Why West College Scotland’s digital strategy prioritises staff development and inclusion
When West College Scotland embarked on their digital transformation journey in 2019, Angela Pignatelli, assistant principal, became the college lead, creating and chairing the digital strategy group which was to spearhead inclusive and effective digital practices throughout the organisation.
Creating an organisation-wide digital strategy
The need for change in how digital was used at the college was prioritised by the senior management team even including it in their new corporate strategy as one of the four corporate aims. The need for a bespoke digital strategy, separate from the existing IT strategy was clear.
Angela and the digital team focused on fostering digital change across all areas of the organisation, and quickly became immersed in looking at the key players within digital transformation for help forming the college’s strategy. She explains:
“Jisc was quite pivotal in those early days: I attended digital events, I got exposed to the Jisc digital insights and information emerging from Jisc forums and from partners, I accessed the community of practice also, which was very valuable. All of that really helped in starting to shape up where we were, and where we needed to be.”
Insights on a national level such as Jisc’s digital experience insights survey reports also helped Angela construct their digital strategy while looking at the bigger picture of digital transformation.
Obtaining the wider view allowed the group to get a head start with their strategic planning due to learning from others what works in terms of digital change.
Driving change from the ground up
The aim of the digital strategy group was to work horizontally to change the digital culture of the organisation, collaborating across the institution, rather than implementing change from the top.
From the very start, Angela wanted to make sure that all 1,200 staff were fully involved in the process. In shaping the digital strategy, the group ran a series of events to encourage staff to brainstorm ideas and technologies including hosting the events for the Digital Statement of Ambition brainstorming.
“We asked the staff ‘what would be the top three things that would really transform your thinking, your practices, your approaches?’”
Angela and the team wanted to ensure that technology wouldn’t just enhance teaching but enable staff to be self-sufficient. Even before COVID-19, the college was implementing ways in which staff could work flexibly through the mantra of equipping the person not just the location:
“We wanted to prioritise supporting the staff digital capabilities and the digital kit and resources required meaning that individuals were able to connect digitally no matter where they were.”
Supporting staff with digital
The group quickly realised that CPD was an important element of staff involvement in digital change. They have implemented different pathways by which staff can access digital support, including shadowing other staff, formal CPD such as workshops or courses, and a system where digitally-skilled mentors help colleagues with specific skills. These mentors include those leading on the Jisc building digital capability discovery tool, which builds competency by providing tailored digital learning resources based on the individual needs of staff members.
The college also has opportunities for staff members to become enhanced experts in digital through either Microsoft innovative experts or the Jisc discovery tool. Angela talks about how the tool has helped staff development,
“By getting people introduced to the discovery tool, which is self-responsive to their answers, they’re able to be directed to the learning and that can build them in to be the expert that they want to be at their own pace.”
In addition, the college has an interactive CPD platform where staff can log queries and access training to bridge gaps in knowledge or areas of anxiety. Angela says that one of the main aims of their investment in CPD is to build staff confidence:
“Many staff feel, or felt, nervous embarking upon their digital journey; a sense of they don’t know what they don't know; that there's something mysterious about operating digitally, when in actual fact they’re learning and demonstrating digital skills and use of technologies on a daily basis, just by sharing their screen and interacting with students or colleagues.”
Supporting students with digital
An important part of the digital strategy at West College Scotland is to bridge the digital poverty gap in their student population. The college operates across three campuses in deprived areas of the country, and so making sure that all 25,000 students have access to learning was, and continues to be, a priority.
One of the big investments that has helped students is MiFi (or mobile Wi-Fi) devices, which are small, portable devices which give the user internet connection without having to have a broadband router.
These devices are especially valuable in the case of a large proportion of the college’s ESOL learners, who often have no access to technology.
“Getting technology to this cohort of students was of vital importance, making sure that they could connect to the college not just for their studies, but for information updates and exchange. They were finding it a vicious cycle that they couldn't even get on to apply and enrol, before they even got into the point of getting involved in the subject specialism and the learning and teaching.”
This technology is essential in helping students over the first hurdle, but also in making sure that students already enrolled got the technology they need to engage in their studies and successfully complete their courses. The college was able to map students from the most deprived areas to the subjects that were most reliant on digital interaction to make sure that these students had the appropriate digital support to meet the needs of their courses.
What’s next for West College Scotland?
“The big one for us is using digital technologies for business transformation and enhancing, not just our processes and approaches, but encouraging the digital mindset of staff which will lead to enhanced culture change. It's not just about getting things efficient. We want it as effective as possible so that that people are getting the best experience.”
The college is currently using the digital elevation tool to inform the next stages of their journey, and Angela says the tool has already helped prioritise certain areas of their digital strategy, such as focusing on AI sooner than they had initially planned.
“From looking at the questions we’re making AI one of our top priorities with bot technology and what that can now yield.”
From this they have put together a small team just to work on rolling out this technology. Angela says that this will help students and staff find answers to their queries quicker and more efficiently.
They are prioritising putting together frequently asked questions and piloting the tech in student support services, and in HR and finance, which are areas where the college receives a lot of questions.
She says of the digital elevation tool:
“The questions and the content are very good. They provide a valuable series of questions to prompt and ensure we are exploring and aligning to the correct elements of our staff and business digital operations and that’s what we need.”