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Designing curricula to develop digitally capable professionals in engineering and management: the case in two universities

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Tunde Varga-Atkins
Publication date1/12/2018
Number of pages215
Awarding Institution
Award date17/09/2019
Place of PublicationLancaster, UK
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The development of digital capabilities has received significant attention in higher education (HE) in recent years, with numerous attempts made to develop digital frameworks to support curriculum design. However, few studies have articulated these generic capabilities in terms of specific disciplines. This thesis addresses the gap of disciplinary conceptualisations of digital capabilities by exploring how they are planned and experienced in HE curricula in two professional disciplines at two UK universities. Originality of the study is achieved in part through a conceptual framework that weaves together a theoretical perspective - Shulman’s signature pedagogies, with JISC’s Digital Capability Framework. Underpinned by a human capabilities approach, the study employed a multiple-case study methodology with each discipline as a case, and four undergraduate/postgraduate modules as the units of analysis, drawing on documentary sources, and academic, professional and student perspectives via interviews, focus groups and observation.
My findings indicate that the development of digital capabilities is aligned with the respective discipline’s signature pedagogy. In engineering, digital problem-solving and collaboration/communication, followed by data and information literacy, appear to be most prominent. In management, data and information literacy overlap with problem-solving, and, together with digital content communication, form its signature digital capabilities. The thesis highlights similarities, differences and gaps in the way digital capabilities are developed in engineering and management curricula. In addition, the research process itself offers a major theoretical contribution, together with the identification of management’s overarching signature pedagogy. Practical and theoretical implications of the study include the need to extend signature pedagogies to ‘signature assessments’, and articulating a link between signature digital capabilities and authentic assessments. Future research could explore potential solutions to a tension between mapping digital capabilities and constructive alignment. A methodological contribution of this study was using poems as a way of synthesising findings. Finally, using William Blake’s art as illustration, it is suggested that harnessing a passion for creativity could be a starting point for supporting the digital capabilities of tomorrow’s professionals.