This week I attended my third Jisc Digifest conference. The free-to-attend event is hosted annually at the ICC in Birmingham, and is organised by Jisc to celebrate all things “digital” in the education sector. Here are a few of my personal reflections on the #Digifest17 conference.
Jisc’s Digifest conference did not disappoint once again – the 2017 event contained a plethora of interesting and insightful talks, workshops, demos and debates. Scheduling which of these talks to go to was easily done by using the interactive Digifest app on my iPad – you could access the event programme via the app and create your own personal schedule for the two days at the conference.
I think the two main themes for me at #Digifest17 were “visualisation” and “digital literacies”. A number of the Digifest talks covered these topics when highlighting online resources or services.
The “Building digital expertise in your organisation” discussion featured a number of case studies highlighting different institutional approaches to develop staff digital capabilities. I especially found North Lindsey College’s “DPD Go!” programme to be a fascinating example of creating a framework for increasing digital literacies and core competencies for staff – the idea of an “app club” for library staff is one which I think will resonate with colleagues I work with at DMU. The discussion promoted the need to embed digital capabilities in the workplace and for staff to engage with this process – digital skills can raise staff confidence (staff like to be rewarded and celebrate individual achievements) and directly add value to the learning experience of students. These ideas echoed similar outcomes in the recent 2017 NMC Horizon report. There was a sense though that organisations had to be persistent and consistent in their approach, and use “multi-pronged” tactics to support staff development and training in this area.
Whilst the “Building digital expertise in your organisation” session focused mainly on the development of staff digital skills, Rafe Hallet’s “Surfing in the Shallows” presentation highlighted students’ experiences with using online resources in HE. The talk debated the erosion of old reading and academic practices (a nostalgia for the concept of the “lone scholar”?) in light of new digital tech and resources. Does this mean that the (perceived) scattered, distracted reading processes of current students are in some way associated with the formats of this new digital tech? The talk went on to present that knowledge consumption was much more visual in the 21st Century and that students employed increasing creative and non-linear methods to absorb learning online. New digital resources are responding to new forms of reading, and it was important for universities to find a balance between digital play and academic rigour.
Some of the insights in Rafe Hallet’s talk were also promoted in Sara Perry’s “Digital jamming” workshop. Sara Perry uses digital tools in her work with students at the University of York to embrace group creativity and synthesise collaboration. The workshop was a highly interactive 10 minutes which saw conference attendees drawing stick figures and using these to create an online “meme” for Digifest17.
Two sessions which took place on the second day of Digifest17 highlighted the importance of visualising content or data in digital services. The new UK Medical Heritage Library (UKMHL) collection was promoted during the “Historical Texts: visualising digital collections” talk. The UKMHL collection is a new open access digital resource which includes diverse methods for visualising archive content. The resource uses date histograms, image walls and sunburst visualisations for students to discover and engage with online content. Rafe Hallet used the UKMHL collection as a good example of a digital resource experimenting with new forms of visualised knowledge for students. Digital content is layered for students to find, participate in and co-create.
The session on “Business intelligence for higher education” demonstrated student datasets being analysed, and used, to form interactive dashboards in the Heidi Plus project. The dashboards in the Jisc/HESA project used Tableau software to present the data in a highly visual way. The project also represented examples of “agile” project management. As I work with usage data in my day-to-day work at DMU Library, I was interested to hear about how the dashboards were created and if any potential efficiencies were achieved as part of the project work. Improving data visualisation for library colleagues is an important part of my library work, and it was beneficial to hear how universities involved in the Heidi Plus project observed the work as continuing professional development for staff (around data manipulation, data visualisation and creating a shared language for planning projects).
I think the most valuable session for me during Digifest17 was Eric Stoller’s “Part Deux: why educators can’t live without social media”. The value was partly down to timing (I am due to co-present on a social media discussion in May 2017 for a Learning at Work week at DMU Library), but a number of the themes in Stoller’s presentation struck a chord. Stoller covered various points in his discussion – the value of social media (for staff and students) with regards networking (connecting with others via a shared interest), research, career development and engagement with learners. Stoller also spoke about the balance between “professional” and “social” spaces on social media. Social media is constantly evolving and is fluid in the way it can potentially blur lines between work space and private life. Stoller shared his belief that it was important for educators and educational establishments to be adaptive and progressive – Stoller suggested this organisational mindset and ethos should be set by leaders at institutions. The key function, to engage with students and learners, must remain even if social media tools come and go.
I found Digifest17 to be an enjoyable and enthralling event. As in previous years, the event is an excellent vehicle for current awareness with regards digital trends, resources and services in the HE and FE sectors. As I tweeted right after the event, your head will be buzzing for days after the event and you will want to take ideas back to your library/college/work place and share these insights with colleagues.
Roll on Digifest18!