Spotlight on Digital Capabilities


On 5th and 6th June I attended the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event in Media City, Manchester. We were honoured with two days of sunshine (a rare occurrence in Manchester I am told), a delicious meal with quiz in the incredible Imperial War Museum North and a fascinating programme of talks.

I could write several blogs on all the talks I saw. Each one provided food for thought or ideas to take away. The full event programme and presentation slides are available on the programme page. I have picked out a few and summarised my thoughts.

Meeting and challenging students’ expectations of digital engagement

Much conjecture surrounds the student and their expectation of the digital at University.  I have always assumed that students would expect a lot from University in terms of technology and its use. Rebecca Nice, a mature student from the University of Winchester, went to University with high expectations. Purchasing a laptop and tablet believing she would be technologically left behind. In reality she found few opportunities to use technology in or out of class.

Dave White (@daveowhite), from the University of the Arts, detailed some of the findings of Jisc’s Digital Student project which reiterated the low expectations of students. There are a few things seen as “entitlements” such as wifi, BYOD, digital resources etc. but the use of technology in learning and teaching, for example, is seen as an “enhancement”. The expectations students have of their lecturers capabilities are also very low. The project also emphasised the need for students to understand the role of technology in their learning and teaching:

“students don’t know what is going to be transformative for them until they are fully engaged in their course”

Student digital champions

There were some really interesting presentations on supporting staff’s digital skills through students.

Tamsyn Smith (@TamsynMSmith) and Anna Ruff (@annarruff), from University of Southampton, presented on their iChamps scheme. A team of students support and develop digital literacy skills through support sessions, development sessions and consultations. As a reward they are given a Digital Badge. There was also mention of the students being paid for 144 hours of work, I asked if they thought it would be as successful without the cash incentive they were positive it would. I’m not fully convinced, money is a big incentive for engagement!

Amy Barlow (@bamyarlow), from University of Winchester, presented on their student fellows scheme where students work alongside staff on educational development projects. Again there is a £600 bursary. The scheme does mention projects more as collaborative research so a monetary reward seems fair. were sponsoring the event so it was only fair that they had an opportunity to present their product to us all. Lynda is an online learning tool consisting of video tutorials on a wide range of softwares, business and education skills. It is currently being used by the Lincoln School of Film and Media to supplement the learning of their students on key pieces of software vital to the curriculum.

Nic Monks (@theRealNicMonks),from University of Southampton, was unable to present so Fiona Strawbridge, (@fstrawbridge) from University College London, ably took over. Fiona described the success of the implementation at UCL, which was driven by academic requests for further support, and that the ability to create and publish custom playlists was hugely popular. Julie Adams (@jfadams), from the University of Staffordshire, emphasised the need for single sign on access and a thorough marketing strategy.

Would Lynda be useful to you? Browse the library.

Curiosity and curriculum: adventures in learning and technology

Helen Keegan (@heloukee), from University of Salford, presented on the value of curiosity through gamification in the curriculum. She detailed a fascinating module in which she created an alternate virtual reality game with a fake persona, Rufi, interwoven with a mystery to be solved. Many students were frightened but by the end students were still talking and writing about the module after it had finished!

“This was a fantastic learning experience; The intrigue, the teamwork, the puzzle solving; Everyone who has taken part in the process has brought their own theories and ideas, everyone has helped solve a little bit of the puzzle.”

Helen showed what going the extra mile, this was 10 weeks of social media management, can mean for students learning. The effort she put in to this module is staggering and I would love to do this as a distance learner!

The mysterious student

There was much talk of the ‘student’ (the way we refer to students as a collective that represents all students who have, or will ever exist) but few actual students represented. We need to hear from them directly, let’s stop talking about them as though they exist only in surveys!

Further resources

If you would like to learn more about the event, and the attendees, take a look at the #udigcap tweets, the programme and the event’s resources page.

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