By Amber Lovell

The ‘Insta Experience’: Universities and the shift to digital learning 

July 6, 2021

The use of the term digital literacy is increasing, but what does it currently mean? Which subsequently poses the question… Is everyone who is currently participating in digital teaching and learning digitally literate?

Well, the answer to the first question is: Digital literacy is defined as the confidence, and competence, in choosing and using digital tools to help you do something well.

As humans, we often overestimate our skillset and find it hard to admit our shortfalls and weaknesses, as pointed out in the latest findings from a recent study.

Research published by Wonkhe in partnership with Adobe suggests that students are not as digitally literate as they claim to be.

This is supported by a quote about students from University of Exeter’s Dr Sarah Jackman who said it best during our Summer 21 Webinar: “…they’re tech-savvy but it may not be the right sort of tech that they are savvy with.”


Naomi Jeffery, final year English Language & Linguistics student, University of Birmingham further explains…

Students are gen-Z digital natives who are wholly accustomed to the ‘Insta experience’ – aesthetically pleasing, easy to use, intuitive; they’re the first generation who have never known any different.

While digital teaching and learning is not new, traditional universities do still mainly rely on physical libraries and face-to-face learning, with many online resources being a rather lacklustre second thought.

How can universities shift from face-to-face learning to an online learning experience which their students will find engaging?

University students have, with the switch to online learning, experienced some of the greatest changes ever in education history because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By November 2020, 93% of undergraduate students were accessing all or most of their learning digitally.

 

Despite universities pumping more money into digital learning as a result, this has understandably created frustration for students who continued to pay £9,250 per year for their education alongside ongoing costs for university accommodation; with just over one-in-four students (27%) feeling that they have received good value for money. (SAES, 2021)

Whilst many students were satisfied with the online experience, the Student Covid Insights Survey (SCIS) indicated a significant minority (29%) weren’t!

From a personal viewpoint, I have had a wholly positive experience at the University of Birmingham.

Of course, there have been teething issues, but I have had regular online seminars, and felt that my tutors have been ready and willing to have zoom sessions whenever I’ve needed them.

“In fact, I have probably had more 1-to-1 sessions with my lecturers and dissertation supervisor than I would have done in a COVID-free final year”.

 

Dysfunctionality

 

Something I’ve found frustrating has been the dysfunctionality of some resource platforms.

Being less able to go into the library to grab a book has meant that I’ve written my whole dissertation using online materials; tricky when my institutional email address didn’t provide me with access to certain materials I needed.

Having said this, I do feel there has been a real effort from the university to make essential materials as accessible as possible, particularly given that they took the decision to purchase the vast majority of the eTextbooks we needed.

 Difference in provision

Unfortunately, it is recognised that not all students across the UK have been so fortunate.

A particular issue which the shift to digital learning has brought to light is difference in provision between online programmes where universities pay for their students to have access to resources, compared to those which still require the student to pay.

Programmes such as Kortext, which the University of Birmingham pays for, are amongst the best in terms of engagement for gen-Z students, with visually pleasing, easy functionality and useful study tools.

However, this begs the question why other university students don’t have more access to programmes like this given how much we are paying?

For most courses, the £9,250 per year doesn’t include physical/digital books required for their course, which can cost hundreds of pounds.

Surely universities could take COVID as a push in the direction of investing in better online resources?!

Students are less likely to persevere with a dysfunctional system that makes it complicated for them to easily access the material they need. Instead, universities need to invest in resources which provide their students with easy-to-access, free materials, which will result in more engaged students.

Whilst face-to-face learning on university campuses will begin to return to normal, COVID-19 has resulted in an acceleration of digital transformation in universities, and it is highly likely that online learning is here to stay in some capacity.

Although the ever-growing rise of social media will constantly compete for students’ attention, this will also mean that investment in platforms which will offer students the best, most intuitive online learning experience is vital for universities moving forward.

By Naomi Jeffery, final year English Language & Linguistics student, University of Birmingham

References

Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Student Covid Insights Survey (SCIS)

Wonkhe and Adobe

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