Consulting with delegates at the HEA Annual Conference

Considering how difficult it was to find our session on 2nd July (the 7th floor was only accessible by going up in one lift, down some stairs, across into another building, and up in another lift), we did well to attract more than 40 people. Or perhaps they did well to make it. Either way, it was a chance to find out from teachers in HE how they see the student digital experience, and to get feedback on our original student experience postcards.

I summarised some of the issues that have arisen in the consultation series on this slide.

Key issues slide

I have explored the ‘branding and blending‘ issue in another post. Last week I presented two new formulae – though the ideas are not new: open landscape/walled garden, and ‘what I need to succeed’ (Dave White’s term) vs ‘bring/build your own’.

The open landscape is the world of open data and information, of open content and learning opportunity; the world in which students need to evolve a public digital identity and communicate their ideas across digital spaces and networks. While we know students need to engage confidently in this landscape, they perceive risks in being asked to do so too early. They might inadvertently use ‘unauthorised’ online content in their work, and suffer penalties. Or they may be haunted by the digital shades of their early undergraduate productions. So the ‘walled garden’ remains a powerful metaphor for the space of university study, even as that space is becoming a hybrid real and virtual one. The VLE is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the boundary wall. Others are closed and ‘semi-permeable’ uses of third party services, with restrictions on who can view and edit student work. We are collating a variety of ‘digital experiences’ (more soon) which will include examples of activities that begin in the walled garden but provide viewpoints on the wider landscape, and ultimately pathways out.

‘What I need to succeed’ expresses the view shared by many students that the university should provide all the facilities needed to complete assigned work. This should certainly include general infrastructure such as networks, data services and printing, as we have seen. But for most students it still includes access to fixed computing, and to the software, services and licences required for academic work. Even students who are confident in using their own devices and sourcing their own software will find reasons to meet in an IT suite sometimes, or colalborate around a library-based desktop. This expectation seems counter to the ability – which we know successful students have – of building a personal learning and information environment from the devices and services to hand. Again it is a matter of safety first. We need to create a digital environment which provides all students with the means to success. But the environment must be flexible enough to allow more confident students to network their own devices, explore functionality, download apps and open courseware/software, mash up content services and develop their own work-arounds. With the right support, all students – and staff – can learn to create their own blend, and adapt it to their changing needs.

We managed to keep twenty minutes of the session for participants to look through our postcards and suggest additions and amendments. The results are available on this google doc (some feedback on post-it notes was written in after the event).

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