Empowering students in a digital age

Are undergraduates taking a backward step in digital learning when they enter Higher Education?

For many students, the transition to Higher Education and its onus on independent learning can be a struggle leading to the all-too-frequent question “Do we need to know this for the exam?” being repeated. Working with students to research and investigate topics of interest is, in my opinion, the cornerstone of what teaching is about. With digital technologies advancing at such a rapid rate, there are now more tools available than ever to support this process but what is the best way to proceed?

However, a recent report by JISC suggests that only half of students feel that their courses prepare them for the digital workplace. (JISC report June 2017) and perhaps more shocking are the findings from this recent JISC report that suggest that students almost take a backward step in their digital learning as they move from Further Education into Higher Education, for example: Whilst 27.4% of the 8,190 individuals surveyed reported using digital games or simulations for learning in FE, this dropped to just 14% in HE. Similarly, whilst 28% report use polling or online quizzes in FE, this drops to 14.8% in HE settings. Students are also less likely to work online with others (44.5% in FE compared to just 34.9% in HE), less likely to feel involved in decisions about digital learning (43.5 in FE compared to 35.1% in HE) and less likely to feel that they have been made aware of digital skills they need to improve (51.2% in FE compared to 40.6% in HE) (JISC Digital Student Tracker 2017). This matches opinions published elsewhere Guardian Higher Education Network arguing a similar picture. pexels-photo-207569

Why does this matter? There is increasing evidence that the use of online games is linked to better achievement academically (See Students get better academic results when playing online games and The Educational Benefit of Online Games). Employers are increasingly looking for digitally literate employees to keep up with the digitization of the workplace (Digital literacy and employability) and with the impact of teaching now being documented in the TEF (Teaching excellence promoted through digital literacy), the need for effective training in digital technology is something that cannot be ignored.The challenge has been set!

However, as some universities begin to announce the start of degrees which are delivered totally online, it is reassuring to see that there is much evidence suggesting that effective teaching still incorporates the lecturer into the process. As the Head of Change in the Student Experience Team at Jisc writes:

“…students were most motivated to improve their digital skills when tutors inspired them with their own digital know-how.”  (Guardian, 29.06.17)

Similarly, Professor Dan Butin advocates active learning rather than just an online experience: BBC Business News. Rather than replacing the tutor altogether, collaborative learning using digital technology seems to hold untold potential. As Helen Keller once said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”


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