Association of University Administrators – 2013 Conference Reflections

While I have been a member of the Association of University Administrators (AUA) for a couple of years, I attended and presented at their annual conference for the first time in March 2013.

Why the AUA? There are certainly many HE professional associations/networks to choose to get involved in. The ODHE group itself is one, of course. Add to that the many other specialist organisations that include ARC, ARMA, ASET, AUCC, AGCAS, AURIL, AHUA, AISA, AMOSSHE, AUCSO, AUDE, SDF, UHR, and the lists and acronyms go on…

Firstly, the AUA has a substantial membership base of nearly 5,000 in the UK and a significant international presence, including strong connections with similar organisations in other countries. Its annual conference is the largest professional services development conference in the UK HE calendar and typically brings together over 700 delegates.

Secondly, our local University of Kent branch is very active and was thrilled to receive three AUA awards in 2012 including one recognising Branch Good Practice. The enthusiasm of our local membership was instrumental in my decision to also contribute more actively. I also like the idea of being involved with an organisation that is so much at the forefront in encouraging professional services staff to work in partnership with academic staff and students to encourage positive change and innovation in the core business of our institutions.

Thirdly, the AUA is making very good use good use of social media. They had great mobile apps at their conference, they make good use of Twitter (@THE_AUA) and Twitter hash tags (#AUA13) at their events and they use LinkedIn groups (Association of University Administrators more than many other associations I have come across.

The topic I presented at the AUA13 conference with University of Kent colleague Chloé Gallien was: Collaboration as a Catalyst for Change (see materials for session 200). As I mentioned in that AUA conference presentation, social media is just one way we can find new ways to collaborate and build relationships in a more social era.  And as one of my favourite authors, Nilofer Merchant, states: “Relationships are to the social era, what efficiency was to the industrial era.”

The call is now live for AUA14 conference proposals on the topic of Revolution and Reinvention. Why not join in by getting involved?

JISC Digital Literacies Briefing Paper

As we move further into the 21st century, the worlds of
work, citizenship, culture and learning are increasingly
digital. We need to be digitally literate to be able to access
opportunities to live, work and learn.

Digital literacy: those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society.

The JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme, which
runs from 2011 to 2013, is funding twelve projects in UK
colleges and universities and collaborating with ten sector
bodies and professional associations to improve digital

Read the full JISC briefing paper.

JISC Digital Literacies Project Staff

The ODHE’s joint primary contacts for this work are Jean Harrison, Chair of ODHE and Meriel Box, Deputy Chair. Together they provide a complementary mix of a Director of HR and Head of Learning Development. They are not digitally literate and hence are typical of their group. They are, however, deeply involved with OD and will draw on this experience to provide a strategic steer and to advise on how to engage people like themselves with digital literacies. They will be supported by a very digitally embedded colleague.

Dr Bex Lewis, Blended Learning Fellow, University of Winchester

Dr Bex Lewis has responsibility for embedding digital literacies among academic colleagues at the University of Winchester. She has recently co-led the JISC funded BODGIT project with the ODHE which sought to explore the interface between digital literacy and organizational development.  At Winchester, Bex leads the PGCLTHE module on Blended Learning, and has undertaken online skills-focused[1] and accessibility projects.[2] She ­­is on Learning and Teaching, Learning Network (Moodle) and Distance Learning Committees.

Bex has worked as a lecturer in HE for 13 years, experimenting with digital formats, most recently for an innovative Media Studies module specifically built around Web 2.0 tools. Her diverse background as a lecturer in five linked disciplines (History, Media Studies, American Studies, Film Studies, and Design for Digital Media) has helped her to understand the range of responses to technology among colleagues, and to have credibility as an education developer in this exponentially growing field. Her training as a life coach and mentor has equipped her with a set of skills and theoretical tools about change which she brings to promoting digital literacies. Her theory of change stems from an action research model “that for change to be effective it… must be a participative and collaborative process that involves all those concerned.”[3]

In roles beyond the University, Bex is Director of Digital Fingerprint, a social media consultancy that works particularly within the HE and Christian sectors, including digital literacy workshops for the Church of England. She runs The Big Bible Project for the University of Durham, encouraging ‘bigger Bible conversations’, promoting digital literacy amongst Christians, a project extended to a second year because of the value demonstrated. She is an early adopter of social media tools, using them in everyday life since first developing a website for her PhD[4], giving her an international profile. She has a growing profile as a speaker, including forthcoming European engagements.

Bex has developed a particularly strong Community of Practice through a combination of social media and conference attendance, with connections in both FE and HE. She was on the International Review Board for the Plymouth E-Learning Conference 2011, and presented twice at the Association of Learning Technologists Conference 2011. She is a member of the JISC Learning & Teaching Experts Group. She has attended a number of JISC workshops, and is a regular super-delegate for its online conferences.

Bex is the Learning with Technology Specialist who will be responsible for the implementation of programme-wide technology enhancements for assessment and feedback on up to 33 programmes as part of the newly funded JISC project, FASTECH.  This will combine her skills as an education technologist with her knowledge and experience of organisational development.

[1] SkillsNet: On-line resources, tips and information to boost your academic performance,

[2] Jessop, T., Edwards, S. & Lewis, B., ‘Disabled student views on web accessibility’, Capture, Vol. II, (2009) pp50-57

[3] Cheung-Judge, M. & Holbeche, L. Organization Development: A Practitioner’s Guide for OD and HR, London: KoganPage,2011, p35

[4] ‘Keep Calm and Carry On and other Second World War Posters’,

JISC Digital Literacies Bid

The Organisational Development in Higher Education Group (ODHE)

The ODHE brings together HE practitioners with responsibilities for supporting organisational-level development within their institutions. Senior members are involved with strategic-level decision making on organisational initiatives such as restructuring  the institution or introducing new policies. Other OD staff are then involved with planning and supporting implementation of  these changes

Members of the ODHE are well placed to understand and support change processes within institutions. They engage at all levels, act on Senior Management’s instructions, and can promote useful information flows up, down and across the organisation. These dialogues help deal with the complex and multi-layered nature of change.

Relevance of the Digital Literacies (DL) Programme

DLs are becoming increasingly embedded within organisational processes. Few, if any, organisational changes do not have DL aspects. HE Staff cannot escape engagement. As the Times Higher Education comments, current hierarchical modes of working are outmoded.[1] For many this is a positive, democratic change, for others, an unwelcome shift. Change management is a core aspect of Organisational Development (OD) and practitioners are therefore central to embedding a more digitally literate culture.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many OD practitioners are not comfortable with DLs. Opportunities for the effective use of DLs can easily be missed or not enthusiastically promoted. This bid is about helping organisational developers to gain confidence with DLs through building better understanding of best practice. ODs would then be able to contribute much more effectively to organisational take-up of DL initiatives.

OD, DL’s and the University of Winchester

The University of Winchester has worked with the ODHE as part of the JISC funded Embed-IT project, on a project ‘Bringing Organisational Development Guidance into IT’ (BODGIT). Findings demonstrated the need to share experiences to reduce ‘silo’ cultures (although most academics have strong affinity to their disciplines) and to demonstrate clear benefits to staff: the arguments that count are likely to relate to saving time and improving the student experience. The project framework was especially useful in highlighting the importance of change management and encouraging us to apply general change concepts to IT, recognising the huge pressures colleagues are experiencing; and their differing levels of interest.

A number of OD changes have resulted at the University of Winchester, opening up increasing opportunities for dialogues with IT staff, and within disciplinary settings. A programme of problem-solving (rather than tech-tools) workshops, run at short interventions, combined with case studies,[2] has led to an increasing number of colleagues embedding digital formats at a programme level. The partnership worked well, and Winchester is keen to run as a test-bed for the project, exchanging knowledge and practices.

Affecting Change in Stakeholders’ Practice

The ODHE can affect the practice of its own members: by engaging with a reference group of interested colleagues; by sharing the lessons from this and earlier projects; by keeping the topic on the agenda of meetings; by gathering examples of effective practice to cascade through institutions; by running DL sessions to build capacity, and by making more regular use of online methods such as web-conferencing.

ODHE members will then be able to influence the embedding of DLs within their own institutions. A particular impact that we can envisage is on those leading IT and information change. Just as OD staff are often unfamiliar with DL, so DL staff are unfamiliar with OD. ODHE will be able to feed its understanding of change processes into its exchanges with other sector bodies and

[1] Davidson, C. ‘So last century’, Times Higher Education, 28/04/11 (

[2] Case studies are being collated on an external blog:, with more sensitive information shared within the VLE.