College Analytics Lab – Enabling Cross Sector Collaboration – The “Team Manchester” Story

Co-authored by Martin Hall and members of the Manchester College Analytics Lab team.

Colleges across the UK are facing-ever more complex demands to make their case for funding, and other forms of report. At the same time, government policies both here, and across Europe and North America, acknowledge the need for a new deal for building technical education,  training and the skills that are essential for re-securing economic growth. How can the huge and diverse sources of data that are now available be better used to address and inform key policy decisions, in ways that meet both the requirements of national and regional agencies and also the local nuances and concerns of colleges serving immediate communities?

The Jisc College Analytics Lab digital modelling environment provides a means to address complex practice and policy questions using highly diverse sources of data. By engaging both with colleges, with their command of the details of learner data, and regional and national planning agencies, that need to aggregate intelligence across wider areas in order to generate policy recommendations, we hope to make a step change in the quality of provision in this key sector of post-compulsory education

From January – March this year, we ran a three-month pilot to explore possibilities with the involvement of key organisations in the Greater Manchester City Region

Members of the Manchester team:manchester city region

  • Christian Spence, Subrahmaniam Krishnan Harihara, Alex Davies – Greater Manchester Chambers of Commerce
  • James Mortlock – Salford City College
  • Britta Berger-Voigt – Greater Manchester Combined Authority
  • Martin Hall, Shri Footring – Jisc; Phillip Lowe – The Information Lab

Supporting team members:

  • Derek O’Toole, Matthew Taylor – Hopwood Hall College
  • Rob Wyn Jones, Sue Attewell – Jisc

Business Questions

We explored two separate areas of need.

  1. How can information about the content of FE programmes be made accessible, in a meaningful way, to both learners and employers? How can we describe the relationship between college programmes, the attainment of competencies and formal qualifications more accurately?
  2. What do you do, as a college leader, when you need to be part of the city region plan for accelerating apprenticeship starts, but you have a severe shortage of local firms for absorption? How do you reconcile the dependency of learners on campus proximity and affordable transport routes with the rationalisation of provision across the city region?

To answer these questions we used internal college data and, crucially, we were able to “superimpose” detailed employment and other local data shared by GMCC and the New Economy.

Communicating College Programme Content to Employers and Learners

We know that employers value the practical, competence based aspects of a qualification when  recruiting. For some qualifications, such as NVQ, the competence element is clear. However other qualifications often also include significant competence based elements which are difficult to communicate and, because of the sheer number available, are not well understood by employers.

We used college data on module content of qualifications and combined it with detailed data gathered by the college on what percentage of each module was competency based.

The visualisation below clearly highlights which courses have more competency element than others as well as showing that a simplistic approach does not give an accurate indication of the competence element of courses.  This allows employers to readily identify relevant courses and learners to make informed choices.

Competency content of qualifications

Student travel between home, college and employer locations

hopwood hall heatmap

Heatmap showing employer locations in the area. Students’ home locations can be superimposed.

A user story from college point of view:

As the Director of Curriculum Development, when planning next year’s offer, I would like to have an accurate picture of which employers are within easy reach of  College Students, with vacancies at the appropriate level, so that can take an informed decision about which curriculum areas to grow / invest in”

A student point of view:

How far would a I have to travel to get to work / college? How long will the journey take? (How much will it cost?)”

“As a prospective apprentice, when applying for a job / college place, I want to ensure that I am able to travel from home to the location in a reasonable time frame”.

The data used for these visualisations include:

  • Student post-code (or out code) – each post code turned into a map coordinate so that it could be used to find the nearest bus stop location
  • Public transport routes – the local bus routes needed to be analysed to see which routes passed by the college
  • Public transport timetables – the timetables for all stops along the routes going to the college needed to be analysed to calculate how long each trip would take for buses at each stop along the route
  • Employer locations – nearby projects were mapped to see how many viable employers were in the local area
  • Employer vacancy information, where available
construction company locations

Location of construction companies with predicted skills shortages for projects in Greater Manchester

Potential for the Future

This pilot has demonstrated that by combining college internal data with local and national data sets it is possible to create compelling visualisations that enable data informed decision making relating to the construction sector.

  • By clearly showing the competence element of courses offered by the college employers are better able to identify which courses they should favour, and learners are better able to choose course to enroll on.
  • By overlaying national employer data and local project data the data dashboards can make it easier for colleges to find appropriate apprenticeship partners that aren’t necessarily locally based.
  • By highlighting challenges that learners face, such as transport, local area planning can be better informed.

The College Analytics Lab enables a wide range of organisations who need to work together to do so meaningfully through secure sharing of data, with dashboards that promote a shared understanding of complex issues.


Collaborative Working Through Data Sharing – The College Analytics Lab “Team Wales” Story

When a group of colleges form a strategic partnership, they typically work together to share resources, expertise and a collaborative approach to planning.

Could sharing data help the partnership to become more effective? For example, could sharing information about applications, enrollments, outcomes and destinations help the colleges to work together to provide a more structured, joined-up offer to young people in the area to secure economic development of the region?

This post is co-authored by members of a forward-looking partnership from South East Wales who set out to explore just that, working as part of the Jisc College Analytics Lab project.
Team Wales 2

Project Structure

This short, three-month pilot project started with a face-to-face workshop to establish which business questions and data sources we would explore first. Business requirements were expressed as user stories.  Following agile principles, we then worked in time-bound ‘sprints’, with regular online meetings to review and reflect on progress and adjust project priorities if required.

High Level User Story (‘Epic’)

As a director of learner services and support, when monitoring application and recruitment for 2017 / 18, I want to target recruitment activity so that I can increase participation / recruitment and understand conversion rates by geographical area and subject type.

Data Sources

Internal college data from the two participating colleges

  • Institution / college statutory returns data (LLWR – Welsh ILR)
  • Internal student application, acceptance and enrolment data (historical)
  • Internal student application data (current live / in-year recruitment)


  • School data – Populations and Schools / Pupil Locations (PLASC / Careers Wales)
  • Schools achievement and performance (Stats Wales)
  • NOMIS – employment and industry demographics
  • EduBase – school locations

Data preparation and ETL

  • Coding and grouping of courses / students to align with industry standard codes
  • Matching pupil census data to college application data
  • Matching school location data to college application data

Project Sprints

We broke the high level user story down into manageable chunks to work on each month, summarised below.

Sprint 1 – January

Priority questions for this sprint:
Which schools are we receiving applications from? What are the pupil numbers at those schools and how many are applying?

school locations and pupil age

Welsh School Locations and Pupils by Age Group

“Creating a visual representation of the geographic distribution of source schools to the colleges required some advanced data blending techniques. The data provided by colleges highlighted which schools learners came from, however the location of these schools wasn’t included. Another piece of useful information was the total number of pupils at each school by age group. The difficulty here was that to join each of these data sets together the school name needed to be an exact match, however only 30% of the school names were an exact match.
Fuzzy matching is a more advanced way to match data sets as it looks at individual words and can match based on different criteria (e.g. the phonetic sound of each word of each word). This fuzzy matching approach improved the matched schools to roughly 85% and enabled the joining of both location data and pupil census data to the collages application data.” – Phillip Lowe, Tableau and Alteryx consultant, The Information Lab.

Sprint 2 – February

Priority questions for this sprint:
How are enrolled learners distributed across different subject areas? Is there a particular subject area that seems more popular in one college vs. others? Are there some schools in which there are more learners going to one college over another? What are the trends in course popularity?

course comparison

Course comparison dashboard

Understand enrolment trends by course

Understand enrolment trends by course

Sprint 3 – March

Priority questions for this sprint:
Can we predict enrolment trends? Can we identify areas where recruitment trends from specific schools are increasing? Can we understand enrolment trends by course? How are applications from certain schools comparing to last year’s applications?

Recruitment trends

Identify areas where recruitment trends from specific schools are increasing

Application target dashboard

How are applications from certain schools comparing to last year’s applications

Outstanding Benefits, Issues and Conclusions – Ivan Gregory

  • Having access to Tableau expertise, along with support (Alteryx) for ETL of external/ additional data sources was invaluable;
  • Ability to benchmark against previous years recruitment (at point in time) for geographically co-located campuses/ colleges was useful;
  • Potential to further look at student attendance / recruitment, mapping to public transport routes/ maps, to influence curriculum plans / space planning;
  • The availability of in-year or near-live data for internal and external data sources would be extremely powerful and enable business decisions (focus or re-focus of recruitment effort or resource) to be made ”just in time”;
  • Potential to expand to an all-wales BI and labs project (Colleges Wales);
  • Would like to work further with WAG to obtain more detailed regional data and also automated data provision above ILR from a central source;

College Analytics Lab – A Digital Modelling Environment for the FE and Skills Sector

Further Education Colleges are adept at dealing with change and challenge. They have to be. Identifying, evaluating and capitalising on opportunities which arise in the rapidly changing environment we work in is a core skill of all successful college leaders.

Recent conversations with college principals have shown that meeting local employers’ needs; improving student experience and outcomes; helping to bridge the skills gap; and serving the local population, particularly school leavers, are all high on their list of priorities.

Alongside the economic, political and regulatory challenges faced by colleges, there have been other significant technological and data developments which can help us to address them. For example, high quality, detailed data sources (both open and securely held) are now more accessible than ever before. The tools to process, link and visualise these data sets are becoming more sophisticated and easier to use all the time.

Jobs by Industry and Region Dashboard

Interactive Dashboard Example: Jobs by Industry and Region

We know that using accurate local area data to inform strategic planning and decision making is crucial to success. Presenting the information in a visual and interactive way helps leaders to communicate their vision and ideas to their funders, staff teams, students and the wider community. However, what we have found is that there is a wide variation in the effectiveness of the way in which colleges make use of the data available to them. We also found significant duplication of similar core processes across colleges.

How can the FE and Skills community benefit from the availability of new data sources and state-of-the-art data visualisation technologies?

Jisc’s well-established Analytics Lab environment provides a secure technical, legal and project management framework to enable the creation of new, experimental data dashboards. As part of the Jisc HESA Business Intelligence project, participants use a mix of open and secure data from both new and established sources, to create visualisations and dashboards which address key business questions.

In January, we extended this project to include the FE and Skill sector, working with two groups of colleges – one from South East Wales and the other from the Greater Manchester City Region. This pilot project used our unique specialist Analytics Lab development environment, making a few adjustments to meet specific FE needs, and was underpinned by our knowledge of the Jisc Learning Analytics data definitions and architecture. More details about the two pilot projects will appear in future blog posts.

College Analytics Lab – An experimentation and data dashboard development environment

The College Analytics Lab can be thought of as having three components:

  • Technical infrastructure
    A secure, remote desktop environment which contains state-of-the art data visualisation tools including Tableau and Alteryx.
  • Data and legal
    The secure environment is used to house a wealth of data collected from a variety of sources, cleaned and in a format that is ready to use. Carefully agreed and signed legal agreements enable colleges to use sensitive data securely, as needed.
  • People
    The most important element. Teams are made up of sector experts (who understand the important business questions facing them and what data will help them to find the answers); consultants who are able to transform and link data to create powerful interactive visualisations and dashboards; and Jisc staff who provide agile project management.

Our proven Analytics Lab agile process

Teams of sector experts work together on a focused 3-month project. At the start of the project they work together to identify and prioritise their most pressing business questions. They then consider which data sources would help them address these. Typically, these are a mix of internal, external, public, private, existing and new data sources.

The next step is to work with specialist data analysts and a Jisc project manager to explore identified data sources which, when combined, can help to answer their business questions.
It is a “lab” process, so is experimental by definition. It may or may not lead to the creation of dashboards which are generically useful to the sector, but they will certainly be useful for the participants.

College Labs Model

Data sets from participating FE Colleges are analysed alongside other data from a variety of other external sources to produce visualisations and dashboards which can be used by a wide range of college staff enabling data-informed planning, benchmarking and strategic decision making.

Potential for the future

A few years ago, interrogating data was an expensive, specialist skill limited to a few within a typical FE college. Static reports would have been used by senior managers at specific times during the planning and evaluation cycle.

We hope the Analytics Lab environment will help open up the field of data science and bring it within the reach of all who have an interest in the college. In addition to the senior management teams, this could include subject / curriculum leads, support staff, Local Enterprise Partnerships, students, parents, governors and the wider community.

We have the facility to bring new open data sources (such as local transport routes) into the environment and build up a comprehensive catalogue to improve the use of data in the sector as a whole. Understanding underlying data trends and using the information for planning has the potential to improve the data literacy of all involved.

The Jisc Business Intelligence projects have enabled a wide range of HE professionals to engage critically with data in powerful ways to address key business questions facing them. I believe the same can be achieved in the FE and Skills sector, where this model will enable many more people to use data to inform strategic decision making.

Four years on from FELTAG

This guest post is by Ros Smith, author of the updated Evolution of FELTAG guide.

Over the last few months, I had the privilege to ‘talk FELTAG’ with some leading senior managers and practitioners in further education (FE). Why? It was time to take a fresh look at the impact of the FELTAG recommendations on the sector before updating our Evolution of FELTAG report.

The report provides an important insight into the digital landscape of the UK FE and skills sector. And this latest glimpse reveals a sector that is agile and robust, and more than capable of responding to the very tough challenges it faces with its own blend of visionary thinking and hard-nosed astuteness. The good news is that the spirit of FELTAG is very much alive and well, and in a college near you!

Here are some of the key findings from our 2017 FELTAG update.

Keeping abreast of change

Many organisations are addressing their FELTAG goals by drawing up a digital strategy. This in itself recognises the importance of technology in the sector. However, things are never as simple as they sound. The first issue you have to confront is the connection between your organisation’s digital aspirations and its other strategic aims. Interconnectedness is key. There is no value, after all, in procuring a new VLE or learning management system without a programme of staff development to ensure the technology is used to its full potential. Nor is there any point in having a strategy for innovative curriculum delivery without first having the right tools in place.
Getting the equation right depends on a holistic vision, careful planning, and a lot of determination – the next ingredient you need when implementing your strategy:

“It’s like an eco-system or a fine Swiss watch. Each cog is important individually but even more important is how it links into the others…. To achieve these goals, we have been on a three-year journey.” Dr Ken Thomson, principal and chief executive, Forth Valley College.

Wi-Fi across the campus is not a cheap option, but forward-thinking organisations have put this at the top of their shopping list to support an increase in curriculum delivery via online and blended learning. Effectively located Wi-Fi hotspots and a robust BYOD policy can make a real difference to learners, and there can be benefits all round. Learners using their own devices have a learning environment they can personalise to suit their needs; replacing an ageing stock of desktop PCs becomes less of a problem to the organisation, but perhaps the biggest winner of all is learning:

“One of the biggest milestones for us has been the installation of Wi-Fi on all campuses. With Wi-Fi access everywhere, the entire college can become a learning space.” Graham Razey, principal, East Kent College

Preparing for an even brighter digital future
The next generation of digital platforms will be nothing if not user-friendly. Providers want to see their teaching and support staff able to create blended learning resources with as much ease and fluency as they use social media. More than one provider had changed key learning platforms for that reason:

“Choose a learning management system that learners and staff feel at ease with. Technology has to work first time and feel comfortable. Only then will your staff move from partial buy-in to full take-up.” Pete Gallop, head of ICT and LRC, The Isle of Wight College

Cornwall College Group took an altogether different tack, keeping Moodle as its cross-campus VLE but ensuring that users’ needs were met by altering the look and feel of the VLE. Their case study describes how Moodle can be adapted to enhance its functionality and refresh its appeal.

The common thread in all accounts, however, was the need to inspire digital confidence and competence of staff. Our interviewees were aware that they needed to support all – the unconfident as well as the front runners – and had taken action to ensure this could happen:

“I said to staff two years ago when we started the drive for creative learning and teaching that I was taking the responsibility for what happened. This meant they were free to experiment without blame.” Ken Thomson, chief executive, Forth Valley College.

Where are you on the digital scale?
The most common answer to this question was somewhere between partially and fully embedded. Of course, there is a difference between being competent in handling IT in everyday life and using it with confidence in the classroom or as a blended learning option. Nonetheless, there were promising signs for the FELTAG agenda:

The majority of our senior managers enthused about the willingness of staff to try new approaches
“We have some highly innovative teachers in the Group. The creativity and passion of our staff, and their willingness to engage with new methods, is making a real difference to learners here.” Michelle Swithenbank, deputy chief executive, the Hull College Group

Senior managers and governors provide firm backing for innovation in learning and teaching
“The spirit of innovation and experimentation amongst our staff, leadership and governors has been without a doubt our most valuable asset on this journey.” Simon Barrable, deputy principal, Portsmouth College

Innovating with less familiar technologies such as augmented and virtual reality is taking root in day-to-day teaching and training
“Learning this way is so much more interesting, but learners also expect it. We would be wasting our time if we didn’t make use of the technology that’s out there.” Michael Grundy, engineering programme leader, Goole College

There are indications of improvements in terms of grades, digital capabilities and employability skills when technology is at the centre rather than on the periphery of curriculum delivery
“I have always said this would be a five-year project but already we are seeing tangible benefits. The digital capabilities of students have improved and so have their independent learning skills. You can also see this in the improved grades.” Simon Barrable, Portsmouth College

Digital is less often viewed as a separate entity
The titles of digital strategies now more frequently feature creativity and innovation rather than technology. A small thing in itself, but could it indicate technology is no longer seen as the new kid on the block? The real benefit of digital technology has always been its capacity to transform the way things are done for the better, and that is what the strategies of many organisations across the sector are now aiming for.
“The days of always doing what you have always done are no longer acceptable, either to learners or employers.” Neil Bates, chief executive, PROCAT

Join speakers from PROCAT, the Hull Group, Forth Valley College and Portsmouth College at our sessions at Digifest on 14-15 March and follow #feltag to follow discussions.

FE and Skills Coalition Meeting – Rethinking assessment and feedback with technology

Discussions at FE and Skills Coalition Meeting, 20th October

Discussions at FE and Skills Coalition Meeting, 20th October

We were delighted to welcome 50 representatives from further education, skills and adult learning providers to the Jisc hosted FE and Skills Coalition meeting held on 20 October in London. This was the second meeting of this group which has been established to support providers with working towards the recommendations of FELTAG. The group plays an essential role in facilitating the sharing of best practice on how providers are using technology to enhance teaching, learning and assessment. The group has representatives from the coalition partners including ETF, AELP, ALT, Ufi and the Institute for Learning and Work.

The focus of this Jisc hosted meeting was to discuss how technology can enhance assessment and feedback practices and processes. An area previously highlighted as one of the challenges providers face. The meeting also provided us with the opportunity of consulting on new resources to support providers make the best use of technology-enhanced assessment and feedback. You can view the Storify of the Tweets from the meeting here.

After an initial introduction to work Jisc is conducting to support learners’ digital experiences from Sarah Knight, who chaired the meeting, we had an overview of Jisc activities for supporting FE and Skills with assessment and feedback from Lisa Gray, Senior co-design manager. You can view Lisa’s slides here and view the Periscope recording here.

You may also like to view the following resources to support you with your practice:
» New guide for FE and skills, with accompanying case studies
» Report from the FE and skills e-assessment survey
» Joint statement by key stakeholders
» Accompanying blog post

Participants provided valuable feedback on the Jisc Draft Benchmarking Tool for FE and Skills on Technology Enhanced Assessment. This benchmarking tool is the latest in a series of resources Jisc has produced to help learning providers improve their learner experience and enhance their assessment and feedback practice. It is aimed specifically at learning providers in the FE and skills sector. You can view the draft tool and guidance here. Based on the feedback we received at this meeting, we are working on a revised version for release in early 2017.

Jayne Holt, Assistant Principal, Learning Services, Walsall College, presented her college’s innovative work on online assessment and the student journey. You can view Jayne’s slides here and access the Periscope recording here. The case study outlining their approach to electronic management of assessment can be accessed here.

Rachel Challen, e-Learning Manager at Loughborough College, presented on how technology is integral in supporting the delivery of learning and assessment at Loughborough College. You can view Rachel’s slides here and the link to the Periscope recoding here. You can read a case study of Badges mean progress in English GCSE from Loughborough College here.

Through discussions participants highlighted the current challenges they face with using technology to support assessment and feedback, and in particular the new apprenticeship model. Issues such as culture change, integration of systems and supporting staff in developing appropriate curriculum design skills to support the development of new curricula and formative assessment activities, were discussed.

Apprenticeships is a growth area in FE and Skills and through the area review process providers have been challenged to increase their delivery of apprenticeships. With a government target of 3m starts by 2020 and a history of just over 2.2m apprenticeship starts over the five academic years from 2009/10 to 2013/14 this represents a huge increase. Only through the effective use of technology, can this target be delivered. So Jisc is undertaking some exploratory work to inform the development and delivery of the new apprenticeship qualifications, focused on supporting decision making around the most effective use of technology.

The focus is on articulating an ‘ideal state’ where technology is used to best effect to maximise the benefits technology can offer, both in terms of cost-efficiencies and learning enhancements. The audience for this work is those involved in the development and delivery of the new apprenticeship standards. We will be working with the Institute for Apprenticeships, AELP, FE colleges, skills providers, employers and awarding organisations to take this forward.

If you would like to join a working group to feed into the development of this project, please contact Lisa Gray.

We would like to thank all who participated in this meeting and we look forward to further meetings in 2017 – dates to be announced.

Key MI systems in use in English colleges of further education.

Cloud services for FE project

We’ve produced a report, which you may find useful, as part of the groundwork for the Cloud services for FE project. This once rejoiced under the name of “Jisc in a box” and also “Shared Services for MI R&D”, if you’re thinking that you haven’t heard of it before.

The report provides a picture of which student management, finance and HR systems are in use in England. It also uses previous information from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to provide a picture of use across the UK.

Why was the report commissioned?

The project aims to provide colleges with an easy, cost-effective method of procuring MI systems on a “Software as a service” (SaaS) basis. We needed to understand what systems are currently in use across in order to determine which systems should be included within the scope of the project. We had reasonable data for all parts of the UK except for England, where about 90% of existing colleges are located.

How was the information obtained?

Jisc commissioned external consultants from Hapsis Ltd. to obtain the information. Hapsis used Jiscmail lists to email contacts within English FE colleges, asking them what systems they were using, how well they integrated together and how satisfied they were with the suppliers. 88 colleges responded – 26% of the current total of colleges in England, which should provide us with a very representative sample.

Main findings

A small number of suppliers, typically 4, provide around three quarters of the systems, but these suppliers differed across the functions.  The four main suppliers of student management systems are: Capita, Tribal, Compass and Civica. MidlandHR’s iTrent system is the dominant HR system in use with a market share of one-third.

Satisfaction varied across respondents, with Ffnance systems showing the least dissatisfaction but more neutral responses. In contrast, satisfaction was more polarised for student record systems. Ease of access for finance and HR systems, plus security and reliability of HR and student records were amongst the highest scores. Ease of implementation was identified as an issue, particularly for HR systems, and supplier relationships and value for money in both HR and student records scored the lowest ratings. The high response and willingness to engage demonstrates the interest from the sector in this project.

Where to find the report

Please go to here.

Reflections from Digifest: Jisc online CPD service for FE & skills

On 2 and 3 March, Jisc held yet another highly innovative and engaging Digifest event.  I felt a great buzz and hive of activity throughout the two days, encapsulated by enriching presentations and content, but not forgetting the robots!

Digifest ©Jisc

My role this year was to be on-hand to provide social media coverage for sessions throughout the event.

One of the highlights was the session improving digital technology skills in FE: The CPD service, held at the advice and practical assistance stand, which took place at 11:15am on the first day.  The session highlighted the students’ expectations regarding digital technology and some of the barriers that teaching staff face.  Sarah Dunne, senior so-design manager, Jisc talked about FELTAG and some of the challenges moving to a blended learning model.  This led into some audience feedback and their experiences and challenges related to CPD and developing digital capabilities and the kind of questions raised below:

How can trainers and teachers gain the confidence and skills needed to use digital technology effectively?

What were the most troubling aspects that came back regularly?

Sarah then introduced the Jisc online CPD service for FE and skills, a project that once published will enable staff to build their skills and make them more confident and proficient in using digital technology, directly mapped to the needs of the FELTAG agenda.

“The JIsc CPD online service will provide ease of access to curated content through orchestrated activities to help staff use them in their own teaching”

The tool has been designed with a simple interface that will lead the user along pathways to ‘learn, find and reuse and build’ – the CPD service will tie in to a diagnostic ‘Discovery’ tool, which is linked to Jisc’s six elements of digital capability.  Feedback and suggested steps and actions are provided during the course of the user experience and also self-review.

In addition the tool will offer searching of curated resources, community reviews and digital capability themes. There is also potential for development of an online course builder in the future.

For further information about this exciting project, please contact Sarah Dunne (

Clare Killen, who is a consultant for the CPD project demonstrated many scenarios related to the kind of challenges that teachers may face and how the Jisc CPD online tool will help in the future.   Peter Chatterton, also a consultant for the project led the discussion activities the workshop, the outcomes of which have been gathered to inform future development.

(Clare Killen on Twitter:
(Peter Chatterton on Twitter:

The Jisc online CPD service aims to launch this September.

Feedback from delegates during the session

“Will be a great support to those of us in training. Identifying needs means we can target specifics and plan suitable training opportunities.” – Teresa Woolf, Learning Technology Developer, Swindon College

Presentation slides

Presentation slides from the session

Further reading

Jisc guide: Supporting professional development:
Flipping continuing professional development:
Implementing the FELTAG agenda:

Throughout the rest of Digifest I was busy tweeting from sessions and contributing to the conversations on the app, which I found to be a great engaging tool.  One of the benefits of the app was its ability to sync to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to extend the messages without having to separately visit other social media websites.



A NAO robot entertaining delegates with impersonations

Digilab was very immersive and featured some very cool robots and digital technology.

Delegates could try out virtual reality headsets and use their smart device to control a replica toy BB-8 droid from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie.

Other interesting things to see included: thermal imaging, 3D printing, lecture capture, 3D photos and Google Translate.

Google Translate

Watch how Google translates text on-screen

To have a look at these technologies in more details visit the Digilab webpages. (

But what did the delegates think about Digifest?  Why not listen to some of the reflections from speakers and delegates captured for Jisc’s YouTube channel. (

Jisc and LOOP: The future of student feedback and the role of digital technology

(published on behalf of Alev Zahir)

On Thursday 21st of January Jisc and LOOP collaborated on a unique event which explored: “The future of student feedback and the role of technology”. At the heart of the debate was how technology can support student feedback to improve quality in colleges and learning providers.

Opening Remarks Paul Bailey Jisc Rose Dowling LOOP Founder

The event was attended by FE practitioners, Ofsted, tech entrepreneurs, local council representatives and students, ensuring a variety of views and interesting conversations.

Consultation with LOOP partners in the FE sector suggest that the current methods for gathering student feedback and responding are not always successful.

Institutions have problems getting high response rates and many students and some staff do not take them seriously. Staff leading the survey and students taking part suffer from ‘survey fatigue’ and the results are often not an authentic picture of student experience.

The event addressed the key strategic challenges facing FE leaders in this area, shared examples of good practice and heard directly from students about what motivates them to give authentic and insightful feedback.

Denise Olander HMI gave a very useful presentation around gathering student views during inspection. Some of her key points were:

  • Learners’ and students’ views are a key source of evidence for inspectors (as are the views of managers, staff, governors, employers and others)
  • As the recipients of the education or training provided, students can give inspectors valuable insights into the quality of provision
  • Ofsted use a variety of means to gather student feedback both formal and informal, online and off-line

Guests were able to engage in an informal dialogue with Denise about how best to harness student feedback effectively to support inspections under the new framework.

A panel of experts including Paul Bailey (Jisc), Jayne Morgan (Lewisham and Southwark College) and Uly Lyons (King Edward VI – Nuneaton) gave us their views on the current strategies they use to gather student feedback, the merits of using them and their hopes for the future in this area.

LOOP student board members Abi, Shanice, Nadeem and Ethan spoke passionately and confidently about why effective student feedback is so important to them and gave examples from their own institutions of how the feedback has been used for improvement and recognizing good practice.

“We learnt that there was a consensus that student feedback was very important to all sorts of institutions and organisations. Whether it be principals, Ofsted or the institutions themselves. Student feedback shapes the way an institution presents itself, it can better things for everyone and it’s certainly vital to encourage institutions to gain feedback so that they can realise the potential behind services like LOOP and shape their school, college or university so that it best suits the needs of everyone.” Ethan Gates – Havering Sixth Form College

Expert Panel

Showcases and examples form within the sector of how technology can be used to improve services included:

LOOP – the student-driven review and ratings website for schools and colleges (

WAMBIZ – private social networks for education (

Unitu – the student voice platform (

City Lit –  the usage of web postings on progress and online course review systems (

Ofsted Learner Voice – the way for students to give their voice during inspections (

For the final part of the event we asked guests to create their vision for the next 5 years in this area and their hopes are:

  • To gather greater qualitative and quantitative student feedback data and that more value is given to qualitative feedback
  • To ensure there’s a measurable impact
  • That feedback is more transparent to increase trust
  • To use creative ways to share impact
  • That there is increased understanding that students are customers
  • LOOP becomes widespread
  • That the benefits of high quality feedback are recognised
  • Student feedback is continuous not just entry and exit

LOOP – the student driven review and ratings website is just one answer in this area.

By partnering with institutions and using a training methodology we give students the skills they need to give insightful and useful reviews. Students become part of the solution by not only focusing on what works well and what needs to be improved but by developing the solutions themselves.

LOOP student reviews can be found at:

For more information about LOOP please contact:

Anish Bagga - Unitu


Building capability across an FE College

These are challenging times for FE Colleges. The cuts in funding, Area Based Reviews, FELTAG, competitive pressures, small group sizes, all are areas both for opportunity and problems to be resolved.

Technology offers lots of potential solutions to the problems that are being faced:

  • Learning platforms and VLEs can provide a mechanism for delivering online learning across multiple sites.
  • Mobile devices allow flexible learning to happen at a time and place to suit the learner.
  • Ubiquitous wifi means that BYOD is not only possible but can have a transformational impact on teaching, learning and assessment.
  • Mobile devices have amazing functionality to change the medium of assessment from written tasks to using video and audio.
  • The web provides a doorway into an online world of interactive learning, digital resources and amazing videos.

Classroom by James Clay (CC BY-NC 2.0)

There are case studies in abundance about how technology can be used to inspire, motivate and change how we teach, learn and assess.

However we should remember that these solutions have been around for a while, so why haven’t teaching staff across the FE sector taken up these solutions to solve the problems they face?

Well the reality is that many staff across FE have used technology effectively to enhance and enrich teaching learning and assessment. Unfortunately this may not have happened in a holistic consistent way across an FE College or the FE sector as a whole.

So why is this?

Well there are many reasons for this, from strategy, lack of vision at the top, training, resources, infrastructure, staff development and so on…

One aspect that often can be missed is one of capability, specifically digital capability. Digital capability is not just about having the right digital skills or literacy, but having the capability to make the right and appropriate choices when it comes to digital and understanding when to seek support or the right training.

When an FE College decides to pursue a new digital initiative it often falls at the first fence as staff either don’t engage with the tool, or fail to take advantage of the full functionality available. A good example of this is the VLE, where the end result of staff engaging with the VLE is to focus purely on content and using the VLE as a repository of Word documents and Powerpoint presentations. Missing the added value the VLE can bring in terms of discussion, online quizzes and assessment, wikis, collaborative assessments and so much more.

So why do staff not use the full functionality of the VLE? More often though we talk of time and training, an assumption is made that staff have the necessary digital skills, the capability to take advantage of the functionality of the VLE. That assumption is quite flawed, and staff who have low digital capability may not.

Often an assumption is made that teaching staff in FE are able to understand how, why and where a tool can be used effectively. They know, when showcased a new tool or service how to embed it into their practice. They know, when they see an online video case study, how they will take the lessons and change the way in which they work. We also assume that they have the necessary motivation to do so.

If we assume that they don’t then how do we provide the necessary skills to allow them to do so? What kind of training and development do we need to create to make this paradigm shift?

In a similar manner, when new digital tools are introduced to an organisation, many staff don’t understand why they need to use them, and often choose not to. As described above we assume staff will utilise the full functionality of the digital tools. Organisations invest heavily in technology to support the business processes; we have seen new tools such as CRM, learning analytics, social media engagement, lecture capture, online learning environments. They do this for many reasons, efficiency, engagement, for example, but some of these tools only make sense and only really work if everyone in the organisation who is supposed to use, it does use it.

Learning Space

Learning Space by James Clay (CC BY-NC 2.0)

So what do we do about this?

Understanding your digital capability is key. Knowing what skills you have and which you don’t. It is important that staff are encouraged and motivated to build their digital capability and the appropriate and necessary development time and training is put in place. A change in thinking in how digital tools and services are both introduced and approached needs to happen.

FE Colleges may want to consider how they would ensure digital capability was part of their staff induction programme as well as ensuring the appropriate digital capabilities are included in people specifications and job descriptions.

Similarly understanding the current digital capabilities of their staff will ensure that when new digital initiatives are introduced, the appropriate training across all levels is offered to staff so that full use is made across the college of the new tools and services.

Jisc are building a digital capability service which will allow staff in FE Colleges to discover more about their individual digital capability and useful actions and next steps to build that capability. One key tool for this will be an online FE and Skills CPD service that will provide teaching staff with online resources and training that will develop their capability in digital learning. In addition by analysing the data from the discovery tool, Jisc will be able to provide FE Colleges with an institutional picture of their digital capability and support in building institutional digital capability.

Engaging learners in active dialogue around their digital expectations and experiences

From the work we have carried out over the past 3 years with Helen Beetham, Dave White, Rhona Sharpe, Liz Browne and Ellen Lessner, under the Digital Student project and the Change agents’ network, the development of the student digital experience is complex and should be informed by learners’ expectations and experiences of technology. Learners should have opportunities to share their ideas about how their digital experience can be improved. Presentations from learners to senior managers and governors can be powerful enablers for driving change. How many colleges have a student representative on their digital strategy working group? Feeding back to learners on how their ideas may or may not be taken forward is also important so their views are valued and you are closing the feedback loop. My recent presentation summarises the key findings from these projects.

When asking colleges the question – how do you currently gather learners’ expectations and experiences of technology?, there were some excellent examples of practice from short surveys in VLEs at the end of each module, learner voice surveys, focus groups, student rep meetings, digital literacy surveys, SPOC etc. Although when we discussed this in more detail, there is still a lack of emphasis on the digital aspects and also a lack of analysis and bringing together of the data collected to have a ‘digital lens’. A longitudinal view is also rarely available. Hence the work we are carrying out under the Digital Student Data Service.

Asking colleges, how do you engage your learners in the development of the digital environment/digital strategy? is a more difficult question to answer. At course level there are mechanisms and channels to encourage feedback, but less so at a strategic level. The importance of engaging student unions and class reps in these discussions was raised as something we need to do better. Look for opportunities to encourage learner participation in digital working groups for example.

Learners in our Digital student studies saw the digital experience as an opportunity to contribute and get involved. Digital engagement methods such as social media, padlets, twitter walls, vox pops etc are popular and once established can be used for other issues too. Digital students are different – it is important that the experience of different groups is represented. Learners can get involved in different ways e.g. advocate, researcher, representative, intern, change agent, project lead, buddy, mentor, designer. This is an issue which can help change relationships between staff and students.

There are some excellent examples of practice from colleges who are appointing digital leaders, digital ambassadors, digipals as a way of empowering students in discussions and decisions around their digital experience. Blackburn College, Procat, Portsmouth College and Barnet and Southgate College are all seeing the benefits of working in partnership with their learners to drive forward curriculum change with technology. See the presentation from the HE Digital Leaders course on Students as partners.

A reminder of the resources and guidance which is available to colleges and providers to support them with gathering their learners’ expectations and experiences of technology. These include:
Digital Student card sort and guidance on running learner focus groups
Digital Student learner profile form
Digital Students are different posters
Enhancing the student digital experience postcards
Jisc – NUS Benchmarking the student digital experience
Enhancing the student digital experience online guide
Developing successful student-staff partnerships

Enhancing the student digital experience postcards

Enhancing the student digital experience postcards

I would like to hear your ideas on how you are engaging your learners. Please follow #digitalstudent to keep updated on the developments of the Digital Student project for skills and also around the developments of a possible digital student data service.