Lessons Learned: Digital Skills in 2020 and beyond

Image Credit: Graphic Design by Joe Arton, Original Photography Unsplash

The rapid move to hybrid working, learning and teaching in early 2020 was a steep learning curve for us all. With staff and students relying on online platforms and applications to work, learn and teach, the importance of digital skills was placed firmly in the spotlight. This presented both an opportunity and a challenge for the University’s Digital Skills and Training team – much like our academic colleagues, we were faced with the exercise of translating the current offering of on-campus training courses to fully digital modes, at speed and without loss of quality.  In this post, Satu Kapiainen, Team Manager in the Digital Skills and Training Team in Information Services, describes how the University’s training support was shifted to a fully 100% online offering.

The Digital Skills and Training team in Information Services develops the digital capabilities of University staff and students to help them work, research and study more effectively and to support continuing professional development. Developing digital skills is a priority for the University due to the many benefits they can bring to learning, teaching and research. Our pre-2020 programme consisted primarily of in-person, on-campus training courses, delivered by a pool of around 60 tutors from across the University with various specialities and interests. Since April 2020, within a month of lockdown, our programme of training has been delivered digitally, and incorporates a number of live and pre-recorded resources. Our mission is to ensure that staff and students have the requisite digital skills to continue working, teaching and learning online.

Since the pivot to digital, the team has supported the delivery of regular training sessions to rapidly upskill academic staff to continue teaching digitally. Working with various teams across Information Services, we have developed training and guidance on the University’s supported collaboration tools – Microsoft Teams for business continuity, Teams Live Events for large scale events, Zoom for supporting external collaboration, and Collaborate Ultra for teaching and training. Since April 2020, we have delivered over 50 webinars on collaboration tools to over 750 staff and students.

In addition to adapting our programme of training to digital delivery, we have developed comprehensive guidance and toolkits for students and staff on making the most of their digital working and learning experience, including Digital Tools for Learning and Studying, Guidance for Creating Online Training and Online Resources for Writing Your Dissertation or Thesis. From Semester 1 2020/21 onwards, we began offering live webinars outside of regular working hours to cater for audiences in different time zones. We have also moved our popular blended learning Developing Your Data Skills Programme online in its entirety, and we have curated comprehensive Digital Safety guidance, such as the Creating Safe and Inclusive Online Learning Spaces guide, to emphasize the importance of carrying out our online activities safely.

Reflecting on the past year, the pivot to digital has presented us with a set of new opportunities. Re-evaluating our delivery methods has allowed us to refine our training offering and focus on topics and practices that are relevant to the hybrid environment. This focus has paid off – the overall feedback rating from attendees across the programme was 4.7/5 in Semester 1 2020/21. According to feedback, attendees felt positive about the pivot to hybrid, and many praised the quick shift to digital training. According to one participant: “All training courses the IS team provided were so helpful. Well done to the team for putting all this training together in such limited time and under these extraordinary circumstances! Best team ever!”. Digital delivery provides access to many who might not otherwise be able to attend training, and it will remain a permanent part of our offering going forward.

We learned that attendees appreciate interactivity woven into digital learning, and that a slower pace of delivery is preferred – opportunities to practice and ask questions are valued. Both attendees and trainers reported benefitting from having more than one trainer per course. This allows for one trainer to focus on teaching while their co-trainer monitors the chat and is able to address any issues and answer questions. We concluded that providing recordings of training sessions, or handouts covering the topics taught, make the learning experience more comprehensive and increased the efficacy of training. To reduce digital fatigue, we decided to break down some of our longer workshops into multiple sessions with more manageable durations – however, according to attendee feedback, longer course durations are not unappealing to learners, as long as appropriate breaks and interactivity are included.

As we are no longer limited by classroom availability and size, we have increased the number of training courses, as well as attendee places on our courses. This means that in Semester 1 2020/21 we were able to train nearly 1000 more people than in Semester 1 2019/20. This Semester we are looking to run over 300 live webinars with over 9000 spaces. Our Developing Your Data Skills Programme is facing its most successful year yet with 370 learners enrolled. The past year has opened our minds to the possibilities of hybrid learning, and we look forward to what 2021 has in store for digital skills.

To find out more about our work, visit our website: www.ed.ac.uk/is/skills

Subscribe for our regular Digital Skills Newsletter: https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/help-consultancy/is-skills/about/social-and-newsletters/subscribe-to-the-digital-skills-newsletter

Photo of the authorSatu Kapiainen

Satu is the Team Manager in the Digital Skills and Training Team in Information Services. Satu joined the University in 2018, having previously worked in consultancy, organisational change and training roles in the private and public sectors.

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