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Aligning Professional Identity with Institutional Culture: The Role of Educators’ Digital Fluency in Harnessing the Potential of Online and Technology Enhanced Learning

2020-05-13, Watts, Niall, Galvin, Conor

Globally, higher education is facing the challenges of a growing and diverse student body and the potential of digital technologies to transform their learning. How digitally fluent educators work to harness technology enhanced learning (TEL) is a defining factor in this. This paper presents an analysis of the power and possibilities of digital fluency. It draws on innovation theory (relating to diffusion of innovations and to acceptance and use of technology), and also on understandings of institutional culture – conceptualised as communities and landscapes of professional practice. It is set against recent doctoral work, comprising a thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with key, digitally fluent academics in Ireland and of a national (Ireland) policy document; the Digital Roadmap. This analysis led to some rather unexpected conclusions about educators’ professional identity and institutional cultures whose alignment (or lack thereof) can profoundly influence practice in online and technology-enhanced learning. Essentially, this research suggests that enthusiasm, educational qualifications, and prior experience of digital technologies are major influences in the development of digital fluency and related professional identity, but that there has been little consistency or predictability in how this happens. Major similarities emerged among participants around how fluency was pursued, but marked variations emerged between those whose career focused on TEL and those who mainly used TEL as part of their instructional practices. Similarly, the research identified differing practices at institutional level regarding the prioritising and fostering of this digital fluency and related professional identity. It also identified very mixed levels of understanding relating to institutional and national policy in the area. The paper presents a discussion of both individual and institutional aspects of identity development under headings relating to career focus; the interrelations of formal and informal learning; the institutional promotion of cultures of development; and reward systems and structures. In this way the paper foregrounds the importance of meaningful alignment of professional identity and institutional culture in harnessing the potential of online learning in higher education. By examining in particular the factors that influence the development of digital fluency among academics and the role of sustainable, supportive institutional cultures in this, it contributes to understandings of the ongoing transformation of online learning both globally and glocally, suggesting some measures for better facilitating and fostering that alignment. This paper aligns with the conference sub-themes of New Skills for Living and Working in New Times and Global Challenges and Glocal Solutions