#digifest14 – What happens next?

The closing speech at #digifest14 was by Ray Hammond, a self-styled futurologist. These are my notes, more details can be found on the Jisc website.


Hammond suggests that we have no language for the future, that the lack of language may inhibit our thinking, for instance the idea of a “mobile phone” does not begin to describe what such a device does today. It is also not useful in explaining future of where the device is going and blinkers us to what it might become. Lack of language makes it difficult for us when new technology arrives. We might have a word but no shared mental model. How can we best exploit a technology? What are downsides?  A lack of common language means we cannot understand implications

Today our lives are mediated by technology. Future of education will be shaped by technology but does not take away human component. For instance we are now building an “always on” network. Form of connectiveness that can’t be described easily, so what is this digitally connected place?

Hammond proposed 6 drivers of change

1. In our students’ lifetime there will asymmetric population growth. Most in sub Saharan Africa. Another 50% of people will need fresh water and food.

2. Continuing climate change.

3. Ongoing energy crisis. Because of population  growth and greenhouse effect. Need cleaner and more sustainable energy when demand could increase by 100%

4. Continuing modem globalisation. Truth lies between between 2 poles of viewing globalisation as evil or as an opportunity for unfettered capitalism. Globalisation if ethical and sustainable is greatest force for good.

5. Triple medical science revolutions: DNA decoding and profiling; stem cell medicine and nano scale medicine, eg drug delivery. This could lead to personalised medicine, and increasing lifespans for those in the rich world and who could afford. Who wants to live forever?

6. Accelerating exponentially technology development. Causes dislocation and problems with understanding. For example,  kids who  want to build apps. 6 years ago they didn’t exist! (or at least the term didn’t).  What will we be talking about in 5 years?


I’m not sure these ideas were revolutionary – I remember having conversations in the 1980s about teh challenges of population growth and food and water security.

But there is no denying, the rate of technology change is accelerating in a non linear manner.

4 years ago no-one had an iPad, and no-one could have described how they might use one. To find out how long iPads have been around, I spoke to my iPad, and Siri told me the answer.


At this conference nearly everyone was using a mobile keyboard-less, wireless device to take notes, photographs, share messages, collaborate, engage in debate, contribute, check references, read, listen, etc.

Here’s my prediction. In 10 years we won’t be carrying a recognisable tablet computer. If I knew what we would be using, I’d be working somewhere else.

So what does this all mean for us in higher education?

A later blog post will return to the ideas of #digifest14, and try to create a manifesto for change for a university, which considers all the disparate developments in a digital world: in business intelligence; in learning and teaching; in the ideas of hackerspace and skunkworks; in responding to changing student needs and expectations; changed student populations; in changing staff abilities and identities and finding a way of encompassing this at the heart of an organisation

I’ll tell you something else about this future – it’s a going to be lot more than buying and installing a few new components for a VLE or a student information system.

Hang on, it’s going to be a fun ride.

Digital Environments and Identity

This blog piece is based on 2 of the workshops at #digifest14, “Understanding students’ expectations and experiences of the digital environment” and “Visitors and residents: understanding student behaviours online”.

The first of these looked at previous Jisc supported work and started with a review of expectations and experiences which recognised the need to differentiate between general digital environment and study environment and digital aspects

Today students’ transactional needs include hygiene factors such as wifi.

Students have vague or blurry expectations of how they will learn with technology

Younger students expect technology to be frictionless. Many uni systems are quite chunky in comparison.


The workshop focussed on:

  • Can institution meets students rising expectations of digital access and use?
  • Do your students learning experiences prepare them to live and work in a digital society?
  • It’s 2020. How will students experience digital environment?

More detail on this can be found at the digital student blog and design studio pages.

The second workshop looked at ideas of digital identity, and how students and staff might behave online. The starting point was Prensky’s idea of digital natives and immigrants. This has been superseded in the intervening years, since Prensky differentiated by generation, suggesting that the young were digital natives. In this newer approach, David White of Oxford University suggests the terms resident and visitor, and further separates behaviours depending on whether they are professional/institutional or personal.


As an exercise we each mapped our digital identity using referring to each of our online presences. An interesting issue arose – if a service such as Twitter is used and is just professional, how much can be personal? Is there an advantage in revealing something of yourself as an individual as part of the need for authenticity, especially for leaders (see Goffee and Jones – “Why Should Anyone be Led by You?”).


These were  a pair of really interesting workshops – and thinking back to my blog post on the need to put “digital” at the centre of what we do, they give us some tools to understand what our students expect and experience, and what we might need to do when looking at our own digital competence and identity



Digifest 14 – Keynotes

This year, JISC ran its annual event as a festival, rather than as a conventional conference, which meant lots of great branding and ideas that we could translate into some of our events in Staff Fest. This blog piece picks out some of the highlights from the main keynote sessions of Digifest 14.


Introducing day 1 was  Martin Harrow (Chief exec Jisc) who introduced us to exploiting potential of technology. Crucially, Jisc has been re-organised and is now more able to deliver its role better and at lower cost, recognising that in a fast moving digital world, the digital future is bigger than the digital past.

Diana Oblinger of Educause

The first keynote was by Diana Oblinger of Educause, and the talk can be seen here.

Why are we still talking about digital?

Why is digital a bolt-on rather than designed digital?

What would a true digital experience be for a student?

How do we translate from commercial space into education?

Being digital is not just about a PVC with an iPad instead of a piece of paper. (this is a quote, I didn’t make this up!)

Digital changes the nature of work, changes our society and is about man and machine working together.


Demographics drive new consumption patterns- in USA 82% students combine college and work. Students now come from non-traditional minorities or are first generation and unprepared for college, or have significant financial needs.

The changes lead to change in what we need from education.

There are 3 areas where we can add expertise

  • Engagement
  • Empowerment
  • Alternative models

 Engagement. Leads to more learning. Most powerful if face to face, but what if we used the best that technology can offer? Could be immersive and collaborative.

Higher order learning comes from complex challenges. Eg gamification. And students seek to want more of this!

Practice helps develop expertise and also generates data. With massive amounts of data patterns emerge that could lead to personalisation and adaptive learning systems

Empowerment. Lots of information is available but how do we empower students who don’t have this already in their heads. Must remember all students are different.

internal bars

external bars

Students need help with complex lives. Could developsStudent success plan with counseling and intervention software by drawing  all data together and creating early alert programs. Students are often unaware that their success is at risk, which could justify intrusive advising using predictive analytics and intervention

Too much choice can be enemy of student success. Students might choose courses they are not prepared for. we could use software to provide better informed module choices based on individual prior results etc and providing clearer pathways to graduation. This may be more suited to the North American system where a student may choose a major after 2 years of study.

Alternative models – Education is a tightly interconnected interdependent system. Eg market, mission and margin and changing any one will impact on the others. We live in a course rich world eg MOOCs. Credentialing MOOCs will change their the value proposition. Customers who are over-served may seek a  proposition that reflects their needs,  ie they are not after the same experience as before. In the US there is increasing assessment of  about competences now instead of credit hours, however IT systems are not set up to deal with this. Time is an opportunity cost for students which may drive changes to delivery systems. But if a student never goes to campus, how do you provide student support?

This talk finished with three questions:

  • What will it take to exceed expectations in digital world?
  • Do we have capabilities required to deliver value from IT?
  • How can we optimize education for a digital future?

Not unlike a TED talk, but a great start.

Paul Curran of City University London

The VC of City talked about aligning university and IT strategy. The issues at City are similar to many others.

Staff and students needs and competences are changing.

City are aspiring of be in top 2% unis in world and so are investing in people, IT and estate. They have decided that some IT to be sector leading and some sector average.

Previously had a devolved cottage industry approach to IT so now had to align IT with strategic plan so that it was more responsive to student needs. The university bought into Moodle, Office365 and Sharepoint. These became core products

They are now spending less on IT with fewer staff but with more junior staff who can relate to students. At the same time they enhanced the skills of IT support staff.

In 2013-14 introduced a uni wide module evaluation system to collect student feedback and provide management reports.

Have provided Easy access to student records for staff, including student performance and metrics. All solutions are scalable to operate on different devices.

Challenges for staff were identified – for academic staff this was around developing ability to move between digital and real world. For  IT staff it was about relationship management, system integration and training.


Two very different keynote addresses, ranging from the inspirational TED style approach of asking lots of challenging questions, and the more prosaic, but hugely important explanation of why IT strategy needs to be aligned with overall strategy.

The message for me is this:

Our future is digital. It will be central to everything that we do, and the winners will be those who understand the changing needs and nature of students, and who can design their systems and change the skill base of their staff to respond. Putting this at the heart of a business is key.



Teaching and Learning on the Campus of Tomorrow

As Staffordshire University, and plenty of other institutions, press ahead with estates plans to redevelop their physical estate, this seems  a good time to take stock of what a university of the future might look like.

There have been plenty of apocalyptic visions of the future- for instance “An Avalanche is Coming“, the prediction of only a small number of universities existing world wide and all the predictions of technology led disruptions. Many of these have previously been reported on, dismissively, on this blog.

This article tries to look at some recent publications and ideas, and then links these to what the student of the future might look like, , how that student might want to learn in future, what this means for how we teach and what it means for campuses.

Since the beginning of universities, we have operated on the principle of “the sage on the stage”, and despite increases in student centred learning, small group working etc, this model is still prevalent and in part drives the way in which we timetable teaching and interactions between staff and students and our buildings. Thre’s not a huge difference between the 14th Century and the 21st, as these pictures show:


(from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001.jpg)


(from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Debconf5_lecture.jpg)

Universities of The Future – some scenarios

A recent publication “Living and Learning in 2034, A Higher Education Futures Project” by University Alliance and Unite Group looks at a possibly dystopian future for HE and what students of the future might want. Since Unite are a property services company, who provide student accommodation, clearly they have a significant interest in how students will study in future.

This publication tries to carry out some scenario planning 20 years into the future, and identifies 10 trends to shape learning in the UK:

A shift in the global economy
Continued to change to public funding for HE
Demographic Change
Ongoing impacts of the financial crisis
stakeholder expectations
Technological Change
Access to information
Climate change
Megacities and local communities

A range of universities is proposed in the report as follows:

unite - ecosystem


Any university be able to look at his and decide which sectors they can see themselves operating in.

Four scenarios are proposed for the future, with ideas about the implications for future living and learning: (all taken from report, not modified)

Scenario One: Living WellReturn to economic growth and collaborative society UK industry is world-leading.• Careers may be considered early on in life, but with a broader scope of flexibility and innovation.• Employers form long-term relationships with universities and seek graduates with many skills and qualifications.

• University seen as a necessary rite of passage to create innovative and collaborative graduates.

• Students have room to explore, but not to be complacent. They look for productive spaces and convenience so they are not bogged down by irrelevant issues.

• Accommodation is energy efficient as a matter of course. It is also expected to include a full range of digital connectivity.

There are many opportunities for both students and academics to collaborate internationally with other institutions.

• Overseas student numbers have increased, keen on physically attending UK universities in order to capitalise on a wealth of opportunities and connections.

• Postgraduate enrolment becomes the norm an increases significantly.

Scenario Two: Community CentreSustained Economic Stagnation and Collaborative Society Learning is rationed and the need to keep costs down is key, while meeting economic priorities.• Part-time learning combined with employment becomes a norm.• Full-time students do not expect to be guaranteed accommodation and more will be living at home to manage costs.

• Students will seek new ways to find success. Social entrepreneurial spirit becomes more of a norm and community initiatives allow many of these ideas to thrive.

UK businesses still have skills, expertise and relationships, but they have become nervous and risk averse. However they play a big role

in working with government to determine the type of skills needed in the economy.

• Unemployment has risen, but so has voluntarism. Communities are strong and people get involved in a wide range of local projects. Local initiatives such as trading schemes, co-operatives and credit unions are on the rise.

• Government has limited funds to invest in infrastructure and cities are suffering as a result.

• Public skills development programmes are popular but there aren’t enough jobs. The most talented choose to leave the UK to find work.

• Full-time student numbers are lower, but significant numbers still study.

• The student accommodation market is changing and the wise players

diversified a decade ago to take advantage of a broader range of market opportunities.

Scenario Three: Digital IslandsStagnating economy and competitive society Students will look to local universities for cost-effective training toward a chosen career. Expectations are for a quick turnaround, with more full-time degrees being delivered in 18 months.• The ‘student experience’ is utilitarian. Students are seeking a route to employment and they engage in activities with direct and tangible benefits.• Inequality between those in ‘elite’ institutions and those in local universities is pronounced. There are fewer universities; many institutions have merged.

• Curricula have narrowed and there is less scope for non-applied subjects. Full-time degrees are delivered in 18 months.

• There is little optimism in Britain. Personal debt has increased, pensions have decreased and jobs are not well paid. Britain’s industrial base is significantly weakened.

• Consumer choice is driven by necessity and price. Consumption is efficient.

• Business is short-termist. Training and education are regarded as a cost rather than an investment. There is little or no innovation.

• HE’s purpose is training for employment. Local employers commission courses from FE/HE partnerships according to workforce needs.

• Students from the cities favour going to their local universities and demand for accommodation has fallen.

• Postgraduate education has declined.

• There is little differentiation of accommodation by quality or service; basic property management is all that is required to be a provider.

• Uncertainty and reactivity can create fluctuations in student numbers

year on year. As such, successful accommodation providers have the flexibility to expand or reduce capacity as required.

Scenario Four: Whatiwant.comGrowing economy and a competitive society Students demand many different ways to interact and meet their learning needs.• Specialisation is common, but with individual student interests in mind.• Education is part of a much bigger picture for many students. The old accusations of lazy students are practically forgotten now. Total

downtime is rare and most activities have good reason and vested interests behind them.

• Digital technologies are integrated into everyday life. Fast and reliable access is taken for granted.

• All-in-one packages with inclusive services are favoured to help save both time and money.

• Students are keen to find the best experience and quality of teaching possible. Some are willing to pay more if they consider it a useful investment for their future.

• Accommodation varies in price, but is always well serviced. For those who can afford it, exclusive features and luxury space can be purchased at a premium.

From this kind of scenario planning, and linking this to what we actually know about our economy and institution, we can start to consider what we need to offer in terns of learning and teaching in the future – proactively developing our offer.

Learning and Teaching of Tomorrow

We already seen the reports from Graham Gibbs and many others saying that the lecture s dead. We’ve also read the predictions that MOOCs will change the world as we know it.

Thankfully there’s been a move away from the hyperbolic or hysterical news stories in recent months, with a more measured understanding appearing of how we can use technology and adapt learning and teaching practice to provide better outcomes.

In this article from InsideHigherEd, by Pamela Barnett, a critique is given of teh current trend for the “flipped classroom” and an explanation of why some lectures are still needed, but that an approach that she describes as “scrambled” is the most apprpriate. I think many of this will recognse this as “blended learning”, so nothing necessarily new, but its useful to see a clear critique of the flipped classroom concept, which is as rigidly defined as teh old didactic model.

Even Anant Agarwal (founder of EdX) acknowledges in this TED talk of the real benefit of using a MOOC to support blended learning (and in doing so identifies a possible revenue stream). He rightly recognises the need for us to understand the technological savvy of our students and a need for us to embrace this and to ensure learning is embedded through technology in students’ lives. Agarwal talks of re-imagining education, moving away from lecture theatres, to e-spaces, t using tablets, moving away from actual dormitories to digital dormitories.

Possible Impacts for Us

In a MOOC that I took on Surviving Disruptive Technologies, I looked at the near term future of a university and the impact that the use of educational technology, including MOOCs would have. I considered the type of students we might recruit in the future, how they may not want to bear the cost of studying on campus for three years and how this would affect estates, technology etc.(A copy of my assigner is available on request!)

When I look at my ideas again, in the light of the scenarios presented by University Alliance and Unite Group, and the ability for technology to lay a major part n how we deliver education of the future, I would suggest the following:

  • We identify what kind of university we want to be, and how in each of the scenarios we would need to operate.The potential change is much broader than the change to learning and teaching practice. It could have an impact on the patterns of learning that students engage with, and this would have a dramatic effect on the shape of a future campus. This goes beyond teaching accommodation. What do we need to do about student residence? Sports? Social facilities? Staff offices?
  • We look at the ways in which we plan to deliver learning and teaching in 5 years time, supported by technology, and in response to the possible kinds of students we will attract
  • We understand how we need to change and stop some of our current learning and teaching practices
  • We consider what the University should physically look like in the future.

This has been a bit of a future-gazing article. I don;t pretend to have the answers, but I’ll be working with my networks in the University and outside to start thinking of ways to develop some of this thinking. My first action is a now regular meeting with the Deputy Director in Information Services where we will be assessing the impact of new and near to market technologies to support learning and teaching.