Developing ehealth
capabilities for practice
in a rapidly changing
healthcare environment

Applying our Work to your Own Context

Gray et al. [1] stated, “new initiatives in professional education, training, learning and development are required to build the capabilities that the Australian health workforce needs to work in a national ehealth system” (p. 4). Continued advances in technology are driving an everdynamic process of restructuring the health sector, with requirements for interdisciplinary expertise in healthcare across geographically and organizationally distributed locations. Mobile technologies for home care of people with chronic disease, management of information networks of care across tertiary, secondary, primary health and home environments, and the integration of health information and services across complex hospital and community health organisations are current examples [2].

This project is a direct response to the lack of digital literacy capability and the assertion that “engaging with ehealth requires a skill set, or literacy, of its own” [3]. Whilst previous OLT projects have focused on the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) in higher education discipline contexts, and embedding digital capabilities in the design of teaching and learning [4,5], strong arguments for the centrality of digital literacies beyond proficiency with ICT have been mounted [6].

We contend that digital literacy is central to ensure health science graduates understand digital technology and have the metacognitive understanding to scaffold lifelong learning to make best use of technology for creativity and efficiency in workplaces where digital forms of information and communication predominate [6]. International commentators on digital literacy emphasise a need for broad skills and competencies and argue that skillsbased definitions are inadequate for the complexity of professional settings. The emphasis is on “lifelong digital learners” [7] and digital literacies as complex social and technological engagements [6].

Technological change in disciplines and professions is highlighted in a range of reports on higher education [8,9,10]. All emphasise the effects of new mobilities and digital practices and “the need for universities to adopt a more strategic and innovative approach to the use of digital technologies in the future” [9]. Gray et al. [1] highlight the need for teaching resources in ehealth and cautions that the development of ehealth education cannot be founded on a curriculum built around computer skills or information literacies. In this project we respond to the call for ehealth curricula that builds “the more integrated, resilient form of knowledge, skill and attitude expected of a graduate professional” [1] (p. 10).

This purpose of this project was to improve the capacity of Australian higher education institutions to deliver education focused on digital literacies to ensure that graduates have the capabilities to enter a health sector undergoing rapid transformation through developments in ehealth. We directly addressed the urgent need to prepare the future health workforce with digital literacy capabilities through outcomes focused on the distinction between information literacy as a set of skills or competencies and the range of practices that apply to complex professional settings.

We argue strongly that “institutions need to place greater value on ‘literacies of the digital’, and better prepare their students and their own organizational processes to thrive in an age of digital knowledge practices” [6] (p. 547).

When we commenced this project our initial planning was for the development of some sort of a module on digital literacy. Through prolonged engagement with the extensive literature in this area, and current work on digital literacies across La Trobe University, we believe that the development of digital literacy capabilities must begin with educators who are well placed to move them from being implicitly embedded throughout multiple learning and teaching opportunities to explicit student awareness as an initial step.

There is increasing interest in ‘digital’ across universities, and the development of a multitude of different digital tools and techniques are embedded in most contemporary curricula. The risk is that university strategic directions create an environment where there is a proliferation of innovation for innovation’s sake. Pressure on educators to be innovative risks an ad hoc approach to curriculum development within a narrow frame of computer skills or information literacies.

We believe that the approach that we have taken provides the opportunity for educators to step back and consider digital literacy with a lens that extends well beyond ICT proficiency.

We encourage people to consider how our contextualised digital literacy framework might be applied to the curriculum in their discipline. In our project, the process of mapping curricula, using our developed mapping tool, prompted reflection by experienced academics about the types of digital literacies that were developed in their own discipline. We argue that this mapping process is essential in preparing a health workforce for contemporary and future health care contexts.

The process of mapping curricula prompts educators to think beyond current programs, technologies, skills and competencies. In order to develop graduate capabilities needed for a future that cannot yet be envisaged, the first step is to move academic thinking.

The following provides a simple guide for how you might want to engage with our contextualised digital literacy framework and mapping tool:

Read Belshaw’s work and think about how it has been applied in other contexts. The Professionalism in the Digital Environment (PriDE) project conducted at the University of Bath provides an interesting read about contexts outside health.
Provide health care partners, academics and students with a link to this blog and seek their views on whether the interviews and themes that we have developed reflect their own experiences.
Test and apply our developed mapping tool to your own curricula. We believe that this process is useful prior to thinking about how digital literacies might be enhanced in the student population. The process should support you to think more broadly about digital literacies and move beyond ICT competencies. Our mapping process required us to engage with subject co-ordinators, and the conversation and process of mapping was educative for all.

Bring together members of the teaching team and students to think about what digital literacies might mean to them and how the capabilities can be developed in different ways, rather than being reliant on stand alone ICT content.
Move the discussion to sectors beyond health by engaging members in the discussion. We suspect the digital literacies described here are applicable beyond health, requiring only simple changes to terms or points of reference.
Return to this site and share your experiences helping to develop understanding of digital literacy and its relevance across sectors and various stakeholders.