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Digital Humanities elsewhere

Independent Voices revealed for a digital generation

By emily.jones@jisc.ac.uk 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 kate.edser@jisc.ac.uk 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 kate.edser@jisc.ac.uk 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, 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, 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.”

British slave-owners of the Caribbean c.1763-c.1860: building a digital history

By Lucy J Stagg from Programme. Published on Nov 06, 2017.

The Legacies of British Slave-ownership project has developed at UCL in two phases since 2009: (1) the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project and (2) the structure and significance of British Caribbean slave-ownership 1763-1833.

The benefits of tech for students' financial literacy

By emma.dixon@jisc.ac.uk 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 emma.dixon@jisc.ac.uk 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 kate.edser@jisc.ac.uk 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 (charlotte.king@jisc.ac.uk).

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

Managing audiovisual research data

By emma.dixon@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Oct 20, 2017.

The five things you need to know.

In this podcast Caroline Ingram shares advice on how to manage research data. Read the original blog.

Are you higher education's next social media superstar?

By emma.dixon@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Oct 18, 2017.

Social media has the potential to shape and inform the sector – and we’re a real advocate for using it in teaching. Our competition celebrates the excellent work being done by sector professionals out there - we’re looking for the most innovative ways of social being used to add value to teaching. In this podcast Emma Dixon, from our digital communications team, chats through our social media superstars competition

How to crack that code!

By nathalie.carter@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Oct 17, 2017.

Most of us are consumers of technology rather than producers. In this podcast our futurist, Martin Hamilton, asks what it would take to learn how to code, or get into hardware hacking. You can also read his accompanying blog.

Jisc discussions: Social media and higher education

By emma.dixon@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Oct 13, 2017.

We’re on the look-out for the most social media-savvy folk in higher education (HE). 

In this podcast our digital comms team chat about social media, its uses in higher education, and our new social media superstars competition. Get involved online by using the hashtag #JiscTop10

Creative Commons attribution information
Emma Dixon, Georgie Myers and Richard Tatnall
©Jisc

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

By kate.edser@jisc.ac.uk 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.

Join the FE and skills coalition and be part of the digital revolution

By kate.edser@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Oct 10, 2017.

A group set up to help steer colleges through digital transformation over the past three years is now turning its attention to the sort of technology that will benefit further education (FE) organisations in the future.

The FE and skills coalition was born in response to the government’s 2014 FELTAG (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) report, which made several key recommendations to ensure that digital technology benefited learners, providers, employers and the UK economy.

Since then, the sector has evolved considerably and many FE providers have jumped on board the digital express. But there’s more work to be done – and new technology to embrace.

The focus of the present coalition, which is organised by Jisc, is to bring together sector leaders and digital decision-makers to share best practice and learn how the colleges of tomorrow could operate.

31 October is the date of the next meeting, when topics for discussion include learning and assessment in a digital age, digital skills in the vocational education and training sector and the use of augmented and virtual reality in teaching. Experts from colleges already spearheading work in these areas will be presenting. There will also be a Jisc update on our work in the FE and skills sector.

Jisc’s London office is the location for the next meeting, which is free to attend, although you must register. For more information, visit the event page or contact Rob Bristow, senior co-design manager at Jisc, on rob.bristow@jisc.ac.uk.

Missed our GDPR training? Watch it online for free!

By kate.edser@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

Worried you aren’t prepared for new data protection laws coming into effect next May? Haven’t managed to catch one of our free online briefings on the subject? Don’t panic! We've made a recording on the subject.

Many of our members have requested support and training on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and we know it’s a high priority.

Indeed, judging by the results of a recent Jisc survey, most universities appear to be preparing well for the GDPR. Already, 12% have conducted training on this issue, with 71% planning training this year and a further 9% next year.

In terms of FE colleges, 10% have already undertaken training, 37% will up-skill staff this year and 33% in 2018.

Around 400 of you have so far taken advantage of our online briefings. The first 'moving toward GDPR' event ran on 1 August, 2017, and proved hugely popular, with 173 participants. The next one, on 4 September, attracted even more people – 230.  

Our training manager Katharine Iles, said:

“We quickly realised there was considerable appetite for information and training on the implications for our members of GDPR, so we decided to make access to support as easy as possible.

One of the presentations, featuring our chief regulatory adviser, Andrew Cormack, has been filmed and is available to view now. We will be arranging more online briefings on other aspects of the GDPR in the future. Keep an eye on our training pages for further details.”

In the video, Andrew describes:

  • The main differences between the new regulation and previous data protection law 
  • The areas organisations will need to include in their GDPR planning
  • Document information lifecycles for data processing

In addition, we organise more comprehensive GDPR training days. The next one-day course is in London on 23 November. At the end of the day, and for no extra charge, delegates take the EU GDPR Foundation exam. This 60-minute multiple-choice test is ISO 17024-accredited and set by the International Board for IT Governance Qualifications (IBITGQ) and registration is open now.

For more information on what the GDPR will mean for your institution, you might like to read Andrew Cormack’s blog on the subject.

Will Government change its ‘one size fits all’ funding structures as they force students out of the system?

By nathalie.carter@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Sep 11, 2017.

The Higher Education and Research Act, brought in to realise the government’s ambitions of a diverse and competitive higher education (HE) sector, will impact on choices for students. Will these changes give students the education they need to ensure the UK - in the words of Jo Johnson, minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation, - succeeds as a knowledge economy?

Today in Parliament, thinktank Policy Connect and the Higher Education Commission present the findings of their fifth inquiry; an examination of alternative provision in HE.

The report from Policy Connect, titled One Size Won’t Fit All: the Challenges Facing the Office for Students (pdf), calls on the newly-founded Office for Students (OfS) to recognise that the funding structures in higher education are fundamentally flawed.

They force alternative providers to move towards standard campus-based, three year degrees. Therefore, not providing better student choice or flexible courses. These factors reduce diversity in options for study and therefore limit opportunity for social mobility for those who most need flexible higher education.

Keynote speaker at today’s launch, Conservative peer, Lord Norton said:

“Over the process of this inquiry the commission heard from many providers delivering innovative and alternative models of higher education. With increasing global competition in the sector and changing social and business trends the question of how higher education is delivered will only become more poignant.

The government’s decision to task the OfS to promote choice for students and value for money showed great foresight in this regard but promoting innovation and balancing risk against the public interest will require careful handling.”

Paul Feldman, Jisc CEO and member of the commission, noted:

"There is an amazing vibrancy and diversity in UK higher education. This report highlights that there is more that can be done to make sure all students have access to learn anywhere, anytime and in a way that suits them. The Higher Education and Research Act also provides an opportunity for high quality alternatives to the traditional degree to prosper.

While I expect the typical three-year university experience will continue to dominate, students should have confidence that they can use reputable alternative provision if it’s the best way to meet their career choices, whether they are training to be an engineer, lawyer, musician, artist, cook or football management professional."

Jon Wakeford, director of strategy at UPP and member of the HE Commission said:

“In order to thrive, the HE sector must boost ways of learning to help respond to the different needs of students. Everyone with the potential and ambition to participate in HE should have the ability to do so, as well as benefit from the social capital and skills development integral to helping them become employable.

We’re pleased to support the report’s call for diversity in HE so that students from all backgrounds can excel and engage in both meaningful education and employment.”

Policy Connect’s chief executive, Jonathan Shaw, said that the commission’s findings highlighted the great potential laid out before the Office for Students:

“The new regulator should examine funding and evaluation structures in HE to ensure that potential students have the opportunity to study as they need - this is especially important for those wanting to study specialist subjects or in a flexible way due to their circumstances - so that the British economy can benefit from a highly educated, diverse workforce contributing to the economy.” 

It’s official - higher education students want staff to be better with digital, not to use more of it

By georgie.myers@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Sep 11, 2017.

Students have stated their frustration at staff’s inconsistent use of technology, with 22,000 voicing their opinions on the use of digital at their institutions in our digital student tracker report (pdf)

Many reported that they were frustrated with the variety of systems used by staff, and that some refused to use digital tools altogether. Some mentioned they felt staff had not been trained to use systems effectively, or did not seem to be getting enough training or support.

However, when asked what their institution should do and not do, students requested a better use of digital systems, not more, fearing it could be used to replace face-to-face time with staff. 

One student said:

“Don’t encourage or enforce online group work as it is better to meet. There has to be more group activities that require face to face contact with lecturers and learning practical skills”

Another asked:

“Don’t allow academic staff to pick their own ways of using digital resources. At the moment each academic uses the virtual learning environment (VLE) in a different way, making it very time consuming to keep switching approaches. It’s also obvious that academic staff have not received adequate training in using these systems”

However, learners do value the convenience of digital systems provided by their learning organisation. 80% of students surveyed reply on their institution’s VLE to do their coursework, 67% regularly access the VLE via a mobile device, and 80% found submitting assignments electronically more convenient. 

Sarah Knight, our head of change - student experience, said:

“Our survey showed digital technology is most often used for accessing information and for the production of work in a digital format, and is valued for its convenience and is a great way to fit learning into the busy lives of students. It’s clear that students want the same convenience they get from using digital in their day to day lives, at university.

What they don’t want, is a deluge of different technologies and ways of using them. Institutions need to adopt a joined-up approach to digital, in order to meet the needs of students”

The survey also showed that students want institutions to use digital to connect them with other students, and to provide lecture-based quizzes and polls. The anonymity factor played a huge role here, one student said:

“…we voted on questions and got to see the results at the end. Closed answers made it more honest and were really useful to see what other people thought”

Personalised learning with digital tools came out positively, with 40% of HE learners surveyed using social media to discuss their work informally ‘weekly or more often’. 59% access learning on the move weekly or more, and 60% using digital tools to make notes.

The report is the largest of its kind, and aims to paint a national picture of the student digital experience, encouraging organisations to work with students in order to create learning environments that harness the power of technology.  

Find out how HE and FE learning providers can sign up to get involved with the 2018 survey

Download the full digital student tracker report (pdf) and the accompanying briefing booklet (pdf)

New agreement with the National Archives

By nathalie.carter@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Sep 08, 2017.

Together with The National Archives, we're delighted to announce the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding covering the period 2017-2019. 

We will work together to support collection discoverability, digital skills, and joint research.

The Memorandum of Understanding is the first formal agreement between our two organisations. It covers the period between 2017 and 2019, after which it will be reviewed.

This is an incredibly exciting time for the archive and information sectors as they collectively face the digital challenge, as outlined in The National Archives’ Digital StrategyDigital Research Roadmap, and the strategic, co-created vision for the Archives Sector, Archives Unlocked. This Memorandum of Understanding reflects our collective commitment to working in collaboration with key sector partners to meet these ambitions.

Fresh perspectives on delivering a digital student experience in FE

By emma.dixon@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Aug 23, 2017.

We launched our report, the evolution of FELTAG, last spring to celebrate effective digital practice in colleges and skills organisations, and to inspire others. Here, two colleges discuss how they're getting to grips with the FELTAG recommendations.

"The decision to ditch a plethora of software tools in favour of a single platform has brought about significant savings in cost, labour and time" says Ken Thomson, chief executive of Forth Valley College. Listen to our podcast to hear Sarah Knight share a fresh set of thought leader stories to guide and inspire. Read the accompanying blog.

English and maths retakes: more free books added to our collection

By kate.edser@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Aug 18, 2017.

Cash-strapped post-16 education providers and students alike can now benefit from an expanded collection of free digital text books aimed at those retaking English language and maths GCSEs.

Another 15 e-books have been added to the initial 23 titles that were made available in September 2016. The collection, which we procured, covers all five of the main exam boards (AQA, SQA, OCR, Pearson Edexcel, WJEA) and includes practice and revision books.

Signing up for the collection is free for members and we have calculated that each full book downloaded represents a saving of £20. At a time when numbers of compulsory resits in these subjects after the age of 16 are predicted to rise considerably, the potential savings could be significant.We've calculated that the college which has downloaded the most e-books over the past year would have had to fork out £32,000 in buying the equivalent number of physical books.

From September 2013, it became mandatory for pupils failing to achieve a grade C or better in English language and maths (grade 4 in the new GCSE grading system) to continue studying until they do, or until they turn 18, whichever comes first.

The government introduced this controversial measure to better equip young people for the workplace, but it placed a huge burden on post-16 education providers, both in terms of employing extra teachers and buying curriculum-matched text books. Providing content and recruiting suitable teachers was, and remains, a big problem.

Our head of digital content services for further education and skills, Karla Youngs, is adamant that “every college needs this service”.

Creative Commons attribution information
Karla Youngs
©Jisc and Matt Lincoln
Karla Youngs

She explains:

“Four years ago, colleges faced a difficult choice: either pay for resources that are mapped to the relevant exam boards and the curriculum, which would result in savings having to be made elsewhere, or access free resources not designed for traditionally taught courses, and therefore not quite fit for purpose.

As of September 2016, a third, no-cost choice became available to Jisc members. A year later, and a complete collection of 38 books, which covers all five of the main exam boards, is available through our e-books for FE service, which teachers and learners from subscribing colleges can use for free.

While nothing can replace excellent English and maths teaching, opening up access to these digital resources will go a long way in plugging the gap. Teachers can use the e-books in the classroom or virtual learning environment and learners can access the content on their own devices, wherever and whenever they want. Being able to study at a time and place that’s convenient is particularly important for English and maths resit students, who often have to take these subjects alongside their chosen full-time courses.

This free resource also means that students will not have to reply on the right text books being available in the library at the right time – they can simply log in online, or download a page or a chapter at a time.

Colleges don’t even need to worry about updating with new versions since this happens automatically.”

Post-16 providers that want to find out more should speak to their account manager, or go to the e-books for FE service page for more information and to sign up.

The Spotify of the textbook world takes off as Bibliotech is go

By emily.jones@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Aug 01, 2017.

As libraries look to widen access to core texts, how can they make this affordable to both universities and students?

Social mobility of students is a topic that rarely leaves the education headlines, with tuition fees and accommodation costs at the top of the list. Less topical, but of real importance to students’ day-to-day learning, is whether or not they have access to digital resources.

Bibliotech, coined by its founders as ‘the Spotify of textbooks’, has been selected as a preferred e-textbook supplier in the UK. A shortlisted entrant in our edtech startup competition this year, Bibliotech negotiates with publishers on behalf of its users - be they students or academics - and via a web app, provide access to core textbooks for as little as £2.99 a month.

Bibliotech was named as one of the recommended suppliers for e-textbooks in the Joint Consortia Framework Agreement for Books, which launches today. UK higher education institutions may purchase their e-books, standing orders and related materials via this framework agreement which provides compliance under EU procurement directives.

David Sherwood, CEO at Bibliotech, commented,

“We’re very pleased to be appointed as a supplier on the Joint Consortia Framework Agreement not long after Bibliotech launched in September 2016.

We offer e-textbooks under a unique subscription business model and look forward to partnering with libraries in England and Wales to provide a sustainable library focused model for electronic textbook delivery.”

Caroline Mackay, licensing manager at Jisc Collections, said:

“It’s great to be launching this partnership with Bibliotech. It was set up by students who saw the potential of technology to provide online access to thousands of textbooks and learning materials, and gives a truly affordable option for many students, who would otherwise struggle to pay for these resources.

We are also able to offer the service to libraries, which should really help students studying electives get access to resources which they may only need for a short while, and could form part of a valued package of support from their university.”

The Bibliotech platform creates bespoke e-textbook packages which match institutions' reading lists and integrate into all library management systems, virtual learning environments and reading list software.

All students have unlimited access to the content purchased for their course - a library-focused alternative to the one-for-one model.  Bibliotech already work with most of the major publishing houses and continue to sign new publishing partners with top titles from all the major courses. 

Read more about the Bibliotech model and improving textbook access on the Jisc Collections website.

Govroam – the wifi solution for the public sector

By kate.edser@jisc.ac.uk from Jisc news. Published on Jul 31, 2017.

Anyone who has to travel to different offices and buildings regularly as part of their job will understand what a pain it can be to swap on to different wifi networks at every new destination.

Identifying the correct network, sourcing the password, and actually logging on all takes time and effort.

In the public sector, where partner-working across different sites and organisations is increasing, “zero-touch” access to wifi has become a possibility with the launch of govroam.

It means that public sector employees across the UK can now travel between any participating public services’ building and connect to the network, without touching their laptop, smart phone or tablet. Once the profile is installed, the connection happens automatically.

The introduction of govroam will support the trend towards multi-disciplinary activities, such as the convergence of health and social care.

Imagine an elderly person is spending a long time in hospital after an assault and needs contact with social services, community health workers and the police. All of these workers can visit the hospital and use govroam to connect to the various online resource they need, while the service would also enable doctors to access patient records quickly during rounds.

Site-sharing with govroam enables multiple organisations to share a physical location and connect over a single standardised network. Parts of a council office could be repurposed for community-based police or health workers, or spare space in police stations made available for probation staff. This approach encourages collaborative working and has cost-saving benefits.

Such multi-tenanted sites are already being used in Leeds, where govroam is already in place as part of the Yorkshire and Humberside Public Services Network (YHPSN).

Another public service network (PSN) that was an “early adopter” of govroam is Kent, where every local authority in the county has rolled it out. Govroam is now available at more than 250 sites and rising and work is continuing to connect the whole of Kent’s PSN, which has more than 370,000 users across nearly 1,200 sites.

Govroam has also been deployed in parts of London, and there’s keen interest from PSNs in many other parts of the UK. The service is not, however, limited to PSNs: the fastest growing adopter of govroam to date is the NHS.

Govroam evolved from eduroam – the established wifi service used by the further and higher education and research sector and which runs on the UK’s national research and education network, the Janet network, and supporting the roaming of 1.6 million unique devices each month.

You can find out more by listening to our podcast on the benefits of govroam.

Digital Content and Disability

By Lucy J Stagg from Programme. Published on Feb 05, 2016.

This afternoon seminar will examine accessibility and usability issues in digital content, with a particular – but not exclusive – emphasis on learning-disabled people. Within this area, themes will centre around different hardware (mobile, laptop, e-book reader), media (web, e-book, apps), barriers to effective use and experts from various sectors will explain initiatives attempting to address the differing access needs.