Session 5B | Paper 1 Understanding student digital literacies at City, University of London

Dr Julie Voce, Head of Digital Education – City, University of London, Digital Education (LEaD)

Lauren Regan, Digital Literacies Co-ordinator – City, University of London, Digital Education (LEaD)


The term ‘digital literacies’ has evolved from taking a functional approach based on the technical skills required to use technology to a more critical approach such that digital literacy encompasses a wider set of literacies, including information literacy, media literacy and communication and collaboration literacies (Goodfellow, 2011; Secker, 2017).

Within higher education, there is often an assumption that as today’s students have grown up with technology they automatically have an adequate level of digital literacy (Coffin Murray and Pérez, 2014; Coldwell-Neilson, 2017), however whilst students may be familiar with using technology in their daily lives, they do not necessarily have the skills or critical thinking to use technology effectively for learning (Radovanović, Hogan and Lalić, 2015; Monteiro and Leite, 2021). Burton et al. (2015) cite several researchers who report that students are inexperienced in using technology for learning and that these skills need to be taught.

The 2020 Jisc Student Digital Experience Insights (DEI) survey (Killen and Langer-Crame, 2020) reported that “more needs to be done to develop students’ digital capabilities and confidence” (Killen and Langer-Crame, 2020, p. 5) with substantial numbers of students reporting that they did not get the opportunity to develop their digital skills. City took part in the 2019/20 Jisc DEI survey and whilst 58% of students (282 responses) rated the quality of support for developing digital skills as ‘Good ‘or better, there was also a clear demand from students for further support in the form of classes, workshops, tutorials and online resources.

This paper will present the results from two iterations of the DEI survey carried out by City in December 2019 and April 2021. The session will compare the two sets of results to see how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on student digital literacies and contrast the data with the sector-wide results from Jisc. Finally, the paper will identify some recommendations for better supporting student digital literacies at City and will gather feedback from the audience about these approaches.

Slides from the session

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Recording of the session:


Burton, L. J. et al. (2015) ‘Digital literacy in higher education: The rhetoric and the reality’, in Myths in Education, Learning and Teaching, pp. 151–172. doi: 10.1057/9781137476982.0019.

Coffin Murray, M. and Pérez, J. (2014) ‘Unraveling the Digital Literacy Paradox: How Higher Education Fails at the Fourth Literacy’, Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology, 11, pp. 085–100. doi: 10.28945/1982.

Coldwell-Neilson, J. (2017) ‘Assumed digital literacy knowledge by Australian universities: Are students informed?’, ACM International Conference Proceeding Series, pp. 75–80. doi: 10.1145/3013499.3013505.

Goodfellow, R. (2011) ‘Literacy, literacies and the digital in higher education’, Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), pp. 131–144. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2011.544125.

Killen, C. and Langer-Crame, M. (2020) Student digital experience insights survey 2020. UK higher education (HE) survey findings. Available at:

Monteiro, A. and Leite, C. (2021) ‘Digital literacies in higher education: Skills, uses, opportunities and obstacles to digital transformation’, Revista de Educación a Distancia (RED), 21(65), pp. 1–20. doi: 10.6018/red.438721.

Radovanović, D., Hogan, B. and Lalić, D. (2015) ‘Overcoming digital divides in higher education: Digital literacy beyond Facebook’, New Media and Society, 17(10), pp. 1733–1749. doi: 10.1177/1461444815588323.

Secker, J. (2017) ‘The trouble with terminology: rehabilitating and rethinking “Digital Literacy”’, in Reedy, K. and Parker, J. (eds) Digital Literacy Unpacked. London: Facet Publishing, pp. 3–16.

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