Thursday, 8 March 2018

Digifest 2018 highlights

I've just got back from a trip to Birmingham for Jisc's Digifest 2018, two days of ed-tech talk and exhibitions at the International Conference Centre.

The conference started with an impressive demonstration of the Janet Network, with a live orchestra on stage joined virtually by a projected video stream of an accompanying trio in Edinburgh. Jisc chief executive Paul Feldman opened proceedings, before introducing National Union of Students president Shakira Martin. Shakira gave an impassioned call-to-arms on how technology should remove barriers for students, but not be seen as a replacement for face-to-face studies, and ended with the message that we need an education system that's adaptable and flexible for all students, no matter their background.

In the first session I attended, ALT's Maren Deepwell spoke of development of CMALT, which included two new pathways being piloted for new career staff and managers, and emphasis on the scheme mapping onto other professional qualifications such as UKPSF. She was joined by Edinburgh's Susan Greig, who spoke of a 'Zumba class' approach to CMALT, that is peer support (and peer pressure) to complete CMALT in small cohorts.

This was followed by a session by Jonathan Rhodes, Gemma Wilton and Elnora Marston of Wolverhampton, who gave details of their SEDA- and HEA-accredited courses, 'Learning to Tutor Online' and 'Digital Transformations'. It was emphasised that these courses, delivered on the university's VLE, would give teachers a vital experience of being a student which would influence their own practice - as pointed out: "You can't learn to swim by watching YouTube videos".

A lightning session by Sarah Fielding and Anna Ruff of the University of Southampton gave details of their institution's VLE award schemes, which sounded like an excellent way to reward staff for creating quality learning materials online. The system allows students to nominate courses they feel have been excellent in their online delivery, and staff to nominate themselves for courses they are particularly proud of.

Jisc's Chris Thomson and Sheffield Hallam's Liz Austen delivered a great workshop on 'Going dragon-hunting' - using digital storytelling in higher education. Liz told of how getting students to use Adobe Spark to tell their stories visually allowed the voices of "hard-to-reach" groups of learners to be heard.

Paul Waterworth of Calderdale College gave a talk on TEL's role in supporting students with mental health difficulties. While acknowledging technology such as social media can have a negative impact on mental health, and screen use can lead to insomnia, technology has a role to play in helping students. This includes apps for help for anxiety, such as Elefriends and Anxious Minds, mindfulness apps such as Calm, Wellmind and Happier, and mental health awareness apps such as PTSD Coach and RCPsych.

Jisc's Andy McGregor led a session introducing the 'Co-design Playdeck', a set of cards (inspired by Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies cards) that give strategies for collaborative innovation. The cards give a series of techniques for understanding, imagining and building a project, and provides a simple way to break down the practicalities and process of making an idea into a reality. A really useful tool - the printable 'Playbook' version can be found here.

Sadly I missed the final keynote, which was a talk on VR/AR in medical education by Shafi Ahmed, but the Twitter responses suggest I missed out on a great presentation!

A great couple of days in Birmingham, with some great examples of digital innovation in the sector.

Pete Mella.

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