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A communal approach to digital transformation in education is needed to succeed, Westminster researchers suggest

A Research Paper by Doug Specht, Peter Chatterton, Peter Hartley and Gunter Saunders, published by Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice

A new study led by Doug Specht, Director of Teaching, Learning and Quality Assurance for the School of Media and Communication, suggests that a three-pronged approach is needed to overcome the digital hurdle towards quality online teaching.

The newly-published research found that by combining training, creating a level playing field and providing a parallel support network, it is easier for institutions and their colleagues to overcome technological and efficacy hurdles. Once over these barriers, they found that sufficient time for experimentation before teaching began allowed for consolidation of ideas and formation of new digital teaching identities. These new findings examine how digital tools can enhance the curriculum and how they can lead to a vastly improved experience for colleagues and students alike.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, focuses on leading the digital transformation within the School of Media and Communication at Westminster to support the move to online learning throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent devising and delivery of a six-week staff development course entitled ‘Planning and Implementing an Online Course’.

As a result of the training programme, 79% of students from the School reported that they felt engaged learning online compared to a national average of 41% according to WonkHE, 80% of the School’s colleagues felt support for moving online was good or excellent, again, well above the sector average. Student and colleague feedback confirmed that the training and support provided for the School was generally successful, ensuring academics were capable and confident in delivering online learning.

The training programme brought together the Learning Innovation and Digital Engagement (LIDE) team, two educational consultants, the School’s senior leadership team, the library team and 117 full and part-time colleagues to take part in the training programme. The researchers conducted a survey with Westminster colleagues to understand their needs and then held six weeks of blended training sessions covering guiding principles and models for design and building a learning community and communication, content creation, curation and engagement and assessment and collaboration. Five clinics also took place to discuss professional and employability skills, assessment and feedback, student engagement, cultural and language issues, content creation and curation.

Talking about the new research, Doug Specht said: “The last year was truly unprecedented, and while the way in which we found ourselves working, 100% online, is something that we all hope won’t be required again, it’s important to look very closely at what worked, and what didn’t, to help inform changes in the future. I hope that this research will foster further conversations about how higher education institutions invest in staff development in a way that that creates more future proof pedagogies and ways of working.”

Read the full paper on the Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice website.


Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Doug Specht


Dr Doug Specht is a cultural geographer and educationalist. His research explores themes related to environmental justice, human rights, and access to education, with a focus on the production and codification of knowledge though cartographic artefacts and in educational settings. In recognition of his work, he has been appointed as a Chartered Geographer and Chartered Teacher. In addition, he has been awarded Advanced Teacher Status, alongside being a Senior Fellow of AdvanceHE. Dr. Specht has authored numerous articles and books, including Mapping Crisis, the Routledge Handbook of Geospatial Technology and Society, the Media and Communications Student Study Guide and Imagining Apocalyptic Politics in the Anthropocene. He writes regularly on ethics, environmental and human rights, education, and mapping practices in such publications as WonkHE, The Conversation, Geographical, and for Times Higher Education. Dr Specht is a member of the editorial board of the European Journal of Geography, Westminster papers in Communication and Culture, and Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman. He is Chair of the Environmental Network for Central America.


11 August 2021
Research Area
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Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice
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