This week has seen a lot of project activity for me. Some further analysis of the survey results provided evidence of differences between students in different disciplines, which I am sharing with academic and Corporate Services’ colleagues via an internal press release and a post on the staff intranet as well as targeted emails to key stakeholders. Following support from action learning set colleagues I am also setting up one-to-one meetings with lecturers who have responsibility for employablity and/or skills to brief them on the survey findings and the project in general. I have had one of these meetings so far and it was useful to note how the work of Project DigitISE complements other university activity, a Change Academy proposal, WiRES which is looking at embedding information skills into the curriculum and the university-wide initiative and Learning Futures@Westminster which is considering the future of teaching and learning. The former is lead by Prof. Barbara Allan, Deputy Chair of the DigitISE Project Board and the latter by Prof Rikki Morgan-Tamosunas, its Chair, so connections are there at the highest level and I’m hopeful this will contribute to the project’s sustainability.
This week the student intranet also reported the winner of the Amazon vouchers for participation in the survey and highlighted the existence of the work for the first time to the student body in general. Today I have put out word to students about a series of focus groups where we hope to refine our understanding of attitudes to digital literacy skills. The timing is tight as these are scheduled to take place next week, so I have enlisted the support of the Academic Liaison team for tweets and blog posts as well as the Students’ Union for their communication channels, it’s a bit of a gamble and we’ll see if digital communication pays off.
Get the Digital Edge
We have also started work in earnest on the event for students scheduled for March 21st. Entitled “Get the Digital Edge” it will feature a series of workshops and seminars on the topic of digital skills and employment. Members of the Delivery Group are recruiting and liaising with speakers, who are both interanl and external to the university and we are in the throes of finalising the booking system through eventbrite . The communications plan is in action with weekly messages identified to build the interest for the day. In speaking to an academic colleague yesterday, she identified the need to have some kind of “progression” for students who attend the day, a “What next?”, so I will be bringing this to the attention of the Project Board and Delivery Group in due course. The most obvious candidates are the Career Development Centre and the Academic Liaison and IT training team who can use this opportunity to highlight their offer to students although in the longer term the links to the projects mentioned above where digital skills can be embedded is a more appealing and effective outcome.
Shortly before Christmas Boris, our doctoral researcher, presented the findings of our student questionnaire to the Project Board and Delivery Group and it made for an interesting meeting. The questionnaire asked students about their use of digital technology and applications as well as testing their attitudes to digital skills as they relate to employability. Since some schools were under represented in the early findings we extended the life of the questionnaire and these additional data brought the total number of respondents to 563.
The headline findings from the total survey are that 87.6% students love digital technology and 81.5% believe themselves to be digitally literate. This latter figure leads us to conclude that any marketing of sessions focussing on digital literacy will need a more sophisticated hook than ” Come and learn digital literacy” if it is to appeal to this significant majority who believe they already have these skills.
Further finding were encouraging:
- Academic staff were considered digitally literate by 64.9% and support staff got a similar rating by 69.2% of respondents
- 92.3% of respondents consider it important for students to develop digital skills
- 55.9% agreed with the statement, “The university has the responsibility to equip me with the digital literacy skills I need”
In terms of ownership/access to digital tools:
- 91.6% own a smartphone
- 93.3% have a laptop
- 79% have access to a desktop PC
- 39.1% have a tablet
- 28.4% have an e-reader
For technology based applications the findings were as follows:
- 97.9% use Blackboard
- 85.8% use Skype
- 85.4% use facebook
- 75.8% use iTunes
There were some variations in attitudes by school, for example:
- Students from the Business School agreed significantly more with the statement that it is the University of Westminster’s responsibility to equip them with the digital literacy skills that are required, than did the students affiliated to the School of Law
- Students in the School of Law felt a significantly lower need for training regarding digital literacy than reported by their counterparts from the School of Media, Arts and Design or Business School
- The difference with the highest significance was found with regard to the statement that the digital literacy skills needed in the courses get more complex as students progress through the course. Students from the Business School agreed significantly more with this statement than did students from the School of Law, Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages or Architecture
Overall, 95.7% of the participants agreed that using technology is essential to their studies, with 90.0% seeing it as essential for teaching and 90.6% regarding it as essential for learning. In terms of assessment, only 5.6% of the participants regarded the use of technology as not being essential.
Approximately 56% of the participants agreed that, in their opinion, most students like to engage with learning material while travelling and 81.9% use their laptops for study/all aspects of their life whilst only 1.6% use their smartphone for study.
We have yet to fully digest the figures and share them more widely with our colleagues both in the Schools and in Corporate Services but we hope they will contribute to a clearer understanding of our students’ current use of technology alongside their understanding of and attitudes to digital skills. The findings will also feed into wider university work such as the Learning Futures project.
On March 21st we are hosting an event of workshops and seminars for students that will further explore the link between digital skills and employability. The marketing plans for this event will draw on some of the questionnaire findings.