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.