Improving International Students' Digital Experience: 4 Recommendations from Jisc

min read

Understanding the challenges of international students underscores the importance of creating inclusive and accessible digital environments for all students. A study from Jisc offers insights and recommendations for integrating support strategies into institutional technology initiatives. The full report is available on the Jisc website.

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Elizabeth Newall
Senior sector specialist (digital transformation)

Elizabeth Newall: 00:15 I should say that the initial thinking for this work started about 15 months ago. So if you cast your minds back to that point in time, we were coming out of Covid. We were seeing that digital technologies were now embedded throughout the student life cycle. So from applications through to graduation, international student recruitment was increasing quite significantly, and that the composition of the international student body in the UK was also changing quite significantly. For international students, there are challenges around access to digital technologies, but also, and really interestingly, it wasn't just about access, it was also about the expectations that our higher education institutions were placing on its use for teaching and learning. International students were said to experience something called digital shock, and that combined with cultural shock can negatively impact them for weeks, if not months, on transitioning into UK higher education. So what we wanted to do in phase two, which was our opportunity to survey international students in the uk, we also undertook a number of focus groups where we could meet with some students face-to-face, and have an opportunity to find out what those particular digital shocks look like for our international students.

Elizabeth Newall: 01:56 Some students, depending on where they're coming from across the globe, did not previously

Elizabeth Newall: 02:04 Have access to or regular access to, or certainly didn't have a dependency on wifi. So particularly students coming from African countries were used to using 4G or 5G, and so the challenge that I then presented for them in coming to the UK was that they were running up significant mobile data costs when they could have been using R three wifi on campus and what's now fairly ubiquitous access to free wifi in public spaces. The other challenge was that many students who were relying on mobile data were also using mobile phones as their prime device. So maybe not arriving then in the UK with a laptop or with a device that's more suitable for teaching and learning purposes.

Elizabeth Newall: 03:06 In our report, we've got about 20 recommendations, but in order to highlight some of the key recommendations here, the first of these is managing expectations and to help smooth the digital border crossing. For international students, it's really important to be able to explain to students before they arrive how technology is going to be used on their courses. Additionally, what further support there will be for students to develop their digital skills when they arrive? The second key recommendation relates to university digital systems in terms of being able to provide international students with an overview of those systems, how they interact, and how students might be able to gain access from abroad. The third key recommendation is a very practical one around the quality of recorded lectures. So we found that students rely very heavily on recorded lectures, but often those lectures have poor quality audio and the captions aren't necessarily checked to ensure that critical subject related terminology is captioned as intended. A fourth recommendation is moving us, I think probably more into the realm of strategy, university strategy, in that we have found that any recommendations relating to supporting international students ought to be woven into a number of different university strategies. So for those not to just sit within the international strategy, but also in digital or digital transformation strategies, teaching and learning strategies, and also equity, diversity and inclusion strategies.

Elizabeth Newall: 05:07 So Jessica's released a number of briefing papers in connection with the second phase report, and this briefing paper is around supporting international students digital experience. We provide a checklist for institutions to use that will help provide an equitable and inclusive experience for the international students.