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HE students not equipped for growing digital workplace

Young people touted as tech-savvy, but is the UK higher education system equipping them for life in the modern workplace?

Posted by Charley Rogers | June 30, 2017 | Technology

While 81.5% of university students feel that digital skills will be important in their chosen career, only half believe that their courses prepare them well for the digital workplace. These are sobering statistics considering the well-documented technical skills gap in the UK, and that good digital skills are becoming increasingly vital in the workplace. 

A new survey - Jisc’s Digital Student Experience Tracker (launched on 20th June 2017) - sheds light on the digital skills, habits, and attitudes of today’s higher education (HE) learners.

The results show that the use of technology in teaching and assessment is not fully embedded into practice. Highlighting an apparent mismatch between the skills required by employers and those that students are familiar with, or believe are necessary, the report warns: “We need to be concerned about the almost 20% of learners in HE, and almost 40% in FE, who do not feel digital skills to be relevant in their chosen careers. Since we know that around 90% of all new jobs require good digital skills, there must be a question mark over the workplace awareness of these learners, and perhaps of their teachers.”

Jisc’s head change for student experience, Sarah Knight, says HE providers need to address this gap: “Though colleges and universities are arming students with the knowledge, skills, and behaviours needed for their preferred careers, some are missing the opportunity to embed digital skills as part of the curriculum. 

We need to be concerned about the almost 20% of learners in HE, and almost 40% in FE, who do not feel digital skills to be relevant in their chosen careers.

“Incorporating opportunities to embed digital skills into the curriculum (as well as technology into the delivery), doesn’t only improve the experience for learners, it also enhances the professional development of staff. The digital capabilities of staff are key in order to pass on the relevant digital skills to learners, to improve their employability.”

However, it appears that tutors are not the automatic go-to for support in digital upskilling, particularly for university students. Just 15.8% of HE learners said they would ask for help from a tutor. Online assistance was the most common choice for this group (36.5% said they would turn here for help), with a lesser number (20%) asking fellow students, friends, and family. 

Learners are generally upbeat about engaging with digital technology to support their course learning, but its use doesn’t seem to be widespread. The survey finds that around six in ten feel that use of digital technology on their course results in better understanding and allows them to fit learning into their lives more easily. More than 95% of HE students say they have produced work in a digital format and around 78% have experience of working online with others.

However, 58% of HE learners have never used an educational game or simulation as part of their course and 48.4% have never used a poll or quiz to give answers in class. 

Though colleges and universities are arming students with the knowledge, skills, and behaviours needed for their preferred careers, some are missing the opportunity to embed digital skills as part of the curriculum. 

The report notes that, considering the very high percentage of HE (95.7%) learners who access online information weekly or more, a decade and a half after the development of “the social web”, content-centred teaching practices continue to dominate.

It goes on: “A similar observation could be made about the low use of interactive digital media such as games and simulations, which provide rapid intrinsic feedback, and polling, which provides in-situ feedback to make live learning more engaging and responsive. Neither appears on this evidence to be fully mainstream yet.”

The tracker is a tool that enables organisations to explore how students use and feel about the digital tools, environment and support they provide. It offers institutions valuable insight into how students are experiencing digitally enhanced learning, and provides an opportunity for them to engage with students with regards to issues such as the design of their curriculum and the digital environment.

Since we know that around 90% of all new jobs require good digital skills, there must be a question mark over the workplace awareness of these learners, and perhaps of their teachers.

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

HE learners are highly likely to use the VLE: 80% rely on it to do coursework and 67% regularly access it via a mobile device. However, only 40% say they enjoy using the collaborative features or want their tutors to use the VLE more.

Online assessments

Notably more HE learners agree that e-assessment was convenient (80%) in comparison with the number of learners who agree that e-assessment is more enjoyable (57.6%), provides them with better feedback (45.8%), or helps them avoid plagiarism (70%). This suggests that negative feelings about online assessment overall may be related to ‘delivery’ (and outcomes) rather than to ‘management’.

In both sectors, the report suggests that e-assessment is perceived by students as being practically useful, rather than pedagogically valuable.

Digital learning tools

Students were asked how often they used digital tools or apps to complete course tasks in their own time: of those who used such tools weekly or more, 64.4% use digital tools to make notes or recordings; 68.8% look for extra resources; 60.7% manage links and references; and 81.6% access lecture notes or recorded lectures. A minority (40.2%) use social media to discuss learning.

Digital skills

Learners were asked about their ability to complete five digital activities. A high percentage are generally confident in their ability to stay safe and behave responsibly online (98% of HE students can do this without help). However, there is some lack of confidence in the ability to create a positive online profile (roughly 12% can’t do this alone), judge online content reliably (12.2% need help), change privacy settings and manage passwords (10.3% need help), or modify standard settings (20% need help).

Other stats 

· 80.4% of HE students have reliable Wi-Fi access in their university

· 95.1% have access to online course materials

· 91.2% have access to institution-owned computers and printers

· 88.4% use their own laptop to support learning 

· 65.5% agree they have access to digital training and support when they need it

· 31% agree that they are given the chance to be involved in decisions about digital services

· 80% know where to get help within their university if they are bullied or harassed online 

· 35% agree they know how their personal data is stored and used 

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