Reflections on our activities

We started this year with a blog post from the team introducing themselves and the activities they had done last year see A new year in edtech and codesign .

As we approach the end of the academic year I have asked some of the team to reflect on the past six months and talk about what they have been doing.

Future Wheel Actvity
Future Wheel Activity around Enviromental Sustainability

New Recruits

I am pleased to welcome Nadia and Jasmine to the edtech and codesign team, who have hit the ground running and we are already learning from them.

Jasmine Price, graduate product lead: like other product leads, my role consists of working across the research, co-design and discovery pipeline to bring ideas to life! However, being a graduate, this process is also an exciting first step into the world of EdTech and product development. Since starting my role, I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work with universities first-hand and to speak with students about the impacts of covid-19 on their university experience. The trends we’ve seen have been analysed to produce some thought-provoking conclusions, which I hope to share with the sector in a paper that can be used to impact the future of FE & HE.

Nadia Bentoua, product lead: I am new to Jisc and joined 3 months ago on an 11-month maternity cover contract. My background is in education, technology, and start-ups. Over the years, I have provided digital solutions to hundreds of educational institutions across 4 different continents, and I am delighted to be continuing my career here at Jisc.

One thing I really like about my new role is how varied it is. My main focus is on building a connection between start-ups and Higher Education Institutions; finding a way that these small companies can really help universities solve their most pressing problems. It is really exciting to work with entrepreneurs who are blazing trails and matching them up with institutions who want to make a lasting impact on their students’ learning journey.

A national centre for AI and a product to support the hybrid digital classroom

Sue Attewell, head of edtech: The highlight of the last six months for me, has been the exploration and development of the National centre for AI in tertiary education. I started working on this early in the year developing a hypothesis and then validating this through interviews with senior leaders and innovative practitioners across HE & FE.  Finding out what’s happening already in the sector and where the interest lies and then shaping the centre to deliver effective solutions to improve the AI maturity of the sector has been fun as well as hard work.   I was pleased when Jisc agreed to support the business case for the centre, and we have now moved to the development phase, currently focussing on hiring dedicated staff to work on the centre.  I’m really excited about the next stage.

Sarah Dunne, product lead: since I last wrote in January things have progressed a lot. There has been a lot of enthusiasm from the sector for the Jisc Virtual Classroom and I’ll soon be handing this to a new product lead for it to be transitioned to a full Jisc service.

I’ve also been involved in some of the early work for the new Jisc National Centre for AI which was launched in June. It’s been particularly interesting being involved in discussions around the ethics of AI and Jisc is keen to fully explore these issues in order to best support its members.  I’m also really pleased that the earlier work I was doing around chatbots has been brought into the AI centre activity and is expected to form on one of the Centre’s first pilot.

Supporting digital change in colleges

Alicja Shah, product lead: for the past 6 months I have been acting as a product owner for the Further Education and Skills  digital elevation tool. The work that we started last year on how to turn the Digital elevation model into a tool that would add value for our members have continued. We worked with a designer and developers and I’m pleased to say that the tool will be ready to be taken into a pilot phase at the end of summer.

A look at diamond open access

Caroline Ingram, product lead: Over the past 18 months most publishers have made research relating to Covid-19 freely available. The success of this policy shows that full and immediate access to all research would aid the response to a variety of global challenges. We act as an advocate for, and aid the transition to, Open Access (OA) through advice, guidance, and services, supporting a diverse range of OA models. As part of small team, I’m currently investigating further routes to support OA to research outputs that are sustainable and cost-effective. Our focus is on OA publishing platforms, facilitating diamond (free from article processing charges) OA publication. We have carried out desk research and a series of interviews to help us map the publishing ecosystem so we can better work out where a new intervention could add value. We are now starting a series of interviews with academics and small publishers to understand the process of fully diamond open access publishing, and the business models that allow it to function.

Student loneliness and virtual study spaces

Sam Thornton, product lead: Although my work has touched on a variety of areas over the past six months the research I’ve done so far on virtual study spaces has been a personal highlight. It’s a new and rapidly expanding market and there are opportunities for Jisc to get involved at a very early stage, whether that’s through partnerships or launching our own product. It has also given me great exposure to students which I have missed out on during some of my previous work. The research to date has been summarised in a blog post, and I’m really looking forward to continuing to explore how we can bring innovation and positive impact to the sector in this area.

Exploring the research sector and team maturity

Dom Fripp, head of discovery: This year, we’ve been delighted to begin taking research sector ideas through our innovation process. Alongside teaching and learning, this is a priority area for the team and somewhere we want to contribute value for our members. As our team process matures, it has been very gratifying to see colleagues take on the product owner role in an agile software development environment, steering brand new products (such as the DEM) to the MVP stage. Working in harmony with other parts of Jisc is a vital part of our mission. The relationships being forged now bode well for future success.

Designing for the future

Tom Davey: senior user centred design specialist: As the sectors for which we work for have continued to face the ongoing challenges brought about by the pandemic, I have been proud of the ways in which we have leaned into and strengthened our capacity to listen to and help.

The way in which we move through our design process has at every step matured to better achieve what we’re here to achieve. From amplifying our drive to centre our understanding and decisions on the real lived experiences of people in universities and colleges, to improving our ability to rapidly express, explore and iterate on concepts with rich prototypes.

While this is a bit of a technical and inward-looking reflection, what it means in reality – most importantly – is that this year I’ve been fortunate to work with, listen to, and learn from learners and staff at countless colleges, universities, and other organisations, on a vast amount of topics that people are truly motivated and passionate about. I look forward to carrying this forward into the next year of further improving how we design at Jisc.

Looking at big challenges

Paul Bailey, head of codesign: sometimes as a team we take on challenges that are so large it is a struggle to arrive at a feasible idea we can take forward into the pipeline. Three big challenge areas we have looked this year: environmental sustainability, the future of assessment and student isolation and loneliness. We are now exploring some ideas around authentic assessment tools and apps to support student engagement. As with any new innovation the initial idea or prototype will rarely be the final solution, but we learn more about the challenge by exploring innovative ideas.

The Future

I think we’d all agree that this has been a challenging last 6 to 18 months, but as a team we have risen to the challenges, explored and innovated. We could never do co-design without speaking to our members, staff and students, who have kindly given up their time to share. So I’ll finish by thanking everyone who has participated and helped in out activities, in any way, and look forward to continuing to work everyone in the future.

So if you’re interested in giving us your view, suggesting areas to explore, or sharing what you are doing join our #edtechcoffee sessions when they start again in September or email  


By Paul Bailey

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

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