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Further education students are shunning the web and turning to staff and each other for digital skills support

Universities minister Sam Gyimah
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A survey of more than 37,000 students (14,292 from further education) shows more than two thirds of further education (FE) students are turning to each other and their lecturers for technical support, overlooking online help for their digital queries.

Contrary to their often-presumed digital know-how, FE students are more likely to ask each other for help with technology (32%) than search the web for useful tips and tutorials (only 14%). More reliant on staff than their higher education (HE) counterparts, a third (35%) of FE students turn to their lecturers first for digital advice, compared to only 8% of university students.

Conducted by the education sector’s technology solutions not-for-profit, Jisc, the survey represents the largest ever sample of data showing how students use digital technology in education and their attitudes towards it.

In the report foreword, Universities minister Sam Gyimah calls for action:

“I want all educational leaders to look closely at this report and consider how they can improve their own provision through the effective use of technology. I also urge them to take full advantage of the expert advice and ‘on the ground’ support provided by Jisc to take a fully digital approach to issues such as curriculum design and the learning environment.”

Don’t replace conversation with technology 

More than a third of FE students surveyed want technology to be used more on their course. 64% report to be more independent in their learning when technology is used, and more than half (57%) agree that it helps them to fit learning into their busy lives.

Notably though, of all the examples of how digital technology might enhance their learning experience, students are least convinced that it makes them feel more connected with people, either their fellow students or lecturers.

Less than half of students (47%) agree they can access health and wellbeing services online, suggesting that they might benefit from clearer signposting, directing them to often much needed support.

Ensure staff have the right digital skills

The report also shines a light on the digital competencies of staff, with many students reporting frustration when lecturers struggle to use digital systems correctly, saying it wastes time and restricts access to digital resources. Learners do however report examples of excellent practice that they’d like staff to aspire to.

Only half of FE students say that the software used on their course is industry standard and up to date, but positively, almost three quarters are satisfied with the digital offer provided by their organisation.

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Sam Gyimah concludes:

“I call on all universities and colleges to work in partnership with their students to ensure they are providing the best possible education experience – one in which digital technology is fully integrated and offers opportunities for all learners to develop the skills they need to thrive in today’s fast changing world of work.”

Kirsti Lord, deputy chief executive, Association of Colleges:

“The Jisc report provides a hugely valuable insight into the digital experiences of students at their colleges. It’s heartening to see that FE learners value the support they receive from their lecturers, and the results show the supportive digital environment colleges provide their learners. It’s interesting to note that students often don’t have the level of digital skills that they’re presumed to, and it is fundamental that learners are armed with the skills that they’ll need to flourish in the digital workplace.”

Sarah Knight, report co-author and head of change, student experience, Jisc:

“At Jisc we recognise how fundamental digital skills are for staff and students. We know that when used well, technology can save staff and students time, make learning more flexible and accessible, and better prepare students for the digital workplace

“It’s clear that staff need a prerequisite level of digital capability and ongoing development, to be able to support their students with the development of their digital skills. Our report recommends that organisations invest in signposting support for using technology for learning, encouraging students and staff to help each other with their digital queries. We also suggest the introduction of student digital mentors and champions as well as investing in meaningful student engagement initiatives around their digital experience.

“Our digital insights service is an essential starting point for colleges and universities, providing them with intelligence about their digital offer through the eyes of their staff and students. We support organisations to build on their findings, enhancing the digital skills of staff and students, and helping to create a technology-focussed environment that works for all.”

Find out more

About Jisc: A not-for-profit providing the UK’s national research and education network, Janet, and technology solutions for its members – colleges, universities and research centres. It is funded by the UK higher and further education and research funding bodies and member institutions. Jisc does three main things for its members: 

  1. Operates and develops the ultra-fast and secure Janet Network and its built-in cyber security protection.
  2. Helps save time and money by negotiating sector-wide deals with IT vendors and commercial publishers
  3. Provides trusted advice and practical assistance on digital technology. Jisc’s vision is for the UK to be the most digitally advanced education and research nation in the world.
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