At Times Higher Education’s Digital Universities UK 2024 (DUUK) last month, the agenda was filled with representation from across the University of Exeter, with involvement from both colleagues and students.

On day one, we hosted a panel exploring what students want from their online HE experience, which two of our UoE students, Xin Zhao and Kirsty Heffernan, took part in. In this blog post, Lisa Harris, Director of Digital Learning in the UoE Business School, shares her experience of attending this panel and inviting Xin Zhao to take part in it, and we hear from Xin and Kirsty on their experience of the event.

“The eyes of the people were bright and infectious” – Reflections on participating in an international conference

Xin Zhao is currently studying MSc International Business and Strategy in the Business School. As she was an enthusiastic and helpful Digital Mentor during my recent Digital Business Models module, I invited her to participate in a student panel at the THE Digital Universities UK Conference held recently on the Streatham campus. The event took place over three full days and was attended by 645 people. The objective of this particular session was for delegates to obtain a student perspective on the effectiveness of the digital tools and experiences that are now available to support their learning.   

Xin was a well-prepared and enthusiastic panelist, answering a number of quite difficult questions from the engaged audience of around 150 delegates.

We also invited Kirsty Heffernan to join the panel. Kirsty is currently studying History and Politics at the University, and is also a Student Ambassador working within the Digital Team on the Digital Hub. Kirsty was engaging and provided great insights on her online experience, with lots of expertise on the digital support we provide users with at the University to help improve their online experience. I received a number of comments from others in the room praising the contribution our student panelists had made.

Kirsty’s reflections

“I spoke about what students wanted from their higher education experience. We talked about assessments, the new ELE2 website, ways of learning and experience with coming back to education after COVID. My highlight was having the opportunity to have my opinion heard by such a wide range of people in the higher education sector. I definitely thought that public speaking would be challenging, but found that it felt much easier as I went along! It was very interesting to learn about the perspective of a student from the Streatham campus on similar issues.”

Comments from the audience

Helen Cocks, Head of Digital Strategy and Engagement at the University, commented “We operate a user-led approach to our work as a Digital Team and having our users involved in the Digital Universities UK event was something we felt really strongly about. We had students taking part in lots of different elements of the event and Xin and Kirsty’s panel, where they shared their experiences about their online HE experience, was fantastic. They were both very honest and open about what has worked well for them and where they feel there are inconsistencies or improvements to be made. Insight from our users is a driving force behind what we design and develop here at UoE, so sharing insights direct from students with a large audience of leaders was a great opportunity to inspire more HEIs to learn from their students and improve their experiences.”

Xin’s reflections

Afterward the panel, Xin produced this detailed and informative comic strip to summarise her experience on the main stage:

Xin and Kirsty went on to participate in a number of other sessions throughout the event. I was particularly inspired by Xin’s reflection that “the eyes of the people were bright and infectious”.  

– Written by Lisa Harris, Director of Digital Learning in the UoE Business School

To learn more about UoE’s involvement in the DUUK agendaa, read this blog post.

Learn more about the University of Exeter’s 2030 Digital Strategy here.