Earlier this year, as part of our ongoing engagement process with members, we commissioned independent consultants to determine what Jisc services mean to the FE sector. The information will help us refine and develop what we do for our members now and into the future.
At three very different colleges the consultants looked at all Jisc services, the most important being connectivity to the Janet Network, its in-built cyber security protection, and digital resources such as e-books for FE.
The reports, which will be shared with members, will help us understand the value of our services and how the costs stack up against alternative providers.
The first report from Strode College is complete. Here, some of the people who work and study there give their views:
Tim Blake, head of IT at Strode College
I trust the Janet Network absolutely. When we connect to the internet and the students and the academics are doing their work, we just know that the network is going to carry on working and we don’t have to worry about it.
The loss of connectivity would cause chaos very quickly. The entire range of education is done here and we need the technology and the connectivity to do that. It can’t fail. If it fails, we fail.
Having been a customer of Jisc for many years, there is a feeling that working with a not-for-profit organisation that is built on the right ethos of education and research is a good thing; we have absolute faith in Jisc’s ability to do the right thing.
In terms of cyber security, we feel protected, but we are not complacent. We know that there are risks, but we also know that, when there are issues, Jisc is on the case quickly, protecting us and other institutions. I don’t think anybody could improve on that.
FE is also different to HE and, in some ways, FE is more challenging technology-wise because we have a lot more in the way of duty of care. Web filtering and monitoring and managing firewalls effectively is critical to us surviving. The challenges are huge, with much, much less in the way of resources.
The number of students who bring in their own devices has increased exponentially, and the expectation is that, from the moment they arrive in the morning until college closes in the evening, they can access good quality, high-speed and secure connectivity.
Beyond college open hours, there is also a significant demand by students, staff, and key partners to access learning resources remotely, and again, the reliance that the college places on the service provider, is key to its success.
He also said:
Our budget is always under review and we don’t have the time, resources or skills to be field experts in all of the technology that we use, so having a good quality, reliable service means a huge amount to us.
This is becoming significantly more relevant as we are increasing our use of online resources, including remote assessment and online examinations. The system helps us to cope with the demand for our limited resources.
Angela Leavens, head of learning resources and e-learning at Strode College
Without Jisc I would spend a lot more time negotiating our digital resources, which means I’d probably need more staff and I wouldn’t be able to offer the same breadth of products for learners.
The fact that we get e-books for FE for free through Jisc is absolutely fantastic! E-books are so much easier from our point of view than a hard copy. We get the title quickly, everyone can use it at the same time and we can have one e-book that will service the entire student body; you can’t say that of a paper book.
It’s a seamless service too because we use Shibboleth, so learners authenticate with their college username and password - we don’t have to give them a whole raft of passwords they need to remember.
Our students access the resources they need from home or on the move. That’s really important to us as we are quite rural - we have students commuting on buses for up two hours to and from the campus.
Innes Davidson, a maths, physics and geography A-level student at Strode College
E-books are easy to access and I can have different tabs open at the same time, so I can look through different things easily and access them from different locations or on my phone.
If I didn’t have e-books I’d probably have to buy text books, which is expensive, heavy and awkward.
Dominic Cumberland, computing, physics and photography A-level student at Strode College
Having e-books on my phone means that I’m more likely to read them and go through them, especially when I have a spare moment.
On the bus I just put some headphones on, listen to some music and get the revision book out. It has saved money, too, because the textbooks are quite expensive - £20 each - but this way I can have them for free.