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Elevating the further education and skills sector through digital transformation

21 February 2023

Paul McKean, director of further education (FE), skills and training at Jisc

Looking back to 2020, we had no idea the level at which the COVID-19 pandemic would disrupt how we live, work, and learn. The speed of change meant education leaders and learning providers had to prioritise digital transformation much more quickly than many had planned.

As the pandemic continued to grow and evolve, it became apparent that improving the use of digital in education would not be a quick fix. Long-term digital strategies would be needed to understand the benefits the use of technology in teaching, learning and assessments could bring.

In the summer of 2020, Jisc set out its FE and skills strategy, to outline how, as a trusted lifelong digital skills partner, it would support the UK FE and skills sector on this journey.

As part of the strategy, we created a digital elevation model to support colleges to progress from foundation level (digital transformation must haves) through to elevation level (innovation leaders).

The model was developed in collaboration with the sector after listening to their key concerns around digital skills and infrastructure.

Our members then asked if we could develop this into something more interactive, so we co-designed with the sector our Digital Elevation Tool (DET).

DET is a self-assessment tool designed to be used by senior strategic leaders to assess their current level of digital transformation against five key themes: leadership, governance, and culture; learner experience; staff experience; curriculum development; and underpinning technologies.

When getting started with DET we recommend prioritising the theme of leadership, culture and governance as strategic buy-in when tackling any type of organisational transformation is essential.

The themes can be tackled in bite sized chunks to focus on a specific need, such as curriculum planning ahead of the start of a new term, or learner experience when implementing new technologies and ways of working.

However, evaluating the themes together can assist in building an effective digital strategy that is tailored to the institution and can provide a greater understanding of the direction each digital transformation journey can take.

DET was launched in March 2022 and more than 190 UK FE colleges and learning providers are signed up to use the tool and access the additional information, advice and guidance found within DET.

One FE leader described the resources available to them as “like a sweetshop” which is a nice way to describe the ability to pick and mix what is on offer to best suit your needs.

Over the past 12 months Jisc relationship managers have been working closely with FE contacts in their designated areas to really understand the challenges and successes when using DET.

One of the colleges we have worked with is Barnsley College, which used DET when implementing its ‘discover digital’ project.

Assistant principal for teaching and learning Rachel James said of the tool “It really helped us reflect where we were on our digital journey and what we needed to prioritise moving forward. The elevation tool gave us confidence and direction as a team.”

DET is designed to be used long term to provide a continuous overview of digital strategy, implementation and evaluation.

Kerry Heathcote, Vice-Principal Curriculum and Quality at the College of West Anglia described her approach to using DET as the same approach she would take to

eating an elephant: “You eat it one chunk at a time and at the end, well there’s another elephant…you just get used to it!”

Kerry also said that DET is “the most meaningful thing I’ve come across in terms of digital strategy and developing a digital environment.”

We want to make sure our members feel supported when using the tool and not like it is another thing they must do on their already long list. When used correctly, DET can be transformational, and we want all our members to experience this.

We have a community of DET users that work with Jisc experts to share tips and hints on how to use the tool to get the results they want, and this collaboration has been really powerful.

We are also running a series of workshops to help those looking to sign up to the tool, as well as those who have signed up but not started to use it, to accelerate their digital transformation journey.

One year on from the launch of DET and it is great to see the FE and skills sector so committed to implementing digital transformation. This is just the start, and I'm excited to see where this journey takes us.

For more information on DET, register for Digifest where college leaders experienced in using the tool will be hosting a session alongside Jisc experts.

You can also join the community of DET users or sign up for a user-friendly workshop hosted by Jisc. For more information contact your Jisc relationship manager.