Quarter of students dissatisfied with universities’ digital teaching, Jisc survey suggests

The chair of the OfS said the survey showed that universities had “substantial” work still to do

A survey of more than 20,000 university students suggests that nearly a quarter are dissatisfied with the quality of digital teaching and learning, prompting the chair of the Office for Students (OfS) to tell providers that “substantial” work is needed when terms restart.

The survey of 20,575 students by Jisc revealed that 23% would not rate the quality of digital teaching and learning at their university as ‘good’, ‘excellent’ or ‘best imaginable’.

The finding comes as Jisc today published its student digital experience insights survey.

Six in 10 (60%) praised the quality of support they receive to develop their digital skills, but only a third (34%) said their university provides the chance to assess their tech capabilities.

Only half (51%) agree they receive guidance about digital skills and a fifth reported never having a conversation with their university about this area. More than four in (44%) never work online with other students.

More than a quarter of students surveyed (28%) did not agree their organisation provides them with access to online systems and services from wherever they are.

Universities must do what they can to ensure all students have an equitable experience, whether they’re learning face-to-face, remotely, or through a blended approach
Sarah Knight, Jisc

OfS chair Sir Michael Barber said he would include the findings in the review of digital teaching and learning he is leading for the regulator. The inquiry commissioned by the education secretary will consider the state of online education across the sector, following student complaints – and demands for tuition fee refunds – during lockdown.

“The academic year ahead will be unlike any that has gone before. Learning is likely to take place both on-site and remotely. As the higher education sector continues to adapt, it is crucial that university leaders understand how students are using technology, and what help they need with their digital skills,” Sir Michael said, adding that the sector must address this digital divide in “as a matter of urgency”.

The OfS chair – who is to step down from the OfS in March next year – said: “We should not make the assumption that all students are confident and capable with the new tools and apps they are being asked to use.” The statistics also reveal evidence that staff and students have gaps in their skills and confidence with technology, he continued.

“The report also indicates the potential for innovation in curriculum design such as building in the opportunity for students to collaborate online – a key component of succeeding in the digital workplace,” he added.

The regulator recently released the results of its own student survey, which suggested more than half of students lacked access to “appropriate online course materials” during lockdown. The National Union of Students (NUS) last week published a survey that indicated that a third of higher and further education students were unable to access their education online in the last academic term.

Sarah Knight, Jisc’s head of data and digital capability, said: “Universities must do what they can to ensure all students have an equitable experience, whether they’re learning face-to-face, remotely, or through a blended approach. Covid-19 has highlighted the urgent need to address digital poverty. Helping students develop a preparedness for online teaching and learning will support their education and increase their confidence in the digital workplace”.

In February, in an exclusive for University Business, former education secretary David Blunkett said universities are not a level playing field for disabled students because edtech has not been implemented sufficiently.

Jisc’s digital experience insights survey last year asked 6,500 members of teaching staff at 61 UK colleges and universities about their experiences with digital skills. Only a third of respondents agreed they have regular opportunities to develop digital skills and less than 15% of staff in FE and HE agree they receive support with digital teaching from their employer.

Read more: More than half of students lacked access to online materials during lockdown, OfS survey suggests

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