If there was a prize for the most used buzzword across all industries then I’d be giving my vote to innovation. But, unsurprisingly given my job title, I believe this is one buzzword that you dismiss at your peril.
The importance of being innovative
Innovation is the concept of thinking creatively to come up with new or novel ideas, products and methods that meet a particular requirement or market need. It’s something that we need to embrace and take advantage of – and do so fast.
The Higher Education and Research Bill that has recently been debated before Parliament envisages important and far-reaching changes for higher education (HE), such as the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), reduction in the barriers to entry for private and alternative providers, and bringing together a super-research council.
At the same time, in further education (FE) and skills government is overseeing the biggest reform to post-16 education in years, including the college-based area reviews in England and creating clearer routes to skilled employment.
With our sector going through a major and on-going period of change, now is the time to review how we’re doing things, and what might be done differently, in order to innovate and secure a more sustainable, effective model for the future.
Setting the parameters
If we agree that our sector needs to become more innovative – as PA Consulting’s Higher Education Survey put forward last year – we next need to decide on which areas we should be concentrating our efforts, and who should be leading the charge.
Let’s start with the latter, and why I think Jisc has a defining role to play in innovating for education and research.
As the technology body for the sector, by the sector, Jisc is uniquely positioned to develop ideas and scale up digital solutions that benefit the whole community.
We’re more than about enabling colleges and universities to deliver business-as-usual. It’s our duty to members to look forward and pre-empt what is likely to be the next big challenge or opportunity in education and research, and work with them, and other relevant partners, to start developing products, services and solutions that best support their needs, before they become mission-critical.
Importantly, we recognise that we can’t do it all: neither do we want to. We’re not trying to replicate what is already happening within the sector. Where there are suitable edtech solutions available, or other organisations or bodies who are better placed to deliver, then we’ll take a step back and explore other ways that we can support.
A good example is cloud services. Market leading products already exist so, rather than coming up with our own, competitive solution, we have instead worked with vendors to negotiate access to framework agreements with the best possible terms and conditions for UK education and research.
Using visions to refine our offer
I’ve made the case for Jisc’s role. Now to the ‘what’ – and more specifically, where we believe there is a requirement for Jisc to start new development work.
Many months ago I introduced Jisc’s set of visions about the issues that will pose significant challenges to education and research in the coming years, and how technology might transform the sectors, by 2020 and 2030.
This exercise was helpful in allowing us to re-examine our research and development against what we believe the landscape could look like in the future, and rationalise our work to concentrate on three main areas: digital capabilities; learning analytics; and research data shared services.
What it also helped to do was start thinking beyond the most immediate priorities and turn our gaze to the future, and what comes next. If we don’t do this now we potentially leave a gap where problems may creep up.
Prioritising for the future
From our visions we were able to pick a number of challenges that we think may become particularly prickly for members, as well as ripe for opportunities if they are given the right digital tools, technologies and support.
Each of the emerging challenge areas is deliberately broad, being intended to generate discussions in order to hone in on the activities that Jisc could do. These include:
- The intelligent campus - evidence suggests that gathering more data on students, staff and buildings will allow us to create better learning experiences, research and more effective campuses – but should we be doing so? What are the ethical issues? And the logistics?
- The digital apprenticeship - government has committed to three million starts by 2020, giving the sector both the opportunity and the impetus to bring apprenticeships into the twenty-first century. So how do we go about creating truly digital apprenticeships?
- Next-generation learning environments - are current learning systems, which have often evolved sporadically and with new technologies bolted on, fit-for-purpose in the modern, connected institution? What would a next generation learning environment need to do to seamlessly bridge physical and virtual spaces?
- Next generation research environments - as with the need to re-imagine the environments in which people teach and learn, so too we need to think about the next generation research environments. What do researchers of the future want to be able to do that their environment can’t do currently, and what’s going to support them to get there?
- Digital skills for research - research is changing. New technology is transforming all aspects of research management and practice. How do we equip people with the skills they need for the future of research to ensure the UK keeps its position as a leader in research?
- Data-driven learning gains - universities are increasingly being called on to draw on a vast array of data and information to demonstrate and improve the quality of the experiences they offer and boost employability and overall satisfaction. How can we make sure we capitalise on the data opportunity, while also ensuring that it’s done in a responsible and ethical way?
Join the discussion
Of course, it’s not enough for us to go off and explore these ideas alone, with wild abandon. To truly be ‘for the sector’ we need as many members, users and related organisations – in fact, anyone with an interest in edtech – to share their thoughts and collaborate.
If any of these challenges interest you or you think we have missed something; if you want to keep up with developments in digital; have a say in the ideas we explore; or to network with innovative people, then join the discussion by heading over to the get involved pages or finding the Twitter conversation at #codesign16. Contact me or visit the co-design consultation page for more information.