Anyone without reason to visit a university campus in the last ten years might be surprised to learn that higher education has changed considerably.
They’ll notice that even the most traditionally passive experiences – lectures, textbooks, assignment feedback – are becoming digital, collaborative and interactive. Here’s how:
While expository learning certainly has its place in the modern university, there’s been a shift from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’, towards a more student-centred environment with greater opportunity for interaction.
Today’s students might be found comparing ideas with the person sitting next to them, interacting with audience response systems like mobile devices or clickers, or even re-watching a recorded lecture capture from the top deck of a bus.
From interactive quizzes to lecture polls, assessment is becoming yet more interactive on both a formative and summative level.
David Cranny from the Department of Business Studies at Dundalk Institute of Technology explains in this video his reasons for moving to screencast feedback for summative assessment, noting that his students respond well to this more ‘conversational’, interactive style. The students using screencasts engage with questions and comments: pausing, rewinding and revisiting different areas of the feedback.
Encouragingly, Cranny’s data shows that students will typically view the feedback between 3 and 4 times, indicating strong levels of learning engagement. Cranny now assesses his students mid-way through the course rather than the end, giving them the opportunity to use the feedback to move their learning forward.
Screencast feedback is also praised by JISC, who say that:
"Evidence so far shows that this takes tutors no more time than traditionally written feedback but offers the opportunity for richer, more dialogue-driven comment."
Universities now work equally hard to encourage student engagement with written feedback, creating opportunities for reflection, metacognition and learning dialogues. The HEA offer several practical strategies to promote a more interactive assessment style, including question-based feedback and comments. Tutors might even ask students to suggest specific areas for their feedback based on the areas they found most challenging. This way, tutors can provide targeted feedback with students engaged as active participants in the process.
Textbooks and journals
Most are aware that learning has evolved with the arrival of Web 2.0 tools and online resources, but this change is not always associated with academic textbooks and journals.
Students with access to the Kortext digital learning platform can now interact directly with their etextbooks, ejournals and study notes. With digital smart tools to annotate, search, highlight, share and collaborate, Kortext is designed to facilitate a more active engagement with reading materials. Together with the Copyright Licensing Agency, Kortext has even developed a Digital Content Store used by seventy-seven universities in the UK to help manage digital course pack creation and distribution to students.
With the University of Cambridge on Snapchat and the University of Salford wooing prospective students through Tinder, even the most traditional of institutions are taking a more interactive approach to their communications!
As tuition fees have risen, so too have expectations of ‘the student experience’, with most universities bringing student services online and establishing a more active social presence.
Digital engagement guru and writer for Inside Higher Ed, Eric Stoller, discusses the importance of both talking and listening to students across different channels, both online and in-person. The emphasis has shifted from ‘telling’ to ‘talking’, with universities communicating in a way that is more open and approachable.
Moreover, universities are finding new ways of listening to student feedback; measuring interaction through learning analytics, together with more traditional questionnaires, ad hoc conversations and feedback surveys. If, for instance, students are accessing certain lectures or resources more frequently than others, then they might be communicating information about what they find valuable.
New learning communities naturally evolve with new technologies and many students place a high value on formal opportunities for interactive, anytime learning. This will often happen through online discussion groups, forums and meetings, perhaps using the institutional VLE or similar. Teaching and learning expert, Phil Race, suggests awarding students a mark out of five for contributions to VLE discussions to ensure everyone is incentivised to participate.
Many students also interact privately through informal, self-formed study groups using private channels like messaging apps or email. Here they might ask questions, share resources and participate in learning conversations.
Like any other, the higher education sector is changing and will continue to evolve with each new cohort of students.