Thursday, 17 March 2011

JISC Conference 2011 - part 1

I was very pleased to be able to attend the full day of JISC11 this week as it was in Liverpool so very handy for me. I've never been to the BT Convention centre before and I have to say it's vast. As a lady I was speaking to said "it's a barn, a very nice barn but a barn" and it was. Lots of space and lots of stewards around to help you if you got lost.

So having found my bearings and coffee I sat down to connect to the wireless and get myself ready for the day. I know some people had problems connecting to the wireless but I have to say it worked fine on my netbook (although I couldn't get it to work on my phone), which was a relief as I wanted to follow Twitter as well as use Evernote for my notes.

The opening address was given my David Baker and he talked about financial challenges and digital opportunities, which was the theme of the conference. David talked about the role of JISC and said they needed help education leaders look to technology to increase efficiency and cut costs. He also talked about the HEFCE review of JISC. A key outcome of this was about JISC centrality - it is seen as playing a "pivotal role in the UK as an enabler of innovation and early and widespread adoption of ICT" (Review Report, #3). You can view the key recommendations in the report but what JISC needs to do now is to consider it's role and purpose over the next 5-10 years. You can comment on the recommendations here. David outlined 4 commitments and objectives:
  • Delivering a world class national infrastructure

  • Providing value and valuable services

  • Innovating through programs and projects

  • Supporting take-up and embedding good practice across the sector

He then introduced Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol who delivered the keynote.

He looked at the historical perspective - since 1820 there has been a steady increase in the number of chartered universities. He argued that education in the 60s and 70s wasn't free - more tax was paid so education was paid for by increased tax. Now we pay less tax but we have more students. Values and ambitions are unchanged and we need to retain our values in the face of change. There is now a paradigm shift in how HE is funded, a move from funding from the state to funding of and by the individual loan. It becomes consumer led - the student decides where they want to put the money. Now we cannot predict that the same number of students will choose our university as they did last year - so we can't predict the income they will bring to us. There is also the problem of the income gap - the universities financial years don't coincide with the government financial years.

He stated that the additional fees are not additional income but it is percieved that way - we are still working with the same amount of money but is there a perception that we should be providing more because we are now charging higher fees?

What are the challenges to increased fees?

  • Will if put people off coming to university?

  • Pricing - students will look for value for money - charging the most doesn't necessarily mean it's the best

  • Widening participation - there are unknown targets for this

  • Marked increase in students and paretns expectations - "I'm paying for this"- but we aren't geting any more money

We are living in a chaotic environment, predictability has disappeared and so we can end up with very different outcomes.

What makes you stronger to face this:

  • Turnover and size

  • Population centre - more students will go to their local university

  • Highly sought after

  • Location

  • Excellent staff and excellent students

  • Student union working with you not in conflict

  • Being financially robust

  • Governing body - that works well with you, challenging the executive of the university but also assisting to meet those challenges

Prof Thomas argued that the sector will have to diversify nad how to look at how you make your university attractive to your natural consituency. This keynote provoke a lot of comments on Twitter (despite the connection problems) with some agreement and some disagreement and it was interesting to tune into that whilst listening to Prof Thomas.

After more coffee and lovely biscuits it was time for the first parallel session. I attended "Using digital media to improve teaching and learning" - there were three presenters Doug Belshaw, Zak Mensah and Jane Williams. Doug was up first and he talked about what we mean by "attendance" - there are 3 approaches to this:

  • attention based definition - applying your mind or energies to something

  • service based definition - very much the lecture format, "I am the expert and you must attend and listen to me"

  • community based definition - action of coming together whether in the real or virtual world

Doug argued that the best approach was attention and community, he then whizzed through a few examples of this, which are in his presentation. He argued that "teachers than can be replaced by technology should be" - learning with digital media is different, it's not just about sticking something you already do in the VLE. Need to think more in terms of eco systems - you have our learning materials with you all the time - the smartphone has seen to that. He pointed to a couple of JISC guides that I need to investigate further myself (links below)

Another thing to check out is John Hattie's Table of Effect Sizes - Hattie says "effect sizes" are the best way of answering the question "what has the greatest influence on student learning?"

And something that is currently being worked on and will be launched at ALT-C 2011 is "Emerging Practice in the Digital Age" - with that Doug handed over to Zak who is E-learning officer in JISC Digital Media. He said digital media can be daunting, some types of media have so many different formats how do you know what is right for you? Zak argued that using workflows allows you to identify the best format for what you are trying to acheive. So why focus on digital media? Because it's:

  • flexible - you can use it for policy guides, marketing, teaching and learning and support
  • scalable - in terms of media but also in terms of audience and delivery - there are lots of opportunities for people to use digital media in their courses
  • affordable - use students in an engaging way to produce digital materials
  • measurable - you can track views on Blackboard for example and use that to improve your usage - if it's not being used ask why?

Finally Jane Williams from University of Bristol gave some fab examples of digital media in use in teaching and learning. Students go to clinical academies as part of their course, they were getting a different experience depending on the academy. Using digital media allows them to get a level playing field. It gives a consistent approach for all students. I liked the interactive video, which runs with a bit of content and then asks you a question and you can't progress to the next bit until you get that question right. This is something that could be transfered into other disciplines. Many of these resources were created by students not staff. Involving students in digital resource creation is productive learning, it also keeps materials fresh and you can experiment with new technology. With this type of resource you are looking at quality content rather than quality production.

Very good and interesting session with lots to take away and think about and explore. Then it was time for lunch, which was very nice but hard to eat standing up - involved a bit of juggling as there were not enough seats for everyone, but I guess that is often the way with conferences. Nice chocolate cake though. More about the afternoon in part 2.

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