I learned more than I thought I would, and developed a new set of skills. Armed with those new skills and an appreciation for the world that greeted me upon graduation, I returned to university life wondering how it was preparing me for that reality.
The world of study and work has changed
I am in the final year of my degree, an excessive amount of assignments and group projects, with my top 10,000 word dissertation. But if I ever try to mention my student life to my father, he can’t help but remind me of how different things were during his computer science degree in the 80s. It is almost impossible to imagine how different student life was then – no powerpoint, no recorded lectures to look back on. And if you were writing an essay, you had to go to the library and actually read the books.
I will need a different set of skills than previous generations
When I (hopefully!) Graduate, I am going to be greeted by a very different workplace than my father. My close colleagues may be based across the Atlantic, almost everything I do will be a collaborative effort rather than a personal essay. I am on a continuous learning journey where knowledge can be out of date in a few months.
With this in mind, it made me think about how my university is equipping me with the digital skills I need to work in this changing world.
University study mimics workplace reality
Go to any undergraduate lecture and you will be greeted by rows of laptops. I recently purchased a Surface Go for this purpose – perfect for carrying around campus and taking notes. They are organized in OneNote with hyperlinks to videos, articles or books that my lecturer mentions. My surface goes with me to lectures and seminars, the library and my desk at home.
College students using the surface book
Work-wise, some students prefer to set up a station in the library from 9 am-5pm, others prefer to work from home in the evening, or fit their studies around a part-time job.
The university is strong on collaboration – not only how to work in a team, but how to collaborate effectively on a project when meeting the individual is a challenge. Students can have group calls via Skype, set up a team page or work on a shared document together.
Combined, our use of technology, flexible work and collaboration mimic the workplace that I saw on my placement year. In this sense, I think the university provides students with both the digital and work-related skills needed to transition effectively.
What can be improved?
There are some ways that I think universities can further develop their students’ digital skills. For me, these skills are not about learning how good it is to use the available tools, but about empowering students to think creatively about the future of technology that will shape our lives.
We are undoubtedly experiencing the fourth industrial revolution, with the prediction that 85% of the jobs present in 2030 have not yet been invented. So to what extent are graduates ready for this world?
Teach people of all abilities to code
Coding is now taught in primary school using simple tools such as BBC Micro: Bit. My generation has missed that provision, so can find itself at a loss. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn a degree, free courses are offered to every student regardless of degree.
Bringing Technology into Career Discussions
All universities have a career service. But to what extent are the Fourth Industrial Revolution and digital skills advising? Students should leave the university with an awareness of how AI is going to change the world of work and ensure that the path they are taking is future proof.
Nurturing soft skills like creativity
Students are evaluated at every stage of our academic journey, from year six set, to GCSE and A levels. The university is a continuation of the same, so we are really, really passing the exam. The real world is not like this. It values innovation, creativity and personality.
Universities need to ensure that despite the need for assessment, they are producing a generation of people who are not afraid to think differently. My generation is going to be responsible for trying to solve a series of the most complex issues in the world where there is no right answer – we will need to be creative.