In 2023 the University appointed its first student Digital Skills Ambassador (DSA), the purpose of the role being to allow students to get digital skills support from other students. While it’s often assumed that most people are now confident and competent users of digital systems, especially young people (the so-called ‘digital natives’), the reality is that some students come to university without the basic digital skills they need to flourish on their courses. The University of Northampton is rightfully proud of the excellent digital facilities that support teaching and learning here, but being mindful of the pernicious effects that the digital divide can have in education, chose to create the student DSA role in order not to leave any student in the digital darkness. To understand a little more about what it means to be a DSA, we interviewed the current incumbent, Faith Kiragu, and asked them to explain in their own words how the role works.

1. Can you tell me a little about you and your role? How does the support work?

“As the Digital Skills Ambassador, my role primarily revolves around providing support and guidance to fellow students on various aspects of digital skills, with a focus on Microsoft Office Packages, NILE (Northampton Integrated Learning Environment), the student Hub, LinkedIn Learning, and related queries.

Students can seek my help by booking appointments through the Learning Technology platform. Upon visiting the platform, they fill out a form detailing their query briefly. After submission, they receive a confirmation email containing the details of their appointment. Additionally, to ensure they do not miss their session, students receive reminders a day before their scheduled appointment time. During the session, I address their queries, provide guidance, and offer practical assistance to help them navigate through any challenges they may encounter with digital tools and platforms. My aim is to empower students with the necessary digital skills to enhance their academic journey and future career prospects.”

2. What are the common support requests and how do you support these?

“The most common support requests I receive are related to navigating NILE, submitting assignments, accessing online classes on Collaborate, and Microsoft PowerPoint tasks like adding images and textboxes.

To support these requests, I provide personalized guidance during the one-on-one appointments. I offer step-by-step demonstrations, share relevant resources such as Linked-In Learning, and address specific queries to ensure students feel confident in handling these on their own. Additionally, I offer troubleshooting assistance and encourage students to practice these skills independently to enhance their proficiency over time.

3. Is the support used by students across all courses, or some areas more than others?

“Yes, I have noticed that more students from health-related courses seek digital skills support compared to other courses, Public Health being the course I have encountered most students. Students from the Business and Law Faculty come a close second.”

4. Do you have any (anonymous) examples of how you have helped students with their problems?

“A student asked for help with accessing their online classes on Collaborate via NILE. During our appointment, I guided them through the process of navigating to the correct module on NILE, locating the scheduled Collaborate session, and joining the virtual classroom. By the end of the session, the student could successfully participate in their online class without further difficulties.

Another student sought help creating a presentation on Microsoft PowerPoint, specifically needing guidance on how to add images and textboxes effectively. I provided a step-by-step demonstration of inserting images into slides, resizing and positioning them, and formatting textboxes for adding content and captions. Additionally, I shared tips on utilising PowerPoint’s features for enhancing visual appeal and maintaining a cohesive layout throughout the presentation. I also supported the student in accessing Linked-In Learning, and the student left the session equipped with the skills and confidence to complete their assignment using PowerPoint effectively.”

5. What do you think are the main benefits to students who have received support? 

“The support I offer to students entails providing guidance and assistance with various digital tools and platforms, including NILE, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Collaborate. Through personalized appointments, students receive practical help in navigating these systems. This support not only enhances their digital skills but also boosts their confidence in engaging with coursework effectively. As a result, students experience improved academic performance and save valuable time by overcoming challenges efficiently. Furthermore, the support empowers students to take ownership of their learning journey, fostering independence and lifelong learning skills. Overall, the support provided equips students with the necessary resources and confidence to succeed academically in today’s digital-centric educational landscape.”

6. What have you learnt from your time in the role?

“In my role as the Student Digital Skills Ambassador, I have learned invaluable lessons that have enriched both my technical and interpersonal skills. Effective communication has been paramount as I translate complex technical information into accessible guidance for students with varying levels of digital literacy. Adaptability has been key as I tailor support to accommodate diverse learning styles and preferences. Through addressing queries, I have honed my problem-solving abilities while cultivating patience and empathy for students’ individual challenges. Additionally, this role has emphasized the importance of continuous learning, prompting me to stay updated on emerging technologies and digital trends. Overall, my experience has deepened my understanding of digital tools and platforms while enhancing my ability to support others in their learning journey, fostering a collaborative and empowering environment for student success.”