Where Sheila's been this week – student summer of innovation and known-ing things

On Wednesday this week I had a fantastic day in London with the successful Jisc Student Summer of Innovation projects. Building on from last years project, I think this is one of the best things Jisc has ever/is doing. It truly is putting students at the heart of the student experience. If you aren’t familiar with the programme you can find out more here. Basically students pitch their ideas for improving the student experience online, then via a process of voting and review a number of projects are selected to receive funding to develop their ideas along with mentoring and advice during the process.

I managed to spend a day in August with the projects as they refined their original ideas, and this week it was inspiring to see just have far they have all developed in such a short time. What fascinates me too are the clear themes and issues that the students themselves are identifying as areas that need new student facing services.  Feedback, study support, mentoring support both in terms of students at uni/college and those about to start all featured last year as well as this.  Hearing statements from students during their pitches stating “there is no culture of feedback in HE’ is a wake up for all of us. I don’t think there is a Uni in the country just now that doesn’t have some kind of assessment and feedback project/guidelines/support, but clearly some students aren’t seeing the impact of those yet.  Data was a big thing with the projects too – analytics, dashboards formed a large part of the pitches from a number of the projects.  This may be partly due to smart thinking from the project teams.  Data  and analtyics is not only an area that Jisc  is very keen to develop new services in, but it is also a reflection of the “data is the new oil” mentality in software development more generally. There are still huge assumptions that data from every service will actually be useful and that people (staff and students alike) will have time and capability to act on it in meaningful ways.

Alan Greenberg, former Education Executive at Apple also gave talk on “education technologies, insights and contexts”.  His insights into the business side of developing technology for the education sector was I’m sure invaluable to the projects.  I have to say, parts of it made me slightly uneasy as it did seem to be leading to a very content centric, and reductionist data driven view of education.  I know ultimately Jisc does want to develop some of these projects as market ready services, which is great. But imho, the strength of this whole programme is the experience that it is giving the students. Not all the ideas will be able to become services, or be successful.  Not all the project teams have time to fully commit to them as they are still studying. However the impact of the experience they are part of will stay with them, and having this safe space to experiment is really, really important. I’m sure it will stay with them for the rest of their lives and impact on whatever they do next.  Below is a my sketch note of Alan’s talk (note to self, don’t leave home without ipad or coloured pens again!)

Notes from Alan Greenberg talk, 17 September 2014

And finally, something I was going to write about last week but didn’t. Following David Kernohan’s “you’ll never hear surf music again” talk at ALT-C and the general “twitter isn’t what it used to be we need to move somewhere else” debate, in an attempt to keep up with the #edtechhipsters, I’ve been looking at Known, a new social publishing platform. Last week I wasn’t quite sure how I would actually use it and how/where it fitted into my existing online spaces. However last night after voting in the Scottish referendum, I want to share something more than a tweet or Facebook status update on how I was feeling. I remembered  Known and I’m now seeing it as a counterpoint to this blog, which will remain very much work related and focused.



A walk on the student side of the street

Earlier this week I was invited to take part in one day meeting for the Jisc Student Summer of Innovation competition.  Never one to grumble about going to Birmingham,  I was really pleased that I could make this meeting to see and hear from the student projects as I hadn’t been able to make the previous meetings.

The rationale for the competition was to involve students in designing products to help the student experience. Who better to understand what students need than students themselves? The winners of the initial competition are now developing their ideas (for full details on who they are and how they were chosen read this blog post).  Monday’s meeting provided an opportunity to refine and present their “product pitches” to their peer group and invited external experts. The pitches were grouped into four sessions, where each project had a one minute pitch  followed by short “market place” sessions of c.20 minutes where further questions could be asked to the teams.

One minute pitches are quite an art form, so I’d like to say publicly how well I thought all the projects did. I was really impressed by the amount of work that they have all put into developing their ideas, and in some cases developing fairly sophisticated products already.

A couple of things did stand out for me, but more in terms of the issues (or should I say challenges) that the projects are dealing with. It seems that time management, sharing of notes, additional study skills, more tailored feedback (primarily via q&a), all done online with various peer recognition and/or reward systems (yes badges did come up more than once) are really high on the agenda. I did find this quite reassuring as I think most on the teaching side of things recognise these issues and there is lots of work (not least funded through various Jisc programmes) which are exploring and developing solutions to these issues too. The recognition of the role of students themselves was also really positive. However, there was maybe a slight “build it and they will come” naivety from all the projects.  Which is totally understandable coming from a bunch of  highly motivated students who have taken the time to get involved in the competition itself.  And they’re not alone in that respect.  Moving from a great idea to something that actually works and does actually “improve the student experience” is no mean feat, and very rarely relies on just technology itself.

I had fun playing at being a “dragon investor” for the day, and talking to a great bunch of students who were not only enthusiastic about their ideas, but also about the experience and opportunities that being involved in the competition has given them.  I hope my feedback, which was mainly around thinking about actual implementation, how people would actually use the products, evidence of need for the products, as well as some links to quite similar products and some relevant research were useful. I  was also not swayed at all by the fact that one of the projects brought along sweeties 🙂


The teams are going to be doing it all again in a couple of months,  but this time to people who have real money.  I’m looking forward to seeing which of the ideas progress to real products.