Technology Adoption Series: Providing Effective & Available Support for Academic Staff


For most academic staff, adopting learning technology for the first time is a change to their well established and proven practice.

The second in the series of webinars featuring best practice in technology adoption took place on 25th June. In this second webinar, Bryony Bramer, the Learning Technology Manager at Regent’s University London discussed initiatives that have been deployed to drive technology adoption and the student experience to swiftly establish institution-wide online coursework submission.

Regent’s University London is a small, private not-for-profit charitable higher education institution with approximately 4,000 FTE students. Their Blackboard Learn Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is used to provide students with online access to module materials, which can include reading lists, lecture notes, discussion boards and quizzes, as well as providing access to a range of additional resources. Bryony leads the Learning Technology Team who support staff and students in the use of the institutional VLE and Technology Enhanced Learning, and provide staff development and training in digital skills to enhance the learning experience for students across the University.

In September 2013, the University introduced mandatory institution-wide online coursework submission, and with this came a set of challenges. Firstly, all academic staff needed to be prepared to set-up submission areas and receive submissions via Blackboard. This required the Learning Technology Team to be able to support the large number of academic staff with the required training and resources to enable them to develop the necessary skillset.

In the first term, the team set up 100 training sessions to provide academic staff with a base level of knowledge including understanding the basics of how to create Blackboard and Turnitin assignments and accessing the students’ assignments. They soon discovered that this type of training was not suitable for all academic staff. Bryony explains, “There were some staff who didn’t have a base level knowledge of using the VLE who had managed to avoid using Blackboard at all even though it was already a requirement for all modules in the University. Now with online coursework submission they absolutely couldn’t avoid using Blackboard.”

Bryony said, “We found that some people coming to the online coursework submission training were coming without the basic understanding of using Blackboard and also some without even having basic computer skills.” It was evident that the training being offered was not suitable for all of the staff.

The key reasons cited for the resistance was the lack of digital literacy and a lack of confidence in working with technology. Bryony said, “We need to turn teachers who don’t use technology, into teachers that do, and we need to support them,” and goes on to explain, “Digital literacies are the digital skills a person needs, to be able to do the job they have been employed to do. So, for academic staff this means dealing with online coursework submission.” As a Support team, it became apparent that there was a need to identify staff digital literacy requirements and a required skillset for online coursework submission.

Identifying Training Needs

To find out what skills are required for online coursework submission, Bryony recommended asking yourself these questions:

  • What digital literacy skills do staff need in order to use Blackboard Learn?
  • How can the Learning Technology Team support staff in these essential skills?

By conducting an institution-wide training needs analysis the team were able to go some way towards identifying the digital literacy levels of their academic staff, to see how they could best support their colleagues. From this they have been able to identify a recommended ‘Digital Literacy Skillset’ and a framework of minimum standards. Bryony went on to say, “We knew there were staff with limited digital literacy skills but when we fed this back to Heads of School and HR they were genuinely surprised. There is a definite disparity between perceived and actual digital literacy levels of staff.”

Tips & Tricks: Supporting Staff

The team identified 4 key training elements that have to be understood in order for staff to successfully enable their Blackboard module areas for online coursework submission including:

  • General Skills
    Basic computer use, file management and internet access.
  • Communication / Email
    Reading and sending emails, including attachments and University signatures.
  • Word Processing
    Creating, formatting and saving documents.
  • Using Blackboard
    Access, locating information, uploading files and setting up and retrieving assignment submissions.

Bryony also offered suggestions about the best time and place to provide training and discussed training for new starters and probationary staff, and the importance of getting it into existing staff PDRs and annual reviews to get all staff up to the required levels of digital literacy.

The team have also employed several other tactics to support staff which have proved very successful. They produced their own range of bespoke user guides and videos for staff and students which could easily be accessed from the Blackboard Learn homepage.

“Making our own user guides and videos is very hard work and very time consuming but we feel it is really worth it. It means we can provide things which are specific to our institution, using the terminology we use on the system and in line with our University policies. It also means that staff can find the information themselves, or my team can refer them to a guide or video which saves us time in responding to repeated issues.”

Finally, Bryony concluded by offering a few key takeaways.

  • Get senior managers involved to drive the initiative and make the formal requirements that this needs to be done.
  • Think about what skills are needed in your institution to drive adoption.
  • Consider what support can you reasonably provide – you can’t do everything!
  • Think about the hooks you can use to bring people around to your way of thinking.

For more ideas about how you can provide effective and available support for academic staff to drive technology adoption you can view the recorded webinar here.