How can we prepare students for a digital society?

Why do students need to prepare for a digital society? According to the VSNU  (2017) ‘it has already become clear that extensive digitisation is set to radically change practically all aspects of society, not only in the Netherlands but throughout the world.’ Digitisation comes with benefits in the field of research, healthcare, application of technologies etc, but also raises concerns around inclusion, safety, privacy and democracy. Our students need to be prepared to be aware of the possibilities, utilise the opportunities, and assess and negotiate the risks.

Themes associated with digital society:

  • Data science: How to make full and responsible use of big data;
  • Health and Wellbeing: How to let technology generate longer, healthier lives;
  • Learning and Education: How to enable people to participate meaningfully in all stages of life;
  • Work and Organisations: How to prepare companies and workers for a new economy;
  • Citizenship and Democracy: How to reinvent trust, dialogue and decision-making;
  • Digital Cities and Communities: How to build smart, enjoyable cities and hinterlands;
  • Safetyand& Security: How to protect data, people and freedoms.

(Source VSNU, 2017)

  • Getting started
  • Further reading

Questions to ask before addressing digital skills in teaching and learning activities


  • Are there any digital tools that I can utilise in the classroom so that students can experience the application of digital technologies? This could range from voting Apps to using GIS in field studies.
  • How can I stay up-to-date with the latest digital developments in my field of research or profession?
  • Are there any recommendations from my professional body regarding digital skills?
  • Are there any digital tools that I can utilise in the classroom so that students can experience the application of digital technologies?


  • How can I make a link between the subjects that I am teaching and the emerging digital society? What are current examples that I could refer to?
  • What digital research tools are available? Are my students aware of the advantages and pitfalls?
  • Are there opportunities to invite guest speakers with an expertise in this field?


  • Are there any opportunities to stimulate curiosity and an entrepreneurial attitude in my students? For example, through organising debates or experimental workshops.
  • Are my students acting on the ethical implications of the use of data and digital technologies? Think, for example, of safe-guarding privacy.

Co-curricular and extra-curricular

  • Are my students aware of skills workshops or employability modules?
  • Are they aware of opportunities to participate in extracurricular competitions, hackathons and conferences?


Application of technology

The use of technology in teaching and Learning has different aspects. Technology can be helpful to enhance  the learning experiences with the help of (interactive) tools and digital resources. It can also be helpful in aiding students to advance their own digital literacies.

  • What are the university's objectives with this theme?
  • What are the key aspects?
  • What are important questions?
  • How do we know we’re making progress?
  • Further reading
  • Example poster design (Social and Behavioural Sciences

  • Improving student engagement and the overall learning experience
  • Helping students to skillfully negotiate digital challenges related to their profession
  • Making teaching and learning more flexible for lecturers and students
  • Encouraging students to develop a mind-set for life-long learning in a digital society

There are four main approaches to the introduction of new technologies:

  1. Substitution: technology acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change;
  2. Augmentation: the use of technology acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement;
  3. Modification: the use of technology allows for significant task re-design;
  4. Redefinition: the use of technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.

Advantages of technology in teaching and learning include:

  • Enhancement of the learning experience
  • Data-informed teaching
  • Flexibility in teaching and learning

Enhancement of the learning experience

The use of technology can enhance the student’s learning experience in many ways. It can help to get a more rounded or deeper understanding of discipline-related topics, for example through the use of virtual reality and augmented reality applications. Virtual reality applications project totally artificial environments in which the user can interact. This in particular useful when it is not possible for students to experience the real version because of limited access, for example a space station or high security laboratory. An augmented reality application integrates extra digital layers of information with the user’s environment in real time. This could for example be useful to imagine the past of a certain place or visualise hidden aspects in the environment.

Using interactive technologies to activate engagement with learning is another aspect. They can be used to give prompt formative feedback (for example with Polling Apps) or encourage self-improvement through gaming technologies that encourage students to improve their own level of skills. These technologies can both be applied in and outside of the classroom.

Data-informed teaching

The use of learning analytics or data-driven learning helps students to  make informed decisions to improve the study experience. Learning analytics refers to the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about the progress of learners. Expedient use of the analyses could lead to improved student satisfaction, retention and attainment. Lecturers could use the data to get insight in the learners’ engagement and attainment so that they can better support individuals and to better understand how to make the course more effective.

Flexibility in teaching and learning

The facilitation of an on-line learning environment enhances students’ choice in the pace, place and mode of their study. A common strategy to facilitate this is through e-learning or blended learning. The availability of technology can encourage flexible approaches to the delivery and assessment of learning. Pace typically focuses on different delivery schedules, e.g. faster or slower completion of the module/course. Place is concerned with the physical location, which could be at home or at work. Mode covers learning technologies. that provide new and flexible approaches to through the wide range of ICT products including virtual reality applications.

Support for students’ digital literacies

The omnipresence of technology necessitates considering and developing students’ digital literacies.

‘Digital literacies are those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. Digital literacy looks beyond functional IT skills to describe a richer set of digital behaviours, practices and identities.’ (JISC, 2014)

Besides the development of ICT skills, students would benefit from developing the following capabilities: Information data and media literacy; Digital learning and development; Digital creation, problem solving and innovation, and; digital communication, collaboration and participation. (JISC,2014) These literacies can be developed in the context of transferable skills as well as discipline-specific context. For example, the digital skills needed in modern medicine.

What technologies can we use to improve student engagement in learning?

How do I keep students engaged in my blended learning set up?

What steps are needed to create a Blended Learning Programme [to follow)

What technologies can we use to give students formative feedback? [to follow)

How can we prepare students for a digital society?

Step 1. Reformulate the (university’s) objectives into questions concerning

  1. the current situation (today); and
  2. the desired situation in 2025

 Step 2. Make the answers to the questions measurable

Step 3. Use the answers as input for further (re-)design

For example:

1) How are student engagement and the overall learning experience improved by technology?

  1. today
  2. in 2025

Examples of measurable answers: by using virtual or augmented reality in (x) courses; by using voting polls in (x) lectures in (x) courses

2) How are students supported to skilfully negotiate digital professional challenges?

  1. today
  2. in 2025

Examples of measurable answers: by addressing digital professional challenges in (x) lectures; using digital ‘scandals’  in (x) assignments

3) How does technology support the flexibility of teaching and learning?

  1. today
  2. in 2025

Examples of measurable answers: by recording and making available (x) lectures;

4) How are students encouraged to develop a mind-set for life-long learning in a digital society?

  1. today
  2. in 2025

Examples of measurable answers: by integrating MOOCs and SPOCs in regular course work

Leiden University websites

For more information and help regarding the use of technology in education at Leiden University visit the ICTO website

More information can also be found on the Faculty ICTO websites:

Faculty of Social Sciences:

Faculty of Humanities:

Faculteit Rechtsgeleerdheid:

Other publications

Learning analytics in het onderwijs: Een onderwijskundig Perspectief (2016)

Learning analytics in higher education: A review of UK and international practice (2016) – This report documents the emerging uses of learning analytics in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.

VSNU (2017) ‘Digitalisering in universitair onderwijs’  – In dit rapport geven de universiteiten aan hoe ze gezamenlijk willen omgaan met de mogelijkheden van digitalisering in het onderwijs.

Flexible Pedagogies: preparing for the future  – This short publication focuses on how e-learning can support flexible pedagogies. It also explains  how technology could enable new choices for learners.

Ontwerp je (eigen) blend: de toolkit

Erik Mazur: Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual – Harvard professor who developed a practical method for active learning using clickers and peer teaching. The key reference book on Mazur’s Peer Instruction technique. This book presents an entirely new approach to teaching large classes interactively, complete with a step-by-step guide for converting conventional lectures to a more interactive format with modern easily to use technologies.

Carl Wieman, Nobel prize winner, who researched the added value of active learning classroom, also making use of modern technologies

Janice Sandjojo is lecturer and researcher in  psychology (Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences).

Students are asked to design a poster about a neurological complaint. In order to communicate the issues clearly the students needed to delve into the theory and analyse relevant research. As the students cohort is over 500 students, it was a challenge to mark them all within a short timeframe. Janice decided to employ a peer review strategy to provide the students with feedback. She used the Pitch2Peer tool as it is an easy tool to upload the digital posters for review. The students were assigned to assess five posters on content, references and design. In addition to written feedback, they were asked to rate the work with 1 to 5 stars. They were also asked to award their 10 favourite posters with a like. The programme ranks the posters on basis of stars and likes so that the best rated posters appear at the top. Analyses of the feedback and ratings show that the students were accurate in their feedback e.g. there was no apparent bias.

More examples of best practices in On-line and Blended Learning are available on the ICTO website.