Financial challenges – digital opportunities

Earlier this week saw Evidence Base, along with around 700 other delegates, at the JISC 2011 Conference at BT Convention Centre, Liverpool. It was my first JISC conference experience so I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect.

The theme of the conference this year was Financial challenges – digital opportunities, a pertinent theme. The conference came at a time when the financial future of much of Higher Education is unknown, so it was a useful opportunity to consider the implications of the one thing that is known – working in a leaner environment.

We arrived on the Monday and participated in some of the pre-conference workshops, and Angela presented at the workshop about JUSP (Journal Usage Statistics Portal) with some of our colleagues from MIMAS. JUSP is gathering a lot of interest at the moment, combining two hot topics – measuring activity data by using a shared service.

The conference keynote on Tuesday morning was given by Professor Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor at University of Bristol. I found the keynote useful in providing a wider perspective on the financial situation and the potential implications. Eric provided historical context to demonstrate how the sector got to where it is now. Some key issues to keep an eye on emerged for me including HE in FE, mergers and acquisitions of institutions, private providers of HE, and non-degree routes to professions. Nothing new, but I don’t often get the opportunity to consider these in a wider context to think about how these could change the HE landscape (and that of society). Definitely gave me food for thought. Eric felt that JISC will be an important player in these changes, and though it will need to adapt in the way things are done (see HEFCE Review of JISC for more information), it will be an important source of support for institutions and can help them gain competitive advantage.

The rest of the conference consisted of a series of workshops and presentations, plus an opportunity to explore the exhibition. I chose some sessions that discussed different area of work to our current projects (though I have to confess that some of the sessions I had wanted to attend were full when I tried to book so they weren’t all my first choice). It was a very useful opportunity to get a wider picture view on some of the work going on in the sector. I was particularly interested in the Students as agents of change session which featured projects at three different institutions who have worked with students to use their feedback to make changes to the way they are taught. These were all fairly experimental projects so there were a number of things that could be improved on in future, but it was great to hear about some of the outcomes and it was useful to hear from the lessons they had learned.

Another session I found particularly interesting was Brian Kelly and Marieke Guy‘s session on event amplification. As an event organiser, this has been an interest of mine for a while and I have published a series of blog posts and some newsletter articles sharing my experiences. It’s a very relevant topic at the moment, particularly in the context of Financial challenges – digital opportunities. Many people struggle to get to conferences due to financial cost (of the event itself and travel), and the technology we have available to us can support remote attendance at many events. As well as giving some background about event amplification, Brian and Marieke shared some tips from their experiences of amplifying the IMWM conference, and we heard from Paul Shabajee about the green aspect of event amplification. I won’t repeat the whole session here as Brian’s recent blog posts share the slides from the session, videos and tweets – good to see effective use of the advice they gave! After the presentations we got into an interesting discussion about event amplification, particularly what to do when delegates misrepresent speakers. My personal view is that it can be good to share this as it can often be corrected (either by others at the event, or by the speaker themselves). It was interesting to hear from Chris Sexton that she had once had this happen to her but because it was recorded she listened back and found that in fact it was her that had made the mistake!

Overall, I found the JISC conference really useful – it helped give a broader perspective of all that JISC are involved in, and a useful personal outcome was that it helped me put a lot more faces to names (and voices!). If you’re interested in finding out more about the conference, there are lots of useful resources in the virtual goody bag.

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