Digital reality in Supporting Student Learning, the Challenges and Opportunities

Rapahel Inedode, Canterbury Christ Church University and Anne Nortcliffe, Founding Head of School of Engineering, Technology and Design, Canterbury Christ Church University

Current research refers to digital poverty as a developing issue countrywide. Burgress (2020) highlights that a fifth of households have no digital access at home and an Office for Students (2020) survey highlights that 52% of students at home during the pandemic had unreliable internet connection and 18% had no access to a computer, laptop or tablet. 

Research by Inebode (2021) at Canterbury Christ Church University, shows that at the start of the pandemic 17% of 103 Higher Education student responses only had a smartphone to access their learning on-line; one digital tool for supporting their course assessments.

The research did show an improving situation throughout the year, with 90% of students having access to a laptop compared to 75% a year earlier; 3% more had access to a computer and 10% more had access to a tablet. However, 33% of students admitting that family/friends had invested in digital devices over the last academic year to support their studies, and 21% admitted that it had been financially challenging to invest in the essential digital technology.

Like many households across the UK, students, have found working from home challenging with respect to internet connectivity service and private space to work and study. Inebode’s research also shows that 28% of students had to increase their broadband provision, as 55% of students had to share their internet connection with four or more other members of their household, and 33% had no private study space.

Students, like employees, have quickly adapted to using variety of digital tools to support their learning. Unlike employees, whose employers have invested in a range of digital tools to aid communication and collaboration (MS Teams, Zoom, etc), students have been provided with learning management systems, essentially virtual formal study space like a classroom.

Students at Canterbury Christ Church University have been using a mix of formal, semi-formal and informal virtual learning spaces to support their learning. The students identified the formal learning management system Blackboard Collaborate as being the most helpful digital medium in supporting their on-line learning. However, in addition to these resources students have independently identified and adopted social media and video conferencing platforms to support their learning. For example, 52% of students from Inebode (2021) research study identified that video conference platforms Discord, Jitsi, etc have been best to support group work assessment. These platforms support informal and semi-formal student learning on-line, akin to the semi-formal and informal physical collaborative study spaces across an institution.

The same study highlighted that students’ methods of communication with lecturers and their peers are a mix of email (86% used) and video conference platforms (67% used). Over 73% of students would welcome keeping the on-line recorded broadcast lectures, as it supports ubiquitous learning, but only 26% would like to keep on-line inter-active lectures, and10% on-line laboratory practical learning. 

Interviews with some of the student survey respondents provided a greater depth and insight. For example, though they use email they felt it lacked responsiveness and would welcome a direct messaging service.

The move to on-line learning due to COVID-19 has increased their digital literacy and therefore their readiness for employment, however they would also welcome more training on how to use digital tools to further develop their skillsets for future employment.  

Future digital provision needs to be akin to academic campuses in providing formal, semi-formal and in-formal study spaces for learning. Students need access to laptops to support their learning and reliable and large capacity broadband service. A learning management system is also required to support their formal learning, but students also want access to a direct messaging service and collaborative platforms to support their semi-formal and in-formal learning.  In reality, the latter is equally as important as the learning management systems to support student digital competency for graduate employment.

Burgess, G., 2020. Beyond the pandemic: tackle the digital divide. [online] University of Cambridge. Available at: [Accessed 8 February 2021].

Inebode, R., 2021. The Use of Digital Technologies in Higher Education: Benefits and Challenges Before, During and After COVID-19,Final Year Project in partial fulfilment of the requirement for
the BSc in Information Technology at Canterbury Christ Church University

Office for Students, 2020. ‘Digital poverty’ risks leaving students behind – Office for Students. [online] Officeforstudents.org.uk. Available at: [Accessed 8 February 2021].

The same study highlighted that students’ methods of communication with lecturers and their peers are a mix of email (86% used) and video conference platforms (67% used). Over 73% of students would welcome keeping the on-line recorded broadcast lectures, as it supports ubiquitous learning, but only 26% would like to keep on-line inter-active lectures, and10% on-line laboratory practical learning. 

Interviews with some of the student survey respondents provided a greater depth and insight. For example, though they use email they felt it lacked responsiveness and would welcome a direct messaging service.

The move to on-line learning due to COVID-19 has increased their digital literacy and therefore their readiness for employment, however they would also welcome more training on how to use digital tools to further develop their skillsets for future employment.  

Future digital provision needs to be akin to academic campuses in providing formal, semi-formal and in-formal study spaces for learning. Students need access to laptops to support their learning and reliable and large capacity broadband service. A learning management system is also required to support their formal learning, but students also want access to a direct messaging service and collaborative platforms to support their semi-formal and in-formal learning.  In reality, the latter is equally as important as the learning management systems to support student digital competency for graduate employment.

Burgess, G., 2020. Beyond the pandemic: tackle the digital divide. [online] University of Cambridge. Available at: [Accessed 8 February 2021].

Inebode, R., 2021. The Use of Digital Technologies in Higher Education: Benefits and Challenges Before, During and After COVID-19,Final Year Project in partial fulfilment of the requirement for
the BSc in Information Technology at Canterbury Christ Church University

Office for Students, 2020. ‘Digital poverty’ risks leaving students behind – Office for Students. [online] Officeforstudents.org.uk. Available at: [Accessed 8 February 2021].

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