Digital Activities to Engage Students in Higher Education

Students in higher education (HE) have a lot to gain from digital initiatives and technology. These digitally-aware and driven activities engage students more effectively by bringing them closer to the curriculum. It promotes buy-in from the student body who gain from an active hand in their own studies. This type of learning better represents the digital landscapes students are now used to.

In this blog, we've outlined several practices and activities to engage students and a number of case studies highlighting how digital learning successfully engaged students.

Digital Tools for Higher Education

The digital market is rife with opportunities and offers improvements in higher education. For example, HE institutions can use any of the following applications to enhance their learning delivery:

  • Virtual Reality (VR): VR is an immersive tool for students. It can provide virtual field trips, practice simulations and data visualisation. For example, the Anatomage Table creates virtual cadavers for medical students to practice skills on. 
  • Adaptive Learning: Adaptive learning programs mix collected data with artificial intelligence to deliver information and query responses for an enhanced learning experience. IBM Watson and Microsoft Power BI are both examples of this. (Bolton College has successfully implemented IBM Watson).
  • Google Suite: Google's G-Suite is a cloud platform for flexible file sharing. They also offer the ability to collaborate remotely on documents in real-time whether it's a Word document, spreadsheet or presentation. Workflows and saving capabilities allow educators to create templates for formatting. Add-ons are an additional function, allowing for things like citation building.
  • Slack: Slack is a communication app which is the perfect platform for group projects and remote conversations with lecturers. Some universities using more informal messaging tools like Slack and WhatsApp have seen an increase in active participation and also in regular interaction with students' tutors and lecturers.
  • Video Conferencing: Placing cameras in classrooms and having high-def displays means remote professors or field-leading experts are more easily brought into the room to teach - even if they’re in another country. This also provides lecturers with the option to record their sessions, meaning if students miss a lecture, they can catch up by watching the recording. 

N.B: These recommendations aren’t exhaustive and some tools may work better in certain circumstances.

Due to the breadth of the digital landscape, any list of technologies or applications students can benefit from is going to be non-exhaustive. However, the technology must be truly matched towards the needs of the student, the capabilities of the institution and learning objectives prior to implementation.

In that vein, what opportunities are there when it comes to digital transformation within higher education?

The Opportunities for Digital Learning

There are a handful of different opportunities for HE when it comes to implementing digital learning and activities within institutions. They come under the themes of curriculum redesign and learning analytics - both themes that have the potential of increasing student engagement across the board. 

Creating a curriculum enhanced by technology is a big consideration for the future of education. It needs to be designed into the curriculum as part of the pedagogic delivery and not as an afterthought. It’s a worthwhile process but it does involve a systemic restructuring of an institution’s educational offerings. It means you have to think about how technology can be utilised.

For example, digital transformation within education can be pursued with the following activities:

  1. Changes to the traditional lecture model: Including simulations, online tutorials, collaborative online projects and online research. Lectures could take a format where the topic is researched before a lecture so it frees up time to focus on more active work or discussion.
  2. Increased collaborative work: Using shared digital resources and projects to enhance group work and peer-to-peer learning, such as social media and discussion forums.
  3. Opportunities for digital feedback: Audience response systems, online tests, discussion groups and online surveys can be used to provide rapid, accurate and easily-analysed feedback. This kind of feedback can be stored and tracked. It’s also more accessible to give - creating a more meaningful platform for improvements.
  4. Analysing student progress: Assessments can be coupled with open platforms such as student blogs and wikis. Combining this with technology-enhanced lectures allows for lecturers to focus more time on student questions and issues.

Digital Learning Case Studies

Technology-enhanced learning and the use of Educational Technology (EdTech) has the potential to create excellent teaching, provided it’s rolled out in alignment with learning objectives, education strategy and the context of higher education.

You might be asking what this looks like in practice. Explore the case studies below for examples and inspiration when it comes to digital activities to engage students and create more innovative learning environments.

  • Nottingham Trent University: Here, the students are presented with content in a wide array of formats, such as videos and podcasts. Their face-to-face time is made up of collaborative group learning with the tutor acting as the facilitator.
  • Edge Hill University: Second-year students on project management modules can watch and review pre-recorded lecture content. They’re then organised into two groups to collaborate on online projects that are tracked through ‘billable hours’.
  • University of Greenwich: Students utilise their Virtual Law Clinic, enabling collaborative work surrounding the online drafting of legal advice in a secure manner. Students are then given feedback until their work meets the required standards and can reflect on their learnings within an online blog. 

Digital initiatives, applications and activities to engage students promote an innovative learning environment. These kinds of practices ensure a wider understanding of learning topics and enhance accessibility to course-related information, guaranteed by peer-to-peer learning and tutor leadership. 

Digital education is increasingly widely-used amongst education providers, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Similarly, the state of education at the moment is being shaken up. Budgetary constraints, online learning and the uncertainty of Brexit has completely altered the UK’s educational landscape and will continue to do so in the future. If you’d like to learn more about these changes and how you can mitigate any damage, download our eBook.

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In our eBook, we cover the mutual impacts of both the current lockdown and potential Brexit implications that will influence the state of education now and in the future. We cover issues such as how learning is changing, digital implementations and how to support education through an uncertain future.

To download a free copy, click below.

Guide on the State of Higher Ed