Jisc RSC Wales recently enabled Higher Education staff to come together face-to-face to exchange practice relating to change in a digital environment.
Staff in diverse roles and HE settings are working to manage change around technology – in learning and teaching, in library and information services, in business processes, as an extension of the ‘day job’ and on special projects. Something they often have in common is a difficulty connecting with other innovators who are in different networks, so they can become isolated and their work doesn’t always reach people who could benefit. Feedback from our customers has indicated that there is a need for some kind of forum to assist this crossover process on themes of particular relevance to HE. So, in spite of the logistical difficulties and scheduling challenges, we took the plunge and converged on Llandrindod last week for our first HE face to face event in three years. Initial reflections suggest it has been worthwhile and this post attempts to sum up a very busy and information-packed day.
Around 25 staff from wide variety of HE roles turned up, not just from universities but also colleges, a workbased learning provider, projects and agencies. We also had a similar number of expressions of interest from individuals and organisations unable to attend but who we hope will be able to engage more in the future. We made a particular effort to invite representatives from the many networks and groups which Jisc RSC Wales is in touch with.
One of the priority themes we’d identified early on, and which affects almost anyone working in HE at present, is “digital student experience”, so we made that the main discussion topic. Around that we arranged a variety of elements designed to help people to make contacts and discover the variety of activity in Welsh HE relating to technology and change. Here’s what happened…
Exchanging wares – speed networking style
In the morning we adopted the approach of a bazaar. In Wikipedia we learn that a bazaar can mean not simply the physical marketplace but also the network of merchants, bankers, craftsmen and craftswomen who congregate there to trade their wares. We wanted to create a space where people could be exposed, in a very short time, to a wide range of possible contacts and could sample the wide range of digital change happening in Welsh HE. We very much wanted to minimise presentation overload.
Participants during the speed networking session – the current speaker wears a paper hat
A speed-networking session gave every participant 2 minutes to introduce themselves, share one thing they were looking to get from other forum participants to help them manage change with technology, and in return present one thing they could offer others (be it a project, a resource, expertise etc). Speakers were designated by paper hats (apologies to those who felt a tad uncomfortable wearing the hats – some chose to carry them instead). They had to move swiftly between tables to give their lightning spiel before passing that hat to the next person. I can’t say it worked without a hitch but but it certainly created a good buzz to kick off the day. Examples of some of the new initiatives discovered during the session were the arrival of a Wikipedian in Residence at the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol (information in English and Cymraeg), the Student Participation Recording and Feedback initiative reported by staff from Cardiff Metropolitan University and the Agri-Wales Online Moodle led by Coleg Sir Gar. Amid the hustle and bustle Paul Richardson somehow managed to capture some links to various projects here.
We also highlighted a few of the key national projects which Jisc RSC Wales has been engaging with recently. Tom Bartlett spoke about the Cadarn Portal project which is working across HE in North Wales to widen participation supported by technologies. Paul Richardson flagged up the recently-published Welsh Government report Open and Online with its recommendations to government and to institutions and noted how Jisc RSC Wales were working with a number of sector bodies and institutions to help achieve their aspirations around OER and open practice.
You don’t have to be called a learning technologist to be one!
We were delighted to welcome Shirley Evans who came wearing two (virtual) hats – one as a trustee of ALT (Association for Learning Technology) and one as a Special Projects Advisor with Jisc Techdis. You can view her presentation here:
ALT_Jisc Innovation Event May 2014
Shirley began with an introduction to the benefits of being involved with ALT, highlighting in particular the formation of a new ALT-Wales SIG (special interest group). More information and an online expression-of-interest form are here. It was pointed out that you don’t have to be a member of ALT to take part; as Shirley pointed out, “You don’t have to be called a learning technologist to be one!”. Around 40 responses have been received to date and if you haven’t the chance yet you still have time to express interest. It is hoped that plans to set up the SIG will go ahead in the near future. Jisc RSC Wales warmly welcomes the move to strengthen ALT in Wales and we look forward to supporting the group as it gets established.
Shirley introducing ALT-Wales
Here are few more nuggets I picked out from Shirley’s very detailed ALT presentation:
Paul Richardson also flagged up his involvement (along with others in Wales) in the recently-formed ALT OER Special Interest Group (OERSIG). Their first webinar is set to take place on 4 June, and Jisc RSC Wales will pass on publicity and booking details as soon as we have them.
We’re grateful to ALT Trustee Haydn Blackey (University of South Wales) and ALT Chief Executive Maren Deepwell for kindly facilitating Shirley’s input to the event.
Inclusive technologies can help all work smarter
Shirley then switched roles to talk about some new offerings from Jisc Techdis, as well as reminding us of a few tools that we may have forgotten about. One of the key facts that leapt out for me was that according to HESA there are nearly 200,000 higher education students who have declared a disability. Jisc Techdis’s work is particularly concerned with the needs of the disabled but the tools it promotes can be good for everyone. If you are making good provision for your disabled students you are helping everyone to get the most out of technology and work more flexibly.
Shirley flagged up a couple of news items:
- ENABLE conference 18-19 June on using new technologies for inclusive learning. Face to face bookings have closed on 9 May but there is still time to book online and attendance is free.
- Small Business Research Initiative: projects which enable the public sector and small businesses to join forces to solve specific problems. Jisc Techdis is co-ordinating eight projects in two areas specifically relating to inclusion: Ready Steady STEM (opening up access to STEM subjects for those with disabilities) and Good to Go (increasing independence in relation to work-based technologies). For more details on these projects and how they will help learners, see the the Jisc Techdis website.
Familiar Jisc Techdis services – still relevant!
When free resources and tools have been around for a while it can be hard to remember if they are still current and worth promoting to your students and colleagues. So I was pleased to hear from Shirley about some resources which were launched a while back but are very much ‘alive’ and worth exploring today:
- The Techdis Toolbox – a collection of tools and tips to help learners work smarter – for example tools for collaboration, planning and organising.
- Xerte Online Toolkit – the free open source tool which allows staff with limited technical skills to create rich online content. It has a number of built in accessibility benefits including colour and font change, keyboard access and text to speech). There is a new version available. Jisc Techdis run regular Xerte Friday webinars and the next one is on 30 May.
- OASES Online Accessibility Self Evaluation Service (OASES). Jisc RSC Wales and some librarians in Wales helped Jisc Techdis recently to update the area of the evaluation tool relating to library services so thank you to everyone who supplied comments and suggestions!
In discussion Shirley noted the importance of the library community in supporting disabled students and highlighted the work Jisc Techdis is doing to make e-books more accessible.
Digital Student Experience and the Welsh Higher Education strategic context
After lunch, Lis Parcell highlighted the Future Directions teaching and learning enhancement initiative which is coordinated by HEA Wales. Jisc RSC Wales is one of the agencies on its steering group and we try and ensure appropriate links are made between the Future Directions programme and Jisc activity in Wales. Lis pointed out that the current Future Directions theme Global Graduates: Enabling Flexible Learning should afford many opportunities for non-academic departments such as library and information services to support the development of effective digital practice by students, staff and institutions. Digital practice is no longer cordoned off as a niche activity but is emerging as a dimension of day-to-day university teaching. Lis encouraged people to make contact with Future Directions leads in their own institutions for more information and to explore the resources and contact information available on the HEA Wales web pages.
Next up, HEFCW’s Head of Student Experience Dr Cliona O’Neill joined us by video link from Cardiff to highlight some key areas of national policy which are setting the context for our work over the next couple of years.
Cliona welcomed the staging of this forum event, as well as online events, to share good practice. She stressed that there was a challenge to us all to transplant innovation successfully from one area to another and to support each other in doing so.
review of the strategy to enhance learning and teaching through technology
The Enhancing Learning and Teaching through Technology Strategy for Higher Education in Wales, published in 2007/2008 and last revised in 2011/2012, is currently getting a refresh to take it through to 2016/2017. The emphasis is on updating to maintain relevance and take advantage of new developments, rather than any major shift in focus. Jisc RSC Wales is one of the organisations playing a part in the Task and Finish group which is working on a revised version. It has just gone out to “soft consultation” with HE institutions and bodies with a view to publication by July 2014.
call for case studies and impact statement
As part of the ELTT Strategy review, Cliona explained that HEFCW have just issued a circular to universities and also those colleges delivering directly-funded HE to request three case studies
- the one that they are most proud of;
- the one that is most ‘portable’ (readily transferable to other institutions;
- and one for an initiative that was unsuccessful but provided useful lessons.
Institutions are also being invited to provide a summary of the impact of the ELTT strategy in conjunction with their students’ union. The case studies will be disseminated by HEFCW.
transforming the digital student experience
The refreshed ELTT Strategy will include reference to a new initiative Transforming the Digital Student Experience which Jisc is about to launch in Wales over the coming weeks. It will involve universities as well as one college provider of directly-funded HE. Similar projects are starting up in Scotland and Northern Ireland also, and it was noted that there could be benefits in comparing approaches with institutions in those countries during the project.
Jisc workshop: students expectations and experiences of the digital environment
The workshop was led by Sarah Davies. Sarah is Jisc’s Head of Change (Student Experience) and is going to be managing the Transforming the Digital Student Experience work in Wales.
Sarah introduced her presentation by giving some key findings to date from Jisc’s work exploring student experiences and expectations in a digital environment (see the Jisc Digital Student blog for more info). On the back of an earlier phase of work, Jisc is now working with co-design partners to undertake further consultation across the HE sector, both at open public events and with specific groups. I think some fascinating results are emerging from these consultations which all HE institutions will want to note and contribute to. You can see Sarah’s presentation in full here:
Sarah Davies Digital Student Wales presentation
Getting together to talk digital student experience
Sarah then led two short workshop activities where groups could input to collaborative online documents.
- HE2020 – we reflected on the key ideas collected so far through the Jisc research on what HE might look like in 2020 and submitted a few more thoughts of our own via a Google doc here.
- What should institutions be doing as a priority to respond to students’ changing expectations and needs? And what support and tools would you like from sector bodies such as Jisc? Groups fed comments into the Jisc Digital Student padlet (which had already been started at the Future Directions conference in Aber on 2 April). If you missed the event and want to add your views please visit the padlet here: http://padlet.com/wall/digistudent
As well as the two mini-consultations which have now been carried out in Wales, Jisc are offering two further consultation events for HE at venues in England: 21 May in London and a final event on 16 July in Birmingham.
- The Digital Student blog.
- Follow the #digitalstudent hashtag on Twitter
- The Developing Digital Literacies infoKit (Sarah urged colleagues in Wales to give their feedback on this resource).
- Change Agents Network – a relatively new initiative that developed out of a Jisc project and is now offering a number of ways to develop students as change agents. The network is for students and staff.
More things to look out for
- A parallel study is about to commence for FE and Skills with similar consultation events.
- Jisc Summer of Student Innovation 2014 – students/learners in HE or FE can take part. Student proposals need to be submitted by 30 May. More details here.
Lamps II – Grand Bazaar (Istanbul) by Guillermo Fdez on Flickr http://tinyurl.com/kg9o3wq
Alyson Dacey chaired a brief closing discussion on how we might take forward some of the ideas which had emerged for Welsh HE forum type activity around digital innovation.
An informal survey at the start of the Spring term had suggested a number of possible themes and formats for future get-togethers. A number of useful new suggestions are emerging and we’ll report on these in a separate blog post once we’ve analysed the feedback from the day. One thing was definitely agreed: that Jisc RSC Wales is committed to listening to your recommendations and taking them up with Jisc and other organisations where necessary so they can be acted upon.
A massive thank you to all our participants and speakers for their valuable contributions. We look forward to building on these conversations with our HE customers and our Jisc colleagues in the coming months. If you have any further ideas on how we can help HE staff to get together, share experience and embed innovation successfully, please email Lis Parcell firstname.lastname@example.org. or post a comment on this blog.