Findings: institutional strategy and policy - LLIDA
Introduction to the study describing terminology choices and the reasons behind the study.
digital literacy, learning literacy, learning, education, digital capabilities, skills

Findings: institutional strategy and policy

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Eleven of the auditors described at least 4 institutional documents which made strategic statements about learning and digital literacies, 5 (33%) described 6 or more, the mode being 5. At the very least this indicates that the issue has widespread strategic significance. It may also indicate a lack of joined-up thinking.

Sixty separate institutional strategy documents were described to us by auditors. Of these, 19 were classified as learning and teaching strategies, some including faculty/school LTA strategies in the set of fully described strategies and others indicating that faculty/department LTA strategies also presented opportunities for literacy issues to be raised. Unsurprisingly, given directives from HEFCE and SHEFC, this can be seen as the institutional norm. Four documents were directed at course and module development teams or provided general curriculum/academic frameworks, and 5 further documents were classified as e-learning strategies, giving 28 of the total devoted directly to learning, teaching and assessment.

Four institutions had explicit information literacy or skills strategies, two of which also had an e-learning strategy.

Six strategies were classified as learner development, learning development, learner guidance or PDP

Two strategies were concerned with ‘quality’ while 6 were whole-institution strategic plans, indicating that more than half of audited institutions were addressing learning and digital literacies at the highest level of institutional planning. However, strategy documents were particularly likely to be ‘unclear’ about the mechanisms for supporting literacies or embedding their support into programmes of study. Employability was mentioned frequently in these high-level strategies: one committed the university to supporting ‘digital literacies in order to enhance employability’. More typical was a commitment to ‘the use of digital tools to solve the challenges inherent in mass higher education’ i.e. to solve institutional problems, rather than to help learners thrive in a digitally-enabled society and economy.

Six were classified as ICT or IS strategies, though this included 2 (information management, and information strategy) which took a broader approach to managing information across the institution. Only 2 of the 6 made reference to learners’ ICT/digital skills. Of the 15 institutions audited, then, only 2 brought forward strategies which considered learners’ skills in the context of ICT strategy and planning, despite our direction to auditors that they should consider ICT/IS strategies and look for ICT skills as a term.

The remaining strategies were concerned with a range of issues: retention, progression, transition, internationalism, employability (2), employer engagement, CPD and widening participation. These issues can all be seen as concerning the curriculum in specific aspects.

Within the 60 strategic documents we asked auditors which literacies were mentioned. We then analysed the raw text provided by auditors against our framework. Our scores are as follows:

Learning to learn12
Academic literacies27
Information literacies11
Communication and collaboration skills12
Media Literacy2
ICT/digital literacies15
Other terms
Key skills/core skills5
Disposition and potential4
PDP (incl. in employability)6
Subject specific skills (incl. in academic)3
Lifelong learning (incl. in learning to learn)6

Most strategies addressed several literacies from our framework (mean = 2.25) [NB factor analysis could determine whether there is any pattern to how these are grouped]. There is a lack of strategic concern with media literacy, either in the context of information literacy or as a separate issue, though ‘communication’ is a relatively widely used term which embraces some of the same capabilities. Employability is widely referenced as a concept but without any coherent terminology or clear link to more specific literacies from our framework.

Terms we had difficulty accommodating were key skills/core skills, which in practice included numeracy ând read/write literacy, defined as ‘basic skills’ in the Leitch Review (Leitch, 2006). Disposition and potential covers a small number of items which would have been difficult to accommodate within a practices framework, e.g. honesty, reliability, though we note that a recent CBI survey of employers’ ideal graduate attributes produced more dispositional terms than skills or competences (CBI/EdExcel, 2008).

We undertook analysis of who the strategies identified as responsible for supporting literacies, and of how they saw such support being provided.


Who is responsible for developing literacies?

Students (implied in statements about shared responsibility)1
Academic staff in depts23
Academic leaders (Deans, Heads of School/Faculty etc)5
Module leaders1
(Guidance) tutors3
Teaching fellows1
Faculty total33
Learning/study/skills support14
Subject librarians4
Educational development/Academic practice5
Computing services1
Student Services2
Learning technologists3
Central services total44
Specialist support centres (writing, maths)1
Student Union1
Specialist projects (internal)1
Externally funded projects (CETLs)4
Community organisations11
Outreach staff1

How will literacy development be supported?

New framework(s) or requirements in course/module documentation3
Review induction process2
Support transition from schools and partner colleges1
New partnerships within institution3
Identify and embed institutional best practice1
Use VLE to integrate support4
Use of web 2.0 techs3
Use of mobile techs1
Use of eportfolios2
Central services staff
Online resources14
Printed resources7
Induction activities5
Drop-in sessions5
One to one sessions5
Learning and teaching materials2
Summer schools1
One-off sessions for programmes1
Academic staff
Staff development10
Curriculum innovation3
Enhance scholarship (of learning and teaching)2
Programmes of study
Embed specific literacies10
Work based/vocational courses4
Skills modules3
Embed PDP1
Engage in PDP12
Undertake/record work experience2
Undertake/record volunteering1
Engage with consultations about curriculum (‘student voice’)2
Engage with feedback/assessment|3
Students (new modes of support, unspecified responsibility)
Diagnose learning needs/preferences3
Diagnose skills requirements1
Regular skills review1
Support for independent and collaborative working3
Support for remote and distributed learners3
Support for exams1
Pastoral support1
Referral to other agencies1

Strategies apportioned responsibility for students’ developing literacies fairly evenly between academic staff and central services. Students themselves were scarcely mentioned as having responsibility in this area, though appear more clearly as actors when the means of intervention are considered. There was a surprisingly strong showing for CETLs, at the four Universities where these were already involved in literacy work (our sample possibly skewed towards these?), and for community organisations of various kinds. Although citizenship is far less prominent than employability in the literacies to be developed, then, community groups are far more prominent than employers among the resources available for supporting students’ emerging literacies.

As means of enhancing literacy development, central services staff were most likely to be called upon to develop workshops and online materials for students: academic staff were most likely to be called upon to develop their own skills. In five strategies, the terms scholarship (of teaching) or (curriculum) innovation were used to lend weight and credibility to this expectation. It can be assumed that course teams i.e. (typically) both central services staff and academic staff would be involved in the embedding of literacies into programmes of study. In the FE colleges the focus was more strongly on diagnosis and support of individual learners’ skills.

Students were rarely addressed as responsible actors in these strategies and yet many of the activities mandated would not make sense, or be successful, without active student engagement: provision for PDP and recording of work/voluntary experience; student representation on curriculum bodies; diagnosis, review and feedback on skills development. Given comments about the unpopularity of some literacy approaches, student engagement can be seen as a missing factor in strategic thinking about this issue. It is also striking how many strategies expect students to undertake PDP in relation to the rather small number of practical examples we received in this area.

Further analysis of these strategies was difficult as the language used was idiosyncratic and often very general. Information strategies tended to be most clearly focused on a finite set of learner skills. Terminology showed the influence of the SCONUL 7 pillars of information literacy, though this framework was referenced only once, and staff responsible always included library / learning resources, though often with implicit or explicit involvement of academic staff. The strategies broadly concerned with learning and teaching tended also to focus on the skills and capabilities of learners, but ranged much more widely in the terminology used to describe these and in the people and interventions seen as appropriate in supporting them.

Qualitative analysis of snapshots

Two snapshots related to institutional strategies which were integrating the development of students’ digital and learning literacies at a high level. These – from Glasgow Caledonian University and Oxford Brookes University – are well worth reading in detail.

Common features of both strategies are:

  • institution-wide changes to policy, clearly linked to main institutional drivers and priorities
  • actions cascaded through a range of institutional strategies e.g. quality, ICT, and practices, e.g. course documentation
  • an incremental approach, spearheaded by pilot projects/initiatives, some with external funding
  • collaboration between central services and academic staff principally around course development and review, involving multi-disciplinary development teams, with intensive resourcing
  • large central unit (e-learning PLUS academic development) driving policy forward: in both cases with substantial national profile and hybrid teaching/development/research agenda
  • ongoing research, evaluation and evidence-gathering about students’ experiences with technology and learning
  • commitment to understanding the learning experience in a holistic way: ‘learning takes place in a technology-rich world’
  • building on previous work, treating transformation as a long-term project
  • moving people out of their silos, for example by creating hybrid and/or ‘roving’ roles

Key terms from the Gcal i-learn framework

  • Critical understanding
  • Informed by current developments in the subject
  • An awareness of the provisional nature of knowledge, how knowledge is created, advanced and renewed, and the excitement of developing knowledge.
  • The ability to identify and analyse problems and issues and to formulate, evaluate and apply evidence based solutions and arguments
  • An ability to apply a systematic and critical assessment of complex problems and issues
  • An ability to deploy techniques of analysis and enquiry
  • Familiarity with appropriate techniques and skills, including presentation and communication skills
  • Originality and creativity in formulating, evaluating and applying evidence-based solutions and arguments
  • An understanding of the need for a high level of ethical, social, cultural, environmental and wider professional conduct.

Key terms from OxBrookes’ Mapping Graduate Attributes for a Digital Age

  • self-regulating citizens in a globally connected society,
  • able to handle multiple, diverse information sources and media,
  • proficiently mediating their interactions with social and professional groups using an ever-changing and expanding range of technologies and
  • able confidently to use digital technologies to reflect on, record and manage their lifelong learning.

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Findings: central services