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Strategic Focus Groups: An Agile Response To Digital Learning Innovation Projects

Peter Smith

University of New South Wales

With the higher education and technology landscape constantly evolving, and staff increasingly operating at near full-capacity, it’s often difficult to see how new services or projects can be developed. Moreover,

it’s a challenge to ensure sta develop new skills and experiences beyond core workloads. To meet this challenge UNSW Library Academic Services have innovated a strategic focus group model of service. The aim is to harness the limited available time of individual sta into a collective and collaborative group focused around speci c projects or services. The result being that the whole is greater than the sum of individual parts.

This presentation draws on a case study of a percentage of sta across several groups. One, developing a university- wide adaptive online induction module mounted on a new platform. The other, creating a growing collection of Digital Teaching and Learning Objects (DTLOs) as part of a curriculum support model for teaching and learning. And another, identifying, reviewing and procuring of a suite of digital tools and platforms.

Staff were provided opportunities to participate in strategic focus groups through department-wide expressions of interest with cross-unit teams being formed under relevant managers. Groups participated in regular meetings or sprints, incorporating agile strategic work around normative core operations. Teams worked around service de nitions but were encouraged to innovate and experiment with possible outcomes. Some platform and tool training occurred, but peer mentoring was the dominant means of upskilling individual team members; group members organically sharing knowledge to accomplish service delivery goals. 

On the ground, these initiatives enabled variety for sta involved as well as exploring areas of interest for professional development. Broadly, successful groups and projects raised the pro le of those groups and their individuals, gaining recognition for strategic work done beyond core operations.

The strategic focus group model has been remarkably successful, with challenges within groups or services being an opportunity for teams to constructively “fail up”. Unit productivity has increased manyfold, with the ow-on e ect of increased sta capacity and capability with technology. Previous projects and service initiatives have been so successful they’ve moved from strategic group work to core operations.