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Digital Capabilities and Expectations of Prospective Students: Preparing Higher Education for Learning and Teaching of the Future

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Laura Delgaty, Dr Jo Matthan, Dr Pamela Woolner, Ulrike Thomas


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Background There is a fundamental lack of understanding in Higher Education (HE) concerning young people’s use of technology and many universities are failing to meet the digital expectations of incoming students. Although academics may find this uncomfortable, the interests, goals and motivation of Secondary School Students (SSS) have been identified as essential to help universities devise strategies to enhance technology provision. A recent Joint Information Systems Committee funded project, warned that an understanding of how and why SSS use and will be using technology once in HE has been almost totally overlooked. Furthermore, HE, no longer elitist, must embrace a diversity of intake, recognising the needs of a changing and heterogeneous population. This includes the most talked about concern surrounding social equity, the digital divide. Digital strategies run the risk of reinforcing undesirable differences between genders and between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds; these areas require attention in relation to digital inclusion. Therefore, what is needed is an exploration of the next generation’s perspectives surrounding technology, which have been largely ignored. This project elicits SSS views collectively, and between groups, using the discrete variables of gender and socioeconomic background. Aim To investigate the digital capabilities and expectations of students transitioning to University in five years’ time and identify demographic differences. Methods Using a survey methodology, an open ended questionnaire concerning ‘technology in learning’ was developed and delivered to SSS (aged 14-15, n=750) in NorthEast England. Demographic data was collected (gender, school type, educational aspirations). Data was analysed both statistically and thematically. Results Preliminary analysis suggests students are surprisingly critical in choices around both hardware and how they interpret information available online. They experiment fearlessly whilst expecting simple and instant access. Differences in groups were seen in gender (girls preferred using technology in groups and in wide open spaces) and socioeconomic background (less advantaged students suggested learning with technology predominantly occurs in a traditional school setting and the teacher was the dominant influence of both technology chosen and choices surrounding online information). Conclusions These prospective students to HE must be seen as autonomous shaping forces in their own right. We need to develop research informed strategies directed towards these stakeholder’s needs and expectations, guarding against the promotion of undesirable differences between groups. This collective view is missing and any research that aims to genuinely inform the practice of the future, must include a comprehensive view of young people, education and technology.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Delgaty L, Matthan J, Rawles L, Guidling C, Woolner P, Thomas U

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: BERA Conference 2016

Year of Conference: 2016

Print publication date: 13/09/2016

Online publication date: 13/09/2016

Acceptance date: 07/09/2016