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  • Jisc’s top ten further education social media superstars of 2018

    We've been on the lookout for the top ten social media superstars in further education (FE), and we had some great entries!

    A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to apply and congratulations to our #JiscTop10 winners.

    The competition celebrates the excellent social media work being done by sector professionals out there – and the most innovative ways of using social media to add value to their practice. Each winner will receive an edtech visit to their institution, robot included.

    The final line-up was chosen by a panel of FE and social media experts, including Jisc's head of FE and skills, Paul McKean; Jisc's digital content manager, Richard Tatnall; TES columnist, FE teacher founder of UKFEchat, Sarah Simons, and FE Week journalist Sam King.

    Paul McKean said:

    "It's great to see the variety of ways practitioners are using social media to support their practice. The top ten use a whole range of platforms in many diverse and exciting ways.

    "It's noticeable that, while the practitioners come from across the spectrum of the curriculum, our top ten are all keen to share their own practice, either via social media, such as hosting #UKFEchat debates on Twitter, or their own blogs, but also in 'real life' by hosting local Teach Meets.

    "I'm also pleased to see the use of social media is having an impact, too, for example, it is cited as a contributing factor in attracting 'a wider range of local students than our normal geographic profile'."

    Richard Tatnall added:

    "What stood out for me was the real-world impact these social media activities are having. Among our ten superstars' submissions were examples of social media initiating new partnerships; securing student work experience (it's worth checking out #ReadingCollegeTakeOver for more on this); and even contributing to successful project bids.

    "When the impact of social media moves beyond the screen like this, its value really becomes clear. Our winners have provided many great examples of how investing in blogs and other social media channels can have big pay-offs for both practitioners and students.

    "It's certainly an exciting time to be a social media advocate in FE at the moment as new practices are constantly being tried and tested and our winners are leading the way for its integration throughout teaching and learning."

    Aftab Hussain, strategic lead for information learning technology, Bolton College

    Aftab Hussain


    Since joining Bolton College in November 2013, Aftab has kept an active blog which showcases the ILT projects underway across the college. The articles and projects are shared on LinkedIn.

    This attracts attention and has led to a successful project bid to the Education Training Foundation, which promoted the use of Ada, Bolton College's cognitive assistant for students, teachers and support teams. The project, which concluded in October 2017, also attracted attention via social media of IBM's Watson Conversation Team, who visited Bolton College in June 2017 to view its work on the Ada service

    In July 2016, the Education Recording Agency did a case study on the college's use of personalised video content based on the social media posts about the service. The use of social media has also led to an increasing number of FE staff visiting Bolton College to learn more about its ILT services and projects.

    Aftab says the primary aim of his social media posts is to raise awareness of how analytics and technology can be combined in radically different ways to support students, teachers and support teams.

    Anshi Singh, IT lecturer, Reading College (Activate Learning)

    Anshi Singh


    Anshi uses social media to connect with educators across the globe and also to promote awareness of abuse and gender equality.

    This year she organised a Teach Meet (#TMReading17) which was successful and will go ahead again this year, all promoted by social media.

    All level 3 students interact on social media and have set up their own blogs to share and connect their learning with the real world. The hashtag #L3ClassAnshi is used to post any course-related items.

    Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn/Google community/YouTube and other websites effectively extend learning beyond the classroom and Anshi uses these platforms to seek work experience placements for students. As a result, all level 3 students were able to do work experience by taking over social media accounts of local businesses.

    Finally, Anshi is starting a pilot project to teach responsible use of social media to students in vocational courses.

    Jade Easton, deputy head of commercial services, Kingston College

    Jade Easton


    Jade is a pioneer in the college's use of Twitter and set up @KC_BTECsport. She is active in celebrating past students' successes to inspire and motivate applicants to vocational courses and highlights present students' success as they progress.

    The impact has been buoyant in terms of enrolments and applications on the sports courses and the college has attracted a wider range of students than its normal geographic profile.

    Social media activity has been instrumental in securing connections with local sports clubs and universities to give the students further enrichment. Jade also retweets local community events, which has helped up-skill current students and allows them to showcase what they do via a social media platform. She proactively shares what the college does and uses it as a positive tool to advertise good practise in the institution, but also opportunities in FE more widely.

    James Donaldson, head of additional learning needs and wellbeing, Cardiff and Vale College

    James Donaldson


    James says that social media in general and, in particular, developing a personal learning network (PLN) on Twitter and blogging has allowed him to develop as a reflective practitioner and lead the conversation around additional learning needs reform in schools and colleges in Wales.

    He likes to use social media to promote, share and teach technology online, linking colleagues, parents, researchers, health and social services, edtech providers and users to think about disrupting the status quo and driving positive change.

    James is a co-organiser of Teach Meet South Wales, and has led UKFEchat tweet meets around those with additional learning needs wellbeing and support for learning and used social media to link with fellow educators and change-makers. For example, he was asked to present at Bett 2018 by Microsoft on the use of mixed reality to support transition for learners with additional and special educational needs and disability.

    James Kieft, learning technologies manager at Activate Learning

    James Kieft


    James uses social media to keep up to date with technology tools and see how others are making use of these tools. James puts the tools he likes on his blog and YouTube channel, where he suggests how they could be used to benefit teaching and learning.

    As a result, there has been an increased use of educational technology tools within the classrooms at the colleges he works at.

    Colleagues across the education sector have responded by suggesting tools James should feature on his channels and what it has allowed them to achieve with their learners.

    This work has resulted in Activate Learning winning an AoC Beacon Award and being shortlisted for a TES FE award for technology usage.

    He also engages through Google Plus and Google Plus communities, Twitter and various Twitter chats such as #UKFEchat.

    Learning technologies and library services team, Petroc College

    Petroc team


    This team uses a combination of Wordpress, Twitter and Facebook to communicate across three campuses and beyond. As demand on time has increased, the team found it hard to maintain the same level of face-to-face support and saw how social media could help.

    The platforms act as a shop window for the team to display learning technologies and library services to all.

    Daily tweets have an eclectic style, including the odd GIF and personal news, so the account stays friendly and interesting. Specific hashtags promote various LTLS projects and initiatives. For example, #PetrocReads5 is promoting a reading challenge through a live Twitter feed on the library services Moodle page and there's been a big uptake among staff and students alike. #PetrocGoogle5 promotes online Google training as part of the college's rollout of Chromebooks and Google GSuite (Wakelet), and #PetrocLTA is a starting point for discussing learning, teaching and assessment.

    The active promotion of Twitter has encouraged lecturers to create their own curriculum-based Twitter accounts and embed them within their Moodle course pages.

    Lisa Shields, lecturer in marketing and retail, City of Glasgow College

    Lisa Shields


    Lisa has used Twitter since 2010, when developing her teaching practice as a new FE lecturer.

    At the start of the academic year she encourages students to follow her and arranges them into course groups in the List feature, without following them back. This way, she can look at student tweets when required, or converse if need be without seeing their tweets in her feed. Those students who have graduated go into a list of alumni so that she can maintain links with them in their careers.

    Lisa regularly posts relevant articles and identifies stand-out advertising campaigns and refers to the tweets in class. Frequently, advertising agencies involved in the campaigns will engage with the post, giving an opportunity to promote the course and the students as informed future professionals.

    Recently, when undertaking an educational podcasting project known as Retail Chat she created a separate Twitter account to promote the work, and hopes to expand this as a way of further engaging students.   

    Scott Hayden, media lecturer, teacher trainer, digital learning ambassador at Basingstoke College of Technology

    Scott Hayden


    A social media and edtech advisor to The Education Foundation and Edtech UK, Scott is in charge of a team that trains staff in creative and innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

    All students now use social media and digital technology in a professional and responsible way that enhances their digital reputation and employability skills.

    The techniques Scott has developed have been cited by Edexcel and Ofsted as outstanding practice of engaging both students and industry and he was shortlisted this year for the TES FE award for outstanding use of technology.

    Simon Reddy, teacher at City College Plymouth and the University of Plymouth

    Simon Reddy


    Simon's use of social media to help engage apprentice plumbers was born from his 2014 PhD on college courses and apprenticeships in plumbing. The study found the plumbing curriculum in FE was dislocated and important aspects of apprenticeships were being ignored, including the experience of being part of a community of workers.

    On returning to practice as an FE plumbing teacher in 2015, Simon noticed apprentices were distracted with smart phones, so he decided to capitalise on this.

    He formed closed Facebook social media groups, with tutors, assessors, college managers, directors and apprentices. The apprentices put pictures and videos of their work on the Facebook group, and in classroom sessions other students instantly engaged with their own pictures and critical comments.

    The students' responses were "extraordinary". They were interested in learning more, and continually compare/correct their own work performances with peers, which drives up standards.

    Simon says the use of smart phones and social media communities shows that assessment can now be easily collected digitally and that students are more engaged and able to form professional communities, while emphasising practical work.

    It's also worth noting that tests use employers' resources, so colleges don't need to buy expensive materials for assessment.

    Tony Payne, student experience manager, East Kent College Group

    Tony Payne


    Tony is a regular contributor to #UKFEchat and has co-hosted the #UKFEchat podcast this year.

    He also leads and runs @lvpnet, which is a network for Learner Voice practitioners across the UK. Its Facebook community, with more than 200 members, is a place to collaborate and share best practice.

    Tony also hosts regular networking events around the UK to ensure technological innovation is at the heart of Learner Voice.

    Tony has recently completed a year's secondment with NUS, where he supported the development of an online Learner Voice Framework to allow institutions to self-assess their collaboration with learners and build an action plan to expand work into new areas of development.

  • Jisc secures future of a free online maths course

    A free online course designed for adults who want to improve their grasp of maths at GCSE level has been transferred to Jisc.

    The move from Calderdale College means that the Citizen Maths course will remain freely available to all and will be updated and developed in the future.

    Citizen Maths is a good match for our existing content for further education colleges, such hairdressing training and an e-books collection that includes text books for compulsory English and maths GCSE retakes.

    The transfer of Citizen Maths took place earlier this year and our initial focus will be on ensuring the continuation of all its current features and on maintaining excellent support for learners and partners.

    Service to be improved in the future

    In the future, we plan to improve Citizen Maths to meet the needs of a wider range of learners.

    Karla Youngs, head of digital content services for further education and skills at Jisc, said:

    “This maths course is a good fit with Jisc’s existing offering to further and adult education and we have worked closely with Calderdale College to ensure a smooth transfer of the service and to make the transition invisible to learners and to partner organisations.

    We now have a team in place to support the service into the future.”

    Meeting the needs of a growing user base

    John Rees, principal and chief executive of Calderdale College, said:

    “We are pleased that Citizen Maths has now transferred to an organisation which provides digital solutions for the whole of UK education and research. We can’t think of a better long-term home for the project, which has seen steady growth in number of users since its launch.”  

    Citizen Maths was developed in between 2014 and 2017 by Calderdale College, with funding from the Ufi charitable trust, working with the UCL Institute of Education and OCR.

    Who is Citizen Maths for?

    Citizen Maths is aimed at people who want to improve their grasp of maths, and become more confident in using these skills at work and in life.

    Maths may have passed you by at school, or you may be rusty. Maybe you’ve passed maths exams, but find it hard to apply what you know to the types of problem you need to solve now – like using spreadsheets, judging amounts or assessing odds.

    The course uses practical problems to help people learn and is pitched to meet the standard of maths that a 16-year-old should achieve.

    There are five modules which should take between five and ten hours each to complete.

    While the course does not result in a formal qualification, a statement of participation is available for people who successfully complete the whole course.

  • Key questions every college leader and governor should ask

    Leaders in further education (FE) must sometimes feel like they’re at sea, navigating waves of new policies and sometimes sailing dangerously close to the financial wind.

    It’s part of our job to help steady the ship – to provide help and support to our members by assessing need and guiding them forward on a path of technological transformation that will improve the learning experience and benefit the organisation.

    To help senior leaders make good choices, we’ve come up with a series of priorities we think colleges should address if they are to make the best use of technology.

    Aimed at providing clarity and direction, there are two documents, one with a list of questions for principals and the other a checklist for governors.

    Both have been written by our head of FE and skills, Paul McKean

    Top priorities

    As a kick-off, we ask whether the senior management team (SMT) and governors have a strategic understanding of the benefits and value technology can provide. Things to consider include:

    Jisc offers a massive range of products and services and we know that can be confusing, so there is a question asking whether you know which services are available as part of your membership, and which others may be of benefit. For example, we offer specialist advice for colleges going through mergers. There is also a link to our guide on fundamental technologies for colleges.

    Onwards and upwards...

    Other questions cover the use of tech to improve learning, teaching and assessment, compliance on accessibility and Prevent duty, and the importance of improving digital skills for both students and staff.

    We also ask how prepared colleges are for the introduction of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018, and whether there is a robust cyber security strategy in place. The latter is particularly important as we know that colleges are an increasing target for cyber criminals.

    Not sure where to start? Your account manager will be able to help.

  • When wifi goes rogue

    Danny Moules, Jisc’s security assessment specialist, sets out the pitfalls of wifi complacency and offers some practical tips for real-world wifi defence.

    In 2010, Firesheep was released. It was a tool that allowed anyone using the Firefox web browser to read anyone’s data, such as passwords, private messages or cookies, going across a public wifi network.

    This wasn't new at the time. In fact, hackers had been able to do this for a long time. However, it hit the news, and people had to change how they used wifi networks.

    Security when browsing in public

    Public wifi (wifi without a password) isn't secure. Adding a password to public wifi, even a password that everyone can read, helps protect against the theft of sensitive data. It's why, when we visit a coffee shop, we can't just connect to the wifi without getting the password.

    On the face of it, it seems silly to have a post-it note on the counter with the wifi password which everyone knows, but that keeps your data safer.

    Back in 2010 not many sites had HTTPS either. When Sophos rode a bike around London with an open wireless network in 2014, 78% of connections were unprotected by a VPN or HTTPS. When somebody used Firesheep, the data they stole from you wasn't protected.

    But we've come a long way since then. When you visit Facebook or Twitter or your corporate sites, most of the time your connection will be encrypted to protect you from this sort of tomfoolery.

    Firesheep was scary but you don't have to worry about your data getting sniffed off the wire anymore.

    [#insertinlinedriver ddos-mitigation#]

    Except... are you connected to a network running older security protocols? Then a hacker might pull out attacks like chop chop, caffe latte, p0841, hirte (also known as cfrag) and other creatively-named mischief.

    But probably not. Most wifi networks can't be hacked this way anymore either.

    It helps to understand the warning signs that lead to these attacks (in the case of the above, WEP = very bad) but protocols only help so much. 

    Just how secure is your connection?

    So, now let's ask:

    • What is the wifi you're connected to?
    • Is it the one you were told to connect to?
    • Or is it an identical looking one being run by a hacker instead?
    • Is someone trying to phish your passwords by tricking you into typing them to their own network when you think it's going out to the internet?

    The interlocking layers of security that make up your wifi connection all rely on you being able to correctly identify the computers you connect to. Yet your operating system is constantly working to prevent you from the 'confusion' that comes with being able to see what's really happening under the hood.

    In fact, the modern operating system often hides the details of when and where you connect, opting to use credentials shared across the cloud to maintain your connection transparently, even if this means walking right into a trap.

    The risks with capture portals

    The prevalence of capture portals, where a wifi service demands credentials or other sensitive information to let you access the system, creates an ecosystem where you expect to be challenged. This plays directly into a phisher's hands,

    What's even worse, even legitimate wifi services typically demand that you can't access any HTTPS site because they need to hijack your insecure HTTP connection (in itself a man-in-the-middle attack!) in order to provide the capture portal service.

    Although this isn't necessary anymore, as browsers offer better ways to do this, the practice persists and the risk remains.

    Even if you know you're on a valid connection, what happens if an attacker launches a de-sync attack to disconnect you? Will your operating system just connect to the attacker's network automatically? Most likely. Managed frame protection adoption in the sector appears to be very low, as I've also noticed in other sectors, despite being very easy to achieve for most institutions.

    Do the same problems apply to your corporate wifi, protected by ‘enterprise’ security? Some of them do, some of them don't. WPA2-Enterprise is technically complex to configure and there are lots of pitfalls that provide different levels of exposure.

    A combined attack

    Now what happens when our attacker combines this with other phishing or social engineering attacks?

    [#insertinlinedriver penetration-tester#]

    Technical controls only achieve so much. Without threat modelling and a training element, expect to be outmaneuvered by penetration testers - and any of your own students with the knowledge and the inclination – pretty quickly, with criminals inevitably not far behind.

    What if our attacker foregoes the wifi for your mobile phone network's base station instead? Hackers, as well as the authorities, have had the capability to hijack our calls and phone internet connection for a decade, while the price and technical complexity has dropped dramatically in the intervening years.

    Android apps such as AIMSICD work for incident responders confirming an attack in progress but when every business call you make could be intercepted, how do you manage that everyday risk?

    The introduction of WPA3 will shift the wifi security landscape but simply implementing it blindly will not address all these issues. Fundamentally, wireless technologies can't handle the load of the risk people often burden them with.

    We need to think about how we can sustain digital enablement while accepting that we haven't educated users on all the risks, and nor can we. We need to consider whether IT's race towards reduced friction for users has led to greater risks. We also need to sustain a discussion about how wireless infrastructure is designed to meet the needs of different use cases, instead of a one size fits all, bring your own device (BYOD) approach.

  • Can degree apprenticeships plug the tech skills gap?

    The skills shortage in the technology sector is acute and growing. New training options could enable more people to choose tech careers – and bring more diversity to the sector.

    For employers and for the UK as a whole, the stakes are high. In the area of cyber security, for example, Lloyd’s of London’s 2017 report 'Closing the gap – insuring your business against evolving cyber threats’ estimates that a serious cyber attack could cost the UK economy £92bn. That’s a compelling reason to step up the search for appropriately skilled cyber security workers.

    What’s more, most of the UK’s current cyber security specialists are aged over 45 and skilled replacements must be ready to step into their shoes when they start to leave the jobs market.

    Broadening the talent pool

    Traditionally, our universities and colleges have been the obvious place to look for recruits. A full-time university or college degree has been the clearest route into a technology career and that won’t change.

    But what about the people who don’t want to spend three years in an academic environment or who would find it hard for personal or practical reasons? What about people who have a stereotypical image of what a tech-whizz looks like and think they don't fit the mould?

    It’s up to employers and educators to cast their nets wider and devise new ways to reach and train raw talent.

    [#insertinlinedriver techtalent#]

    That’s one reason why at Jisc we’ve signed up to the Tech Talent Charter (TTC). It’s a government-supported employer initiative to improve diversity and address gender imbalance issues in technology, which we experience at our cyber security centre in Harwell.

    By signing the charter we are taking steps to bring more women into technology roles.

    We have formally committed to following inclusive recruitment processes and to implementing policies and practices that support the development and retention of a diverse workforce. The new National College of Cyber Security is also intended to provide a new route into specialised tech careers when it opens – probably late next year. Based at the famous second world war code breaking site Bletchley Park, it will select talented, logic-minded 16-19 year olds from across the UK and train them as cyber security specialists.

    Degree apprenticeships

    And then there are degree apprenticeships.

    Many large businesses are using them already to grow their own talent. IBM, John Lewis, PwC, motor manufacturers and several high street banks have all taken the leap. Evan Davis looked at degree apprenticeships recently in his Radio 4 business programme The Bottom Line.

    The employers he interviewed said that their degree apprenticeship programmes offer them a wider choice of recruits and are bringing them very ambitious, driven youngsters. They also said that retention rates for degree apprentices seem to be high. Crucially, these employers are enjoying a faster return on investment. Their apprentices contribute to real projects almost from day one.

    All these employers (as well as your organisation, if its pay bill is more than £3m per year) are already paying the apprenticeship levy. It is 0.5% of the total wage bill. The levy is part of the government’s programme to get 3m apprenticeship starts by 2020.

    The good news is that, if you are paying the levy, you can receive levy funds to spend on training apprentices. For every £1 you pay, you get back £1.10 to spend on training – another powerful reason why it could be time for you to look closely at degree apprenticeships.

    Meet Nicole

    Nicole Stewart is Jisc’s security degree apprentice. Nicole joined our security team last October as a trainee cyber security analyst and she's already working on a variety of projects including testing for endpoint security solutions and the ongoing development of our DDoS mitigation services.

    Nicole said:

    "I'm getting lots of practical experience to back up the theory. I get a new module from my learning provider QA every week and attend a workshop in London with them every five weeks. But for the rest of the time I'm working at Jisc.

    "My mentors and colleagues are working right alongside me so I can ask for input and then apply what they've told me straight away. The knowledge and techniques stick with you when you're using them on a daily basis."

    Nicole is working towards her bachelor's degree. She is earning a salary and will emerge from her apprenticeship well equipped for a career in cyber security - and without any student debt.

    Data-driven apprenticeship delivery

    We’re developing a solution that will enable our members to use student data to optimise the learning experiences of apprentices at all levels (and in all industry sectors) – and to help apprentices achieve the outcomes that they and their employers want.

    [#insertinlinedriver digitalapprenticeships#]

    Our digital apprenticeships project is building a system to track, monitor and report on each learner’s progress so that employers, providers and the apprentices themselves have an accurate idea of what’s really happening. It’ll provide insights so that it’s possible to make timely interventions or tailor a more personalised learning experience.

    It uses the same key infrastructure as our learning analytics service.

    We will extend the learning analytics service’s learning data hub so that it can gather in data on attendance, topic coverage and progress as well as information from organisational systems such as student records and the virtual learning environment (VLE). We’ll provide advice and guidance on how to structure data for the hub so that it’s suitable for analysis.

    We’ll also provide advice and guidance on the ethical issues around gathering and using personal data and on embedding digital into the apprenticeship journey. And we will develop analytics algorithms so that you have the tools you need when you’re ready to use them.

    Interested in our digital apprenticeship work?

    Join our community of interest to find out more.

  • What will 5G mean for your campus?

    Designing and developing a learner-centred digital campus has been a goal of HE and FE technologists for years.

    Now, with the imminent commercial arrival of 5G, the time is ripe for curriculum experts and technologists to work together to plan how hyper-connected devices can transform the campus of the future.

    That’s the view of Andy Sutton, visiting professor in the School of Computing, Science and Engineering at the University of Salford – who spoke at the "mobility” session at Networkshop46.

    As a low latency mobile network technology many times faster than long-term evolution (LTE), 5G is heralded as the enabler of the Internet of Things.

    Sutton said:

    "While 2G was about voice, 3G gave us data and 4G made video an absolute pleasure, 5G is about things.

    “It’s about connecting things, bringing the Internet of Things alive with massive machine-type communication. It will do previous things better, but it’s an enabler for the fourth industrial revolution.”

    How you can benefit from 5G

    So what do Jisc member organisations – many of whom already benefit from eduroam, offering reliable wireless LAN access in multiple campus locations – need to know about 5G?

    It seems we're only just starting to explore how staff and students can benefit in practice from high-data-rate applications and the Internet of Things.

    [#insertinlinedriver shafiahmed#]

    Remote learners, for example, might benefit from the experience of tactile responses over a low-latency 5G network. This could have implications for courses involving manual tasks or muscle memory – from robotics or medical training to the creative arts.

    5G could enable learning through virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), suggests Sutton – for example, allowing students to virtually attend lectures from academics all over the world or even go on virtual visits to major museums.

    Sutton said:

    "We’re always keen to organise industry days, where you can take students to a real-world environment and let them see how study is applied.

    "Nothing beats visiting these places and seeing them, but there’s only so much you can do. If a student wants to spend time outside of a formal visit, or ‘walk around’ that factory or lab and find out more, how can they do that? We could build applications in VR or AR. We’d need a very high data rate and relatively low latency.”

    Increased access for remote learners

    There could also be opportunities to increase access to learning – whether by allowing people to study from globally remote locations or by using cloud-based apps that support inclusivity, perhaps using robotics.

    Or UK students and staff could access cloud-based resources and VLEs reliably and securely from a wider range of locations – potentially useful for courses involving any kind of outdoor study, from earth sciences to sports science to veterinary medicine.

    With the ability to carry more data on learning platforms, moreover, comes the ability to personalise learning further, to meet individual student interests and needs.

    A much-vaunted benefit of 5G is not just that it will offer faster mobile broadband and help enable the Internet of Things – but that, thanks to the advantages of “network slicing”, it allows operators to optimise virtual network for multiple use cases, with different “slices” meeting the needs of different users at the same time.

    This might be of value to HE technologists who have specific demands for a low-latency, highly secure, highly available network.

    In the fullness of time, suggests Sutton – whose research at Salford focuses on the propagation characteristics of millimetre wave radio for 5G backhaul applications – universities might deploy private 5G networks in licence-exempt spectrum for applied research.

    This might follow the example of MulteFire, which today operates in the LTE space.

    In the meantime, 5G brings HE organisations the immediate opportunity to support research into technologies such as robotics, remote haptic feedback and, of course, driverless cars.

    How fast is 5G?

    Theoretically, 5G is capable of reaching 20Gbps – but while such speeds are difficult to achieve beyond the testbed, the prospect of hugely faster mobile broadband speeds is still enough to be excited about, in urban locations at least.

    Simulations by Qualcomm in San Francisco and Frankfurt found that median browsing download speeds were 1.4Gbps and 899Mbps for users accessing a network consisting of 5G co-sited with LTE macro and small cell sites. Compared to LTE alone, this meant that speeds increased by a factor of 20 and five, respectively.

    Testing 5GUK

    The government has already invested £16m in 5GUK – a collaborative project between the University of Surrey, King’s College London and the University of Bristol – to develop three connected 5G test networks, and the three universities duly showed off their achievements at Mobile World Congress in 2018.

    Late last year, the government also held a competition for £25m to invest in 5G testbeds and trials – to create a “5G ecosystem” and develop use cases.

    As far as education is concerned, the time to start planning is now. By 2020, says Sutton, commercial 5G networks should be in operation – while, according to mobile company Ericsson, there will be one billion 5G subscriptions by 2023.

    Above all, technologists and curriculum experts need to get talking about the possibilities.

    “We need to take this technology and talk about it in medical schools, engineering colleges, in humanities, in tourism,”

    urges Sutton.

    “How do you engage all the different faculties, to explain to them the technology and allow them to use their imagination to develop use cases?

    “I’m enthusiastic about 5G – and we’re just starting to scratch the surface.”

    Demonstrating low-latency 5G

    At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in 2018, the University of Surrey, King’s College London and the University of Bristol showed off the world’s first 5G end-to-end network – with an apparently simple demonstration of a remotely controlled robotic foot stroking a football into a goal.

    The kicker – if you can call it that – was that the robot was replicating the actions of an invited human player in another exhibition hall.

    In education, one might imagine a lecturer in one room demonstrating anatomical movements or the effects of forces in physics – as students in different parts of the country, or the world, interact in real time.

  • “Further education saved me” - a personal story from Paul McKean

    Paul McKean, head of FE and skills at Jisc and a former teacher at Bolton College, explains how further education helped him through a very dark time in his life.

    My 20s are a period in my life that are difficult to recall because of the physical and mental debilitation I suffered. I lost my independence and dignity and became isolated, and depressed.

    Several discs in my back had collapsed, requiring three operations over a period of about eight years, which left me in chronic pain and unable to walk easily or work. I had a pair of walking sticks for five or six years, so was very restricted in my mobility and pretty much housebound at my home in Rochdale for months at a time.

    It was a dark time, but I found solace in computing and further education at Bolton College. An advert for a short computer course inspired me enough to make the effort to get out and go to college. I went on to complete other courses over the next couple of years at the same college and, as it turned out, I was pretty good at computing. The teacher asked me to start helping other learners and encouraged me to take a teaching qualification.

    The right kind of support

    The college launched a project supporting people in the community to start using computers and technology, and I got the job. It was about engaging with people who were disadvantaged and disengaged with education, like I was when I was suffering with my back.

    I had to come up with the curriculum myself, and designed web pages and online tutorials, similar to an FE practitioner today, staying up late researching what I was going to teach the next day. So, I’m very aware of the kind of commitment that teachers have and of the benefits that technology can provide, and not just in a computing curriculum.

    On the back of the success of that project, I got a job as the college’s first information learning technology (ILT) leader. By the time I joined Jisc in October 2013, I had been at the college for 14 years and left with a comprehensive understanding of the needs of both learners and the organisation.

    I do miss teaching, but the position I have now with Jisc means I can positively influence all learners, and that’s far more powerful than helping one person in one class. In a way I’m still teaching on a daily basis because there’s always someone in the sector who has an issue they need our help with.

    In an ideal world...

    In an ideal world, post-16 education would be accessible to all in the UK. In the real world, there are still obstacles that make studying difficult for some learners, particularly those who are disadvantaged by their income, ability, mental or physical health, or location.

    [#insertinlinedriver ebooks#]

    For all these people, the ability to connect to a college network when on or off campus could make all the difference. Enabling online or blended learning means that, even if a student is dealing with a critical problem in life, has caring duties, or needs to fit a course around work, they can still study at a time, place and pace to suit their individual needs.

    I know from personal experience how invaluable that can be. At that very difficult time in my life, access to further education gave me a purpose, I regained confidence, shook off depression and earned qualifications that have formed the basis of a career in FE that I love. It’s not going too far to say that FE saved me.

    Technology enables

    I passionately believe in technology as an enabler – it provides opportunity – whereas a lack of technology and connectivity can be a blocker, as I have also experienced. While at Bolton College, I took a master’s degree course in e-learning, but I had a relapse with my back and couldn’t travel. Ironically for an e-learning course, it wasn’t all delivered online, which made studying too difficult, so I had to delay finishing that course for a year.

    In terms of how the sector is responding to the need for technology-enabled learning, it’s a mixed bag. Even in the same college there may be some teachers who’ve completely embraced technology, using videos, games, and 3D animations to show how an engine works for example, and there will be others who prefer to teach using a real vehicle.

    Those differences are not just about age – lots of people embrace change, not just the younger teachers – but if all teachers are to get comfortable with new tech it’s important the sell-in is positive: technology makes teaching more efficient; it’s not about replacing teachers, but about giving them more opportunity to concentrate on learners who need most help.

    I’m an Association of Colleges’ Beacon Award assessor for the effective use of technology and the majority of FE organisations that do well in those awards have a culture of innovation – the senior management team encourages practitioners to take risks, to try new technology.

    [#insertinlinedriver digitaltracker#]

    A supporting culture is important – college leaders need a digital strategy in place to understand what they are trying to achieve, when they’ve got there and how and when to evolve. To begin with, there’s an investment in infrastructure, resources and training and also in understanding the needs of learners, and that’s where Jisc’s student digital experience tracker can help.

    Everyone needs digital skills to operate in today’s ever-more connected world and colleges have a responsibility to produce the digitally capable workforce of tomorrow. For me, it always comes back to the needs of the learner and colleges should be designing digital-first courses at the outset.

    Colleges that follow this strategy are providing what students want, expect, deserve and need.

  • Jisc and HESA analytics project in the running for a national technology award

    A business analytics service developed by Jisc and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for use in higher education has been shortlisted for the 2018 National Technology Awards

    The analytics labs and community dashboards project is one of five services shortlisted for Analytics Project of the Year. The winner will be announced on 17 May 2018 at a ceremony in central London.

    Myles Danson, Jisc’s senior co-design manager, said:

    “On behalf of the Jisc and HESA team I’m delighted we’ve received this nomination.

    “The initiative has engaged 246 staff from 95 universities to date, delivering data derived insights to improve the whole of UK higher education, from student recruitment, graduate employability, course provision, staffing, estates, research, finance and much more.

    “It’s something we are all very proud of and we’re only just beginning the journey.”

    The analytics labs and community dashboards are part of a collaboration between Jisc and HESA to build a business intelligence shared service for education. The project enables higher education institutions to use a series of dashboards to review comparative data from a number of sources, compare their performance with peer organisations and identify trends and gain insights.

    The dashboards were developed through a series of analytics labs made up of HE professionals with the most promising ones published through HESA’s Heidi Plus service.

    The first dashboards were published in September 2017, the second set following in January 2018, with more in the pipeline.

    The project seeks to help universities and colleges as they face mounting financial pressure and increasing overseas competition.

    Find out more about the dashboards and how to access them.

  • Startups win thousands to develop edtech innovations

    This year Digifest saw nine startups in a battle to bag up to £10,000 per company, and earn expert advice to improve their products to benefit students and institutions alike. 

    Each startup pitched their idea to a panel of expert judges, as well as presenting to an audience of Digifest delegates who were waiting to hear how each startup could help to tackle sector challenges.

    Students were a key theme at Digifest from the off, with NUS president, Shakira Martin, featuring as the opening keynote speaker.  Martin said:

    “I’m optimistic about how digital technology can help students across tertiary education. It is vital that we have an education system that is adaptable and flexible for all students.”

    Together with Emerge Education, we run the edtech launchpad, a group of annual competitions designed to support students, startups and companies to develop new edtech ideas.

    So who are the winning startups, and how could their ideas work for you?

    Solving money matters


    Vivi Friedgut, CEO & founder Blackbullion
    Creative Commons attribution information
    Vivi Friedgut, CEO & founder Blackbullion

    Blackbullion is an award-winning startup on a mission to raise the financial capability of students and support student service departments to ensure student success. This learning platform is for students who want to take control of their money and reduce debt-related stress. Students can tune into four-minute sessions delivered on a variety of media.

    Vivi Friedgut, CEO and founder, said:

    “Jisc, as a champion of digital excellence and innovation in the UK education sector, is a natural partner for Blackbullion, and the support and scale-up knowledge and experience of Emerge would be of huge benefit… We aren’t the first company to work towards solving financial illiteracy, but we hope to be the last.”  


    Making medical connections


    Creative Commons attribution information
    Adam Pennycuick, CEO Oslr

    Using the principles of social networking, Oslr connects medical professionals to reinvigorate the community, allowing them to share resources and learning opportunities.

    Adam Pennycuick, CEO, said:

    “Bedside teaching with real patients is a crucial part of any doctor’s training. In recent years this has reduced dramatically due to financial pressure, shorter patient stays and changes to working patterns.  The medical community is increasingly fragmented, leading to fewer teaching opportunities for students.

    “Through commercial partnerships we will allow users to connect their real-life learning around a patient with a wealth of existing high quality online resources. The data we collect is valuable to medical schools and trusts, it will inform curricula and improve future teaching. In the future we plan to involve patients directly in our platform.”


    Boosting careers through volunteering

    VOLO Group

    Melissa Mitchell, CEO VOLO
    Creative Commons attribution information
    Melissa Mitchell, CEO VOLO

    This digital career development platform aims to improve student employability through matching them with volunteering opportunities. VOLO's cloud-based administrator dashboard allows university teams to manage and view live, aggregated data on all extracurricular activity for individual students or cohorts. This enables the provision of more enriching career-targeted experiences, while monitoring the efficacy.

    Melissa Mitchell, CEO, said:

    “VOLO simultaneously enables students to find career-focussed skilled volunteering roles, as well as providing a VOLO profile where career development hours, learnings and reflections can quickly be added from anywhere in the world. This profile includes their personal recommendations and earned awards, which are then presented in easy-to-navigate format, which can be sent to potential employers, or to support future interviews.”


    Using science to make study snappier


    James Gupta, Founder & CEO Synap
    Creative Commons attribution information
    James Gupta, Founder & CEO Synap

    Synap is an intelligent online learning platform that lets people study with short, impactful sessions, using memory science to focus on the areas they need to practice, and helping students to study more effectively.

    James Gupta, founder and CEO, said:

    “After developing the product over years to prepare for our own university exams, and attracting tens of thousands of users in the process, we are now able to offer universities and colleges their own study platform, powered by the same technology and user experience that made Synap so popular.

    “From the institution’s perspective, this means they can set up their own formative assessment or study platform, which integrates with their existing systems, complete with mobile apps, at a fraction of the cost. It also means they can improve student satisfaction, reduce the number of people failing exams, and have access to extremely valuable ‘low-stakes assessment data’ which will inform how their curriculum is implemented, and can be used as part of 360 degree feedback.”


    Helping international students to land their dream careers

    Student Circus

    Tripti Maheshwari and Dhruv Krishnaraj, Founders Student Circus
    Creative Commons attribution information
    Tripti Maheshwari and Dhruv Krishnaraj, Founders Student Circus

    For international students in the UK, this niche job search platform has the ultimate aim of helping UK universities grow and sustain enrolments by leveraging employability. Student Circus finds filtered jobs from companies which can sponsor Tier-2 work visas in the UK, as well as providing immigration assistance to students with visa-related enquiries, and even nudging students as they come closer to their visa expiry date.

    Tripti Maheshwari and Dhruv Krishnaraj, the founders of Student Circus, said:

    “We came to the UK as international students and struggled to find jobs. We faced the challenges we are now trying to tackle first-hand drove us to bring about a change. We went back to India, formalised the idea and applied for the graduate entrepreneur visa to begin our venture back to the UK. We are building this platform for graduates who are highly motivated and bring in much desired diversity to organisations.”


    Do you have an edtech idea?

    Are you a student over 16 years from a sixth form, further education college or university?  Have you got an edtech idea that would make life better for learners, teaching staff and researchers in the UK? The student ideas competition, also part of the Jisc Edtech Launchpad, is now open.

    Join in the conversation on Twitter using #studentideas

  • Further education: why we will be introducing a subscription

    Jisc has announced that it will be introducing a charge for FE colleges in England.

    The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed that it intends to change how Jisc is funded for general further education colleges within the sector. Having already experienced significant funding cuts over the past five years, and in order to continue to deliver a world-class digital offer to our colleges and further education providers in England, we will be introducing a subcription from August 2019.

    DfE will continue to fund a proportion of our services for our members, who have told us that our unique Janet network, protection from cyber attacks and e-books have transformed digital teaching and learning for their students. We are fully committed to working with our members, DfE and the Association Of Colleges to ensure that they get even more value from Jisc services as we move toward subscription.

    Paul Feldman, CEO of Jisc, has written an open letter to the FE sector to explain and set out the changes.

  • Shafi Ahmed: ‘would you trust a robot to perform an operation on you?’

    Shafi Ahmed is a cancer surgeon at the Royal London and St Bartholomew’s Hospitals and, thanks to the global virtual reality live streaming of one of his operations, is also the most watched surgeon in human history. 

    Shafi Ahmed

    The award-winning doctor, teacher, innovator, entrepreneur and evangelist for augmented and virtual reality was the closing keynote speaker at Digifest 2018; here he shares his thoughts on the power of virtual reality, robots in the operating room and the future of medicine.

    More than five billion people around the world do not have access to safe surgery. How do you see virtual reality and other technologies changing that?

    The first thing that these technologies allow us to do is to connect humankind. The 3G, 4G and wifi connections we have around the world are quite simply connecting people. From there, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and other technologies allow people not only to connect but to share knowledge on a broader scale.

    Conventionally, surgeons are often teaching or training just one or two people who are in close proximity to the surgeon in the operating theatre. I believe that knowledge could be shared much more widely with many more people. Wouldn’t it be great to share it with tens of thousands rather than a few?

    That’s what I’ve been doing with these technologies – VR and AR – that allow people to be immersed with me in my operating theatre and allow knowledge to be shared around the world, scaling up education and training to a global level. It provides one of the solutions for the deficiencies and inequalities in health care around the globe.

    What about closer to home, in the UK: what’s the benefit for surgeons and students here?

    Looking at where we are in terms of education, we see a continuum.

    Let’s go back to the beginning – thousands of years ago we were drawing on stone walls, some of which still remain. Then came papyrus with the ancient Egyptians and then the printing press - Gutenberg was a seminal moment in the dissemination of knowledge. Now we have e-books and e-learning on online platforms.

    AR and VR are an extension of those new ways of learning. Our students and trainees are digital natives, they can access information much more readily and they need to be taught in different ways. Learning itself is going to evolve in different ways and I think the UK will benefit hugely from access to AR and learning platforms.

    There are a number of areas in which we can use virtual reality in learning here, particularly in medicine. One of the basic areas of learning is the examination of patients, and that could be done much better virtually, with added assessment and gamification. In my field of surgery, it’s about replicating operations and simulating them in VR and AR.

    I think the whole world of simulation will change when we add haptic feedback in the future. There will be interaction and assessment tools within the VR environment allowing people to simulate not only surgery but all procedures, such as drug taking, putting cannulas into patients, taking bloods, putting in gastric tubes or whatever.

    What opposition, if any, did you face when you first brought VR into the operating theatre or suggested bringing it in?

    I’ve been very fortunate in that the hospital I work in, The Royal London Hospital, which is a part of Barts Health, the biggest hospital in the UK, has been very supportive of innovation. If I have an idea, they haven’t said to me ‘go and think about it for a while and do the due diligence round it’ because when that happens it delays things or simply stops innovation in its tracks, because innovation has to move quite rapidly. Instead they’ve said, ‘great idea, let’s look at how it works, let’s take the hospital and patients on this journey, let’s talk about the ethics and the confidentiality issues that might ensue’.

    We talked to the legal team to ensure that we were doing the best that we could and mitigating the risk as far as possible. So the hospital has been very supportive of innovation and that’s been very helpful for me.

    Watch Shafi's closing keynote at Digifest 2018 

    However, other people are nervous of innovation. You have the inventors and the early adopters who are going to drive change and, in medicine, sadly those people are in a minority and most people are slow to adopt new technologies and adapt to change. I think that’s one of the problems we have in medicine as a whole. We accept dogma and tradition. I want to challenge that on a daily basis and part of my work is to show that we can challenge it in a way that’s effective.

    Then there are the big global companies and we need to help them shape and support technological advances in a way that’s safe and considered, particularly when it comes to health and patient safety.

    The other thing I think we need to think about carefully when bringing innovation into our setting is the end user, the patient, who is most important of all. I’ve always been very clear about taking patients on the journey with us, to make sure they have consented properly and that they understand what you’re trying to achieve. You’d be surprised at how kind and amazing our patients are when you are trying to do something to help humanity and to improve quality, safety and outcomes. Patients are our partners in the hospital environment and, throughout the whole process of innovation, you have to take all those people with you otherwise it will never work.

    What has the reaction been from the patients involved, their families and patient advocacy groups more widely?

    Moving forward, VR will be very useful for education purposes for patients. Imagine, for example, that you can be connected to VR as a patient to see how you will be treated – say, going from the ward to the operating theatre and back again. That’s the kind of thing we’ll be doing in the future.

    Patients themselves are very warm to that – many of the patients that I have operated on while recording it in VR have later watched their own operation in VR to see what it showed. I used to think that was quite strange but then I thought why not? We often give patients videos of operations or pictures and this is just the next step. Patients have been very interested in this process.

    Ultimately, what patients want is openness and transparency but for years and years we’ve been shying away and keeping the operating theatre private and surrounded in a kind of mystique. This is opening it up and making it more transparent. Ultimately, we’re all human beings and people can see that.

    Live screening and live operating has its own issues and I think that, for training medical and healthcare professionals, it is entirely appropriate. I think the issues around live operating for viewing by the public can be more controversial. I am keen to demonstrate the power of what we’re trying to do and to showcase new technology and I think we’ve had very good feedback. I’m also cognisant of the fact that patient organisations might not think it’s the right thing to do.

    Most organisations are risk averse and it’s challenging to think about how technology can be used in this way because it is new. I think it is empowering for people but I also think we still need to think very carefully about how technology might be brought into that kind of scenario.

    Do you think that being able to see their own operation afterwards helps patients to feel a greater sense of empowerment around their own bodies in what can feel like a very disempowering situation?

    Yes, certainly. Additionally, when you’re watching it in VR it’s not just about the actual operation, which you can watch on any YouTube video. It’s about the whole environment, the team working around you, seeing just how many people are involved in improving the outcome of your treatment, seeing how the whole system and team around you is working, not just the surgeon. I think that’s quite important.

    When I did the live VR that I recorded two years ago, with the explicit consent of the patient and his family, I came out of the operating theatre and met the family – the wife and son of the patient. I told them that the operation had gone well and I was happy with it and they replied that they knew because they had watched the operation live, in VR. I was quite shocked. I hadn’t expected them to watch it live but they said thank you, it had helped them to get through the procedure.

    Normally when your loved one has an operation you sit around worrying about what’s going on for hours on end and go for cups of coffee, so they said that they felt reassured that, while their loved one was having the operation, they were watching it, seeing what was going on, the ability of the surgical team and could see that he was doing well. I think we underestimate how people will respond and assume they will respond in a negative way but I’ve been surprised by the positivity of patients around these kinds of things.

    You’ve used Snapchat Spectacles and Google Glass for this work. Does the type of technology you use affect what you do in any way? Do you behave or respond differently, beyond performing the operation in the usual way?

    Now that we’re used to doing live recordings for training purposes, whether using Snapchat or HoloLens in the theatre, the team know how to behave – you are on show, you are visible, people are learning so you have to make sure that you are exemplary in the way that you work in theatre.

    When we first started we didn’t really know what to expect but now, with the different platforms, we try to engage through each platform. So, when you’re doing Snapchat it’s quite different and I was nervous when I first started doing that, I wasn’t sure how that would pan out on social media but I was pleased that people do interact. Interaction is important and I have a moderator, who is my trainee in the operating theatre, who makes sure he tracks the discussion and the questions so it’s a way of interacting, not just showing a video.

    Similarly, with Google Glass or other kinds of glasses, we have a system where we moderate and make sure that there’s a learning around it so it’s not just viewing that’s going on but interacting with people around the world – they ask questions, we share information. Remember, when we’re operating normally without the glasses and the technology, we’re teaching anyway – I’m a teaching surgeon so I’m used to constantly explaining, answering questions and training my juniors. All that is different now is that it is being transmitted and there are interactive elements within that.

    So it’s taking what you are doing already and moving it on. I’m not sure it’s for every surgeon, it’s different, you’re engaging with the public and you have to be very careful about making sure that you’re professional in your work, that the whole team is working well and have an understanding that you are being broadcast and teaching people on a global level. It is also important to showcase what the NHS is doing and pioneering.

    Beyond VR, what’s next? How do you see this work developing, in the short term and looking a few years further ahead?

    First of all, VR needs to create enough content. At the moment is it largely hardware driven and content is at a premium so we need to make sure that content drives VR. Once you’ve done that, you can engage a community that improves over time. You also need to create a learning environment. It’s not just about the video, it’s about the whole learning environment – you navigate through a platform, you learn, you have assessment tools, you get learning materials as well as the video. That’s what we’re trying to create.

    Going forward from that in the medium to long term, it’s going to be about adding photo-realistic imagery, avatars that look like real people rather than the cartoonish ones we have now. Then there is haptic feedback – creating a realistic sense of touch and feel, and that’s going to be a game changer for a lot of people.

    We’re not quite there yet, a lot is promised, but for me it’s a no-brainer to try to create a device, like a glove, with a motion-sensing capacity in virtual reality and a sense of touch so you can do a virtual operation if you need to, or a procedure, using that tactile feedback that you get. That’s where we’re heading towards and, fairly soon, it will become available.

    The other area is mixed reality. When you work with people from across the globe, you’re having to physically transport yourself. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if you could put on a HoloLens or other mixed reality headset and virtually transport yourself to an operating room in the middle of Africa somewhere? You’d appear as your avatar, looking like a real person, walk around the operating room, have a look over the shoulder of the surgeon, give advice and then leave again. It’s not quite hologram but, rather, holo-transportation and that’s where I think we should be getting to. It would also change how we connect at conferences – instead of having to travel to conferences, you could immerse yourself in that environment virtually.

    The way we undergo clinical practice would change, the way we connect with our patients in the virtual world and the way we connect with our colleagues would change – we could discuss cases with different people from different parts of the world in a virtual space. It could also help with surgical planning – you can walk around the ward and access information being broadcast to your headset. In the operating theatre itself, you could access artificial intelligence that gives you clues about what you’re looking at, ideas about strategy in the operation, and quantifies all that with data that allows you to improve your standards. Those are all things I see happening in the next five to 10 years.

    You’ve also talked about ‘surgical singularity’ – can you tell me more about that and what it means? And when will it happen?

    When Ray Kurzweil wrote his book The Singularity is Near (2005), about the point at which robots will become as good, if not better, than humans in function and behaviour, he said that it would be about 2030 and then pushed it back to 2040. In the intervening years we will see the rapid advance of computational power.

    Surgical singularity looks at the point at which a robot with an interface can perform an operation as well as a person. As a surgeon we take history from a patient, we use knowledge and experience gained over 20 or more years. Computers can learn more quickly, so at what point will they be better at making that diagnosis, picking up on the clues that are there? Then, would you trust a robot to perform an operation?

    [#insertinlinedriver twitter#]

    This is the year of robot wars – there are about ten of them coming out into general surgery to support and augment our practice. As they become smaller and more intelligent they will become better at supporting us. In the next 20, 30, 40 years could we have an autonomous surgeon working in theatre? It is very possible. It’s exciting.

    I think it is up to clinicians to understand the limitations, and control what we do in the future, to work in partnership with the big global companies and startups to figure out that future for ourselves and make sure that we do the right thing ethically and morally and that we are improving standards. I think we should embrace it to get improved outcomes. If it democratises training and clinical practice around the world then that’s a good thing.

    What has surprised you most as you’ve been doing this work?

    The pace of technological progress. This has been called the era of the fourth industrial revolution and I think that really applies to medicine. In medicine so many developments are coming together – AI, robotics, blockchain, AR, VR, nanobiotechnology, sensors, big data. All of those things have come together quickly and in the last couple of years we have seen such immense change.

    It’s our challenge as clinicians to see how we bring that all together to have a positive impact on healthcare. The sheer pace of change has been surprising but also incredibly exciting at the same time.  

    Watch Shafi's closing keynote from Digifest 2018.

  • Learning analytics: help or hindrance in the quest for better student mental wellbeing?

    If data about struggling students is to be used in a way that supports their mental wellbeing rather than harms it, what kind of data do learners want to see and what actions do they want it to trigger? We find out from projects that have talked to their students to discover just that.

    Student mental wellbeing is an increasing concern for universities. A 2015 National Union of Students (NUS) survey1 found that eight out of ten students (78%) said they experienced mental health issues in the last year. A third said they would not know where to ask for mental health support at their college or university if they needed it, with 40% reporting feeling nervous about the support they would receive from their institution.  

    Poor mental health has an impact on every aspect of a student’s life, from feelings of social isolation to academic failure. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 1,180 students who experienced mental health problems left university early in 2014-15, the most recent year in which data was available. That’s a 210% increase from 380 in 2009-10. 

    However, students tend not to ‘drop out’ of university without any warning. The final decision to leave is likely to be preceded by a period of dwindling attendance, late submission of work and falls in grades. If these signs were picked up sooner by personal tutors, or another member of university staff, there’s a chance that at-risk students could be better supported. Could learning analytics help to alert tutors earlier to struggling and vulnerable students? 

    Samantha Ahern, learning technology project officer at University College London (UCL) believes so. 

    “Learning analytics can be used to help to address some of these inadequacies by providing timely and meaningful data to personal tutors about their tutees [which] is in alignment with the Universities UK guidance…to align learning analytics with student wellbeing,” 

    she says. However, she warns, 

    “there are legal questions still to be answered around negligence and failing to act on or engage with information provided via learning analytics.”2 

    Maintaining an ethical approach

    Julia Taylor, Jisc subject specialist in accessibility and inclusion, highlights that Jisc has a learning analytics code of practice, providing an ethical approach to gathering student data, and suggests some of the questions that might enable the right metrics to give early warning of mental health concerns, allowing timely responses. 

    [#insertinlinedriver code#]

    For example, has a student stopped attending? Or stopped using the VLE? Is there a declared disability or a known risk? Are there factors in course design or content that created stress and contributed to the change in behaviour? How best should it be responded to? How do known patterns of engagement correlate with wellbeing?”3 

    Interpreting the data fairly

    However, care must be taken that neither the data use nor any interventions put in place as a result of it exacerbate the issue. Some researchers have warned that misguided use of comparisons in learning analytics dashboards could be an additional source of stress for vulnerable students. 

    It’s a topic that the University of Huddersfield’s director of learning and teaching Liz Bennett has been exploring. In a small-scale, qualitative study with students from the university’s School of Education, she focused on the design of dashboards and how students understood and interpreted the data that they presented.4

    “We know there can be a huge amount of emotional response to getting feedback on assessments and I was interested to see how they responded when it was in a dashboard format,”

    she explains.  

    What was unusual about the dashboards in the study was that they presented the data – third year students’ grades across their degree – in a comparative format, showing each student how they performed in relation to the rest of their cohort.  

    Surprisingly, perhaps, although the impact of seeing grade feedback was indeed emotionally charged for some students (“The saddest one is the core summary overall because looking back on grades that you’ve previously had - you can’t really change them any more so you can’t really do anything,” says Ingrid, who came 168th out of 178) the overwhelming impact was motivational, particularly for the lower performing students.  

    “You might think that if you came first out of 178 you’d be pleased, which indeed that student was, but it was also true that when people were coming near the bottom they weren’t pleased, necessarily, but they were motivated by seeing it and it gave them an insight,”

    says Dr Bennett.

    “There were some students who didn’t want to see the comparison but there was also evidence that it was motivating.” As one student, Marcia, who came 53rd out of 178, says: “I think as soon as I saw it I decided I’m taking a month off [paid] work to just get on with my dissertation”.  

    Getting students involved

    As a result of the study and the feedback from students Dr Bennett strongly believes that such dashboards need to be customisable by the student so that they can choose whether to compare themselves to the whole cohort or the top 10% or the bottom 10% – or to see no comparison data at all – to avoid any negative impact on a student's wellbeing or reinforcing any feelings of negativity. 

    “I think we need to give students choice about what they see to make sure those who are vulnerable have got some control over whether they see themselves compared to other people or not. There is potential for it to go wrong because you are dealing with emotionally charged information so it does need to be scaffolded and supported in the way it’s rolled out,” 

    advises Dr Bennett. She also notes that, in her study, the students’ reactions were gathered through face-to-face interviews, and further research is needed on what might happen if students were to get such dashboards unmediated, without the opportunity to talk through their emotions about them immediately.  

    How and when students might want to talk through issues relating to their studies has interested Sarah Parkes, tutor for transition and retention/foundation year tutor at Newman University Birmingham. Working through the university’s student-staff partnership framework with three 'Students as Partners' projects, she’s been surprised to discover that, overwhelmingly, what students want is tutor and peer proactive mentoring systems that respond when data is suggesting that someone is falling behind or in need of support. 

    “Peer mentoring came out as a key intervention that students thought would be valuable. They would be happy to have other students get in touch to support them,”

    she explains. 

    “Coming to university is quite a big step for a lot of students and so I think they feel better about the idea of us using other students to support students as they felt like they wouldn’t be made to look silly – if it was a member of staff it may have felt punitive but if it’s another student they felt more comfortable talking about things.

    Our focus on analytics has to sit with our ethos about being student centred with the person at the centre. Whatever we do in terms of an intervention needs to be supportive – and part of a wider mechanism for support – rather than potentially feeling like it was punitive.” 

    [#insertinlinedriver analytics#]

    Students also had strong feelings about who they wanted to contact them if the data flagged up that there might be an issue. Any communication triggered by the data had to come from someone they had heard of – a member of staff or student from within their own department with whom they might have had previous interaction – rather than at the broader institutional level, such as student support or registry. 

    While students were, perhaps surprisingly, mostly relaxed about the use of their data – if the right people were getting it and using it appropriately then they were, in principle, happy – Sarah Parkes is keen to stress the sheer complexity of this kind of work in terms of achieving a holistic sense, through the data, of who the student is and what they are doing and where collaborations are needed. However, the benefits – for students, for tutors and for the wider mental wellbeing agenda – are undeniable.  

    “Talk to your students! That’s been a real test of what we’ve done and helped us to understand how our students feel about this work,”

    urges Sarah Parkes. 

    “Don’t try to deal with it in isolation.” 


  • Data-driven decision-making

    In the highly-competitive environment we’re all working in now, how do you make important, potentially transformative decisions? You can’t go with your gut feeling or just do what you’ve always done, and even making a calculated guess is risky. This is why more and more organisations are putting their data to work to help them make better, carefully thought-out choices. We can help you do the same.

    Our new learning analytics service 

    The student data that you already gather can help you plan your responses to big strategic issues – including retaining students, maximising their attainment and delivering a high quality learning experience. 

    We’ve developed a learning analytics service (currently in beta) that enables you to work with your data efficiently and cost-effectively whether you’re new to data analytics or you’ve got projects already under way.

    It provides architecture, data standards and  tools that can also interoperate with leading commercially developed products and services so that you can add on solutions as your projects take shape. 

    Gather and store data cost-effectively 

    The learning data hub is our storage solution, offering a more cost-effective alternative to hosting and managing your own in-house data store. It uses data from your student record systems and live student activity data – and does it using consistent, defined standards that will support data analysis.  

    Use it to make predictions and spot problems early 

    The learning analytics predictor can help you to identify which students may struggle. Combining historical data sources with live study and engagement data it flags the early warning signs of disengagement so you can plan timely interventions before students fall behind or drop out completely. 

    Explore data on individual students 

    Drill deeper into the detail with data explorer, a visualisation tool that enables you to identify at-risk students, manage and record your interventions and understand how the curriculum is meeting student needs (or not).  

    Engage and motivate students 

    [#insertinlinedriver studygoal#]

    Often, students have imperfect knowledge of how they’re doing. But most of them like a mobile app and study goal is one that gives them clearer insight into their own engagement and performance.  

    They can use it to view the activity data you are using for learning analytics. They can also review the engagement data about attendance at lectures, assignment marks and online activity to check they are on track and then set targets to improve their engagement, motivate and reward themselves. 

    Get the basics right 

    We’re all about helping you to work smarter and cost-effectively so we’ve developed a learning analytics purchasing service to help you make informed buying decisions and simplify procurement.

    When you buy products and services from commercial vendors on our accredited list we’ll do the due diligence for you. We’ll also help you get the contracts right so that you have the products, services and support that you need, as well as assurance that legal issues such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)1 are taken care of.  

    [#insertinlinedriver gdpr#]

    Members have often told us that the technical aspects of a learning analytics project can be less tricky than the cultural ones. If you’re planning to implement learning analytics you’ll need staff, students and various other stakeholders to be fully behind you. Our learning analytics consultancy can help you to uncover stakeholder attitudes to analytics, formulate plans to demonstrate its benefits and allay any worries they have. 

    Our consultancy is for universities and colleges that want a tailored programme of more intensive support. The consultants can help you with a range of issues, including assessing institutional readiness for learning analytics, developing an implementation strategy, and learning more about intervention planning and managing culture change.

    Find out more about our learning analytics beta service.


    • 1 The new GDPR legislation, which replaces the Data Protection Act and will come into effect in May 2018

  • The top five things that really matter to students about their university - Paul Humphreys

    What are students looking for in a university? Paul Humphreys has the ear of students – as the MD of StudentCrowd, an online review community for students, he’s privy to thousands of reviews of universities, courses and accommodation by the 750,000 students using the site last year. He shares his insights into students’ wants and needs, and we suggest how universities can help meet them through the use of digital technologies.

    1. The course

    "I could not have chosen a better course! The course content is incredibly interesting, the lecturers are very passionate and any student is welcome to approach them with a question."
    StudentCrowd review of University of Aberdeen

    All students are, of course, concerned about what they are going to learn, how they are going to learn it and, at the stage of choosing a university, the grades they need to get on it.

    [#insertinlinedriver studentcrowd#]

    Our StudentCrowd reviews suggest that universities are improving their communication around what modules are on offer for courses and are getting better at giving students the information that they need. That teaching will incorporate digital technology – whether reading lists on the VLE or online submission of coursework – is taken as given by today’s students.

    We say...

    Our research finds that students are upbeat about the use of digital technology to support their learning, with around six in ten feeling that use of digital technology on their course results in better understanding, greater independence and allows them to fit learning into their lives more easily.

    However, while over 95% had produced work in a digital format, half had never used an educational game or simulation for learning, or a polling device or online quiz to give answers in class, suggesting that more can be done to use technology to make teaching and learning more interactive, collaborative and responsive.

    2. Belonging

    "While I do realise it might sound like a cliche, I actually feel like I belong here."
    StudentCrowd review of University of Aberdeen

    Students want to feel like they ‘belong’ at a university. That comes across clearly in our data – when students are writing and reading reviews they are keen to know “will I fit in? Are there students there like me?“

    When you put yourself in the shoes of a 17 year old who is leaving home for the first time, it’s very natural to be concerned about belonging. There is also anecdotal evidence that many students cite ‘not belonging’ or ‘being lonely’ as a reason when they decide to leave university before the end of their course.

    Universities are becoming much more aware of the importance of mental health for students. There are some interesting technologies to aid in that, including using data to alert university staff to students who may be struggling in some way. However, this kind of technology has to be used sensitively. While there is certainly a role for learning analytics in flagging up when a student’s attendance record is dropping, it’s important to intervene in an appropriate and non-intrusive way.  

    There is also a danger that digital technologies can serve to isolate students. With access to e-books and other e-resources they no longer need to go to the library and mix with other students, they can sit in their study bedroom instead. Take recorded lectures. Imagine you’ve got a 9am lecture and a costly 20-minute bus ride. You can get up, get showered, get dressed and make it in…or you can open your laptop at 11am and watch it instead – with no need to interact with your peers. However, we also know that recorded lectures are very popular with students.

    Universities need to decide on an appropriate use of technology to help with belonging alongside encouraging real-world activity to offset any digital isolation.

    We say... 

    According to our 2017 student digital experience tracker, on the whole, learners do not believe that the use of digital technology – for example to give access to course resources and recorded lectures – makes them less likely to attend class. However, learners overwhelmingly ask that digital technology does not replace face-to-face teaching as they value the social and collaborative aspects of learning from their lecturers and from their peers.

    [#insertinlinedriver tracker#]

    The digital confidence and capability of teaching staff is significant to students’ overall digital experience. An exciting development is the growth of interest in the idea of the ‘sticky campus’: creating a campus that students want to stick around in, even if they haven’t got a lecture to go to, and which increases students’ feelings of belonging and connectedness.

    Universities have a clear role to play in mental health and digital wellbeing, especially when only 67% of students know where to get help if they are being bullied or harassed online and just 57% feel their university helps them to stay safe online.

    3. University facilities

    "Gill Street South is a great accommodation, the location is very handy as it's central to all the lecture halls."
    StudentCrowd review of Gill Street South, Nottingham Trent University

    "Excellent wifi, easy to connect to in every bit of the campus."
    StudentCrowd review of University of Birmingham

    This a huge area and includes factors a university can do relatively little about, such as location, and some that it can, such as the quality of accommodation and state of the campus. I want to focus on what might seem a minor element but is crucial. Wifi.

    At StudentCrowd we didn’t have wifi as a review area to begin with but had to add it because so many students were mentioning it in their reviews.  It’s a cliché but it’s true: students see superfast wifi as a basic human need. Universities must ensure their students can connect to superfast wifi on all parts of campus.

    Most universities now provide free wifi, so that students can connect to the internet on their own device. On campus, many universities offer eduroam, the European-wide wifi service for the academic and research communities, managed by Jisc, while university accommodation is generally served by different providers. Most students report a positive experience - the average rating for university wifi on StudentCrowd is 4.04 out of 5 – and Durham University is top of the ratings.

    [#insertinlinedriver eduroam#]

    We say...

    With students relying on digital devices for study, personal organisation and leisure, it's no wonder they see good wifi connectivity as a key aspect of their study environment. 88% of students use their own laptop and 84% their smartphone as part of their learning.

    With an average of 2.72 personal devices per learner, wifi connectivity is an essential service that supports students’ education. Generally, universities are responding well to this challenge, with 80% of students reporting that they have access to reliable wifi at their usual place of study.

    4. Outcomes

    "Teaching quality is good, personal tutors always happy to help, content fascinating and you'll almost always get a job straight out of uni."
    StudentCrowd review of midwifery, Sheffield Hallam University

    Students are, of course, concerned about their job prospects at the end of their course and will use graduate employment data and league tables to help them choose a university. At the other end of the university journey, we are seeing comments from students that institutions do seem to be improving their career services.

    A good example is the University of Leicester. Its career service calls all of its graduates just after they graduate and supports each one of them in job hunting. That service helps Leicester graduates and it helps the university to improve their graduate employment rates. More universities could explore that kind of very proactive support.

    Universities have a responsibility around employability and ensuring that their graduates are equipped for the digital age and have the digital skills that employers need. Most universities have an employability award in a digital format that they encourage students to complete to ensure that they come out with work-related skills. Some universities are making it a compulsory part of the curriculum.

    We say...

    According to our 2017 student digital experience tracker, students do not feel their courses are preparing them well for the digital workplace: 82% of HE learners feel digital skills will be important in the workplace, but only 50% agree their course prepares them for the digital workplace.

    There is work to be done here. Incorporating opportunities to embed digital skills into the curriculum (as well as technology into the delivery) doesn’t only improve the experience for learners, it also enhances the professional development of staff.

    5. University performance

    "Amazing place, with incredible people. The university is extremely high on league tables and is very academic, however, there is a fantastic balance between work and play!"
    StudentCrowd review of University of St Andrews

    Students are using league tables to help them to decide which university is for them, especially if they are looking for prestige. But how helpful are the tables really for students? Do students understand where the data comes from and how can they use it to make a decision?

    There is a role for crowdsourced review sites, such as StudentCrowd, alongside universities’ own communication and social media channels in helping potential students get an insight into what their chosen university is like, feel reassured about what to expect and prepare themselves for their life at university. Video can be particularly effective when it shows students talking about their real student experience at the university.

    [#insertinlinedriver dashboards#]

    We say...

    Given the importance of league tables and rankings to potential students, it is essential that universities understand the ways in which their data feeds into these rankings.

    Through our business intelligence work we’ve collaborated with HESA, the Guardian and the Times to combine both publication’s league table data into one dashboard, making it easier for universities to accurately and rapidly compare and analyse the information.


  • Delivering digital change

    Digital used to be an add-on to core business but those are days behind us, now. It’s time for universities and colleges to stop treating digital as an accessory and to integrate it fully within all aspects of their business activities.

    [#insertinlinedriver briefing#]

    We’ve just produced a briefing paper for senior leaders called delivering digital change: strategy, practice and process (pdf) offering practical approaches to integrating digital in your key organisational strategies. A powerful message emerges that digital capabilities are critical to success.

    We have also just finished a new suite of case study videos as part of our work on building digital capability. Two universities and two colleges describe how they are ensuring that all staff and students have the digital skills and the confidence to make best use of existing and emerging technologies. 

    You can watch a playlist of the films below:

    Together, the briefing and the films offer some useful pointers for other organisations to follow. Here’s a taster...

    Institutional strategies

    “It’s only by understanding the motivations of all parties that you can develop a digital vision that has purchase and buy-in across the whole institution. This is something that every institution has to embrace and engage in”
    Professor Malcolm, Todd, pro vice chancellor, academic and student experience, University of Derby

    Now that staff and students have access to technologies that enable them to work when, where and how they want to, they’re far less reliant on organisational infrastructure and tools. While this offers rich opportunities for learning and attainment it also presents risks that your university or college must plan for.

    We’re working across the sector to support strategic planning and to ensure that the motivations and needs of stakeholders are factored into future strategy.

    “We’ve managed to embed digital in traditional teaching, learning and assessment and we no longer call it digital learning – its just learning”
    Kelly Edwards, director of professional development, Harlow College

    Because learners take digital for granted, it must be integral to other strategies such as the research and student experience strategies. Digital is at its most effective when it’s deployed within core strategies rather than treated as a bolt-on.

    Digital practices

    “Over the next five years we’re working to develop digital practice and digital capabilities as a core goal. At the executive level we’re understanding that the digital experience is critical for students and for staff”
    John Hill, TEL manager, University of Derby

    Often, reluctance to adopt potentially valuable technologies and tools is down to a person’s lack of confidence in their digital skills or their fear that new methods will undermine their existing practice or professional identity.

    We’ve created tools such as the Jisc digital capability framework (pictured below) to help organisations address these fears and identify skills needs.

    Creative Commons attribution information
    Digital capabilities framework
    ©Jisc and Helen Beetham

    “The success of digital is down to people and that’s something that we have to keep in mind when we’re developing our approach”
    Karen Phillips, deputy principal, Coleg y Cymoedd

    We’ve developed a ‘digital lens’ approach to strategy, practice and process to help senior leaders and staff think about how they deploy digital. The lens can help staff to understand their capabilities, assess their confidence and identify new digital goals. You’ll find it in the briefing paper.

    Platform and tools

    “We offer a range of support for staff including five cross-college staff development days, CPD sessions and 15-minute digital drop-in sessions where staff can look at apps and tools and think about how to use them. Staff are happy to be innovative and try things out”
    Kelly Edwards, director of professional development, Harlow College

    Every university and college has its key platforms and tools that staff are required to use; it’s vital to support staff to use them efficiently.

    “Our student digital ambassadors work with an academic to develop some kind of digital use within teaching and learning. They get paid and they take part in a shared practice event”
    Christine Percival, digital fluency manager, Lancaster University

    Digital technologies develop fast and often disruptively, so staff and students should be encouraged to experiment and decide which tools they need.

    [#insertinlinedriver digifest#]

    More and more often, students and staff are working in partnership to co-develop their digital skills and this is driving change in many colleges and universities. Join the change agents’ network, a national community of practice supporting student staff partnerships.

    Digifest sessions

    Look out for Digifest sessions exploring digital capabilities, which include:

    • A lightning talk on supporting staff and students’ digital capability with the digital discovery tool1
    • A debate on defining digital leadership
    • A workshop looking at how HE and FE are approaching digital capabilities
    • A talk on the digital skills requirements for the FE Skills Plan reforms, and
    • A talk on supporting digital capabilities in a health facility


  • 50 reasons to celebrate the UK’s education technology success

    The Edtech50 is a celebration of the people, products and projects shaping this dynamic and growing sector across the UK. 

    The Edtech50 was launched today by Edtech UK and Jisc at a House of Lords reception.

    The awards recognise products and projects demonstrating effective and impactful use of Edtech in the UK, along with individuals who have played a leading role in developing this area of work. 

    The organisations behind the projects and products include FE colleges, an online learning community and a university spin-out. You can see the full list of award winners here. 

    A growing sector

    According to the government’s Digital Strategy, published in Feb 2017, education technology is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK, accounting for 4% of all digital companies, and UK businesses have become world leaders in developing innovative new technologies for the education sector. 

    The Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, secretary of state for education, writing in the launch report, said:

    “There are so many reasons to be optimistic about the possibilities for technology across education. Edtech is increasingly supporting improved outcomes across England and internationally, and in my short time as Secretary of State for Education I have already seen how it can support and transform education at every step of the journey. 

    “The work of inspirational leaders across the sector who are working tirelessly to support education, will be fundamental in ensuring the wider realisation of the opportunities presented by technology; to support improvements across the breadth of our education system. 

    “I welcome this new initiative to highlight and celebrate many of the people, products and projects that have most impacted education.” 

    Paul Feldman, chief executive of Jisc, said:

    “A former teacher with a mission to remove homework headaches, a headteacher who used digital technology to improve special educational needs teaching and an entrepreneur who creates STEM play experiences are among those named in the inaugural Edtech50. The Edtech50 show’s how education technology can be a catalytic force for digital innovation in teaching and learning.” 

    Ty Goddard, director of Edtech UK, said:

    “The Edtech50 has been chosen from a mixture of public nominations and the insight of our judging panel. It has been a challenging and exciting process. 

    “The Edtech50 helps us all celebrate a wonderful sector, whilst recognising the benefits of education technology, and acknowledging the economic advantages of the growing edtech sector to the whole UK economy.” 

  • Are you an FE social media superstar? Enter our competition and win a prize!

    We’re on the look-out for the most social media-savvy folk in further education (FE). Sound like you? Then you should enter our competition.

    If you make our top ten list, you win a visit for your class from our Digi Lab – complete with virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), an Emotiv Insight EEG Brain Reader and a robot, and hey, it’s always nice to be acknowledged for hard work and innovation!

    Our UK-wide competition celebrates the excellent use of social media by sector professionals – we’re looking for the most interesting, innovative and inspiring examples of where it’s being used to add value to teaching.

    We think social media has an essential part to play in informing the sector – and we’re a real advocate for using it in FE teaching. Be it Twitter, Facebook, or another platform, social is a great way to share information, start conversations, break down barriers and get your voice heard. And it makes it easy to communicate with sector professionals from around the globe, and key influencers that you wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to meet in person.

    Perhaps you engage learners by running a social account specifically for your syllabus. Or you encourage them to interact with a wider community to increase their knowledge on a particular topic.

    Twitter is often used to share good practice with colleagues and others in the sector, so maybe you’ve created a hashtag to kick off a discussion and it’s really taken off, or perhaps you’ve created an entirely new collaborative online movement. Whatever it is, we want to hear from you!

    We ran a similar competition for the higher education sector last year, with lots of great entries, including a chemistry lecturer who encourages students to make their own YouTube videos and a software developer who’s created a private social media app for quizzes, surveys, text and more. Then there is Pablo the penguin, whose antics help build engagement between students and the library services.

    After the judging has taken place, on 5 April, we’ll be sharing the success of our top ten social media superstars through our own channels and on our website.

    Get involved!

    So, which social platforms are you using? How do you reach your students? How has your use of social improved your teaching practice? Has it helped you overcome a particular challenge? Has it made it easier for students to communicate, and are they more likely to engage when social is part of the learning package?

    All you need to do to enter the competition is fill out this short form before midnight on Thursday 29 March 2018.  

    A few years ago we published a top 50 list (via the UK Web Archive). Take a look at the line-up and, if you’re already on the list, why not enter again? Imagine the glory…

    So, have a think and get started on that application – it’s a quick one.

    Follow us on Twitter and join in with #JiscTop10.

  • Libraries set to save thousands with second wave of digital collections group purchasing pilot by Jisc

    More publishers, more content, more savings. We've launched the second wave of our pilot which last year saved participating libraries £127,000 on purchasing digital archival collections.

    EBSCO is the final publisher to join forces with Adam Matthew Digital, Brill, and ProQuest, to be part of our innovative group-purchasing pilot. The second phase of the pilot provides libraries with reduced cost bundles of over 70 primary source collections across the four publishers for libraries to choose from.

    Phase one of the pilot saw 20 higher education institutions purchasing 29 products from across the three publishers. The collective purchasing power of the participating institutions, which leverages higher discounts from publishers, saved the sector just over 25% off the list price. Publishers also worked with new libraries that they hadn’t engaged with before, sharing their arts and humanities digital archival collections at a reduced cost.

    The second wave of the pilot will continue to adopt a coordinated and transparent approach to the acquisition of digital archival primary source collections. Resources have been selected to meet the research and teaching needs of the UK higher education (HE) community – including librarians, faculty, and students.  Institutions can easily compare products on offer, and all titles are a one off purchase with no recurrent platform/hosting fee.

    Karen Colbron, digital content manager at Jisc said:

    “The second phase of the pilot has come into play following demand from our members. The initial pilot was set up as a response to our members wanting more support for an efficient, coordinated and transparent approach to the acquisition of digital archival collections and to tackle the issue of expensive recurrent platform fees.

    We’re thrilled that EBSCO have joined Adam Matthew Digital, Brill, and ProQuest to take part in the next stage of the pilot, which we hope will secure even more savings for the sector.”

    Eleanor Craig, content delivery and access librarian at the University of Sussex said:

    “Being part of the Jisc group purchasing pilot was a very positive experience. It was good to know that negotiations were being done on our behalf by people we trusted, for resources we were interested in buying.”

    Neil Davies, content acquisition manager, Durham University Library said:

    “The Jisc group purchasing pilot gave us transparency in pricing and a promise of no ongoing charges for archival collections when planning our end-of-year spend for 2016/17.  We look forward to participating in the expanded scheme in 2017/18.”

    Find out more about the pilot on the digital archival collections group purchasing pilot  project page.

  • Janet Network upgrade means world-leading capacity for 18 million users

    Our Janet Network is being upgraded to provide world-leading high-capacity 400Gbit/s connectivity, making it one of the most digitally-advanced national research and education networks globally in terms of scale, automation and network intelligence.

    Janet, which is already the busiest NREN in Europe by volume of data carried, and is 200,000 times faster than the average home broadband, is now deploying Ciena’s 6500 packet-optical platform powered with WaveLogic Ai coherent optics. 

    At present, the Janet Network is already operating at 400Gbit/s capacity in places, but using 100Gbit/s technology. The upgrade, which will be in place this summer, will increase the bandwidth of the Janet backbone to as much as 600Gbit/s and will utilise Ciena’s new 400Gbit/s technology.

    Jeremy Sharp, network infrastructure director for Jisc, said:

    “Our vision is for the UK to be at the forefront of scientific research. To make that happen, we must have a highly robust network powered with industry-leading technology that can scale to support bandwidth-intensive applications like genome editing and The Square Kilometre Array.

    Working with Ciena, the Janet Network was the first NREN to provide 100GB for users and, as demand has grown, is now the first to provide 400GB.  WaveLogic Ai enables us to operate efficiently and accurately engineer the network for optimal capacity to manage massive flows from new data-intensive research activities.”

    In the UK, all further and higher education organisations, including universities, colleges and research centres, are connected to the internet through the Janet Network, along with some alternative education providers, other public bodies and science parks.

    Rod Wilson, chief technologist for research networks, Ciena, added:

    “We are helping to bring a new paradigm for optical networks by making the network more programmable and responsive to changing user demands, while using less hardware. WaveLogic Ai focuses on delivering considerable digital advantage, financial savings and efficiencies.”

  • The large lecture (theatre) is dead… - Professor Alejandro Armellini

    The University of Northampton is putting active blended learning at the heart of its teaching – to the extent that its purpose-built Waterside campus will have no large lecture theatres at all when it opens next year. In this Q&A, its dean of learning and teaching, Professor Alejandro Armellini, explains the thinking behind this radical move and the benefits of taking an active blended learning approach.

    Professor Alejandro Armellini

    What’s wrong with the lecture?

    We may need to qualify the term lecture. What’s wrong with the broadcast lecture? Probably what’s wrong is the understanding that “same place same time” seems to be equated with quality.

    That clearly is not the case with lectures, particularly with broadcast lectures, when one single person is delivering information to a large group of people with hardly any interaction. If we look at National Union of Students (NUS) reports over the years, the students’ criticism of lectures is consistent: should a broadcast lecture count as contact time?

    My argument is that it shouldn’t, and it should not count towards “teaching intensity” either. In other words, “same place, same time” is not enough to guarantee quality when the so-called teaching method is actually “information delivery”: the notes of one person copied into the notes of 200 people without going through the brains of anyone. That is highly problematic.

    How does active blended learning (ABL) fill the gap and how do you define blended learning – how does it differ from flipped learning?

    A module or a programme is taught through ABL when it deploys consistent use of student-centred activities that support the development of subject knowledge and understanding, independent learning and digital fluency. 

    Our face-to-face teaching at Northampton, for example, is facilitated in a collaborative manner, clearly linked to activity outside the face-to-face classroom, which provides opportunities for developing autonomy, what we call changemaker  attributes, and particularly employability skills. That is our standard definition of ABL.

    Note that the traditional view that the blend is a combination of online and face-to-face is pushed to one side. ABL is far more sophisticated, interesting and exciting than a mere combination of face-to-face with online teaching. What matters is high quality teaching and student engagement with that teaching – in and outside the classroom, in a single “blend”.

    Our approach has not been taken on the basis of cost. It is not a cost-cutting exercise. It’s a quality enhancement exercise which, by definition, requires teaching in smaller groups. It requires much more in the way of interaction of the three main types: student-student, student-content and student-tutor.

    ABL provides a different learning environment where students play an active role and are given the opportunity to engage in a variety of ways in and outside the classroom, in the field, in the lab, in the studio and in the workplace. Those study modes are fully integrated into a proper blend, not different strands of a course running in parallel. The flipped classroom is one element of ABL.

    Of course, you can apply the traditional techniques associated with the flipped classroom, as long as it is appropriate for the type of students, the level of the course, the discipline that you’re teaching and the context in which students and tutors operate. The flipped classroom is just one part of a bigger puzzle that contributes to the whole structure of ABL.

    [#insertinlinedriver consult#]

    So it very much depends on context and learner profile and other elements?

    Yes. And there is another variable there, which is the teaching repertoire of a tutor.

    Each tutor will have his or her own stance on these techniques and will feel more or less confident to deploy them. It is fine and proper to ensure that the tutor experience is also highlighted. We can fill gaps in our expertise through development and further practice, while ensuring that what we do with students is what is best for them. 

    At Northampton you are actually killing off the lecture theatre on the new Waterside development – there will be no large lecture theatres. Can you say a bit more about the plans and the process for that new campus? 

    Firstly, the shift to blended learning is not related to the new campus. The shift to ABL was taking place regardless, even before the move to the new campus was firmed up.

    Secondly, it is true that the new campus has one “larger” space, which accommodates 80 people. The rest of the spaces are smaller, with an average size of around 40. So over the past three years we have been redesigning our curriculum to ensure that the principles of ABL are followed but also that we review space allocation and timetabling to accommodate the students in smaller teaching rooms, which may require multiple teaching. 

    But what happens when we host an open day or a session with a distinguished guest speaker for which we need a larger space? We are minutes away from the centre of town, where we have access to plenty of larger spaces in which those events can take place. We use them regularly. If we had built such large spaces on the campus, we would be encouraging the teaching practices that we want to move away from. So we didn’t.

    How are you preparing staff and students for the shift to blended learning?

    It is true that when you change a teaching approach you’ve got to work with staff very closely so, on that front, we have a highly structured, very flexible programme of staff development which is called C@N-DO – “Changemaking At  Northampton – Development Opportunities”. That leads to various levels of professional recognition by the Higher Education Academy

    Within C@N-DO, we run our course redesign workshop, CAIeRO (also known as Carpe Diem in the literature) – a standard, wellestablished, well-researched approach to course redesign that we have deployed systematically across the board since I joined Northampton five years ago. 

    We also have bespoke provision that addresses particular circumstances and needs. One thing is to redesign a Master’s programme that attracts 25 students a year. It is a very different challenge to redesign an entire undergraduate programme that attracts 250 students a year. We need to tailor our staff development programme to ensure that it meets those needs in the context of ABL.

    Student representatives are invited to all of our redesign workshops. We have run activities at the students’ union. We have invited students to facilitate C@N-DO workshops with us. They are fully embedded in the process of change and they have been consulted in the process of change. They have expressed their concerns: we have discussed those concerns at multiple levels, in workshops, staff development programmes, in conferences, roadshows and symposia. They have been fully integrated into the process of change.

    [#insertinlinedriver quick#]

    What kinds of concerns do they express? 

    They are mostly concerned about the perceived loss of contact time. That is a real and legitimate concern, shared by some parents too. To be clear, we are not compromising contact time. We are making sure that the two key different types of contact time are included, embedded and integrated for higher quality teaching.

    The first type is face-to-face contact time, which is the one we value the most. We are a campus-based university and we will continue to be a campus-based university. The shift to ABL doesn’t turn us into anything else. Instead, it integrates the high quality contact time in the classroom, in the lab and elsewhere with high quality online contact time, which is the second type.

    We have to be very, very clear about the difference between quality online contact time and independent study. And that is at the centre of the discussion with students and with parents.

    What counts as quality online contact time?

    If you set online activities for students to do and you as a tutor “disappear” and let them work on those activities – that is independent study. That is not online contact time at all. If you set an online task but you remain active, engaged and visible throughout – and that does not mean that you have to be online at the same time, this can and should work asynchronously – then that activity can count as part of your online contact time.

    There is a huge temptation here of uploading materials to the virtual learning environment and pretending that your students “do the blended bit” because you put your content online. That is not what we want. What matters is not the content I upload; what matters is what students do with it to achieve outcomes. The activity that students do with this content must be aligned with the learning outcomes, the rest of the teaching methods and the assessment.

    We're trying to discourage colleagues from running two-tier courses where there is a bit online and a bit face to face. Instead, we favour an approach in which a tutor runs a course which has a true blend of different components. The online part of the blend has to run primarily on the basis of online contact time.

    Of course, there will be independent study as well, as there always has been, whether it is online or otherwise, but quality contact time has to be present, has to be prominent, both in the classroom and in the online environment. Like students, tutors must be engaged, active and visible, both in the classroom and online.

    How does technology help and hinder ABL – hinder in terms of the perception people have that blended is all about online when in fact it should be about the blend – but also how it helps insofar as you could not have blended learning without the digital resources…? 

    The key word here is personalisation. There is a tendency to believe that doing things in a blend, which includes online work, has the risk of depersonalising the process when, in fact, if it's done well, it generates the opposite effect. It not only improves the level of personalisation – the quality, the level and depth of engagement – but it can also enhance, if done well, accessibility and flexibility. It can accommodate the needs of students in specific situations and with specific needs. 

    The use of technology is indeed an enabler. As such, the technology works for the benefit of all concerned, as long as one or certain key aspects are met, such as digital fluency. For the purposes of learning in higher education, but also to operate freely in life, you need increasingly sophisticated levels of digital fluency. And that's what we want to promote with our students and colleagues alike.

    To be the changemakers of the future you need tools and skills. Digital fluency is one of them.