Digital Decisions Research Data

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Ella ASa

Head of Learning Tech at South West Uni.
Lovely Ella ASa. Head of Tech at South West (I called her Abbi at one point and said how was another south west uni :D)
She told me about how connected things were for her which was good and she has developed into the role and was a good project manager. She said that she was consulted a lot and decisions were made once her team had evalauted.
It is very small, something like 5,500 students which is tiny (my faculty is 6,600!)
She didnt say much about disadvantaged students. She explained that the academic staff were mostly in industry which meant that they didn’t know much about pastoral support or digital literacies. I guess they support them so not as tel related as it could be.
Connections seemed to be very good and they worked very well across their institution but then again its very small. Some services are shared with Exeter.

Interview review notes:

Has worked there for 18 years so has established her reputation. She has worked across all roles having started as an intern and worked her way into each role. She said that she has gone from a team of 4 to a team of 23 which shows (I think) the value they have placed in being online. I particularly noted that she mentioned how she is involved in calls relating to her team (so prior to the pandemic I am assuming that she would have not had this opportunity?)

How influential are you?

To this question she said that there is both the asking before or consulting once a decision has been made. I think prior to the pandemic she would have more of the latter but since there has been better recognition for her value to the institution in that they provide links to outside of the institution. She said that her line manager is very supportive (Director of Digital Experience) and when she is on the SMT calls with the other directors she is invited because they are all advocates for her team and the work they do. She said “when you have the advocates onside then you get invited in” (03:13) to me that is interesting as its only because they know and trust her that she is brought in unlike Amanda who is actively not involved and kept out (I feel that her identification as trans might have something to do with that, but it was never mentioned and we didn’t discuss any personal aspects of her influence). But for Ella, there is clearly an advantage to her establishment in the institution as a known person. Someone who is capable and has had done things etc.
The more success she has had at projects she feels that she hasn’t got time to think deeply or creatively about solutions to anything else. She has been running more and more projects (kind of like at the behest of the leadership) which has given her credibility but in the same way, she is prevented from adding her own ideas into things.

What kinds of students do you have?

She told me they were mainly arts/architecture and so very practical subjects. Some mature students as well which is interesting because they were not a feature of their APP particularly. Employability is high on the agenda and they all have a placement year or are encouraged to set up their own business. In which case you would have thought that skills and digital literacies would be high on the list but it isn’t. It is more about Adobe tools and how to use. She mentioned that the students came for the games studio spaces which is a big draw and nothing about commuter students and the local population of students being from nearby. The APP refers to the lack of diversity as being a direct result of the local area and low rates of diversity which doesn’t make any sense if the students are not local?
There was a lot about portfolios and relevance to industry and again that IT systems people did the IT skills but not the digital preparedness that I thought might happen. They run through the apps and use videos as support but there wasn’t anything about levelling the playing field.
Also being such a small university means that change can happen faster and the focus for her was to ensure that they kept up with the essential tools for industry.

Thoughts on APP’s and interview

Amy knows the institution well and knows the students and has access to a bank of students but my impression was that it was more about preparing students for getting into the industry. Staff for teaching were also usiually not academic but industry related and that was a draw for the students but doesn’t account for any form of access and participation by local non traditional students. Everything was focussed on the industry and nothing mentioned about research or how to support students prior to attending. She mentioned the induction week which happens everywhere but it was not specifically about getting non traditional students integrated and successful.
She mentioned the fact that she was female and that seems to have been an issue for her in terms of being acknowledged and listened to.
I dont think they have a link to the WP team and although small I also don’t think that there was much connection between getting ready, managing and supporting students who may not have the experiences or access to resources. I used the reference twice about digital access in terms of the OfS definition and since we talked the Blended Learning Review report has come out and so even more important to ensure students and staff are prepared etc.
Overall, interesting small uni, specifically around Arts and media. Most of the staff are in industry which may mean they don’t have experience or knowledge of how to level up students especially as they may not know about the ‘latest’ tech which Ella ASA was interested in. I felt the specialist knowledge of the staff and the use of industry related tools were more important than how they were accessed and who might need support to be digitally ready as it were. Again, IT, WP and Digital Ed teams are not connected to each other and although academic staff are mentioned they are not integral to the skills agenda for digital access and participation. The tools were useful and as long as you are familiar and know about them then they are appropriate. Its the gap for those without the scaffolding of resources, connections and skills that will fall.


her influence is based on her being there a long time and having proved herself to be a safe pair of hands. She mentioned that new staff or people who dont know her she feels that she isn’t able to be involved in things or she needs to prove herself even more.
Digital Education is clearly important to the university. However, the people in her team are not permanent staff, but recruited and funded for projects and so as long as the money is there then she will be able to provide the service. She mentioned being overwhelmed with so many projects and unable to have the creative space she would like to come up with innovative ideas for tech for students.
She didn’t know about commuter students and she said that the students at the uni were mainly UG’s, not many. I asked about the silos and she mentioned that they were so small that they knew everyone. But she also mentioned that they shared services (which was Library, and IT, not sure about WP) with a much bigger university further inland from another county as they had a shared campus which could impact on the knowing the students part. To that end, there seems to be some pre-recorded support materials for staff and students which could hamper the WP initiatives. I also noted that although the reference to industry was strong and the use of digital tools in a professional capacity, there was no specific orientation and introduction to these tools other than the induction that everyone had. I think they relied on pre-recorded resources.
APP: I noted that the App made a statement that they couldn’t diversify and increase the BAME population as locally their intake reflected the population and that there was local hostility to increasing a diversified intake! When I asked about who the access students she said that it was a poor area and the students came from across the county as well as lots of students who wanted to surf etc. Mix messages and also I felt that there was no real drive for digital aspects to be part of the APP equality/levelling up bit. Only because she had not been asked to do it. IT services provide the instructional how to etc for the software and yet her team was responsible for curriculum design.

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