ICTs in the university environment: 7 case studies

11 Apr 2019 11:00h - 13:00h

Event report


The session was organised the University of Sheffield and moderated by Ms Hana Okasha (B.A. Digital Media & Society, University of Sheffield).

Mr Michael Pinney (M.Sc. Applied GIS, Urban Studies & Planning, University of Sheffield) spoke about the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools. He explained that within his work he looked at ways to map vulnerable populations that live in the greater Sheffield area. Using information about low-income households and crime rates, Pinney compiled a report for local authorities to assess resource allocation in the area. Pinney noted that information and communications technologies (ICTs) can help identify many practical solutions for vulnerable populations and support government interventions; and that ICTs can be outsourced to universities and thus do not necessarily need to be extremely costly. Additionally, targeted use of these technologies can improve resource allocations and thereby reduce overall costs. Pinney pointed out that the university of Sheffield is doing very well in using available talent and linking them with local businesses.

Ms Victoria (Tor) Baskett (M.A. Digital Media & Society, University of Sheffield) noted that ICT education is now becoming part of wider educational programmes, but that there are still vast differences between digital literacy programs in rural and urban areas as well as between well-funded, often private, institutions and public schools. She noted that this divide can also be observed on the international level where the issue of access to technology is even stronger. Baskett further highlighted that people who do not have access to ICTs in their early lives usually do not enter digital work environments, which might become problematic given the developments of the future of work. She pointed out that the digital divide is further deepened between the developed countries that can provide digital literacy training and those countries that cannot. Baskett used the example of Romania as a way to overcome digital literacy issues. The country recognised that its teachers were not trained to teach ICT use to their students and decided to implement an artificial intelligence (AI) based system to educate students on digital literacy. Baskett noted the importance of achieving equality in terms of digital literacy and highlighted the importance of digital education to avoid further deepening the digital divide.

Mr Daniel Kirby (M.A. Digital Media & Society, University of Sheffield) expanded on his research, which focused on digital research methods such as the analysis of data obtained through social media. Kirby explained that he looked into Twitter reactions to the Brexit draft of November 2018. He collected over 4000 tweets and ran them through sentiment analysis software. He was surprised by the number of positive comments that the software identified and, therefore, conducted sample testing of the tweets. He found out that the sentiment analysis software did not pick up irony or other kinds of remark and was unable to understand tweets with spelling mistakes. As a consequence, Kirby noted that we need to be cautious of the systems we use and take into account that machine-generated results still require human verification. Finally, Kirby mentioned the importance of striking a balance between ethics and research methods given that this type of research can go against privacy protection.

Ms Evelyn Baskaradas (M.Sc. Data Science, Information School, Information Society) presented her work on Virtual Learning Environments (VLE). She explained that VLEs can improve the quality of teaching, assessment, and budgetary decision-making. Additionally, she noted that VLEs empower students and can also provide data for predictive learning analytics, which in turn improve student learning experiences. Baskaradas also noted challenges to the incorporation of VLE due to differing institutional practices and cultures and to concerns around students’ personal data usage and privacy. Moreover, she identified challenges in the abidance by different data privacy laws and the acquisition of informed consent of the users. She mentioned that operators of VLE should regularly be questioned on their intent and implementation of learning analytics and incorporate periodic scope reviews of the original intent of VLEs to ensure that the platforms keep up with technological developments. Additionally, these reviews would allow operators to address changes that might occur with regard to ethics, privacy, and informed consent.

Ms Myra Mufti (M.Sc. International Social Change & Policy, University of Sheffield) said that there were no online systems for college applications at universities in Pakistan and that they were only slowly introduced in 2011 for the province of Punjab. She explained that students who wanted to apply for universities had to travel very long distances and go through highly bureaucratic processes. Mufti noted that the provincial government of Punjab thus developed an online college admission system for all 728 universities of the province, which streamlined payments and made merit lists publicly available. Additionally, the process made monitoring and evaluating applications much easier. She said that the use of the platform has increased significantly since 2011 and that it has helped address issues of accessibility, convenience, cost saving, accuracy, and transparency. Mufti also highlighted that the online process of application led to an increase in applications from girls. She noted that the reason for the low number of applications of girls could thus be traced to the lack of available services, rather than cultural reasons.

Ms Romany Kisbee-Batho (Graduate Diploma in Law, University of Sheffield) presented Sheffield’s Student Action for Refugees (STAR) initiative, which is a student-led movement to improve the living conditions of refugees who are often kept in detention centres. Through their Facebook page, the movement attracted attention beyond the student body and became a way to connect students with other civil society movements and refugees. Kisbee-Batho noted that the movement was faced with the question of speaking for or speaking with the community they were defending and explained the importance of enabling actors, rather than appropriating their stories. She explained that the fact of using them as ‘experts’ also gives them agency and ensures that their voices remain central.

Ms Rebecca Heminway (formerly Barnes) (M.A. Digital Media & Society, University of Sheffield) said that her work focused on digital support to improve mental health. She spoke about the increased demand of mental health care and the work of de-stigmatisation of mental health issues that is undertaken in the United Kingdom. She noted that introducing digital tools to support people suffering from mental illness can benefit from the fact of high mobile connectivity and the widespread use of ICT devices, particularly in student communities. She emphasised that student populations are among the populations most vulnerable to mental illness. Heminway found that digital tools could reduce the overall costs of health provision through early recognition, but that it can be used only at the early stages of treatment (i.e. detection of mental health issues). However, Heminway highlighted the importance of human interaction in the treatment of mental health issues. She also explained that many of the devices and tools that could be used to address mental health issues are not interoperable given that they rely on proprietary tools, which makes the large diffusion of these tools challenging.


By Cedric Amon