Design Based Research Proposal

The focus of this Design Based Research (DBR) proposal is to identify opportunities for interventions to assist developing and improving digital literacies of staff in higher education. It uses Phases one and two of the ‘Predictive and design-based research approaches in educational technology research’ (Herrington, McKenny, Reeves, & Oliver, 2007) to develop a proposal.

Phase 1: Analysis of practical problems by researchers and practitioners in collaboration

 1.1 Context and problem

Background and context
Possessing ‘adequate’ digital literacies is an issue of importance for staff in higher education. A lack of digital literacy skills is frequently identified in the literature as a problem affecting the quality of eLearning experiences offered by higher education institutions (Jones & Clark, 2014). JiscinfoNet (2014, para 1) states that:

Digital literacy looks beyond functional IT skills to describe a richer set of digital behaviours, practices and identities. What it means to be digitally literate changes over time and across contexts, so digital literacies are essentially a set of academic and professional situated practices supported by diverse and changing technologies.

Digital literacy is a widely used term and can encompass many specific types of literacies. The model chosen to inform this proposal is the “Seven elements model” used in the Jisc project on Developing Digital Literacies. The seven elements of digital literacies and range of capabilities are defined as:

  1. Media literacy
  2. Communications and collaboration
  3. Career and identity management
  4. ICT Literacy
  5. Learning skills
  6. Digital scholarship
  7. Information Literacy
    (JISCinfoNet, 2014)

Networked learning and Connectivism have emerged as new learning paradigms (Kligyte, 2009) and digital literacy is considered as a prerequisite for engaging in an open and global educational environment (ACODE64, 2014). Connectivism argues that, “learning is the process of building networks of information, contacts and resources that are applied to real problems” (Siemens & Downes, 2007 as cited in Anderson & Dron, 2011, p.4). Thus learners need to develop the skills required for participation in a networked learning environment.

The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition has recently identified the ‘low digital fluency of faculty’ as a significant challenge impeding educational technology adoption in higher education. Digital literacy is identified as a key skill in every discipline and profession, and a lack of effective training exists in preparation of teaching staff. Importantly the Horizon Report (2014, p.22) states “digital literacy is less about the tools and more about the thinking”, thus having the skills to use the tools and platforms is just a starting point for changing staff attitudes and developing their digital literacy practices. Current thinking suggests that an institutional approach requiring all staff involved in higher education be digitally literate is desirable (JISC, 2013; ACODE, 2014, NMC Horizon Report, 2014).

As a staff member of Learning and Teaching Services within the Academic Services Division in a regional Australian university, my role is to provide support to teaching staff with the current focus on providing assistance to redesign courses and encouraging the adoption of teaching practices suited to online learning and teaching. In working with staff both academic and professional, and during my recent studies in online education, my awareness of the importance of possessing relevant digital literacies has grown. It has been observed that a lack of these can produce a gap between the rhetoric and the reality of educational outcomes (Jones & Clark, 2014). My current studies in Networked and Global Learning (NGL) have further reinforced the need for acquiring the digital literacies needed for learning, living and working in a networked environment.

 Statement of problem

This need to improve digital literacies of staff working in higher education has been identified by educational organisations both nationally and internationally. In addition to the 2014 Horizon Report’s identification of the problem, the Australasian Council on Open, Distance and e-Learning (ACODE), has recently hosted the ACODE64 Workshop titled “Developing Staff Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and practices for Staff” in 2014. ACODE (2014) states that:

For universities to operate effectively and critically in this constantly evolving environment and to provide enhanced and engaged learning, teaching and research experiences, staff need to be agile and confident in their engagement with technology, while universities need strategies and operational plans that embed literacy within core systems and processes.

 The importance of developing digital literacies is also evident from JISC’s recent funding of a £1.5 million Developing Digital Literacies program from 2011 to 2013. The aim of the program was “to promote the development of coherent, inclusive and holistic institutional strategies and organisational approaches for developing digital literacies for all staff and students in UK further and higher education” (JISC, 2013).

Furthermore the USQ Educational Experience Plan identified in the final stage of consultation that “a number of core and fundamental capacities that need to be further developed if USQ is going to succeed in its educational experience commitments” (EEP, 2014, p. 4). One of these capacity gaps is the need to develop improved digital and information fluency as it relates to all aspects of the educational experience (EEP, 2014). This indicates the importance of identifying opportunities to encourage staff working at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) to develop and improve their digital literacies, so they can more effectively participate and contribute to their education endeavours in a networked learning environment.

1.2 Peer review: Consultation with researchers and practitioners

1.3 Literature Review

Obstacles to adoption of digital literacies

It is important to identify some of the challenges encountered in higher education when encouraging staff to adopt new technologies. McIntyre (2014) explains that rapidly evolving digital devices and networks challenge the cultural practices within educational institutions and many educators have been slow to recognize the significance of these changes. A change and rethinking of teaching methodologies takes time, even when the need for change is clear. Academics need to understand digital literacies in relation to the practices of workplaces they are preparing students for, otherwise they risk becoming increasingly ineffective within the educational process (McIntyre, 2014).

Jisc (infoNet, 2014) identified in the Developing Digital Project that while many staff are advocates of using technologies in their teaching, there are also pockets of resistance and identify lack of confidence, lack of time to engage with new tools, a distrust of the academic benefits, and cultural attitudes as obstacles to the adoption of digital technologies. Kligyte (2009) suggests that many teachers will be resistant to adopting new technologies, as it requires changes to their practice and professional identity. To help overcome this resistance, it is considered important to display empathy and respect, and focus on long-term change that will allow teachers to work through the liminal space and approach threshold concepts of networked learning in stages (Kligyte, 2009).

Jeffrey, Hegarty, Kelly, Penman, Coburn, & McDonald (2011) conducted a study to identify obstacles and support factors that influenced the development of digital information literacy in staff and students in the tertiary education sector. They identified obstacles of low self-efficacy, low confidence and negative attitudes to technology, and found these were reduced by providing conditions that nurtured and empowered the participants through their workshop participation (Jeffrey et al., 2011). Brennan (2013) suggests it is important to create tasks and environments that allow achievements to happen and so enhance students’ opportunities for success. The importance of self-efficacy is emphasized by Brennan (2013) and described as, “our belief that a task is achievable by us, and that the environment in which we are working will allow us to achieve that task” (para 6). He believes this is what motivates students, therefore providing experiences which enhance student’s self-efficacy will be an important strategy in developing digital literacies.

Potential solutions – Examples of case studies and projects

Shattuck and Anderson (2013) used a design-based research study to identify principles for training instructors to teach online. The purpose of the study was “to evaluate whether the content, structure and instructional approaches of the COAT course effectively helped prepare higher education instructors to teach online” (Shattuck & Anderson, 2013, p. 190). An immersion approach was used to test the effectiveness of this method for assisting participants to adopt practices suited to teaching online. As also experienced personally in NGL studies this semester, the students in this intervention found that “being immersed in a new environment and faced with a different culture can at first cause frustration, confusion, self-doubt, and fear that can then lead to rethinking what is taken for granted as normal or commonplace behaviours” (Shattuck & Anderson, 2013, p. 199). They support the notion that “experiencing what it feels like to learn something in an unfamiliar and difficult learning environment is the best way to help instructors approach their subsequent online teaching from more student-centered perspectives” (Shattuck & Anderson, 2013, p. 199-200). This intervention demonstrated that the experience of being situated as students in an authentic online course, focused on online learning and teaching positively influenced their later online, on-campus and nonteaching practice (Shattuck & Anderson, 2013, p. 205).

The most recent course offering of the Certificate for Online Adjunct Teaching (COAT) project for educators is “Stay current with tools of the web: Create a Personal learning network. The promotion indicates that staff will learn to use some of the tools required for networked learning through a similar immersion approach – being situated as students/learners to provide an authentic learning experience, which can usefully inform their practice (MarylandOnline, 2014). The success of situated learning demonstrated in the COAT project could be applied at USQ to the Postgraduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching and Learning (PGTT) program re-accreditation. The inclusion of content to immerse students in a networked learning environment would provide the opportunity to develop teachers’ digital literacies in a similar manner.

Couros (2008) developed the Networked Teacher Model based on feedback from teachers participating in networked learning for professional development and provides a model for teachers to build professional connections to support teaching practice (Drexler, 2010). As the model indicates the skills and connections required for teaching and learning in a networked and global environment, it would help to inform the types of digital literacies required by teaching staff.

Figure 1: The networked teacher (Couros, 2008).


Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by courosa

The model is used by Drexler (2010) in a design based learning intervention to develop a Networked Student Model and address the problem of determining the level of structure required to facilitate networked learning and the development of a Personal Learning Environment (PLE). Drexler (2010) refers to the students as “networked learners in training” and concludes that students’ success depended on their motivation and also on the strategic guidance of the teacher. Teacher beliefs about the value of technology as a teaching tool can also influence outcomes, and a supportive organizational culture is needed to underpin ongoing mentoring and support for teachers (Drexler, 2010, p.8). It is proposed that using this model to develop a similar experience for academic and professional staff working in higher education would be relevant when placing staff in the ‘student’ role. It suggests that similar principles would apply to training teachers to become networked learners and equipped with some of the digital literacies required for engaging in an open and global educational environment (ACODE64, 2014).

A further example to support this approach is provided by Jeffrey, Hegarty, Kelly, Penman, Coburn, & McDonald (2011) when studying the development of digital information literacy in higher education, they used a case study design where four higher education institutions conducted ten two-hour workshops where participants were given autonomy over their learning and goals and encouraged to collaborate and engage in explorative trial-and-error learning. Their study used Dewey’s (1933) three educational principles deemed to have relevance in a digital learning environment: learning through experience, engagement in activities of personal relevance and learning collaboratively (Jeffrey et al, 2011). Practical workshops were used for developing digital information literacy, and included using Web 2.0 tools such as RSS feeds, wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, image sharing along with the action research cycle approach used by participants to solve their problems in a scaffolded and semi-structured environment (Jeffrey et al., 2011).

The ACODE64 Workshop “Developing Staff Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and practices for Staff” provided an opportunity for participating universities to articulate a conceptual understanding of digital literacies and fluency, identify institutional plans and structures which could incorporate references to digital literacy, consider the implementation and impact of new technologies on digital literacy and assess resources required to support digital literacy development of staff (ACODE, 2014). The activity based workshop included The University of Waikato’s case study of their approach to developing a Digital Literacy Framework. They defined digital literacy as “a way of thinking: in addition to technical prowess, it is about fluency, that includes critical thinking skills, mastery and an unconscious engagement with what is essential to living in the multimedia world” (Acode64 Resources, 2014). The Acode64 Resources site provides resources to assist educational institutions to develop a Digital Literacy Framework, which is of potential use for a proposed intervention at USQ.

The Developing Digital Literacies (2014) program promoted the development of coherent, inclusive approaches to digital capability across institutions of further and higher education. The resources developed are open and licensed as Creative Commons, which provides an opportunity to copy, share and adapt (remix) which aligns with networked learning principles of sharing and repurposing for another use. The Developing Digital Literacies infoKit (2014) provides useful sections on developing digital literacies, strategic perspectives on digital literacies and developing digital literacies in practice, and of particular relevance to this proposal is information on supporting staff. Developing staff digital literacies can often be overlooked and it is important that academic and support staff develop their own competence so they can more effectively provide support. Professional development programs are suggested for raising awareness of using digital tools and for helping staff to reflect on their own competencies (Jisc, infoNet, 2014).These case studies and approaches provide a useful starting point for the development of a proposed framework to address developing staff digital literacies at USQ.

Frameworks and Models

Models are considered useful when developing a framework to implement proposed interventions. Use of the Networked Teacher Model (Couros, 2008) to identify the skills and connections required for teaching staff, provides an opportunity to adopt networked learning approaches to developing digital literacies. The Seven Elements Model (JISCinfoNet, 2014) provides a useful starting point to identify the elements and competencies that would be required in various contexts at USQ.

Beetham and Sharpe’s (2010) pyramid model describes the developmental process for digital literacy, from access and functional skills to higher-level capabilities and identity (JISCInfoNet, 2014). The process of developing digital literacies is likened to language development in that “we acquire language and become increasingly proficient over time and eventually reach a level of fluency” (Jisc, infoNet, 2014).

Figure 2: Beetham and Sharpe ‘pyramid model’ of digital literacy development model (2010)

b&s modelpng

(Source: Jisc, infoNet, 2014).

The use of these models provides guidance for identifying and defining digital literacies, understanding the developmental process, and a stimulus for discussion and development of a collaborative approach to the development of a framework for developing digital literacies of staff at USQ.

Research questions

  • How to develop an enabling infrastructure to provide for the continuing development of digital literacies of staff working in higher education?
  • What are the characteristics of a framework for the development of digital literacies in a regional Australian university?
  • What approaches are required to develop the digital literacies needed for specific educational contexts and for the requirements of different roles and practices within a university?
  • Is there a need to redefine the approach to providing continuing professional development in order to progressively build the digital literacy capabilities of staff working in higher education?
  • In what ways and to what extent can opportunities for developing digital literacies through situated learning, be implemented in existing course and professional development offerings at USQ?

Phase 2: Development of solutions informed by existing design principles and technological innovations

2.1 Draft principles

The literature review has informed the following draft principles considered important to the proposed intervention, which will principally take place through professional development activities at USQ.

Digital literacy should be viewed as a developmental process
This approach to intervention fits the notion that staff are on a journey when developing and gaining fluency in their use of digital literacies (JiscinfoNet 2014).

Digital literacy is not a one size fits all skill set
Digital literacy is not a loose collection of separate skills, but rather skills, which need to be integrated into specific educational contexts (Jisc, DesignStudio, 2014).

The use of educational principles based on collaboration and sharing, bricolage – experiential learning and play, and personal relevance.
Dewey’s (1933) three educational principles are deemed to have relevance in a digital learning environment as demonstrated in Jeffrey et al.’s (2011) case study.

Immersive approaches to providing authentic learning experiences
The experience of situated learning is demonstrated by Shattuck & Anderson (2013), Jeffrey et al. (2011), and Drexler (2010) as a successful approach that could be applied to developing the digital literacies required for participation in a networked learning environment.

2.2 Proposed intervention

The intervention consists of three proposals as outlined in the following table.

Table 1: Alignment of proposed interventions, draft principles and research questions



Proposal one

The development of a framework at USQ for developing staff digital literacies, as outlined in the examples from ACODE64 Workshop and the Jisc program. The literature review has revealed that a coordinated institutional approach is preferable and that it be supported at all levels, both academic and professional. In the USQ context this would require adoption by management and provision of adequate resourcing to develop and implement a framework.

The suggested approach is the development of a self-evaluation digital literacy framework. This framework enabled a co-operative, partnership approach to be taken to pedagogic innovation in the DigiLit Leicester Project (DigiLit Leicester, 2014). It provided an opportunity to define and develop a new model, which provided a shared and open framework for implementing digital literacy, which was aimed at transforming the provision of education (Hall, Atkins, & Fraser, 2014). A shared development approach has potential for adaption and development of a negotiated and flexible framework for developing digital literacies of staff at USQ. This approach would allow flexibility to modify the framework for situated contexts and for the provision of relevant responses, which aligns with the draft principle that digital literacy is not a one size fits all.

The self-evaluation approach is proposed as a starting point for the intervention, which could then proceed to staff undertaking the professional development relevant for their context. This approach has potential to inform individual professional development needs, the yearly review process, and academic promotion. However, Hall, Atkins & Fraser (2014) indicated that their preferred project approach was to avoid performance management techniques and instead create a framework based on self-evaluation and co-operative continuing professional development.

Proposal two

Due to the nature of this suggested intervention it is proposed that a scoping project would be required to consult with stakeholders and develop draft principles to inform a framework for potential use at USQ. The development of conceptual frameworks was found helpful by most projects in the Jisc Developing Digital Literacies program, both for communicating with stakeholders and for designing and evaluating interventions. Pilot studies would be developed to trial the use of a self-evaluation approach for staff to identify their professional development needs in relation to digital literacies. The results of pilot studies would inform phases 3 and 4 of the DBR cycle (Herrington, McKenny, Reeves, & Oliver, 2007) and provide data to inform future development and implementation of the framework and the professional development options required for the project.

Proposal three

The Postgraduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching and Learning (PGTT) program re-accreditation process provides an opportunity to include NGL content, which would assist teachers to develop the digital skills and literacies required for participating in and facilitating networked learning. Stakeholder feedback on the PGTT and proposed Graduate Certificate of Tertiary Teaching (GCTT) has indicated that:

  • Current students value teachers experiencing online learning as students
  • Proposed new features need to be responsive to practical needs of tertiary teachers
  • Proposed new features need to be flexible e.g. summer intensives; online f2f options
  • Proposed topics – most favored was ‘Digital, distance and online’
  • Proposed foundation module topics included ‘Online learning and teaching’
  • Proposed assessment would apply principles to own practice/course design (situated learning approach with practical outcomes).

Therefore, it is proposed that the EDU8117: Networked and global learning course could provide a core or elective course within the new GCTT. The style of assessment tasks required of current students would provide the opportunity for teachers to apply NGL principles to USQ courses. It is proposed that this experience should be provided outside the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS). Shattuck and Anderson’s (2013) participants recommended that future training be undertaken in non-LMS learning environments to utilize the new and emerging learning technologies and provide a more authentic learning environment.

For professional development purposes, a micro-course could be developed as a modification of EDU8117, with NGL content. The recently developed Repurposing Open Educational Resources: An introduction (OEP1000) provides an example of courses needed for developing practices required for networked learning. It is suggested that an extension of the USQ23Things pilot, which explores a range of digital tools to support professional practice would be desirable. These initiatives would provide opportunities for staff to develop their digital literacies through online study, and could be supplemented by workshop intensives and offered each semester or as summer intensives. The professional development offerings for digital literacies development need to remain flexible due to the rapidly changing digital environment, which indicates the need for a flexible curriculum, offerings and options.

In conclusion, it is hoped that the adoption of the Educational Experience Plan at USQ will provide opportunities and incentives for all staff  to improve their digital literacies and fluencies, and so enhance their capacity to contribute to educational activities which are increasingly taking place in a networked and global environment.

List of References

ACODE64, (2014). Digital Literacy – what is it and how is it achieved? Retrieved from:

ACODE64, (2014). Developing Staff Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and practices for Staff. Retrieved from:

Anderson, T. & Dron, J. (2011). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12 (3). Retrieved from

Brennan, K. (2013). In Connectivism, no one can hear you scream: A guide to understanding the MOOC novice. Hybrid Pedagogy, July 23. Retrieved from .

Couros, A. (2008). The networked teacher. Flickr. Retrieved from

Downes, S. (2011). “Connectivism” and Connective Knowledge. Retrieved April 09, 2011, from

Drexler, W. (2010). The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(3), 369-38.

Hall, R., Atkins, L., & Fraser, J. (2014). Defining a self-evaluation digital literacy framework for secondary educators: the DigiLit Leicester project. Research in Learning Technology, 22. Retrieved from: .

Herrington, J., McKenney, S., Reeves, T. & Oliver, R. (2007). Design-based research and doctoral students: Guidelines for preparing a dissertation proposal. In C. Montgomerie & J. Seale (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2007 (pp. 4089-4097). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from: (Edith Cowan University Research Online)

Jeffrey, L., Hegarty, B., Kelly, O., Penman, M., Coburn, D., & McDonald, J. (2011). Developing digital information literacy in higher education: Obstacles and supports. Journal of Information Technology Education,10, 383-413. Retrieved from: .

JISC, (2014). Developing digital literacies. The Design Studio. Retrieved from:

JISC, (2014). Digital literacy framework. The Design Studio. Retrieved from:

JISC, (2014). Developing digital literacies. Retrieved from:

JISC InfoNet, (2014). Developing Digital Literacies. InfoKits. Retrieved from:

JISCinfoNet, (2014). Supporting staff. Infokits. Retrieved from:

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from

Jones, D., & Clark, D. (2014). Breaking BAD to bridge the reality/rhetoric chasm. To appear in the Proceedings of ASCILITE’2014. Dunedin, NZ.

Kligyte, G. (2009). Threshold concept: A lens for examining networked learning. In Proceedings of the Ascilite 2009 Conference (pp. 540-542). Auckland, NZ.

MarylandOnline, (2014). Personal learning network course. COAT. Retrieved from: .

McIntyre, S. (2014). Reducing the digital literacy divide through disruptive innovation. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1. Retrieved from

Shattuck, J. & Anderson, J. (2013). Using a design-based research study to identify principles for training instructors to teach online. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 14 (5), 187-210. Retrieved from: .

University of Southern Queensland, (2014). Educational Experience Plan. Collaboratorium. Retrieved from:

University of Waikato, (2014). Acode64Resources. Retrieved from:









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