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The large lecture (theatre) is dead… - Professor Alejandro Armellini

By from Jisc news. Published on Jan 10, 2018.

The University of Northampton is putting active blended learning at the heart of its teaching – to the extent that its purpose-built Waterside campus will have no large lecture theatres at all when it opens next year. In this Q&A, its dean of learning and teaching, Professor Alejandro Armellini, explains the thinking behind this radical move and the benefits of taking an active blended learning approach.

Professor Alejandro Armellini

What’s wrong with the lecture?

We may need to qualify the term lecture. What’s wrong with the broadcast lecture? Probably what’s wrong is the understanding that “same place same time” seems to be equated with quality.

That clearly is not the case with lectures, particularly with broadcast lectures, when one single person is delivering information to a large group of people with hardly any interaction. If we look at National Union of Students (NUS) reports over the years, the students’ criticism of lectures is consistent: should a broadcast lecture count as contact time?

My argument is that it shouldn’t, and it should not count towards “teaching intensity” either. In other words, “same place, same time” is not enough to guarantee quality when the so-called teaching method is actually “information delivery”: the notes of one person copied into the notes of 200 people without going through the brains of anyone. That is highly problematic.

How does active blended learning (ABL) fill the gap and how do you define blended learning – how does it differ from flipped learning?

A module or a programme is taught through ABL when it deploys consistent use of student-centred activities that support the development of subject knowledge and understanding, independent learning and digital fluency. 

Our face-to-face teaching at Northampton, for example, is facilitated in a collaborative manner, clearly linked to activity outside the face-to-face classroom, which provides opportunities for developing autonomy, what we call changemaker  attributes, and particularly employability skills. That is our standard definition of ABL.

Note that the traditional view that the blend is a combination of online and face-to-face is pushed to one side. ABL is far more sophisticated, interesting and exciting than a mere combination of face-to-face with online teaching. What matters is high quality teaching and student engagement with that teaching – in and outside the classroom, in a single “blend”.

Our approach has not been taken on the basis of cost. It is not a cost-cutting exercise. It’s a quality enhancement exercise which, by definition, requires teaching in smaller groups. It requires much more in the way of interaction of the three main types: student-student, student-content and student-tutor.

ABL provides a different learning environment where students play an active role and are given the opportunity to engage in a variety of ways in and outside the classroom, in the field, in the lab, in the studio and in the workplace. Those study modes are fully integrated into a proper blend, not different strands of a course running in parallel. The flipped classroom is one element of ABL.

Of course, you can apply the traditional techniques associated with the flipped classroom, as long as it is appropriate for the type of students, the level of the course, the discipline that you’re teaching and the context in which students and tutors operate. The flipped classroom is just one part of a bigger puzzle that contributes to the whole structure of ABL.

[#insertinlinedriver consult#]

So it very much depends on context and learner profile and other elements?

Yes. And there is another variable there, which is the teaching repertoire of a tutor.

Each tutor will have his or her own stance on these techniques and will feel more or less confident to deploy them. It is fine and proper to ensure that the tutor experience is also highlighted. We can fill gaps in our expertise through development and further practice, while ensuring that what we do with students is what is best for them. 

At Northampton you are actually killing off the lecture theatre on the new Waterside development – there will be no large lecture theatres. Can you say a bit more about the plans and the process for that new campus? 

Firstly, the shift to blended learning is not related to the new campus. The shift to ABL was taking place regardless, even before the move to the new campus was firmed up.

Secondly, it is true that the new campus has one “larger” space, which accommodates 80 people. The rest of the spaces are smaller, with an average size of around 40. So over the past three years we have been redesigning our curriculum to ensure that the principles of ABL are followed but also that we review space allocation and timetabling to accommodate the students in smaller teaching rooms, which may require multiple teaching. 

But what happens when we host an open day or a session with a distinguished guest speaker for which we need a larger space? We are minutes away from the centre of town, where we have access to plenty of larger spaces in which those events can take place. We use them regularly. If we had built such large spaces on the campus, we would be encouraging the teaching practices that we want to move away from. So we didn’t.

How are you preparing staff and students for the shift to blended learning?

It is true that when you change a teaching approach you’ve got to work with staff very closely so, on that front, we have a highly structured, very flexible programme of staff development which is called C@N-DO – “Changemaking At  Northampton – Development Opportunities”. That leads to various levels of professional recognition by the Higher Education Academy

Within C@N-DO, we run our course redesign workshop, CAIeRO (also known as Carpe Diem in the literature) – a standard, wellestablished, well-researched approach to course redesign that we have deployed systematically across the board since I joined Northampton five years ago. 

We also have bespoke provision that addresses particular circumstances and needs. One thing is to redesign a Master’s programme that attracts 25 students a year. It is a very different challenge to redesign an entire undergraduate programme that attracts 250 students a year. We need to tailor our staff development programme to ensure that it meets those needs in the context of ABL.

Student representatives are invited to all of our redesign workshops. We have run activities at the students’ union. We have invited students to facilitate C@N-DO workshops with us. They are fully embedded in the process of change and they have been consulted in the process of change. They have expressed their concerns: we have discussed those concerns at multiple levels, in workshops, staff development programmes, in conferences, roadshows and symposia. They have been fully integrated into the process of change.

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What kinds of concerns do they express? 

They are mostly concerned about the perceived loss of contact time. That is a real and legitimate concern, shared by some parents too. To be clear, we are not compromising contact time. We are making sure that the two key different types of contact time are included, embedded and integrated for higher quality teaching.

The first type is face-to-face contact time, which is the one we value the most. We are a campus-based university and we will continue to be a campus-based university. The shift to ABL doesn’t turn us into anything else. Instead, it integrates the high quality contact time in the classroom, in the lab and elsewhere with high quality online contact time, which is the second type.

We have to be very, very clear about the difference between quality online contact time and independent study. And that is at the centre of the discussion with students and with parents.

What counts as quality online contact time?

If you set online activities for students to do and you as a tutor “disappear” and let them work on those activities – that is independent study. That is not online contact time at all. If you set an online task but you remain active, engaged and visible throughout – and that does not mean that you have to be online at the same time, this can and should work asynchronously – then that activity can count as part of your online contact time.

There is a huge temptation here of uploading materials to the virtual learning environment and pretending that your students “do the blended bit” because you put your content online. That is not what we want. What matters is not the content I upload; what matters is what students do with it to achieve outcomes. The activity that students do with this content must be aligned with the learning outcomes, the rest of the teaching methods and the assessment.

We're trying to discourage colleagues from running two-tier courses where there is a bit online and a bit face to face. Instead, we favour an approach in which a tutor runs a course which has a true blend of different components. The online part of the blend has to run primarily on the basis of online contact time.

Of course, there will be independent study as well, as there always has been, whether it is online or otherwise, but quality contact time has to be present, has to be prominent, both in the classroom and in the online environment. Like students, tutors must be engaged, active and visible, both in the classroom and online.

How does technology help and hinder ABL – hinder in terms of the perception people have that blended is all about online when in fact it should be about the blend – but also how it helps insofar as you could not have blended learning without the digital resources…? 

The key word here is personalisation. There is a tendency to believe that doing things in a blend, which includes online work, has the risk of depersonalising the process when, in fact, if it's done well, it generates the opposite effect. It not only improves the level of personalisation – the quality, the level and depth of engagement – but it can also enhance, if done well, accessibility and flexibility. It can accommodate the needs of students in specific situations and with specific needs. 

The use of technology is indeed an enabler. As such, the technology works for the benefit of all concerned, as long as one or certain key aspects are met, such as digital fluency. For the purposes of learning in higher education, but also to operate freely in life, you need increasingly sophisticated levels of digital fluency. And that's what we want to promote with our students and colleagues alike.

To be the changemakers of the future you need tools and skills. Digital fluency is one of them.

HESA and Jisc collaborate with the Guardian and the Times to produce interactive higher education league table dashboards

By from Jisc news. Published on Jan 04, 2018.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and Jisc have developed an agreement with both the Guardian and the Times/Sunday Times to publish interactive dashboards of rankings and measures drawn from their higher education (HE) league tables.

It is the first time that both sets of data, from 2015 to 2018, have been combined into one collection of data visualisations.

The dashboards are now available to all higher education providers that submit data to HESA, via the Heidi Plus business intelligence platform. The dashboards have been designed and produced by HESA based on original concepts by teams from our Analytics Labs, part of our business intelligence project.

Universities have, until now, had to manually compile the data from both league tables and undertake their own time-consuming analysis to assess how the rankings and measures change between years.

The league tables use different criteria and weightings so comparing them has been problematic and often misleading. However, the new dashboards enable universities to accurately and rapidly compare and analyse:

  • Competitor information at provider and subject level
  • Changes in rank year on year
  • The highest climbers and the biggest ‘fallers’
  • Changes in data definitions and methodology over time

In May 2018, when the Guardian publishes its latest league tables, the dashboards will be updated within days.

“We are very excited to release this new suite of data dashboards within Heidi Plus”

said Jonathan Waller, HESA’s director of information and analysis.

“They are the result of a groundbreaking collaboration between colleagues from HE providers, the Times/Sunday Times and the Guardian, together with Jisc and HESA.

We believe they will provide valuable insights for UK higher education and look forward to continuing our collaborative work with the sector to develop the growing range of analytics and business intelligence resources available through Heidi Plus.”

Myles Danson, our senior co-design manager, said:

“With the importance of league table position to institutions, the data and new dashboards that this agreement makes available will give invaluable insight to vice-chancellors and senior leaders. We expect they will be widely used and will become another valued feature delivered through HESA and Jisc’s close collaboration around the Heidi Plus service."

"Having access to the data from these two league tables in this interactive format will save significant time on data preparation within my team and amongst our many counterparts in planning offices across the sector,”

said Sally Turnbull, head of planning and insight, at the University of Central Lancashire, and author of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Higher Education Strategic Planners Assosication (HESPA) guide to UK league tables in HE.

"Although league table position does not drive our activities, we are nevertheless conscious that they are one of the primary ways in which potential students and other members of the public form opinions about different providers. It is, therefore, essential that we understand the ways in which our data feed into such rankings.

I welcome this development and the efficiencies it will bring to our analysis and am grateful to HESA and Jisc for their work in bringing this about.”

Log in to Heidi Plus

Cyber security in 2017: how we made our defences stronger

By from Jisc news. Published on Jan 02, 2018.

Cyber security is a top priority for the government, for businesses and for Jisc. We want to help all our members build the best possible defences against cyber criminals – and we like to lead from the front in this arena. To that end, we’ve changed and improved our approach to security over the past 12 months.

This evolution started on 3 January 2017, when all the security functions at Jisc were brought together in a single division headed by Steve Kennett, bringing together the staff responsible for providing and developing all the security services and products that we offer with the operational teams into the new cyber security division.

Within the new division we have also established Jisc’s security operations centre, integrating the Janet Network computer security incident response team (CSIRT), the DDoS analysts and a new penetration testing and security assessment team

In demand as trusted experts

Over the year, the division has expanded considerably, with expert staff joining the team and several new services added to the portfolio – and more to come in 2018.

Meanwhile, Steve has been much in demand as a speaker, presenting at 18 security-themed events during 2017, and attending many more. He has forged new alliances and strengthened existing relationships within the sector, the security industry, the government and with security agencies at home and abroad. We now have a solid intelligence network and our advice and expertise is sought and respected at the highest level.

Faster and better attack mitigation

One of most significant developments now under the security operations centre’s control actually went live in October 2016, but this year we began work to enhance our Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) mitigation service.

It is delivered in partnership with a global leader in this field, Arbor Networks, and we have been working with their team to develop enhanced services, which cut response time from a few hours to a few minutes. A successful pilot has been running since September at the University of Sheffield, with the faster services due to launch early in 2018.

Development also began on a portal for this service, which, when it’s live in the early part of 2018, will enable members to see in real time any suspicious traffic on their network. Eventually, the portal will serve as a one-stop shop, where members can search for advice and guidance, see our range of security services and share intelligence.

In 2017 the security operations centre has seen more than 1,200 DDoS attacks over the Janet Network, and dealt with more than 6,000 other incidents, such as malware, copyright infringements and law enforcement enquiries. Not only have we seen an increase in the number of attacks, we have also seen an increase in their size and their complexity, with the security operations centre analysts having to respond to changes made by attackers in real time.

Education and risk assessment

In March, we launched simulated phishing and awareness service delivered from Khipu Networks. Phishing, particularly via email, is a major concern for all our members and educating end users in how to spot such threats is high on their list of security priorities. It’s been a popular service, with 20 of our members so far running an anti-phishing campaign.

In May we conducted our first ever cyber security posture survey among members. Giving us valuable insight into the varied defensive landscape in our sector, we now have a greater understanding of our members’ top security concerns, which will help shape our future decisions. We know, for example, that the use of vulnerability scanning to identify weaknesses in security is becoming the main way our members are testing their exposure to cyber risk.

The previously outsourced pen testing service was brought in house from August, with the appointment of two highly-skilled experts in this field. We have been inundated with requests for pen tests and are currently looking for another ethical hacker to join the team.

Security conference

Building on an inaugural event in 2016, we held a security conference in November, where we welcomed more than 200 staff from member organisations. It was the perfect platform to launch our first cyber security documentary film.

Over two days, we heard from a variety of speakers on subjects including password security, the ethics of phishing campaigns, DDoS mitigation, the government’s Cyber Aware campaign, and using best-practice cyber security as a business driver. Our 2018 conference will be held in London in November.

Former student sentenced for cyber attack on the Janet Network

By from Jisc news. Published on Dec 20, 2017.

A computer hacker, who carried out a sustained attack on the Jisc-owned national research and education network (NREN) that disrupted connected organisations for several hours, has avoided jail. 

Former student Jack Chappell, 19, from Curtis Road, Stockport, was given a 16-month sentence suspended for two years.

He began his attacks in December 2015 and launched further crimes in 2016.

Chappell caused large-scale disruption to the Janet Network specifically targeted the network infrastructure, changing his attack as the result of information being provided to members via Twitter.

Our chief executive Paul Feldman said:

“As soon as we were aware of the problem, we worked hard to assist police in exposing the perpetrator and bringing him to justice.

“Cyber crime is an increasing problem (the Office for National Statistics reports that digital devices are involved in 47.4% of all UK crime) so we are very pleased to have been able to assist the police in their investigation of this case; it sends a strong message to other would-be attackers that such criminal behaviour will not be tolerated.”

Chappell’s crimes, which also included assisting attacks on some of the world’s largest organisations, including Amazon, BBC, BT, Netflix, Virgin Media, Vodafone and the National Crime Agency, were investigated by the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) and West Midlands Police.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court on 19 December, 2017. With regard to the attack on the NREN, Chappell admitted one count of unauthorised access to a computer with the intent to impair operations.

Det Sgt Rob Bryant, from SEROCU’s Cyber Crime Unit, said:

“Throughout the investigation we worked closely with Jisc.  We would like to thank them for their assistance, particularly in providing key details and technical evidence which helped to locate the defendant and bring him to justice.”

Demand for GDPR expertise in education and research on the rise

By from Jisc news. Published on Dec 19, 2017.

Demand from the sector for information and advice on the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has been strong, and seems to be increasing the closer we get to the day it becomes law on 25 May, 2018. 

In response, we staged a free GDPR conference on 6 December, which quickly sold out. If you missed it, don’t worry because each of the main speakers and the resulting films are online now.

Demand from the post-16 education sector is encouraging to see, but worryingly, 44% of UK businesses are under the impression that GDPR will not apply to them after Brexit.

Implications of the GDPR are important and wide ranging. For some, it could have fundamental changes, but all institutions will need to review how they collect, processes, store and share personal data of staff, and students. It also has ramifications for how all sectors implement cyber security. Our GDPR conference offered practical advice around the impact of these changes and how to plan and implement them across your organisation.

David Reeve, head of information strategy at Jisc, introduced the event with a talk on getting to grips with GDPR and the 12 steps that we are also following to ensure compliance, ahead of the new legislation coming into force.

To ensure the specific needs of the sectors were covered, we ran a session on the practical applications of GDPR for further education, presented by Joe Yeadon, head of ILT services at Godalming College, and another on the implications for research, presented by Andrew Charlesworth, reader in IT and the law at University of Bristol.

Other presentations also available from our experts include talks on simplifying GDPR, how to develop an asset register from scratch and the rights of students regarding data, under the new regulations.

Unsure if the films are for you?

The GDPR conference was designed for the following people:

  • All those who want to understand how to plan for GDPR including information governance leads, information or records managers and data protection officers
  • All those implementing process changes as a result of compliance requirements
  • Directors and senior managers interested in the strategic need to make changes and how to be compliant
  • Prospect researchers, data analysts, fundraisers, alumni relations staff and those working in a marketing or student recruitment role who wish to be further informed about the regulations and its impact and how they can play a role in ensuring their institutions are ready for GDPR

Like to know more?

There are a range of resources and guides available on the GDPR available from Jisc, including:

Durham University top for on-campus wifi

By from Jisc news. Published on Dec 18, 2017.

Durham University is the top university for on-campus wifi, according to data compiled by StudentCrowd, an online review community for students.

The data has been collated from thousands of StudentCrowd reviews for Jisc, manager of the of the eduroam network within the UK, which serves more than 95% of higher education institutions.

StudentCrowd asks reviewers to rate universities on criteria including campus facilities, students union and wifi. The data, which is based on 7,348 student reviews, gives Durham an average score of 4.5 out of 5 for wifi, followed by Lancaster University and the University of Sheffield.

Wifi access has become an essential for many people and students are no exception. Research published earlier this year by facilities management company Sodexo found that wifi is of the highest importance to this generation of students, with 79% of UK students considering it the most important service in their university environment.

Jisc’s own student digital experience tracker, which surveys 8,000 students, also emphasis the importance of connectivity and digital tools. The data reveals that 97% of HE learners find information online on a weekly basis during their course.

The tracker also reveals that 88% of students who responded use their own laptop and 84% their smartphone as part of their learning. With an average of 2.72 personal devices per learner, wifi connectivity is an essential service that supports students’ education.

Here are the top ten universities for campus wifi:

  1. Durham University
  2. Lancaster University
  3. University of Sheffield
  4. Loughborough University
  5. University of Leeds
  6. Keele University 
  7. Newcastle University
  8. Royal Holloway, University of London
  9. University of Winchester
  10. University of Leicester

Most universities now provide free wifi, so that students can connect to the internet on their own device. On campus, many universities offer eduroam, a European-wide wifi service for the academic and research communities, while university accommodation is generally served by different providers.

eduroam is a roaming service which can allow registered users to access wifi from any university campus in the UK, regardless of whether or not they study there. In October 2017, eduroam reached more than 1.3m unique devices connected during the month.

Wifi is useful for social activities, including keeping in touch with fellow students, which fosters a sense of belonging on campus. Students also rely on good connectivity for entertainment and Jisc has put Netflix servers in its Slough data centre so that students can enjoy stable and secure video streaming in a more cost effective way.

A review left on StudentCrowd by a graduate from Durham University said they “appreciated how fast / reliable” the wifi at their university was when they got their own on leaving.

There were also positive comments about other table-topping universities: “I can get fast wifi anywhere I go,” said one reviewer writing about the University of Sheffield. While a student at Loughborough University noted there was wifi access all over campus - “even the shuttle buses!”

Sarah Davies, head of higher education and student experience at Jisc, said:

“With students relying on digital devices for study, personal organisation and leisure, it's no wonder they see good wifi connectivity as a key aspect of their study environment. Generally, universities are responding well to this challenge, with 80% of HE students reporting that they have access to reliable wifi at their usual place of study.”

Paul Humphreys, StudentCrowd, founder and CEO, added:

"Some stereotypes of students make us cringe. However, we have found the following to be true - 'students see superfast wifi as a basic human need'. Universities must ensure their students can connect to superfast wifi on all parts of campus/facilities. Most students report a positive experience - the average rating for university wifi on StudentCrowd is 4.04 out of 5."

Computer vision as critical practice: how digital humanities can teach computers to say what they see

By Lucy J Stagg from Programme. Published on Dec 08, 2017.

Computer vision has made fundamental advances in recent years, but has only just begun to be adopted by digital humanists. This paper will outline some of its humanities applications, including how computational analysis relates to established descriptive practices. Examples will include popular print, early photography and scientific illustration within fields such as book history, conservation research and visual studies.

Our student ideas edtech competition

By from Jisc news. Published on Dec 06, 2017.

Sue Attewell, our head of change - further education and skills, chats about our student ideas competition, which launches next year; from how to work the competition into the curriculum, to what students can gain from entering (from business skills to confidence and everything in between).

Could your students come up with the next big edtech idea? Then we've got the competition for you! Together with Emerge Education, we're looking for fresh edtech ideas from students. Winners will receive £2,000 and expert mentoring. The student ideas competition is part of our edtech launchpadLearn more about the competition and register your interest.

Innovative new learning practice earns Jisc endorsement

By from Jisc news. Published on Dec 05, 2017.

Jisc is continuing its tradition of championing technology to support and transform teaching by backing a category at the inaugural Independent Higher Education Awards.

Creative Commons attribution information
KLC managing director, Will Gibbs, and course development director, Julia Begbie at the Independent HE Awards
©KLC School of Design
All rights reserved

KLC School of Design was announced as the winner of the Jisc award for innovation in digital teaching and learning, with Point Blank Music School the runner-up.

Jisc sponsored the award following a recent expansion of its membership criteria to include alternative providers.

The judging panel included Sarah Davies, Jisc’s head of higher education and student experience, who said of the winning entry:

“KLC's submission demonstrated how they harness technology in discipline-specific ways to really add value to students' learning. We were impressed by their use of technology to support both blended and fully online provision, bringing together campus-based students and those studying online.

“Technology was also used in a number of ways to support employer engagement and the development of employability skills, including through virtual work experience, and online workshops with industry as part of student projects.”

KLC also scooped a gong for breakthrough in course design and delivery. The managing director, Will Gibbs, explained:

“These two awards demonstrate our ongoing commitment to utilising the latest technologies to enhance the delivery of our courses, both onsite and online. It is a huge accolade to everything that we do here at KLC and I am immensely proud of everything we have achieved.

“KLC aims to lead with innovative digital learning methods to constantly meet the changing needs of students and creates a supportive environment for both staff and students to improve their digital skills. The innovation award is supported by the fact that KLC launched a new virtual learning environment (VLE) in 2014 – a custom blend of Moodle and Mahara, with bespoke features, while Adobe Connect provides recordable online classrooms.

“KLC teachers routinely use gamification, digital assessment, and virtual reality as part of online and onsite courses, and our state-of-the-art VLE supports both modes of teaching, and critical peer feedback. It also allows the use of e-portfolios to help online students build a one-on-one relationship with the KLC careers department.”

Threat to researchers’ data prompts “at risk” register of endangered digital species

By from Jisc news. Published on Nov 30, 2017.

As technology marches on relentlessly, digital formats are frequently updated and replaced. While this may improve visual or audio quality, or the volume of information which can be recorded, there is a danger that material from the birth of the digital revolution - and beyond - could be lost forever.

As formats become obsolete, the loss of material could have cultural, political or technological implications globally, in fields such as journalism, and for individuals’ personal records, such as photographs and social media posts. Worryingly, it also could have far-reaching effects on UK academics’ research.

To highlight the issue, the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), which we founded with the British Library in 2002, have compiled the first ever 'Bit List' of the world’s endangered digital species.

The list was unveiled this week as part of an international campaign to raise awareness of the need to preserve digital materials. It coincides with International Digital Preservation Day

In terms of research material, the list identifies open access journals, original research data,, and PhD data as examples that it deems “critically endangered” among the academic community. If data is lost, researchers’ conclusions could be hard to reproduce and prove, and the data will be unable to be reused by others. This may in turn impact the likelihood of securing funding for future research in line with policy requirements.

Other types of files, recording methods or information services mentioned on the endangered list include discs (floppy, CD, DVD), Ceefax and Teletext, flash drives, files relying on software that’s no longer in use, online news and social media sites, and business intranets, to name but a few.

Jisc, which remains a member of the DPC, recognises the potential problem for researchers and is working on a shared preservation solution for its members that is scheduled for launch in spring 2018. This pilot service is being developed by us with our commercial partners, including preservation specialists Preservica, Arkivum and Artefactual Systems. It is currently being tested by 16 UK universities and will enable researchers to easily deposit data for publication, discovery, safe storage, long-term archiving and preservation. This means there will be sustainable access to research data, ensuring that research can be reproduced and data can be re-used by others.

Our director of open science and research lifecycle, Rachel Bruce, explained:

“Preservation and good processes to ensure data re-use are essential to research, to long-term access and use of knowledge for research and learning.

In particular, if you look at the very important agenda at the moment with regards to re-useable research, digital data, software and methodology formats are required for re-use and so curation and preservation techniques, as being promoted by the Bit List, are also important to that agenda.

Jisc is developing a leading digital preservation solution as part of our research data shared service. This will help universities undertake preservation actions for digital assets. In a similar way to the Bit List, we have worked with the Open Preservation Foundation to identify some of the large and diverse range of file formats that comprise research data, these are not necessarily endangered now, but they could be without action from the preservation community. We are seeking to work with The National Archives to improve the process and update of research data related file formats in their core preservation registry service PRONOM.”

Jane Winters, professor of digital humanities at the University of London School of Advanced Study and chair of the international panel of judges that evaluated the Bit List before its publication, said:

“Not everything on the Bit List will interest everyone equally, but everyone will find something on the list which resonates with them, so digital preservation matters to us all.

By the same token, not everything needs to be kept: quite the contrary.  But we need to make informed decisions about what to keep, and develop coherent strategies to protect them.  This is much more than simply a question of technology.”

In response to the Bit List, the DPC wants action to be taken, and in some cases urgently as the scale of the challenge gets bigger and as the importance, scale and complexity of data grows. 

The DPC is calling for industry regulators to become involved to impose more onerous stipulations for the preservation of digital material. The IT industry will be asked to take responsibility for ensuring that simple preservation functions can be built into infrastructure, so that objects and code are robust at the point of creation rather than having to be reconstructed afterwards.

Regulatory reform is also required. While there is a very active and very capable global community of digital preservation expertise, their efforts to preserve digital materials are often thwarted by copyright laws. There are some exceptions to these laws to enable copies to be made for preservation purposes, but these have not always kept pace with technological advancements or apply universally to all preservation activities.

For more information about how to prevent research data becoming endangered, read our guide on how and why you should manage your research data.

Our chief executive takes a seat on the board of GÉANT

By from Jisc news. Published on Nov 28, 2017.

Jisc's chief executive has been voted to the board of GÉANT – the umbrella organisation for European national research and education networks (NRENs).

Dr Paul Feldman

Paul Feldman was elected at last week’s GÉANT general assembly meeting in Prague.

Through interconnections with its 38 NREN partners, the GÉANT network is the largest and most advanced REN in the world, connecting more than 50 million users at 10,000 institutions across Europe and supporting all scientific disciplines. Our high-speed Janet Network is the busiest of its member networks and connects all the UK’s universities, colleges and research centres.

Paul’s appointment continues Jisc’s tradition at the heart of GEANT’s collective decision-making and demonstrates our commitment to boosting opportunities for UK researchers to collaborate across Europe and globally.

Three key ways to build staff digital capabilities and confidence

By from Jisc news. Published on Nov 24, 2017.

Staff digital capabilities are central to student and organisational success. 

It's a digital world, and in addition to a chosen subject, students are preparing for work and life in a digital society. In this podcast we take a look at what learners like and dislike. Read the accompanying blog post by Clare Killen.

The push and pull towards new models of publishing

By from Jisc news. Published on Nov 23, 2017.

Born from a desire to change the current publishing landscape, dominated by a handful of large commercial publishers, there is an increase in new publishing models, being led by universities and academics. In this podcast, which accompanies Graham's blog post, we explore these new trends.

GÉANT agreement floats cloud services

By from Jisc news. Published on Nov 22, 2017.

Jisc’s power of procurement has landed a selection of extra cloud solutions for members.

After careful preparation we are now offering our members access to the EU-compliant GÉANT IaaS (infrastructure as a service) framework to simplify procurement of cloud services (GÉANT manages the pan-European network for research and education). The framework covers back-up and storage, computing resources, networking and professional services.

The main benefit of purchasing from the framework is that customers don’t need to run their own time-consuming procurement process because we’ve done it for them. Secondly, the framework provides favourable discounts, and the more the framework is used across Europe, the greater the discount.

In addition, our new Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute service, which provides a resilient virtual circuit between member sites and ExpressRoute point of presence for onward connection to the Azure service platform.

ExpressRoute connections ensure that Azure traffic is carried over the Janet Network to the Azure service platform via the Microsoft and Azure networks without touching the public internet, and are particularly useful for moving high volumes of data very quickly.

Among the first adopters of ExpressRoute was Staffordshire University, which is “delighted with the performance of the Azure-based services and proud to be the first UK HEI to have migrated its entire ICT estate to the cloud”.

Other Jisc members can find out more at a joint Microsoft/Jisc event on 6 December, which will focus on digital transformation in higher education and include a keynote speech from our CEO, Paul Feldman. Jisc enterprise director, Josh Fry, and a GÉANT representative will give a presentation on the benefits of the framework and ExpressRoute, while other speakers will give talks on cloud computing and data management.

Jessica Wu, group manager for cloud services, said the Jisc cloud offering was gaining momentum rapidly:

“We are introducing the new Microsoft ExpressRoute service and the GÉANT framework, which, together with our other cloud services, give our customers access to products at the forefront of cloud development.

“The cloud market has grown quickly over the past couple of years. In response to requests from the Jisc community, we are building a professional cloud consultancy service to directly support members initiatives around cloud.”

Independent Voices revealed for a digital generation

By from Jisc news. Published on Nov 16, 2017.

As historic archives become increasingly digital, it's time to introduce an exciting new collection to the UK.

Libraries around the world are grappling with the challenges of digitising collections, to bring materials alive for a 21st century audience. Among the archives, the niche monographs, zines and pamphlets could all too easily be forgotten in our drive to digitise content.

A solution to this particular challenge has been found in Independent Voices, a collection of alternative press from the late 1960s, 70s and 80s, which expressed the upsurge of dissent and change within American youth culture.

Jisc has worked with Reveal Digital to bring this innovative crowd-funded model to the UK, with 10 universities signed up so far. The project with this US-based publishing innovator allows UK universities to purchase early access to these resources, otherwise unavailable to students or reserchers in any format.

Researchers and students at participating universities will have early access to 750,000 pages, documenting movements such as the LGBT community resistance to police harassment at Stonewall, the civil rights movement’s struggle against the Vietnam war, the various stances of a radical women’s liberation movement and the dissident voices of GIs drafted to fight in Vietnam.

Dr Ann Kaloski Naylor, lecturer at the Centre for Women’s Studies at the University of York, is passionate about preserving access to this type of content:

“Independent Voices is an exciting and important initiative for feminist scholarship. Although there is now a huge array of easily accessible work on women’s lives, gender theory and feminist perspectives, the discipline is still very young, and often rooted in grassroots movements from the 1960s onwards. The community nature of these ideas means that much significant work was produced in pamphlet form and, later, zines and in short-run magazines and books. This work is easily lost and key ideas are misrepresented.

"Current feminism has a strong relationship to (and perhaps even reliance on) the internet, and digitising material will allow recent history to become visible as well as accessible to younger scholars. The potential of exposing such material outside of small-scale archives and localised groups will likely be felt in related intellectual work in cultural and literary studies, history and sociology.”

Through the agreement between Jisc and Reveal Digital there will be access to a huge range of content which is not available elsewhere in the UK. At present, 10% of the collection is open and by January 2019 the entire collection, including print runs of 1,000 titles, will also be accessible to the public.

To increase the resources available, Jisc has decided to designate 50% of the revenue from UK institutions to undertake the digitisation of similar underground and independent press content from UK sources. This activity will enhance the US offer and the digitised content will be available from Jisc, in addition to the Independent Voices website.

Following the interest in the Reveal Digital collection, Jisc will be inviting UK universities and research institutes to propose similar collections for digitisation. This offer is available to universities until 31 December 2017.

The categories of historical underground press material being considered are feminism, LGBT rights and the struggle for racial equality, although others such as punk zines may be considered.

For any initial enquiries, contact Peter Findlay, digital portfolio manager at Jisc.

Innovative use of iPads marks out Portsmouth College for technology award

By from Jisc news. Published on Nov 15, 2017.

Portsmouth College has won this year’s Beacon Award for the effective use of technology in further education, which is sponsored by Jisc.

Organised by the Association of Colleges (AoC), the annual awards celebrate the best and most innovative practice among UK FE and sixth form colleges. 

Announced on 14 November, the winner was chosen for its Curious and Creative project. This involved providing all full time 16 to 18-year-old students with iPads, creating a sophisticated yet personalised learning experience. It improved the digital literacy of learners, raised attendance by 6% and boosted enrolment from 900 to 1,400.

The project was combined with a radical change to the college timetable, redesigned learning spaces, high density wifi across the campus and the ability to mirror iPads to classroom projectors and large-format display screens. The result was an anytime, anywhere learning culture and new, engaging, interactive, opportunities for active learning and teaching, improving one-to-one support, assessment and feedback.

The judges were impressed by the college’s focus to become a more digitally capable institution, continuously focusing on improving the delivery of the curriculum and focusing on how students learn in the 21st century.

Among the judges was Jisc’s head of FE and skills, Paul McKean, who said:

“Portsmouth College’s approach to the implementation of iPads for each full-time learner is an excellent example of how the effective use of technology can transform pedagogy and improve learning outcomes.

“The use of iPads is embedded across the curriculum and well supported by the college management team. There are a number of examples of exemplary practice where the use of the iPads and supporting technologies are enhancing learning, motivating learners and improving the quality of teaching.

“One particular example that stuck out was the engagement and motivation to learn shown by those in an English GCSE resit class, even during the first few weeks of term. Every learner was immersed in learning, communicating in small groups verbally and via a shared document on their iPads, while each group’s work was also being simultaneously shared via a projector with the whole class. This enabled the class tutor to instantly identify when groups needed support and opportunities to highlight to the whole class either areas for improvement or good learning points.

“The blend of the tutor’s face-to-face interaction with the groups and the whole class and the learners’ use of technology was seamless and complementary. It is pleasing to note that the college’s success rate for English GCSE resits is 72%, which puts it in the top 10% nationally, suggesting this type of delivery is impacting on learning outcomes.”

Harlow College, the runner up in this category, also use iPads for each learner and teaching staff. It invested heavily in its digital infrastructure, including campus wifi to run 3,000 devices simultaneously and established a mobile device management system. The college submission said:

“We changed the curriculum structure and our modes of teaching, learning and assessment to better prepare people for their digital future and adapted learning spaces. Our initiative has resulted in the improvement in the quality of teaching, learning and assessment and a technology enriched curriculum. Predicted pass rates have increased by 7.4% to 96%.

Paul McKean described it as “an excellent example of how to achieve a major cultural shift in teaching and learning through the use of technology”. He continued:

“The iPads are used across the curriculum and it is pleasing to see that all the teaching staff are engaged and enthusiastic about the initiative. They have embraced the opportunities to improve both their personal technology skills as well as their skills in teaching, learning and assessment. Students are highly motivated by the style of learning that takes place and, as a result, there has been an impact on learning outcomes.

“The sponsorship of this award highlights our commitment to digital transformation in post-16 education. Colleges provide high-quality technical and academic training and education to around 2.2 million people each year. The innovative approaches they use make a real different to students, employers and communities.”

Jisc takes on two young people studying for degree apprenticeships

By from Jisc news. Published on Nov 15, 2017.

Jisc is setting an example to the sector by taking on two apprentices, which also means we are doing our bit to promote women in STEM and helping to plug the UK’s technical skills gap.

Nicole Stewart and James Hodgkinson are both studying for a level six standard (equivalent to a BA degree) which, when completed in 2021, will qualify them as digital and technology solutions professionals.

Based with the security team at Harwell, Nicole is a trainee cyber security analyst, who studies through training provider QA, while James is a trainee developer, reporting to the futures team in Bristol and attending Weston College one day each week.

Jisc’s head of delivery, Kathryn Jeacock, said it was important to give Nicole and James all the support they need. She explained:

“We’ve started with two, but I’ve put forward a proposal that next year we take on another two apprentices, so we are taking an incremental approach; we want to learn from the experience and make sure it’s an amazing experience for them.

It’s really important that we support our apprentices well – it takes a lot of resources and it is quite intensive because they need a lot of mentoring and time.  

Each of them has multiple mentors – a main mentor and other subject specialists in areas specific to them.”

Kathryn added that recruiting Nicole is an especially positive move for Jisc.

“I’m particularly pleased to have Nicole because there is a shortage of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). At Jisc we have a lot of technical roles, but very few of those are occupied by females. We want to use our apprenticeship scheme to support women in technical and leadership roles here.

The focus on apprentices going forward will be how we can increase that support to women; it also fits with our diversity, equality and inclusion agenda and our sign-up to the Tech Talent Charter, which brings together industries and organisations to drive diversity and address gender imbalance in technology roles.”

But creating these new roles is just the start of our journey in supporting young people and developing staff. Kathryn explained:

“We’ve decided to do this now for several reasons. Firstly, it’s an amazing thing to do and, secondly, we are providing products and services to the sector for apprenticeships, so it’s important that we are seen as a role model to our members.

Thirdly, as an apprenticeship levy-paying organisation, we pay every month and if we don’t use that money it goes to the government, so there’s also a financial element to our choosing to take on apprentices now. The first step was to recruit our own apprentices, which we’ve done, and the next step is using the levy money to develop our existing staff.

James Clay and Rob Bristow, both senior co-design managers, and head of further education and skills, Paul McKean, are really keen to understand the experience of our apprentices so we can use that knowledge to develop our products and service in this area for our members.”

Meet our apprentices

Nicole Stewart

Nicole Stewart, 18, started with Jisc on 2 October after taking A-levels in physics, maths and biology at college. Prior to that, she took a GCSE in ICT (information communications technology) and became more interested in computing during her second year of college.

Choosing a degree apprenticeship was a “no-brainer”, as she explains:

“You have university rammed down your throat as the only option after A-levels, then I heard about apprenticeship degrees in my first year of college.

You can get real experience rather than sitting in a classroom every day for three or four years, or come out of university with no experience in the working world. Taking an apprenticeship means I can get a degree and the experience at the same time and I won’t be getting into debt. It seemed like a no-brainer.

There isn’t much choice for my degree – there are only three companies that do it and two of them are very big companies where I knew I’d just be a number. When I researched Jisc I was really interested in the fact that it’s a hands-on not-for-profit and after I came here for an interview I was so much more interested than in any of the other options. It’s good here; each of my team can teach me different things and I’m learning an awful lot, which is what I wanted.”

James Hodgkinson

James Hodgkinson, 22, has been with Jisc for just a month. He’s had no formal education in computing, but landed his placement with us having taught himself web developing skills. James said:

“After I left school I went to Weston College to do a BTEC in sports. After that I was a bit stuck on what I wanted to do as a career. I realised I wasn’t going to progress in that area and my father works in IT, so I taught myself web development. I volunteered to create a website for a friend of a friend’s shop, with no previous experience other than what I had taught myself.

This led to a contract with an insurance company making changes to their website. I was there three days a week, so for the other two days I was still practising and gaining more skills in that area. Then I heard about the Jisc apprenticeships on the college website, which was more focussed on software development than what I had been working on.”

James considered going to university, but would first have had to return to college to complete A-levels, which seemed rather long-winded.

“I thought a degree apprenticeship was a brilliant way to learn and earn money at the same time. I chose Jisc because I can work on a lot of different projects here. A lot of the other courses were just focused on one project for all four years. Here, I work on various projects, languages, methods and techniques and I thought that would benefit my career more in the long term.”

The benefits of tech for students' financial literacy

By from Jisc news. Published on Nov 02, 2017.

As the UK population becomes digitally-savvy from an increasingly younger age, it’s easy to assume tech take-up is evenly shared across every aspect of our lives. Ruth Bushi, an editor at Save the Student, explores the benefits of using technology to improve student's financial literacy. Read the accompanying blog.

The future of further education: our vision for the next five years

By from Jisc news. Published on Nov 01, 2017.

Can colleges and skills providers become efficient and financially stable, while also providing an excellent learning experience that produces a workforce with the skills required to help the UK economy thrive post-Brexit and beyond? In this podcast, Paul McKean, head of further education and skills, shares our vision for the next five years.

Meet the hackers paid to (legally) break your security

By from Jisc news. Published on Oct 27, 2017.

Cyber criminals launch daily attacks on UK universities and colleges, so building defences is essential. But how do you know that security measures in place are good enough?

Is the staff well trained to spot phishing emails, protect passwords and challenge strangers? Will the firewall hold? Is the anti-virus software doing its job?

At present, the level of security capability varies across the sector and it’s our aim to support all our members to achieve a common, high standard. Firstly, it’s important to know the risks; the weak spots which malware, or criminal hackers can exploit to disrupt or bring down a network, steal data, or extort money.

By far the most comprehensive method of testing security resilience is to recruit people with the same skills as would-be criminals, but who choose to stay firmly the right side of the law. In other words – ethical hackers.  And we have just recruited two of them.

Meet Matthew O’Donnell and Danny Moules, both self-taught specialists who’ve been honing their computer skills since they were children.  

As adults, Matthew and Danny are paid to infiltrate security systems, both via the internet and physically. Danny, in particular, could be an excellent burglar. His last role involved attempting (with permission) hack and con his way into multi-nationals and banks, gathering intelligence, sweet talking his way past security guards, acquiring security passes and moving around the offices posing as an employee, breaking into drawers and sealed-off areas, including the server room. This method of assessment, known as Red Teaming (playing the bad guys) exposes all security risks that leave an organisation open to criminal intent, including industrial espionage.

But Danny became disillusioned with the money-spinning corporate world and is delighted to be working for a charitable organisation. He explains:

“The security industry has exploded across the world and not always for the better. At Jisc there are lots of people who work here because we are a charity and I like the fact that, because we are impartial, we are not trying to sell fear. Our objective is to improve standards, not to make a profit.

There’s no reason for us to lie about our capabilities or to provide less than we can achieve. That’s very attractive to me and one of things that drew me to Jisc.”

Danny has been part of the hacking community for years and will be using his experience to provide a security assessment service and working alongside Matthew on the penetration testing service (vulnerability testing and advice) that we’ve now brought in-house.

Danny also has an interest in research and development and the kinds of products and service we may offer in the future. Nothing is certain yet, but he’s full of ideas.

“We’ve always worked with institutions to provide information on threats that they might be facing and I’d like Jisc to build on this to provide even more detailed threat intelligence so members can make more informed choices. With Jisc as the trusted partner, there’s a good opportunity to share members’ experience.

Jisc is well thought of and, as such, is very well placed to solve security problems for the sector and provide tailored solutions.”

 Matthew, who joins us from managing the penetration testing (or 'pen' testing) team at a commercial TV giant, is taking the lead with our pen testing service, which is proving popular.

“Pen testing is already very much in demand at Jisc. It’s just me right now, but we are going to be growing this service. Danny has a pen testing background too, and will be helping with that and we have other in-house talent interested in learning more, too.”

On the basis that prevention is better than cure, Matthew advises all organisations to conduct pen testing as a matter of routine, although the timing and frequency will differ. He explains:

“There are several triggers for pen testing: when something new is deployed, or developed, and some organisations then like to do it annually, to make sure that a system is OK, but anything relating to bank card payments needs to be done quarterly and there are regulations around that.

There are other triggers too, for example if a company gets hacked or a company they know is hacked, that makes people nervous. Further reasons may include migrating to a cloud-based solution, moving from one data centre to another, or any physical moving of systems, installing new software, or a new firewall, or adding new features to existing software, such as its ability to use mobile phones.”

The foundations of Matthew’s skillset were laid a long time ago, but the ever-changing technology landscape presents an irresistible challenge to someone who’s paid to circumnavigate security features.   

 “I taught myself to use pen testing tools as a teenager and I still use them today, although I’m always having to upskill. The aim is to use a mix of technical and creative tools to find ways of doing things with computers which would otherwise, at least to most software developers, appear to be huge endeavours.

I come up with cheeky little hacky methods and it’s a challenge that I relish. Finding my way around new technology is the fun thing for me and there have been very few occasions when I’ve been asked to test something and I can’t find a way to get around it.

But it’s not just online systems we can check; one customer wants me to call people on the phone and see if I can get passwords out of them – that’s a very blunt example of the social engineering we sometimes end up doing.”

While Danny and Matthew have very particular skills, there’s a wealth of knowledge and experience, products and security services that members can take advantage of.

For more advice about penetration testing, contact our professional security services manager Charlotte King (

Finally, remember to book your place at our security conference, which takes place in Manchester on 8-9 November 2017. 

Award-winning e-book audit signals new chapter for librarians and disabled students alike

By from Jisc news. Published on Oct 11, 2017.

Most people take for granted the ability to pick up a book or a magazine and read. But spare a thought for the tens of thousands of students in the UK who can’t. They may be visually impaired, dyslexic, or have a physical problem that means they can’t actually hold a book.

For such disabled students, “accessible” books that meet their specific requirements in digital format are a necessity. Until recently, however, it hasn’t been possible to work out which text books meet individual needs prior to subscribing and downloading. It’s a matter of luck.

A partnership project between a group of universities, library and disability services and Jisc, seeks to change all that. The crowd-sourced e-book accessibility audit took place between August and November 2016 to introduce a benchmark for accessibility in e-books supplied to the UK education sector. It scores books depending on the features that make them accessible to groups of users.

The result is an interactive spreadsheet that provides useful data to publishers (to inform how they produce e-books in future), to lecturers and to users. It has been so successful, that the project was shortlisted for two awards in 2016 and has just been declared 2017 winner of the National Acquisitions Group award for excellence.

Spearheading the project for Jisc is one of the subject specialists for accessibility and inclusion, Alistair McNaught, who explains:

 “With e-books, it should be possible to change colours or magnify text and have it re-flow to fit the page. The user should be able to navigate easily, even without a mouse, and use assistive technologies to have text read out loud, with or without being able to see the screen. 

Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen, which is bad for disabled students and bad for education institutions, which are at risk of litigation under the Equality Act 2010. Depending on the aggregator (publishing platform), individual publishers, the format of e-books, and the hardware/software available to the learning provider, print-impaired students can have very different experiences when trying to read an e-book.

Until now, the focus has always been on providing extra support or equipment to overcome the students’ problem, but we are trying to minimise barriers at source.

A lecturer who knows they have lots of dyslexic students enrolled on their course ought to be able to determine before creating the reading list, which e-books are suitable. At the moment, there is no way of knowing other than our audit, which is the only objective source.”

The audit tested 44 publishing platforms, covering 65 publishers and nearly 280 e-books. It is believed to be the biggest audit of its kind, ever, and the information is regularly updated. A full rerun of the process is planned in 2018.

There has also been an unexpected spin-off benefit: a survey of the volunteer testers (mostly librarians) revealed that, for 70% of them, it was their first time dealing with e-book accessibility. Involvement in the audit not only raised their awareness of the problems facing disabled students, but also increased confidence in their ability to help.

Alistair McNaught is keen to point out the other work Jisc does to support accessibility, including a new advice service:

“Librarians are very excited about this work and the e-books accessibility project has been very successful, but it’s only one part of the work that we do.

Having worked in this area for many years, I have excellent links with many e-book producers and continue to work hard to positively influence them, not least through Jisc Collections – a procurement service for e-books in further education and higher education. Since the audit, we’ve also been approached by many publishers looking for our advice on accessibility, which is great news.”

The University of Kent was among the partners in the audit project and is under no doubt as to its positive effect. Accessible information adviser, Ben Watson, explained:

“Improving the accessibility of commercial e-book platforms is important as it improves the availability of born-digital information sources, reduces the requirement for alternative formats to be made in-house and supports the delivery of my university’s inclusive practice policy. This work continues to influence and catalyse improvements across the sector.”

Vicky Dobson is a member of the library disability support team at Leeds Beckett University, which also contributed to the audit. She said:

“I was keen to be involved as my role involves embedding accessibility into our systems and services and the audit offered an opportunity to help increase the accessibility of the e-books we subscribe to, making it easier for our disabled students to access the information they need to succeed at university.

The audit has been a highly valuable staff development experience for me.  I can now more effectively support our disabled students in accessing information and I’ve been able to pass on this knowledge to my colleagues. Participating in the audit has also helped us to put together some e-book accessibility FAQs to support students.”

To help our members comply with legislation, we recently developed the Accessibility Snapshot, which involves an expert from Jisc visiting a university or college to assess accessibility compliance.

Our expert will take the role of a tech-savvy disabled student for a day to explore key student-facing resources and see how they stack up in terms of accessibility. Elements to look at include the website, prospectus, learning platform, library/e-book platform and the assistive technologies/productivity tools available to learners.

After the visit, a report will be produced summarising both the things that work well and the things that create barriers for disabled students, together with expert advice on what the organisation can do to make a positive change. For further details, contact your account manager.