JISC Innovation Forum. Some reflections.

What did I get out of it?

That’s always a difficult question to answer when you go to these things. I certainly made a few contactsStrange Sculpture among the delegates (not the one in the picture on the right though!) which is always useful for future partnership type bids, and for furthering my own research. Did I learn anything new? Well, the idea of the gaming environment that Manchester Metropolitan University are experimenting with discussed in part 3 may well have some applicability for us although where I’ll find the time to explore it I don’t know. And John Selby’s talk was ominous, although I have been thinking that we’re heading into more difficult times for a while now, and while it wasn’t pleasant to hear it being confirmed by someone from HEFCE, it wasn’t particularly surprising either.

A lot of the really useful stuff that goes on at these events takes place outside the lecture theatre though. I had a very interesting chat with somebody from Coventry University who has developed a problem based learning scenario for training paramedics that plays out in Second Life. – indeed they had a demonstration running of it, (http://www.elu.sgul.ac.uk/preview/index.htm) and I began to see ways in which Virtual Worlds might have more pedagogical value than just recreating the real university. I was also interested to see demonstrations of the 19th Century Newspaper Archives, the British Cartoons Archive and the British Library’s archive of sound recordings.

Keele HallOn a less academic note it was interesting to see Keele University, where I’d never been before. It’s a very attractive rural campus, albeit only a few miles from Stoke on Trent. Keele is a tiny little village and I wondered why the University had chosen the name it did. (That’s Keele Hall in the picture. The conference dinner was held in there, but not the conference itself) Actually the nearest town is Newcastle-under-Lyme and I can see that calling it the University of Newcastle might have raised an eyebrow or two. But I still think it’s a bit like us calling ourselves the University of Brayford or something.

Anyway, after the conference finished, partly to let the delegate traffic clear, but also to get a bit of exercise, I wandered around taking photographs and examining someSequoia trees of the finer trees. The campus has quite a spectacular collection and I was quite impressed to find a couple of sequoias – better known as Redwoods,- and also pleased to discover that the wood really is red. (Although I was a bit disappointed that they hadn’t grown so big that you could drive through them – as I seem to remember from ancient National Geographic Magazines). Anyway here they are on the right. (I think. If I’m wrong I’m sure some arboreal expert will put me right!)

JISC Innovation forum – Some conclusions (part 5)

Now, Sarah Porter is offering some conclusions about the event

The keywords, she thought were

  • Energy
  • Engagement
  • Breadth and Depth Activity
  • Huge Potential for links, sharing findings, knowledge, approaches
  • Conversations

And I think I’m inclined to agree with those.

Points that were raised

How can JISC help

  • institutions embed e-learning
  • Ensure the place of technology in the overall practice/development – scaleability of practice
  • Staff in their changing roles,
  • people to be effective
  • How to make repositories more compelling
  • Balance between deliver an IT service that works and innovation
  • understand the institutional barriers to change and innovations
  • Set standards in terms of mobile, web 2.0
  • provide better access an opportunities
  • institutions achieve sustainability


More on Supporting and understanding user needs

  • Impact of changing demographics
  • digital literacy
  • inclusivity
  • Academics as providers


Some useful stuff about how JISC can help projectts

  • Expert Registry
  • Jisc’s Funding models – are there more imaginative ones
  • Sharing good practice in a competitive environemt
  • Need to engage more institutions
  • Embedding projects – what happens when they finisn
  • Recruiting project staff for JISC funded projects – Pool of CVs>
  • Technical project resumes to help collaboration
  • Address time gap between implementation of technology and what happens when its used

Finally infrastructure issues

  • Joining up with national data sharing initiatives
  • data curation
  • Need to understand and develop shared service modeks
  • Open source and open standards
  • How do we develop a sense of technical authority. What other models exist?
  • How can we make the e-framework more accessible

Finally supporting communities and collaboration issues

  • Break down barriers between e-research
  • What can JISC do to help engage senior managers
  • Sustainability and business models

(Phew!) This was a bit of a gallop through what had come out of the conference. In the short term the web site will be kept open, and people will be able to contribute to the blog. Longer term, there will be some other form of communication structure, but it was suggested that the web sites blogs and wikis (blikis?) might be a good place for this.

And the battery really is fading fast now, so I’m about to sign off.  I plan to add a more reflective post, possibly even with pictures later in the week.


JISC innovation forum, Keele University (part 4)

More liveblogging. The  final Keynote  is from Jason Da Ponte, managing editor, BBC Mobile Platforms, who is talking to us about the BBC and its use of mobile technology.

BBc define mobile as any interaction between the BBC and its audience over a portable device and within a mobile situation

Mobile devices are:-

Personal, immediate and location aware.  Jason thought that there was a lot of untapped potential. He asked how many of us had more than one mobile and how many had used the BBC’s mobile provision.

The BBC are interested in streaming live television to mobiles – technology already available. Should be here in about 2010

But already things like mobile browser service – BBC have recently relaunched their mobile platform making their services more geo-aware. They have over 3 million users

Mobile Rich Media and Broadcasting. This is where they see their future. BBC iPlayer on iPhone and IPod Touch. They’re also doing 3G TV (Whatever that might be!) trials with network operators, and they are really looking forward to a mobile broadcasting future.

Messaging – Admitted that this was a bit rich after the scandals of the previous year, and they’re setting up a new compliance unit. They working on new programme formats, more than just voting, for example, offering alert services which they’re planning to try at the Olympics this year so people will know when events will be taking place

The final platform is the “Out of Home”. This includes the Big screens in cities like Hull and Manchester. They were talking about Bluetooth and wi-fi and QR codes to promote interactivity (although he called QR codes “semacodes” – apologies if this is something different)

Then he raised the matter of web 2.0. He sees this as a way of thinking about how you can build services that get taken up. They identified some fundamental principles between FlickR, You Tube and so on. These are basically –  Straightforward, Functional, Gregarious, Open, Evolving. Web 2.0 apps “invite you in” – which is not how we usually build technology.  How can we apply these principles to what we do in edudcation?

Also, what do we need to have in there? Participation seems important. We want to get people to participate. So is distinctive. If there’s something else that does a similar thing why should they use ours? (Plethora of Blackboard sites, anyone?) Does it do what it says it is going to do? and How personal is the experience.  And if you are part of the web, why do you need to bring things in. Why not just link out to what’s there. Jason thinks this it the most important barrier to innovation that the BBC has faced – people are reluctant to cross this boundaryFinally he’s referring us to this paper about co design http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/makingthemostofcollaboration

The UK education sector doesn’t score well in collaborating with its users in design. (There’s a theme that is emerging from all these sessions) Co-design is a trial and error style of working, a collaboration, a developmental process, and outcome based. Only the last one of these is particularly comfortable sitting in an institutional context though. (Blackboard, and VLEs generally ring a few bells here). But if there’s any message here it’s “Please Remember Your Users”). His contact details are: – Jason.daponte@bbc.co.uk  

One questioner invited Jason to speculate where we might be in 2020. He thought there might be some application specific devices. Apparently every taxi in New York now has a touch screen (although I’m not clear what for, something taxi related no doubt!) and he speculated about things like umbrellas which could deliver weather reports (Again, though, I couldn’t help thinking you’d probably notice if it was raining!) The point is your interaction with this technology would be fleeting. I suppose I could imagine a library shelf end that indicated where related material might be stored for example.

Final question was about whether the BBC had any plans to get involved in mobile learning.  Unfortunately the BBC is in the middle of revising its e-learning strategy and Jason wasn’t really able to answer this. But GCSE Bitesize is available on mobile

Jisc Innovation Forum, Keele (Part 3) – Liveblog

This may not make much sense as I’m writing it as people talk. So it’ll have a rather bitty structure. – But I thought it worth a try…

Session 3C
Bridging the gap – Learner Experience

Each panel member to give 10 mins on their area of research or practice
Rob Howe described the E 4 L project being run by Northampton
Nicola Whitton described the Agosi project – alternate reality games
Malcolm Ryan from Greenwich will talk about the SEEL project and
Mabel Agbenoto, a Student from Hertfordshire is giving a student perspective on the Stroll project 

Rob was up first. The E4L project is about the experiences of effective e-learners and was one of 7 projects that were actually funded in that strand.

Focus on 3 key areas
1) Student transitions
2) Student “light bulb” moments – crossover with threshold concepts
3) Shadow technologies – those used alongside institutional technologies and at underground technologies – those banned by institutions
They  looked at HE, FE, and adult and community learning and spoke to a number of learners in each of these sectors (although need to do a bit more work with FE)
They’re also calling them proficient e-communicators. Defined as those students that are meeting the first three levels of a slightly altered “5 step model”
Creating interactive case studies – posted on web site and make comments upon them. 
For today’s session we’re looking at institutional practices. In HE there were very few boundaries, in FE there was a lot more looking down of technology and access.
Look at institutional planning processes from the perspective of the learner – put yourself in their shoes and then design your courses from that perspective.
How do you meet the needs of shadow technologies? Students tending to use web 2.0 and want a divide between the two. Facebook a shadow technology – some students do want this. Institutions need to recognise that students will use tool and then educate them to use them effectively. Student voice a very powerful way of overcoming resistance to change – going into committees and presenting student findings.Project will produce some guidelines about how to incorporate projects into the life of institutions.

Alternate Reality Games for Orientation Socialisation and induction -Nicola Whitton from MMU

 Traditional initial experience doesn’t meed all students needs.
Orientation not a high consideration. Apart from giving students a map!Socialisation – not changed much despite changes in student demographics – very oriented to 18 year old skills
Induction (core learning skills) Problem with this is it’s shoved into one week at the start of the semester.

Looked at alternate reality games
Challenges underpinned by narrative – different for different disciplines

Unfolds over several weeks
Blends the online world and the real world (nothing whatsoever to do with Second Life!)
Gives students a purpose.  Rather than saying “this is a reading list” there’d be two characters in a story who are swapping messages about a book.
At present they’re going through a series of iterative student tests. It’s a gaming environment which provides challenge, context and purpose They create engagement and mystery, they’re essentially collaborative, they’re lo-fidelity in that they encourage a use of range of technologies, and there’s quite a low development effort to produce – story is being fed to players via a couple of blogs. They use actual reality – they enable orientation in the real world, they use the best of each medium, link to community and other organisations

 Some questions

How many people need to take part for ARGs to be effective as games?
Are they effective for learning?
We know ARGs won’t appeal to everyone…how niche are they?
Is there a tension between the underground and the mainstream?


Malcom Ryan – Greenwich

Student Experience of E-learning Laboratory (SEEL)

HEA pathfinder project

Bridging the gap assumes that somebody think there is a gap. If there is, where is it, how big is it, and how are we going to plug it. They found a widely held view that e-learning was being used to enhance the student experience of learning, but they discovered that there was no systematic evaluation of the impact of technology on students. Nobody could tell whether it was making a difference?

Less than 50% of students regularly use their university e-mail account so you can’t assume you’ve communicated with them! Email was the predominant tool used for every conceivable type of learning and teaching experience – gaining comments on draft assignments, organising meetings (and staff were encouraging this)
Research for assigments was mainly conducted through Google and Wikipedia (The students said that tutors told them to. Which is very interesting when you consider how much institutions spend on e-journal subscriptions)

Clear separation of technolgies used for learning and communicating with teachers and the institution, from those used for socialising, contacting family and friends and reluctance amongst some students to use these within formal contexts. But some students did want to know the person behind the lecturer and so would welcome them on Facebook in that sense.

Not every student knows what they are doing on computers. One of the students in the Greenwich study actually said “It took me a while to learn how to do it”. Malcolm also suggested that dinosaurs (like us – i.e. not the google generation) may be more sophisticated in their use of technology in different contexts.

Interestingly some students gave some interesting and surprising responses. Well, surprising if you generalise about students I suppose  “You can ask questions in lectures and you can’t on the internet. “Turnitin helps me check I haven’t plagiarised by accident” and, perhaps most tellingly “Books don’t crash” 

We are having an intersting discussion about Facebook. If tutors get a question about their course posted on their wall, is it appropriate to answer it publicly. Probably not, but should you keep it on the wall? 

Worth remembering that every student is different – which does raise questions about how valuable evaluation is?

Mabel, from Hertfordshire university. Just completed her degree in Computing and Business

Talking about her experiences as student e-learner. She did a foundation course, which enabled her to go straight into the 2nd year. When she came in she noticed a massive difference between FE and HE. Felt there was a bit of a gap between those students who had done the 1st year in HE and her own ex-FE cohort. They discussed this with lecturers. Her expectations were that there would be more students and less help available, and that they would need to book time with tutors.

They were also warned that the workload would be heavier. And it was. For example they were charged with doing some research in different ways, using podcasts, digitial cameras, basically having the freedom to choose which technology they wanted. They could also post all their findings on the wiki- which was closed, to all but their own tutor. They also posted some information about themselves. Contact details, e-mail addresses and so on.  Instead of having meetings they held meetings online using MSN which was thought to be quite cool. They submitted the transcripts as an appendix to the final report. Most of their groups used their own technology rather than that provided by the university, because it was easier.

On the business side of her course, she reported that there was much less interaction and that students tended to get much lower grade. She thought that this was because it was much harder to contact other students and teachers. In year 3, they still found that there was little interaction. Still very low use of e-mail reported although Mabel said she really didn’t understand why. One thing they are doing at Hertfordshire is using something called personal messaging which notifies you when you have an e-mail. She also said she preferred lecturers to keep out of facebook because she had pictures of her family and her holidays that she was happy to share with her friends. but not with tutors. She did think there was a role though and  suggested having two Facebook accounts, one for work and one for “work”

Discussion: Where are the gaps and how do we find and fill them?

Need to be able to tie different technologies together. What we need to do is get our infrastructure people to faciliate this – you send out an e-mail message, but we need to make it possible for students to recieve them in whatever way they like. (David Miller, Southampton)

But students do tend to change their e-mail addresses, and the only one the University can guarantee is working is the official one,

Peter Bird (MMU) asked about the “staff” experience of technology. Students are better informed than teachers about the new technologies.  What can we do about this?

Staff development – we can feed in the student experience to staff development. Provide case studies in different disciplinary areas.  Nicola wasn’t convinced that it wasn’t a terribly helpful distinction because some students don’t want to engage with technology, and some staff, irrespective of age, really do want to engage with it.

Malcolm thought that the problem was that there is still an enormous untrained and unqualified workforce in terms of learning and teaching in Higher Education, and what the technology does is expose that incompetence, very brutally (Nothing like a bit of a controversy!).

Carol Higgison from Bradford pointed out that technology is not infallible (Hotmail apparently has decided that the University of Bradford is a spammer, so their students can’t get e-mail from it)  Also If you’ve got 4-600 students you can’t deliver personalisation on your own. Mabel confirmed that this was perhaps why she had a less satisfactory experience in the business part of her course.

Mabel was asked what the two most significant advantages that technology had given her in her course

1) More choice in presenting work. She didn’t enjoy writing essays

2) learning how to use the different technologies themselves, which provided her with a foundation for developing further skills

 And, there is the trouble with liveblogging – the laptop battery is fading fast, so I’ll have to sign off now. THere’s about 5 minutes of the session left, so I’ll go in search of a power socket for the afternoon session. If it doesn’t appear here, you’ll know I didn’t succeed!

JISC innovation Forum Part 2

In the afternoon, we heard from John Selby from HEFCE, whose title, not entirely surprisingly was “From innovation to implementation to sector change – the view from HEFCE” He noted that  people are using the term “community” when they refer to JISC and that this is the only place in HE where the term community is used so much. HEFCE and others tend to talk about the “sector.” “Community” is a nice warm sounding term but if you’re not in the community it can be difficult to gain acceptance. He thought this was quite a useful way to think about the way forward for JISC. There is a need to think about where JISC sits in the wider environment, and what some of the issues for the JISC community might be. Technical and social change are closely interconnected but they don’t march in parallel. He also noted that it was worth bearing in mind that JISC is not a corporate body – it’s a committee of its funders. (Actually it’s a network of multiple committees)  The significance of this is that it’s quite an unusual way of developing technology on a national basis. For something that doesn’t exist in any legal sense it’s even more remarkable then that it employs 240 people and has a budget of 7 billion! (Actually people who work for JISC are HEFCE employees)

 It is also both top down and bottom up which mirrors how I think development happens in institutions? A big issue is the question of  involving senior management. There are  very complex governance structures in HE/FE and the  challenge is to innovate in a very complex and difficult political and economic context.  Though it might not feel like that, the last decade has been a golden era in terms of the security of funding. It’s going to be different over the next few years.  It will ripple through in some very significant ways.

 He then moved on to discuss innovation as a socio-technical system, which wasn’t all that different from the morning session. Similar technologies can be applied in different ways in different organisational contexts. You cannot assume that technologies will be deployed in the same way, because organisational structures will affect them – as the technologies will affect social systems in turn.

Technological development won’t work if the social system is not conducive an universities are quite poor at communicating the results of experiments, and there is a tendency to make assumptions. He described his own experience of working in an educational development unit which combined learning technologists and widening participation based on a conceptual model that saw the university reaching out to people who didn’t use it and technology as being useful in helping it do so. Of course it didn’t work. The social worlds of the two activities are quite different. Nevertheless it remains the case that technology is seen by some as an automatic solution. But, not by everybody. There are large numbers of people in government and the sector who don’t know about JISC, or see it as just the network or vague stuff about computers.

 That has to change. What would world would be like if we didn’t have JISCPAS to deal with plagiarism,  Athens for Access Management, XCRI, opening up offerings of learning providers. There is really interesting sharing of information across the sector. But it isn’t yet embedded. Vice chancellors may see these things as expensive, but it’s worth asking how expensive an insecure network (for example) might be!

 One very interesting aside here is that IT is using around 2% of all the energy that is being used in the developed world (about the same as aviation, but growing faster. People might be giving up flying, but nobody is thinking about switching their computer off though!)

 He finished by outlining what he thought the respective roles for the community and the funders were likely to be.  For us as community members we need to think about how we are going to responds to the increasing diversity of our users, but we also  need to speak beyond the community and see if what we are doing can spill out into other areas. It’s easy to talk to people who understand your language, who are on your side, but much more difficult to those who aren’t in that position, but are in a position to interact with us. We must remember the changing political context and stress the advantages that organisations like JISC can bring in an economic recession.

 In the same way the funders role is to be much clearer about strategy. He admitted that perhaps HEFCE had not been clear enough and JISC has tended to pick bits of HEFCE strategy and run with those. HEFCE need to engage with other sector wide bodies, such as LSC, BECTA etc. etc. and of course, to engage with government. He concluded with the slogan that together we can support change in FE and HE – But we are entering more difficult times, and that all the things we were seeing on the news would trickle through to us eventually. 

 Sustainability and what JISC is doing about it

 The final session of the day was about “Sustainability and what JISC is doing about it” (from the point of view of their innovation work) and was aimed very much at the national level

 The session started with a reminder of JISC’s strategic Aim 1 which is to provide “Innovative and sustainable ICT infrastructure services and practice that support institutions in meeting their mission.”

 Sustainability here had a different meaning from that used in the earlier presentations,. It wasn’t so much about the environmental implications but much more about ensuring the investment made in JISC activity results in long term beneficial impact for the HE and FE sectors.

 JISC’s aim is to check their projects and pull out what is valuable to the wider community. There are 5 outputs, listed below

 1) Enhancing capacity knowledge and skill.  Even if it’s just the stuff you learn from running the project. A lot of this was to do with the intangible stuff (for instance, the relationships with CS that we’ve built through the repository project, probably laid a bit of the groundwork for the much more important work related to the Blackboard roll out)

 2) Best practice and guidance to the sector – gathering stuff that’s useful to know – For example “that’s how you should be implementing this or that technology”

 3) Strategic leadership to the sector. Working with other bodies, the production of  toolkits and best practice guides. An example here are the very useful JISC infokits

4) Knowledge and experience – what has been learned feeds back into JISC’s development cycle

 5) New and enhanced products, services and infrastructure. This is mostly what people think about when they think about sustainability. For example our challenge now the repository is up and running is to make sure that people continue to contribute to it and see it as a valuable tool.

 Over the last 6 months or so JISC have been

 Piloting a sustainability skills process

  • Doing a Business skills study
  • Conducting a JISC services portfolio review

 Pilot sustainability process

 This is about what happens when the project funding finishes

 Guidance documentation and templates

    • Handbook
    • Examples
    • Case studies
    • Sustainability Routes and business models
  • Projects Developed Business Cases
    • Strategic Maturity
    • Operational Maturity
    • Options (sustainability Routes and Business Models)
      • Costs risk benefit etc
  • Recommendation from Innovation Group Directors to sub-committees

 Not every project is appropriate to be sustained – or at least not by JISC.

 Feedback and evaluation

 Improvements required

  • Skills and support required
  • Cut off point and appropriate level of robustness
  • Explicit link to services portfolio review
  • More holistic approach within programme and project management review
  • Timing – Felt that the projects didn’t get enough warning
    • Rightscom report – covers things like embedding projects into the programme management

 Their next steps are:

Revision and roll out by final quarter of 2008

Overview of the projects that have gone through staffing.

 They’ve also developed a number of generic business models as part of the business skills study referred to above.


    • JANET
  • Cost Recovery
    • Ethos, JANET
  • Charge for Core Services
    • Netskills
  • Charge for Value Added Services
    • ePrints
  • Community Modles
    • ePrints, RELOAD
  • Membership or consortium model
    • MANS
  • Advertising (couldn’t find an example of anything that has been supported by advertising)

 Examples of Sustainabilty

 Sustainabilty route – who looks after it, where does it go to>

Managed Learning Environment (MLE) Programme 2002-5

 Outcome was guidance to the sector about lessons learned and knowledge of best practice in MLEs

 Sustainablity route was to synthesise all those lessons into an infokit, Business model to enhance existing service procision of JISC infonet

 Go-Geo and Cross walk projects – Outcome new or enhanced services infrastructure

 Sustainability route – JISC services portfolio hosted at EDINA. JISC 100% funded business model.


 Otucome new or enhanced service

 Sustainability route – Community model which is managed by Southampton University (est. 2005)

Business model no cost to JISC beyond establishing community (2005-7)

 CETIS Project

 Outcome 3 strategic leadership to the sector…

 Sustainability Route

JISC innovation Support Centre (est, 2006)

JISC 100% funded business model

Hosted by Bolton and Strathclyde


  •  Should JISC be sustaining a project or its outputs and outcomes?
  • How are you planning to sustain the impact of your projects for the institution or consortium
  • How are you are JISC planning to sustain the impact of your projects for the wider community?
  • What could JISC do to better support projects in planning and effecting sustainability?


Mark Stiles pointed out that sustainability was easier where a project is aligned with institutional strategy, Much harder to do this with diverse national projects

 Another delegate pointed out that small projects often produced quite a lot but had nowhere to go. How do you build on it?

 We then broke out into small groups and discussed various implications of the presentation. Ours talked about whether JISC should start funding bodies outside the sector, such as commercial bodies. We generally felt that they shouldn’t. Reasons can be found on the  Jif08 blog. There wasn’t time for everyone to feed back, so we posted there instead! – See http://jif08.jiscinvolve.org/

JISC innovation forum, Keele University (part 1)

Rather than post a huge great entry here, I thought I’d do it in sections. I doubt it’ll make it any more interesting, but it might look a bit less intimidating. So here’s an account of the first morning. You can read the conference blog which has details of all the themes that I couldn’t attend and (we were promised) audio recordings of all the presentations here:  http://jif08.jiscinvolve.org/

Anyway on Tuesday morning, the event started with a presentation from Sarah Porter, JISC’s head of innovation, who began with a definition of what she meant by innovation.  Typically it’s understood as the introduction of something new and useful, such as a new way of doing something, a new product or a new service. And that is what JISC is trying to do anyway. She also reminded us that we were a very diverse group of people ranging from IT directors, to software developers. In fact the delegate list displayed 50 different job titles, so if anybody was in a position to innovate it was probably us! JISC see themselves as an “Innovation community” and the aim of the forum was to share practice. We were all very much encouraged to share ideas, make cross connections, and ultimately cross fertilise across the different JISC themes, creating with technology, using technology to support change in institutions, working across organisational boundaries.

 Why do all this? Well, the usual suspects really!  There was a need to improve practices, improve quality, respond to the changing needs of users, respond to new opportunities, and respond to the changing external environment. I’ve heard this quite often now, and  I am occasionally inclined to  wonder a little bit about why nobody is ever satisfied with the practices that they are currently engaged in!  There again, there’s no doubt that the external environment is changing, about which more below, and I do realise that we have to adapt to different circumstances. JISC are thinking more about engagement with industry and the commercial sector for example.  But, they’re also trying to build capacity, knowledge, help institutions use technology, build new services and collaborate with the international innovation community by through the provision of  advice and resources to individuals and institutions on how to develop strategy, change policy, innovate and improve practices and benefit from new technologies and of course, by investing in programmes that fund activities in institutions.

 Now, you might add a rider there, and say JISC invested in, “those institutions that had successfully bid for funding”  In fairness most have, although it would be interesting to find out how many institutions have never successfully bid for funding. That’s not to say they don’t benefit from JISC’s existence. The existence of SuperJANET, the digital libraries programme, ARIADNE, ATHENS, Digimap, the HE digitisation service, Ingenta, Netskills, the Nineteenty Century Newspapers project and other projects are available to all and it’s easy to forget that these things did not exist a few years ago.

 There are still some challenges to be faced though, not least managing incremental sustainable innovation within complex institutional governance structures, making technology sustainable in terms of making a positive contribution to environmental concerns, the tension between open agendas and sustainable business models, flexible appropriate learning and teaching that meets the needs of today’s learners, maintaining and developing excellence in research.

 Then I attended a session on “barriers to innovation” which wasn’t quite what I’d expected as it was more about a specific project to engage researchers with e-infrastructures, and more than that, very much about the methodology they had used to explore this. In fact, I think that a lot of what they had to say was very relevant to the work that we are trying to do.

 Of course the first question is “What’s an e-infrastructure. Well, it’s not something that you build. (and not something that should be confused with the JISC e-infrastructure project either) It’s more a matter of a combination of technology and social arrangements, and it is something that is fostered rather than built. Local knowledge and practice is important here, because as one of the presenters put it “when technology hits usage interesting things happen”, meaning that technology tends to get used in ways its designers did not anticipate.  Now, I think that’s something we’re finding with Blackboard, which is why I think a lot of this presentation was relevant to the teaching and learning agenda.  As one of the slides put it “Researchers need to understand what is possible, what is feasible and what is neither, and what the tradeoff between different options are”. And, I might add so do designers. 

 They then went on to outline the mechanisms they were using. Inevitably they mentioned “training” and I  particularly liked what they called “triage”. By this they meant that the demonstration (of a new technology), training and education, and consultancy are all equally important parts of the roll out. None of them are enough on their own. But you can assess which intervention is likely to produce the most effective results at any given time.

 Another technique was called “boundary spanning”. In another context it might be called job exchange, because it seemed to involve researchers working on development projects to get a sense, presumably, of what is feasible. There again exchange might be a generous term as I didn’t get any sense of project workers getting involved in research (Although they might well have been researchers in the past!) and as a large part of this presentation was concerned with research methodology, literature review and coding, that sense probably isn’t entirely justifiable.

 Then we broke up for lunch and an exhibition of lots of JISC projects. I have collected armfuls of interesting literature for us all to read!