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Digital Literacies in Higher Education: Transitions and Trajectories

Key messages from the JISC-funded project focussing on postgraduate students at the Institute of Education

Transitions and Trajectories

Students’ engagement with and orientations towards digital technologies manifested themselves in a process of continuity and change in two key ways: temporal and spatial.


  • Those who had greater engagement with digital technology in their earlier experiences or through work, generally felt more open to exploration and experimentation when faced with new forms of technology than those who lacked that wider experience/engagement with technology.
  • Many students consistently made comparisons between technologies available to them in their present studies and those they had access to previously or elsewhere, and this impacted on their perception of/orientation towards institutional/library systems in their current mode of study. They have a broad awareness of the current state of the art in digital technology and this leads to high expectations and a desire that the digital in their academic/ study lives should work better, faster and more efficiently.

Spatial: in addition to the temporal shifts outlined above, students' perceptions of, and orientations towards, digital technologies changes is adapted as they move between spaces.

  • Students often move between institutions/libraries/public spaces to seek out better, faster, less complicated systems (for searching, printing, copying) or ambient spaces (able to make noise, quieter, isolated, social, comfortable, etc.).
  • The portability of students’ personal digital devices (mobile phones, tablets) supports their spatial mobility and they frequently use these devices to read, make notes and find information. Pressed for time, students also use these mobile devices as opportunities to recapture time in ‘downtimes’ e.g. when travelling, sitting in the park, relaxing in the bath such that new and unexpected spaces for study are emerging. This portability, however, generates other issues: readability (screen size), access (connectivity, ability to download and store), health (tired eyes), etc.

Key Messages

1. Recognise that not all students are confident with new technologies and need additional support in using technology for their studies.

2. Make training available off and online so that it can be accessed as and when required.

3. Collaborate with other libraries and relevant bodies to establish a common standard for library systems and online access to digital libraries as post graduate students come with expectations based on prior experience of having used the library at their previous place of study.

4. Acknowledge that students will use other libraries both for space and for accessing relevant resources and facilities such as printers, scanners etc.

5. Ensure that online resources are compatible with all types of mobile devices.

6. Acknowledge that reading online resources on mobile devices can affect health (tired eyes, posture, etc.).


'I find I have to work in the library; I can't be distracted in any way whatsoever....'

picture of student working on level 5 of the Library

'I've titled this [the chart describing my workflow] 'the library in me', kind of, like a love story, but it's not that. I work in the library as a,sort of, part-time librarian/library assistant, but apart from that when I do my phD... it's a physical space where there's usually silence and where I can concentrate, so I like to sit there and just read'.