A new year in edtech and codesign

We thought we’d start the year by introducing some of the edtech and co-design team members, a glimpse of who we are what do we do. We’re a very active team led by Andy McGregor, director of edtech,  with a focus on exploring technology innovations in education and research, identifying potential new products and services and discovering emerging edtech companies that can benefit universities and colleges. We have an interesting and extensive backlog of trends and challenges to explore, with only around 1 in 10 ideas making it past the first exploration. We are an agile team and aim to turn over ideas in week not months.  

See what the team say about what they have worked on the past year and some ideas for the future. 

Team Photo
Team Photo

Alicja Shah, product lead – discovery: my role focuses on development of new products from the ideation stage to early design stage. One of the tasks for this year was to look at ideas to bring more value to the digital elevation model from the new Jisc FE and Skills strategy. Our design process is centered on the users and we spoke to college leaders to better understand their needs around planning for digital transformation. Those face-to-face conversations (virtually of course) and listening to stories from colleges across the country was a definite highlight of my year.  

Caroline Ingram, product lead – as part of the team working across the co-design and discovery phases, I’ve spent this year contributing to making ideas into reality. The focus for this year has been firmly in designing new tools to meet needs in learning and teaching. We’ve done a lot of talking to practitioners, both students and academics, to help to understand their current practice and problems. I hope, with the launch of the new Digital Research Community, and the forthcoming launch of the Jisc Research Strategy that we will be able to bring similar new ideas and value to the priorities raised by and for researchers.    

Dom Fripp, head of discovery – Against a backdrop of unprecedented change, this last year has been an exciting one in terms of new product realisation; from game changing proof of concepts such as a national digital credentials platform to an innovative prototype that empowers students to manage their course feedback better. The real highlight has been watching the whole team work with precision and pace during this challenging year: taking ideas through our innovation pipeline in just a few months and producing high quality work that is reaching the sector faster. The best thing is there’s a lot more to come. 

Lawrie Phipps, senior research lead, my focus is on identifying the sector trends that may impact on our R&D work. The nature of my work brings me into constant contact with staff and students at all levels in universities and colleges, and because of that almost all my work this year has been seen through the lens of a global pandemic. Writ large in those conversations have been stories of loss; loss of connections, loss of opportunities, loss of learning, and of course many of the conversations spoke of personal losses. But as we progressed through the year we also saw the resilience of the sector begin to emerge, staff were building new ways of working, and one key theme that we picked up was “social connectivity”. This is something we have been capturing, and looking at how technology, practices and processes can be put in place to help staff and students maintain social connectivity though the pandemic isolation. We have webinars and workshops on this subject planned for the early part of 2021. Finally, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, as we approached the end of the year we started having discussions around the attainment gap in universities, and whilst we still need to do a lot of research into understanding the data, early indications are that during the lockdown, the attainment gap closed for many of the groups that are usually disadvantaged – watch this space.  

Paul Bailey, head of co-design. I lead the early-stage exploration around challenges and opportunities facing education. This year we have had to juggle the emerging issues from the pandemic with a strategic approach to consider the longer-term opportunities. The pandemic has highlighted several challenges for staff and students that were already issues in the sector but became amplified with remote learning. Challenges we have looked at include social connectivity around learning and remote working, pastoral care of students, learning support services for teachers and remote assessment. We are exploring the use of artificial intelligence and digital assistants, to see if they can provide solutions to address some of these challenges going forward. 

Rose Sellman-Leava, product lead – I manage one of our edtech services, called Step up. Step up aims to transform HE and FE by matching edtech startups with institutions to solve the sector’s biggest challenges. It’s a service that has been running since 2019, but in November 2020, we successfully refocused and relaunched it. Doing so did challenge ours, our startups’ and the Jisc members’ perceptions of what the Step up programme is for. Luckily, the changes have had positive consequences. All our current edtech hotlist are well engaged with Step up and we are generating good interest from universities too. This has been driven by the research reports we’ve produced and published this year, as well as some press releases we’ve shared that are generating a lot of interest. What we’ve learnt from this is that you can successfully pivot the direction of a product, even when it’s gone out to market, if you can evidence your reasons for changing direction and demonstrate the benefits that will be realised. 

Sam Thornton, product leadI led and contributed to various co-design and discovery phases throughout the year. In the last few months of 2020 I’ve been leading a discovery phase where we have been looking at the potential of Jisc creating and running a platform for the issuing and management of digital credentials/accreditations. I see a solution like this, along with a widely used unique learner identifier, as being hugely transformative for the sector, enabling learner providers to expand their offering, and learners to participate in flexible, bite-sized learning when and where they need it. We’ve had interest from institutions and employers and are now exploring opportunities for funding. 

Sarah Dunne, product lead – like the other product leads I work across co-design and discovery to develop new and innovative products for our members.  I’ve worked on a range of activities this year and am pleased to be part of the team now delivering the Jisc Virtual Classroom as a beta service.   I’m also excited to be working with Bolton College exploring ways we might be able develop their ADA chatbot as a service for Jisc members. It’s early days yet but ADA has been such a benefit to the staff and students of Bolton College it would be great if Jisc could provide other colleges and universities with a similar opportunity. 

Sue Attewell head of edtech – I work on both Innovation and Edtech which ensures I always have something interesting to focus on.   Working with startups can give us insights into product development particularly lean startup methodology.  We also look to identify the most relevant startups for our members and make it easier for our members to procure.  On the innovation side I’ve been working with Dom and Paul on developing and iterating process and I’m currently focusing on the National Centre for AI for tertiary education which will be launched in 2021. 


A large part of our codesign process involves speaking and listening to hear about your challenges and ideas.  So if you’re interested in giving us your view, suggesting areas to explore, or sharing what you are doing join our #edtechcoffee sessions or email  

By Paul Bailey

Head of co-design, part of a research and development team

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