Enhancing the student digital experience: a strategic approach
Supporting institutions to develop digital environments which meet students’ expectations and help them to progress to higher study and employment
About this guide
How are you responding to the changing digital needs and expectations of your students and staff?
Do the experiences and the digital environment you offer to your students adequately prepare them to flourish in a society that relies heavily on digital technologies?
What are you doing to engage students in dialogue about digital issues and to work collaboratively with them to enhance their digital learning experience?
How well is the digital vision for your establishment embedded in institutional policies and strategies?
These are questions that are challenging institutions in UK further and higher education (FE and HE).
This guide will address key challenges like these and support institutions to develop digital environments which meet students’ expectations and help them to progress to higher levels of study and employment.
By sharing research findings and good practice, we aim to support staff and students to make the most effective use of digital technologies by kickstarting discussions within institutions and directing people to guidance, resources and opportunities to collaborate with others in the sector who are working on similar issues. The emphasis is on developing solutions appropriate to your context and the needs of your students and your institution.
The snapshot case studies used to illustrate key points within the guide are drawn primarily from FE and HE institutions and contain key lessons and examples of innovative practice relevant to both sectors.
The emphasis is on developing solutions appropriate to your context and the needs of your students and your institution.
Support from Jisc
All institutions supported by Jisc have a dedicated account manager who can help them develop digital capability solutions. The service is scalable, ranging from brief advice to more detailed and involved support.
"The web represents access to a vast array of resources and opportunities to collaborate to support teaching and learning. To ensure our institutions are relevant and credible places of learning we must embrace the influence of the digital and evolve our approaches accordingly." Dave White, head of technology enhanced learning at the University of the Arts London
Changing student demographics and changing relationships
For higher education this includes changing student demographics with more mature, part-time, distance and online students, increasing student numbers (including the recruitment of more students from outside the UK), exploration of overseas markets, strained or declining finances and pressure on physical estates and the need to develop employability skills in graduates.
In addition to strained and declining finances, FE is charged with meeting the needs of a diverse student body spanning a broad spectrum of levels as well as developing new relationships with employers to:
Secure greater employer engagement
Enhance the vocational relevance of training programmes
Increase ‘line of sight’ to employment
A planned government review of post-16 education and training institutions will also impact on the communities that colleges serve. The intention of the review is to
Furthermore, student fees and student loans for both FE and HE are changing the relationship between students and institutions. There is an increased recognition of the proactive role that students can play as partners in their education that looks to the future and is both rewarding and satisfying.
Changes in the way we work
A Skills Commission report has identified that the way in which people work is changing with technology being a part of the change. Their research indicates that flexibility is a major characteristic of the way people now work and that technology is changing job roles and has influenced the way we communicate and work.
With so many competing pressures educational leaders do not always recognise the strategic and operational importance of digital technology or realise the potential transformative effect this could have on their institutions, the wider sector, employers and society.
This potential has been identified by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in their response to the FELTAG recommendations and is providing the impetus for the FE and skills sector to deliver more learning online, to develop the capability and capacity of the FE and skills workforce to empower learners to exploit technology.
The complexities and inter-relationships between the challenges faced by HE institutions and FE and skills providers necessitates a strategic and whole-institution response.
This should encompass: physical spaces and digital services; workforce capability; student and staff digital literacy skills; and, the effective gathering and use of information on student expectations and experiences of technology to inform future institutional strategies.
Origin of challenges and research
This guide draws on our digital student project, an extensive and ongoing research and consultation process involving students and staff as well as work that we have been conducting across the whole student experience theme including:
From this research Jisc has identified seven key challenges that institutions need to address as part of their efforts to enhance the student digital environment. These are to:
Deliver a relevant digital curriculum
Deliver an inclusive digital student experience
Deliver a robust, flexible digital environment
Engage in dialogue with students about their digital experience and empower them to develop their digital environment
Develop coherent policies for ‘bring your own’ (devices, services and data)
Prepare and support students and staff to study and work successfully with digital technologies
Take a strategic, whole-institution approach to developing the student digital experience
Our FE digital student research identified some additional challenges for FE:
Learners’ digital experiences are strongly dependent on the confidence and capabilities of their teachers, but currently staff workload and career pathways are hindering staff development
Lecturers are not well-supported and incentivised to integrate digital resources into their teaching. Where there is high staff turnover or heavy reliance on casual staff, this is exacerbating the problem
The lack of funding for research into the learner experience in the FE and skills sector leads to out of date research and assumptions about students’ level of digital literacy.
As in higher education, there is also the challenge of ensuring a consistent student experience using technology, by providing support for all users, a relevant digital curriculum and a robust, flexible digital environment.
This guide is aimed at a wide range of staff in UK higher education, further education and skills including:
Learning and teaching staff, trainers and assessors
Librarians and learning resources staff
Student support services
Staff and educational developers
Senior managers with responsibility for the digital experience/environment
How to use this guide
There is no set order for working through the seven challenges and each can be tackled individually. We don’t necessarily envisage that you will work through the challenges in a linear fashion. Rather, we hope that you will select the challenge that seems most relevant to your current situation and work from there. The exception is that of taking a strategic, whole-institution approach: this is the central challenge which will support and be informed by all the others.
Each challenge ends with suggestions for how you could make a difference to the student experience in your organisation.
Deliver a relevant digital curriculum
“Staff and students have different digital literacy skills sets. Combining the digital bravery (R Sharpe and G Benfield) of the students with staff knowledge and expertise of a given domain can allow you to critically investigate digital practice in a subject.” Jim Pettiward, blended learning facilitator, Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT), London Metropolitan University
Fulfil student expectations
The pervasive use of technology in so many aspects of our lives means that students will come to further or higher education with some experience of technology and the expectation that it will feature in their learning journey. They will expect digital services like wifi to be freely and easily accessible as a core entitlement and that efficient administration processes and wrap around services will support their overall experience.
Explain how technology will be used to support learning within the curriculum
Our FE digital student research reinforces this point and advises against making assumptions about students' experience with, or attitudes towards, technology - reporting that students generally felt less confident and needed more ongoing support than their lecturers expected.
Make it clear how and why technology is being used to support learning from induction and at the start of new modules to establish an institutional digital entitlement.
Embed digital activities
Reinforce this by embedding digital activities and assessment opportunities as part of the curriculum design to set the expectation that students will use technology throughout their study. Accompany this with responsive support to establish a base level of digital literacy and confidence and a platform to explore and develop subject and discipline specific uses.
Technology can be particularly useful in bridging the gap between study and work. Apprentices and students on work placement can use technology to access resources, monitor their own progress and keep in touch with employers, tutors and assessors.
Students appreciate time to develop their practice in a safe environment – a metaphorical walled garden – with paths out to a more public domains as their confidence and competence expands.
Our guide to safeguarding learners online outlines the challenges for universities and colleges in ensuring learners know how to behave safely and responsibly in the digital space. It also provides guidance on developing a clear policy and promoting good practice in safeguarding.
Case study - PETA Training and Consultancy Services
This enables those who are stuck or who lack confidence in carrying out practical work to help themselves by referring to training materials at their ‘point of need’ and move beyond their sticking point without having to refer to an instructor.
At Shrewsbury College both students and staff receive training and support during induction programmes on safeguarding and e-safety.
Their ‘digital life’ programme supports the Common Inspection Framework (CIF) requirement that providers attend to the personal development, behaviour and welfare with specific reference to use of the internet (page 49 of further education and skills inspection handbook, published June 2015).
‘Digital life’ provides students with information on how to stay safe online, including: creating a positive online presence; reputation, digital footprint and employability; cyberbullying; plagiarism and copyright; effective use of social media.
All Masters level students in Biosciences at Glasgow Caledonian University take a module on ‘Skills for Professional Practice in Bioscience 2’ which focuses on critical assessment and analysis (including online information and data), communicating and developing a professional identity online and experimental design and analysis.
The module is taught by a team comprising subject specialist, academic developers and a careers adviser. This is beneficial to all students but perhaps particularly so for the international students, some of whom face challenges with their professional and academic English.
As students progress along their learning journey and embedded digital activities become the norm reducing the explicit signposting of technology may be preferable in order to encourage a more independent and responsive style. This will allow space for new approaches to emerge, developed by staff and students, to reflect the changing environment, emerging technologies and to respond to learner needs and task requirements.
Offer authentic experiences and contextualise use of technology to meet subject and discipline requirements
Our research shows that disciplinary context is important and that students respond most favourably to authentic and meaningful digital activities that are directly linked to, and embedded in, their programmes of learning and assessment and that are relevant to their future employment ambitions.
In FE, the strong focus on preparing learners for the workplace also raises learners' expectations that colleges will provide industry standard hardware and software.
Confident modelling of this use by lecturers emphasises the professional value. This works best when aligned to opportunities for students to practice and become proficient themselves.
The variety of contexts and differentiated learning programmes means that what is relevant for a given programme of study will need to be carefully thought through and perhaps applied differently in different circumstances.
Case study - Association of Colleges eastern region
Six partner organisations led and supported by the Association of Colleges in the eastern region are exploring ways in which digital technology can be used to improve the delivery of English and mathematics on apprenticeship and traineeship programmes.
The project has explored a variety of technologies and digital strategies including:
Use of video conferencing packages to provide online support
Development of blended learning material using free content creation tools
Use of screen casting to give learner feedback and create video tutorials;
Improvement of VLEs to make them more interactive and engaging
Piloting of electronic individual learning plans (ILPs) with workplace learners
BA Education Studies students at Blackburn College are exploring the significance of technology-enhanced learning in education through a module on 21st Century Learning. Student engagement and assessment is based on real-world use of a variety of technologies and approaches which helps them to develop a reflective and critical approach to emerging practices.
The Management School at The University of Liverpool integrates digital literacy with enquiry-based learning through a module in Sustainability in Business using online research to explore emerging practices and ideas that may not yet but published in print. A wide range of business-friendly applications are used giving the students greater insight into how business leaders use digital media.
Vocationally-oriented programmes such as journalism require students to be confident in digital practices.
At City University London a new module on social media and engagement has been introduced into the university’s MA course in interactive journalism to provide students with an opportunity to explore a range of cutting-edge tools and techniques and build a portfolio of evidence to support their future professional practice.
At Hull College, established practice in maximising student enjoyment and success using ‘flipped learning’ in construction, engineering and motor vehicle programmes is being extended to a further four vocational areas.
Different types of technology are being used to enhance learning in ways contextualised to meet the needs of each curriculum. Piloting and evaluating the introduction of new technologies and digital approaches is allowing the college to develop a more robust understanding of how a range of technologies can be introduced in different curricula.
The college can also contextualise use of these to meet the needs of different subjects and learners as well as to inform the development of the e-learning strategy.
The City of Glasgow College sets a high priority in providing industry-relevant learning experiences for its students, and regards use of current leading edge and future technologies as key to achieving this aim.
The ambition is being brought to life through industry academies – a series of 18 academic hubs spanning 6 faculties that are designed to support collaboration between the college, university education partners and industry to ensure that learners graduate with industry relevant skills and qualifications that have a high level of vocational currency.
Design for all learners
Draw out the different pedagogical uses and benefits of a range of technologies and encourage students to explore and contribute examples of their own. One example of how students and staff collaborated to explore the range of different technologies that could be used in assessment activities is the Tech Trumps game produced by the COLLABORATE project team at The University of Exeter
It is also important to recognise that technology can bring many benefits when creating a diverse and accessible learning environment. Using text to speech options and the accessibility tools in everyday software can make a difference to all learners, not just those with formally identified accessibility needs.
This is one aspect of digital entitlement that has been found to have a positive impact on all learners.
Case study - Leeds City College
At Leeds City College a raised awareness of how Texthelp Read&Write can be used to support students at all levels and abilities is helping students to improve their written work. This has been achieved through a programme of staff development, the learning from which is then cascaded down to students by their tutors.
Teachers, trainers and assessors at Runshaw College are receiving training on the concepts and use of digital accessibility software to enhance the student experience. This is being offered as mainstream provision for all students at the college rather than for discrete groups.
Ensuring that staff are able to use text-to-speech software in particular, and have access to a range of materials to support their use, will help to meet changes in guidance from the Joint Council for Qualifications who specifically reference use of computer readers rather than human readers as an acceptable means of supporting the reading element within GCSE English examinations.
A pioneering student fellow scheme run by the University of Winchester and Bath Spa University is enabling students to work as researchers alongside teams of academics at the universities on the Fastech project to embed technology-enhanced assessment for learning practices across all programmes of learning.
The collaborative relationship has advanced understanding of assessment-for-learning at both universities and shown the potential of engaging students as active partners in curriculum enhancement.
Graphic Learning Wheels at Blackburn College are helping staff to explore a variety of technologies as well as different modes of learning and to apply these pedagogically as part of curriculum design and review processes.
Case study - Prospects College of Advanced Technology
At Prospects College for Advanced Technology teaching staff are working through each course taught at the college to update course materials, using interactive formats to make them ‘lively, interactive, interesting and online’. Examples of the formats being used include audio, video, animation, live streaming and sessions from workplaces.
Through the Generation Z initiative, staff are supported and encouraged to develop interactive and engaging approaches to learning; using technology to personalise learning and to encourage students to collaborate and create their own resources.
The FELTAG report challenged colleges and training organisations to achieve “a 10% wholly-online component” in all programmes from September 2015.
At Heart of Worcestershire College their innovative Scheduled Online Learning and Assessment (SOLA) approach to blended learning means they have already met the target and are approaching 20% in a number of key areas. The SOLA model has been applied to all Level 2 and 3 full-time programmes of study. It involves highly-structured, weekly online learning sessions delivered through the virtual learning environment.
This model has had a positive impact within the college allowing efficiency savings of over £200k per year. Success rates in the college have improved by over 11% since blended learning was first implemented and in addition to this learners develop crucial independent learning skills.
Rethink traditional models of delivery, assessment and validation
The emergence of new technologies opens up new possibilities for learning. It may be time to review some of the more traditional models of delivery and explore the advantages, disadvantages and requirements of new pedagogic approaches.
Case study - Oldham College
Oldham College is working in partnership with Edge Hill University to explore use of video to improve the process of assessment feedback to learners by using ‘screen cast’.
Learners listen to tutors commenting on their work whilst watching a video screen-capture of the document being assessed.
Institutional processes that support and inform curriculum design like validation and quality assurance may also need to evolve to support new delivery and assessment models.
Support processes must allow staff time to explore the potential benefits of new models and to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for successful delivery without inhibiting responsive and engaging curriculum design.
Case study - Coventry University
At Coventry University an undergraduate course is also simultaneously an open online course that attracts up to 35,000 participants each time it is run.
The Phonar course aims to develop students’ visual and digital fluency through open-ended tasks that can take learners through photography, digital storytelling, online identity, video and audio mash-ups and social commentary.
This is a genuinely borderless classroom with a teaching and learning approach that is complex but provides a model that could be adopted within more conventional courses.
Create learning and assessment activities which require students to communicate ideas, express views, produce artefacts, analyse data and solve problems using digital technologies, not simply to consume digital information
Explore and promote the pedagogical benefits that different technologies offer with staff and students – take a look at our list of digital experiences for ideas you could adopt or adapt to suit your own needs
Ensure that digital enhancements and opportunities are considered in curriculum design and review processes
Be clear about the digital entitlement that you offer for your students and how you expect learners to use technology in their programmes of learning
Contextualise by promoting authentic workplace and professional digital practices using industry standard software and equipment (or reputable open source alternatives)
Review workload modelling and timetabling to ensure they are sufficiently flexible to facilitate innovative delivery models
Ensure staff are rewarded and recognised for trying different modes of learning
Map assessment practices across whole programmes of learning to ensure variety, avoid duplication of effort
Use digital activities to build links beyond the course to support the transition to professional lives
Further resources for delivering a relevant digital curriculum
“In terms of accessibility and inclusion it is important to consider the wider benefits that technology can offer and not just the legal consequences.” Rebecca McCready, learning and teaching advisor, Newcastle University and Member of UCISA user skills group
Promote inclusion and equality
Student feedback and National Student Survey (NSS) scores show that variables such as gender, ethnicity and social background affect satisfaction.
Consider use of digital technologies to provide flexible delivery models and alternative ways of communicating and to help learners to overcome some of these potential inhibitors and challenge inequality.
Using technology to increase the breadth and variety of ways students can access, engage with and progress their learning allows students to choose the ways and means that best suit their needs and personal circumstances.
Case study - Dublin Institute of Technology
At Dublin Institute of Technology an app called AtNorth has been developed to provide support for students registered with the disability service. The app is compatible with Apple, Google and Windows and offers guidance, support and direct communication with the assistive technology officer.
mCommunity is a mobile app that is being used at Pembrokeshire College to improve engagement in learning for those regarded as not in education, employment or training (NEET) or ‘at risk’.
Based on the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), mCommunity incorporates an individual learning and planning tool and the ability to incorporate instant messaging and social media functionality.
mCommunity is being used to facilitate remote personal tutorials, one-to-one support from a dedicated mTutor, individual learning and planning, the delivery of learning and to develop skills and improve learner opportunities for employment and further education.
Traditional teaching and learning approaches pose barriers for many learners because they focus on three core activities: listening, reading and writing, with text as a core element (see Figure 1 to the left).
This disadvantages learners with a print impairment1 (potentially ten per cent of learners), learners with English as a second language and learners with other disabilities such as sensory impairments or concentration and memory difficulties.
Create new opportunities
By contrast, technology enhanced learning can be used to transform traditional teaching and learning and improve accessibility, engagement and ultimately achievement. It also opens up a wide range of opportunities that can promote learner independence and empower both learners and staff.
Case study - East Durham College
At East Durham College everyday technologies such as a mobile phone, sound enhancing software, use of an open source, cross-browser toolbar to customise web pages, quizzes and the considered use of the virtual learning environment helped a student with a hearing impairment to overcome earlier negative experiences of education and succeed.
The Department of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Greenwich is exploring the use of video recording to provide inclusive learning opportunities for students studying digital design.
Tutors create audio and screen recordings of design tasks to accompany lectures as well as formative seminars. Students are able to record and submit design tasks instead of written work and practical submissions are assessed via live debate with recorded tutor and peer feedback.
Final year project demonstrations are also recorded so that external examiners are able to see the process as well as the outcome.
At Lewisham Southwark College iPads are used in the classroom to support students with a range of learning disabilities. A mix of apps and websites were used: in mathematics sessions; to facilitate communication with learners who have difficulty or choose not to speak; and to help develop independence in travelling.
Students became more engaged and more focused on achieving tasks when using the iPads and those previously unable or willing to communicate found a voice.
"The LexDis project has allowed the team to take a participatory approach to the way disabled students develop technology based strategies when working in e-learning situations.
Helpful guides have been created, providing hints and tips on how to make the most of e-learning technology. The strategies have been generated by those studying and working in further and higher education to help others make the most of a wide range of apps, productivity tools and assistive technologies." E.A. Draffan, research staff in web and internet science, University of Southampton
Avoid common errors
While use of technology and digital content opens up new opportunities it is still possible to create accessibility barriers, for example, use of podcasts without transcripts or text summaries.
Meet your legal responsibilities and ‘reasonable expectations’
Universities, colleges and other learning providers have a legal responsibility to take measures to ensure that learning is accessible to all and to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ under the Equality Act 2010 to anticipate and respond to learner needs.
Prepare for legislative changes and variances in funding rules
The changes are intended to rebalance the responsibilities between government funding and institutional support and to encourage greater use of the technology available to reduce reliance on DSA funding for those with mild difficulties.
In colleges and learning providers, there is an expectation that technology will be used to support high needs students (HNS).
Guidelines on how funding for HNS in further education is administered is available from the Education Funding Agency (students up to 18 and young people 19-25 who have a Learning Difficulty Assessment or Education, Health and Care Plan) and the Skills Funding Agency (students over the age of 19).
Learning providers will also be aware that all awarding bodies2 now have to offer an accessible digital version of formal exams.
What is reasonable?
Our learner-focused guide ‘reasonable expectations’ outlines what accessibility and assistive technology support a learner can reasonably to expect to be available in post-16 providers.
Use policies to establish and reinforce accessibility and inclusion
As organisations seek to enhance the digital student experience it is vital that accessibility is at the forefront of planning, procurement, training and delivery. Joining up policy to practice is perhaps the most significant way of ensuring that technology is routinely considered as one way of making a sustainable difference.
Amplify accessibility benefits
Policy decisions that ignore accessibility are bad for disabled learners and also potentially create negative impacts for many more learners and the whole organisation, including substantial legal risks. Conversely, policies that embed accessibility offer benefits far beyond their target audience as the table below shows:
Sample accessibility policy
Impacts on practice
Infrastructure: The virtual learning environment has been designed to meet high accessibility standards and in consultation with disabled users.
Disabled learners can access course materials quickly and independently.
Navigation will be simpler for all users. The VLE is more likely to work on mobile devices.
Training and quality assurance: Tutor-created content follows basic accessibility requirements such as heading styles, image description (Word); use of Notes field (PowerPoint). Podcasts and videos have transcripts, subtitles or key point summaries as appropriate.
Print impaired learners can rapidly access key information. All learners able to get instant overview of key ideas (via Navigation pane) or support in image interpretation. Documents can be exported to mind maps; presentations can be exported to annotated Word documents. All learners benefit from text summaries of multimedia.
Teaching resources: commercial –
accessibility is a key criterion in selecting reading lists and licensing e-book platforms.
Disabled learners have increased self-sufficiency. All learners get improved personalisation options (fonts, colours, navigation, text to speech). Increased chance of mobile/tablet compatibility.
Reduced costs for alternative formats.
Teaching resources: institutionally created – accessibility is a key criterion for content creation tools used by teaching staff or content developers.
Disabled learners have independent access. All learners have options for personalisation.
1 "Anyone with a visual impairment, dyslexia, aphasia, colour blindness, poor literacy skills, those for whom written English is not their first language or anyone who has difficulty with the mechanics of reading and interpreting the message" - taken from interview with E.A. Draffan. Source: http://www.yourdolphin.com/dolphin.asp?id=85
2 Awarding bodies are organisations that develop and award qualifications to meet the needs of learners,employers and other stakeholders
Inclusive digital experience: make a difference in your organisation
Using digital technologies to deliver an inclusive student experience is one aspect of digital entitlement that has been found to have a positive impact on all learners.
Some suggestions for how you might take this work forward include:
Promote accessible resources to all students, on the benefits to all, rather than the accessibility benefits alone
Design for all – ensure staff have the knowledge and skills to design inclusive learning experiences by using our accessibility guides
Introduce digital issues to curriculum design and review processes
Involve disabled people in planning and testing new systems, resource types or teaching and learning approaches
Easy and secure access to institutional networks and wireless local area networks (wifi) are generally available at most institutions although these do not always work as seamlessly as students would like.
FE digital student research revealed that some learners who are skilled and enthusiastic in their use of technology found their college environments restrictive and not representatives of the industries they were preparing to work in.
Institutions should endeavour to provide these free of charge and with sufficient bandwidth and coverage to extend to all areas of the campus and halls of residence.
Case study - East Berkshire College
East Berkshire College rolled out Microsoft Lync 2013 Unified Communication™ system during the 2014-15 academic year. The unified communication system has improved the student experience by providing a single tool that is capable of supporting a range of learning activities and has enhanced opportunities for online learning from home or any location in the world.
The common use of online platforms as a means of making information and resources more widely available means that free wifi is considered a basic entitlement by many students1. The growth in use of tablet computers, mobile phones and other portable and personal technologies requires institutions to make their systems and content accessible to a wider variety of devices.
Institutions are legally obliged to ensure their IT infrastructures are accessible and support the use of assistive technologies.
Many disabled learners use the built-in assistive technologies in their phones and tablet devices to access course content therefore good wifi provision may be a way of improving disability support while simultaneously reducing the need for additional assistive hardware or software.
Single sign-on and federated access
Students find it frustrating to have to log-on separately to different systems like virtual learning environments (VLEs), library systems, online resource and data sets etc. You might like this short introductory animation.
Implementing mobile learning
Our detailed guide on mobile learning provides a practical guide to implementing mobile learning.
Create flexible spaces for collaborative learning
Despite the rise in students bringing their own devices they still like to feel that everything they need to succeed will be provided by the institution. This includes infrastructure (fixed computers and printers), access to online and off-line learning resources and an environment where staff and students can work both individually and collaboratively.
Our detailed guide on learning spaces offers guidance and examples on how others are addressing this issue.
More than 80% of the classrooms are to have high-end mobile devices and the college now has 450 of these devices and over than 100 iPad tablets available for use. All curriculum areas and learning resource centres are to have intelligent self-service lockers equipped with mobile technologies to encourage users to make the most of mobile technologies, provide ease of access and promote independent learning. In addition, all curriculum staff desktop computers are also to be replaced with high specification mobile devices.
An integrated digital estates strategy is needed to ensure the spaces, services and resources that are available to students provide the digital capacity they need and expect. The digital estate includes learning and social spaces, flexible configurations and furnishings, robust wifi, sockets, plug-and-play screens to facilitate collaborative working and secure storage for personal devices.
Case study - Coventry University
Coventry University has launched a Disruptive Media Learning Lab to provide a flexible and creative space which enables students and staff with a broad range of skills and roles to work together to test and refine new approaches to using digital media in education.
The Lab draws on existing areas of expertise and research such as gaming logics, virtual worlds and open media. Funding and support is available for selected projects.
Blackburn College has invested heavily in technology and staff training to remain at the forefront of innovative education. Their Innovation Lab (iLab) and (iStore) provides a flexible learning environment specifically designed to support staff to develop and practise their skills and to increase the range and availability of learning technologies available to staff.
The iLab has nine zones facilitating different uses of a range of technologies in nine different environments. In addition, the iStore enables staff to trial and showcase their resources in a safe and supportive environment.
The blended learning centre at Lewisham Southwark College is available to students and staff to drop in to use a mix of technologies.
Students are able to use Macs, PCs, Chromebooks and iPads including a range of over 100 apps to suit their needs. Students attend 3D workshops where they use various apps like Thingiverse and PrintShop as they develop skills in searching databases, edit templates and manipulate 3D objects in a 3D digital environment.
All the workshops are mapped to functional skills English, maths and ICT from entry level to level 2.
The iZone at was launched in November 2013 to enhance the digital experience of further education students at Redbridge College.
The iZone is a flexible learning area equipped with mobile and interactive technologies including: iPads, Surface RTs, Apple TVs, SMARTBoard, large interactive touchscreen TVs and interactive PCs.
Learners and staff members in the college can book learning suites and devices in the iZone - all of which are fully supported by the college’s e-learning team and a technician based within the centre.
Students and staff can also ask for advice on how to use technology to improve their existing teaching and learning practices.
Recognise the importance of personal digital practices
“Each digital ambassador came from a different subject discipline, used different tools and had individual preferences as to how they used those tools. This meant that we were able to cater for the needs of students from a variety of faculties and every student went away from the workshops with something of relevance to them.” Helen Long’a Tongu, Student, London Metropolitan University
The distinction between academic use of technology and social use is blurred – many students use personal networks and social media to support their learning as well as a broad range of apps and software, much of which will not necessarily be provided or supported by the institution.
Offer core and extended services
One approach is the onion or layered approach adopted by Manchester Metropolitan University whereby core services are identified that will be made available to all students with appropriate support and further outer layers are wrapped-around the core offer, providing or highlighting other technologies that may be available with varying levels of support.
Explore open and disaggregated options
Students operate in an open environment where a significant quantity of information is easily available. Facilitating access to this content and data can provide variety in learning, support innovation and help to build and maintain partnerships.
Maximise use of resources
Signposting quality resources and developing digital literacy skills will ensure students and staff can analyse the quality of resources for themselves and are aware of protocols governing copyright, intellectual property and acceptable use. In turn, this will build confidence in using and sharing open resources as well as creating new resources where lack of appropriate resources is an issue.
Case study - Furness College
The Performing Engineering Operations qualification is a core element in most engineering courses for which there is currently no specific or freely available digital content.
At Furness College staff are collaborating with BAE Systems to co-develop an interactive learning package to support the delivery of the qualification.
Consider incorporating external services such as use of personal cloud storage, social bookmarking, social media, blogs and wikis as part of an expanded digital learning environment.
Our shared data centre aims to provide a cost-effective solution for UK research and education through the co-location of systems and services.
Case study - City of Liverpool College
The City of Liverpool College is taking some radical steps to transform their digital environment, their services and business processes.
At the heart of this is a desire to bridge the digital skills gap between college leavers and the expectations of employers. The college is now a Microsoft Academy with a Microsoft Showcase Classroom based in the centre of Liverpool.
With the introduction of a greater variety of technologies and the desire to encourage students to bring their own devices the college identified a need to improve the speed and resilience of digital services and has become the first college to sign up to Jisc’s shared data centre for education and research.
City of Liverpool College will use the data centre to launch a new shared service for accelerated transformation of FE organisations, called SharEd which offers a portfolio of services including HR, facilities, finance, IT and management information systems, as well as professional services and consulting.
Plymouth University has replaced a module-focused VLE with a dynamic Digital Learning Environment (DLE) that allows content to be created, managed and used by staff and students more flexibly across programmes of study. The DLE provides integrated access to teaching and learning resources, ePortfolios, reading lists and video support. The new environment allows students to use their own preferred devices and services and to access university services seamlessly from a single point of entry.
The digital opportunities you afford your students are part of your overall learning offer. Students may not realise the full extent of the resources and facilities you offer or be able to distinguish services paid for by the institution from those freely available in the public domain.
Apply institutional branding
Similarly, they may not know when they are in a closed or institutional space or when they are crossing boundaries into more open spaces. Consider applying an institutional brand or identity to build student loyalty and make sure that students realise the full extent of the digital offer provided by your institution, including any outsourced services and support.
Moving from ‘walled gardens’ to public domains
In the early stages of study students need opportunities to practice in secure and closed spaces where perceived failure carries a low risk. As they progress through their learning they need access to more open spaces and to learn how to manage their academic and professional identities. Providing semi-permeable boundaries that provide a ‘walled garden’ with pathways out to more public spaces can support this transitional process.
Case study - Calderdale College
At Calderdale College the social learning network Edmodo is used to support students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities to engage with social media.
Edmodo offers a closed and therefore more secure network than other social media applications. Staff and students can use a wide variety of tools within Edmodo to participate in activities such as quizzes, note-sharing, assignment management and the sharing of resources with each other.
The portal combines a VLE, conferencing software, an ePortfolio, and use of Googledocs™ to enhance opportunities for collaborative learning, sharing, reflection and feedback. A streaming media system provides further functionality and supports the creating and re-use of video resources as learning assets. Students can meet others in a safe and supportive environment as part of their preparation for studying in either country, developing and evidencing their linguistic skills alongside their digital skills.
Reprofile IT support services to ensure a flexible user-centred approach
Robust technical systems are a given but alongside this there must be support for users (students and staff) that focus on developing their digital capabilities, including use of personal and mobile devices.
This is especially important given that our FE digital student research revealed that learners are strongly dependent on the confidence and capabilities of their teachers when using technology and the recommendation that staff and students should be supported to use digital technologies in more innovative ways.
The technologies, services and support options should be clearly signposted to all users and comprehensively referenced in induction sessions and at key points throughout programmes of learning. Similar support should also be made available to support all those engaged in curriculum redesign.
Case study - Redbridge College
Learners and staff members in the college can book learning suites and devices in the iZone at Redbridge College – all of which are fully supported by the college’s e-learning team and a technician based within the centre. Students and staff can also ask for advice on how to use technology to improve their existing teaching and learning practices.
The blended learning centre at Lewisham and Southwark College provides a flexible space where students and staff can drop-in and use a mix of technologies, attend workshops on innovative technologies and develop approaches to collaborative learning.
Invite all stakeholders and user groups including disabled students and the Students' Union, to play an active role in making decisions on developing the digital environment to establish a user-centred approach.
Offer a range of different opportunities to engage these stakeholders including encouraging and consulting with informal user groups and special interest groups (SIG) that may be trying out particular technologies.
Help users to access and work with personal data
So much data is collected but it only has any real value when it is analysed, interpreted and used to inform practice and performance. Student dashboard systems that draw on institutional data sets and learner analytics can help students to manage their academic progress and learning experience.
Case study - Kingston College
Tutors at Kingston College are using a free screen casting app called Jing to provide responsive audio feedback to students on their progress and performance. Jing enables users to capture videos and images on screen and record feedback on a range of assignment formats.
The flexibility of the software means that it can be used to provide feedback on practical activities, written as well as graphical work and to provide commentary to support student use and understanding of their personal performance data.
Systems need to provide customised data and services tailored to the needs of individuals rather than to push generic data and information sets to large groups. Students appreciate being able to personalise the notifications they receive via the devices and services they choose.
Following recommendations from phase one and two of the digital student project, Jisc is exploring the development of a prototype service to support the collection and analysis of data on student expectations, experiences, attitudes and satisfaction with digital technologies in their studies in UK higher and further education.
Further information on Jisc’s exploration of a prototype digital student data service to support the collection and analysis of data on student expectations is available on the digital student blog.
Case study - Manchester Metropolitan University
At Manchester Metropolitan University students have access to their course information and other resources relevant to their studies via ‘MyMMU’ a single-click service available from web platforms and mobile devices.
Provide clarity, consistency and equality of access
Different courses require different technologies and approaches but students will quickly become aware of any variances in provision or lack of parity in resourcing. Ensure students can see that there is a rational approach to procurement and make the reasons for any differences clear.
A level playing field
Although some institutions are providing students with personal tablets to create a level playing field there are many ways to tackle issues of equality of access, ease of curriculum development and the development of digital literacy skills which do not require significant investment, for example: providing materials online, out-of-hours access, specific resource rooms and even materials on a USB drive Consider what flexible provision and support can be made available and how this can be tailored to meet individual requirements.
Case study - University of Leeds
All postgraduate students at the University of Leeds University Business School receive an iPad™ to provide an authentic business environment and to focus support around a common device.
Distance learners studying Exercise and Sports Science at Manchester Metropolitan University are issued with iPads™ at induction and course materials are now authored using iBooksAuthor and downloaded directly to students’ iPads.
This helps to meet the needs of learners who are struggling to fit learning in around their busy lives, minimise inequality of access and support cohort learning.
All new students at Portsmouth College will be provided with an Apple iPad device for the whole of their period of study. Students will need their iPads in college everyday but will keep their ‘anywhere, anytime’ device for independent learning and personal use.
The iPads will be returned to the college when a student leaves.
Case study - Prospects College of Advanced Technology
Prospects College of Advanced Technology acknowledge that providing an inclusive digital experience for all students is a key challenge and include assistive technology and a range of digital tools within their service provision.
The format of learning and assessment resources has widened to provide flexible learning opportunities for all, incorporating audio, video, images, text to speech and the use of games. The college has a trolley of laptops available for students and staff to book for use in class. Learning resource centres are available at all campuses for students to have access to computing facilities for self-study.
Robust digital environment: make a difference in your organisation
Delivering a robust and flexible digital environment is complex and requires skilled participation from multiple stakeholders including students, academic staff, professional services and estates teams – a whole institution approach.
Some suggestions for how you might take this work forward include:
Consult stakeholders including students – find out what works well and what frustrates them when using institutional systems and involve them in designing and testing solutions
Strengthen affinity with students by promoting the digital resources and services you offer to your students
Create flexible places for learning and collaborative learning
Adopt a user-centred approach that focuses on supporting people rather than systems
Explore how learner analytics could be used to benefit your learners and inform future developments and be aware of the code of practice for learning analytics, which sets out the responsibilities of educational institutions to ensure that learning analytics is carried out responsibly, appropriately and effectively.
Further resources for delivering a robust digital environment
Engage in dialogue with students about their digital experience and empower them to develop their digital environment
“The principle of student-staff collaboration is really important. Technology is dynamic and changing all the time causing shifts in culture. Identifying what these shifts are and how we should respond can only be done with both parties working together.” Helen Long’a Tongu, student, London Metropolitan University
Engage in collaborative dialogue
In recent years the focus has moved away from listening to students’ views to engaging in meaningful and collaborative dialogue and partnership initiatives to identify what helps or hinders learning. The UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey reports that 30% of respondents are working with students as change agents with another 46% of respondents ‘working towards’ this.
Surveys provide vital information but over-use can lead to ‘survey fatigue’ and the tendency is to ask the questions and prioritise the issues that the institution thinks are important which may differ from those identified by students.
A combination of surveys, statistical data and collaborative exploration, perhaps using our evaluating digital services: a visitors and residents approach mapping process, will provide a richer discourse and lead to deeper understanding for all and potentially the co-design of new solutions to jointly identified problems. It is vital that such feedback is acted upon and that students continue to be actively engaged throughout the development and implementation process.
The data is used by the university’s learning and teaching committee to shape strategic responses such as improving access to information and content via mobile devices and installing lecture capture in all teaching rooms.
Pembrokeshire College uses a digital tool and methodology called VocalEyes Digital Democracy to improve learner involvement and satisfaction. VocalEyes supports democratic decision-making for any given community in a way that is transparent and engaging.
VocalEyes uses a crowd-sourcing approach that enables students to suggest ideas through the online system which are then debated and rated by their peers online, before being analysed and presented to the senior management team at the college through learner voice representatives. Feasible ideas are then put into action and the college community is kept informed of actions taken and sometimes, the reasons why ideas are not taken forward.
There is no such thing as ‘a typical student’. Rather, there will be a multiplicity of different and distinct user groups with different needs, experiences, backgrounds and aspirations who are managing sometimes complex work, social and personal commitments and adopting varying modes of study. Effective use of technology can enhance the learning experience by, for example, providing additional channels of support or opening up enriched opportunities for learning and communicating for those who may otherwise find it difficult to participate.
Personal and contextualised learning
The challenge is for institutions to create an inclusive environment where students feel that their personal learning experience is important, that their learning needs will be met and that they will be both supported and challenged as they prepare for future work and study. In a digital society, making innovative and appropriate use of technology is an essential part of that preparation, contextualised according to the subject or discipline studied.
Students who feel an affinity with their learning institutions and who feel the institution cares about their experience are more likely to succeed, to maintain good relationships beyond their initial study and contribute through alumni activities.
Advantages of joint enterprise
The fast pace of change is often cited as a barrier in terms of staff keeping abreast of technological developments and yet feedback from students tells us that they are less concerned at what equipment is used and more concerned that it is used appropriately, purposefully and competently with clear benefits for the learning experience (Beetham, H and White, D (2013), students’ expectations and experiences of the digital environment, Jisc).
The perception that students are more confident in using technology than staff is too simplistic and an over-generalisation. Both groups have different skills sets and expertise to contribute and it may be more appropriate to think about internet users as having ‘visitor’ or ‘resident’ motivations (A Le Cornu, D White).
Unitu recognises the pressure that institutions are under to deliver a high quality student experience and has developed an online system that overcomes failures in traditional feedback processes, facilitates collaboration between staff and students and helps to resolve issues quickly and efficiently. The system also provides data showing how issues are raised and resolved, enabling more informed decision-making. The project is being developed by students from four UK universities and is funded through the Jisc Summer of student innovation project.
What is clear is that where students and staff work together to combine their skills and expertise the individual and collective learning, progress and outputs resulting from collaborative partnerships can far exceed expectations.
Case study - University of Southampton
iChamps at the University of Southampton work alongside staff partners in academic units and faculties across the university to identify and develop digital initiatives according to the needs of academic teams and the interests of students. iChamps are extending their reach and embedding the work of the iChamps network by linking digital developments with other student-led initiatives such as placements, employability and student engagement.
Students and staff at The University of Reading combined their digital and academic skills to develop ‘KiteSite’ a free mobile app for recording biological species that is openly available and useful for research and public outreach, as well as in research-led learning.
The DigiDesk initiative at Barnet and Southgate College provides first-line support for both students and staff with their digital literacy or ‘e-basics’ needs and technical queries.
It is staffed by volunteer DigiDesk advisors, typically level 3 students with good interpersonal and IT skills with an interest in careers in computing, IT, animation and training.
It is run as a professional IT helpdesk located within the learning resource centre at the wood street campus and is open daily between the hours of 9:00 and 17:00 and unofficially, one late evening until 19:00 to accommodate part-time students.
DigiPals are students at Blackburn College who champion the use of e-learning and encourage peer engagement with technology to enhance learning. DigiPals is one of a range of initiatives led by the college’s blended learning team, designed to create a culture shift across the college by embedding technology in student and staff practice. Typical examples of the types of activities that DigiPals engage in include:
Showing their peers and staff how to use different technologies in a learning context.
Taking part in training sessions, roadshows and promotions
Creating instructional videos and guides
Working with the blended learning team to provide feedback and to inform and influence the technology vision and strategy
Two initiatives at Leeds City College are helping to build a powerful student-staff partnership and empower the student community:
A team of students act as digital leaders and work alongside staff faculty technology champions known as learning leaders. Together, they mentor students and staff to enhance learning in their own curriculum areas and to resolve practical issues like helping students learning English for Students of Other Languages (ESOL) to overcome language barriers when logging on to the college network or creating new email accounts.
After learning of the digital leaders programme, student officers from Leeds City College Students’ Union commissioned students to investigate ways that the union could improve its development with the use of technological systems. The union is now leading the way in use of technology to support collaboration across multiple campuses by modelling use of cloud computing and productivity tools like Google Apps to communicate, run meetings and work together.
Institutions that are fully committed to collaboration will adequately resource initiatives (including any training and support needed) and identify opportunities to recognise and reward student and staff achievements both digital and otherwise.
Different models of recognition and reward are offered by different institutions. Recognition may take the form of open badges, accreditation, graduate awards, paid internships, or payment in kind.
Blackburn College rewards DigiPals with both badges and also offers a small number of student scholarship bursaries and Prospects College of Advanced Technology is recruiting a team of student digital learning ambassadors who will receive scholarship funding. The DigiDesk service at Barnet and Southgate College is staffed by volunteers who benefit from training, work experience and support to ensure their skills and experience are reflected in UCAS statements or by providing references to potential employers.
Case study - University of Bath
At The University of Bath the Professionalism in the Digital Environment (PRiDE) project recognises and rewards the digital literacy skills developed by staff and students through the Bath Award and by ensuring that appropriate links are made to employability and professional frameworks such as the UK Professional Standards Framework and the Researcher Development Framework.
Case study - Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA)
A new Institutional Change Leader Award has been developed by the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) working in partnership with Jisc. This accredited programme supports staff and students working in partnership on curriculum innovation projects in UK further education and skills and higher education. Offering professional recognition for staff and students, the pilot course has been designed to develop confidence and a range of professional and personal skills as well as to provide opportunities for networking, peer support and collaboration.
Students’ digital environment development: make a difference in your organisation
Wherever you start or whatever progress you have already made engagement is a continually evolving cultural process and there will always be new opportunities emerging to develop the digital student experience.
Some suggestions for how you might take this work forward include:
Capture and analyse what students say they want and do and compare this with what they actually do
Take care not to treat students as one homogenous group and to recognise subject or discipline differences and needs
Recognise also that there may be movement or transiency in terms of individual student engagement with changing commitments and academic pressures. The structure of the academic year means there may be times when students are easily able to participate and times when this is more difficult – plan for these from the outset
Use the TSEP principles of engagement to develop and promote initiatives that model collaboration between staff and students (user need aspects as well as curriculum, employability and digital literacy development initiatives)
Use the Viewpoints toolkit comprising effective practice points, prompt questions, top tips, workshop and planning activities as well as links to sector resources to help you develop a student-staff partnership model suited to your particular needs and your institutional culture.
Watch the FASTECH video case study – showing how students at the University of Winchester and Bath Spa University are working in partnership with staff to transform the assessment and feedback landscape
Empower and reward students by ensuring their successes are recognised and promoted
Further resources for students’ digital environment development
Join the change agent’s network (CAN) – a network of staff and students working in partnership to support curriculum enhancement and innovation.
“Student focus groups are an integral part of our system design processes – our systems have to work across all campuses and students need to be able to access resources from anywhere via their phones and mobile devices.
We consult students on aspects such as layout and appearance and aim to present things in a user-friendly way for both students and staff.” Michael Malone, director of curriculum, South Eastern Regional College (SERC)
Defining ‘bring your own’ (BYO)
‘Bring your own’ is the term used to describe the use of personal devices, services, data, apps and software in institutional settings. Many institutions manage this through a policy or set of policies.
Investigate the needs of BYO users
BYO use introduces a tension between the institutional need to gather and manage data in closed digital systems and the desire by students and staff to use systems outside the control of the institution and push against restrictions that impact on preferred ways of working.
Further tensions exist when implementing BYO in safeguarding the security of institutional systems, data protection and other legal responsibilities.
Case study - Plymouth University
At the Plymouth University students were took part in a survey and focus groups to ascertain the types of devices and their use of mobile technologies as well as to identify any difficulties they had in getting the information they need via their mobile devices. The information was used to inform the university’s digital strategy and in the development of the Mobile at Plymouth app.
When developing your BYO policy assess the needs of the institution and different stakeholder groups as well as taking account of issues relating to accessibility and inclusion. Consider the academic practices that students and staff will benefit from and the devices and apps they prefer to use.
Case study - University of Bristol
At the University of Bristol the student IT experience manager acts as an advocate for student users of IT services and facilities. BYO policies and practices have been developed in response to student feedback and the rise in ownership of laptop and tablet devices.
Wifi enhancements have been made for heavily used areas and support has been re-oriented to provide free support for use of personal devices, services and software.
Users may still expect institutions to provide all the equipment, services and systems that they feel they need to succeed alongside their own technologies. Make it clear to users what is provided by the institution, how they can access institutional systems and services and use their own technologies. Ensure they are aware of relevant policies and understand their responsibilities as users.
Encourage BYO use by ensuring access to networks and power is universally available, that users can easily connect their devices to the internet while on campus and are able to access personal services via institutional networks. Secure storage for BYO device is also desirable.
Case study - Prospects College of Advanced Technology
The college are installing Meraki wireless access points and setting up a BYOD network. Students will be able to bring their own device and use the college network to access the VLE as well as other learning resources and documents stored on the cloud. Students who do not have their own device will be able to book the use of a laptop or use machines within the learning resource zones based at each campus.
The BYOD policy is summarised in poster format around the college. Students wishing to use their own devices must first download software, so that college policies on internet safety and anti-virus can be followed. Download speeds will be controlled, to protect network performance.
The work is being informed by a working group comprising representatives from IT, senior management and teaching staff and with input from students through the digital student focus groups.
Use of BYO should feature in induction training, be embedded in academic and professional practices and be further developed by a range of support options designed to extend digital literacy skills and personal digital capabilities. Support may include on-demand guidance, drop-in workshops, designated champions or peer mentors and support for expert or special interest groups.
Case study - Barnet and Southgate College
DigiDesk advisers at Barnet and Southgate College provide support for students and staff to access the college wireless network and a range of other digital literacy skills through the support desk, drop-in workshops and scheduled training sessions.
The course provides support for students and staff to use their own devices in learning and teaching situations and models the use of social media and open online spaces to work on problems and scenarios in five areas of practice: connecting, communicating, curating, collaborating and creating (5Cs model, Nerantzi and Beckingham, 2014). BYOD4L is an open course that works online and in blended mode.
Certainly, those without their own technologies or the skills to use them will be at a disadvantage if they do not have parity of access. You may wish to consider loan or support schemes to address this concern and provide a level playing field for students and for those involved in designing and delivering digital activities.
Case study - East Berkshire College
In addition to providing a high number of mobile devices for use by students and staff, East Berkshire College has upgraded the wifi network to Cisco Gigabit wireless network technology to ensure there is sufficient capacity to service the bandwidth these devices require and the expected increase in use of bring your own and college-provided devices.
The legitimate use of wireless connections is encouraged by enabling automated log on for validated devices to the network. Parity of access is addressed by installing over 270 Traka intelligent self-service lockers in seven locations across both campuses.
Each locker contains either a Microsoft surface pro 3 device or an iPad.
Chichester College actively encourage students and staff to bring their own devices. The college includes managing mobile devices in their staff training on behaviour management, induction and teacher training.
To ensure everyone has access to mobile devices they have resourced the library with mini-laptops that may be borrowed at any time.
Growing student numbers and the demand for flexible spaces to accommodate varied approaches to learning has placed increase pressure on estates provision.
BYO can help to ease the pressure but has specific requirements and may require a range of different services and spaces to support formal, informal, individual, social and collaborative learning and the opportunity to use own technologies alongside those provided by the institution.
‘Bring your own’ policies: make a difference in your organisation
Balancing institutional needs with personalised ways of working requires IT services, estates services and academic staff to work together to design robust, appropriate and inclusive solutions. Users will need to be aware of their responsibilities and will require differentiated support.
Some suggestions for how you might take this work forward include:
Analyse institutional and user needs, academic practices and estates requirements.
Provide clearly signposted guidance and differentiated support to suit different stakeholder groups.
Co-develop institutional policies with students.
Further resources for ‘bring your own’ policies development
Support students and staff to work successfully with digital technologies
“The student experience is inherently digital. It is up to us whether we play an active role in shaping that experience or not.
As educators we can support positive digital practices - those critical, thoughtful, professional and scholarly uses of technology that we know give learners the best chance of success.
Or we can leave them to their own devices, which I believe has many risks for their learning and for our relevance as educators in the modern world.” Helen Beetham, consultant in higher education
Use digital technologies to establish online relationships
For many students the relationship with an institution begins online – the quality of information and the experience during initial investigations and the responses to any queries will make an impression. Increasingly institutions are reaching out to prospective students to offer preparatory and open study modules to establish relationships before formal study commences; to maintain interest and facilitate independent learning; to introduce key topics; or perhaps to support widening participation.
This blended learning course supported students with written English and helped them to make the transition into academic study as well as to develop digital literacy skills. The collaborative and reflective approach used a range of digital technologies and developed valuable academic practices.
Online relationships can build commitment and affiliation with the institution, help to develop a sense of community and provide valuable transitional support.
Many institutions already offer programmes to help learners make the adjustment from study at school to further or higher education and with comparatively little effort these resources could be adapted to suit a wider audience.
Case study - Southampton Solent University
The learning technologies team at Southampton Solent University has been collecting interviews from students describing successful study skills advice and strategies for blended and distance learning. Some of these have been re-purposed as support materials for other students which are available via text, video or audio.
Offering a pre-induction online community will help students get to know each other.
Providing virtual campus tours and self-diagnostic quizzes can help students prepare for higher study.
Giving guidance on recommended devices, the software and services students can expect to use during their course of study and explaining how technology will be used in the curriculum will provide clarity and establish the expectation that digital activities will feature in the overall learning experience.
Building digital identities and professional profiles
Showing students how to develop a positive public digital identity will help to establish safe and ethical working practices and build confidence. Establishing use of an e-portfolio or other means of recognising and promoting achievement, and where appropriate publishing work as a digital or live Curriculum Vitae, from the outset will also help to establish a professional profile.
Treat the signing-on to your institutional systems as the foundation block that will support students throughout their whole learning experience with you and consider rewarding their progress in doing so with badges, credits or some other recognition.
To achieve the award students complete four activities amounting to approximately 30 hours of study including a workshop, self-assessment activities and support to develop customised to meet their digital literacies development needs.
First year students studying BA Health and Social Care at Nottingham Trent University complete a year-long digital skills module which starts pre-induction with an online survey to assess levels of confidence. Throughout the year students undertake a variety of authentic digital tasks which vary according to student needs and aspirations.
The ‘Get the Edge’ campaign at South Eastern Regional College challenges students to participate in enterprise and entrepreneurship events through a formalised careers programme. The programme is designed to increase the enterprise skills of students and generate employment opportunities by working with industry and creating entrepreneurs through student companies.
During induction week students complete an employability module, which enables them to develop their digital literacy skills from the outset of their course, as they work collaboratively, completing weblogs evidencing their problem solving skills.
Materials were available online and used a range of blended learning approaches.
The 2014 UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey identifies the importance of staff digital capabilities as a positive influence on students highlighting the need for staff who are confident and proficient in using technology and designing appropriate digital activities.
Threading the use of digital technologies throughout the whole learning experience from pre-entry to induction, to specialised and contextualised use and emerging professional practice will help students become familiar with common workplace practices and embed technology more naturally within personal practice.
“Students and lecturers need to develop digital literacy skills in order to enhance the academic experience.” Helen Long’a Tongu, Student, London Metropolitan University
These include flipped induction (where the training is provided online prior to meeting staff face to face), online learning modules through the learning engine portal, ILT pedagogy mentoring programme, Moodle Monday (online webinars, every Monday, focussed on developing blended learning skills of teaching staff), webinar Wednesdays (‘live’ recorded webinars, each Wednesday, where staff share good practice and social learning via Yammer), which provides ‘just in time’ training.
The importance of this modelling approach has helped develop the digital capabilities of staff, impacting positively on the digital learning experience of students.
Pave the way for new practices
Embedding use of technology throughout the learning journey will help to develop sustainable and robust habits as well as transferable skills. Potentially it will move practice away from a check-list approach of ‘things I can do’ and pave the way for new practices, new uses and a forward looking and adaptable approach capable of accommodating new and emerging technologies.
Reinforce the importance of this embedded approach and reflect the potential of technology to have a positive impact on the whole student experience by referencing appropriate use of technology in all relevant institutional strategies. This is likely to include strategies such as: teaching, learning and assessment; libraries and learning resources; data management; and communications and estates.
The traditional approach to skills development by training staff and students separately is a model that is at odds with the fast pace of change and can result in delays in implementing new technologies and new approaches.
A more agile approach where staff and students are supported to work in partnership may be more effective. This might help to overcome difficulties of identifying separate time, resources and offer a more responsive approach.
Case study - Gateshead Council
An established partnership of seven authorities in the north-east are working together to develop and recognise digital literacy skills for 200 staff who will be supported by a team of digital champions.
Both staff and champions will work through the NETSPass online programme, learning how to develop and curate high-quality and effective digital learning resources. The accredited course will use open badges to recognise the achievements of those taking part in the project.
Lewisham Southgate College have developed an online course called ‘blending in’ that is aimed at teachers to help them to develop blended learning opportunities for their students.
This short course introduces staff to the concept of blended learning and is supported by a staff development programme showing them how to use some of the e-learning tools mentioned/used within the course.
“This course gave me a real insight in to both blended learning and the flipped classroom. It has given me a lot to think about – not to mention implement in the forthcoming months” Feedback from teacher
Being Digital: Skills For Life Online is an award-winning interactive resource developed by the Open University comprising a set of 40 distinct digital activities organised into four themes - finding information, using information, creating information, and workplace skills.
Each activity takes no more than 10 minutes to complete and users can browse for activities that meet their immediate needs or follow one of several 'pathways'.
The resources have been used extensively by a range of students from sixth form to doctorate programmes as well as staff.
There will still be a need to provide focused and differentiated support, training and guidance for staff as well as for students.
Simple approaches like establishing minimum expectations setting out what staff should reasonably be expected to do will guide staff and provide a base level from which customised practice can develop (eg create resources in digital formats, upload resources to institutional learning platforms and adhere to basic accessibility practices).
We have therefore revised the model and framework to show six elements of digital capability, combining ‘information literacy’ with ‘media literacy’ as a result of feedback that suggested users had difficulty distinguishing between the two. Helen Beetham provides further information on the rationale for the revised model on the digital capability blog.
These six elements of: ICT proficiency; information, data and media literacies; digital creation, innovation and scholarship; communication, collaboration and participation; digital learning and self-development; and digital identity and well-being provide opportunities for the contextualised development of personal and professional digital literacy skills.
They recommend that institutions are supported to harness the potential or emerging practices to provide a broad portfolio of opportunities to motivate and reward students and staff positively.
“Is our model of tailored staff training and mentoring support affordable? We can’t afford not to do it! You have to get the fundamentals right.
When you consider the positive impact on student lives that a positive learning experience makes, then the cost is minimal - all it takes is for one student to be retained on a programme to recoup the cost of the staff mentoring process.” Michael Malone, director of curriculum and Paula Philpott, ILT pedagogy mentor co-ordinator, South Eastern Regional College (SERC)
The contractual aspects of the relationship between students and institutions should be clear but should not dominate digital spaces. Policies such as acceptable use, use of own devices and others should be clearly expressed and readily available along with essential information such as access and response times to faults or queries, what support students can expect and how they can access this.
Provide meaningful and personal data
Do your students know how well they are doing? In an environment where greater learner independence is encouraged it makes sense to allow them greater access to their own data so they can better monitor and manage their progress.
The Open University is piloting machine-learning based methods for early identification of students at risk of failing. OU Analyse compiles a list of such students and communicates this each week to the module and student support teams to help them consider appropriate support. The overall objective is to significantly improve the retention of students.
Allow students to personalise the digital spaces and services they use perhaps including photographs, favourites, friends and followers on their personal dashboard.
Digital technologies support: make a difference in your organisation
Inspiration and examples of effective support for students and staff are abundant in the sector but the challenge seems to be in identifying sufficient variety of opportunities to suit the culture of individual organisations.
Creating a framework in which differentiated and contextualised support can sit requires a holistic approach.
Some suggestions for how you might take this work forward include:
Review your pre-induction information and offer to consider how welcoming and supportive it is in preparing students for study at your institution
Analyse the support material that you already have including existing induction materials - can any of this be repurposed and adapted for wider use?
Make the relationship personal and allow students to personalise the digital spaces they use
Establish differentiated minimum skills and knowledge levels for staff and students and be clear about digital expectations and the role of technology in learning and teaching
Provide a variety of support options for staff and students – there will naturally be some overlap and where this occurs seek to develop collaborative options that allow both parties to co-design and co-develop
Develop contextualised solutions and options that allow personalisation in terms of learning goals and ambitions
Plan holistically and include all those involved in the learning experience. Embed technological interventions and activities in all institutional strategies
Be creative in the way that you reward and incentivise the achievements of both staff and students
Further resources for supporting staff and students with digital technologies
Change agents’ network
Join the change agent’s network – a network of staff and students working in partnership to support curriculum enhancement and innovation.
Take a strategic approach to developing the student digital experience
“Meeting the digital needs and expectations of students can feel like an overwhelming challenge – identifying quick wins and next steps can turn indecisive conversations into motivating actions” Rebecca McCready, learning and teaching adviser, Newcastle University and Member of UCISA user skills group
Demonstrate visible leadership
Enhancing the digital student experience involves the collaboration of many roles and stakeholders including students, schools, departments, curriculum teams and supporting services. For maximum impact a senior member of staff with broad influence will assume overall ownership and responsibility for driving the digital vision forward and developing and realising the digital identity of the institution. This leadership will be clearly communicated and publicly upheld.
Oxford Brookes University has developed an open access version of their online course developing leaders for a digital age aimed at FE leaders and decision makers with responsibility for the learning experience, the curriculum and the digital learning environment.
Governance is an aspect of leadership that is important to FE. Several FE colleges are working on initiatives to ensure college governors are supported to contribute to digital leadership and to make effective decisions on digital strategies.
Case study - Plumpton College
Plumpton College is leading a consortium of 12 colleges in Sussex with the aim of facilitating the introduction and management of learning technology through a two-strand approach.
One strand supports governors, leaders and managers to make cost-effective and strategic decisions when investing in learning technologies, the other supports teaching, learning and assessment.
The aims of the project is to ensure that governors can make confident, effective and well-informed decisions relating to investment, innovation and the development of technology.
The outcomes will improve the capability and capacity of governing bodies to meet the challenges of the FELTAG agenda and to make best use of innovative technology. This will be achieved by developing and piloting a set of models and frameworks and an online training programme.
Embed the digital vision in institutional policies and strategies to provide integrated solutions
The vision for the digital aspects of the institution should both encompass, and be embedded in, all major strategies, especially those focusing on: learning, teaching and assessment; research and knowledge transfer; IT infrastructure and support; information services; estates; inclusion and widening participation; employability; libraries and learning resources; data management; recruitment and marketing; student services; and communication.
One of the recommendations form our research into FE learners’ expectations and experiences of technology is that college leaders and managers should initiate a group to develop and monitor their digital strategies. They further recommend that leaders and managers should take steps to ensure these strategies are informed by staff and student perspectives as well as ensuring that the strategies are underpinned by local and national evidence.
Case study - Prospects College of Advanced Technology
Prospects College of Advanced Technology has taken the strategic decision to appoint a digital learning fellow to lead the development and implementation of a digital learning strategy that focuses on vocational training and work-based learning.
The strategy is designed to improve the way that vocational education and training is delivered and fulfil the vision of ‘vocational education for the future’ and to improve the outcomes for students, providers and employers.
We have developed a benchmarking tool in collaboration with the National Union of Students and the change agents' network. In developing the tool we drew on discussions with students as to which aspects of their digital experience they feel entitled to - the things they really need to be in place if they are going to get the most from their studies.
The benchmarking tool will help you to assess what your organisation is already doing to support students' digital practices and what it could do to make things better.
Satisfy other institutional priorities
You may find it useful to map how a robust digital infrastructure and a holistic approach to developing the institution’s digital capability can support other institutional priorities such as internationalism and the development of new markets or improving employer engagement to enhance the vocational relevance of learning programmes. This may highlight the centrality of digital technology as mission-critical to other priorities and leverage further support.
Our building digital capability project is working with stakeholders and sector bodies to explore aspects of digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency. The project aims to provide clear guidance over what digital skills are required, and equip leaders and staff with the tools and resources they need to improve digital capability at a local or institutional level.
Establish digital technologies as a routine consideration when reviewing or planning any new project or improvement to services.
Case study - University of Liverpool
The developing digital literacies working group at the University of Liverpool includes representation from all faculties, professional services and the student’s guild.
Reading College (part of Activate Learning) is taking a holistic approach to developing the digital strategy by integrating use of learning technologies within learning, teaching and assessment practices.
Because technology is regarded as a fundamental aspect of teaching, learning and assessment, the college has brought together learning technologists and those responsible for designing and delivering the curriculum to ensure this vision is realised.
The college has also moved away from their institutional VLE and now encourages students and staff to use Google Apps and other browser-based technologies to provide a more collaborative approach to teaching and learning.
Explore how digital technologies can support the wider student journey and be used to address non-curriculum issues that impact on student satisfaction, eg access to wireless networks (wifi) in all areas of the institution, logging maintenance issues in student halls of residence, finding accommodation, work placements and information on bursaries, or even locating an available washing machine.
It is interesting to note that the UNITE student insight report 2015 identified that for the first time students believe wifi is the most vital feature of any accommodation. 78 percent of students surveyed said wifi internet access is ‘very important’ and rated it more highly than cleanliness and cost.
Explore how technology can be used to ease administration and tackle common student and staff frustrations without losing clarity on the overall purpose and main objectives.
Identify those who will carry the vision forward
The designated leader will be supported and informed by others, possibly those with a defined champion role and those who act as agents for change (staff and students).
Harness the support of specialist units and identify others with formal or informal influence that can support the vision including external stakeholders drawn from businesses, the community or other education providers and partners.
Case study - Manchester Metropolitan University
At Manchester Metropolitan University the digital environment and digital curriculum are seen as critical in creating an outstanding, inspiring and sustainable environment for learning.
This work is supported by colleagues in two central university teams - the Learning Innovation (LI) team and the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) - with both teams working collaboratively to support effective pedagogic implementation of technologies in learning, teaching. CELT hosts a good practice exchange and publishes an in-house journal as well as offering staff MA and PhD scholarship opportunities.
Our guide on leadership explores who should be in the change team and the importance of actively engaging all those affected by any changes – in this case, developments to the digital environment and the impact on the learning experience.
Empower others to act and secure wider buy-in through devolved planning, distributed accountability and resources. Maintain momentum and focus by recognising and rewarding the successes of individuals and teams, ensuring these are widely promoted across the institution and where possible, throughout the sector.
Case study - Oxford Brookes University
To recognise their valuable role in the curriculum design process, ePioneers at Oxford Brookes University are able to achieve accreditation via the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) endorsed Future Consultants programme.
Strategic support that makes it possible for staff to be innovative with digital technologies and proactively engage students
Our research across schools, HE and FE have highlighted the importance of supporting staff to motivate and inspire students. In particular our FE digital student research identified that many staff feel underprepared to use technology for learning, and that they are often not rewarded for their experimentation.
The research identifies proactively engaging learners; supporting staff to use technology for learning, and publicly rewarding staff as key priorities. Our work also showed that although students are keen to engage with staff on technology for learning, they do not as yet feel that their voices are being listened to.
Examples from FE where providers are adopting holistic strategies to address these issues through a variety of cross-college initiatives are included in our case studies.
Case study - Blackburn College
In addition to the pioneering DigiPals scheme and support provided by their blended learning team, Blackburn College have invested heavily in their learning lab, providing access to a range of technologies to support innovation in learning and teaching.
The blended learning centre at Lewisham and Southwark College is a flexible space made available to students and staff on a drop-in basis.
The facilities in the centre allow students and staff to develop confidence and capability in a wide range of technologies which are also being piloted in classroom situations to support learners with additional needs.
Staff are also supported to develop blended learning opportunities for their students through the BlendingIN course.
A staff e-learning coaching programme, innovative induction and employability programme for students, robust online systems and customised
Moodle templates that make it easy for staff to use the VLE effectively are all helping South East Regional College to embed technologies effectively within curricula, build confidence for both staff and students and encourage independent learning.
A strategic approach to student digital experience: make a difference in your organisation
Digital technologies have the potential to make a positive impact on so many areas of the student experience. This makes digital interventions a high priority but the inter-relationship between so many aspects also makes it extremely complex.
Comprehensively enhancing the digital student experience can therefore only successfully be achieved by taking a whole-institution approach and with the active engagement of all stakeholders.
Some suggestions for how you might take this work forward include:
Ensure digital activities are referenced in all major strategies
The digital student experience is not ‘one thing’ but is many faceted and born of complex and fluid relationships between different elements. It is not possible to present a fixed model as the importance or prominence of each element will vary according to the needs of specific user groups, individuals and varying institutional priorities.
The diagram offers a loose framework that may be used to inform the design or development of a holistic digital experience for students and staff.
There are many co-dependencies between the seven challenge areas we have identified as well as topics that occur in more than one of the challenge areas. Three strong over-arching themes have emerged throughout the guide:
Taking a strategic approach to ensure the benefits of any interventions are realised
Identifying and addressing environmental issues that impact on the student experience
Establishing a culture of collaboration and openness where the efforts of both students and staff are recognised and rewarded
Drivers for change
Broadly speaking the most significant drivers for change that are encouraging institutions to look more closely at the digital experience they offer to their students are:
Changing student demographics
The changing needs and expectations of students
Economic and performance pressures
Employability, vocational relevance and 'line of sight' to employment
The need to develop new markets.
Key strategic enablers that help institutions respond to drivers for change
The number of stakeholders involved and the range of aspects to consider make it vital that clear and committed leadership is provided. This should be accompanied by a well-articulated vision and underpinned by values that steer and inform the culture leaders wish to create. Leaders will provide a defined and coherent route-map to implementation and will be responsible for any necessary change management initiatives. A devolved implementation model resourced by devolved funding will help to secure buy-in, facilitate the development of customised responses and empower students and staff.
The digital environment should be robust in terms of the reliability of systems, software, resources and facilities and also in terms of the coherence of support for users (including ‘bring your own’). Strategic leadership will facilitate the integrated planning processes necessary to build and maintain a suitably robust and flexible digital student experience.
The digital environment should also support innovation in terms of curriculum models that are pedagogically appropriate and designed with the users in mind as well as supporting flexible approaches to delivery and assessment. Students expect to be able to access the resources, systems and tools that they need when they need them, without undue restrictions.
With clear leadership and a robust, flexible environment the building blocks are in place that will enable students and staff to use digital technologies most effectively in a culture that is inclusive, informative and innovative. This is most likely to happen where all stakeholders are actively engaged in the process, feel empowered and have a sense of ownership and/or affinity.
Supporting students and staff to become confident, independent and digitally literate users of technology will enable staff to develop authentic and contextualised technological interventions that enhance students’ employability potential; including the use of technology to support each other and to network and collaborate with others. These skills need to be recognised and rewarded in some way just as other, perhaps, more traditional achievements are.
If the all the strategic, environmental and cultural aspects are aligned then the potential for individuals and institutions is vastly enhanced in so many ways.
We hope you have enjoyed the guide and found the links and case studies helpful as you continue to develop ways of enhancing the digital experience for your students.