Students enter further or higher education with a broad spectrum of digital capabilities, experience of and confidence in using technology. However, even students who are confident and proficient users of social and digital media in their personal and social lives need support using digital technologies effectively for learning and in employment-related contexts.
The Institute of Education explored the digital literacies of their students (postgraduate) and their research findings have identified practical challenges and conceptual issues around the use of technology in their studies such as their developing sense of professional and scholarly identity.
Student partnerships and peer support
The range of services which can support digital capabilities are discussed in Support and Development but it is worth highlighting again the effectiveness of involving students as partners or mentors to develop their own skills and provide peer support. See examples under culture and change.
The Learning Zone at the University of the Arts, London is a peer support and co-mentoring initiative which employs students alongside professional staff and has been considered among the most forward-thinking aspects of institutional provision.
It is a dynamic social learning space that supports the development of study and transferable professional skills. It combines traditional and modern tools alongside state of the art technology in a flexible, informal and fully accessible space which supports group and individual study. Student assistants and professional staff are available to advise and guide students as they explore innovative ways of doing their coursework.
Focusing on online identity
A key hook to engage students is focusing on online identity and reputation which can be well supported through separate modules or workshops as well as online resources.
- The University of Bath is developing workshops on creating and managing professional online identities to be offered via faculties as part of student induction and by the Students’ Union as a component of their skills training workshops
- The University of the Arts London developed a pilot programme around professional online identities and a supporting workshop
- Reading’s ‘This is Me’ website collates a range of learning materials around digital identity including workbooks and worksheets, identity stories and workshop materials
- Grŵp Llandrillo Menai has developed a set of module-linked resources for college tutors to use with students around digital culture and identity
Assessing and progressing students’ digital literacies
Understanding the digital capabilities of students helps inform how they are best supported both within and alongside the curriculum. Survey tools such as the student survey tool developed by Jisc's learners’ experiences of e-learning programme can support larger scale audits of learners’ access and preferences.
Digital literacy frameworks such as the European digital competence framework and other institutional or professional frameworks can provide a basis for evaluating and progressing digital capabilities. The visitors and residents approach provides a more exploratory means of understanding digital practices and identity.
Digital choices are aspects of personal identity so students need time, space and support to assess their own individual capabilities and development needs in different contexts. Ideally this opportunity should be offered at the start of their course and regularly as they progress. There are a range of self-assessment tools which students could be introduced to although supporting reflection and action planning around this is important.
Digital literacies and the learning journey
Support should be progressive throughout the learning experience but providing this as early as possible (ie from pre-entry to induction) is critical for managing expectations and initiating the processes of self-assessment and personal development planning. Digital literacies need addressing throughout the learner journey at the transition points between different levels of study.
Digital literacies in transition at Greenwich
The digital literacies in transition project at the University of Greenwich project has focused on the student journey and understanding students needs at critical points in their progression through higher education.
The principles of aligning digital literacy with transition is based upon research performed by the University of Greenwich as well as drawing from best practice from the sector. It is designed to support practitioners in supporting their students and thus enhance the transitional experience of higher education (HE). Combined with the 5 resource model of critical literacy it provides a supporting mode for developing graduate attributes aligned to transition.
See transition in HE for more information and resources.
Employability, recognition and reward
The curriculum provides the core learning context for digital literacy development and extra- or co-curricular activities which can also help develop wider skills including employability. Partnerships with professional bodies to accredit digital literacy skills such as the Oxford Brookes/Institute for Leadership and Management (ILM) initiative to develop a course for future consultants can raise the profile of digital literacy for employability.
Schemes which recognise student digital skills such as the Bath Award or accreditation in the form of badges or academic credit can be effective ways to incentivise student engagement with digital literacy initiatives and develop skills in professional contexts. Institutions such as Cardiff provide a range of online resources to support employability skills.