UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities – part three!

Final post on last week’s UCISA event! Phew! 🙂 It must be said that there were lots of interesting sessions that I haven’t recapped, but that these were the ones that resonated the most with me for one reason or another. Though Helen Keegan’s presentation on learning motivations, curiosity and intrigue and alternative reality in teaching at Salford University was BRILLIANT – I may blog about that another time. Dave Callahan from Edge Hill is organising a crowdsourced recap of the event here too (good idea!)

Digital Literacy at the University of Winchester

Rebecca JS Nice, Student Fellow and Graduating University of Winchester student

Amy Barlow, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning


Rebecca is a mature student who returned to education feeling that she might be behind some of her peers in terms of digital skills (which ended up being far from the truth!). She bought an iPad prior to starting her course, and had a very determined attitude to developing her digital skills – but was disappointed with how technology was used on her course. Her expectation of how higher education would be delivered didn’t match the reality.

Rebecca got involved as a Student Fellow – Winchester have up to 60 of these students who work on research in peer groups or are partnered with academic staff to work on projects relating to developing the student experience. I was really impressed with the Student Fellow programme, and the ways in which Winchester had targeted particular aspects of curriculum delivery and the student experience. Some of the areas that have been investigated by Student Fellows include:

  • Methods of assessment and feedback
  • Student engagement
  • Curriculum design
  • Technology enhanced learning
  • Access to resources

Student Fellows have also been consulted as part of the course revalidation process – many Winchester courses have been found by students to have unexplored technological opportunities, something their TEL team are keen to address. Amy made a great point that many students have considerable experience of sharing digital skills with both their peers and their family. This is part of the way in which many of us learn about technology today, and we shouldn’t be wary about leveraging that experience of our students (and staff) and making the most of it. Student Fellows have been involved in projects where academic staff have been given new technology such as iPads, and the Fellows have worked alongside them to help them learn to use the devices, and to identify ways in which they could be used in the curriculum. I can imagine this being a really effective approach!

Rebecca also spoke a little bit about her work on her course. She had identified that creating an online professional identity and engaging in blogging and tweeting could have real employability benefits for her, and that she had opportunities to engage effectively as a pratitioner before she had completed her studies. She saw an opportunity to use her final year project as a portfolio for her skills, and chose to use a blog and Pinterest to create the project. This was viewed as a risk by her tutor, something she admits worked in her favour as it was judged to be a risk that paid off when it worked out so well! Still, I think it’s telling that using pretty mainstream digital platforms should be judged as risky from an academic point of view. Rebecca noted that she didn’t expect technical guidance from academics, but wanted encouragement and reassurance to try challenging things and to develop new skills.

I should mention that there was another good talk on using students as digital change agents/champions from the University of Southampton (Innovation and Digital Literacies Champions (iChamps) presented by Tamsyn Smith and Anna Ruff).

Southampton’s iChamps work with academics to develop the digital literacies of students and staff, and identify new technological opportunities in the curriculum. They run workshops and regular iPad Coffee Clubs, which sounded like a popular concept. More info here:

Southampton iChamps programme

You can find out more about what’s going on at Southampton via their Digital Literacies page and @SotonDiglit. Southampton are looking at ways in which partipating as an iChamp can be validated, possibly by linking it with existing extra-curricular awards programmes. Lancaster has its’ Lancaster Award – maybe a Digital Champion role is something that could be linked to the award in future?

Learning Analytics for Digital Skills

Niall Sclater, Jisc


Implementing Learning Analytics at NTU

Mike Day, Director of Information Systems, Nottingham Trent University


These two talks looked at Learner Analytics. Jisc officially launched their new Code of Practice for Learning Analytics with Niall’s talk. The Code covers issues relating to the use of LA including:

  1. Responsibility
  2. Transparency and Consent
  3. Privacy
  4. Validity
  5. Access
  6. Enabling positive interventions
  7. Minimising adverse impacts
  8. Stewardship of data

Niall also gave us a peek at a Jisc Learning Analytics platform (‘a basic learning analytics ‘freemium’ solution’) which will be made available to institutions in future. Following on from this Mike Day spoke about NTU’s implementation of a Learning Analytics platform. This was uncharted waters for them, but they had a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve. They negotiated with a range of suppliers (many of whom were new to this kind of system as well), until they found one ‘just right’. They are using StREAM from Solutionpath.

StREAM pulls data from their student records system, attendance swipe system, VLE, Library systems and more and puts this data into a dashboard for academic and support staff. Students are given an “engagement level” based on this data. A lot of detailed work went into what exactly defines the engagement level, I probably can’t do it justice here. Here’s a video overview:

Essentially, what Mike said their system does is flag up when it might be time for a chat (what a great way of summing it up!). They’ve done some work to show how the engagement level is a real predictor for students failing modules or leaving their course – anything that prompts that conversation perhaps a few weeks before it’s too late, can make a real difference.

These were both really interesting talks, and while there were a few very valid concerns raised around data, privacy and transparency during the Q&A at the end of Niall’s talk, I think everyone could see the real tangible benefits that an effective Learning Analytics system could bring thanks to the example from NTU.

Dealing with Innovation

Christine Sexton, Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services, University of Sheffield

Martin Hamilton, Futurist, Jisc


Bringing the event to a close was a joint presentation from Christine and Martin on how university services can enable their staff to be innovative, and some observations of technologies and digital behaviours on the horizon. Christine started by exploring (and maybe debunking) the idea that university services have two roles, one of “keeping the lights on” and a “lesser” role of driving development through innovative projects.  She suggested that “keeping the lights on” is a hugely complex task, and normally one that involves a fair bit of innovation. It’s not fair to say that we “can’t” engage in innovative practice due to the pressures of our “core” services because a) we’re probably already being innovative in some ways and b) we’re selling ourselves short.

I wasn’t familiar with the Bimodal IT concept referenced by Christine, now that I’ve had a bit of a chance to look it up it certainly seems to be contentious! But I can certainly see the value in trying to address how departments and teams can engage in both their day-to-day activity, and the work that drives the service in new directions. Some really good examples from Christine of innovative student led IT projects at Sheffield, and it was nice of her to highlight Lancaster’s Minecraft campus too!

Martin recapped the conference for us through the medium of tweets. He also shared his recent lifelogging and discussed some of the potential challenges that might emerge as wearable technology becomes more mainstream.

Right, that’s it for my frantic recapping! Sarah Davies from Jisc has written her own blog post on the event which is well worth reading, and you can revisit all the tweets from the event using the hashtag #udigcap. Gaz Duncan took some great photos of the event, which you can check out on his Flickr (lovely fellow too).

Final thing to mention is that we can expect the loan of a glittering award to the Lancaster University Library offices at some point, as a team containing Lancaster delegates triumphed in the evening’s trivia quiz. I don’t know where the box of chocolates ended up but I do know that we have this priceless trophy in our possession (somewhere on campus).

Overall this was a great event, big thanks to all the organisers and speakers, as well as the University of Salford and Media City for providing a great venue.


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