Hollie Richardson, our guest writer, has studied at the same institution for almost six years. In this post, she reflects on how her university has used technology to transform her student experience.
It’s been six years since I first started studying at my institution. Higher Education is always developing, so it’s natural that all students would experience a few changes between fresher’s week and graduation, but over these six years I’ve seen first-hand just how much of an impact new technology has on the student experience.
I first came to university in September 2012. I started off doing a bachelor’s, but later took the chance to transfer to an integrated master’s and add another year onto my course. After graduating with an MSci in Psychology and Psychological Practice, I took a year’s break before embarking on my PhD in Clinical Psychology.
It feels strange to remember now, but back in 2012 our halls were one of the first on campus to get Wi-Fi. Before that, each bedroom had a single ethernet connection. While once it might have been fine for students to just use the internet at their desks to study, now they expect to be connected on multiple devices, all the time. Whether it’s because they want to do a group project in the kitchen, access reading lists on their phone in bed, or check their grades on their tablet when making dinner, the internet and studying are completely linked. Pretty much all elements of university life seem to involve an internet connection, these days.
Our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is also an invaluable tool, which we always seem to be finding new ways to apply to our studies. The university switched platforms after my first year and the new system was a learning curve for students and staff alike at first. However, it’s now a critical part of my studying; I can't imagine life without one! Whenever I need to get information about our modules, download handouts or reading material, or find my grades, the VLE makes it simple. Our platform also has an extremely helpful mobile app so I can check stuff when I’m away—this is particularly useful when your grades are released and you can’t wait until you get home to check them.
Another thing that’s changed is removing the need to submit paper assignments. When I first joined the Psychology Department, we had ‘post boxes’ in the common room where we’d put our essays. I once got a message informing me that I’d failed to submit my assignment, even though I had! The lecturers agreed I could come to campus and rifle through all the submissions in the box until—thankfully—I managed to track mine down. The stress of this was made worse by knowing I’d already submitted it online, but only the paper copy would ‘count’. Thankfully, online-only submissions have been adopted more and more widely, so (unless the internet was to go down before that critical submission period), everyone knows where to submit and find assignments without the risk of them getting lost.
However, online submissions could still be improved. For one, we have to submit everything as a Word document and not a PDF. This issue with this is if your lecturer opens the assignment in a different version of Word they might find all your painstakingly arranged tables, figures, and headings have been moved, throwing your formatting off and making the document seem messy. The pros still far outweigh the cons, though.
In general, the university is making an effort to reduce needless printed copies. It’s a lot easier to find what you’re looking for from the VLE rather than digging through reams and reams of paper to retrieve a handout from last semester. Despite this, I’ve noticed many lecturers prefer to give out paper copies as well as making them available online. Perhaps there’s a fear that students won’t take the initiative to find and read the material if they have to actively find it; technology can offer a lot of flexibility to students, but they also need to use this privilege wisely and take responsibility for finding and using digital material.
My PhD programme has taken digitising materials a step further and provided us all with an encrypted memory stick that has everything on. This means that not only do we have the materials without needing to carry bulky folders around, but we can also add our own files to the memory stick (like recordings of presentations or role plays we do). Studying psychology often means gathering very sensitive data, too, so we need to have ways to store it securely.
Something I also appreciate about my PhD is how well the programme utilises e-learning. If you’re on placement and doing training, chances are you will learn via an online course rather than having to be physically present. This level of flexibility is extremely helpful, especially for people with long commutes or who would otherwise struggle to get to a lecture theatre. It’s great to see universities acknowledging why students would need something like e-learning and embracing the new technology, as well as trusting students to put the work in themselves.
Despite thinking about how much has changed, I can’t help but feel that in another six years this post will seem dinosaur-esque in how out of date it is. If people going to university only a little earlier than me wouldn’t have expected to have Wi-Fi in their student halls, will students in a few years be amazed that I managed to get by without whatever the new edtech platform is? It’s given me a new appreciation the sheer amount of work my institution and its staff put into acquiring and implementing these developments to help tens of thousands of students.
New technology and ways of doing things will always come with some hiccups or resistance, but I can honestly say it’s transformed my Higher Education experience and made it much simpler and more flexible to study.
About the author
Hollie Richardson is currently working towards her PhD in Clinical Psychology and also holds a First-class MSci Psychology and Psychological Practice.