My reflections from Jisc DigiFest16

This week I attended our annual Jisc conference Digifest16 at the ICC in Birmingham. Over 1,200 delegates attended from across UK higher and further education and skills both online and in person.

The Power of Digital was the conference theme and my interest focused on learning and teaching and the student experience. Having attended over ten years of Jisc conferences it’s always interesting to see what themes, ideas and discussion we can take away and address in our work.

The opening plenary contained some themes which we have focused on previously as being key to transforming education with technology: Learning spaces and importance of people and supporting the development of their practice. So often we can get swept away with the shiney and new without considering the why and how questions. What are the benefits and enhancements that this tool could bring?

Professor Andrew Harrison shared examples of innovative spaces across the world. I was very pleased to see the focus back on learning space design and the importance of seamlessly integrating technology into spaces. Every space on campus has the potential to be a learning space – formal and informal, corridors and external spaces. This takes me back to some work I led in 2005 on designing technology enabled learning spaces. The excellent guide Designing spaces for effective learning, authored by Ros Smith, still contains very relevant points for effective practice in this area. We need to gather more examples of learning spaces and also gather evidence of what works well as has been done through the Jisc online guide.  University of Westminster has an ambitious refurbishment project creating exciting new technology enabled spaces and is evaluating their use. This short video filmed at the conference captures views from delegates on the topic.

As I am now co-ordinating the FELTAG ( FE Learning Technology Education Action Group) Coalition I was involved in a panel session discussing the evolution of FELTAG and how colleges are responding to FELTAG requirements. On behalf on the FELTAG Coalition, we have published an effective practice guide which showcases how colleges and skills providers are meeting FELTAG agenda.

With senior managers from Warwickshire, South Staffordshire and Highbury College, we discussed how technology was no longer an optional extra. It is now an essential part of the core business of a college. The importance of getting the infrastructure right so as to support learners’ use of their own devices with robust wifi a priority. Staff skills and developing their digital capabilities is essential if we are to realise the pedagogical benefits of technology. Confidence to experiment, be creative and co-develop new opportunities for learning was also highlighted by Heather MacDonald, Principal of Loughborough College in the day 2 plenary.  The importance of visionary leadership from senior leaders and governors who advocate the effective and appropriate use of technology was also evident where we are seeing colleges embracing FELTAG.

There are still assumptions being made around learners confidence and capabilities of using technology for their learning. We need to encourage colleges to gather their learners’ expectations and experiences of technology to make more informed decisions about the digital. The work I am leading on the Digital Student continues to drive this area forward and influence practice. Learners in FE and those studying part time as work based learners, or on apprenticeships have very varied views on technology. Focus groups, card sort activities, use of social media and more formal surveys of learners are all approaches to gathering learner views. The Student Digital Experience tracker pilot is about to start with a selected number of universities, colleges and providers using a short survey with learners to gather their views on technology. Informed by the Jisc NUS Benchmarking the student digital experience this could offer institutions valuable insights on how their learners are experiencing technology. Hear delegates’ views on how technology is supporting the student experience.

Students as partners in driving forward change with digital came through strongly in two other sessions I was involved with. We heard from Dave Monk from Harlow College on the work of their digital student ambassadors and from Kerry Gough and get students from Birmingham City University. The Change Agents’ Network has been instrumental in supporting students as partners on digital projects and our developing successful student partnerships guide offers valuable advice.

Students spoke of the benefits of being involved in change agency projects and how they developed their employability skills as well as a better understanding of the use of digital. This was echoed in our Working in partnership with students to develop their employability. The excellent report and case studies from Peter Chatterton and Geoff Rebbeck discusses how technology is supporting employability within colleges and universities. We heard from James Kieft on how Reading College and Activate Learning are embedding opportunities for  their learners to develop their use of technology and make links with employers through Google classroom.

Other highlights for me included hearing Chrissie Nerantzi from Manchester Metropolitan University challenge delegates to encourage playful learning – experimentation and creativity with the digital. Chrissie used balloons with the audience to demonstrate this!

A special mention to the students of University College Birmingham who catered the conference dinner. It was a superb meal one of the best conference meals I have had the privilege of experiencing. We also had the excitement and intrigue of a musical performance with the mi mu gloves – showing the true meaning of ‘feeling the music’.

The most important part of the event for me was catching up with colleagues and friends new and old, across FE and HE to hear their ideas and how they are taking forward their practice in the challenging and demanding times we are in. Two days to escape our day jobs, to indulge in our own CPD, to discuss and support each other with our visions for what we know and believe digital can transform. Thank you to all involved and for making #digifest16 such a vibrant event.

Deb Millar, who is on Jisc’s FE top 50 social media users to follow  



Reflections from CANLearn

See CAN blog at


It has been almost 4 months since I started my blog with every good intention to regularly post and share my personal reflections from my work and my learning.

Well as you can see, I haven’t managed to achieve my goal! What I have achieved however, has been the completion on Module ICL01 and the near submission of my e-portfolio for ICL02. Both form part of the Jisc SEDA accredited Institutional Change Leader award run by the Jisc Change Agents’ Network.

ICL01 is delivered through a series of well designed learning activities in Moodle. The module provides a sound overview of student engagement and students working as agents of change in their institution. The module also covers the essential skills for managing a change project – discussing approaches to change, project management techniques as well as the importance of engaging key stakeholders. It was a valuable refresher on all the key issues we have been facing in the actual running and management of the Change Agents’ Network.

What I have valued is experiencing learning in Moodle seeing how technology can be seamlessly integrated into the design of effectively learning activities.

For IL02 I was required to compile a portfolio of evidence in Mahara on how I managed and implemented the Change Agents’ Network. This was a valuable process in reflecting on the achievements of the network and also what skills and experience I had developed as a consequence of my involvement.

It was the first time I had created an e-portfolio and I really enjoyed the way I could gather and link to supporting evidence of video, audio and web links.

Being a student again whilst working and having 3 young sons has been a challenge – it has often meant working in the evening and setting myself targets of answering a question a night! It reminded me of just how hard it is to fit learning into life and the challenges many face in doing this.

Developing successful student-staff partnerships:

From reflecting on my experiences as project manager for CAN, I have personally benefited from my experiences on this project through:

  • Working with students – being able to speak to students who have been involved in change agency and have been working as change leaders and in partnership with staff. Hearing their articulation first hand of the benefits they have realised through these roles has demonstrated to me the impact of this work on the student experience.
  • Engaging with inspirational staff and leaders – where we have seen evidence of best practice in partnership working, there is a clear institutional vision and commitment to student partnerships. This is embedded in all areas of the university or college. The support from senior leaders is evident and this is echoed by staff and students working on these projects. More work is needed to share these leaders’ vision with other senior staff across HE and FE so that they too can realise the benefits on the student experience. We have been fortunate to gather examples of such practice here.
  • Student staff partnerships are a driver for institutional change particularly in the area of technology enhanced learning. An unanticipated outcome from these projects has been around the co-development of staff and students’ digital literacies. This has had a positive impact on the student experience. Jisc’s Developing successful student-staff partnerships has valuable advice and guidance for institutions.

Future developments:

A further area for exploration and my own personal development is to gain a greater Sknight.pngunderstanding of the potential of partnerships between staff, students and employers and also to foster successful student partnerships within curriculum design. Both of these areas are key in the current educational climate where the implications of the Green paper and the Teaching Excellence Framework, could be a driver for institutions to use this areas to demonstrate enhanced student engagement.

Having experienced the CANLearn course first hand, I have gained a far greater understanding of developing successful student staff partnerships and change agency. I look forward to continuing conversations around this transformative initiative.


Being a student again

This week I enrolled on the Jisc Institutional change leader award online course. I have been involved in the development of the course over the past 2 years. So to have the opportunity of registering as a student on the course and experiencing the course first hand was important to me. I wanted to be able to experience an online learning course – my first as a student – and to learn from others who are leading change agency work in their college or university. The course has been designed to support staff and students working in partnership on technology led curriculum change projects. The course will offer guidance and opportunities to develop the relevant and necessary skills to support staff and students in taking forward change within their context.

I am looking forward to sharing my experiences and developing my own skills in this area. I have decided to set up my personal blog as a way for me to share my personal reflections and journey. This was also prompted by my attendance over the past 2 days on the Jisc Digital Leadership course where we spent time mapping our digital practices using the visitors and residents approach with Dave White and Donna Lanclos. This activity was valuable in identifying current practice in the ways we consume and engage with different technologies and tools in our professional/organisational and individual lives.

Another prompt was Chris Thomson’s excellent session on digital storytelling which has also inspired me to create this blog and to try and put in to practice some of the points highlighted in his session. So a few challenges I have set myself to develop my own digital practice.

You can follow me on Twitter @sarahknight and I use #digitalstudent and #jiscCAN for tweets relating to my work on students expectations and experiences of technology and on student staff partnerships.

Digital Map for Jisc Digital Futures Digital Map Sarah Knight