Digital learner experiences and the future of higher education – notes for a Friday [7]

This report from JISC is of FE college students’ experiences of digital education. The survey was conducted between October 2019 and May 2020 so covers the emergency shift to remote teaching. About two-thirds of the 19,137 responses are from the pre-pandemic and one-third form the pandemic periods.

Learners and their technology

Access to digital devices remains an issue for a small proportion of students within only 3% having no access. But 82% of students have a smartphone while the next most common device is a laptop (68%) which indicates the importance for learning design of starting the design process for students on mobile phones.

Additionally, while 72% of students are reasonably confident at trying new technologies, only about 50% enjoy doing so. This seems to reflect some of the findings from Australian higher education students I summarise here that highlighted students valusing stable technologies for providing clear information and to ease the self-organisation and logistics of studying. As the report states, there is a clear need to support students to develop their digital skills and literacies as learners and to better prepare them for increasingly digital workplaces.

Colleges and their technology

Student perceptions of technologies for learning are pretty positive with 75% placing it on a scale from ‘Good’ to ‘best imaginable (!)’ and only 5% rating is between ‘Poor’ to ‘Worst imaginable’. These findings are repeated for perceptions of the quality of digital teaching practices. Yet only 13% had lecture recording and 50% file storage and back-up. Reflecting findings elsewhere students mainly used digital technologies for learning logistics – checking timetables and deadlines, and submitting assignments being the most common.

The priorities for development seemed to be:

  • in staff competences in digital teaching and consistency of practice
  • providing opportunities for online collaborative learning
  • using e-portfolios, simulations, and virtual and augmented reality.

Students’ digital skills

The picture on supporting students’ digital skills is mixed, especially beyond ‘basic IT skills’, the themes for further development seemed sensible. These include grounding skills development in authentic and practical activities. It is surprising that only 58% agreed they had been informed about good academic practices on copyright and plagiarism.

Further development

For the shorter-term, priorities for development focused on the digital divide – access to devices and connectivity – are urgent in the context of the pandemic. The priorities of the need for better understanding and planning for the constraints and affordances of smartphones as (almost) a ubiquitous technology are important.

In the longer-term, the report calls for the adoption of alternative pedagogical approaches emphasising active digital learning and enabling online communities of learning. Yet this emphasis on pedagogy replicates findings from the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) report and work from 2014. What is being done differently this time? The report does include a learner journey from pre-entry to completion of studies, with some guidance on how to surface and develop digital skills. More developed and detailed versions of these sorts of learner journeys can be found elsewhere. These give examples for developing the digital learning literacies of students as a process embedded within their overall programme of studies.

Other priorities of accessibility, well-being and industry-relevance, while also important, also seem obvious, particularly for a report aimed at college leaders (?).

One tweet

“students in the active classroom learn more, but they feel like they learn less…this negative correlation is caused in part by the increased cognitive effort required during active learning” #learning— Neil Mosley (@neilmosley5) November 9, 2020

This is a good, if technical, read. The conclusion on the need to coach students in preparation for more active teaching and learning environments is key. Students need to be prepared for the sustained cognitive effort of active learning if they are to gain the full advantages of such an approach. The secondary conclusion on the weaknesses of student evaluations of teaching and the warning that promoting measures of student satisfaction may well lead to the use of inferior passive teaching is a powerful reminder that education is not a service :).

One link

This interview with Aras Bozkurt of the Department of Distance Education at Anadolu University, Turkey, is well worth a watch for anyone interested in the future of higher education.

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