Ensuring Oxford’s education is digitally fit for the future


This month sees the publication of our new Digital Education Strategy.

It is the culmination of nearly 2 years of work, commissioned by Education Committee, to review and revise our previous strategy, which covered the period 2016–20.

During this time, I’ve often been asked why we need a strategy. Some argue that digital tools are already so integrated into the way we teach and support learning that it’s not necessary to claim a separate space for them. Others are concerned that over-emphasis on digital technologies might undermine Oxford’s distinctive, and primarily college-based and residential approach to education. I wasn’t surprised, then, that the consultations undertaken by the working group revealed a wide variety of experiences with, and ambitions for, digital education across the collegiate University.

The strategy is the result of extensive consultation and multiple drafts, now endorsed by Education Committee, Conference of Colleges and Council. I would like to thank Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Professor Rhona Sharpe and the rest of the working group for their hard work and expertise in shaping the strategy.

Digital transformation

While consultations were largely positive, they also revealed a nervousness that enhancing digital education would be an additional burden on already hard-pressed academic and professional services staff. That’s why the link between this agenda and the Digital Transformation programme is so important. We have been in regular dialogue and the new strategy has informed the prioritisation of education projects within the Digital Transformation programme. Nevertheless, the impact of digital education on staff workload and career development will require careful monitoring.

Four key commitments

The strategy makes some important commitments for the next 4 years: to invest in the infrastructure necessary to support an excellent student experience (underpinned by a clear recognition that there are some basic things we need to fix at the outset); to employ digital education to help address structural inequalities in our teaching and assessment; to support those departments that wish to make Oxford’s rich educational opportunities available to a wider audience; and finally to encourage experimentation and innovation to ensure that our teaching and curriculum can adapt to changing needs. Within these four broad areas, I’m sure different parts of the University will wish to focus on some aspects more than others. The aim of the strategy is to help colleagues make the changes they want, not to enforce a uniform approach.

Inclusive teaching

On inclusive education, the strategy lays out our ambition to use digital tools to make teaching more accessible, especially to the 25% of our students who have a disability. It seeks to build on the benefits of the flexible and inclusive teaching adopted by many during the pandemic, removing common barriers to learning for all students. The Centre for Teaching and Learning is developing a new toolkit on Digitally Supported Inclusive Teaching and is holding events on Tuesday, 14 March, 12.45–1.30pm and Wednesday, 15 March, noon–12.45pm, where staff can provide feedback on the toolkit and shape its development.

Online course development

As part of the strategy development, the working group commissioned Focus to review our portfolio of online courses. The review catalogued 89 online courses delivered with 7 different commercial partners, and held interviews with 35 course leaders. The overwhelming reason course leaders gave for developing their courses was to extend the global reach of their educational opportunities, particularly to low-and middle-income countries. The working group’s activities identified and prioritised numerous actions needed to accelerate the support for departments who want to reach new audiences, including governance, course design and asset management services. Digital Transformation has already initiated an investigative piece of work to identify and aid decision making on models for delivery, partnerships, platforms and accompanying services. There will be a leading role for Continuing Education in this in the future.

I know that Oxford’s brilliant and committed staff will continue to drive innovation in digital education. I hope this strategy will support them to do so, and I’m excited to see what they produce!