Skills gap bites as digital transformation of schools ramps up

Skills gap bites as digital transformation of schools ramps up

More than two-thirds of teachers surveyed in Australia and New Zealand say training is not available alongside the roll-out of new tech despite most agreeing on the benefits of digital learning.

The survey by D2L, a global learning and professional development technology leader, involved 503 higher education respondents from universities, TAFEs and RTOs in the region.

It found that while institutions are offering 57.06% of their courses fully online (up from 35.98% pre-pandemic), 47.48% identify a lack of support and training in the use of digital tools to deliver education as the biggest challenge in transitioning to learning online.

Meanwhile, 69.78% said training was not available to introduce and support faculty and staff to use new technologies at all despite progress in digital transformation strategies. The data also showed only 34.79% say improving digital skills within the academic community is a top priority for their organisations over the next two years.

Tony Maguire, Regional Director A/NZ at D2L, said the pandemic has “fundamentally reshaped workforce assumptions, triggered capacity contractions and drawn the human costs into sharp relief.” 

“The front end saw sessional academics hard hit by cutbacks and the Australia Institute’s report, An Avoidable Catastrophe: Pandemic Job Losses in Higher Education and their Consequences, describes the backend devastation for full time academic roles,” Maguire told The Educator.

“My question is: are we committed to extend the support and resources to this impacted cohort of the workforce as we have to industries? Given the contribution that education makes to the Australian economy, the case could be easily made.”

Maguire pointed out that in D2L’s local and global partnerships, universities’ business models are expanding from existing academic programmes into short course, future skills and micro-credentials spaces.

“To be successful, traditional academic and industry subject matter experts increasingly need design, collaboration and agile skill sets to be successful in more of the hybrid practitioner/mentor roles on offer.”

‘Covid’s silver lining: The flowering of innovation’

Professor Elizabeth Johnson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education at Deakin University, said the university’s ‘emergency remote teaching’ used to help students progress under difficult conditions is a long way from intentionally designed online learning.

“The speed of the shift made this difficult for all institutions irrespective of their digital experience,” Professor Johnson told The Educator.

“Deakin opted to focus on using existing tools and platforms where possible. Our goal was to minimise the load on staff in dealing with new technologies as well as distressed students and an extremely fluid situation.”

However, Professor Johnson points out that a lot more needs to be done to ensure learning designs make best use of digital tools.

“The silver lining of the pandemic restrictions and the pressure of rapid change was the flowering of innovation,” she said.

“With old assumptions cast aside, teaching teams have created some wonderful new resources which we can build into new and more purposeful learning designs.”

Professor Johnson said the findings of the D2L survey expose challenges with widespread use of educational technologies and agree with other research.

“Every institution will have its champions who pioneer new tools and ideas, however dissemination to others can be slow. These challenges are always present but the pandemic created an urgency to invest in capability for immediate, practical use to make sure all boats rise,” she said.

“Digital platforms, tools and interfaces are a normal environment for life and work and should be a normal environment for study. Online study should embed the tools we use every day. Our challenge is to increase our digital fluency so teachers and students can move seamlessly between tools, shifting focus from the medium to what is being learnt.”

Professor Johnson said digital fluency can be buit by working with experts in learning and edtech, by learning from each other in communities of practice and by making digital a “normal space” for learning and teaching.

“Now is the time to re-evaluate efforts to date, and identify highly intentional ways to lean on technology tools – without overcomplicating or overengineering – to fuel progress in digital learning with the right frameworks to support students, academics and other stakeholders.”