Digital equity – a social justice issue for staff too

By Dr Julie Willems, Monash University

The rollout of technological advances in tertiary teaching and learning continues unabated. Like students, staff adoption and participation is variable. One possible theory to understand this is Rogers’ (2003) diffusion of technological innovation model. This model identifies five adopter categories: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and the laggards. Rogers’ technological innovation model suggests therefore that the majority of staff are either deliberate or leisurely in their choice of technological use.

However, is this so simple? There are many factors which impact staff adoption and acceptance of technology for teaching and learning. New technology acceptance and adoption rates by staff varies, and the reasons behind this need to be carefully interrogated. Digital participation and access is not a level playing field. These, in turn, impact practice. Care is necessary to ensure that the digital divide does not marginalise those tasked with contributing to the successful learning outcomes of students. The inequities of digital participation and access for staff should be addressed to ensure successful practice. In a recent article in the AJET special issue on Digital Equity, I argued that in considering digital equity, the needs of staff is a social justice issue.  The full article can be access here: https://ajet.org.au/index.php/AJET/article/view/5503/1639

This rapid change in technology enhanced learning will impact the professional development needs of educators. Staff capacity building, also referred to as staff development, professional development (Australasian Council on Open, Distance and e-learning [ACODE], 2014) or faculty development is a challenging space wherein academic and support staff (also referred to as professional staff in different institutions) are often joined for the delivery of learning to their colleagues. The Educause Learning Initiative (ELI, https://www.educause.edu/eli) in their annual survey about what is most exciting, pressing, consequential, and relevant in advancing learning through technology in higher education, have noted since 2011, that staff professional development as remaining at, or near, the top of the list of continuing concerns for the higher education sector to be attended to (ELI, 2018). It is clear that explicit attention is required to the considered and nuanced development of staff in relation to using technology in their teaching. The lack of a nuanced staff professional development program is a digital equity issue in its own right. Factoring in such staff diversity and individual needs is crucial for institutions in the consideration of aiding student learning.

ACODE (2014) has proposed a number of benchmarks “to support continuous quality improvement in technology enhanced learning” (p. 4). Of these, Benchmark 5 specifically relates to staff professional development around technology-enhanced learning. Understanding the variety of needs and skills of staff in any professional development design is the same though process that we would follow for our students. One size does not fit all. Nor does a top-down delivery style work in the creation of staff development opportunities.

Through this alternative lens of digital equity, I argue that four additional performance indicators for staff professional development in the effective use of technology-enhanced learning be added to ACODE’s Benchmark 5. These will ensure that staff professional development is organised in consideration of the digital divide and the need for digital equity. To achieve these, however, resourcing may need to be unevenly distributed (equity) rather evenly distributed (equality). These additional performance indicators for inclusion in ACODE’s Benchmark 5 are shown in italics interspersed with the existing indicators in the following list:

  1. A framework for staff development in technology enhanced learning is part of the institution’s learning and teaching strategy.
  2. An empathetic assessment of variance in staff needs for professional development helps identify staff inhibitors and roadblocks in order to progress digital equity.
  3. Processes are in place and in use to identify staff development needs in support of the institution’s strategy for technology enhanced learning.
  4. Educational and technical expertise is used to develop quality programs and resources addressing staff development needs.
  5. Coordination occurs between those areas providing staff development for technology enhanced learning across the institution.
  6. Staff development for technology enhanced learning is resourced.
  7. Hardware, software and connectivity solutions for disadvantaged staff are also resourced.
  8. Staff professional development programs are delivered flexibly and address differing skill levels
  9. Staff professional development programs that foster input and participation to build personal agency.
  10. Institutions put in place considerations to avert technological change fatigue in staff.
  11. Evaluation data is used to inform the planning for continuous improvement of staff development processes.

To ensure justice for staff in higher education requires an examination of all practices, for employment at an institution is not necessarily a safeguard of staff from the digital divide. Staff reluctance about the use of new technologies may not simply be recalcitrance on their part. It may be masking a systemic digital divide. Let’s work together to expose the challenges and find solutions in addressing them.

References

Australasian Council on Open, Distance and e-learning. (2014). Benchmarks for technology enhanced learning. Canberra: Author. Retrieved from https://www.acode.edu.au/pluginfile.php/550/mod_resource/content/8/TEL_Benchmarks.pdf

Educause Learning Initiative. (2018). The 2018 key issues in teaching and learning. Retrieved from https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2018/1/eli7153.pdf

Rogers, E.M. (2003). Diffusion of innovation (5th ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.

 

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