Student Roundtable: Shaping Digital Action

On Friday 30th September, Hannah and Alice ran a roundtable for the HEIDI Project’s Intellectual Output 4, which is about “Developing digital skills of HE students and staff with regard to responsiveness to crisis situations”. (We briefly mention our five intellectual outputs in our initial HEIDI blogpost here.) IO4 also maps skills gaps in order to create and test a methodology for the development of HEI staff and students’ digital skills. A main aim of this roundtable was to identify the digital skills students felt were necessary in order to participate in Digital Action, and any they feel that they lack. 

It was a big roundtable and we hoped to attract a large number of students from many faculties and universities. Students from outside the UK were welcome. It also needed to take place during Freshers’ Week, so we spent some time planning how to make this an interesting event which new students would want to attend! Hannah checked UCL’s timetable of Fresher’s Week events to try and avoid clashes (though of course we couldn’t do that for all universities). While Alice promoted the event on social media and followed up relevant news stories to see if authors or interviewees might be interested, Hannah sent messages to many mailing lists and university departments who could alert their students. Many staff at these departments kindly did so. Interestingly, most of our attendees (or at those who signed the attendance sheet) were computer scientists. Although “Digital Action” does not necessarily mean computer science, it must have sounded interesting to them.  We were really pleased the roundtable connected students with similar interests (especially in Freshers’ Week).

Because some students would be UCL ones and others would not, and because Hannah is on campus and Alice is in Sweden, it made sense to run this as a hybrid event. We booked a room on campus and organised the Eventbrite to release two separate types of ticket: one for campus, one for online attendees. Campus attendees should be UCL students, and we booked extra time in that room so they could chat and socialise afterwards if they liked. All ticket holders would receive a Zoom link (in case a planned in-person attendee could not make it), but only campus ticket holders received the physical location. Hannah went to the room an hour early to set up. An unforeseen technical problem: the sound system created an echo for in person speakers; Alice, who could do nothing to help from 1400 miles away, said that there is a new category of Digital Action: to do our best when the digital technology does something we didn’t foresee!

For the roundtable, we prepared a presentation which included firstly some slides about the HEIDI project and secondly some prompts and instructions to students to give them ideas – but not to drive their thinking into too narrow a focus – for each of the five questions. 

We used Padlet to allow the students to write down their thoughts, though we also recorded the meeting and encouraged them to speak verbally if they liked. We asked five questions, and we’ll summarise (anonymously) some of the responses we had:

  1. Your background, and 3 digital skills you have

Many students replied that their background was Computer Science. Some said that they were from India or the Netherlands, or wrote of their travels.

Most had some programming and wrote of using modern smart devices or Zoom. Many had ambitions to learn new programming languages, build on their existing ones, or to learn about AI. Some mentioned more basic skills such as using WordPress. A few mentioned other skills such as data processing, or helping their friends with troubleshooting problems. 

Alice and Hannah also contributed, with basics such as PowerPoint and being a fast typist (from using a learning-to-type program called Mavis Beacon in the 1990s when she was 14!), and Hannah mentioned video editing. This is where Alice learned that Hannah program in Python! Alice isn’t sure there’s anything Hannah can’t do, by now.

  1. Your experiences of Digital Action

We gave the students some brief examples of what Digital Action is, but we wanted to hear from them, too, so that they did not simply follow our thinking. (Kirsty, who is on HEIDI with us and works at the UCL Office for Open Science & Scholarship, has joked to roundtable participants in the past that as anthropologists we always like to hear what others think before we say what we think!) Then we asked them to record their experiences. 

We added in our Eventbrite and invitation e-mails that it is not necessary to have participated in Digital Action in order to participate in an event like this – we are interested in barriers as well as success stories, so all you need is an interest. Some of our students may have had little or no experience, and this, too, is useful data.

Interestingly, more than one student answered along the lines of “using technology for good”. This might be forecasting of some phenomenon such as the weather or energy demand, or to gather donations, or writing letters for charitable organisations – the highly technical and the more general. One student had created a program to collect finance and marketing data for business as a work experience project. Some were more lighthearted, such as creating an avatar, playing video games or using Netflix! 

After this, Hannah gave a presentation on the HEIDI Project, especially IO4, and examples of Digital Action which has taken place at UCL. You can read more about these examples here

  1. What non-digital skills are important for Digital Action?

We wanted to separate out the digital and the non-digital, as it would be easy for participants to assume the question meant only one of these and focus entirely on that!

Many students replied “communication”, others taking this a little further to include teamwork and user-friendly interfaces. Others included time management, logic, creative thinking and patience. Some mentioned empathy or good presentation, and one mentioned being able to speak multiple languages.

  1. What digital skills are important for Digital Action?

The students mentioned continuing awareness of new brands and technologies and being prepared to spend time learning about these. Some mentioned audio and video editing. Several mentioned specific brands or platforms such as Github. 

Some students mentioned principles such as data security, data analytics or programming. Some focused heavily on communication platforms such as Zoom and Discord. Mentions of personal characteristics, such as a willingness to keep learning new skills, which are a crossover between the digital and the non-digital, also appeared.

Alice, who had been recording the meeting, regularly sharing the Padlet and the attendance sheet on the Zoom chat, sharing the slides when Hannah presented and quietly planning who to put in which breakout room (oh, and dealing with a rather flaky Internet connection), playfully wrote “multitasking”! 

  1. Group work: What digital skills have you mapped and gaps in your own digital skill set have you identified?

We asked the students, here, to speak to each other for 10 minutes or so and discuss their experiences, particularly their activities and what skills had – or would have – helped with these activities. The slide prompted: “In your small groups discuss digital skills, and any connections between these skills and roles in research, citizen science projects or community-based work.”

For this, the students were put into breakout rooms. Our original plan had been to place students in rooms according to faculty (and, if only a few came from one faculty, then to be imaginative about what subjects were similar), but as most were computer scientists according to the registration sheet, the plan was changed and it was done randomly. Those in the room worked in one group, and there were two groups in breakout rooms. Alice was not able to keep sharing her screen and visit breakout rooms, so Hannah had to visit the breakout rooms!

We invited each group to present for 1-2 minutes if they wanted to, and all groups to write their contributions on the Padlet. These are the groups’ responses:

Group 1:

Digital Skills Used:

  • Zoom, Teams, Discord for collaboration on group projects, which were especially useful during the pandemic.
  • Programming Languages: Python, Java, Sage Maths etc.
  • Mathematical/Statistical Research
  • Web Development

Gaps/Areas to Improve Knowledge In:

  • Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning
  • FinTech
  • Data Structures/Algorithms (potentially even in the field of Quantum Computing)

Group 2: 

1. For programming, Logic and Maths, there’re loads of different fields and categories, so though I‘m quite professional in some cases, still need to learn and explore a lot

2. I need to learn more programming, version control on Github, store and process big data sets. Make my code efficient, fast.

Group 3: 

We have:

  • Programming, mathematics, statistic , analytics, machine learning, deep learning, security engineering, big data processing, data mining, Web development,


  • Digital marketing, digital financial product, Fintech, Social media selling, digital psychology, digital medical diagnosis, blockchain, AI robotics

We thanked all the groups for their contributions and we invited them to say whether there was anything that we had missed. One participant pointed out that the topic of social media had not come up in the roundtable, though he thought it was very relevant – we agreed! 

As we concluded the Roundtable, Alice invited any participants to e-mail her if they would like to contribute to this blog post. Alice enjoys collaborative blogpost writing and has sometimes done them interview Q&A style, such as this one about the Into the Night project, in which all writers could ask or answer as many questions as they liked. No students took her up on it, which teaches us either that students are very busy people or that you need a little longer than an hour to work with someone in order to want to participate in such a thing – very reasonable points! 

We really enjoyed talking with the students and we hope they’ll check out the HEIDI 

project and want to come to future roundtables with us. We thank them for their contributions, which will tell us much more about what digital skills are relevant to HEI students. 

If this blogpost has interested you, we hope you might come to one of three further roundtables we are holding in November:

The HEIDI Project has received funding from the ERASMUS+ programme of the European Union under Grant Agreement no. 2020-1-UK01-KA226-HE-094667.

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