This is the first of two posts about work done at City, University of London with the JISC Digital Experience Insights Survey and their Student Digital Community. This post is by Lauren Regan, Digital Literacies Coordinator.
At City, University of London we conducted the Jisc Digital Experience Insights (DEI) survey open to all City students for three iterations, between 2019 & 2022. The last response received for the 2019/20 survey was 16th February 2020, just over a month before the first UK lockdown restrictions. The 2020/21 survey took place in April 2021 during the pandemic, when all teaching had been moved to online, and the 2021/22 Survey took place in April 2022, once most teaching had moved back to in-person. The survey results not only helped us to understand the digital experience of our students, but also gave us an insight into their experience of learning pre, amidst and post pandemic, which highlighted some interesting trends both from our own data and the Jisc benchmark.
The results of the 2019/20 survey findings highlighted a digital skills gap which was further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and in November 2020, City started an initiative to employ Student Digital Assistants (SDA) to support the development of digital skills. The SDA’s created an online Student Digital Community on MS Teams where they regularly posted resources with digital skills & online learning tips, held weekly drop-in sessions and webinars on topics from Study skills to fraud prevention. During the pandemic the online sessions also offered some much needed social interaction for the students, who shared they were missing the informal discussion time with peers that would have previously taken place before and after in-person lectures. In addition to the Student Digital Assistants initiative, as a result of the 2019/20 survey findings, which showed that students had ranked ‘Video tutorials’ as their most preferred method of learning digital skills, City also purchased a site wide licence for LinkedIn learning to provide all City students with access.
Amidst the pandemic
Following the 2020/21 survey we held a focus group with students, from a range of study levels and disciplines, to further understand their online learning experience. The findings from the survey results, feedback from the focus group and comparison to the Jisc benchmark data highlighted that our students were at more of a disadvantage in terms of digital poverty, likely due to a high proportion of City students being commuter students. This information was shared with our Student and Academic services department and helped to justify the continuation of funding the digital inclusion fund for City students post-pandemic.
The focus group also helped us understand student’s perspectives when rating their ‘online learning environment’, with the percentage of students agreeing that their online learning environment was reliable, well designed and easy to navigate dropping in comparison to results from both City’s data and Jisc’s benchmark data from the 2019/20 survey. The focus group students were not surprised by this decrease and shared that the increase in their use of online tools meant that they relied on them much more and therefore would answer this question more critically than in previous years. When asked what they considered their online learning environment to be, interestingly they shared that they felt that all of their online interaction with City formed part of their online learning environment, this included Moodle, Teams, Zoom, Outlook, City’s website, social media accounts and student newsletters. This highlighted that the student’s perception of their online learning environment seemed much broader than most staff perceptions.
The 2021/22 survey helped us identify some interesting trends when reviewed inline with the Jisc benchmark data, which showed that there was a decrease in the number of students agreeing that their online learning environment and online learning experience was positive during the pandemic, but those numbers rising again after there was a return to in-person teaching. This was also true of their views on whether they were given an assessment of their digital skills and training needs and how much they agreed that they were provided with guidance about the digital skills needed for their course. This indicated that students were much more aware of the importance of their digital skills during the pandemic, which is something we have chosen to continue to focus on following these findings, with one of our SDA’s creating a bespoke Student Digital Skills Self-Assessment tool which allows students to discover the types of skills they might need for their studies and signposts them to relevant City guidance based on their answers. The 2021/22 findings also again highlighted student’s preference for videos when learning digital skills, so work continues to promote LinkedIn learning to students to support them with improving their digital skills to support them with their studies.
Following all iterations of the survey, the findings were shared and recommendations made for different departments across the university. Going forward, we will continue to evaluate the digital experience of our students and make recommendations on any improvements that can be made to online learning support and provisions. We are also looking at what type of in-person support might be beneficial for students to ensure they are equipped with the necessary skills to succeed in their studies and future careers.