"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
“enable a transition towards fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers, and more effective collaboration across a range of institution types”
Post-16 education and training institutions review policy paper: 20 July 2015
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.
“The application of new technologies is changing the identity and the skills needs of industries, particularly as greater interconnectivity drives innovation between sectors.”
Still in tune? The skills system and the changing structures of work, The Skills Commission: November 2014
Strategic importance of digital technologies
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 2014 UCISA digital capabilities survey report makes recommendations to HE on creating effective, strategic cross-institutional approaches to developing digital capabilities.
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:
- The Summer of Student Innovation
- Work on developing students digital literacies and staff capabilities
- Evaluating digital services: a visitors and residents approach
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.
We have produced a brief for FE college leaders and managers on FE learner expectations and experiences of technology, outlining the key challenges and learning provider solutions as well as a more comprehensive report of the FE digital student study.
Who is this guide for?
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
- E-learning/ILT staff
- 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.