6 Mar 2015

The Sectoral Consultation on Building Digital Capacity in Irish Higher Education: Digital Roadmap – Phase 1

The Sectoral Consultation on Building Digital Capacity in Irish Higher Education: Digital Roadmap – Phase 1 by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.

A review by Marie O’Neill Head of DBS Library Services

'There is a quiet revolution taking place in education….but despite the opportunities that are opening up I worry that many of these recent and valuable developments in technology will be held back by a natural, and in some cases understandable, educational conservatism. It’s quite possible that these fears will get in the way of the type of ambitions that could allow Ireland to become an educational exemplar to the rest of the world.’ David Puttnam, Irish Times, 20 May 2014

‘It is not a question of whether or not digital technology will transform Irish higher education, but rather it is a question of who will lead that transformation.’  (Digital Roadmap p.6)

The above two quotes are taken from the report, The Sectoral Consultation on Building Digital Capacity in the Irish Landscape: Digital Roadmap - Phase 1 by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. They establish the tone of the report’s impressive vision and articulation of how a cohesive approach to digital innovation could revolutionise the teaching and learning experience in the higher education sector in Ireland.

The Digital Roadmap exhorts higher education institutions in Ireland (public and private) to work together to exploit new and existing technologies for the benefit of learners, teachers and researchers. It also enumerates a number of recommendations that have emerged from a sectoral consultation which took place in April and May of 2014. The report concludes with an outline of a number of immediate actions that need to be taken to modernise use of technology in the sector.

The Digital Roadmap states that

‘The current approach to building digital capacity in the sector is not cohesive, sustainable, or sufficiently evidence-based…a national roadmap will support, connect, and enhance efforts at local or regional levels, and will help to point to the collective ways in which the sector can work to build digital capacity to enhance and develop learning in Irish higher education.’ (p.6)

The report refers to a number of local examples of pedagogical innovation across disciplines and institutions all over Ireland which have facilitated online interactivity and collaboration such as Web 2.0 technologies and virtual learning environments.

The report goes on to state that

‘for a number of reasons, technological potential is not being utilised as fully or as creatively as it could be in higher education environments. Flexible and online teaching remain the exception rather than the rule in most Irish institutions, and digital technology often remains under-utilised for on-campus programmes….key digital resources (for example, virtual learning environments) are not being used to their full pedagogical capacity’ (p.7)

The Digital Roadmap has been informed by national and international research and by recent and current developments across the sector. It has sought inputs from academics, tutors, researchers, managers, librarians, technologists, students, leaders and policy makers, both in face-to-face sessions and through online contributions.

The aims of the report (p. 11) are to:

  • Prioritise the strategic development of digital capacity in institutional and national policy and quality frameworks
  • Develop a consistent, seamless and coherent digital experience for students in Irish higher education
  • Engage with students and teachers to develop digital literacy
  • Strengthen and support collaboration within and between institutions, and with different parts of the higher-education sector
  • Develop shared policies and infrastructure that reflect the complexity of an increasingly digital learning environment
  • Develop digital capacity in tandem with a strong evidence base for enhanced pedagogy
The report identifies a number of shared values which must be embraced if the vision outlined in the Digital Roadmap is to be realised. These include a team approach to exploiting digital capacity; sharing and developing across institutions; linking teaching and research; parity of esteem for teaching and research and a commitment to including students as partners in education.

The report reflects the goals of the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) and recommends that issues such as cybersecurity, personal privacy and identity, copyright, interoperability and standards, digital literacy, digital capacity in the context of student assessment, the principles of open education and open access (including institutional repositories) also be considered. The report also refers to the Government’s Principles on Open Access Policy Statement.

Actionable first steps include: individual institutions developing a digital development strategy; a systematic review of technical infrastructure across the sector; the establishment of a collaborative approach to digital innovation across the sector; leveraging digital innovation to modernise student assessment; piloting a strategic approach (inter or intra institutional) to the incorporation of digital innovation into programme development; the adoption of open education principles by higher education institutions and the piloting of a collaborative and shared approach to academic and technical support.

This Digital Roadmap is exemplary in terms of its vision and the wide reaching sectoral input and research/evidence base that informs it.  The report encapsulates cutting edge educational ideals such as open education and open access. More inspiring still is the articulation of realistic and achievable actions/pilots for implementation on a collaborative basis with the goal of modernising the digital landscape in the Irish higher education sector within the context of constrained budgets. The National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning has also allocated money via a research fund to support multi-institutional bids which enhance digital capacity in the sector.

To find out more about the consultative process that informs this report, please refer to:


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