EdTech futures in the Connected University

Digital technology is bringing huge changes to all industries and sectors, not least higher education. It isn’t the future, it’s the present. This article summarises three recent publications, firstly the annual NMC Horizon report that I’ve previously blogged on here; a talk by Steve Wheeler, the keynote speaker at last years Learning’s and Teaching Conference, and finally a piece by Eric Stoller, who will be delivering a keynote at this year’s conference.

Firstly let’s look at this year’s NMC Horizon report. This is categorised into:

  • Key Trends Accelerating Higher Education Technology AdoptionNMC 2017-1
  • Significant Challenges Impeding Higher Education Technology AdoptionNMC2017-2
  • Important Developments in Technology for Higher EducationNMC2017-3

Usefully NMC have provided a summary of their predictions from previous years, and it’s worth noting that not all of their predictions come to pass; equally some remain on the radar for a number of years. Audrey Watters has previously provided a critique of NMC for those who’d like a different view.

Nonetheless, this is a useful starting point, and we can map our own activities against all of  the 18 trends/challenges/developments, but here I’ll focus on a few.

As we walk around this campus (and many others in the UK), we can see how learning spaces are being transformed to allow different ways of learning to take place.

We have a major focus on improving staff and student digital capabilities, recognising that this will help drive innovation, as well as improve employability prospects of our graduates.

The achievement gap is one I have blogged about previously – this continues to be a difficult multi faceted probelm. Technology will not provide all the answers, but may help level the playing field in some areas.

The possibility of a very different LMS in the future is tantalising. We know that current systems such as BlackBoard and Canvas are very good at managing learners and resources – making sure the right information is provided to the right people at the right time. Changes to the way in which staff and students collaborate through co-creation and sharing could render this form of LMS redundant in future.

Away from the NMC report, Steve Wheeler of Plymouth University presented on what’s hot and what’s not in learning technology. The video is well worth watching.

Steve identifies a huge range of technologies that will likely have an impact: voice controlled interfaces; gestural computing, the Internet of Things (pervasive computing); wearable technologies;artificial intelligence; touch surfaces for multitouch multiusers; wearable tech; virtual presence; immersive tech such as Oculus rift for VR and AR; 3D printers and maker spaces. The list goes on.

Steve identified three key elements for the future:

  • Very social
  • Very personal
  • Very mobile

and this needs to be underpinned with developing digital literacy, particularly when wading through alt-facts and fake news. Our students need to learn how to check the veracity and relevance of materials.

Steve postulates that until the development of the PC or web, everything was teacher centred. Technology allows us to become learner-centred, but have we adjusted enough to being learner led?

This should impact the way in which we assess- education and training must go from recursive to discursive, no longer repeating or regurgitating materials from the teacher, but through a  discursive approach developing problem solving skills etc.

  • The changes are
  • Analogue to digital
  • Closed to open
  • Tehthered to mobile
  • Standardised to personalised
  • Isolated to connected


Finally, a new blog post from Eric Stoller looks at “Student Success, Retention, and Employability – Getting Digital in a High Tech, High Touch Environment”.

Eric identifies that the more engaged a student is during their university experience, the more successful they will be. Digital offers us the opportunity to increase the channels through which we communicate with and engage with our students.

Eric (as well as Steve above, and the NMC report) highlights the importance of digital capability, particularly through the lens of employability. Students need to graduate with the digital skills they will use in the workplace, not just those that they use to complete a university course. Interestingly Eric also highlights the need to teach students about their digital presence and identity.

Finally he refers to the existence of a digital divide (again identified by NMC as digital equity) – “If your university is students first, that means all students”. This a a challenge that focusing on providing the right kit, but more importantly developing the right skills an behaviours means that we can get all staff and students to engage in a connected digital future.

Last year we enjoyed Steve Wheeler’s presentation at our Learning and Teaching Conference – I can’t wait to hear Eric Stoller later this year at the same event.




My Social Media Profile

As a university we are committed to becoming the Connected University, and are making great strides in changing our approach to learning and teaching, to our campus transformation and to the way in which we run the business, all enabled by digital tools and technologies.

On an individual level, we can reasonably expect colleagues to embrace aspects of digital technology to enhance their work, to change the way in which they communicate with each other, with our students and with other stakeholders.

When we look at the amount of content being created, and the amount of communication taking place in just one minute, we can’t avoid being engaged with social media:


(from https://www.domo.com/blog/data-never-sleeps-4-0/) 

At last year’s Learning and Teaching Conference, we asked attendees to make a pledge of what they might do differenlty, based on what they were taking away from the conference. On reviewing these, it was clear that lots of colleagues wanted to dip their toe into the world of social media, or if they were already using such tools, explore and expand further their use.

This short article is a reflection of how I use social media. I’m not suggesting this is the only way, and I’m sure I can identify gaps in my own practice.

As a starting point, it’s worth looking at the work of David White, who proposes that the term “digital native” has had its day, and that we shouldn’t decide on a person’s digital literacy based solely on age, but in terns of how comfortable they are in using technology. White’s model of looking at digital residents vs visitors is a useful starting point for assessing our own digital skills (in addition to the various diagnostic tests we can use).

mgh resident visitor

Through this approach I can map my own own digital profile, which in itself raises a number of questions: where do I live in the digital world? Can I be found? Can I be found in multiple channels? How do I manage a level of authenticity? How do I moderate my voice between different channels and different audiences?

My social media profile then is primarily found in:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Strava
  • Flickr
  • WordPress

Twitter is my most work-related tool, although not everything posted here is work-related. As part of building an authentic voice, it’s important to reveal enough of yourself as a person, your other and commitments, to allow followers to gain a greater insight into you. For example, following a recent accident, the message on Twitter from a nationally known HE commentator was simply “How’s the bike?”.

Through Twitter, I’ve developed a really useful network outside the University, often with people who are influential in the sector, but who I wouldn’t meet otherwise. It means that attending meeting across the country, more often than not, you already know a lot about the people you will be meeting. And last year’s keynote speakers for our L&T conference as well as this year’s came from people I’d got to know through Twitter.

We all know of the danger of social media becoming an echo chamber – it’s good to follow people who you don’t agree with on all things, otherwise we are missing the benefits of academic debate.

Facebook for me is purely social. I do follow feeds from the University and from various schools an departments. My posts here are almost never work related and hopefully the privacy settings are such that I can maintain a more private profile here, which focuses on family, friends and hobbies.

Strava i is totally social – only look at this is you want to know how far and how slowly I ride a bike.

Flickr is for serious photography – quick snaps may appear on Facebook or Strava, anything that require any amount of editing will end up on Flickr.

WordPress is the software that powers many of the world’s blogs. This blog itself is a WordPress installation on the university system. I have a second site  as a backup, and where I can experiment with some additional WordPress tools and integrations. I’ve written before about why I write a blog – it provides a means to communicate in longer form than Twitter, and to provide my personal analysis of changes in the HE sector, both for internal and external consumption

There are a whole load of tools I don’t use – Snapchat and Instagram come to mind immediately. If nothing else, I’m not a great fan of the #artificialhashtag. However, institutionally we do need to be on top of these – these are the tools our students are using.

Finally I’ve mapped a number of other tools – WhatsApp, Skype for Business, FaceTime, FB Messenger – these are my comms channels in addition to my 2 email accounts.

There’s a lot to keep on top of!



Data, data everywhere

A welcome publication this week from the British Academy “Count us In” identifies the importance of the ability to understand and interpret data in the 21st Century.

The ubiquity of statistics makes it vital that citizens, scientists and policy makers are fluent with numbers. Data analysis is revolutionising both how we see the world and how we interact with it.

This new report from the British Academy offers a vision of how the UK can rise to the potentially transformational challenge of becoming a data-literate nation.

Within this are two clear messages for a university. Firstly how we make sure that the graduates that we produce are able to work and function in a data literate society, and secondly how we as an organisaton become more data literate.

Universities have traditionally been influenced by the liberal arts – and I will always defend the importance of developing high level critical thinking skills through a liberal education.. Howver, this in  turn has influenced how we might define what is to be a graduate, with a focus on communication, reflection and team working. However, few universities have developed their definition of graduate skills or more recently graduate attributes to explicitly explain how a graduate will be numerate, be able to handle data and be able to make decisions based on proper analysis. More surprising, is that this flies in the face of the skills that we know that employers value. We would have to ask why we have shied away from putting quantitative skills front and centre.

The report from the British Academy envisions:

 a generation of citizens, consumers, students and workers as comfortable with numbers as they are with words, confidently engaging with data in a future driven forward by technological development and a drive for international competitiveness.

and in doing so recognises the need for cultural change at all levels of the education system.


For UK universities, the key messages in the report are:

  • the need for universities to send signals to school on the importance of quantitative skills
  • the need for it to be normal for science,social science and humanities students
    to have developed significant quantitative skills in school, so that universities can then strengthen their entry requirements.
  • the worry that we dilute the curriculum to reflect the current poor level of quantitative skills of students
  • the bigger worry that the changes in course design may reflect weaknesses in the quantitative and data skills of university teaching staff
  • students graduate with little confidence in these skills, which have a negative effect on the businesses they subsequently work for

In terms of moving forward, the proposals from the report include:

  • universities should review and if necessary redesign the content of social science and humanities degree programmes
  • universities need to signal with more clarity what level of quantitative skills is necessary for each course
  • an increasing need for collaboration between universities and employers to work with the  data now collected and generated by the private sector

As well as the need to develop courses that develop quantitative skills, a university must also be aware of their own workforce’s skills. All staff in university might reasonably be expected to be able to handle data to make decisions – for instance through measuring student engagement as a personal tutor, optimsing a timetabling system, predicting recruitment numbers and workforce planning, benchmarking organisational performance through extenral data sets and league tables. The list goes on.

From the BA report, many more people in the workplace need to be able to handle data fluently.However:

a substantial body of case study research suggests that many employees fail to understand fully the quantitative techniques they are using, and lack the ability to recognise obvious errors in their work.


The almost universal investment in technology by private, public and voluntary sector institutions does not negate the need for numerical understanding. Rather, it adds
to it, as people require skills of investigation and interpretation. Nor are quantitative skills deficits confined to less senior employees: it has been estimated that as many as 58 per cent of people in “higher managerial and professional occupations” do not have numeracy skills at GCSE A*–C and above

All of which is worrying, as the report clealry identifies the economic benefits to organisations of being able to use data well.

To improve the situation for companies, the report proposes internal staff development, and engagement by businesses with training providers including FE and HE and taking advantage of apprenticeships.

I hope that this report helps spark more conversation -maybe even a strategic discussion at a committee somewhere –  on the need to improve numeracy, quantitative skills and data analysis.

For a university there are two key main areas to debate:

Firstly, how do we explicitly improve the quantitative skills of all students, and how do we show this  to potential employers that this is the factor that differentiates our graduates?

Secondly, how do we raise the data handling skills of all of our staff – teaching and professional support – to be able to teach and use data in the most effective way for the organisation?

To make a small step forward on this, tomorrow I will be presenting at our “Leading Academics” course on how to use data with the following outcomes:

  • To recognise the importance of using performance data
  • To identify which parts of the performance data set might be a priority for action within own subject area
  • To understand the benefits but also limitations of metrics based approaches

It’s a start.






Is UK HE lagging behind the global race?

This year’s annual survey of Vice-chancellors and report by PA Consulting has just been published – and for colleagues at Staffordshire, it’s always good to read the work of Mike Boxall, who presented his ideas on Oligarchs, Innovators and Zombies at our Leadership Conference last year.

This year’s report, “Lagging behind: are UK universities falling behind in the global innovation race”  takes a different approach – and looks at innovation in HE, and which developments in teaching and learning are seen as important.


So, our VCs think that the UK is lagging behind in every major area of innovation, and propose the following as the reasons for this:

  1. deep seated conservatism of university cultures
  2. constraints of inflexible organisational structures
  3. fragmented and tentative nature of change initiatives
  4. perceived lack of incentives for innovation
  5. improved confidence in resilience of sector
  6. widely held views that current models of HE provision and participation will remain the same for years to come

Even before reading the conclusions of the report – this seems worrying. Senior university leaders think that UK HE is lagging behind global competitors, in an increasingly globalised market, and propose a series of reasons that could explain this. Maybe I misread the memo, but remind me, who is able to lead changes to culture, organisational structures and change initiatives?

The report identifies the paradox between a residing belief that the main university experience in 15 years time will still be the full time 3 year undergraduate degree. Arranged against this are the promoters of “disruption”, led by Clay Christenson and his various acolytes (Sir Michael Barber, Sebastien Thrun et al who believe that “education is broken”).

Somewhere between these two extremes however is where change will actually happen. PA identify 7 themes that they believe will transform HE globally (for more on technology changes, its worth looking at the work of Educause and the NMC Horizon Report).


From the survey, the three themes identified as essential to survival were :

  • technology to transform learning
  • integration with working practice
  • student data analytics

Essential to maintaining competitiveness were;

  • student data analytics
  • integration with working practice
  • curriculum reforms

Technology to transform learning is a given. All of our students arrive at the university with a high level of digital capability.. First year 18 year olds do not remember a life without fast internet, with Google and Wikipedia on hand to provide information. Other students who come from employers will already be used to technology as a key part of their lives. We need to get better at recognising and uderstanding the digital skills of our students, how they differ from our own, and which digital capabilities we need to develop in both staff and students. Walking around with an iPad does not make you a digital native or resident, but realising how you can use it to create, curate and communicate learning is a start.

Data analytics is seem to be crucial for both survival as well as competiveness, which is interesting since use of student data analytics is still limited within the sector, with 2/3 of VCs surveyed saying they had made little or no progress in this area. So far we might have developed plenty of data on students who apply to us through UCAS and universities have developed plenty of market intelligence to drive recruitment, but analytics will mean more information on the performance, attendance and engagement of students. This nascent “big data” approach will potentially provide really useful information to all levels of staff in the organisation, and there are plenty of companies wanting to sell these technologies to the HE sector. Time to beware the snake oil salesmen.

Working with employers and accreditation of work experience are approaches that will be readily recognised in the sector by newer universities, although maybe more of  a challenge to understand by the more established residents in the marketplace. An increase in working like this will inevitably mean a greater shift from the traditional three year degree though – which does conflict with the view that this will remain the dominant form of HE.

PA conclude their report with:

The challenge for UK universities is not a failure to recognise the needs and opportunities for innovation, nor is it a lack of evidence for successful innovations elsewhere. Rather it stems from the profound difficulty of innovating in inherently conservative organisations that are still doing reasonably well from their old ways of working. Most universities can point to examples of innovative initiatives in their curriculum, pedagogies and student experiences, but these are almost all localised within the organisation and tentative in their scale and commitment. Meanwhile the core ‘business-as-usual’ of most institutions remains much
as it has been for many years, with diminishing relevance and value to changing student needs and expectations.

In summary, for me this report presents a distillation of key trends, but also a range of frustrations – if we can recognise what the limits are to innovation, then we need to find ways of fixing them and removing the barriers to development.

Technology is  going to be key to future developments, in learning, in analytics and in measuring the performance of an organisation, which reinforces the need for an increase in digital capability at all levels in a university organisation, as well as having a clear technology vision and strand to any operating plan.



Emerging Technology Trends in HE

This year’s NMC Horizon report on higher education has just been published. This is a collaboration between The New Media Consortium  and The Educause
Learning Initiative. Our own Dave Parkes is a contributor.

Trends that affect technology adoption in HE are identified, along with challenges to adoption and important developments. the developments are identified with suggested times to adoption.


Important Developments in Educational Technology for Higher Education
Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

> Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
> Flipped Classroom

These two are worth commenting on  – as we are developing new specifications for classrooms across the institution, then clearly we recognise that our students will increasingly be bringing their own technology to class. And when they get there, then they will be expecting to be putting that technology to good use in constructing their learning, not in passively listening to lectures. For that they’ll bring their own technology too, but mainly as a distraction and to engage in other parts of their life.

As the report states, proponent of BYOD cite:

personal mobile device use as a way for students to engage with learning material more effectively; they have instant access to more resources to gain a better understanding of the subjects at hand.202 The BYOD movement is enabling students to learn using the technology with which they are already familiar


However the downside is the danger of reinforcing a “digital divide” and so institutions need to be aware of ensuring all students are able to engage with learning.

Flipping the classroom has been talked abut for many years, and in some subjects, such as design, engineering, computer programming and games design, then this approach has been used for a long time. The support fro the flipped approach is documented as:

Beyond watching recorded video lectures, other technologies such as e-books with collaborative annotation and discussion software enable instructors to be more in tune with their students’ learning patterns. By reviewing the comments and questions that students pose online, instructors can better prepare for class and address particularly challenging ideas. The learning environment transforms into a dynamic and more social space where students can participate in critiques or work through problems in teams

The two trends expected to have an impact in the next year are particularly relevant to SU, as we roll out our new Problem and Practice Based Learning approaches in one of our faculties, at the same time as we are reviewing our technology enhanced learning offer, our teaching room specification and our information provision.

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

> Makerspaces
> Wearable Technology

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

> Adaptive Learning Technologies
> The Internet of Things

Significant Challenges Impeding Technology Adoption in Higher Education

Of as much interest as the potential technologies that will be used, are the challenges to adoption. Some of these remain the same from previous years of the report.

Solvable Challenges: Those that we understand and know how to solve
> Blending Formal and Informal Learning
> Improving Digital Literacy

Difficult Challenges: Those we understand but for which solutions are elusive
> Personalizing Learning
> Teaching Complex Thinking

Wicked Challenges: Those that are complex to even define, much less address
> Competing Models of Education
> Rewarding Teaching

Inevitably people will focus on the problems that are solvable – and the two cited can be linked. The blend of formal and informal learning arises when social media is used effectively, and when we learn to recognise and accredit learning that takes places outside of the usual recognised formal systems. Our approach to volunteering and recognition of work based learning support this. While improving digital literacy is cited as a problem we know how to solve. I’m not quite so sanguine – while staff and students are willing to use technology for many aspects of their lives, and to do so with no instruction, when it comes to using it for education, then sometimes it all seems too difficult. As well as ensuring that we provide opportunities for staff and students to develop digital literacy or fluency, we also need to make sure that our systems are as easy to use as products we use in everyday life.

A final comment on the wicked challenges.  Rewarding teaching is in there again. In a year when the UK has just had the results of the Research Excellence Framework, ,when promotion to professorships are based on research (in fact if not in policy), then we still have some way to goo to provide reward and recognition for anything that is not research based.

One final point – Stephen Downes has taken a look at the report – he criticises the NMC methodology:

We can observe the following trends:

Last-minute predictions of things that already happened open content, ebooks, mobile

Fad-hopping: MOOCs, makerspace, flipped class

One major successful prediction: notably, learning analytics

Failed prediction: gamification, augmented reality, gesture-based

So what does it tell us about the methodology? Mostly, that it sways in the breeze. It’s strongly influenced by the popular press and marketing campaigns. It’s not based on a deep knowledge significant technology developments, but rather focuses on surface-level chatter and opinion. And that is why I think NMC should be obligated to re-examine its methodology.

All valid – but I think one benefit of the NMC report is that provides a starting point for discussions in institutions on how we might prepare for educational futures.

Hacking the University

Student as Producer

“Hacking the University” was the title of a talk I went to at #digifest14, by Joss Winn of University of Lincoln, which covered among other things the idea of “Student as Producer”, originally envisaged for Lincoln by Mike Neary. This came out of an HEA funded project, but has now become the Learning and Teaching Plan for the university – concise, simple and understandable.

Joss talked about the role of a university and reflected on how in the 19th century, research and teaching were combined together, but that since then the two had drifted apart, and n some cases a forced binary divide created.

With the new teaching and learning plan, all new validations had to show how the idea of student as producer was being embedded. This was therefore happening slowly, rather than as a big bang approach, but it was suggested that the ideas were clealry manifest in the curriculum. This was then a low burn approach but Joss suggested there was a lot of lots of senior engagement through conferences etc. The fact that Lincoln were given lot of publicity through HEA also mean that they were being watched which gave everyone encouragement to keep going.

So what did this have to do with hacking the university? Well simply put, this was a new set of ideas that gained traction and had impact across the institution. The question is how far this can be taken, and whether there are other ways of challenging and changing a university.

Can we hack our university?

In any large organisation, it’s easy for innovation to be stifled, or worse, for it to become a paper exercise where success is measured in the production of a paper for academic board or senate, a policy document, or a set of guidelines (actually this list could go on and on).

Is there another way of creating and supporting a drive for innovation, such as the skunkworks idea? A place where innovators, creative thinkers can be brought together free from the constraints of discipline?


So here’s three ideas which sort of link to what we say we are doing in our various strategies, but might be another way of seeing some output and impact more quickly.

1.  As previously written in these pages, the digital future is going to be so much bigger than the digital past. But how does a university address this issue? Is it something to have a locus in an IT services department? In an education development unit? In a business planning and forecasting group? How do we harness the existing knowledge and horizon scanning within a set of constraints that do not reflect what the future will hold? I’m going to be working with a couple of key people to identify some kind of digital manifesto for us

2.  Working with the students as producers idea, we also need to encourage further the idea of teachers as producers. Academic staff who are research active in the traditional way can easily publish. In a teaching led organisation though, we need to consider a broader range of scholarship and outputs. We’ve gone some way towards this but can we make another step change?

Everyone has 22 days of self managed scholarly activity,and we are working to  make sure we see outputs from this. One way we could support people could be to use our university blogging tools more creatively, in the way that the LSE do. We could create easy forums for staff to present and share their ideas.

3.  And finally. Well,  I’m not sharing my final idea for hacking the university, but here’s a challenge. If we want to encourage student co-production of learning, and encourage staff scholarly outputs, then we in management and leadership roles could set  a different example.

I write this blog and talk at external events, so my challenge is this – for everyone on my weekly email list to produce a guest article for this blog. 500 words on a topic relating to HE policy, digital futures, university developments – it should be easy!


#digifest14 – What happens next?

The closing speech at #digifest14 was by Ray Hammond, a self-styled futurologist. These are my notes, more details can be found on the Jisc website.


Hammond suggests that we have no language for the future, that the lack of language may inhibit our thinking, for instance the idea of a “mobile phone” does not begin to describe what such a device does today. It is also not useful in explaining future of where the device is going and blinkers us to what it might become. Lack of language makes it difficult for us when new technology arrives. We might have a word but no shared mental model. How can we best exploit a technology? What are downsides?  A lack of common language means we cannot understand implications

Today our lives are mediated by technology. Future of education will be shaped by technology but does not take away human component. For instance we are now building an “always on” network. Form of connectiveness that can’t be described easily, so what is this digitally connected place?

Hammond proposed 6 drivers of change

1. In our students’ lifetime there will asymmetric population growth. Most in sub Saharan Africa. Another 50% of people will need fresh water and food.

2. Continuing climate change.

3. Ongoing energy crisis. Because of population  growth and greenhouse effect. Need cleaner and more sustainable energy when demand could increase by 100%

4. Continuing modem globalisation. Truth lies between between 2 poles of viewing globalisation as evil or as an opportunity for unfettered capitalism. Globalisation if ethical and sustainable is greatest force for good.

5. Triple medical science revolutions: DNA decoding and profiling; stem cell medicine and nano scale medicine, eg drug delivery. This could lead to personalised medicine, and increasing lifespans for those in the rich world and who could afford. Who wants to live forever?

6. Accelerating exponentially technology development. Causes dislocation and problems with understanding. For example,  kids who  want to build apps. 6 years ago they didn’t exist! (or at least the term didn’t).  What will we be talking about in 5 years?


I’m not sure these ideas were revolutionary – I remember having conversations in the 1980s about teh challenges of population growth and food and water security.

But there is no denying, the rate of technology change is accelerating in a non linear manner.

4 years ago no-one had an iPad, and no-one could have described how they might use one. To find out how long iPads have been around, I spoke to my iPad, and Siri told me the answer.


At this conference nearly everyone was using a mobile keyboard-less, wireless device to take notes, photographs, share messages, collaborate, engage in debate, contribute, check references, read, listen, etc.

Here’s my prediction. In 10 years we won’t be carrying a recognisable tablet computer. If I knew what we would be using, I’d be working somewhere else.

So what does this all mean for us in higher education?

A later blog post will return to the ideas of #digifest14, and try to create a manifesto for change for a university, which considers all the disparate developments in a digital world: in business intelligence; in learning and teaching; in the ideas of hackerspace and skunkworks; in responding to changing student needs and expectations; changed student populations; in changing staff abilities and identities and finding a way of encompassing this at the heart of an organisation

I’ll tell you something else about this future – it’s a going to be lot more than buying and installing a few new components for a VLE or a student information system.

Hang on, it’s going to be a fun ride.

Digital Environments and Identity

This blog piece is based on 2 of the workshops at #digifest14, “Understanding students’ expectations and experiences of the digital environment” and “Visitors and residents: understanding student behaviours online”.

The first of these looked at previous Jisc supported work and started with a review of expectations and experiences which recognised the need to differentiate between general digital environment and study environment and digital aspects

Today students’ transactional needs include hygiene factors such as wifi.

Students have vague or blurry expectations of how they will learn with technology

Younger students expect technology to be frictionless. Many uni systems are quite chunky in comparison.


The workshop focussed on:

  • Can institution meets students rising expectations of digital access and use?
  • Do your students learning experiences prepare them to live and work in a digital society?
  • It’s 2020. How will students experience digital environment?

More detail on this can be found at the digital student blog and design studio pages.

The second workshop looked at ideas of digital identity, and how students and staff might behave online. The starting point was Prensky’s idea of digital natives and immigrants. This has been superseded in the intervening years, since Prensky differentiated by generation, suggesting that the young were digital natives. In this newer approach, David White of Oxford University suggests the terms resident and visitor, and further separates behaviours depending on whether they are professional/institutional or personal.


As an exercise we each mapped our digital identity using referring to each of our online presences. An interesting issue arose – if a service such as Twitter is used and is just professional, how much can be personal? Is there an advantage in revealing something of yourself as an individual as part of the need for authenticity, especially for leaders (see Goffee and Jones – “Why Should Anyone be Led by You?”).


These were  a pair of really interesting workshops – and thinking back to my blog post on the need to put “digital” at the centre of what we do, they give us some tools to understand what our students expect and experience, and what we might need to do when looking at our own digital competence and identity