It's time universities embrace technology to help students beyond education – FE News

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As the pandemic swept across the world in 2020, universities were forced to reassess their approach to teaching as they shut their doors to students and staff. Higher education experienced an accelerated and unanticipated shift to online learning practically overnight, as students’ education was moved to their university halls or homes.
Traditionally reliant on in-person teaching and paper submissions, the pandemic highlighted how behind the times universities were when it came to embracing technology, with the first few weeks of remote learning proving a steep learning curve for many.
However, over the last 18 months, many universities have embraced technology, with it playing a critical role in ensuring lectures could continue at a distance and students could access digital learning materials, so that no student missed out on their education.
As campuses slowly open up and universities look to establish the ‘new normal’, technology continues to play an active role in teaching, with online lectures and streaming services leading the way, but has been ignored in many other key elements of university life. Now that the technological structures have been put in place, universities should consider looking beyond the lecture hall for additional ways technology can help their students.
It is not only education that has suffered due to the pandemic, but also the social aspect of university life, with over half of students feeling dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their social experience last year. A crucial aspect in the development and well-being of young people, it should become a key focus for universities when creating their digital strategy for 2021 and beyond.
University is the first time that many young people have lived away from home. Already a daunting and overwhelming experience, this transition was made even harder by the recent pressure brought on by the pandemic. As a result, many students are concerned about returning to campus, with 57% of prospective and first-year students saying they feel anxious about returning to in-person events. Therefore, as students return to campus, it is important that universities create a safe and supportive environment where students can express their feelings and cope with crises, like COVID-19.
Online networks can go a long way in helping students navigate these overwhelming situations and forming digital connections helps provide an understanding of university life before term starts, allowing them to get on the front foot so that they know what to expect before they arrive.

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In addition, digital platforms can instantly connect students with relevant advice and support if feeling anxious and overwhelmed, ensuring every student has equal access to information regardless of where they are based. At ayda, we have seen students engaging with our third-party partner and mental health foundation, Mind, for advice and support during Freshers Week. To have this professional advice available to students instantly is essential, considering almost two-thirds of students reported a worsening of their well-being and mental health since the start of the autumn term last year.
A study conducted in October last year found that 50% of students did not feel part of the university community and we expect this trend to continue over the coming years as students remain at home or abroad, creating a two-tiered university experience.
Peer-to-peer communication is at the heart of making international students feel welcomed, with 61% of international students saying that they want to connect with existing international students, and with many not returning to campus, it is important that technology is used to bridge this gap. By adopting technology, such as online streaming and interactive platforms, students can still engage in the university experience regardless of whether they are on campus or not. In addition, platforms that showcase university societies are crucial for international students, helping them find like-minded students and as a result, feel connected to the university even when at home.
As travel restrictions start to ease and international students consider returning to the UK to continue their studies, having connections with their peers and an understanding of how their university will support them as they leave home will help international students feel at ease, excited, and prepared to make the move.
Nearly every aspect of our lives has a hybrid function and higher education is no exception. While technology has enabled university education throughout the pandemic to operate as usual, we must now focus on the future and how technology can support other aspects of the university experience.
​​David Burgman, Managing Director of ayda

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