Students win while helping us research their digital literacies

Online survey reveals that students have access and want to use digital technologies, but Wits, as an institution isn’t using the resources available to develop their students’ critical digital literacies

Outside the Great Hall on Monday 18 May, students who participated in our online survey gathered to find out what they won in our competition. Four iPad Airs, 4 iPods and 200 coffee vouchers were up for grabs.

Big winners

For the 4 iPads, the lucky winners were:

Jamila Mohammad

Dewald Hartman

Jimmy Moyaha

Richard Couperthwaite

The 4 iPod winners were:

Arlo Eardley

Deshini Nagan

Phikolethu Mwezula

Jorge Da Rocha


The online survey

The online survey started during O-week, 9-13 February 2015, and closed on the 30th of April 2015. Students from across the university's faculties and levels of study, undergrad and postgrad, were asked to participate in the online survey. The survey included questions about what kind of technology students have access to, how often they use it, and how they use it. There was a very positive response to the survey and in total, 4 526 students participated. Of the 4 526 participants, 2 493 students entered our competition, so the winners above are truly lucky! They were selected using randomization software and then verified as registered Wits students via Sakai.

Initial findings show that while digital technologies are a part of students’ academic studies, these digital technologies are not ‘transforming’ the nature of university teaching and learning.

A closer look at first year students' data

Only students with access to ICT were able to participate as this survey was conducted online. Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that 77.79% of first year students have exclusive access to a cell phone. What was a surprise was that only 21.26% of them have access to an iPad or Tablet. When it comes to gaming, the majority did not have exclusive or shared access to devices. 18.05% of the first years reported that they had inconvenient or limited access to these platforms.

Students use the internet to search for information while on campus with 67.63% of first years being online. The use of Sakai for coursework admin featured the second highest when it came to online activities on campus, with 63.58% of first years making use of Sakai. Using software to play digital music files was the 4th highest ranked online activity with 40.62% of students listening to music while on campus.

The tech skills of first years

We asked the first years to rate their tech skills on a continuum. The skills that ranked the highest included: using the internet to look up information, accessing Sakai, using the internet to access Wits admin information, and using software to listen to recordings or podcasts. The least skilled online activities included: creating or maintaining a database, creating or editing multimedia, creating spreadsheets and creating or manipulating digital images.

University-wide data

On campus, 65.84% of the participants make use of Wits’ WiFi services, while 39.79% of them access the internet via 3G/4G. Off campus, 47.75% of the participants have access to broadband/WiFi, while 59.69% of them use 3G/4G to access the internet. Surprisingly, 23.14% of the students don’t have access to 3G/4G.

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are popular amongst the participants, with 42.29% of them accessing it while on campus, and 78.58% off campus. Only 6.58% reported that they don’t use social media. Web 2.0, e-commerce and other tech competencies that are assumed to be inherent were listed by students as ‘not used’.

It’s clear, however, that the participating students really want to develop critical digital literacies, and that they expect to develop these while studying at Wits. The top five rated digital literacies the participants want to develop included: using the internet to identify and find relevant information from various sources; using the internet to access information and understand which information is more credible; use retrieved information to accomplish a specific purpose; present information clearly and persuasively using a range of technological tools and media; and use a variety of technology tools in effective ways to increase creativity.

Our initial conclusion is that students are not as widely skilled with software and tech as assumed and report low levels of data and image management skills. While they have access to cell phones, desktops and laptop technologies, they are not using them creatively. The most common type of software used was playing digital musical files. In terms of learning activities, the participants’ actual experiences of digital technologies during their academic studies are mostly limited to Sakai admin.

Students should be prepared at university for active participation in both the analogue and digital world. Critical digital literacies need to become a graduate attribute, and Wits needs to think about how their online activities can contribute to the development of skills and competencies required for the 21st century.

The DigiLits project aims to help academics and lecturers to integrate critical digital literacies into coursework. The findings of the online survey will help the University and CLTD to better understand the technology needs of students, and with such a large representation of the student population, the data is extremely valuable.

The results of the study are currently being analysed by Professor Christine Woods (Director of CLTD) and Liana Meadon (educational developer, eLearning Unit) and will be reported to the Senate Teaching and Learning Committee and CLTD Advisory Board. Thereafter, a summary of the findings will be presented to Faculties and students, and posted on the CLTD website.





Last modified on 2015-05-27 by Liana Meadon