Tag: research

Diversity and digital leadership

Something I’ve been working on for a while:

Diversity and digital leadership: Understanding experiences of workplace equality and diversity and inclusion

Doing a doctorate part-time while working full-time has been exhausting and invigorating in equal measure. It has occupied my annual leave, evenings and weekends as well as two periods of prolonged industrial action and the covid lockdown. I have learned all kinds of new stuff, including a bunch of new digital and infolit skills.  As I get ready to submit my final thesis, here’s how my abstract is looking:

Abstract

The aim of this research is to gain an understanding of the experiences and perceptions of workplace equality and diversity issues amongst digital leaders in higher education. The participants interviewed for this study are digital leaders working in universities in Scotland in 2019. The study provides a snapshot of data which has been interpreted to provide an understanding of the participants’ experiences and attitudes towards workplace equality, diversity and inclusion. It is the first study of its kind as it focuses on overlapping areas of leadership (diversity, digital and organisational) amongst digital leaders in higher education, a group rarely researched. This study makes a contribution to both both theory and practice and is timely and useful for the university sector.

The study uses a feminist approach to research design and data analysis which serves to highlight the issues of power and privilege which shape the experience of the participants. It takes an intersectional approach to understanding the diverse identity characteristics of digital leaders, recognising that people’s identities and social positions at work are shaped by multiple and interconnected factors, and the significance of these factors for leadership.

In this study an insider researcher was well placed to investigate perceptions and experience and to make recommendations which influence ongoing practice. In order to be credible and useful to the sector research findings are presented with rigour which addresses concerns about assumptions and unfounded interpretations. The process of achieving this by research design, particularly in the formation of interview questions and data analysis is described. The original data gathered from participants is reported and presented alongside references to relevant literature where these serve to explain or shed light on how the data have been interpreted.  Quotations from the raw data have been included to demonstrate how interpretations of the data have been achieved and to illustrate findings. This ensures reflections of the participants are presented in their own voice and brings a lived experience and credibility to the findings by ensuring that data interpretation remains close to the words said. The data are presented against themes arising in the data, several of which reflect the themes highlighted as arising from the review of previous literature.

‘Digital leadership’ is an emerging area of leadership studies which is gaining popularity as organisations seek to ensure that their businesses are best positioned to thrive in an increasingly digital world. The role of senior management in leading change in organisations is well understood and increasingly researchers and practitioners now recognise expertise in workplace equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) as a significant area of valuable knowledge. ‘Diversity leadership’ is also an emerging discipline defined by combining diversity principles and leadership competencies for workplace development.

Digital leaders in higher education are a group of professional staff who lead specifically in areas of the organisation where the use of technology is key to the strategic delivery of higher education such as IT, AV, learning technology, student systems, business systems data and IT infrastructure.  Professional staff in higher education remain a much under-researched population of leaders. With increased professionalisation amongst these staff more now occupy senior executive positions within universities; roles that were previously only held by senior academics. The knowledge and skills which this group of senior leaders have are essential to the success of their institutions. The data in this study indicate that digital leaders do identify their own and organisational values as drivers for action around equality and diversity at work, and that these are negotiated and balanced in context and that that context includes policies, practice, leadership and risk.   This study offers a number of insights for understanding the importance of diversity knowledge as a leadership capability. The data shows that the ways in which managers approach and apply effort to issues in their workplace is heavily influenced by their own identity and personal experience. There is a risk in any sector that assumptions are made about the types of people who are managers and the kinds of things which will motivate them to champion issues over and above their day to day functional or multi-functional roles.  Although the participants in this study have no formal workplace designation as an equality and diversity lead in their organisation they are not ignorant of the organisational development and social justice reasons for engaging with EDI, and they see it as part of their leadership role. Digital leaders in this study were clear that they make choices about where to spend their time and that involvement in diversity and inclusion was just one of many areas which make calls upon their resources. Respondents highlighted that where they found it easier to get involved, they would, and they saw this as a help in delivering their jobs as leaders. They made a different set of considerations however, when deciding to become ‘champions’ themselves and this is inextricably linked to their perceptions of the associated risks. Digital leaders in this study  highlighted areas of personal, professional and reputational risks to themselves.  In some cases these risks were sufficient to discourage them. They found that championing equality, diversity and inclusion risked limiting their own social and cultural capital. Significantly they found that championing diversity could work against their leadership of digital thus undermining their leadership effectiveness.  Understanding these perceived risks, and the interplay of diversity and digital leadership is essential for moving forwards in developing digital and diversity leadership within organisations.

This study provides future researchers and practitioners with a starting point from which to study diversity and digital leadership activities in similar organisations and other universities, colleges and schools. Diversity management in the digital sector and higher education risks falling behind if it is slow to respond or support its digital leaders in this work. The findings of this study are a contribution to professional practice which may hope to facilitate a speedier response to the equality and diversity issues which are becoming increasingly high profile and urgent in higher education and in wider society as we embark on the 2020s.

Key words:  Digital, diversity, leadership, power, organisations, equality, inclusion, intersectional, interpretative, feminist, risk, business, higher education, professional, widening participation, women, STEM, class, race, IT, UK, human resources.

intersecting sectors

‘Intersecting sectors’ slide made in powerpoint by me for a research presentation . No rights reserved by me.

If one were going to try to evaluate the success of a diversity programme at work ECU have published a handy guide to methods you might use to monitor and evaluate impact .  We work in a space which is shaped by characteristics and  drivers of overlapping sectors.  The HE sector has its own diversity, nature and drivers; the sector of digital employers in Scotland has significant growth of its own and a different focus as regards ‘bottom line’.

The size of the digital sector is growing, the size of the university sector is growing, universities (indeed, all organisations) are becoming more digital. Competition for best employees is increasing. The IT sector is under some pressure to be more diverse, but that is difficult to link to a bottom line. Some employers have diversity programmes, and there are awards to celebrate that. Diversity programmes are notoriously hard to implement and evaluate and there needs to be a strong force to make a shift happen. Perhaps the rising competition for visible fairness and diversity will be that moment of overlap for the sectors.

Within the IT industry there is a significant gender split. According to BCS there were 1.18m IT specialists working in the UK in 2014, of which only 17% were women. This compares with a figure of 47% for the workforce as a whole (BCS, 2015) and that level has been fairly stable for ten years. Women represent 10 per cent of IT directors (Shankland, 2016).

University of Edinburgh headcount of professional staff by job segment and gender, 2016/17

Universites do collect gender information about staff working in IT roles, and we know what it is for University of Edinburgh, so presumably the other universities know their numbers too. I note that although BSC women produce some numbers for the national sector, ScotlandIS give no gender information in their reports. They refer only to categories of staff as graduates, contractors etc.

If you were wondering how big these sectors are and how much they are growing, here’s what I’ve found:

Significant amounts of public money are spent on higher education. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) reports that there are 162 higher education institutions in the UK in 2017. In academic year 2016–17 there were circa 207,000 academic colleagues employed. There were also circa 212,000 non-academic staff (UniversitiesUK, 2018). Non-academic staff numbers include a variety of professional and technical staff who provide services, support and management to the institutions. The total operating expenditure for the sector in 2017 was £33 billion and Universities UK (UUK) report that of that £3 billion was spent on IT, museums and libraries (UniversitiesUK, 2018).

The ‘IT, Museums and Libraries’ sector within HE is in itself diverse in size, shape and investment. In some universities those services are combined or consolidated in one large group within the organisation, in others the libraries and museums are managed separately from IT, and from each other. In some institutions IT is largely centralised, in others any central services may be supplemented by locally based IT staff in academic departments and colleges. UCISA, an industry membership body for HE IT, report that UK universities currently invest some £1.3billion in their technology infrastructure every year.(UCISA, 2018) UUK report that in 2014 universities spent £630 million running 390 libraries (UniversitiesUK, 2016).

The Scottish higher education sector is part of the wider sector in the UK, with some distinct funding sources. There are 19 universities in Scotland and Scotland has 4 research intensive universities which achieve consistently high world rankings. The Scottish Government provided £1.1 billion to universities in 2014/15, and approximately £623 million for university student finance support. (AuditScotland, 2016)

Across the UK in 2015-16 the income for the sector was £34.7 billion and the universities generated £95 billion in gross output for the economy. The sector contributes 1.2 % of UK GDP and supported more than 940,000 UK jobs.(UniversitiesUK, 2018). In Scotland in 2014/15. Universities had an income of £3.5 billion, and was growing rapidly. The sector in Scotland generated a surplus of £146 million in 2014/15 and overall reserves stood at £2.5 billion. (AuditScotland, 2016)  Universities Scotland calculated that the Scottish higher education sector supported 144,549 jobs and contributed an estimated £7.2 billion to the Scottish Economy in 2013/14, only the energy, financial and business services sectors made a larger contribution.(AuditScotland, 2016)

Scotland’s digital sector contributed £4.45 billion to gross value added in 2014. Employment in the digital sector was 64,100 in 2015.Total digital sector exports were £4.24 billion in 2015 (Scottish_Government, 2017). In 2018 the sector is growing and optimistic (BBC, 5 April 2018; BBCNews, 2018) and firms continue to plan to recruit more staff (ScotlandIS, 2018). Demand for graduate recruitment is growing with 72% of digital employers expecting to recruit graduates in 2017. As business grows demand for experienced staff also increases (ScotlandIS, 2017) Companies predict that they will recruit most of their new staff (73%) from the Scottish market.(ScotlandIS, 2017).

Recruitment and retention of good IT staff  for universities in Scotland is likely to get even more  competitive in the next few years. Best get ready.

If you have other reports etc which might help me to find out how diverse the UK HE IT community is, please do let me know.  Thank you.

AuditScotland. (2016). Audit of higher education in Scottish universities. from http://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/uploads/docs/report/2016/nr_160707_higher_education.pdf
BBC. (5 April 2018). ‘Sharp rise’ in number of Scottish tech start-ups. from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-43647584
BBCNews. (20 March 2018). Scottish digital tech firms see ‘positive’ year ahead. BBCNews. from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-43457740
BCS. (2015). THE WOMEN IN IT SCORECARD : A definitive up-to-date evidence base for data and commentary on women in IT employment and education from https://www.bcs.org/upload/pdf/women-scorecard-2015.pdf
ECU. (2018). Monitoring and evaluating impact. from https://www.ecu.ac.uk/publications/monitoring-evaluating-impact/
ScotlandIS. (2017). Scottish Technology Industry Survey 2017. from https://www.scotlandis.com/media/4933/scottish-tech-industry-survey-2017.pdf
ScotlandIS. (2018). Scottish Technology Industry Survey 2018. from https://www.scotlandis.com/resources/scottish-technology-industry-survey/
Scottish_Government. (2017). Realising Scotland’s Full Potential in a Digital World: A Digital Strategy for Scotland: The Scottish Government, March 2017.
UCISA. (2018). UCISA Strategic Plan 2018-22: Connecting and Collaborating for Success.
UniversitiesUK. (2018). Higher education in numbers . Retrieved Higher education in numbers . (2018). Universitiesuk.ac.uk. Retrieved 16 June 2018, from https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/facts-and-stats/Pages/higher-education-data.aspx

TEL evidence to persuade

SearchersPoster-BillGold
The Searchers. Bill Gold [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I am often asked by academic colleagues to provide an evidence base for TEL.

When colleagues ask me for evidence they hope I will find for them evidence of exactly this technology being used in exactly the way they teach at exactly the same level at a peer university. And that ideally this evidence will have been published with peer review. And that it will be entirely free from bias.

One thing about academics is they all come from difference research backgrounds, different research paradigms and use different research methods. So what they consider to be evidence strong enough for making decisions upon can be very varied.

Another thing about academics is that they may not know much about each others research methods – because they mostly spend time writing, researching, conferencing and publishing within their own discipline.

I am always being told that academics spend more time in their discipline networks, than in their university, so I do  think they might be better placed to discover the practice of their peers than I.

University of Edinburgh established a number of TEL chairs to improve the quality of teaching in the disciplines but it sometimes feels like other colleagues deliberately do not engage with the development of teaching in their own disciplines.  I’m not sure why.

I used to teach on the PGcert Learning and Teaching in Higher Education at University of Leeds and we always organised a session in which colleagues went around the room just describing how they do research. I think it was eye-opening for all.

We asked them ‘how do you do research? Some do experiments, some do clinical trials, some do text mining, some do field trips, some do focus groups and ethnographic studies some, do qualitative others do quantitative. Some do practical, some do theoretical. Some are empirical, some not so much. Some wrangle big data live, some seek metaphysical interpretation and engage in hundreds of hours of reading.  Doing research in History is quite different from doing research in Chemistry. Even evidence-based medicine and  evidence-based practice are not the same. Very few academics outside of Education departments do research in Education.

It is also true that learning technologists are drawn from many discpline backgrounds. Some of us have studied Education, some Computing, some Philosophy, some Medicine, some Geography, some Copyright Law. We will tend to use the research methods with which we are most familiar.

For most early career academic there’s no reward for researching TEL. They are unlikely to  want to spend time on that task.  They may be happy to contribute to a quick case study. Even then, case studies tend to be based on cohorts and every teacher will tell you that cohorts can be markedly difference for many reasons. There really is very little higher education educational research that is generalisable. A colleague who doesn’t trust your methodology will never trust your findings.

Where colleagues do engage with PGcert Learning and Teaching courses, those courses sometimes aim to do the action research on situated practice. Some of this will be about using technology in teaching. For many of the participants this will be the first time doing education research and they are doing it at a beginners Masters level. They will tend to want to use the research methods of their own discipline. So although the case studies exist, they may still fail to persuade each other. The PGcertLTHE community of academic developers do little to gather these case studies together as an evidence base for all. They lock them away on internal wikis  with no intention to share openly.

I miss the HEA subject centres.

At Edinburgh I offer hard cash to colleagues to research their own practice. There’s a special emphasis on online learning and lecture recording this year.

what would an evidence base really TEL?

Trinity College Dublin, Jedi Archive. Picture taken by me. No rights reserved by me.

The thing about working in universities, is you have to be very careful about language. I am very lucky to work at University of Edinburgh. Previously I worked at University of Oxford. In both those places I learned that colleagues will, quite rightly, question you and push you to be clear. And so they should.

At Edinburgh I work alongside a group of digital education researchers who have published their thoughts about technology enhanced learning.  It’s a good read. I would encourage you to take a look.

According to Sian, the problem is the words: technology, enhanced and learning.

When we talk about technology in universities we tend to assume we know what we mean by TEL- that there is a shared understanding of the phrase. I’m not sure there is or should be.

Technology could be a range of things, not just computers, not just online,  there might be all kinds of technologies we should investigate which might enhance learning. We should think of performance-enhancing study  drugs and quantified-self technologies which might be used by students to enhance their revision timetable or maximise their studying stamina.

For TEL evidence-based research we seem to focus only on quite a small set of technologies- most of which are not particularly new- and are mostly fairly unremarkable even invisible, to students- websites, handouts, lecture recordings, tests, wikis, blogs. These days these are hard to distinguish from everyday content for most students who routinely read online, watch online and chat online. Do we show our age when we refer to these as innovation?

And then there’s the word ‘enhanced’. Enhanced is not the same as support, or change or disrupt, or transform- all of which might be worth exploring. Enhanced implies that learning is a thing well understood the way it is and that the only thing worth doing with technology is a bit more of that, but with some tweaked enhancement.   If we approach it like that we find studies which show no significant difference, or not much and no moves forward are made. And it’s hard to justify investment.

And learning?  Do we really mean learning, or is it the teaching that’s to be changed or the education? Or the accessibility, or the discoverability, or the administration?

It does strike me that in this country we have made make a rod for our own backs. TEL and VLE are both very UK specific terms. In other countries Balckboard, Moodle et al are  LMS- Learning Management Systems. ‘Virtual Learning Enviroment’ promises a lot.  It sounds like a platform for virtual worlds and immersive environments and beautifully designed, challenging games.

You know your VLE is never going to deliver that. It won’t even compare to the kind of impressive learning environment offered by a splendid library but because of the name, we seek to find the affordances and cognitive gains instead of just admiring the rather elegant ways it manages groups, integrates with the timetabling system and works on a mobile phone.

Sometimes I wonder in whose interest it is for our tech experts to be tamed, domesticated and confined to a term like ‘TEL’? But I suspect we did this to ourselves. We called them VLEs * to convince our senior budget holders to invest and now we beat on, like boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past, searching endlessly for the evidence.

* I blame Aggie. He started it.

 

a cloud named eleanor

Eleanor Anne Ormerod (1828-1901).jpg
By Eleanor Anne Ormerod – Eleanor Anne Ormerod, Public Domain, Link

It’s always fun to name new services after goddesses.

Eleanor Anne Ormerod, was the first woman Fellow of the Meteorological Society and first woman to be given an honorary doctorate by University of Edinburgh. During the conferral of an LL.D. degree from the University, she was described as the “as the protectress of agriculture and the fruits of the earth, a beneficent Demeter of the nineteenth century.” Her portrait is in Old College.

We’ve named our new research cloud computing service after her.

Information Services Group has created a comprehensive cloud computing service, able to support flexible provisioning of infrastructure.  Based on OpenStack, it is an ‘Infrastructure as a Service Cloud’ for carrying out computational and digital research. We provide free and funded tiers.

Once registered, you can access the interface at eleanor.cloud.ed.ac.uk

european community engagement

Me at ScotlandEuropa
Me at ScotlandEuropa

I spoke in Brussels this week about University of Edinburgh’s leading role in developing and delivering innovation in higher education. The LERU league of European research institutions is an unashamedly closed club of 21, but occasionally they have open-ish meetings and this one was packed, so it was an interesting and interactive session. This particular meeting was at Scotland House, so I felt like I was representing up.

The meeting was focussed around the briefing paper which was written while I was working at Oxford, so it was fun to respond to it on behalf of Edinburgh now that I work here.

I spoke mostly about the unique positions held by the research institutions in engagement with their communities near and far and about the channels for translating research with social relevance.

Earlier in the meeting there had been much conservative concern and warnings (from those not doing MOOCs) that doing MOOCs was not worthwhile. The presentations from Leiden and Edinburgh about our MOOC success and mission relevance perked everyone up again.

I spoke about how involvement in the emerging area of MOOCs is inline with our three- part core mission: teaching, research and innovation. Our teaching in our MOOCs is strongly influenced by research we do about our MOOCs, is innovative, and the platforms we work with are informed by knowledge transfer in educational technology development.

We are motivated to inspire the citizens and leaders of tomorrow to be curious, driven, responsible and capable of academic thinking. I spoke about the U21 Critical Thinking in Global Challenges shared online course (SOC) which builds upon and runs parallel to, our MOOC of the same name. We are taking the opportunity to strategically extend our online learning opportunities to learners or co-enquirers outside our university. Universitas 21 also has 21 members, and some of them are the same as the LERU 21 members, but many are not. Nice to see colleagues from Amsterdam and Lund.

I talked about how we strategically work collaboratively with other institutions, and with commercial partners in the delivery of online learning. I mentioned our increasing strategic closeness with SRUC and their contributions to our growing stable (or barnyard) of horse, animal and chicken MOOCs*.  I mentioned our partnership work with national museums, the Scottish Government and the Edinburgh Festivals.

What struck me though, was that the hype is fading around MOOCs and the idea that this is going to transform the business of higher education  by opening it up to all has passed. It increasingly becomes attractive to those big brands who are getting the strategic benefit of these international platforms to  discourage other from getting into the same space.  Colleagues from Leiden agreed.

Doing MOOCs well is very difficult and very expensive. Unless you have excellent teams, which we do, it won’t be a success.

In fact, if you work at any of the other LERU institutions you should certainly heed all the advice in the LERU paper and not rush into it.

 

*Leiden have chosen Sharia law and international terrorism as their MOOC topics. That makes ours look actually rather tame.