Three emerging themes: Theme 2 (of 3) – Technology is under exploited

This is the second of three blog postings about key themes emerging from early on in our study.

Our second theme is: Technology is under exploited

Key points:

  • Variation in practices and understanding of potential of technologies – by institutions, students and employers
  • Institutions could do a lot more to unleash student creativity in using digital networks/media to engage with employers, alumni…
  • Digital literacies underplayed for underpinning employability skills
  • Employers and HE/FE generally have low aspirations in relation to “digital entrepreneurialism”
  • Technology issues e.g. lack of integration, lack of mobility of data
  • Variation in degree of data collection/analytics

Variation in practices and understanding of potential of technologies – by institutions, students and employers

Despite our finding some wonderfully creative uses of technology to support student employability, there does appear to be wide variation in practices and understanding of how to use it effectively. For instance, there are a range of examples of using e-portfolios, some to good effect, but it does appear that this technology is generally not being used to anywhere near its full potential. Universities seem to struggle with the concept of e-portfolios. Another example is the use of social media – in my view students are not using it to anywhere near its potential to engage and network with stakeholders such as employers and alumni. Perhaps this is because they see it more as something for their social lives – in fact, we often hear of cases where students set up separate Facebook groups (outside of the VLE) but don’t want tutors to intrude into this space.

Institutions could do a lot more to unleash student creativity in using digital networks/media to engage with employers, alumni…

Building on this idea that students could utilise social media to better engage with employers, institutions could do more to facilitate this. As an example, I’m hoping to kick-off a project to get students working on a real employer/sector issue – in the automotive supply chain – to help SMEs to use social media to recruit students to jobs and careers and thereby address a real issue of skill shortages within SMEs.

Digital literacies underplayed for underpinning employability skills

When we’ve looked at how different institutions are defining and shaping employability skills, there is not that much emphasis on digital literacies – nor is there much alignment of digital skills with employability skills. For instance, “team-working” and “communications” are typical employability skills and they are often illustrated through indicators such as “contributing ideas in a team”, “improving your team behaviour” – with no reference to digital skills & practices e.g. “keeping up-to-date with collaboration, communication and information management tools, “influencing team members to use collaboration tools”.  To my mind, we should be equipping graduates with such digital literacies, but we must also help them to make the link between such digital skills and employability skills.

Employers and HE/FE generally have low aspirations in relation to “digital entrepreneurialism”

Having worked across both the HE and private sectors, I still find it amazing that there is frequently a significant communications gap between IT departments and other employers (& often with senior managers). I have a thesis (though admittedly it’s unproven) that HE in particular could  help employers to be far more entrepreneurial using digital technologies – though we need to equip graduates with the capabilities, aspiration and confidence to become digital entrepreneurs in their jobs – working to influence and shape how digital media can be better utilised in more creative and entrepreneurial ways. I would certainly like to hear from anyone who feels the same way and who would like to help explore this idea further.

Technology issues e.g. lack of integration, lack of mobility of data

Previous studies have found the issue of technology integration and mobility of data (e.g. student e-portfolio data) to be an issue and we haven’t really found out anything to indicate if this is changing.

Variation in degree of data collection/analytics

Data collection and analytics is a relatively new area and there is another Jisc study looking into this – the only thing we can add from our research is that we have not yet come across any good examples of such analytics being applied to employability skills – but are very keen to hear otherwise.

The blog-post three themes:


5 thoughts on “Three emerging themes: Theme 2 (of 3) – Technology is under exploited

  1. Geoff Rebbeck

    Digital Literacy is utilitarian: Having and using it improves the quality of life no matter of personal circumstances. It describes a level of confidence and comfort in using technology and it leads to a merger of activity that engages life, work, efficiency and pleasure, family, colleagues, acquaintances and ideas. Such is its reach that there is a separate and distinct on-line culture and not being part of it might be described as an inhibiter to engaging in contemporary life. Digital Literacy is already embedded in life generally and I don’t think it can be taught discretely as if it is some ‘add-on’ to learning. It ought to just be the ‘way we do things’. I know a few colleges that still think technology is something to teach rather than something we do.

    As part of this Study I met a class of students who were looking to re-enter the job market, working with Job Centre Plus. They were learning how to, or brushing up on completing their CV using Word. The Tutor explained that it was just as important to local employers that candidates demonstrate the ability to use a computer and to word process as it was to produce an up to date CV.
    At the Job Centre Entrance was a notice about how to claim the new Universal Credit on-line.

  2. Richard Sharples

    Good points Geoff, I agree, too many organisations aren’t fully appreciating that even what they consider low skilled jobs often now require reasonable digital literacy to claim benefits and later to navigation through a company’s online application process and use routine technology in the workplace.

  3. Brian Whalley

    I entireley agree with all the comments above. For somebody who has tried to get my students involved with computers in various ways since ‘micros’ were first available and using them for all sorts of things I find the present lack of use of technology quite unsettling, even upsetting. Think there are a number of issues here, and they are mostly inter-related. I could give lots of examples of how students are let down by what amounts to lack of imagination by lecturers. (And I use ‘lecturer’ in a pejorative sense here as far too many think that giving a lecture necessarily makes them a good educator.) Not only is this a lack of imagination in how active leatning can be involved in traditional lectures, eg Eric Mazur’s peer learning, but how bring activities into a module. This includes employability skills, ICT skills etc etc. And, as a result, it all comes down to assessment, which tends to be ‘assessment of learning’ rather than ‘assessment for education’. In other words, if assessment devices don’t include the need to practice these skills then students will not use them at all, let alone efficiently. far too often (and it’s difficult to get the data but I have some ideas here if anyone would like to take this on for some funding ….) ‘research led’ means hearing about my wonderful research and sitting an end of semester exam on it or writing an essay on it.

    There’s a mention of portfolios. I used these to great effect in both year 2 and year 3 modules. Students built their own with simple HTML on space on my own webserver. They learned a lot from this, including why one should use stylesheets with word processors, and were made to reflect on the feedback in their practicals – this all had to go into their final piece in the portfolio.

    Our Enhancing Fieldwork Learning project had, as a main aim, showing students how they could use iPads for their education, generally, noty just in fieldwork (or lab or library). Students take up smart devices rapidly, the drawback is lecturers’ (that word again) not knowing enough about technology and how to use it – whether in the field or not.

    Related to the above is that skills, however you define them, are looked down on by most academics (and don’t get me started on the number of said people who have no idea about bibliographic data bases). U of Sheffield (to which I am attached in my ‘retirement’) ran its teaching day on embedding skills. Unfortunately, embedding usually means giving the library/ICT/employability people a lecture slot to talk about particular skills. Emnbedding should be practice of skills etc and brought into assessment in a variety of ways. I think it does ‘all come down to assessment’.

  4. Shane Sutherland

    I’d like to respond to the suggestion that there’s a problem with the technology, particularly in terms of integration and data mobility. Speaking principally in defence of eportfolios it’s a matter of fact that the 2 most widely used standalone (e.g. not part of the VLE) systems in the UK have very rich integration capability. Whether we’re talking about access (Shibboleth, OAuth, LDAP, SSO…) or data sharing (MIS, LTI, APIs…) it’s no longer a problem. When I say no longer a problem, I mean hasn’t been for at least 5 years!

    Regarding data mobility there are many different ways of exporting files, assets and portfolios from these systems (Leap2a, HTML, Common Cartridge, native) – and for our own part free alumni accounts for life. Again, a non-issue.

    There is an issue with integration but it’s not technical integration it’s much more obviously one of learner and learning-centred integration into the curriculum.

    Too often, particularly when aligned to PDP or employability, eportfolio use is at best a bolt on. Learners are not routinely challenged to think about their learning, experiences, achievement and progression. There is too little iteration and too little guided movement toward self-regulation. Part of the problem is the dominance of modularisation, a problem reinforced by the architecture of the VLE. Indeed, the hegemony of the VLE also accounts for the slow progress of ‘personal learning systems’. How often have you seen adverts for hand-fulls of learning technologists to support the roll-out of an institution’s new VLE? Many times over the last 2-3 years! Yet most eportfolio implementations have a person working part-time on them.

    A course-based technology reinforcing course-based learning design is a very big part of the problem. What we need to see is a purposeful shift towards learning centred pedagogies supported by a range of technologies designed around the learner. Blaming lack of progress on lack of technical integration is IMHO a red herring.

  5. Geoff Rebbeck

    Good points, particular towards the end Shane.
    It seems we have yet to move in our minds from using shared technology to control the administration of learning, to personal technologies, centred on the learner who owns and uses it to create a rounded story of their development; where a qualification is no more than an important step in that journey. We are still far too course-centric rather than learner-centric. In other words we still use technologies to improve the efficiency of running as we always have rather than seeing the opportunity to use personalised technology to really shape it around the students and what they do.
    It reminds me of the metaphor of how we now drive around in cars instead of trying to rear faster horses.


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