What makes a ‘digital leader’?
Investing in your personal and professional development to keep your skills and knowledge current is vital. But being a digital leader isn’t just limited to those in senior positions.
We can all have an impact on the way our organisations work. By learning to explore what’s really behind the challenges we face, building effective working relationships, a supportive network, and having the confidence to lead and influence at all levels.
Alicia Owen, digital learning manager at Wrexham Glyndŵr University is using her experience of the digital leaders programme, to influence others and drive forward change in her organisation.
Implementing a new strategy
In 2017, the university started planning to implement a new digital strategy. The first step was to revise the existing strategy. Alicia was invited to join the digital enhancement working group where she used her experience from the programme, to focus the group on what they should be aspiring to and what was achievable.
Keen to seize the opportunity to develop the necessary skills and knowledge, Alicia says:
“I wanted to do something that would give me more confidence as a leader but also give me some ideas and frameworks to take back to my organisation.”
Identifying key issues and areas for improvement
With accessibility identified as a key area for improvement, Alicia pushed for the establishment of a working group, and secured funding to purchase Blackboard Ally (a product that focuses on making digital course content more accessible).
Getting senior management buy-in and helping colleagues to recognise that accessibility is an organisation-wide issue, was the focus.
Taking a show rather than tell approach, Alicia and two colleagues from the working group delivered a learning lunch, attended by members of the senior leadership team to demonstrate the key issues. Joined by a colleague from the inclusion team, they were able to demonstrate what a screen reader would have to cope with when sharing inaccessible information. Alicia says:
“We could have pointed out the risks of not doing anything, but the biggest impact was them being able to see first-hand the challenges that our disabled students face – you could see the light bulbs appearing.”
Meeting others on the programme from different roles and organisations enabled Alicia to recognise that they had similar challenges.
Being able to explore what’s causing the issues is key to being a digital leader. Having the opportunity to share, to reflect on how things have been done and how they can be improved is a key learning. Alicia says:
“I’ve reached out to other delegates on the programme to progress some of my ideas, I’ve connected with them online and I’ve kept in touch with them.”
The programme encouraged Alicia to think about the students’ digital practice and to consider what they need when the organisation is making changes. Now part of a core team, Alicia along with other volunteers from academic and professional services are taking a universal design approach to learning and implementing an Active Learning Framework (ALF).
As a result of COVID-19, they’ve had to accelerate the rollout of the framework in preparation for the new academic year. To support this and build on the network of volunteers already in place, Alicia has played a key part in introducing an initiative to create ALF champions.
By taking the lead with her digital practice and getting involved in a range of organisation-wide working groups, she’s been able to build effective working relationships with her colleagues and establish herself as a trusted, digital leader.
“I would hope that staff have confidence in me, I’ve built relationships with them, so they trust what I say.”
Having completed the digital leaders programme, Alicia’s personal and professional development has been going from strength to strength. With her growing confidence, Alicia applied and was accepted on to the HE Aurora programme for women in leadership. As part of the selection process, Alicia had to be interviewed by the vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellor.
“Having had the opportunity to complete the digital leaders programme gave me the confidence to stand-up and sell myself in the interview.”
Attending Digifest was a turning point for Alicia, hearing a talk from other Jisc members who’d completed the digital leaders programme, inspired her to embark on her own leadership journey.