Those of us in developed countries are operating in an increasingly connected environment where digital technology already impacts hugely on almost all aspects of our lives. In the years ahead, emerging tech, such as robotics and machine learning, will likely have an even greater influence, not least in the sort of jobs we do.
It is anticipated that, within 20 years, 90% of jobs will require digital skills, so it’s important that universities are in a good position to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s workplace. Understanding how students use technology and their attitudes towards its use in learning is a good place to start.
83 UK institutions have taken part in our digital experience student insights survey (which last year gathered more than 37,000 responses) and a similar survey we undertook with Australian and New Zealand universities (pdf) has thrown up some interesting comparisons.
Between November 2017 and May 2018, 12 universities in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) ran the survey, collecting 21,095 responses from their students.
What did the survey reveal?
In many ways, the ANZ results mirrored those of the UK. Because there are strong similarities between our education systems and practices it’s perhaps unsurprising that technology is introduced in similar ways.
In both the UK and ANZ there is a growing awareness of the need for universities to do more to support their students when it comes to data protection and wellbeing. The ANZ report found that eight in ten students agreed that their university supported them to use their own digital devices, but only around half said their university helped them stay safe online, gave them access to online health and wellbeing services, or kept their data secure.
For comparison, the UK report found that 95% of students regularly sought information online, almost identical to ANZ at 96%. However, a far higher percentage of ANZ students regularly worked with others online compared to the UK (14% higher). This may be because group online learning is presented as being part of, and not additional to, the learning experience in ANZ.
74% of ANZ students agreed that digital skills would be important in their chosen career: however, only 44% agreed that their course prepared them for the digital workplace. Only three in ten students agreed that they were told what digital skills they would need before starting their course, or that that they were given the chance to be involved in decisions about digital services. This shows the importance of staff being explicit about the importance of digital skills within the course but also for their future careers.
Results showed that distance learners regard online learning as of lower value, despite their greater dependence on it. Taking account of these students’ anxieties is key in supporting them to get the most out of digital learning activities, and to be successful.
Another result to emerge from the survey was that ANZ students felt let down by some basic issues. Having to queue for printers, struggling to find charging points and overly complex sign-in arrangements were all flagged as problematic. Signposting all the facilities and support available is a simple way to help show students that the university is listening to their concerns.
“65% of today’s students will end up working in jobs that don’t exist yet, and more than 500,000 highly-skilled workers will be needed to fill digital roles by 2022 – three times the number of UK computer science students who graduated in the past ten years.” - World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs and Skills 2018
What our digital experience insights service provides
While the main purpose of the insights survey is to allow organisations to collect valid, representative and actionable data from their students and staff and use the data to begin conversations with students about their digital experience, there are other important benefits.
Chief among them is that this kind of data can be used to gain efficiencies, for example to avoid investment in costly technology that students are not using. Conversely, bringing in technology into the learning process can only help transform and improve the student experience and contribute toward their success.
You can find out how to participate in our digital experience insights service from digitalinsights.jisc.ac.uk.