A Jisc survey of 39,712 university, college and sixth form students finds more than a quarter (28%) unable to rate the quality of digital teaching and learning on their course as ‘good’, ‘excellent’ or ‘best imaginable’.
Only half (51%) agree they receive guidance about digital skills, suggesting the higher education sector must up its game to deliver the high-quality experiences students deserve, and the skills they need to thrive.
These findings were gathered between October 2019 and May 2020. In higher education (HE), 90% of the responses were submitted before the UK went into COVID-19 lockdown on 23 March 2020. In the further education (FE) sector, 65% of the responses came before COVID-19.
Commenting on the importance of this research, Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students, said: “It is crucial that university leaders understand how students are using technology, and what help they need with their digital skills.”
President of the Association of Colleges, Sally Dicketts, added: “Whether learning on campus, remotely, or with a blended approach, students are using digital systems and learning platforms, connecting and collaborating, and benefitting from a nurturing college community. Technology underpins every aspect of that experience.”
Yet the survey results identify gaps in provision. Of the 20,575 HE and 19,137 FE students surveyed, 60% in HE and 66% in FE rate the quality of support they receive to develop their digital skills as ‘good’, ‘excellent’ or ‘best imaginable’, but only a third (34%) in HE and 41% in FE agree their organisation provides the chance to assess their digital skills.
In both sectors, a fifth say they did not discuss their digital skills either during induction, during one-to-one sessions with tutors, in lectures and classes, or with other students.
One university student noted: “I don’t hear my instructors speak about things like keeping my personal information safe online, or my health and wellbeing as a technology user, ever.”
A lack of collaboration was exposed, too. In HE, 44% of students and 33% of those in FEsay they never work online with other learners. A perceived lack of resources may be partly to blame; 11% of HE students and more than a quarter (27%) of FE students don’t agree they have access to online course materials whenever they need them
Sarah Knight, Jisc’s head of data and digital capability, said: “Universities and colleges 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”.