Over the years, I have followed Jisc’s Digifest with interest, whether it was online via SecondLife, or, more recently, via Twitter, blogs posts and all the other social media my contacts and I both use – no doubt I missed a lot from those SM channels I’m not active in.
This year, however, I got to go.

One key theme was the importance of developing digital capabilities of staff, something that has always seemed obvious to me. The first session I went to very much focussed on developing staff; Ross Anderson from North Lindsey College introduced us to the digital strategy they have. Next up were Fiona Handley and Fiona McNeill from Brighton looking primarily at the core literacies their staff need (and how they have changed over the last few years). Finally, Elaine Swift from Nottingham Trent looked at how they tied developing digital capabilities alongside the introduction of a new curriculum.

All of them highlighted the importance of anchoring the digital practice in the needs of the individual, and, individuals being different, meant that different users have different needs.

Geoff Mulgan’s plenary looked at both the promise of the future, but also the pitfalls inherent in current developments. One item that was particularly interesting was a Chinese University that spent at least half their time getting students to look at real problems, and how to solve them. A world away from the stereotyped view of Chinese education that pervades the UK.

The final session of the day was a debate, “Is digital technology fundamentally changing learning and teaching in HE” – when both sides presented their cases passionately. (I do love a good debate, even if the speakers don’t necessarily believe in the viewpoint they’re presenting – as it’s good to see things from all sides). I felt the overall view of the audience was, changing, yes, fundamentally, no.

View from the hotel.

Day 2 dawned – and it was a beautifully sunny day. Inside, the first debate was looking at learning analytics – should they be mediated by a human. So, the fact of LA was established, it was the level of human intervention that was being discussed. It made it useful, as often it’s LA vs no-LA that gets discussed. However, the tweets from the parallel session by Eric Stoller were tempting.

Dundee and Angus college’s Learning Lab sounded wonderful – I’d definitely like to see it, as they may have things that we could use in the some of the new areas of the library.

I was looking forward to the “What does a next gen learning environment look like” – the focus from both Elizabeth Ellis from the OU, and Ange Fitzpatrick from Cambridge’s Business School, was that today’s “tomorrow” needs to include 5 years down the line, that it’s important to consider pedagogy, and student preferences, rather than the “shiny” – and today’s VLEs are often repository of times gone by. Whatever comes in the future needs to not replicate that. Libraries are good for that!

Jonathan Capes presented the Historical Texts visualisation search tool – I love it! It reminded me a little of tools like TouchGraph. Will be wonderful to see it moving to other subject areas.

In the last session, students and staff talked about their experiences of having participated in JISC’s Student Digital Experience Tracker.  They’d used it in different ways, however, the overriding view was that students had a wealth of experience of what worked for them individually, but they still valued the support and guidance they got on how to use particular tools – for some, that would be from staff, others preferred student mentors. Many of the comments, though, brought the first sessions I attended very much to the fore; staff need to be able to learn how to use technology, but it needs to be a flexible learning so they can adapt as things change, not a “how to” training.

It was a very worthwhile time, I missed so many fascinating sounding sessions, but at least they’re available online. I ran into people I’ve met at other conferences – unfortunately, no-one from Portsmouth was there, but I also got to meet new people, which is always useful.

I’d like to go again – probably getting back into presenting at conferences like this.

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