The digital student: potential benefits and drawbacks for students and academics

As part of my role as a lecturer in music performance I am in involved with teaching over 300 students. When I consider my students from a digital perspective there is huge amount of diversity in terms of how they engage with technology. I have noticed this is quite often related to other strands of diversity, the most common being age. We have a number of mature students enrolled on the course who generally aren’t as comfortable with various ICT and music technology hardware operational skills as students who have progressed directly from FE. To a certain extent I can see the generational divide between learners that Prensky (2001) describes although I feel his definition of ‘Digital Natives’ and ‘Digital Immigrants’ is too simplistic and there are often crossovers and exceptions; I routinely see mature students with an industry background in music recording/production who are just as comfortable with technology as their younger ‘native’ peers.

Helsper & Enyon’s (2009) analysis of this issue adds relevance to my observation as they conclude there is no evidence that can clearly define someone as being digitally native or immigrant based on birth date and highlights exposure as an important factor when it comes to digital competency. The majority of my students swing more towards being ‘native’ so I’m always trying to integrate the latest software and technology into the curriculum but whilst doing so also being mindful that Helsper & Enyon’s (2009) findings indicate that potentially students of all ages could need extra support with technology (UKSPF A1, A2, A4, V1, V2, V3 & K4). The Jisc (2014) guide for digital literacy support and development lists some points I feel are important in this regard that I intend to address in my own practice through the following actions:

  • Working collaboratively with support services – I will make sure all my students are aware of the courses and 1-1 support the IT and digital skills team offer. I will also aim to arrange some bespoke training sessions that focus on digital literacies relevant to their area of study and liaise with ICT services if a student encounters a problem that is beyond their level of competency to resolve (UKPSF A2, A4, K4 & V2).
  • Encouraging informal support networks between peers – during personal tutor sessions I suggest that members of the cohort who are confident with technology volunteer themselves as approachable technology champions. I will also point out the potential for seeking peer support and exchanging IT skills when channels of communication are maintained through digital media. Having this kind of support network available will be particularly beneficial to the more ‘immigrant’ students as Helsper and Enyon (2009 p.4) describe: “exposure, experience or expertise with new technologies, is an important question for policy and practice…if being tech savvy is determined by exposure and experience then collaboration and learning is possible in environments where younger and older generations interact” (UKPSF A4, V1, V2 & K4).
  • Create opportunity to appropriately assess the digital capabilities of students – I will aim to evaluate my students’ digital skills through the informal assessment that takes place in the small group composition seminars and ensemble performance classes I teach; there are various types of ICT and music technology skills used in these classes so I will be able to identify individual students who are having difficulties and offer additional support or direct them to the university’s digital skills services (UKPSF A2, A3, A4, V1, V2 & K4).


I also tend to see variations in digital literacy relating to the different areas of specialism I teach. There is a particular contrast between classical performance and specialist music technology students, with the latter being more intrinsically motivated when it comes to acquiring digital skills as it’s fundamental to their area of interest. Belshaw (2012, 16:55) considers personal interest and motivation to be significant when it comes to developing digital literacies so I feel it’s important to consider how to motivate my students across all the areas of specialisms to develop their digital skills, not just technology-focused students.

A motivating factor that unifies all music students is a desire to realise their creative selves. As Barnes (2011, p.97) explains this can be used as a driver to encourage the development of other skills – “The encouragement of creativity in any subject is more likely to engage our individual learning styles, different intelligences, imaginations and bodies.” To use creativity as a vehicle for developing digital literacies I will be evaluating my entire curriculum to ensure that the development of digital literacies most relevant to creative practice within music are covered (UKPSF A1, K1 & K4). Jisc (2015) supports this kind of discipline-specific action when it comes to developing digital skills – “digital practices in the learning environment are shaped within their programme of study where they tend to look to teaching staff for guidance on recommended technologies or adopt those required by the curriculum. Embedding digital capability into the curriculum aligns with their educational aspirations and helps make sense of the tasks and technologies in use”.


Barnes, J.M. (2001). Creativity and Composition in Music. In C. Philpott & C. Plummeridge (Eds), Issues in Music Teaching. London: Routledge

Belshaw, D. (2012). The essential elements of digital literacies: Doug Belshaw at TEDxWarwick [Video file]. Retrieved from

Helsper, E., & Enyon, E. (2009). Digital natives: where is the evidence? British Educational Research Journal, 36(3), 1-18. doi: 10.1080/01411920902989227

Higher Education Academy. (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supported learning in higher education.

Jisc. (2015) Curriculum change. Retrieved 1 March, 2016, from

Jisc. (2014). Support and development. Retrieved 1 March, 2016, from

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6. Retrieved from