In higher education (HE), as with life more generally, it’s practically impossible to get by without technology in the 21st century. This has been made even more apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the majority of students, basic digital literacy isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it’s essential. Technology is increasingly being turned to as the solution to longstanding challenges institutions face.
It’s easy to pretend HE hasn’t changed much over the past few years, but the increased role of technology has transformed the way students engage with their learning and teaching experience.
When compared to other HE operations, such as student services, housing and administration, the teaching and learning process has been changed most dramatically by technology. Virtual learning environments (VLEs) are now almost omnipresent across UK institutions, but there’s so much more technology is doing to improve quality in higher education.
Communication gaps have been bridged - whether in a traditional or a virtual classroom. With online collaboration tools, everyone can form a community where teachers assign projects to their students in real-time.
Cloud storage has also made research simpler for students. Gone are the days when they had to go through piles of books to find a specific reference to improve their assignments and projects. With technology, research has been streamlined.
So as technology continues to shift the way in which the academic and student experiences are delivered in higher education, we need to think about how it can be delivered in a way that has a positive impact on the wellbeing of students.
Student engagement and retention
With a greater focus on student engagement, there’s a growing appetite from students for technology. There has never been a cohort of students who are more at home with technology than students of today.
Universities are increasingly challenged to justify their value and a student’s decision is now shaped by more than just university rankings. Support from student services, proactive policies, facilities and access to lecturers are becoming just as important. In fact, students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning or other identities often choose to study at a university which they perceive to offer a safe space.
Former President of NUS, Liam Burns, stated: “It seems pretty clear that technology can unquestionably improve the infrastructure and support for students during their time in higher education.” And that was back in 2012.
Providers must be mindful that the student experience is different for everyone. While technology helps to promote collaborative learning, it also helps to personalise education. By reducing the need to deliver vast amounts of information, technology can free up time to devote to individual students who need it more.
The GuildHE report on wellbeing found black and minority ethnic (BAME), LGBTQ+, international students and students with disabilities were more likely to experience poor mental health and wellbeing. Low student engagement can be a warning sign of mental or physical stress.
With more time to interact and get acquainted, institutions can adapt their teaching strategies and assignments to be more inclusive to the interests and needs of their diverse students. There’s no quick fix but they can use tech to make sure everyone feels welcomed and accepted.
Technology also has the power to create transformative opportunities that will benefit all learners. Whether through subtitled content for those with hearing impairments or virtual reality field trips for learners with limited mobility and funds; it is empowering learners to take more control of their education than ever before.
Accessible technology can make a critical difference to the student experience, especially for students who haven’t previously had the opportunity. It’s time to move towards a digitally-backed institution that meets everyone’s needs to keep students safe and retention strong.
It’s undoubtedly a helping hand for HE, but it can also put a profound strain on those who are slow to adapt. Changing well-established processes and ways of working is easier said than done. An investment like this will require institution-wide buy-in to succeed.
A great place to start is with technology that has student wellbeing at its very core. Everybody must be aligned that a better student experience should be a priority.
Quality of support
Many universities are moving towards a more automated and proactive system of identifying and prioritising students who need support. The opportunities for process improvement across a university campus stretch far and wide, across all departments.
Teaching staff can inspire and guide all students through their learning journey, so it’s important they’re equipped with the knowledge to use the right tech at the right time for the students’ benefit.
With industry-leading reporting systems coming into play, there are some great ways to show you’re committed to giving students the safe space they need to speak up.
Efficiency needs to be prioritised for something as sensitive as sexual misconduct or racial harassment. A platform built with that in mind, equipped with signposted guidance, is something you can roll out seamlessly. It means students facing difficulties can have the supportive intervention they require at the earliest possible moment.
Platforms like these can be scaled in ways an internally built system can’t, allowing for faster response rates and higher resolution rates.
To improve the quality of student services in HE, technology must be leveraged. Paired with an accessible, easy-to-use platform, preventative strategies are vital to maintaining healthy and happy students.
Secure automation may also allow shared student data and case histories between academic and professional staff, resulting in better targeting of support and resource allocation.
Improved student retention, prevented trauma, increased satisfaction, positive wellbeing and safer student experience - all achieved by technology - are progressively powerful in an industry like HE. It’s easier to be optimistic about improving student wellbeing with technology being implemented across the board.
The 2019 Digital Experience Insights Survey shared impressive details of teaching staff and the technologies and digital infrastructure they use. It showed a substantial number of teaching staff would like to use technology more and want to achieve a better quality digital environment.
So what are we waiting for?
There’s no doubt technology will be one of the driving forces contributing to the educational transformation that's already well underway. Want to learn more about how you can promote positive student wellbeing and experience?
Promote improvements in educational institutions and drive innovation
These technological advancements encourage efficiencies and invite improvements throughout HE. Our guide helps you identify outdated processes, craft a business case for more student-centric strategies and adopt more efficient processes beneficial for wellbeing.
To do this, you need to brace yourself for the challenge ahead. Culture Shift have years of experience and now work with over 60 Universities across UK and Ireland. Book a call with the team to find out how we can help.