, education, digital capabilities, skills
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Audit reflections

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Introduction

Reflections on the audit data

In this section, auditors were asked what their institution was doing well in the area of learning and digital literacies, and what they thought were the significant gaps. They were also asked what action(s) they thought the institution should prioritise as an outcome of the audit. Most respondents canvassed opinions from a range of staff to help them complete this section, as they were advised to in the guidance notes.

Below is a summary of their responses.

 Best institutional practice

  • Institution-wide commitment and joined-up thinking
  • A multi-layered approach to provision: within courses, strong central services, and peer support
  • Student and staff literacies addressed in tandem
  • Concern for literacies embedded into programme design and validation
  • Flexibility, personalisation and ‘ the situating of learning in everyday life’
  • Recognition of the emotional and personal aspects of literacy and of learning
  • Learning development as a unifying idea
  • assessment of study skills on entry
  • e-portfolio – provides integration across the learning experience
  • Recognition and reward for innovation in central service provision as well as academic practice

Specifics:

  • Friendly, approachable individuals in central roles
  • Information literacy is ‘already being done well’ by libraries
  • Where e-learning unit is driving force there is often good provision and joined-up thinking between ICT, information and knowledge
  • Study skills sessions generally very popular and produce good results
  • Careers/employability needs to be integrated with other services throughout study
  • Face-to-face support when they need it; 24/7 access to online resources when they can find out for themselves.
  • Ensuring public and learning spaces support learners’ use of personal ICT and preferred study practices
  • Practitioners getting experience designing courses where learner needs are primary focus
  • Digital ‘champions’ in depts
  • Strong tutorial system and dedicated, well-resourced tutors

 Gaps and challenges

  • ‘Scattered’, ‘incoherent’, ‘inconsistent’ nature of provision: makes gaps difficult to identify
  • Silos – either schools are strong but ideas are not shared – or central services are individually strong but there are problems joining up at point of need
  • Changing student body (rising numbers, less understanding of higher education, more basic skills gaps) is creating strains in system
  • Financial and staffing constraints on services and/or number of students requiring support
  • Lack of awareness among staff and students of the provision available
  • Student outcomes rarely assessed in terms of learning literacies
  • The skills required still not well defined or exemplified
  • Still not embedded enough into programmes – students need to see literacies in context of subject knowledge and practice: The ‘reifying’ of the skills agenda, separating it from learning and living – which is embodied most in the ‘core skills’ module or ‘PDP module’- is a deficit-based practice which is hard to shift
  • Emphasis on teaching subject content rather than how learners are gaining capability
  • Continual change in strategy and priority
  • ‘the processes and structures that should be supporting its delivery are constantly changed so the paradigm of excellence in teaching and learning is devalued. What a pity.’
  • Awareness and expertise are lacking among senior managers
  • Specific gaps in provision

  • international students, distance or work-based learning students
  • Skills/PDP modules are separated from the discipline knowledge: students are often poorly motivated by them
  • IT skills in particular have not been embedded into the curriculum in a meaningful way.
  • No strategies on digital literacies explicitly, and little discussion of the issue
  • No discourse of entitlement or student parity

 Priority actions

  • Update module documentation to reflect more up to date thinking about literacies
  • Ensure literacies agenda is translated via programme documentation into learning, teaching and assessment – lecture plans and study guides useful intermediaries
  • Share good practice in generic educational design across schools
  • Audit digital literacy practices and share (especially from applied into pure academic depts; and good examples of skills and content being addressed in integrated way)
  • Make academic managers aware of the importance of the digital literacies agenda, in terms of the student experience and employability
  • Consolidate, integrate, embed
  • Learn from experience with key skills and PDP: danger learners won’t see the point.
  • Start from where learners are, identify what they can do well, and situate skills development in real professional/inquiry-based activities
  • Bring digital literacy skills to fore in core modules
  • Reduce or eliminate skills modules and absorb content into other modules
  • Continue/enhance the ‘going native’ approach of learning experts in schools, and seconded academic staff
  • Upskill personal tutors as academic advisers
  • Integrate learning services with pastoral / welfare support (recognising emotional/whole-life context of barriers to study)
  • Strengthen role of personal portfolio
  • Anticipate students’ needs over whole course and address literacies as/when needed, in a form relevant to immediate study goals
  • Staff and student skills must be planned for in tandem

Eleven out of the 14 who responded to this section believed it was either true or largely true that ‘The vast majority of students leave the institution with enhanced levels of learning literacy’, though one of the remaining 3 auditors described students graduating ‘innumerate’ and with ‘appalling’ levels of English usage’ which reflected badly on the institution.

Seven respondents thought it was ‘true’ that Learners have support for learning development throughout their studies, though a significant minority (5) thought it was only ‘partly true’ at their institutions. Respondents were also divided over whether ‘Learners have opportunities to practice their skills and literacies in subject contexts’ and were much less confident that ‘The institution actively identifies and intervenes to support learners who are struggling’.

Asked about the issues that were driving their institutional response to the literacy agenda, respondents gave the following rank ordering.

Drivers for institutional action on learning literacy

Student expectations  40
Employability agenda and employers as stakeholders*  39
Dealing with a more diverse student population  32
Changing technologies and digital practices  32
External funding and policy drivers  18
Internal leadership and special initiatives  15
Staff champions on the ground  13
Other  10

* The employability agenda is the clear winner if first priorities only are considered (6 choices, as compared to the next nearest score of 2 for student expectations, diversity and changing technologies).

These auditors clearly felt that deep structural changes in the context of education were driving the literacies agenda, rather than any short-term funding opportunities, initiatives or enthusiasms. Students and employers as stakeholders are perceived as key forces behind the agenda for change.

Finally, auditors were asked to anticipate how the situation might change at their institution over the coming 3 years. One was extremely pessimistic about the direction of change: ‘resources will continue to be taken out, the role of learning and teaching will continue not to be prioritised’. All other respondents felt that institutional policy and practice was moving in the direction of greater recognition, articulation, embedding and support for literacies of the digital, particularly in a context of economic downturn and increased competition for high-value jobs.

  • Technologies in the hands of learners, such as Flip cameras and PDAs which they can physically handle, and software such as social networking tools with which they are already familiar, can give learners more confidence in a learning situation (but while this lowers barriers of confidence, it is not enough to enable deep learning)

 Specific trends highlighted

Context:

  • an increased focus on digital literacies, trans-literacies and multi-modal literacies, likely to be regarded as essential for employment and further study
  • A growing focus on participation and citizenship within global networked society (e-citizenship, sustainable development)

Learning and teaching:

  • the role of technology in supporting learning and in defining literacy/capability will be enhanced: ‘technology enhanced learning’ attempts to capture more explicitly the enhancing role of ICT upon learning.
  • A greater focus on collaborative learning, particularly in digital networks
  • A greater commitment to supporting learner-led collaborations and learner-generated content and resources

Institutions:

  • expansion of part time, work-based and distance learning provision
  • employability an area of increasingly urgent focus
  • the use of explicit ‘rights and responsibilities’ or some sort of learning contract
  • targeted support for identifying and helping students ‘at risk’
  • knowledge management in the institution will change, making it easier to share teaching practice
  • the skills agenda will… be subsumed into deeper issues around curriculum and learning design and flexible provision

A final reflection on the audit process came in a comment on this section:

At the bottom of all this are our students, many of whom have struggled to come here, some of whom are the first in the family to do so. If we don’t resource the literacies and skills they need in the difficult world of employment they face, then I feel that we really disrespect their efforts and achievements, and I wonder just how comfortable each of us would feel if we realized that to be the case.