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Re-thinking the importance of developing student digital capabilities in a post Covid-19 world

A guest blog post from Laura Hollinshead, learning technologist at University of Derby

 

During the full lockdown the government asked us to work at home where possible with remote working becoming the norm for many people. A recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey has suggested that 45% of adults in employment said they worked from home at some point between 9th-20th April, compared with 12% last year (Powis, 2020). Although some workplaces struggled to transition (link opens in new window) to this practice, many of those already offering remote working adapted quickly to the lockdown. During this period businesses have had to take a closer look at their technological infrastructure, and the digital capabilities and skills of staff, to quickly adjust their practice to enable them to continue to operate. Many are now in a position where their employees have made the adaptions and skilled themselves up to work remotely, getting used to carrying out meetings, collaborating in creating content and providing their services or products all online.  

Popularity of remote working

Even before lockdown remote working was starting to gain in popularity with many people documenting the advantages of remote working (link opens in new window) for both employees and businesses. Remote workers have been found to be more productive (link opens in new window) and they mention a better work life balance (link opens in new window). Concerns around climate change (link opens in new window) have also meant that government advisors (Committee on Climate Change) have recommended continued remote working, online GP appointments and further investment in broadband as part of a ‘green recovery’ to help us come out of this period in ways which benefit us all.

So as educators we need to ask ourselves, will the appetite for remote working continue beyond the current pandemic and what could this mean for the development of student digital skills and capabilities?

Predictions

There have already been predictions about this with articles (link opens in new window) arguing that employees and employers are starting to question why they can’t continue remote working. A recent travel survey (link opens in new window) has suggested that around 24% of public transport users are looking to work from home instead after full restrictions are lifted. The government have also seen the importance of the development of digital skills through encouraging furloughed workers to take online courses (link opens in new window) and statements within the Covid-19 daily updates suggesting digital approaches used within the health care sector may remain longer term.

“We have changed forever the digital capability of the NHS, having many people who have now used online GP consultations and online out-patient visits, …[we] won’t ever go back.”

(Hancock, 2020)

What should we be doing?

We should be ensuring our students are ready for this new work dynamic. Many of them might be in a situation where remote working is a requirement of their new role, especially as some companies are already recruiting on this basis (link opens in new window) or making this transition permanent (link opens in new window). We can support our students in demonstrating their readiness for work in the post-Covid environment by:

  • Providing opportunities which enable students to experience learning, collaborating and communicating in digital ways, can help to prepare them for this future.
  • Embedding these opportunities as part of the curriculum and incorporating them within formative and summative assessments helps them to experience this while studying which they can then use as evidence of their digital skills.
  • Challenging our students to think about and reflect upon the skills they have learnt and developed and how they can take this into the new look workplace.
  • Getting students to think about what their future digital workplace could look like and how their experiences can help them to prepare for this.
  • Helping students to articulate examples of how they have developed these skills and put them into practice, strengthening their ability to connect these with future job requirements.

Where can we start?

Currently, students are gaining many of these experiences as part of studying remotely. We need to take advantage of this, as just like those working remotely, our students are gaining digital skills and capabilities through this process which we should harness and encourage. When our students do return to campus, we need to continue to provide them with the experiences which support them to develop and evidence these skills.

 

Images created by Barbora Horackova, digital media producer and student at University of Derby 

References

Hancock, M. (2020). ‘Coronavirus: Daily Update’, 39.31-39.55 16:30 27/04/2020, BBC1 London, 90 mins. https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/1605AF89?bcast=131878315 (Accessed 30 Apr 2020).

Powis, S. (2020). ‘Coronavirus: Daily Update’, 49.00-49.30 16:30 01/05/2020, BBC1 London, 90 mins. https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/1606DB26?bcast=131886277 (Accessed 05 May 2020).

By Clare Killen

Content curation manager, Jisc building digital capabilities service and digital experience insights service

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