What ICT support do students want?

HEFCE published a report from the NUS on ‘student perspectives on technology – demand, perceptions and training needs‘ this month. Having skimmed the Exec summary and found lots to take issue with, I took the opportunity of some work downtime to read it the whole report through properly!

The report used a variety of techniques to try to gather perceptions and demand relating to IT use in HE. The difficulty with the mixed approached is a lack of cohesiveness to the data presented with much of it being contradictory. However, I accept that the picture of IT provision across HE is extremely variable, so perhaps this is just reflected in the discussions.

My overwhelming impression from the report is that students aren’t sure what they want and their perceptions of ICT provision at their institutions is tremendously varied and often based on very personal experience. For example, two findings from the quantitative section, which I expect will be oft quoted, relate to an online survey carried out with FE students (not HE):

  1. ICT skills – 81% agreed that their ICT skills were self-taught, with 88.6% agreeing that they were effective online researchers.
  2. There was a common request for more skills training, particularly around how to effectively research and reference reliable online resources.

So which is it to be? Are students all self taught and don’t need any instruction or not?  We get this type of contradictory data all the time with our undergraduates and I wasn’t surprised to see it repeated here.

There seemed to be a perception amongst the students at the symposium organised to discuss the issue (with NUS course representatives) that staff can’t cope with the IT that the students want to use. Complaints that VLE systems were not populated effectively with up to date material was explained by students who said that staff were reluctant to add material because of IP concerns and that staff thought students wouldn’t come to face to face lectures if material was available online. I think that this is student perception of staff perception, which is rather difficult to ascertain and shows another difficulty with the data in the report – it feels as though there is a lot of third hand reporting in action.

The report makes some useful recommendations (and supports the abolition of peer review and closed publishing in journals!) though I’m not sure all of them follow directly from the data gathered.

Summary of recommendations (taken directly from the report):

11. Based on the information collected throughout this study and the conclusions drawn, NUS makes a number of recommendations to ensure that student needs are met, and to suggest ways for institutions to offer high quality provision that makes effective use of ICT and e-learning:

12. Institutional responses to ICT – All institutions should have an ICT strategy that is revised every three years. Students should be actively engaged in the process of developing that strategy.

13. Institutional organisation and planning – Universities should appoint Senior Fellows responsible for new technologies, and support integrating such technologies into teaching and learning.

14. Institutional funding strategies – Faculties should have innovation funds to support academics to develop new ways of using ICT.

15. Development of new courses and modules – ICT usage in learning should be embedded into the design of new programmes through the validation process. Periodic reviews should be used to assess the extent to which a VLE, and ICT more generally, are used to enhance learning.

16. Institutional VLE use and policies – Institutions should review the use of their VLE to identify and share good practice of where it has enhanced the student learning experience.

17. Use of ICT to attain greater efficiency and convenience – Institutions should consider ways of making university administration more accessible through technology including e-submission of assessment, registration and course choices.

18. Student training needs and provision – All students should be offered training needs analyses of their ICT skills at the start of their programme to identify their training requirements. This could include an online test to identify skills gaps in common software packages like Word, Excel, graphics design packages and other products, such as Dreamweaver, InDesign, Endnote and Flash.

19. Implications for module and course validations – The course evaluation form/process should question the extent to which tutors have integrated ICT into courses.

20. ICT and career development requirements for teaching staff- ICT skills and usage in learning and teaching should be integrated into the UK Professional Standards Framework, institutional promotional criteria and selection for teaching awards. Institutions may also wish to consider whether staff could be paid or given time off to attend ICT training so that it is not seen as an added burden.





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