University Life Online

Rhian Morgan

Two students studying and taking notes from a laptop
Figure 13. Much of university life is lived online. Copyright © James Cook University. All Rights Reserved


Universities are highly technological and much of university life is lived online. To succeed at university, students must be confident working with technologies and digitally literate. This means being able to understand, use, adapt to, and innovate with technology. This chapter begins by exploring why digital literacy is important and how it is relevant to university life. Next, it examines what universities will expect of you in terms of digital life. The chapter then outlines the digital attitudes, attributes and skills you will need to develop, and how these relate to other skills and attributes, such as finding information online. By developing each of the elements that will be discussed in this chapter, you will be well equipped for online university life.

What is a Digitally Literate Student?

People develop digital literacy throughout their lives. From using a mobile phone or typing a document, to manipulating data and engaging in social media, digital literacy is an important facet of every part of everyday life. Being digitally literate means having the skills, knowledge and attitudes that equip you for living, learning, working and flourishing in today’s technological society. All elements of these skills, knowledge and attitudes are interrelated and interdependent.

Digital literacy attitudes include being curious, open to learning, resilient to change in technology and being collaborative. Digital literacy skills encompass elements such as:

  • Core computing and networking skills and knowledge to operate in a university environment (which underpin the other elements); (see below for more information)
  • Skills and understanding about information sources and the media, so you can access the information you need to study and work, and ensure that it is the right information;
  • The ability to create online objects such as assignments, images, presentations, audio, video and other things such as spreadsheets or data;
  • Participating in online discussions, collaborations and groups while communicating effectively and appropriately online;
  • Being able to use the online learning systems at your university and beyond for ongoing professional development and learning; and
  • Being able to manage your “digital identity” at university and beyond into professional life and be ethical, responsible and legal in your online life.

You will develop digital literacy throughout your university journey and throughout the rest of your life. It is important to understand that digital literacy is:

  • Scaffolded, so you don’t need to know everything from the start, and you will build on your knowledge and skills as you learn.
  • Supported, as your university will provide you with opportunities to learn new skills and develop your understanding and attitudes to digital technologies and online learning. Look for opportunities through orientation, information technology (IT) training, library training, study support training and online resources.
  • General, as some skills and capabilities are important for all students, and Specific, as other skills and capabilities are specific to a discipline or profession; and some disciplines and professions will require a much higher level of expertise and ability than others.

Digital Literacy and Universities

Woman standing in front of chalk board with writing on it 
Figure 14. Student studying Bachelor of Advanced Science. Copyright © James Cook University. All Rights Reserved

When you come to university, you will likely encounter a range of new technologies, systems, and environments that you will be expected to use throughout your studies. It is important to become familiar with these new platforms and tools in order to develop the skills you need for successful study.

In order to succeed at university, you will need to use:

You may also want to using social media or messaging apps to communicate with other students and collaborate on team projects or assessments. It is also important to learn about the threats that online life can bring. Threats to your privacy, professional image, and academic success can be magnified if you don’t live your life online securely, safely and ethically. The student IT Essentials webpage contains all the information you need in order to manage your account and access the technologies you will need for study. Developing your digital literacy skills will help you make the most of the resources available to you.

University Essentials

Starting university is a time when you will begin to collaborate online with others, either in your course or in the wider university social networks, whether it is in forums run by your lecturer or via the university’s social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Interacting with your lecturers and fellow students online will present additional chances to collaborate and co-operate to facilitate high levels of engagement. Your ability to navigate and interact in a positive way using these education and social environments will broaden your learning experiences and expedite understanding. All these lead to success both in your studies and your professional life.



There are many positives to engaging with the platforms offered by your university. You will broaden your access to learning environments and be able to create networks with your colleagues and peers, as well as experts and mentors in your field. You will develop your online identity and improve your online interpersonal skills through communication, using both official and unofficial university systems and social media platforms. You will also develop digital problem-solving skills, and learn to innovate, collaborate, and create content in online environments.

Table 3. Digital tools and collaboration opportunities
Official University Social Media Awards, programs, partnerships, news and events, e.g. ANZAC Day, Harmony Day, graduation, career development, workshops.
Twitter Follow academics, librarians, industries, and organisations for news, events and information on research.
LinkedIn Career information, professional development and training opportunities, and networking.
University Website Student hubs, sporting groups, career opportunities, cultural activities, faith groups, international student support, library support.
LearnJCU Discussion Boards Subject information, assessment and referencing discussions, peer-review and lecturers’ support for assignments.
Unofficial groups and pages (Student run) Collaboration opportunities and study groups e.g. Discord, Slack, Snapchat and Facebook groups.

Being digitally literate is not only about engaging with these platforms, but also understanding the threats that exist when interacting with these online platforms, especially the unofficial, unmoderated sites.


Table 4. Online threats and avoiding them
Stealing your identity or hacking your accounts Do not give out personal information unless you trust the person asking for it, and set your passwords so they are hard to guess
Remember: if it looks suspicious, it probably is!
Access to your financial data Do not open email attachments from untrusted sources, and never give out your financial information to anyone you do not trust.
Bullying, cyberstalking and tracking Be careful what you share online, both information and images, and always remember that others are watching you online.
Make sure you report bullying incidents to your university or other relevant authorities.
Collusion and academic misconduct Collusion on individual assessments may carry heavy penalties and universities watch carefully for instances where students are not completing their own work (see the chapter “Integrity at University” for more information).
Misinformation and conspiracy theories Be careful about what information you trust and share online (see the chapter “Working with Information” for more information).

Remember, at university, knowing how to engage is important as you are expected to communicate professionally. Be aware of what you post, your tone, and your words as they will be there for all to read. Understanding the principles of online communication will help you at university and in your communications outside of the university. It is not uncommon for recruiters to examine your online profiles to evaluate if you are a suitable candidate, so choose and use your social media channels wisely. Building your digital identity and creating positive relationships with others online increases your chances of academic success.

Learning Online

Woman on laptop videoconfrencing with others
Figure 15. Videoconferencing  is an important part of university life.  Image by Anna Shvets used under CC0 licence

Studying at university means being able to study in an online environment. It means using technology to participate in classes, access materials, complete assessment, and collaborate with your lecturers. It also means being able to learn new technologies and find information in the online world. Learning online brings both benefits and challenges. It can be difficult to access everything you need to study effectively. Sometimes, learning online can even be lonely. At the same time, the flexibility of being able to engage with study materials at your on pace and at times that suit you can be really beneficial. However, it is also easy to get distracted and inconsistent work practices can impact your productivity. The JCU Learning Centre has a range of resources and guides that can help you develop positive online study habits, such as:

  • Tips about online learning using video lectures and collaborate sessions, including information on taking notes, and communicating with staff and classmates;
  • Information about using online communication tools, like Blackboard Collaborate, discussion boards, and Zoom; and,
  • Guides on creating a positive study environment that include information about tools, technologies, working from home, and planning your study time.

When learning online, it is important to see your development of digital literacy skills and attributes as a journey; you will develop skills throughout your studies and again throughout your life. Maintaining the digital literacy attitudes and developing the skills and attributes to outlined in the diagram below will help you in this journey.


Boxes with words. First book says 'Be curious about technology. Second box says 'communication, collaboration and participation. Third box says 'Be open to new ideas and learning new technologies,'. Fourth box says University systems and list types of systems. Fifth box says core computing such as Microsoft office. Sixth box says Information and media literacies. Seventh box says Be resilient as technology constantly changes. Eight box says online access and identity and ninth box says Be collaborative by working together and sharing skills
Figure 16. Attitudes, Attributes and Skills for University Life Online. Image by USQ used under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 licence


In the modern world, it is very important to be digitally literate. Digital literacy encompasses the attitudes, attributes and skills with technology and digital environments that will help you study at university and thrive in your future workplace.

As a university student, you must be able to engage with the technologies, environments and social networks that your university will expect you to use. Your university will help you to develop digital literacy as part of your work and study, and to build on those skills and attributes to the level required by your discipline and future employment. You must have core computing skills underpinning other attributes to study online, communicate and collaborate, be secure, safe and ethical, and to find and use information.

Key points

  • To succeed with university life online, you must be able to understand, use, adapt to and innovate with technology.
  • Being digitally literate means having the skills, knowledge and attitudes that equip you for living, learning, working and flourishing in a today’s technological society.
  • You must be able to study in the online environment, use your university’s digital systems, and communicate and collaborate online.
  • You will develop your digital literacy attitudes and skills throughout your study and again throughout your life.


American Library Association. (2000). ACRL standards: Information literacy compentency standards for higher education. College & Research Libraries News, 61(3), 207-215.

Sarwar, B., Zulfiqar, S., Aziz, S., Chandia, K. E., (2018). Usage of social media tools for collaborative learning: The effect on learning success with the moderating role of cyberbullying. Journal of Educational Computing Research, Vol. 57(1), 246-279.

JISC. (2014). Developing digital literacies. JISC.

JISC. (2015a). Building digital capability: The six elements defined. JISC.

JISC. (2015b). Developing students’ digital literacy. JISC.



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