The Digital Academy

The Digital Academy

Experiences, insights and tips from a cohort one NHSDA plodder, with no post graduate academia ability!

Modules Display at Residential 1

As I’m re-reading and tweaking the last assignments, correcting the spelling errors and checking the references this seemed the ideal time to share some thoughts on the journey the DA has taken me. Hopefully there is some musings of worth for cohort 2 and beyond within!

OK, so… you “get the email” and you are accepted! Congratulations! You’re in for a one amazing ride! The DA is still new, the paint hasn’t dried and the vibrant buzz in the room on the first day of the first Residential will be a revelation.

Team exercise to build Card Tower
‘mmm… guys look at what they’ve done…’

But first things first, we are all very very busy people… as soon as you get the Residential dates get them in your personal and work diaries immediately. You cannot (and will not want to) miss any days… the time at a Residential is golden, pure turbocharged learning, every day is massive, and every day will be packed with learning that will leave you inspired for months to come.

Day with Havard students and joint Speakers

My first top tips are to enthuse and engage with your peer group, make a What’s App group for chat and support, make a Slack group for sharing and peer critique of your work and ensure to drink a gin or two at the end of the day whilst sharing reflections on the end of your first day. 

Residential 3 Dinner

Your peer group is beyond doubt a vital lynch pin. The connections you make with these colleagues will be deep. Effective peer groups enhance the DA experience more than I can place into words.

My peer group are now trusted and life long friends, I call them “thunder buddies for life”. When the workload is high (more of that later) and you cannot find that paper / really need to let off steam; there are colleagues who can appreciate and guide and support. It’s also really good fun to be part of the DA day to day with likeminded folk!

If, like me, you haven’t done any true academic learning for over 25 years there is an element of culture shock. The first module is an excellent scene setter, and eases you in to the learning process. Top tip… define and ring fence dedicated time straight off the bat. When that time is obviously different for everyone, but make sure it’s time just for the DA. If the time is at work, turn off your email app, put your phone on divert. You will have a local to your organisation sponsor; book in regular (at least once a month) catch-ups with them. They can be crucial to help open doors for the modules. Get them on board right from the start. They need to appreciate the scale and worth of your endeavours, which will be huge. 

Module 1 Evolution of Informatics Exercise

As cohort one the DA course organisers were straight up with us, they had an idea what the time commitment was, but that was an estimate. Cohort one has truly been listened to, co-design has been high on the agenda all year. In terms of time I would say on average it’s 5 to 8 hours a week, this is for a late middle aged clinician who hasn’t done a Masters and had no idea how to write, never mind cite a paper, who has a lust for knowledge… that is the time I needed. Make of that what you will. Some weeks flew by, others took considerably more. I didn’t need to take any annual leave to complete the work, but certainly a dozen weekends over the year have been pretty much DA only. I am known in my peer group as a plodder, I’m not a fast learner.  The thing is, on the whole (everyone has a bad day once on a while) it’s not felt like a chore. The reason is simply that the course content is spellbinding.

Considering the short time frame that the degree was devised in it’s a breathtaking feat.

This will be even better for cohort 2, in fact I’m even jealous of future cohorts, as they will be experiencing an even better course. 

It’s vital you consider when you are going to take annual leave, some forward planning is needed to be sure the deadlines for the work are in your mind, so you can complete what is required and have time to relax and recharge. 

Keep your sense of humour! Yes, there are fundamental academic expectations; this is a postgraduate degree from some big hitting and respected institutions of higher learning. But, there is a time and a place for some light hearted moments, I wont put any spoilers in here, but there will be some times of pure hilarity I assure you! 

So, to rap this up I would say:

  • be organised
  • engage immediately with you peers
  • make dedicated time
  • ensure you have time for yourself
  • download as much as you can to read when you can (I also have to admit to watching the majority of the videos at twice speed whilst reading the transcripts)
  • do not skip the optional material
  • and always have in the back of your mind some relevance to your situation when composing assignments.

Finally it’s worth re-iterating that the DA is a co-designed course between the faculty and the members, you really feel part of a digital entrepreneur family. I will miss it once I’m done. I have never said that about any other post grad learning in my entire career. Enjoy it, you will miss it once it’s happened… I already am.


Jon Cort