Lots of my colleagues were still on leave, so it was quite quiet in the office.
So I was on leave last week and the week started with a Bank Holiday in England, so it was a shorter week. Having spent the week on leave, I was not too surprised to find that there were 109 unread emails in my inbox, it didn’t take too long to get those down to six that I needed to deal with.
Spent some time working out our finance system, I rarely raise purchase orders, so I do find it can be challenging to get to grips with the finance system and processes. Though I will say ours is certainly simpler than ones I have used in the past.
Having probably spent time and effort securing the funding to go to a conference such as the ALT Conference in Manchester, it makes sense to spend some time preparing in advance of attending. Last minute rushing and chaotic flipping through the programme on the day of the conference, means you are probably not getting as much out of the conference as you could. I think this year with the hybrid nature of the conference, it makes even more sense to do some planning.
I have also written a blog post about packing and what to take to the conference, which I will be publishing later. Of course if you are attending online then this old post might be useful.
Some meetings were cancelled this week, as a key member of staff was off sick, which gave me some more time for planning.
Had some discussions with GuildHE about Jisc attending a network meeting at end of September to present on Learning Analytics and Student Support.
Had a session with a member of staff about agile methodology and how I use an agile approach, JIRA and Confluence to plan my week and my work. It reminded me that I haven’t written this up (for myself) and maybe I should write a blog post on my workflow and processes.
I updated my new stuff and old stuff event and conferences pages on the blog. Helpful for me to remind myself where I have been and where I am going, but may also be useful for others to either find out about a future event, or to let me know about an event that I might want to attend (and isn’t in the list).
I enjoyed this Twitter thread on diversity, merit and excellence.
"Oh, but we cannot compromise excellence for diversity."
This is a statement that I have heard many times at faculty meetings when trying to hire minoritized scholars (heck, even women scholars).
I often hear people about appointing the best person for the job based on merit, or inviting the best speaker for the conference. This often though misses the whole picture and what diversity can bring to the holistic metaphorical table.
Diversity increases innovation: diverse groups are known to produce innovative solutions, especially to ill-defined problems (much of the science we do). Demographic diversity is a proxy for diverse thinking.
Having a diverse team means a better team, this isn’t about recruiting the best individuals, it’s about having the best team. I think I might write more about this in a future post.
I also liked this comment from the thread on higher education, and the importance of diversity in the demographic of the staff in an university.
Demographic diversity is beneficial to the very experiences of undergraduate and graduate students, creates a feeling of belonging in students, and provides them with role models that they can aspire to.
So if you are attending ALT-C next week in Manchester, see you there.
My top tweet this week was this one.
Well back from leave, cleared the inbox down to six emails to deal with today. How's your week going?
Well the week ended with a red weather warning, our offices were closed, I worked from home and my afternoon online meeting was cancelled because of the weather.
I spent most of the week in London. The last time I was in London was at the end of November.
This was also my first opportunity to take advantage of 5G (new phone and all that). What they don’t tell you with 5G is how slow the upload speeds can be. Fine for streaming. Rubbish for online video conferencing.
I had planned to attend WonkHE’s Making Sense of HE event on Monday, but the end result was I wasn’t booked onto the event, so I headed into the office in London. Our office was relatively quiet and so I did managed to get lots done, but missed the social aspect of the office.
On Tuesday I did attend WonkHE’s The Secret Life of Students. This was a real in-person event in central London. I have not done one of those for a while. I think my last in-person (external) event was Digifest back in 2020.
The opening session was on diversity the key takeaways from the event for me were that diversity needs to be done differently than what we have been doing before. We need to think more about the individual rather than just fixing issues for identified “groups”. It was apparent that there was a need in the sector to think about transforming their approach to diversity. I was reminded of how there have been changed approaches to accessibility and digital in the higher education sector. There is now much more consensus about a whole organisational approach to challenges, and thinking about a more personalised approach to accessibility for example.
There was lots of commentary about unusefulness and lack of evidence for generational stereotypes, therefore we should avoid using terms such as Generation Z or Millenials.
The Pearson report on belonging was interesting and could be relevant to universities as they attempt to rebuild their communities following the pandemic restrictions.
The afternoon sessions focussed on the main on student outcomes. Lots of references to Student Futures report. There were a fair few sessions on digital as well. There are opportunities and concerns about digital.
As you might expect from an event where the audience was very much seated in student support (and SU) the focus of discussion was very much on how universities could and should support wellbeing and mental health. A fair amount of concern expressed about using data and digital to do this, the human factor was seen as critical.
Again feedback about having a shared understanding of key terms such as personalisation, hybrid, etc… This wasn’t so much about having a national discussion on the definitions, but ensuring locally everyone understands what the university is trying to do in terms of hybrid, personalisation, blended learning, etc… The fact that they started referencing multi-modal teaching as an alternative to hybrid, shows again the sector likes to spend time discussing definitions rather than solutions.
Institutional technical debt came up in presentations (from people like Mary Curnock Cook) however the audience were not engaged with it so much (probably as they are not directly involved in this. Though we saw it is an issue with many (see Twitter thread) outside the event. There are data and technology legacies out there that are stifling progress, but universities struggle to know how to get out of technical debt.
I found the session on supporting students and enabling them to cope with university interesting. Assumptions are made about their “readiness” obviously links here with digital capabilities and skills.
Overall, I really enjoyed the event, it was nice to experience the eventedness of an in-person event. Something I have found missing from online events. I think part of the reason is that most online events I have attended during the pandemic have been poor translations of physical in-person events Losing all the nuances of what makes those events so engaging and not taking advantage of the affordances that digital platforms can provide. Though the coffee was awful.
Wednesday I was in the London office again, there were a lot more people in on that day, which made it much more social. It was really nice to catch up with colleagues, who I wouldn’t generally interact with much as part of my role. I spoke to one of our service directorates in the afternoon about the HE strategy and what it means for them.
Thursday I had a meeting with the Office for Students as part of their funding of Jisc. I updated them on some of the work we have been undertaking in the teaching and learning space.
Glad to return home on Thursday as there was travel chaos on Friday because of storm Eunice.
I spent part of the week working on how we can improve and enhance our thought leadership offer. I actually don’t like the term thought leadership, so rarely use it externally (there is an exception here for example), however it is a term I use internally (as it is in our core strategy). It should be noted that many in the HE sector actually don’t like the term thought leadership. However if you ask people from the sector about the actual content that is produced that we would think of as thought leadership, then there is a different story as they find this useful, inspiring and helps them think. Similarly, members will often ask for specific people within Jisc who are experts in their field for help and support. Or they will find presentations and articles from individuals inspiring. This is something we need to work on further.
I also did a fair bit reflecting on the Student Futures Manifesto. One of their recommendations is for a new national technology infrastructure strategy.
We recommend that Jisc build upon their leadership work first to review the existing technology estate in HE, and then, as a matter of urgency, produce further guidance to help universities more rapidly modernise their systems architecture and applications. While many universities already have ‘digital transformation’ plans underway, further guidance to universities about the basic architectural building blocks and data systems to support a digital university, and how to plan and execute a transformation, would be welcomed.
The recommendation continues
The centrality of technology now means there is a case for this sector leading approach, because this remains a core strategic capability which leadership teams struggle with.
Heidi Fraser-Krauss, Jisc CEO, said: “I wholeheartedly support today’s report by the UPP Foundation, which goes a long way to address the pandemic-related concerns and needs of students. I also welcome the Student Manifesto to help students rebuild their confidence, regain control of their studies and plan for a successful future after graduation. “The report is right to recommend action on tackling digital and data inequities. Jisc’s digital experience insights surveys of university students and academic staff showed the detrimental effect on teaching and learning experiences from not having access to reliable connectivity, technology and digital skills. “I will be keen to action any Jisc-related recommendations to help support universities in modernising digital infrastructure as well as digitally transform learning, teaching and assessment to improve the experiences staff and students seek. As we move towards established models of hybrid learning, we have an opportunity to transform education through technology. Never have digital, data and technology been so important in meeting the multiple challenges and opportunities that UK universities face.”