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Connect with Jisc's visions for the future

Andy McGregor

Interested in what the future might look like for higher education, further education and skills? We have been sketching out ideas for what technology might hold for your sectors. Andy McGregor, our deputy chief innovation officer, introduces the visions and calls for comments.

Jisc's vision is to make the UK the most digitally advanced education and research nation in the world. To help us to achieve that goal we decided to develop a set of shared targets for the sectors for 2020 to 2030 looking at where we could end up and the kind of technologies that might make a difference, based on current trends.

Of course, any prediction of the future is a mug’s game: take this illustration of the bus of the future, as seen in the 1920s. It's amazing. It’s got a bridle path for horses to ride around on it!

But it's a prediction of the future rooted completely in paradigms of that era – and any time you predict the future you risk failure because your vision can only be based on your current context. It's hard to think beyond that to all the as yet unknown things that are going to come and disrupt your world.

But, even allowing for that, predictions are still useful because they give us something to aim for, something to rebel against. They get people discussing, and they get people thinking. I imagine many people who saw that bus prediction at the time also thought it was absolutely ridiculous - and maybe that helped to think of something different. A vision, no matter how seemingly way-out, can inspire action.

Creating our visions

Jisc is a membership organisation and involving everyone in our R&D, through our co-design process, is a core part of what we do. We knew from our co-design review that we needed to be more vision-led in our approach, involve more people and move faster.

So we came up with a series of ideas for the future, presented them to our senior stakeholders, had conversations and then worked up draft visions for all of higher education (HE), further education (FE) and skills to release as widely as possible, to get as much comment as possible over a short period of time.

We got more than 500 comments in two weeks, from across the full range of Jisc members, in all types of roles and all types of institutions. It really helped us to change and shape the visions into the versions we've released now, that we're hoping everyone at Connect more will look at and comment on too.

The rise of the machines

Picking out just a few headlines from the visions, 'the rise of the machines' is one of my favourites. We believe that across research, learning and teaching there is going to be much greater involvement of computers in jobs which were previously reserved for humans and we think that’s going to really transform education and research by allowing teachers and researchers to extend their reach and focus their time differently.

The increasing rise of student control is another very interesting trend. We've set out a vision of a future where students will have much more control over how they study, when they study and for how long, and they’re not limited to one university for one period of time and for one degree – they could work for a company, and have that contribute towards the degree, do some of their degree in a foreign country, do another one in the UK. Split up their education however they want at the speed the want. We think that’s going to have all sorts of challenges.

People first

Staff remain paramount and staff skills remain paramount throughout all the visions. No matter how good technology gets, it all comes down to how effectively staff are able to use technology to augment their skills and expertise.

This was an area where we made some important shifts in our focus as a result of the consultation. The feedback helped us to realise that we needed to be clearer that we're looking at tools as a way to support the people doing the education rather than replacing them – we always have to think people first when exploring new technology. The role of teachers and researchers and what they do every day is fundamental to good education and research.

What now?

The visions have given us a treasure trove of ideas to explore. We're prioritising them based on those areas we're already working in and could scale up, and those in which we could potentially do new work.

It's very clear that we need to rationalise our portfolio and focus our effort on some hugely important areas, such as learning analytics, the research data shared service and digital capability.

We’re exploring tools, such as Slack, to help us to engage our membership in the debate around whether these ideas are good ideas, what aspects of the ideas are good, what aren’t and helping us to shape these very headline ideas that have come out of the vision into something that's practically actionable.

Feedback at Connect more

There are many ways you can have your say on the visions at Connect more. I'll be there so come and find me, ask questions and tell me what you think.

There's also a feedback form, or you can tweet me @andymcg.