27 August 2019 - Just how digital are our students?


After winning a ucisa bursary I was lucky enough to attend the EUNIS conference in Trondheim, Norway in June this year.

EUNIS stands for the ‘European University Information Systems’ organisation and their mission is ‘to help member institutions develop their IT landscape by sharing experiences and working together’.

The conference was held at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) which was a fantastic campus with interesting learning spaces to explore.

The programme was full of really thought provoking content as well as the practical sharing of research and good practice.

A few of the highlights for me are below:

Traditional vs virtual campus
Professor Alexandra den Heijer’s spoke about campus models and how around the year 2000 we were all planning for the idea that ‘bricks will be replaced by clicks’. Instead it’s now more of a mixture of the two, ‘bricks and clicks’. She presented to us the three models of the campus, ‘Traditional’, ‘Network’ and ‘Virtual’ with virtual being more the campus of the future. The trend once was towards virtual and from around 2016 it’s reverting back to the traditional and this is largely because of the value students put on having a physical place to study. A valuable point raised is the importance of a physical space for the mental wellbeing of our students too. If there’s a physical place to study they are more likely to structure their learning and give themselves breaks, online learning encourages a ‘24/7’ approach which for some could be quite detrimental.

Digital literacy
Jisc’s team at the conference gave some great stats from their Digital Insight work:
• 37,720 students surveyed across 83 institutions UK
• Only 4 in 10 students felt their course prepared them for the digital workplace
• 1/3 wanted more digital use on their course.

My main takeaway from this session was the message that we are assuming students are digital natives. They may use technology in their every day lives but that isn’t the same as using technology effectively in their learning and researching. I felt we need to offer the opportunity to develop digital capabilities within our curriculum wherever we can.

Digital ethics
Educause President John O’Brien gave an inspiring talk around digital ethics and used the quote ‘just because you can do something with technology doesn’t mean you should’ (Frankenstein, Mary Shelley 1818). This really resonated with me and I think that in learning technologies, it’s so important to go back to this statement. He raised points around the weaponisation of artificial intelligence and potential psychological harm of virtual reality which we should all bear in mind for the future.

VLE Review Toolkit
ucisa presented their new VLE Review Toolkit to support those that are looking at their current VLE and considering a refresh or change of supplier. It includes a real emphasis on student and academic involvement in the whole process from surveys through to focus groups to refine the requirements, you can find the resource here.

Digital exams
This section of the conference was fascinating, after futuristic conversations with colleagues about students completing exams digitally, I was blown away to see the set up of a Digital Exam hall at NTNU and to hear about this. I expand more in the digital exams blog post (forthcoming).

Active blended learning
Dean of Learning and Teaching, University of Northampton Professor Alejandro Armellini gave a fantastic presentation on the model of Active Blended Learning (ABL) and how it has been built into every programme at Northampton. The idea is to provide ‘student-centred activities that support the development of subject knowledge and understanding, independent learning and digital fluency’, take a look at their pages here, there is certainly a lot to learn from this method.

I had a fantastic time at the conference, it was a brilliant learning experience and the organisers pulled out all the stops to make us feel welcome. I would like to say a huge thank you to ucisa and Loughborough University for the opportunity to attend.

If you’d like more information on the ucisa bursary scheme, please see here and get in touch with me if you’d like to know more about it s.chester@lboro.ac.uk.