At our inaugural Tech from Sage Insight event in April, we had our breakout session “Ask the Students: Honest insights from students using teaching & learning technologies”. This was an interactive session, with a panel of students discussing their university experience, pedagogy, and the features of different digital tools including: Talis Elevate, Lean Library and Sciwheel.
Check out the recordings from our studio sessions at Tech from Sage insight below.
The panel was facilitated by our Development Manager (International), Christopher Lewis, and the students on the panel were:
- Sam Sharman, Classical Studies BA (hons) Student, University of Lincoln
- Annabelle Mansell, Classical Studies Student, University of Lincoln
- Stefan Szablewski, History Student BA, University of Nottingham
- Cameron Mcrae, Final Year Student, University of Lincoln
In this blog post, we’ll explore the challenges students face in their undergraduate university journey and provide the key takeaways and insights from the students which resonate with their experiences of using digital tools.
Challenges faced by students
University life presents its fair share of challenges, but the integration of digital tools has played a pivotal role in overcoming these hurdles. Students shared their experiences and highlighted how digital tools have addressed common issues faced in their academic journey, including not owning a laptop, or as Stefan says below, being able to ask librarians for support:
“When I think of going into the university library it’s always quite hectic, or at least in the foyer of people coming in and out … Rather than doing that, [wouldn’t it] be good to have somewhere I can go and ask questions about how I can do research?”Stefan
Digital tools enhancing the university experience
The integration of digital tools has also had a positive impact on their students’ learning journeys, making learning resources easily accessible and eliminating the need for students to navigate through multiple platforms or physical materials. With everything in one place, students can save time and focus more on their studies. Here are some key points that arose from the session:
Digital tools, like Lean Library, have eliminated paywall barriers, enabling students to access a vast array of scholarly articles and research papers effortlessly. This accessibility has expanded students’ knowledge and enriched their research projects.
I started using it this year. When I started researching my dissertation, and I realized I couldn’t possibly go through 20 different pages of Google Scholar, figuring out if I had access to them. It’s saved me a lot of time.Sam
We asked the students where they begin their research journey, with many of them beginning their journey with Google rather than the library:
“I tend to just go straight to … the source of a public street to JSTOR, Cambridge, or something like that, rather than navigate the site itself?”Cameron
Collaborative work has been greatly enhanced through tools like Talis Elevate, giving students the option to participate in discussion anonymously online, giving the silent majority a platform to participate in the conversation. Chris asked the students how they found their experience of using Talis Elevate for their modules:
If you have to look at the content again, for the seminar, you then come with a bit of understanding of where you can be talking about issues you can already see maybe the key themes that are going to be coming up, everyone’s asked along similar lines.Stefan
Being able to read other people’s comments was like, maybe this means XYZ, it helps me go to the seminar more prepared and get a better understanding of the content.Sam
Referencing made simple
Chris asked the students how they felt about referencing regarding their university work:
We have a proprietary referencing system based on MHRA. The university provide us with style guides. Enjoyable is not a word which would apply to referencing in most cases. I personally struggled quite a lot with referencing. It was only in my third year that I discovered reference management softwares, and I used Zotero. I enjoyed it but most reference management software doesn’t adapt to the style guide you’re using.Annabelle
Annabelle revealed she got signposted to reference management software in her third year of university, in a dissertation skills preparation module, and that it was up to the students to decide which reference management tool to go with and teaching yourself.
After the students played around with Sciwheel, here is what they had to say:
One of the best benefits of Sciwheel is the personalised referencing. Sciwheel responded to customer feedback and got this issue fixed right away. Now that’s resolved, I wish I had a time machine to use Sciwheel for my projects.Sam
Annabelle and Stefan made the points that they like making references by hand, as they can see where they are in their work, but they can see how reference management tools can be useful for group research projects.
Adoption of digital tools
Digital tools have made learning more flexible and convenient. Students can access resources anytime, anywhere, allowing them to tailor their study schedules to their individual needs. This flexibility promotes a better work-life balance and empowers students to take control of their education. We asked students how librarians can encourage student uptake of these tools:
It’s easier to get a different perspective on things via word of mouth. I don’t know if all universities have a network of Student Reps. I’m a Student Rep for my year, so I can signpost students to digital tools or problems in terms of formatting or how to improve library workshops.Sam
We asked the students, what would be your response to ‘we can’t spoon feed students everything’?
Participating in the workshop and reflecting on how during my studies I was taught using various digital tools reaffirmed to me the importance of intertwining university libraries, teaching, and technology. Universities are continuing to expand, with lecturers’ time further limited and accessing physical resources becoming ever-increasingly difficult. Being able to … use Talis Elevate to unpick say, a 14th century legal document – and see classmates’ comments – accelerated my understanding of topics and made my studying more efficient. Using these sorts of technologies isn’t spoon-feeding students, rather ensuring in the digital age they have possibility to not only learn but learn well.Stefan
Providing the tools for students to succeed, such as through showing them how to use certain software and digital tools, is conducive to fostering independence within these students, and enhancing their skills development. Students are not experts at studying and researching, and as such, need more guidance to develop these skills.Sam
The insights shared by students highlight the transformative power of digital tools in higher education. From organisation and accessibility to collaboration and flexibility, these tools have revolutionised the university experience for students. There are still lots of elements to consider for universities and academic libraries, including providing guidance for students on developing these digital skills and encouraging uptake of these tools within the student community.
At Technology from Sage, we are committed to continuously improving our solutions to meet the evolving needs of students. Their honest feedback and experiences are invaluable in shaping the future of teaching and learning tools.