After an excellent 24 hours at the Talis Insight 2017 conference, what best to do but a reflection of the event and give a bit of background to our talk for those who could not attend.
I would like to begin by thanking everyone at Talis for their hospitality and allowing us the incredible opportunity, to not only speak at the conference, but to give one of the keynotes.
A special thank you goes to Arrun, Alison and Natalie for their constant support and communication with us.
Our talk, like the majority of the conference, was based around the digitization of resources and the progression it has made. As we are students we thought what best but to talk about students’ feelings about the change and constant shift to digitization.
How plugged in are we?
We kicked off the talk by discussing how plugged-in are students in reality. We found that within our individual faculties, business and international relations, there are huge differences in how students use their digital devices outside of academic uses. For example; an international relations lecturer asked a lecture theatre of international relations students how many of them use Twitter, and surprisingly few raised their hands. This is an important factor to consider when designing resources, as there are large differences between the trends among students depending on what they are studying.
Results taken from a focus group showed that the majority of students rely heavily on their laptop. This is partly due to a rise of student intake at the university and the lack of space, computer availability and laptop loans; forcing students to have to find somewhere else to study, such as their bedrooms. This however, does not students from seeking the use of the library and computer rooms, as the wifi around leisure areas of campus is not always strong enough to support everyone.
What are universities getting wrong?
What do students actually want in regards to print, digital or video resources? Introduction to university resources have changed a lot in recent years, for example our VLE has progressed a lot since only three years ago. Currently the majority of our reading lists contain more digital than print resources, and most notably the majority of these digital resources are links to eBooks. Before eBooks universities would use scans or references to get printed books. Overall, the student experience in all areas of university has rapidly digitized; and it is this attitude of tailoring to a generation of students who have been brought up with technology in their pockets and digital approach the university is trying to keep up with. Although our survey results and personal preferences show that people are still choosing printed books over eBooks. Although they have some perks, it mainly comes down to being able to read the book itself and the usability of online books do not always make this easy.
Often for students in their final two years, their attitudes tend to change slightly as the benefits of eBooks slowly out weigh the costs. This is often due to how normalized staring at a screen of words has become. As their workload increases also the ease of accessing a year book has become essential to completing an assignment; especially when the study space in the library becomes very limited. This does cause a detachment from books and interferes with levels of concentration as it all but too tempting to click on social media or Netflix whilst working from your laptop. This begs the question, how much has the shift in digitization been forced on us and how much have we actually asked for it?
The Talis conference was not just based solely on digitization, it was heavily centered around reading lists for universities, with Talis owning the majority of the market. In January we sent out a questionnaire asking 115 students about their pre-arrival reading list and how they went about purchasing books from this list. We also asked students who did not receive a pre-arrival reading list if they went and purchased books anyway. The students flagged money as being the largest factor when making decisions on buying resources. This is a common theme that comes up in all of our research that we do.
It is also interesting to see that a lot of the online preference for online materials comes from students’ lack of money and the high prices of printed books, rather than the want for digital resources. Students responded to the questionnaire saying the library should have a choice of both printed and digital books readily accessible. Another important point mentioned, was that the essential readings on reading lists are not always essential and necessary. This was then reiterated in the marketing and launching the reading lists service talk given by Helen Rimmer from Royal Holloway University London; she said that they were working with academics to get their essential readings to what they want students to read at a minimum and move other resources to recommended readings instead. As a student I agreed with this point entirely, as they are not always necessary or relevant and just build on topics you’ve already read within the essential reading list. By minimising the “essential” reading to the bare minimum of what is important you read it will save students not only time finding resources but also the cost of them.
The format in which eBooks are presented needs to be altered. It is not pleasant for any student to spend hours working out how to use the book and getting a headache just from looking at the screen. Students have a very short attention span and long chunks of small text, combined with being on a laptop is not ideal. Students mainly look for the usability of a resource, how easy is it to use, are there clear headings and summaries etc.
Another digital resource that is fast emerging is educational videos. Short videos explaining educational concepts and theories, are beginning to pop up on reading lists, the VLE and student resources in general. Although it is true that we students love to break up reading with videos, the videos being produced are just not working. As young people we feel that educational videos need to be around one minute long quickly going over a topic or part of one, to keep up with our short attention spans. We referred in the talk to the the brand Tasty, whom create one minute cooking videos that have been watched 10s of thousands of times. They have turned the boring interesting and there is no reason why academics cant do the same.
Looking to the future
To conclude, we ask ourselves: what does the future hold for students? As our presentation demonstrated at Talis Insight, a focus on digital academic resources is a current reality for many students. Not only that, but a totally digital university experience is a very possible future, whether or not students welcome it. If students are expected to succeed, engage and thrive in a more digitally-focused environment, resources need to be more affordable, student input should be more intrinsic to resource design, and content should not only be informative, but innovative.
I for one look forward to seeing how my preferences change over the few years – and see if I get sucked in to using ebooks like other final year students, and see whether my peers change with me. I also look forward to seeing how the university and suppliers of Higher Education resources shift their products.
Once again, a huge thank you to Talis for allowing us to have such an incredible platform to inform others about our research and opinions. For any further questions regarding the talk or previous work we have done, contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org