Governance and the digital challenge

Ahead of the launch of the ETF’s new ‘Governance of digital learning’ module this Summer, one of its creators – Geoff Rebbeck – considers what governors need to understand to ensure their institution is supporting and educating learners and previews how the module will support them to do so.

“The college of the future will empower people throughout their lives with the skills they need to get on in life, support better productivity and innovation of businesses, and strengthen every community’s sense of place.”

If that vision – set out in the College of the Future report in 2020 – is to be realised, governing bodies must be prepared to positively challenge leadership to ensure that digital is woven across curriculum design.

What do governors need to fulfil their digital responsibilities?

So, the question, as the ETF puts it, is ‘how do we ensure board members are equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge and understanding to fulfil their ‘digital learning’ responsibilities and provide effective support and challenge to senior leaders and the wider organisation?’ We have produced a new module, aimed at governors in particular, to help them answer this question.

There is an awful lot of consider with digital. It isn’t just about teaching and learning, but also life skills. We want to encourage learners to exploit the good uses and avoid the bad ones. And we want to do that against a background of accelerating digital possibility. The reach of digital can seem overwhelming and the response is to work constantly to make sure colleges and their students master technology, rather than have technology master them.

Digital safety in a rapidly evolving world

Learning how to stay safe and become digitally sophisticated is a critical part of learning, both for study and life beyond college. It isn’t just helping students and staff protect themselves from error, but helping them to develop the modern essentials for interacting in a connected world. Safety is a taught mindset and with improved confidence comes good digital management. It ends with having students managing their own positive digital reputation that is essential for future success.

Understanding the complexity and detail of all of this and making it work in a college is no mean feat, especially as the reach and possibility of digital for good and bad seems to be expanding at exponential rates. The capacity of technology to ‘fake’ almost anything and appear totally authentic presents exciting teaching and learning possibilities, but adds hugely to the pressure to ensure every student masters the critical thinking skills they require to assess the validity and reliability of the things they are exposed to.

The development of digital possibility happens first in the wider world and plays out in the home and at work, so colleges normally explore it in ‘catch up’ mode, dealing with the fall-out of potential problems and spotting opportunities in using all things digital effectively in teaching design. Consequently, the agility of a college in adopting and adapting from what is available is perhaps the greatest challenge in staying on top of it all. As Darwin pointed out, those that survive are not the strongest but the ones most able to adapt.

What governors need to think about

So, governors need to shape their understanding and approach around five questions:

  • What shape or pattern of provision do we have and does it all work seamlessly?
  • How does digital work with teaching learning and assessment?
  • How do we keep everyone safe from doing harm or being harmed?
  • How well do we prepare students for a good digital future?
  • What legal requirements do we need to meet?

Using technology well is about understanding how it disrupts – for the better – settled ways of working for everyone. Change for change’s sake, or replacing a non-digital behaviour with a digital equivalent that doesn’t improve on the original, is not a good use of digital. It isn’t a cure-all.

The module explores these issues against a background of how digital is used in colleges and the wider world, what digital skills students need to learn in college, how teachers work with digital resources, what the law requires, and how well engagement with all things digital is working. It concludes with an engagement map featuring questions, challenges and ideas, along with suggestions and guidance to create a personal portfolio space to capture, marshal, reflect and perhaps share thoughts and ideas with colleagues.

Further support

Governors will have access to the ETF’s Enhance Digital Teaching Platform – with EdTech and EDS modules already published for teachers – providing a route to greater detail on the issues raised.

The module will be published by the ETF and support sessions will be delivered by the AOC, although it is designed to also be used in private study, containing approximately 30 minutes of core reading.

We hope that by understanding the bigger themes and issues around digital, governors will know what questions need to be asked, of whom, and where they might find evidence to reinforce the answers given.

Geoff Rebbeck QTLS FSET

The ‘Governance of digital learning’ module will be available in early Summer 2023. It is part of a wider ETF offer for governance in the FE and Training sector.