This article is more than 4 years old

Students need data-driven universities

Sarah Knight argues that we must embrace a data-driven approach to university education
This article is more than 4 years old

Sarah Knight is Head of Data and Digital Capability at Jisc. 

Technology is increasingly important for us all, and that goes threefold for today’s students. Digital technology is not only central to their day-to-day life, it’s also a crucial aspect of learning – and a gateway to future careers.

The government’s edtech strategy recognises this, noting that “technology is increasingly part of our society”. Meanwhile, the Office for Students predicts that more than a million digitally skilled people will be needed by 2022 – but there is a disconnect. A survey of 14,525 campus-based higher education students, published by Jisc, reveals that 30 per cent believe digital skills will not be required in their chosen career.

Further, despite the significant investment being made within technology and infrastructure in UK universities, only 42 per cent of the higher education students surveyed feel their course prepares them for the digital workplace.

Nurturing future skills

Institutions can respond positively, making data-informed investment decisions to deliver measurable benefits. Many have already taken up this challenge, embracing technology to help meet business goals and improve the student experience. A recent build at the University of Northampton, for example, sees technology fully integrated on campus, and the deputy principal of the University of Stirling has stressed the importance of listening to the student voice when building a digitally-enhanced environment.

Authentic opportunities for all students to develop digital skills need to be embedded within courses – and for this to happen, it is essential that staff develop their confidence and capabilities in using technology effectively. There are some excellent examples of institution-wide approaches. The University of Leicester and the University of Westminster, for example, are investing heavily in the development the digital skills of all their staff.

As for the student experience, the Jisc survey shows that learners value digitally-enhanced education, with around seven in ten higher education students agreeing that, when digital is used, they understand things better and enjoy learning more. Glasgow Caledonian University recognises this need, and is using technology to support the induction process with an online pre-ICT induction course available for new students as soon as they register. This enables learners to start developing their digital skills before arriving on campus so they can hit the ground running.

Seamless digital environment

Once at university, around four in ten students say they would like digital technology to be used on their course more than it is now. Mobile devices may be an emerging opportunity in some circumstances. As 86 per cent of higher education students have access to smartphones, there is value in ensuring education services and resources are mobile-optimised – and there are many ways to do this. Canterbury Christ Church University has redesigned its virtual learning environment to make it more mobile-friendly, and has plans to expand lecture-capture. As the institution’s technology-enhanced learning manager, Duncan Maclver, notes, using student data lends a credible voice to decision-making, enabling universities to take actions that are of direct benefit to students.

We know that, in today’s digital world, embedding technology in education is no longer optional. To deliver a university environment that’s fit for purpose, nurturing graduates that can meet their career goals and contribute to the UK economy, the sector must pay attention to students’ experiences and expectations of technology. That means involving them in how digital is integrated. It may take time and investment – but with a data-informed approach, universities can create a tech-enhanced environment that works for all.

Register here to run Jisc digital experience insights surveys for students, teaching and professional services staff from October 2019.

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