The digital student: what do they expect at university?


creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by CollegeDegrees360

The expectations of the next cohort of incoming students is a theme explored in a recent Jisc report, ‘Incoming expectations of the digital environment formed at school.’ David White and Joanna Wild explore the impact of technology on the digital expectations of students in HE.

What are students expecting at university in terms of technology?

Well, it depends. Students have varied expectations based on their individual experiences at school. In secondary schools, teachers have the highest level of access to interactive whiteboards (IWB), desktop computers and digital cameras. Yet, the Jisc study reports that there is limited access to netbooks, mobile phones or unrestricted wifi.

Digital new world

A previous Jisc research project looked at how expectations of students are shaped, not just by their experience of technology within school, but also by their world outside of school.

TodaysMeet a blog - student asking a question

School experience influences expectations

Social media has changed the way that we communicate and stay informed, and mobile device technology has advanced considerably. While we cannot yet claim that every student has a Smartphone, the evidence indicates that the vast majority do. According to figures provided by Jisc, 95% of students reported owning a Smartphone, although the idea of a Smartphone differed between individuals.

What do students want at university?

The advances in mobile technology and the new immediacy provided by social media means change for universities. To meet student expectations, however, a university needs to know first what those expectations are.

Helen Beetham and David White work towards answering the question of what students want in an another valuable Jisc study; ‘Students’ expectations and experiences of the digital environment’. You can read the complete Jisc report here, or if you’re short of time, then there is an executive summary. Even busier than that? Hang on to the end of the post and we will summarise the report in a 140 character Tweet.

The Jisc study found that students arriving at university have a wide variety of digital and learning practices. The students were, however, unsure as to what constituted as legitimate practice of the digital environment within a university context.

The research uncovered a need for universities to take a pro-active approach in managing students’ ideas about the digital environment. It was also apparent that universities needed to horizon-scan and collect evidence about students’ current and future digital needs.

Digital wish list

One expectation seems quite basic; to have an institutional email address, and for that email to be the primary form of communication with their course and institution. Many universities can feel satisfied that they have already met that demand.

The remaining list of expectations were vast and wide-ranging. Here is a selection of the top student expectations from the Jisc report.

Students reported to Jisc to expect the following from their HE institution:

  1. reliable and robust wifi all across campus
  2. consistent use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLE)
  3. teaching staff who are digitally-savvy
  4. to easily connect devices to the university network
  5. easy access to institutional devices, to use alongside their own
  6. course-related information and personal updates to be available continuously via their device of choice
  7. explicit instruction in using institutional systems (library catalogue, VLE, assessment system) and specialist technologies required for their course
  8. to have technology incorporated into their teaching/learning in ways that are relevant to their academic success

We promised the research in a Tweet if you reached the bottom. In 140 characters exactly, the digital expectations of students according to Jisc are….

‘Students want wifi across campus, a great VLE, instant access to info through their own devices…oh and digitally
savvy staff to teach them’ (140 characters) 




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One comment on “The digital student: what do they expect at university?
  1. Denise Turner says:

    Thanks for this. So important to see what students are expecting.

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