Digifest, interactive learning, Jisc, VR

Jisc Digifest 2018

by Jin Tan

I attended the Jisc Digital Festival (Digifest) 2018 in Birmingham between 6-7th March. It was the first time I had attended the event. Although I needed to head to Birmingham in the very early morning and come back in the late evening, I was excited and appreciated the opportunity.

The events focused on four themes and I was interested in three areas particularly: education (digital) strategy, enhancing learning experience, and VR/AR/AI use cases. Here, I’ll share the ones that excited me the most. The event updates and the programme details are on the Jisc website and under the  Twitter hashtag #digifest18.

Education (digital) strategyimage of digifest robot

The opening keynote from Shakira Martin (National Union of Students) stated the importance of supporting inclusion and diversity in any education strategy. This reminded me of two useful MOOCs I have studied recently – Digital Accessibility: Enabling Participation in the Information Society and Inclusive Learning and Teaching Environments. I would highly recommend the courses to those of you that are interested.

Mikkel Lauritzen (Aula) summarised five trends in education strategy:

  • global connectedness;
  • integrating opportunities into student experience;
  • enhancing and extending the student journey;
  • from in-class passive to hybrid active delivery, and
  • from fixed to more flexible study paths.

He mentioned that there are two types of university strategies. The first sees the institution education strategy commit to ‘digital’. In my opinion, Lancaster University and the UCL fall into this category. The second sees the institution develop digital champions to drive change and impact. Cardiff University could be seen as one of these institutions.

It was good to learn about the Digital strategy of Wales and the Digital Vision and Strategy for Wales in FE. I was encouraged by the statements: “People who perform their role every day are experts in their processes. …If a person or group identifies a goal or improvement, they will own it”. This made me consider what general approaches have HE institutions adopted in their strategy development?

Enhancing learning experience

Tamsyn Smith and Anna Ruff (University of Southampton) presented around how they have developed the VLE awards scheme over six years. It’s an excellent case study, which showed how to engage students with the course evaluation process, through a friendly competition where students nominate and rank top 3 modules from their schools. It helped further understand students’ needs and learning experience, informing and improving course design. They have shared practice tips from their experience. I think this example matches the second type of digital strategy.

Matt East (Anglia Ruskin University) presented how they have used Talis Elevate as a resource analytics tool to investigate students’ engagement. It seems Talis Elevate is a very powerful tool, monitoring which pages within documents that students view and for how long. We should definitely compare it with our supported tools. The research findings (slide page 23) made me consider how can we further understand our students? How well can our tools (e.g., Blackboard, Eesysoft) help to prove/disprove these statements: “students don’t read the module guide”; “students leave work to the last minute”; “students only interact if there’s an assessment involved”. Matt mentioned Dr Dan Gordon’s research around evaluating students’ learning. I found his presentation called “Evaluation of student engagement with feedback: feeding forward from feedback”, which is worth watching.

I quite like the Northumbria Student Support Model (Slides page 44) presented by Nick Woolley (Northumbria University), which showed us the university’s approach to delivering seamless student journeys. He mentioned the Education, consumer rights and maintaining trust: what students want from their university report, which is an important reference for us to learn what valuable learning experience means from the students’ viewpoint. The Going for Gold: Lessons from the TEF provider submissions (Diana Beech, 2017. HEPI) report is another which is worth-reading, where Nick quoted “Gold-status universities seem to go above and beyond standard VLE and video conventions to employ digital technology in innovative ways.”

VR/AR/AI use cases

image of digifest Using the innovative LOLA technology, the opening film took us into a symphony with students from the Royal College of Music Orchestra physically playing in the hall along with streaming a rock band in Edinburgh Napier which was projected in the screen. It immediately showed how technologies can enhance our experience.

AI is smart but does not understand itself. We need to be learner-centred when using AI in education. The talks from Professor Rose Luckin (UCL Knowledge Lab) and Nick Woolley (Northumbria University) stimulated discussions and thinking of AI in education. The Intelligence Unleashed An argument for AI in Education (UCL publication) summarised what AI can offer learning right now:

  • an intelligent personal tutor for every learner;
  • intelligent support for collaborative learning; and
  • support learning in authentic environments.

At the ALT Conference 2017, I was inspired by the examples of mobile VR technology (SeekBeak) adoption in education. I was inspired again by Professor Shafi Ahmed’s presentation. It showed that VR/AR technologies have started impacting on everyone. Particularly in education, it requires greater efforts on the transformation of education approaches to learning.

At the event, there were many inspiring presentations which offered good practice and practical lessons from other practitioners. There were several students who joined the presentations, shared their experience and views. There were a group of new products/services that Cardiff University may have been using, and need to explore. My experience of the event was positive. I would suggest that staff attend future events, to share and to connect.

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