As part of Teesside University’s digital strategy, Future Facing Learning, we created a Digital Development Programme (DDP) to provide training, coaching, and support around digital skills to all of our staff.

The programme has been running for 18 months and aims to equip staff and students with the knowledge, skills, and tools to achieve success in a changing digital world.

Future Facing Learning is comprised of 5 core areas:

  • Future Ready
  • Socially and Ethically Engaged
  • Research Active
  • Globally Connected
  • Digitally Empowered

We’ve found real success when using this framework to embed digital skills training and development into our culture. Here are 5 steps to successfully embed digital skills into your own school, college or university based on learnings from our own journey.

Richard and two men in his team using the future ready training platform

Step 1 – Research your goals

Our Digitally Empowered strand focuses on digital skills, and how they can be embedded into the learning and teaching experience of our students.

With many industry reports showing graduates can lack digital skills, we wanted to empower ours with real-world skills that  support their employability post-degree, and prepare them for the future digital workplace. To achieve that, we knew the scheme had to be adopted across the university, with commitment to a long-term plan.

To enable this, we decided to give academic staff and students a mobile device, access to a digital toolkit of applications, and the support to meaningfully embed practices into their teaching and learning experiences.

With our objectives in mind, at the beginning of 2018, we focused on the big picture: What would the initiative look like? What would the digital toolkit contain? How could we get staff and students to embrace it?

During our research phase, we studied what skills employers were looking for – and it quickly became apparent that Office 365 needed to be front and centre of the toolkit. This conclusion was supported by research from the IDC. It showed Microsoft Office skills were in high demand, and linked to many digital skills and capabilities.

Building on work conducted by Jisc around digital literacies, we also worked on how to map these findings against a development programme that would up-skill and support staff.


Step 2 – Create a development programme

Our Digital Development programme was deliberately structured in a way that let us link different parts of Office 365 to the core digital literacies:

  • Future Facing Learning
  • Deploying Content
  • Promoting Curation
  • Fostering Collaboration
  • Nurturing Creation
  • Measuring Impact

We designed the programme to be delivered in 6 hours, offering staff practical examples of how to use the available tools to support digital literacies. For example, one such session focused on using OneNote to create interactive resources. These could then be reused for different cohorts. In another, staff saw how Word’s collaborative tools allow students to work together remotely and in real-time.

Man sat in a chair using the future facing learning platform

A decision was also made to place Microsoft Teams at the heart of the DDP. Each cohort would be added to a Teams site, enabling them to interact with others during and after training. It quickly became the default communications platform both in and out of the physical training space. Attendees naturally gravitated towards this space as a community of practice, asking questions and sharing resources.


Step 3 – Use the Microsoft Educator Community

The Microsoft Educator Community (MEC) is an unrivalled resource. Foolhardy is the school or college that ignores it when launching a digital skills programme.

In the case of Teesside University, we used it to enhance our development programme offering. We could map elements of what we would do in each strand of Future Facing Learning against MEC courses and resources. This gave staff the ability to unlock additional learning opportunities.

As well as supplying ready-made resources, Microsoft also runs educator programmes that recognise and reward achievement. By aligning our own DDP with this, we were able to issue digital badges, including the coveted Microsoft Innovative Educator badge, to staff who completed the programme. This would be the first step on a journey as part of a global community of educators.


Richard training a team member on the future facing learning platformStep 4 – Maintain momentum

Over the last 18 months, we’ve worked with staff to continually think about their teaching practice, and offer additional support and development. Masterclasses, for example, allow them to learn even more about one or more applications within the digital toolkit. Coaching sessions, too, open a dialogue between academic staff and a Digital Learning Developer. It lets them discuss what they’d like to see implemented in their learning and teaching, and how digital tools can support the pedagogy.

So far, over 400 staff have completed the DDP and redeemed codes in the MEC to become MIEs. Staff keen to build their digital skills are also encouraged to apply for the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) programme. 43 Teesside staff have been accepted as MIEEs for 2019-2020.

But the university also wanted to study other ways to develop and showcase staff’s digital skills. We wanted a way for their development to be used as evidence for external validation. That’s when we started to offer staff – as well as students – the opportunity to sit Microsoft exams. Supported by Prodigy Learning, staff had access to both Microsoft Certified Educator and Microsoft Office Specialist exams. So far, 33 people have passed the MCE exam.

Microsoft Office Specialist exams have, on the other hand, proved very popular with students. This exam empowers students to learn, in-depth, about specific Office applications. Those that have completed the exam find they’re now more confident in using and applying the skills that we know employers seek.


Step 5 – Stay committed

We may only be 18 months into our journey, but already our Digital Development programme is making waves at Teesside. A cross-institution approach has helped us embed and build upon what we’re doing.

If you’re considering implementing your own digital strategy…

Think carefully about what you wish to achieve

Celebrate your champions

Showcase the great outcomes.

And most of all – stay committed to developing the skills of all your students and staff.



About the author

Headshot of RIchard Glover, Digital Learning Developer, Teesside UniversityRichard has worked in the education sector for over 20 years, with the first 10 spent in technical roles at secondary level before moving on to Higher Education. Now at Teesside University, Richard’s role has evolved from Learning Technologist to Digital Learning Developer. This sees him work with staff from across the University around developing digital skills. Working from within a central team, he supports staff development, helping subject teams to combine digital skills and modern pedagogies into their learning & teaching.