“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.
Case study - University of Glasgow
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.
Case study - Birkbeck College
Postgraduate arts students at Birkbeck College, University of London have piloted a module designed to address information and digital skills.
This has proved particularly valuable for students who may be returning to study after a long break and those who fit study around other commitments.
After completing a self-assessment activity in six areas students work on tasks relevant to their chosen arts subject using a range of technologies.
Students are entering their MA programmes better prepared and are participating in seminars with greater confidence and skill.
Repurpose and adapt existing resources
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.
Make it engaging and rewarding
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.
Case study - University of Ulster
The University of Ulster offers students the opportunity to work towards the Engagement Development Graduate Employability Award known as ‘The Edge Award’ to help students evaluate their digital literacies and reflect on their digital identity.
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.
Expand awareness of the role of technology in academic and professional life
Not all students have clear ideas on how digital technologies can support their studies or how they may be important in their lives beyond education – a view supported by the Educause Centre for Analysis and Research (ECAR) in their ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2014. Technology is so pervasive in everyday life that ensuring students are digitally capable by the end of a programme of study has to be considered as one of the key employability skills that institutions need to help students develop.
“The workforce and their interactions with work are also evolving as technology, innovation and globalisation transform the ways in which we live and work. With further disruptions and advancements
inevitable as technology pervades every aspect of our lives, and the global economy becomes more competitive, we must ensure that the skills ecosystem is keeping abreast of changes to work.”
Still in tune? The skills system and the changing structures of work, the Skills Commission: November 2014
Case study - Nottingham Trent University
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.
Case study - South Eastern Regional College
Model professional practice
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
Case study - South East Regional College
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 maximum impact of expanded awareness of and use of technology can only be achieved if this also includes accessible practice and procurement.
Develop both student and staff digital literacies
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.
Case study - Lewisham Southwark College
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
Case study - The Open University
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).
Six elements of digital capability
Previously we identified seven elements of digital literacy that were pertinent to both students and staff. This model has been recognised and well-used but research conducted as part of our building digital capability project highlighted emerging issues in ‘data literacy’ and ‘digital well-being’.
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.
Our detailed guide to digital literacies provides further resources, support and examples of how others are supporting digital literacy skills development.
Case studies - Leeds, Manchester and York universities
Staff from the libraries of the universities of Leeds, Manchester and York have worked together with students from their institutions to produce an interactive guide to using social media in learning.
The guide covers a range of social platforms and focuses on how social media can be used to enhance learning.
Case study - Imperial College London
The 2014 UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey identified that students were generally offered greater variety in training, development and accreditation than staff.
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)
Provide clarity over contractual relationships
Students prioritise relationships with course groups, co-curricular activities, societies and friendship groups (Beetham, H and White, D (2013), students’ expectations and experiences of the digital environment, Jisc) and expect these to be the main focus of their online activity.
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.