Incoming Expectations

What sort of technologies do students coming into further and higher education expect their institutions to provide?

A one way street sign
(Img – chrisinplymouth)
  1. Access to the institutional services and the whole of the Web via any number of devices.
  2. Comprehensive organisational information about their course (dates, times, locations, requirements).
  3. Access to information resources that will help them to complete assignments. These will include resources generated by the course (reading lists, PowerPoints, lecture notes, videos of lectures) and access to library catalogues and traditional sources in digital form (journals, ebooks etc.)

I am of course simplifying a little here; for a more sophisticated picture I can recommend looking at the various outputs from the project so far: we undertook a literature review, interviewed those providing digital services and talked to students about their perceptions of what was, and what should be, provided.

For me one of the most interesting aspects of phase 1 was the difference between students’ immediate responses to questions about digital provision and their more nuanced answers when gently pressed into deeper discussion. The danger highlighted here, as reflected in a number of sources in the literature review, is that, in our eagerness to ‘meet expectations’, we gather only a surface understanding of motivations and learning practices, leading to strategies which respond to only some of the ways in which our students operate. This is particularly concerning given that students’ day-to-day practices now go so far beyond the boundaries of the institution.

Another intriguing question that arises from phase 1 is why there is such an apparent lack of expectation that any formal learning will take place in the digital environment. There was little or no demand for discourse online of any kind. In fact, as the three point summary above indicates, the digital realm was viewed very much as a one-way street for information consumption.

Here again the picture is more complex than it first appears as we know that students are keen to connect to Facebook and other ‘social’, potentially discursive, environments. The extent to which these ‘user-owned’ spaces are used for learning is not clear but perhaps the ‘site’ of learning online will always be in the students’ domain, leaving the institution to provide information rather than collaborative spaces?

Whatever the case, it is inevitable that incoming expectations of the digital environment are largely set by students’ experience of technology at school. Whilst most schools do have VLEs and digital whiteboards, for example, their use may be seeding the one-way-information-street expectation. This is one of the areas we are planning to look into in more detail during phase 2 of the project.

Overall, I would argue that it should be obvious that incoming students don’t understand how to ‘do’ higher education and that their expectations of the digital environment reflect this. I believe that, in tandem with meeting expectations, we have a duty to foster students’ critical use of the digital environment as a reflection of our pedagogical values. Access to information is crucial but we need to ensure that, in striving for efficiency, we don’t perpetuate the assumption that our digital services are only provided for utilitarian consumption.

6 replies on “Incoming Expectations”

Pre-HE students can appear to be trained beforehand (by the nature of the tasks set) to utilise their digital environment to mostly gather and process resources to complete submissions. Getting staff to develop the activities into more innovative practices using the resources available to these student meets many barriers, including the student expectation of the staff: “we will do what the staff think we can/should do” rather than “let’s show them what they did not know could be done”, because innovation carries risk. Encouraging students to be fully expressive with all forms of media/resources needs access to well-trained staff to show them what is possible, and an assessment criteria which encourages non-traditional formats which can serve as exemplars beyond the institution and across their discipline. Perhaps encouraging CC licenced and catalogued student outputs might move this forward.

It’s certainly the case that staff, especially tutors, have a huge impact on student practice (or at least what the students consider to be legitimate practice). I feel we sometimes underestimate just how influential ‘we’ are in this regard.

I don’t think a lack of ‘innovative’ practice from staff hinders students in their personal or quasi-private practice – practices which take place beyond institutionally provided services. Having said this it would be very valuable if teaching staff convened a discussion about online learning practices in the broadest possible sense. My hope would be that that would bring the kind of digital practices that students are wary of discussing out into the open and would, on balance, reduce concerns about what constitutes legitimate practice.

I wrote a post towards the end of my first year studying an MSc as a distance learner which might be of interest, although I understand this work focuses on incoming students.

When you’re referring to ‘incoming students’ are you talking explicitly about students entering FE/HE for the first time? Sorry, if I’ve missed it somewhere – I haven’t had a chance to look through the study yet.

Thanks, this is a very useful post. What strikes me is that you have outlined a combination of institutionally provided and ‘Web’ technologies/platforms. Getting an holistic view of students tech use across the board like this is a challenge for institutions. This is often because students see their practice ‘outside’ of the institution as private but is also because institutions are more concerned with gathering data about only the services they run directly. I think it’s crucial we get a better understanding of the use of ‘learner owned’ spaces online and how they intersect (in practice terms) with services like the VLE.

Your positive comments about ‘foundation’ services like Eduroam and the importance of straight forward connectivity certainly chimes with the data we have been looking at across the sector.

In answer to your question, we are principally dealing with people entering higher eduction for the first time. In phase two we are planning to explore students’ experience of technology in secondary school and how this influences their expectations of the digital when entering higher education.

You may be interested in the service we provide to schools in the UK and abroad. We have commissioned a report based on a survey of student ‘digital natives’ regarding their experiences using our online platform and video collaboration method of delivery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *