Challenge 1: prepare and support students

In considering the student digital experience we are concerned with the whole learning journey, from first contact to post-graduation/alumnus status. Our research found that many students are not well prepared to study with digital technologies, perhaps because they lack skills and experience or find it difficult to apply existing skills to university and college learning, or because they simply have not thought about the role that digital technologies might play. This is something that must be addressed if students are to set out with appropriate devices and services, and with at least some of the practices with technology that can support their learning.

We also found that while support is available for students to use digital technologies effectively, it is rarely linked with their academic success. There is often poor communication among the units responsible for different aspects of support e.g. ICT, learning/academic development, the library, disability service and personal tutors, and also across different departments in relation to their ‘own’ software and systems. This leads to students being unaware of what is available,  and how they can get help. Students – like all users – tend to over-estimate their digital skills simply because they use technologies every day and rarely experience failure. They also struggle to transfer their existing skills to new contexts, such as academic and professional settings.

On this page:
Key issues
Further resources

Key issues

Induction is not enough: Once students are enrolled in courses of study we find that they do not always access the support they need to use technologies successfully. Of course they have induction in core systems such as the virtual learning environment, assessment submission, library services and registration systems, and any student portal or dashboard. This is also true of specialist software and devices that are required for use in the course of study. But this may not be detailed enough for students who lack experience with digital systems, and may not take place at a time when students can immediately apply their new knowledge in practice.

The limits of expectations: Understandably, students do not have clear ideas when they arrive about how digital technologies might support their studies or how they will be important in their lives beyond. We need to help them develop those ideas, otherwise they will not only miss opportunities to develop their digital know-how but they may respond negatively to innovative approaches in the classroom.

Personal technologies for learning: Support for students using their own devices, apps and services is often ad hoc and not related in any way to the demands of their course of study (e.g. students are not often given advice on free apps and services that replicate some of the functions of specialist technologies they use on course). While it is important that ‘bring your own’ has generic support, students also need help to get the best from their technologies specifically for learning in their subject area.

Affiliation and identity: Digital experiences should support a sense of belonging to the institution but also to smaller groups e.g. course cohort, societies. Digital services are important opportunities for building student loyalty into, through and beyond their study experience, especially when students are physically removed from the campus (as all students are at some points in their learning journey e.g. holidays, at work). Students are motivated by activities that support the development of a positive public identity, and access to institutional services should offer identity benefits such as a personalised profile or embryonic digital CV.

Solutions across the learning journey

  1. Make sure the course, department and institution have a web presence that is accessible, informative and appealing to prospective students. Most students are strongly influenced in their choice of course by what they learn online.
  2. Treat sign-on to institutional systems not as a chore but an aspect of achieving identity and affiliation – consider gamification of this process (badges, progress bar towards an achieved student identity, credits) or some other means of showing progress towards student status.
  3. Build a pre-induction online community. In addition to sign-on, activities could include meeting other new students, consulting with student mentors, virtual campus tours, self-diagnostic quizzes and reflection on ‘readiness’ to study.
  4. Build links with partner colleges and schools, using students as mentors/outreach officers, to address digital skills and expectations in advance.
  5. Provide guidance on recommended devices, software and services before and during induction, ideally on a course basis.
  6. Revisit course handbooks and other support materials. Ensure they make explicit how and why technologies will be used on the course and how students can use personal technologies to enhance their success.
  7. Ensure students have an introduction to the safety and ethical issues involved in participating online e.g. privacy, data protection, IPR and copyright, flaming, bullying.
  8. Early course tasks should make use of key technologies, and should encourage peer sharing and personal reflection on how they use technology e.g. online research, collating information, making and organising notes, recording, writing, collaborating, presenting ideas.
  9. Help students to self-assess their digital study skills e.g. with quizzes and reflective tasks. Focus on their practices and preferences rather than deficits, but do help them to identify if they have particular needs and signpost the relevant support.
  10. Students should experience progressively more difficult and diverse tasks with digital technology. Unless they are challenged they will not realise the limits of their digital practice, nor find work-arounds and strategies for recovering from failure.
  11. Work with NUS, clubs and societies to help evidence students’ non-curricular activities. Consider a badging system (e.g. open badges or a local recognition scheme).
  12. Provide students with a lifelong personal digital record e.g. ‘living CV’, showcase or e-portfolio, blog for life. This should allow them to track their personal development (including digital skills), to reflect and self-assess, to plan ahead and to build CVs and job applications.
  13. Make use of learner analytics to provide students with meaningful personal data; consider how learners can own and use their own data and incorporate data from non-institutional sources that might be relevant to their learning.
  14. Digital communications including – with students’ permission – social media can be used to maintain the relationship with the institution through physical absences: gap years, work placements, internships, visits, field trips, years abroad, even into work.
  15. Ensure students practice using digital technologies in professional ways and in ways that are typical of the pathways of graduates in their subject area.
  16. Involve alumni – bring them back in to talk about their experiences, provide CPD opportunities and encourage them to build on their existing portfolio or CV.




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