Innovation, collaboration and face-to-face conversation – celebrating the power of community at Digifest

2024 saw the introduction of the community hub at Digifest, designed to help attendees engage, learn and grow their networks.

Digifest delegates gather at the community session.

The theme of Digifest 2024 was ‘imagine the future’ and the buzz throughout the event certainly felt like one of optimism.

To facilitate collaboration and help attendees collectively achieve their ambitions, this year Jisc launched the community hub, designed to support networking and host workshops for Jisc’s communities of practice, as well as providing a meeting point for the 2024 community champions.

Many other Digifest attendees also made use of the hub to catch up with peers and Jisc relationship managers, making the space a hive of activity throughout the event. Discussions centred around the huge variety of Digifest sessions including everything from AI and empathy to sustainability.

The purpose of the community hub was to bring people together and offer opportunities for more structured networking

The purpose of the community hub was to bring people together and offer opportunities for more structured networking, including community meet-ups, making it easier for individuals to meet like-minded peers.

The accessibility and assistive technology café and the FE library community meet-up hosted at the hub, for example, provided great opportunities for community members to connect with colleagues they may never have spoken to face-to-face - a welcome change from the online world in which most of us operate every day.

As well as more informal meet-ups, Jisc community managers also ran a number of workshops focused on common priority themes for community members.

Human experience and connection

As part of their award package, Jisc’s community champions were invited to a VIP experience at Digifest, which this year included a dedicated workshop hosted at the community hub. This focused strongly on their key achievements and any challenges they may be facing, with the purpose of sharing best practice and encouraging collaboration to overcome barriers to excellence.

The AI in FE community meet-up proved highly popular, with discussion around different themes including accessibility, ethics and equity in the use of AI, drawing out specific actions for attendees to take back to their institutions.

The digital storytelling community session showcased an innovative twist on a popular card game – cards FOR humanity, developed to help learners overcome hurdles of inexperience, nerves or scepticism and start identifying and telling stories about their own personal experiences. The session explored several ways that participants could facilitate storytelling in their universities and colleges.

The importance of structured networking was one of the main draws of the community hub, with meet-up events during the breaks proving extremely popular.

The opportunity for attendees to dip their toes into something new was also a key factor for success, allowing individuals to spark a conversation that may not have been possible had they not visited the hub. This was certainly true for the blossoming learning analytics community, who were able to share information about new products and events.

The community hub at Digifest

Challenges and barriers

With so much discussion around AI across a number of Digifest events, it was no surprise to see it was also a hot topic at the building digital capabilities and digital experience insights teams workshop, where they discussed the new AI question sets.

Community managers Mike Cameron, Clare Killen and Becky Vickerstaff said of conversations from the day:

“It was felt that staff digital confidence has taken a rapid decline over the last two years due to workload and changing technologies such as AI.

“Moving forward it was felt that more emphasis and incentives were needed for staff to develop their digital skills, not just in terms of time but also by including the skills needed in the job specifications.”

Some of the barriers to change discussed included time, fear, denial and digital divides.

The 2024 community champions also highlighted many common challenges that emerged, mainly around resourcing and time pressures. It was great to see the champions approach these challenges with a sense of shared determination to see the bigger picture and provide the best possible learning experiences. Their collective resilience showcased what these communities are all about: the ability to innovate and experiment despite challenges.

Plans and engagement: imagining the future

Sticking with the theme of this year's Digifest, many conversations at the community hub revolved around plans for the future, and how to achieve their goals in a fast-moving digital world.

It was great to see many community members discussing opportunities to meet up and cross-collaborate with their students and peers to help drive the conversation forward and find new ways to innovate.

The importance of planning was also highlighted in the extended reality (XR) community workshop where participants stressed the need to engage with curriculum staff from the very beginning, identifying which subject areas to embed technology in and ensuring link up with teaching staff to evaluate the suitability of the content.

Members recommended using Bailenson’s (2018) DICE framework as a starting point, which involves identifying learning experiences that are “dangerous, impossible, counterproductive or expensive”, and could potentially benefit from simulated learning instead.

Regarding student engagement, one recommendation was to appoint student champions and use a co-design approach to foster a sense of ownership and engagement. Involving students in the process can help to create immersive and interactive learning experiences tailored to their specific needs.

The Digifest community hub helped foster a sense of empowerment with members and attendees, bringing everyone together in a central space to be a driving force for good.

The Digifest community hub helped foster a sense of empowerment with members and attendees, bringing everyone together in a central space to be a driving force for good.

Being able to embrace the human connection in the face of the technological and external challenges education will face over the next decade will keep communities anchored and provide hope as they imagine the future together.

Further information

Visit the dedicated communities page for more information on how to get involved. A number of community champions will also be presenting at Connect More on 8-10 May.

Longer read blogs from community managers outlining their experiences of Digifest 2024: