Q)3 What new sets of skills are required in order to work in new ways that exploit the benefits (or overcome barriers) afforded by new technology environments?
As the case studies clearly illustrate, new working practices demand new skills sets. Four groups of skill sets were identified as essential for staff and senior management if institutions are to work in new ways that exploit the benefits afforded by new technologies. These are briefly summarised below. For further information on the skills and how their development might best be supported see the Work-with-IT Advice and Guidance Documentation (McDonald, Cullen et al. 2008).
(i) Coping with change
The ability of staff to cope with change, on the one hand, and of middle and senior management to successfully implement change on the other is viewed as critical. This should include, but not be limited to: adaptability and flexibility, lifelong learning, project management and change management. It is also felt that line managers could inadvertently act as a barrier by failing to build in training and exploration time for staff. Thus additional team management skills and checks to ensure that they are applied in practice are required.
(ii) Social and relationship skills
Technology-enhanced working brings together different groups of people in an artificial world where common social signals are missing. Staff working in such an environment need enhanced relationship skills for the virtual world. Difficulties in bonding in cross-functional and often virtual teams are a particular issue. Additionally, staff need support to develop appropriate skills such as empathy and motivation. Team building exercises are also recommended.
The blurring of professional and personal digital presence also requires that traditional professional and ‘netiquette’ skills be extended to all aspects of digital interaction and that staff are aware of the potential reach and persistence of blogs and other participatory forms of technology and how personal posts may be deemed professionally damaging. Constant online connectivity means that staff need strategies to set and reinforce boundaries if they are to work effectively without unnecessary interruption or guilt – digital assertiveness skills to manage the trend towards ’life without boundaries’ are required.
(iii) Learning Skills
Skills to help staff become reflective and innovative practitioners are also required. These are precisely the skills that academics strive to embed in their students - reflection, critical thinking and the ability to think outside the box within a constructivist framework.
(iv) IT Related skills
Basic ‘hard’ IT skills such as proficiency with desktop applications are increasingly viewed as essential. Information management skills are also required if staff and students are to make effective use of the vast array of information resources available.
Softer IT-related skills are also required. For example, staff require to be equipped with skills in management of online presence across multiple tools. Further, staff need to be able to optimise the use of technology if institutions are to capitalise on the opportunities offered by technology-enhanced working. This does not mean that all staff need to become technology experts; rather they need to be sufficiently IT literate to make useful decisions and to hold useful discussions with technology experts. Knowing when to involve experts, where relevant expertise can be found and how to effectively communicate with technology specialists and subject or business specialists is key. ‘Soft’ IT-related skills and competencies such as technology confidence and a willingness to innovate are also increasingly required.
- D. Cullen, et al. (2008). Technology-enhanced working: Advice and Guidance for Staff Development and Change Managers, University of Strathclyde/JISC.