Student expectations of IT
What do students want from IT?
In short – everything. And why not? Many students arrive at our colleges and universities as prolific and competent users of technology. Some may be described as digital residents - that is to say, they use the web in all aspects of their lives from practical tasks such as banking, to study and recreation, to sharing ideas and images with others in order to create an online identity.
Freshers anticipate pervasive wireless across campus, easy connection to the institution’s network and intuitive, useful learning applications. And, not surprisingly, they want to be able to make use of the tools that they have brought with them and are comfortable with such as smart phones and tablets.
How can IT departments fulfil these expectations?
The first step is to gain an understanding of what the student body requires.
Most institutions conduct annual student satisfaction surveys which include questions on IT provision. In other instances, IT departments poll cohorts of learners specifically on their experiences of their use of IT services, or gain insight through messages received through institutional Twitter streams or Facebook pages. Other universities and college IT departments prefer regular liaison with the student union, or have an open door policy for student representatives.
There are plenty of examples of best practice across the sector. For example, London South Bank University had an initiative where IT staff shadowed students and attended their classes to better understand how technology was used whilst on campus.
Around 60 universities have migrated their student email to Google or Microsoft environments to give an enhanced but familiar service. A further 30 universities and colleges are using university-branded mobile apps which enable students to view their library accounts, check computer availability on campus, and review course and seminar timetables whilst on the move.
Findings from the NUS’s HEFCE-funded report Students perspectives on technology have been formalised into a NUS Charter on Technology in Higher Education. Recommendations include prioritising investment in IT infrastructure and using technology for student assessment, feedback, registration and module selection. IT directors are making use of the Charter when they develop services.
It is beneficial to consider the needs and expectations of young learners who will soon become HE students. Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World gives a good overview of the concerns and aspirations of young adults in their use of technology.
It concluded: “Entering HE, this generation encounters a world constructed on, and dominated by, a wholly different set of norms, approaches and experiences. Characterised broadly, it is hierarchical, substantially introvert, guarded, careful, precise and measured. The two worlds are currently co-existing, with present day students effectively occupying a position on the cusp of change. They aren’t demanding different approaches; rather they are carrying over their school experience and making such adaptations as are necessary for the time it takes to gain their qualifications.”
EDUCAUSE, UCISA’s sister organisation in North America, produces an annual report that considers future technologies. Their 2012 Horizon Report highlights emerging technologies that will have a significant impact on higher education over the next one to five years, such as forecasting the adoption of game-based learning within two to three years.
Closer to home, UCISA helps institutional and corporate members across the UK to meet student expectations by, for example, publishing resources on engaging with academics in the use of technology enhanced learning (TEL) and arranging events on delivering applications and services to mobile devices.
Not ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’ but ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ (Tall blog posting, July 2008) http://bit.ly/bvHA1s
Students perspectives on technology (HEFCE/NUS, October 2010) http://bit.ly/N9m33M
Charter on Technology in Higher Education (NUS, August 2011) http://bit.ly/nEVeqP
Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World (JISC, May 2009) http://bit.ly/asRT30
2012 Horizon Report (Educause, February 2012) http://bit.ly/KluK8V
A version of this blog posting appears in the August edition of University Business magazine.