May 2020 Newsletter

EDTL team welcomes the results of INDEx Survey

Written by the EDTL project team members

Irish National Digital Experience Survey

In Autumn of 2019 third-level students and staff who teach took part in the Irish National Digital Experience (INDEx) Survey. This was managed nationally by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and coordinated within each HEI in conjunction with their Students’ Unions. The findings of this national survey were released on 7 May 2020 in an excellently managed online launch. We, the IUA Enhancing Digital Teaching & Learning Project team, are delighted to welcome these findings and share our support and our vision for working with these findings as part of our project.

The national report can be accessed here, where you will find the full report and a summary document.

The INDEx Survey Results

The INDEx Survey 2019, capturing 25,484 responses from students and 4,445 responses from staff who teach, marks a critical juncture in Irish higher education. It provides a national dataset of the digital experiences, engagement and expectations of students and staff who teach in our sector prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. This opportune timing means that Ireland is one of the only countries with a national dataset of this kind from immediately pre-crisis, pre-remote working, pre-emergency remote teaching and learning, pre-alternative assessments, etc. INDEx provides an evidence base to inform our decision and policy making, and critically, to inform our work on the enhancement of digital teaching and learning.

Prior to this crisis, digital competence and capability development with regard to teaching and learning was important in higher education. Now, with contingency plans evolving to face the certainty of more blended and online programmes and modules as the de facto modes of delivery in the autumn semester, and the prospect of student participation in them partly at a physical distance from our campuses – it is crucial.

The national report presents findings beneath five key themes – Digital Teaching & Learning Practices, Digital Infrastructure, Digital Skills Development & Support, Digital Environment & Culture, and Attitudes to Digital. These themes offer different lenses through which the dataset can be inspected. Each theme is inextricably linked with and relevant to the work of this project. In particular, Digital Teaching & Learning Practices, Digital Skills Development & Support, and Attitudes to Digital are of key importance to the EDTL project’s overarching aim to enhance the digital attributes and educational experiences of Irish university students through enabling the mainstreamed and integrated use of digital technologies across the teaching and learning process.

Five key themes of the INDEx findings

One of the key narratives emerging across the findings is the positive attitude students have to the use of technology in education. A majority of students (66% – 79%) agreed, when digital technologies are used on their course, they understand things better, enjoy learning more, are more independent in their learning, and can fit learning into their life more easily. In fact, under 4% of student respondents disagreed with any of those four statements.

The data demonstrates to us that prior to the current Covid19 crisis our staff and students were eager to use more digital in their teaching and learning. Staff and students were eager to learn more, and were looking for more support and training opportunities to do so (with half of all staff not feeling supported by their institutions to do so). Our IUA project has at its core the mainstreaming of digital in teaching and learning by addressing the professional development needs of all who teach, while working with our students as partners. Over two-thirds of staff who responded indicated that they would like to use digital technologies in their teaching practice more than they do at present. This project aims to support our staff who seek out more recognition and time to learn and develop their digital education skills and competencies.

Although it may seem daunting to keep up with new or sophisticated technologies in teaching and learning it is worth noting that the digital tool found most useful by both staff who teach and students is the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and one of the top requests by students was more consistent use of the VLE by their teaching staff. Our team works locally in the seven universities in developing guidance and templates for staff to use in their institutional VLE and we advocate for the consistent use of content across programmes where possible. This ensures a more positive and seamless experience for the learners. At the time of this INDEx survey only one quarter of students who responded reported having access to recordings of their lectures and under a third of staff who responded reported having access to ‘lecture capture’. 70% of staff who responded had up until this point never taught in a live online environment. While we have no doubt those statistics will dramatically increase given the times we are in currently, we plan to support staff in developing pedagogically sound practices in the delivery of their lectures online and welcome the opportunity to do so.

When asked about the importance of digital skills to their chosen career, three-quarters of students agreed that they were important, while under half of student respondents agreed that their course prepared them for the digital workplace. Often reflected in an institution’s graduate attributes, many programmes in higher education aim to produce employable graduates who are ready for the modern digital workplace.With an increased likelihood of remote working post-crisis, more than ever students need to be exposed to and prepared for digital practices and involved in digital activities during their academic studies. In order to make this a considered, coherent, coordinated experience for students, it is advisable that discussions about this happen at a programmatic level, in an attempt to avoid overloading students with ad hoc exposure to a myriad of different tools, technologies, practices and activities across their programme. Commenting on this finding at the National Online Event, Claire McGee Head of Education and Innovation Policy, IBEC spoke of the need to embed digital skills into the curriculum, a view shared by the EDTL team. Watch it here (minute 36 on the video).

As a team, we are grateful to the National Forum for their great work in managing this comprehensive survey, and to the 32 participating institutions, their Student’s Unions, and the many student and staff respondents who have helped to create this evidence-base, and at such a critical time in global history . This benchmark was always going to serve and guide our work nationally and within all our HEI’s, however, in this moment in time, where our educational institutions are required to respond to unprecedented challenges, the importance of sound, evidence based practices in digital teaching and learning is more relevant than we could have ever imagined.

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