As learners return to colleges and campuses, there’s no turning back from the online shift they’ve experienced this year. Embedding digital in both face-to-face and remote learning is more crucial than ever.
Social distancing is now normal, and future local and even national lockdowns are a real possibility. That means a great deal of the student experience must now take place online – or at least have the capacity to do so with minimal disruption.
An equitable experience
Now is the time for institutions to look carefully at their offer, scrutinising how they support students to have an equitable learning experience online compared to in person.
Asking questions and listening to feedback from students is crucial in identifying where improvements can be made. We can’t assume that all learners, once they leave college or university grounds, have a secure place to study, access to the devices they need, and reliable wifi - or that they know how to use all of the different technologies they’re now being asked to use in a way that will maximise their learning experience. In fact, the findings of Jisc’s digital experience insights surveys 2020, published today, show that 19% of 20,575 HE students and 32% of 19,137 FE learners weren’t able to say they have access to reliable wifi.
Also, interestingly, students are using smartphones to access digital learning, with 82% in FE and 83% in HE saying they use one for their studies. While a whopping 93% of university students use a laptop, that drops to 68% in FE.
Worryingly, 3% of learners in the FE sector say they don’t have access to any digital device at all (smartphone, laptop, desktop or tablet). That’s a small percentage, but in real terms, it’s 574 people of the 19,137 surveyed. One learner comments:
“Laptops or tablets should be given on long term loan as some people do not have access to a computer at home and then find it hard to meet their deadlines.”
It’s time to move away from the assumption that all learners are digitally enabled and digitally capable, and see how they can support learners to join them as they make that change.
The year ahead
There’s no question that universities and college have a challenging year ahead – especially those that were at the start of their digital journey when COVID-19 first hit the UK. That’s why Jisc created a toolkit to help universities and colleges support arriving students, and worked with the NUS to build a benchmarking tool to help institutions build on their baseline offer to see what they can and arguably should aim for when delivering a high-quality digital experience. Currently, only a handful of organisations that could honestly say they meet those benchmarks.
There’s been impressive change in the past six months, but we’ve also seen emergency measures, introduced at speed, as a ‘good enough’ sticking plaster solution. Students are telling us they need digital embedded into their courses. Now is the time to listen and respond, transforming approaches and delivering robust systems that can withstand the uncertainties ahead.
Jisc's rethinking teaching, learning and assessment campaign launches today. To learn more about students’ experiences with digital, universities and colleges can register their interest in running Jisc’s digital experience insights surveys 2020-21 and attend a webinar on Tuesday 22 September.