Digital technology is transforming how members deliver world-class education and globally-critical research. These are their stories of how our collaborations have supported their ambitions.
Supporting students to stick with university
James Nicholson, director of student services, Abertay University
Jisc has been working with Abertay University to improve campus technology and student experience with their sticky campus renovation project. We share an ambition to make higher education flexible, accessible and welcoming for everyone – no matter who they are and where they come from.
“I believe around 20% more students are using the library since we’ve taken the ‘sticky campus’ approach.
“There’s been a cultural change too. Students are starting to know they can use any space in the university if teaching isn’t going on.
“Jisc was involved from the discovery stages when we were looking at what other organisations were doing and what was happening in the sector.
“They encouraged us to think how we could make digital technology part of the curriculum.”
Delivering a digital education
David Conway, head of IT services, Sunderland University.
Sunderland University is developing the digital skills of its staff and students, putting technology at the heart of what they do. We’ve been working with the university and, through a range of Jisc services, are supporting them to realise this ambition.
“People are seeing more and more of what we can present through digital first and what we can deliver through the various platforms that we’re building such as Microsoft 365. They are embracing digital change far more rapidly, and probably quicker than we can manage, at the minute
“The key for us moving forward will be how we’re supporting staff to build their digital skills. We know we’ve got some areas of real strength in the delivery of digital education so we’re using the champions network to make sure where possible we’re upskilling other staff”
Solving the virtual learning environment headache
Michael Egan, learning technologist, The Northern School of Art.
Jisc worked with The Northern School of Art to redesign their virtual learning environment so that it makes life easier for students and staff. Since then, log-ins are up by nearly two thirds.
“It was dated and needed to better reflect our personality and get more students to engage with it. I wanted it to be more of a twenty first century platform which actually encouraged education.
“I thought it would be best to bring Jisc onboard to provide additional insight and get a second opinion.
“Jisc’s recommendations backed up what I was thinking. They helped me to get buy-in from staff as Jisc are very much respected in the education sector.”
Getting students ready for the changing workplace
James Maltby, learning technology manager at Plumpton College.
Technology is transforming learning for staff and students at vocational specialist Plumpton College. At Jisc, we’ve been supporting them to trial new technologies and blended learning techniques – giving students the skills they need for the changing workplace.
"It’s a misconception that all students come to college with strong digital skills. They’re used to using apps on their phones, but don’t necessarily have good transferable skills. At Plumpton, we focus on giving students the skills they’ll need in the workplace, both directly after college and in years to come. Our technology-focused training shows students how they can apply those skills to other programmes or applications.
“We use Jisc surveys as a benchmark to see how our digital technology compares with other FE and HE colleges.
“We have a major digital skills drive at the college and are using the framework to shape our training sessions. We don’t focus on ICT skills now, it’s about the wider competencies, rather than specific programmes.”
Accessible e-books – addressing inequality in information
Susan Smith, learning support officer (disability and dyslexia), Leeds Beckett University.
Glitches in technology can be a huge challenge for disabled students who rely on accessible e-books. We’re working with Leeds Beckett University on a game-changing project to tackle this.
“We were finding that technical issues were stopping students using e-books. We had this whole group of students who didn’t have as equal access as their peers to the books they needed.
"Other university library staff, publishers and platform developers know Jisc and understand their role in advising universities. Having that backing was really important – it’s why this [ASPIRE] project worked so well.
"I’d advise other universities to join forces with Jisc and get the weight of their expertise behind you.”
Putting people at the heart of digital strategy
Paul Riley, director of library and information services at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
We worked with Paul, to put staff and student experience at the heart of the university’s digital strategy. The aim is to support more students to reach their potential and for the university to be an employer that uses digital to support communication, collaboration and productivity.
"Our ambition is that digital is threaded throughout what we do. It will drive everything, from carrying out excellent research to increasing student numbers, helping to provide a first-class student experience.
"Before we were concentrating too much on technology, rather than people."
Jisc's digital experience tracker focused Paul on the student experience and influenced the university’s strategic direction with digital. The university had done their own student surveys in the past but Paul says this Jisc-branded one saved time, and provided credibility and objectivity. Results were unexpected.
“Students didn’t say ‘We need more PCs or better wifi’.
"It was much more about threading digital through learning and teaching and making sure staff and students could use it. This led to our pilot of Microsoft Teams.”
Getting connected for Education 4.0
Paul Holland, dean of educational technology and Paul Davies, lecturer at the school of management from Swansea University, and Kate Pearce, information learning technology manager at Gower College Swansea.
As part of their Growing Comms project, Swansea University and three colleges in Wales are working in partnership to use technology to connect their students. Our sticky campus roadshow has helped them to make learning more fun, fulfilling, and future-focused – for students and staff.
“Collaborative learning is the future and can lead to more connected communities. It means we can collaborate more effectively with local further education colleges and be more aligned, helping students through their education journey. It also helps them to work in teams with different skillsets – as they will need to in their future careers.
“I’ve seen the need for a connected and collaborative way of working that our students will need for the fourth industrial revolution. I don’t think everyone realises the potential of where this is heading, or how disruptive it could be.
“Growing Comms is an example of Jisc’s vision for Education 4.0 – when student experiences improve because of advanced technology.”
Jon Cole, head of management information services, Morley College.
Can sensors installed in pianos help reduce the cost of tuning? Can data solve the problem of booked rooms not being used? Working alongside the intelligent campus team, a new trial at Morley College will find out.
“Steinways, grand pianos and harpsichords must be kept in tip-top condition, and that comes at a cost. If there’s data available that helps us to reduce that, we want to find it.
“Thanks to funding from Jisc to pilot Internet of Things technology, we’ve installed two types of sensors into 35 instruments, one will capture data on environmental conditions – temperature, humidity and light – and the other, small 2cm x 5cm accelerometers, will measure the intensity at which they are being played.
“We hope that once the data starts populating the dashboards Jisc has built for us, we will begin to see how we can be more efficient with our maintenance. Who knows, if we find that some pianos are being played too intensively, we may even be able to use the data as a teaching aid.”
Enabling digital evolution
Jon Hofgartner, assistant director, Weston College.
Weston College have been enabling their staff and students to work collaboratively and develop their digital skills in a newly installed digital and virtual classroom, inspired by the sticky campus roadshow.
“The students can connect from anywhere around the world, we want to create an interactive, engaging and high-quality experience for them with great audio and visuals – almost like a studio.
“It goes back to curriculum design and what the teacher wants their students to achieve and how technology can play a role rather than here’s a room and the technology.
“With the virtual classroom we hope to share learning and deliver teaching on a bigger scale over much bigger distances and create engaging experiences with no geographical boundaries.”
Cloud with clarity
Jamie Lee, head of infrastructure services, Goldsmiths, University of London.
After 18 months in the planning stage, Goldsmiths has been finalising plans for a major cloud implementation making sure they have a clear vision. They were keen to make sure it was seen as more than just an IT project.
“We have to keep asking ourselves: why are we doing cloud? Is it some cool IT thing or are there genuine strategic benefits?
"We have to keep reviewing those benefits. In our case, it means focusing our cloud adoption on what we can enable – creating a platform for innovation as part of our digital strategy.”
“We would also seek to allow a fail-fast approach to projects, encouraging dev ops in wider areas of the institution, not just in IT or a niche area of research.”
But, Jamie says, the planned project is also about fostering a digital culture – which means bringing the benefits of the cloud to the wider business and developing self-service, automated tools that can help Goldsmiths to use connectivity and data in agile, innovative ways.
What can we do to ensure that the practice and methods of scientific research are rigorous and the outputs robust and reproducible?
Terry Clark, research fellow in performance science, Royal College of Music and one of Jisc's data champions.
“The Royal College of Music is a relatively small institution so we don’t have a massive research data management department. We have a research data management person. So we look to Jisc for assistance and guidance and that’s been invaluable.
Most researchers’ time is spent collecting data,researching it and writing it up and it’s only recently that we’ve been thinking about the data that we have and how we preserve it in some useful sense that spans beyond the length of the project. What we’re finding is that there is not necessarily the understanding or the knowledge on the part of the researchers about how to set up datasets in a useful, preservable fashion.
We also need the infrastructure. The Royal College of Music is one of the Jisc open research hub service pilots so we’re looking at all different mechanisms via which we can be preserving data.”
Marcus Munafò, professor of biological psychology, University of Bristol.
“Jisc’s open research hub service will make it easier for researchers and research managers to showcase open data. If data is findable and reusable, then we are one step closer to being able to assess the reproducibility of research and reassess the value of research outputs.
People choose careers in science to have impact, improve lives, and to tackle some of the major challenges of our times. As a community, we need to make sure that the methods we ask early career researchers to adopt will open doors for both them and their research. Reproducibility is central to making this a reality and to creating a sustainable research economy as we exit Europe.”
Martin Lynch, learning systems manager, University of South Wales.
HE students in Wales are benefiting from the world’s first national learning analytics system, with universities across the country using data to understand how their students are learning – helping them to achieve more and supporting their wellbeing.
“We’re the first institution to start working with Jisc’s learning analytics predictor tool and we’re testing it to see how it helps us to identify students who are at risk of struggling.
All our students have a personal academic coach who meets with them individually at least once a term and this information will give coaches a really good place to start a conversation. Over the coming year we will also prototype student dashboards so students can see what staff are seeing and this will be a step towards getting them involved in learning design and in customising their own learning.
We’re committed to the Jisc learning analytics service for the next three years because we believe it’s extremely good value for money. We’ve built it together… It feels like a listening project and that fosters adoption and acceptance.”
Finn Illsley-Kemp, postgraduate research student, University of Southampton.
Finn shares how Jisc services help him carry out his research in the UK and worldwide.
““When I was growing up, in the town that I lived there was a slagheap from the old coalmines and I used to climb up there and find the fossils of the plants and insects that used to live there. I wanted to combine this geology with my interest in physics and mathematics.
Now I’m a geophysicist and seismologist and I study the earthquakes and volcanoes in the East African river system and Ethiopia. Geophysics is a highly collaborative research area and I work with people from all around the UK and worldwide. This means that I travel a lot. When I do that, eduroam is a vital tool, knowing that I’ll be able to get online wherever I am and get access to my email and online content.
The geophysics community in the UK communicates via the JiscMail service, so it enables us to connect with researchers all across the country. As a researcher I’m also required to log all of my output into an ORCID profile which acts as an online CV for my research output. Without these digital tools my research really wouldn’t be possible.”
Tim Blake, head of IT, Strode College.
As part of a conversation we're having with the FE sector to help us gauge colleges’ attitudes toward our services, we spoke to staff and students at Strode College about the Janet Network, its in-built cyber security protection and the digital resources we provide, such as free e-books.
Read more of Tim's story (pdf)
“The idea that a lecturer could come in and run a class without using technology, without accessing resources from the web, whether it’s video or research material – it’s unthinkable. It would cause chaos very quickly. The connectivity can’t fail. If it fails, we fail.
“Community is so important. Because in FE we’re not competitors. We’re all out there trying to do the same type of work with different customers because we’re in different regions. We need to share our knowledge and experiences. Why reinvent the wheel?”
Read more from his colleagues, and from learners:
- Angela Leavens, head of learning resources and e-learning – levelling the playing field and saving money with e-books (pdf)
- Gary Smith, e-learning and resources information coordinator – saving time with trusted digital resources (pdf)
- Richard Hood, curriculum manager for A-levels – how learners benefit from getting straight to curriculum relevant resources (pdf)
- Dominic Cumberland, student – learning my way, wherever and whenever (pdf)
Khalid Al-anker, learning technologist and practitioner, Grimsby Institute
We worked with Grimsby Institute Group on its programme to give learning technologies a pivotal role in improving learner engagement and boosting attainment.
“When our college launched its new strategy a few years ago, senior managers asked the department of innovation to put technology-enhanced learning centre stage across all curriculums.
One of the most important things we must do is prepare learners for the workplace. And through gamification that is what’s happening. We’ve caught our learners with technology.
In some ways the technology is the easy bit. We needed to make sure that everyone at the institute has support to get the best out of our investment in technology and we’ve been working with Jisc on our programme to give students and staff confidence and appropriate digital skills. We’ve identified the needs of individual groups and we’re addressing them with targeted sessions for learners and a staff development programme that’s enabling staff to make big strides fast.
Our latest Ofsted report highlighted the positive impact that our CPD is having.”
Valerie McCutcheon, research information manager, University of Glasgow.
Valerie took part in our open access (OA) pathfinder programme, part of our OA good practice project, along with a community of practice of more than 200 professionals from 90 universities, sharing examples of open access good practice.
"During 2016 we completed our end-to-end open access project, supported by Jisc under its open access pathfinder programme.
While open access is a very active topic and the work we did around reducing the burden of open access implementation would have been taking place regardless, the benefit of Jisc support was that the coordinated approach acted as a catalyst.
Outputs were delivered more expediently and there was increased sharing of information and development work with other institutions at different stages in open access process and system development.
Several workshops took place in association with the programme and it was clear from feedback that the opportunity to talk about common issues was appreciated. As a result, the new open access Scotland group has been set up to provide a voice for open access in Scotland."
More member stories
Marta Stelmaszak, Jisc Summer of Student Innovation winner.
“Imagine if a visitor at a university campus with an AR app could see multilingual content, photos or footage of events, or interviews with university employees.
A prospective student could listen to alumni talking about their experience in a particular department. Current students could access information and the community. All available through devices such as smartphones or tablets without the need to purchase any additional technology.
That’s what our augmented reality app is going to provide.”
Raphael Hallett, director, Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence, and associate professor in early modern history, University of Leeds.
We worked with the Wellcome Library to make 68,000 19th-century texts relating to the history of medicine freely available to all.
"Jisc's partnership with the Medical Heritage Library showcases a true 'meeting of minds' between archival ambition and digital expertise. The project's digitisation of 19th-century medical collections reveals not only the intrinsic value of opening access to tremendously rich historical sources, but responds adroitly to modern practices of online research and reading.
"The visualisation of these resources through beautifully designed infographics and online taxonomies will ensure that the researcher and student are invited into the collection in multiple ways, while being trained in Jisc-informed digital literacies along the way."
Course alumni share their experiences from our digital leaders programme, which equips participants with the tools, knowledge and skills to become digitally informed and empowered leaders. It is part of our wider approach to building digital capability in the sectors we support.
Jason Boucher, mechanical engineering lecturer, Lincoln College Group.
"It was the best course I've been on in years. What I valued most was the opportunity to hear from other colleges and universities about what they’re doing and what their challenges are. It’s given me insights and developed my confidence so that now I can talk more effectively to senior managers about what we can achieve.
My advice to anyone who’s thinking about signing up for digital leaders is get ready to be inspired, challenged and supported by a great team of people who really get what ‘digital’ is all about. I would do this course again in a heartbeat."
Professor Hilary Carlisle, dean of design and architecture and Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) and digital enhancement group lead.
“If you do the programme and declare yourself a ‘digital leader’ you’re not claiming to be good at all things digital. It just means that you know more of the questions you need to ask and who to go to for answers. It means you have some insights and techniques you can adopt when you’re championing digital transformation and a support network of peers who are on the same journey.”.
Dr Alison Lawson, head of the division of marketing and operations, Derby Business School, University of Derby.
“Digital leaders has given me a better understanding of digital technologies from the technologists’ point of view so that we can have productive conversations about the technology that’s available and what teaching staff would like it to help us do.
Having done the digital leaders programme with Jisc definitely gave me a badge of credibility with my colleagues.”
Deborah Kelsey-Millar, group director of digital learning technology at Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education.
“The digital leaders programme was immensely valuable. It was a hands-on experience in a safe environment with like-minded people and, as it was specifically for people who want to be a digital leader, we were sharing common issues. It was really reassuring to know that we were all encountering the same sort of things, whether we were from FE or HE, and to see how the work we shared on the programme could be embedded in my own college.”
Nick Moore, director of IT services, University of Gloucestershire.
Nick and the University of Gloucestershire helped us to pilot our learning analytics student app (part of our wider learning analytics project) that puts the power in learners’ hands by tracking their learning activity and allowing them to maximise their learning potential.
"I think the great thing about working with Jisc is that, as learning analytics is not a mature subject, it's not something that everyone has an answer to and Jisc is helping the sector explore and put in place solutions that work for the sector.
So, instead of going to a commercial company and buying a solution, I'm going to experts who know about education and who are trying to develop something that is of benefit to the sector and are interested in a two-way process of learning.
The university is learning through the process, and I know that the Jisc team are interested in that and take that on board - they are working hard to make this a solution that will work for me.
As we're a relatively small IT department, there's a lot of experience at Jisc that I can tap into in terms of ways to manage the data and build the system, so it's all a very positive experience."
Jamie Smith, director of strategy and infrastructure, South Staffordshire College.
Jamie features in our report breaking through: stories of effective digital practice from UK further education (FE) and skills, published September 2018.
"I’m not a technology evangelist, I’m a people evangelist. The strategy across all our operations is 'digital by default'. We pick and choose the technologies we adopt very carefully and any technology must be simple to use and make life better. Our mission is about transforming the life chances of the communities we serve, and to support this any technology must meet those two criteria.
"Out of the thousands of apps available to all of us, most people will only have about ten on their phone or tablet that they use regularly. They’ll have chosen those because they do something really helpful and they are easy to use. That kind of technology is the only kind I’m interested in because it will have an impact.
"Before I back any new technology I have to be assured that it’s simple to use and makes life and work better for people."
Daniel Norton, data quality and statutory returns officer, University of Leicester.
Daniel was involved in the first wave of Jisc Analytics Labs teams, a community-led initiative building interactive dashboards for data-derived insights. In 2016 Analytics Labs engaged 80 staff from 51 universities producing a wide range of innovative interactive dashboards.
“It’s my job as an analyst to look at data and use it to help my institution grow and strengthen. Jisc’s Labs project offered a great opportunity to work with new tools and data. I jumped at the chance.
Collaborating with people across different institutions and roles, we created dashboards to analyse data, first comparing similar institutions and then looking at research data: the volume and sources of research income and how that compared to numbers of staff undertaking research – the kind of information that would help someone managing research understand how big the pot of money for research is and where they and other institutions are getting it. The sort of tool that would be useful for institutions, regardless of their size or research area, to help them to understand how they are positioned.
It was an absolutely brilliant process to be involved in. It was exciting to be working together in an agile way to deliver a prototype in four working days. It’s incredible how fast you can do stuff in a great team, with the right mindset and methodology.”
Ross Anderson, e-learning ambassador, North Lindsey College.
Ross and North Lindsey College students used the Jisc student digital experience tracker: a tool for surveying and understanding students’ expectations and experiences of technology.
“We really value our students’ opinions and we’re constantly talking to them. We’ve had more conversations recently with the help of Jisc. Using the student digital experience tracker was a really interesting approach for us because it gave us in-depth feedback on what the students were thinking. It’s a great starting point for conversations.
We discovered that students’ access to mobile and digital devices was below the national average, so we’ve been able to provide more access to those devices at college, which has made a big difference.
The feedback I get from staff is how interested and engaged students have been while using particular pieces of technology, which gives me a great deal of satisfaction. It’s always really difficult to show directly the impact of technology on teaching and learning. However, we’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of students who are talking about technology, that are using technology, and that, ultimately, has an impact on how the students succeed.”