Developing digital universities for the 21st century: The experience of UoN, UCDB (Universidade Católica Dom Bosco, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil), and University of Manitoba, Canada.

  • Devecchi, C. (Author)
  • Maria Cristina Paniago (Author)
  • Gustavo Moura (Author)

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsOral presentationResearch


Becoming digital, not only knowledgeable of how to use the technology, but also how to develop it to create new services is not a catchphrase any longer. Rather, it is the condition of our working and social futures as we steadily move further into the 4th Industrial Revolution. The current digital transformation can have a positive impact on many of the challenges we are currently facing, such as environmental, economic and social challenges, as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as one of the opportunities to fulfil economic, social and civil rights.

However, it can also impact negatively on those without the required digital capabilities who would be left behind unable to compete in a changed working environment (WEF, 2018a). Additionally, becoming digitally competent also has societal implications as more services from banking to health, become digitalized and requiring citizens to master essential digital skills. If the World Economic Forum’s (2018b) and SDGs 2030 Framework (UN, 2015) vision of an inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable digital society is what we should pursue, then education has a key role to play to prepare, skill and develop employability and citizenship capabilities for both the future generation and the current workforce. Within this educational context, universities have a major role to play in enabling current and future students to gain the digital skills, capabilities and knowledge they would require in the future. Such a role has become even more crucial in the current COVID19 pandemic and the shift to online/remote teaching and learning. The shift has outlined both the affordabilities of using technology, but also a number of gaps and challenges. These range from the preparedness of universities, lecturers and students to the digital shift (both in regard to infrastructure, professional development and digital literacy) to the acknowledgements of inequalities of access due to students’ digital poverty, that is, the multidimensional deprivation of access to material resources (hardware, software and reliable and affordable internet connection) and digital skills. Additionally, and given the current lockdown practices, online teaching has focused mainly on innovative pedagogical strategies for the delivery of the content, but has failed to develop socio-emotional support for both lecturers and students.

The Higher Education sector’s contribution to the skilling of the future workforce can take many forms. These can include new curricular contents, diverse programme, close collaborations with industry and other forms of knowledge exchange and knowledge transfer, but the major and more pressing change should be a pedagogical one. Such a change will determine change on the content of what is taught, but primarily on how teaching occurs. In doing this, universities will have to embed digital skills as part of how pedagogical instruction is delivered so that the acquisition of such skills becomes an integral part of the student offer. However, becoming a ‘digital’ universities requires more than just changing teaching practices.

This comparative study of technology in use practices involves three universities in the UK, Brazil and Canada and has the following aims to:
• Explore current conceptualizations and practical implications of developing digital universities for the 21st century
• Explore and compare the role of technology as a pedagogical tool and as essential employability skill
• Share pedagogical and institutional practices to act as a starting point for collaboration and shared development
• Set out recommendations for the development and implementation of technology-enhanced teaching and learning

It will achieve the above by:
• Reviewing and comparing national and institutional policies and their practical implementation across the two institutions
• Seeking the views and exploring the experiences of senior management, academic and administrative staff and students on the role of technology for teaching and learning

Methods/methodology (400)

This is an exploratory case study part of a Netwon Fund mobility grant funded by the CONFAP-CNPq research agency in Brazil, which in the pre-COVID situation involved one of the authors based at the University of Northampton (UK) to visit the Catholic University Don Bosco, Mato Groso du Sul, Brazil. As a consequence of the current pandemic, the in-person exchange has not possible. Therefore, the objective of comparing how universities are developing their digital capabilities have been carried out online and has extended to include the University of Manitoba, Canada. methodology has been revised so that all data collection can be done online. The comparative and exploratory case study intends to build opportunities for the three universities to share and reflect on their online teaching practices by:

• reviewing and comparing institutional policies and their practical implementation
• seeking the views of senior management, academic and administrative staff and students on the role of technology for teaching and learning

A multi-method approach, flexible enough to account for the current challenging situation, has included the following:
• Institutional documentary analysis (policies)
• Semi-structured interviews
• Focus groups
• Survey (staff and students)

At the point of submitting the abstract, interviews have been conducted in Canada and Brazil and interviews in the UK are planned for the months of February. All interviews were semi-structured as they sought to enter in a professional dialogue with participants and elicited their views on: participants’ views about the relationship between digital cultures and education practices; reflections on the strengths of applying digital cultures in education practices; participants’ concept of innovative and ubiquitous practices; and what the challenges of developing an innovative and ubiquitous practice are.

In Brazil, three interviews were conducted and transcribed. The participants include a the graduate program coordinator, a faculty member, and a graduate student. In Canada, a dean of the faculty and a faculty member were interviewed. The interviews are ongoing and we are looking into recruiting more participants in the countries participating in the study.

Expected outcomes (300)

The University of Northampton has currently relocated on the Waterside new campus and set to achieve a Future Focused strategy whose key aim is to prepare students to be digitally competent. It has achieved this by building a campus which is geared towards a technology enhanced pedagogical proposal. The University’s unique contribution is centered around the Active Blended Learning (Armellini, 2018) approach and the Changemaker Graduate Attributes Framework (Maxwell and Armellini, 2018). While the first has reshaped the pedagogical approach, the second has required all undergraduate programmes to include in their learning outcomes a range of key 21st century skills including digital skills. The Active Blended Learning approach is a student-focused approach requiring students to work independently in an online environment and use face-to-face teaching in small groups to develop a deeper understanding of the topic and apply the learning through a learning by doing approach

The University of Manitoba campuses are located on original lands of Anishnaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. As a reference in the prairies of Canada, the university’s members have actively engaged in effectively delivering remote learning to students, especially during COVID-19. The outcomes expected from this study is to foster educational practices which englobe and understand the role of digital culture in higher education within the Canadian context.

The Dom Bosco Catholic University (UCDB) is committed to long-standing research in online education, technologies and education, and the information and communication technologies. This study is an opportunity to broaden perspectives by bringing in two different universities from other countries which strengthen internationalization relationships. UCDB expects the outcomes from this study to be informative for local educators and students, who will benefit from an intercultural/transnational approach to understanding digital cultures in education.

Intent of publication
British Journal of Educational Technology


Armellini, A (2018) Large-scale pedagogic transformation at the University of Northampton. CCEG Social Values and Intangibles Review. May: 22-23. ISSN 2398-3957

Christensen, C. M. and Eyring, H. J. (2011) The Innovative University. Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the inside out. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Devecchi, C. (2018) From Web 1.0 to Web 5.0: the Digital University at the heart of the knowledge procurement cycle. CCEG Social Values and Intangibles Review. May: 22-23. ISSN 2398-3957

Devecchi, C., Mansour, H., Potter, J. And Allen, N, (2018) Leading Change Together: Managing Cultural Change across the Higher Education Workforce. London: AdvanceHE/Leadership Foundation for Higher Education

HM Government (2017) The Industrial Strategy. Building a Britain Fit for the Future. London: Crown Copyright

Maxwell, R and Armellini, A (2018) Identity, employability and entrepreneurship: the ChANGE framework of graduate attributes. Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning. Vol 9, No. 1, pp. 76-91. (23 October 2018)

United Nations (2015) Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. New York: United Nations (accessed 29 January 2021,

World Economic Forum (2018a) The Future of Jobs Report 2018. Geneva: WEF

World Economic Forum (2018b) Our Shared Digital Future Building an Inclusive, Trustworthy and Sustainable Digital Society. Geneva: WEF
Period9 Sept 2021
Held atECER 2021 (Online) - Education and Society: expectations, prescriptions, reconciliations, 6-10 September 2021 , Switzerland
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Digital competencies
  • digital innovation
  • higher education
  • Digital Transformation
  • Covid 19