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Digital education

Highlights of JISC Digifest 2017 – by Marianna

30 March 2017

As my colleague Martin already described in his blog, this year’s #Digifest17 celebrated the power of digital; its influence in ever-changing teaching and learning environment (in HE and FE), its potential to affect and inspire learners of today as well as learners of the future, its impact on social learning, collaboration and design of future learning platforms.

My highlights from the two days spent at Digifest are closely related to the above mentioned introduction. I attended many sessions but those described below were the most interesting.

The aim of Building digital expertise in your organisation workshop was to share a range of examples of approaches to developing organisational digital capability, and to highlight Jisc resources that support organisational approaches to digital capability. The most interesting part for me was a speech about staff engagement (presented by Ross Anderson from North Lindsey College). It was refreshing to hear his opinion on development, support and nurture of staff skills, and how to maintain and sustain staff confidence. He mentioned the ‘right’ solutions to do this.  They included various approaches, for example skills cue cards, E-learning champions, team toolkits, App clubs (specific meetings organised for specific requests), blended learning standards, one to one support, and creation of bespoke toolkits.  However he mentioned consideration and application of Digital Personal Development on individual basis (which could include gamified e-learning staff development activities like DPD Go!).

This made me think about our approach, how we can engage with our colleagues better or differently. Could we incorporate and promote analysis of learning and teaching in our activities? And would this approach make any difference in the use of learning technologies available at Cardiff? Could we persuade our colleagues by showing them ‘hard’ evidence, why changing their approach can be a good thing? Could we show them why using certain tools and technologies could improve their teaching and therefore student learning experience? Join the conversation and practical advice on best practice in our Advice drop-in sessions.

I found the next discussion very intriguing. It folded around Digital capabilities: how best to prepare for employability (watch here). There was a fascinating debate between Kerry Pinny, academic technologist at the University of Lincoln and Dave White, from University of the Arts London that focused on preparing students for employment. Issues such as ‘best reasons why potential employers should employ me’ or ‘should we prepare students for a world which may not be there as they knew it, in few years’ time when they finish their studies’, were probably the most interesting ones.  I was sold on independent learning, which is seen as responsibility of each individual, but is still not regarded as critical and often we fail to talk about this. Both speakers expressed their views on ‘good employee’ and linked it with their independent learning. Final thoughts were addressed around confidence of learners and their skills (digital and soft). How best can we prepare the students for employability? And consequently what are the implications for staff across all areas, and how will it impact on the curriculum?

The final session I would like to mention was probably the most interesting for me. With a very actual title: What does a next generation learning environment look like? (watch here), I was interested to learn about how other universities use their VLEs and what were their outlooks for creating the next generation VLEs. Speakers Ange Fitzpatrick from the University of Cambridge and Elizabeth Ellis from the Open University discussed the positives and negatives of their VLEs. It was interesting to hear that University of Cambridge started to use VLE recently and Ange was questioning the importance to talk about the next generation VLE if her organisation hasn’t fully utilised the full potential of their current platform. Her opinion folded around creation of a space which would be interactive, and would give opportunity to ask questions. She highlighted the fact that these spaces should be comfortable spaces where students spend time not only because they have to but because they want to. On the other hand Elizabeth asked if students should be involved in creating their online learning environments. Her approach suggested that there should be a space for students to express their opinions on what VLE could look like, what functionality it could have.

Both speakers agreed that one platform cannot do everything and cannot cover all of the learning and teaching needs universities currently may have. Elizabeth suggested that VLEs are series of spaces, apps and online activities.  But this brought up another question – Designing learning in such environment, closely linked with HE approach and how they are going to keep up with the speed of technological development.

Every organisation should analyse the use of their current VLE, and its purpose. User experience is often rated as not very good due to the interface of the VLE. Maybe there is a scope to radically change it or even ‘cut-off’ such environments and start again using ‘learnt lesson’ approach, not allowing the same mistakes to occur again. It’s not only about what we want to teach but what we want students to learn.

I thoroughly enjoyed both days and took away some great ideas which could be explored further within my team and beyond. I regularly get to meet with colleagues across the University. Many of our staff realise the importance and benefits of technologies they use on a daily basis, but many of them don’t know that often their educational practices and specific methods overlap or relate to one another. CEI has developed and launched the Learning Hub, a place where academics support continuous improvements for the student learning experience, share outstanding educational activities, and activities which perhaps weren’t that successful.  It’s about sharing best practice, spreading the word about unique approaches in education that works. Therefore we can link the technologies we use in the organisation with discussions about digital literacy, digital capabilities, and digital leadership, digital expertise or future digital strategies.