Digital Student in Wales

I had the opportunity of taking the Digital Student consultation to Wales at the kind invitation of Lis Parcell from the Jisc Regional Support Centre in Wales. I ran a consultation session at the Higher Education Academy Future Directions Conference at Aberystwyth University on the 2nd April. The conference theme was, ‘ Global Graduates: Enabling Flexible Learning’ to support the new quality enhancement theme for the Future Directions initiative in Wales and the three work strands ‘Distinctive Graduates’, ‘Learner Journeys’ and ‘Inspiring Teaching’ with students as partners embedded across the three strands. So a very relevant backdrop for our consultation work on the Digital Student project.

The conference opened with a keynote by Professor Ron Barnett, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education at the Institute of Education and an opening address by Grace Burton, Education Officer, Aberystwyth University. Both discussed the importance of meaningful dialogue and engagement with students throughout their educational experience. An important premise of the Digital Student study. We need to move beyond the focus group and survey fatigue to find more effective ways of engendering student views through partnership working across the institution. There is the need for institutions to embed mechanisms and approaches which support active and continual student participation and engagement in all areas of the student experience – not just in teaching and learning. This is a challenge for institutions as we move from the perceived ‘consumer culture’ that has inadvertently been introduced with the fee paying structures. Grace stressed that partnership is a process and that it is also important to start engaging those students who do not naturally volunteer to get involved in contributing their ideas and participating in projects.

The Future Directions for Higher Education in Wales has some valuable lessons to share from its work on the Students as Partners theme around student representation, students supporting students and the student voice in learning and teaching.

This also ties in very closely with the work of the Jisc supported Change Agents’ Network facilitated by the University of Greenwich. The network offers a community of practice to support students and staff working in partnership and students working as change agents/pioneers/ambassadors. Further information is available here or by joining the mailing list CAN@jiscmail.ac.uk

So in relation to the Digital Student consultation, I asked delegates at the conference – What should institutions be doing as a priority to respond to students’ changing expectations and needs?

It was no surprise for the answers to be focused on areas like supporting staff with the development of their digital literacies so as to enhance their knowledge and understanding of how technology can support their students’ learning. Students still look to their tutors and lecturers to provide them with guidance on how to make effective use of digital resources and technologies for their learning. A finding from our original Jisc research into learners’ experiences of e-Learning (Responding to Learners, Jisc, 2009). The new Jisc InfoNet online toolkit provides some valuable resources and guidance on developing digital literacies for staff and students.

Thank you to Tamsyn for her insightful response, ‘Listen to students and make them aware that they are being listened to. Don’t assume that students are ‘digital natives’ – they often know the key functionality of sites/apps/software that they often use, but very few exploit the full functionality. Set up sharing networks. One size doesn’t fit all, but if every member of staff uses a vastly different range of tools then there can be a huge learning curve for the students. Embed key tools into the curriculum early on, so that all students develop their Digital Literacies.

Visit the Digital Student padlet for the views and ideas delegates shared at the HEA Wales Future Directions conference on the Digital Student consultation. The slides from this session are available here.

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