The UK’s HE and FE not-for-profit organisation for digital services – Jisc – has revealed the findings of its latest comprehensive digital experience insights report. Incorporating responses from 480 researchers at six UK universities between January and April 2020, the survey asked 32 questions to investigate four key digital technology themes. ‘You and your technology’ found that almost two thirds of respondents reported enjoying the opportunity to try out new technology during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic and an even larger 80 per cent considered themselves to be confident users of digital tools. A promising finding. Moving forward, Jisc suggests that this solid foundation could be used as a great starting point for greater inter-departmental and cross-organisational discussion of research technologies to further enhance peer learning and support across the board.
Delving into accessibility and support systems, ‘technology at your organisation’ uncovered that, for the main part, respondents reported sound access to digital infrastructure, platforms and services but only half of those surveyed agreed they had support in using their own devices and to enable them to virtual team work. More concerning is that only 43 per cent felt that their university communicated their research proactively on digital media channels (i.e. blogs and web pages) – and a mere 20 per cent agreed they had been given the opportunity to get involved in digital service decision making. Lessons learned from these stats could include boosting digital media communication channels and improving access to specialist research software on personal devices.
The third theme to be analysed – ‘technology in your research’ – faired less positively. Only 62 per cent agreed that support for specialist digital facilities in their research area were equal to or greater than ‘good’, just one third reported that research spaces were fit for purpose, and around one quarter agreed they had sufficient funding for specialist technologies. Digital skills support more often than not came from other researchers and team colleagues and one quarter relied on online resources. What can we take from this? Jisc suggests that universities could ensure that senior researchers are well trained digitally because of their central role in supporting colleagues, or perhaps a digital scholar role could even be developed. Enabling research teams to attract grants and participate in online communities and events could also enhance communication and secure support structures in order to better share research outcomes.
Finally, ‘developing your digital skills’ found that only 23 per cent of researchers had access to training for coding, so this is a key demand area. Less than half of respondents felt informed about their health and wellbeing as a digital user, just 26 per cent felt informed about new and emerging research technologies, and only 13 per cent agreed that developing digital skills was rewarded by their institution. Moving ahead, incorporating discussions into inductions and appraisals as well as establishing working parties and forums to gain ground in these problematic areas could help to boost overall personal digital skills development.