Digital kintsugi: a five-step approach to digital development

Applying kintsugi (the Japanese art of pottery repair) philosophy to digital transformation in education.

Woman repairing broken pottery

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of pottery repair: it takes broken pieces of ceramic and creates something new from those existing parts.

The concept can also be thought of as a positive approach to better understanding how smaller parts can be constructed into a bigger picture and how those parts can work together to create an effective whole.

Take digital transformation: in such a fast paced and continuously evolving area of education, it is not unusual to encounter multiple challenges when developing a digital strategy; however, the kintsugi philosophy can be applied to improve staff and learner experience.

Kintsugi in your college

Andrew McFadyen, further education and skills senior consultant at Jisc, is engaging with colleges and further education providers to explore how they can apply kintsugi to using a range of Jisc tools – including the digital elevation tool (DET), the discovery tool as part of building digital capabilities (BDC) and digital experience insights (DEI) reporting, to create something new, meaningful, and importantly, longer lasting. Andrew asked how the tools are currently being used.

Joe Wilson, head of digital skills at City of Glasgow College said:

"We've made consistent use of DEI reporting with our teachers, support staff and students for the last four years. It is a key part of our annual feedback and review cycle and gives us a valuable benchmark.

“We use the discovery tool in a more selective way by allowing all staff to opt-in and use it as a self-help service as digital skills come to the fore.

“In Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council has asked that we use DET to report on our digital transformation journey which has given the tool greater impetus and buy-in as we use it across the college.

“All three tools are invaluable in providing us with support and benchmarking."

Lynn Dolan, group learning resources manager at the Education Training Collective said:

“Our starting point was DEI reporting, which we started using during the pandemic. Digital poverty is a really important issue in our area, and we wanted to find out how students and teachers were dealing with the realities of online teaching and learning.

“We heavily used the digital elevation model (which DET is based on) when writing our digital strategy, which gave us the structure to be able to underpin the strategy. We’re quite new to using DET; however, we’re starting to use it to measure where we are and where we want to get to.

“We’ve added a line into our staff appraisals about digital capabilities, and we’re using the methodology from the discovery tool to assess that. Giving everyone something to work towards encourages greater conversation around digital capabilities and gives us the opportunity to provide more support to those looking to develop their digital skills.

“All three tools complement each other at different stages of the digital transformation journey and using the tools together supports our digital strategy.”

Five steps to success

When applying digital kintsugi, it is important to have a good understanding of the existing parts before trying to create something new. Identifying the opportunities and challenges of each element can help understand how the parts fit together, and by embracing collaborative problem-solving continuous improvements can be made.

  • Step one: preparation of broken pieces (embrace imperfections). Both DET and DEI can help discover where imperfections lie and provide teachers and learners with the opportunity to identify ‘broken’ pieces. It is perfectly fine, and powerfully constructive, to accept some things may not work the way they are expected to. Some pieces may need a ‘clean up’ before they are re-used, allowing a thorough review of each resource. The information provided by DET and DEI can help institutions visualise how they want the finished product to look and act, and by acknowledging challenges that have already been faced, some problems can be avoided.
  • Step two: putting the pieces together (highlight strengths). The data gathered from using the assessment and feedback tools (DET and DEI), will help identify strengths. Which individuals possess key skills? What resources, including people power, are available? Where is collaboration occurring successfully? And how can this all fit together effectively?
  • Step three: deal with the cracks (embracing change with the right attitude). Embracing imperfections can enable positive change. This can be difficult in any organisation but may be even more challenging in a complex organisation such as a college. By using BDC, institutions can identify skills gaps and intervene to make changes where needed. The appointment of digital champions (who can be identified using BDC) can be a powerful tool in fixing the cracks.
  • Step four: filling the gaps and adding the shine (collaborative problem solving). By using a single dashboard system which allows everybody involved to contribute to a single vision, DET is a fantastic way to bring people together within an institution, regardless of how many departments, campuses or colleges there are. BDC provides team members with the tools to improve digital confidence and capability and the information needed to intervene if colleagues are struggling with a certain task/skill. DEI provides each institution with personalised data (and also benchmarking across the sector) on the digital experience of staff and students allowing colleges to problem-solve in a more collaborative way.
  • Step five: final inspection for quality control (evaluation and re-evaluation) In the art of kintsugi the process ends when the ceramic piece looks completed. However, additions can always be made to make the new piece more beautiful/ fit for purpose. DET provides an iterative journey as well as a snapshot in time, so it can be used to support continuous improvement. DEI also allows re-iteration over time supporting not only benchmarking, but also goal setting and strategy development. Finally, BDC allows continuous development and measurement so that the journey as well as the end result is recorded.

Through using these tools and this philosophy continuously, institutions staff and learners can continue to adapt and improve as they digitally transform.

With thanks to Lynn Dolan and Paula Kilburn at the Education Training Collective and Joe Wilson from City of Glasgow College.