students’ perception of staff skills

Students’ perceptions of the use of digital technologies by teaching staff at Oxford:

  •  On average, students do not rate the competence and use of digital technologies displayed by teaching staff very highly.
  • Students seem more likely to rate staff as less IT-competent than themselves than as more IT-competent.
  • Oxford undergraduates do not necessarily expect, or even want, high levels of digital technology use by academic staff.

According to students’ perceptions, there is a marked variability in the IT competence of teaching staff, and in the frequency and quality in their use of digital technologies in their teaching.

‘In my department, technological knowledge does not seem to be a priority.’

‘Varies greatly some tutors seem incapable of getting a DVD to play, others are very good with PowerPoint etc.’

The modal response from all student groups (UG 32%, TPG 35%, RPG 46%) rated staff IT competence as equal to their own. More students at all levels rated staff as less competent than themselves, with 30% of UGs, 32% of TPGs and 29% of RPGs rating staff as ‘less competent’ than themselves; and only 15% of UGs, 10% of TPGs and 10% of RPGs rating staff as ‘more competent’ than themselves. The questions did not explore students’ perceptions of what constitutes ‘competence’.

More postgraduate respondents (particularly TPGs) found academic staff less competent than themselves, while more UGs found staff more competent. 

‘They don’t seem to have the time to familiarise themselves with technologies which could make their life simpler to manage.’

They let me email my essays, and email them back with comments typed in. I hope you realise how sad it is that this is the best example I can come up with.’(DIGE 4.7.3)

‘I have been surprised by how poor the IT skills of some academic staff are. I am a mature student myself (in my 50s) but … I expected academics to be making maximum use of the potential that digital technologies offer for accessing the wealth of databases and research material that is available. Most of the ones I know, though extremely clever and intellectually effective, make only the most superficial use of digital technology, seeming to conceptualise it in no more sophisticated a way than, for instance, a typewriter or telephone.’

Opinions were divided over whether or not IT competence on the part of academics was particularly relevant. Some students did not see cutting-edge use of digital technologies as very important to their experience at Oxford, and had come to the University seeking a different kind of experience:

‘I have one tutor who doesn’t have a computer and relies on handwritten notes and phones calls. It doesn’t really make much difference though.’

‘Let’s face it, it’s Oxford. We’re not famous for our netbooks, we’re famous for our books. We’ve got the biggest paper library on Earth, but our digital library…is somewhat lacking. That’s OK.’

‘I actually have been relieved and pleased that staff do not rely more on [digital technologies], but feel that their verbal input is of pre-eminent importance. That is why we are here and not taking online courses with cyber-tutors.’

‘They don’t use [PowerPoint] much, and it’s great! I love that the lecturers aren’t dependent on PowerPoint.’

When asked to rate whether academic staff used digital technologies more (or less) than they had expected, a slight majority of students overall responded that usage was as they had expected (UG 47%, TPG 54%, RPG 57%). Once again, a greater proportion of students found this use less than they expected, rather than the other way round (‘less than expected’ = UG 20%, TPG 19%, RPG 16%; ‘more than expected’ = UG 17%, TPG 13%, RPG 7%).

When asked to rate the overall use of digital technologies by staff from 1 (low) to 5 (high) the modal response was 3 for all groups. The consolidated percentages for ratings of 1+2 and for ratings of 4+5 were similar. Undergraduates were the least impressed with their teachers’ use of technology, in that more of them gave a rating of 1 than postgraduates did, while more research students gave a rating of 5 than students on taught courses did. ( DIGE 4.7.2)

The DIGE report  describes digital services provided by Oxford for students and staff to enhance the learning experience and learning support activities, and a vision for the systems and services for the next five years. The recommendations report was  reviewed by Education Committee on 1st June.

When asked whether their students are demanding greater use of technology in tutorials and other classes. The reply from staff was  that they are not; indeed, one tutor commented that students do not ask for things to change in general as much as she imagined they would. In fact, they seem to become acculturated into Oxford very quickly and either do not come with many expectations or do not keep those expectations for long:

‘They tuck in very quickly with what we do.’ (DIGE 5.3)

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