Jisc Digifest 17 conference

On the 14th March Daniel and I both headed down to the Birmingham’s International Convention Centre on the 14th March for the first day Jisc’s annual two day Digifest conference. Given this event is free to attend for employees of UK higher education institutions it seemed too good an opportunity to miss but unfortunately due to work commitments we couldn’t stay for the second day, so it was a fleeting visit. Following the obligatory coffee and pastry we headed to the introductory session. There format was quite interesting with several presenters sitting on sofas debating the impact that Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) is having on education. Following this introduction there were a number parallel sessions, so here are the headlines from the sessions I attended:

How does technology enhanced learning contribute to teaching excellence?

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Professor Rhona Sharpe from Oxford Brookes University and Paul Bartholomew (Pro vice-chancellor) from Ulster University spoke about how TEL contributes to teaching excellence at their intuitions. Paul Bartholomew’s view that “technology doesn’t enhance learning; people do” rings very true with me and as obvious as it sounds I think this is sometimes forgotten in the rush to rollout new systems and processes. Paul then went on to argue that just having an institutional TEL strategy or action plans isn’t enough and that staff need to be willing, capable and permitted to innovate if they’re going to successfully use technology to enhance teaching. Again, I wholeheartedly agree with this view, as this echoes our experiences when trying to implement our TEL Minimum standards.

Geoff Mulgan – Keynote speaker

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Geoff Mulgan, the chief executive and CEO of Nesta (an innovation foundation that runs a wide range of activities in investment) gave us an interesting and very insightful view of the role that technology will play both in education and in society more generally in the future. I found the slide that modelled job losses as a result computerisation fascinating and at the same time was slightly relieved to see that our role of supporting education meant that it was unlikely that we would be replaced by a computer!

Join the analytics party – exploring the full potential of using data to support learning

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Phil Richards (Chief Innovation Officer at Jisc) and Rob Wyn Jones (Senior data and analytics integrator, Jisc) outlined the strategic importance of learning analytics and presented a compelling business case for institutions investing in this technology to increase student retention rates and to reduce lost revenue through lost student fees. Phil presented some interesting statistics with Columbus State University showing a 5.7% increase in retention for low-income students and closer to home the Open university having seen a boost of 2.1% in retention since investing in learning analytics.


In summary I have to say that Jisc Digifest is an excellent event and it’s a shame that we couldn’t stay for both days. That said, the format of the conference lends itself very well to attending remotely (as everything is available online), but as we all know just because something is available online it doesn’t mean to say that you’ll actually find the time to be able to watch it!

Learning Enhancement & Support Manager at Hull York Medical School

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