Went out of the window – Weeknote #103 – 19th February 2021

Brean Down
Brean Down, James Clay

It was half term, so my children were at home. Well they were at home last week as well, so not a huge change in the house this week, well less concerns about home schooling!

I did think about taking some leave, but with nowhere to go and not much enthusiasm in the household for doing stuff I like doing, I decided to try and have a meeting free week. I booked out my diary and at the start of the week I had just two meetings booked in. By the end of the week after a lot of different things happened, so I had about fifteen meetings in the end. My hope for no meetings went out of the window.

I did enjoy this blog post on misunderstanding excellence, which explored the concept that excellence of an organisation is not dependent on the excellence of its parts.

If we are as an organisation excellent at what we care about but have a clunky part of the infrastructure, there are only so many conclusions you can reach about that infrastructure.

  1. Making our infrastructure excellent would lead to an order of magnitude improvement on an already excellent system.
  2. The clunky infrastructure IS PART OF the overall excellence.
  3. The clunkiness or otherwise of the infrastructure makes little difference to the excellence of the organisation.

I would suggest the first of these is just silly to suggest, however much the consultants would suggest otherwise. If the second is true it is imperative we do nothing to “improve” our infrastructure. If the third is true, it doesn’t matter.

I think reflecting on the article is that we don’t know what excellence is.

Knightstone Island
Knightstone Island, James Clay

The first half of the week was dominated by finalising the draft of the Jisc HE Strategy which will be launched the week of Digifest. We have been creating a document for externals senior HE stakeholders on how Jisc can and could support the HE sector over the next three years and beyond to 2030.

I agreed with this tweet by Matt Lingard on the scheduling of webinars.

If these webinars are important for the work we do in Higher Education then don’t make them during lunchtimes. People need a break from their screens at some point in the day. With the lockdown this is even more important for people’s wellbeing. So if you are thinking about when to run a webinar, don’t run it at lunchtime!

magnifying glass
Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

I had a blog post published on the Advance HE blog, Looking through the digital lens, in which I reflect on how we may want to start to look through a digital lens on our strategic priorities.

Knowing that digital has been critical to dealing with the challenges of the pandemic, the question now remains: how and what role will digital play in the post-pandemic strategic priorities of the university? 

video chat
Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

Following a conversation with a journalist some of my comments were used in an article on University Business. Blended learning: the next chapter looks at what we’ve learned, and what happens now.

James Clay, head of higher education and student experience at Jisc, the not-for-profit organisation that supports institutions of higher education and research, told University Business that requirements for blended learning will very likely vary from establishment to establishment, and course to course.

There’s no single model that is going to suit every subject, cohort, academic staff and student body. While certain subjects can easily switch to cater to a more digitised approach to teaching and learning, others – such as the performing or creative arts, and STEM fields requiring lab work – have found online to be a real challenge.

“What works well in-person for one cohort of students may not necessarily be the best option for another cohort, for whom online is a better choice,” Clay says.

“Circumstances such as location, commuting, care responsibilities, employment and cost of living can all have an impact. We know that at one university with a large proportion of commuting students, they are looking at designing a future curriculum which requires less physical time on campus and much more delivered remotely online, to reduce the amount of travelling. This will potentially have an impact not just on the student experience but also student wellbeing, and reduced transport could have a positive impact on the environment.”

community book exchange
Image by chelseighmillar from Pixabay

Lawrie said this on the Twitter.


Yes, he’s right.

Should university students get a refund? This was the headline on a BBC article on the news website.

It’s been a tough year for students. Almost all lectures and other teaching have moved online and the university experience, for many, has shrunk to staring at a laptop in their bedroom. So should students get compensation?

Yes the experience has been poor, but there is a good reason why it has been poor, we’ve been in the middle of a pandemic. It’s not as though the university and their staff have been ring fenced, free from the pandemic restrictions, they have had to work through the same landscape as everyone else. To think this has not had an impact on the quality of teaching is quite naive.

I could go on about how other areas of life have also been severely affected, my children’s schooling as been pretty poor this year, can I get a tax refund?

However I recognise that as a society we are in this together, we are all having to live through the restrictions and challenges as part of this lockdown, as we try and protect society (and the most vulnerable) as a whole. Are we in this together, or are we not?

Did some planning for two consultancy projects we have running now in Jisc, as well as working in proposals for future work as well.

Got some sad news this week, that Dr Bex Lewis had died from cancer.

Did lots with Bex back in the late 2000s and 2010s at conferences and events, including a agreat session at the Plymouth e-learning conference in which we discussed how universities (and colleges) could carry on delivering teaching despite things such as snow causing campuses closure, seems we were ahead of the curve back then.  We recorded a podcast together as well. Sorry to hear of her passing.

My top tweet this week was this one.

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