Capabilities and Communities of Practice

Posted on: 12 April 2013
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Recently I attended a talk by Peter Chatterton  future -gazing on Higher Education and libraries in 2020. A couple of ideas struck me as particularly relevant now to the DigitISE project.

The first was to focus on capabilities rather than skills. It made me realise that our terminology had slipped backwards; our thinking prior to this project had been about graduate attributes. I suspect that the reason is that the word “skills” has more meaning to us (those engaged in the project), particularly those of us engaged with “information skills”, but as we know from experience and our research it doesn’t necessarily mean much to students. Perhaps we should challenge ourselves and try to define what we mean by skills?

Peter also broadened the depth of what graduate capabilities might include – problem identification rather than just problem solving.  Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and change – the graduate capability lying in understanding these processes and using them to lead for change. This again had strong resonance, as a constant theme of the digital skills project research and of the DigitISE day has been that students know how to use the tools, they just don’t always understand the context or where the information has come from or goes to – in terms of the digital literacy definition we have been using – the locate, organise understand and evaluate information element.

“Digital literacy is the ability to locate, organise, understand and evaluate information using digital technology. It involves a working knowledge of current high-technology and an understanding of how it can be used. Digitally literate people can communicate and work more effectively, especially with those who possess the same knowledge and skills”.

Peter also talked about the future of learning being the capability to engage with or lead “Communities of practice”, and this is very much what the DigitISE project has been about.  Engaging with academics, students, senior managers, learning technologists, careers, librarians, IT trainers, the Student Union and employers.

Until Peter’s talk the discussion has been of “collaboration” and “working collaboratively”. Earlier this year I attended a faculty teaching and learning symposium where a discussion point was “collaboration to improve the student experience” (generated from module feedback). I realised that my understanding of collaboration (more closely aligned to communities of practice) was very different to that of the academics. Academics had immediately thought of collaboration as creating cross-faculty modules.  I had thought of collaboration as working together to utilising the skills of the different areas and departments and stakeholders of the University. Perhaps “building communities of practice” is the middle ground where the different professional viewpoints can meet.

Eleri Kyffin

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