Three emerging insights from the Digital discovery pilot

Co-authored by Clare Killen

Map showing locations of UK pilotsOver one hundred universities, colleges and other providers are piloting the Jisc Digital discovery tool in the UK and overseas. The design of this tool encourages individuals to reflect on and develop their digital capabilities. It provides a summary of their self-assessment in response to nuanced question prompts as well as suggestions for further development with links to relevant, interactive resources. Whilst it is very much a personal tool, additional features allow institutional leads tasked with supporting digital capabilities development to gain insights from anonymised data and translate them into the institutional context.

Jisc team members have visited several pilot institutions to support the implementation process. In doing so, and through our in-depth conversations, we have learned about what works, at a practical level, when it comes to providing opportunities to develop the digital capabilities of staff and students in the various organisations. Further insights have emerged from conferences, events and meetings featuring presentations from our pilots, for example, the Student Experience Experts meeting and the Digital capabilities session at Digifest18.

As the roll-out gathers pace, we are starting to gain some fascinating insights into how institutions are using the opportunities offered by this tool to bring about positive change in their organisations. There are some clear themes emerging around what organisations that are benefiting from the Digital discovery process typically have in place:

 1. Clear strategic vision

We are seeing that the organisations with a clear message about the importance of digital technologies, communicated and understood by everyone, provides a meaningful context for the use of the discovery tool.

“It is important to have a clear strategy and people need to know that digital is part of the strategy and part of what they do. You need to engage people in it, allow them to see how it affects them and why it is important to them. It needs to be exciting, so for example, we have run several big events that inspire and excite people around the idea of using technology to support teaching and learning and the college business.”
Penny Langford, head of e-learning, Milton Keynes College

2. Culture

Having a safe space in which teams can explore their thinking about their own priorities for development creates an environment in which individuals can thrive.

“The individual reports which each member of my team had, generated discussions and comparisons, with staff considering their different roles and how that has had an impact upon their individual percentage. More than that though, it made them consider how they might acquire skills where they didn’t score as highly. I have eLearning Technologists and Librarians in my team and each had different scores, particularly the Information Literacy category. Which prompted all manner of discussion around the fake news agenda and critically evaluating information sources.”
Sarah Crossland, academic services manager, Doncaster College and University Centre

3. Connections

Establishing the connections between individual self-identified aims, the overall picture for all staff and the resources available to support professional development to meet organisational strategic aims.

We wanted to identify gaps in staff confidence in their digital skills and use this information to target staff training and support. We looked at other products but there was nothing really out there to meet those requirements. We were looking for a standardised tool and wanted something to self-motivate staff. The approach taken by the Digital discovery tool supports that.
Joseph Pilgrim, digital learning co-ordinator, ACT Training

Digital capability community of practice

The next digital capability community of practice event is being hosted in partnership with the University of Leicester on 22 May 2018. This provides an opportunity to learn about related initiatives and hear more from the wider community including many members who are taking part in the pilot of Digital discovery tool.
While registration for this event has now closed, the keynote sessions will be live streamed. Follow the hashtag #digitalcapability on the day and presentations and any outputs will be available from the event page.

There is still time to engage staff

If you are part of the pilot, you still have time to engage staff, perhaps through end of term staff development events. Remember that feedback is required by the end of May but the Digital discovery tool will continue to be available until 13 July 2018.

The FE & Skills Coalition Meets

The FE and Skills Coalition meetings have built on the work of FELTAG and continue to offer both colleges and other sector organisations an excellent opportunity to hear the current issues and challenges which colleges and providers are facing.

The latter part of this meeting which looked at the role of  AR & VR tools in FE & Skills was the subject of an earlier blog post.

The meeting heard from Paul McKean, Head of FE & Skills at Jisc about Jisc’s strategic aims in the FE & Skills area, and an overview on Jisc’s current activities in this area.

Paul highlighted the sheer pace and extent of change in the post-16 education sector. A plethora of reports, standards and policies over the last few years has given the sector plenty of challenges, and along with area reviews and mergers has meant much upheaval.

Paul explained Jisc’s key strategic principles for the next three years. These are:

  • Quality of provision – excellence in teaching, learning and improvements in digital capability across the piece
  • Sector transformation – including financial sustainability and more efficient and effective institutions
  • Employer-led training – including better support for work-based learning, apprenticeships and employability of learners

Paul stressed the determination of Jisc to continue to be pro-active in engaging with its members to highlight the benefits of technological solutions and in supporting members in realising those benefits.

Paul highlighted some of the new offerings from Jisc for our members. These included:

  • Digital capabilities discovery tool – which helps individual staff reflect on their capability in the use of digital tools for learning and teaching. This platform will be ready for open pilot in December 2017
  • Student Experience Tracker – The tracker has gathered over 27,000 responses from students since its launch. There are new case studies that demonstrate organisational impact.
  • The Apprenticeship Journey in a Digital Age – This toolkit highlights support and digital approaches for steps along the Degree and higher apprenticeship journey. Currently available as an interactive Powerpoint deck, it will be released as a fully fledged web resource in early 2018.

Paul expands on these points in a recent podcast and blog post.

Designing learning and assessment in a digital age

Sarah Knight and Lisa Gray, Head of Change and a Senior Co-design manager in the Student Experience team at Jisc reviewed Jisc’s activities in the area of technology enhanced curricula, some of which dates back to 2006. The work is essentially designed to help answer the question: “What do my learners need to learn or what skills do they need to acquire to meet the learning outcomes for this lesson, course or module?”

Sarah and Lisa introduced the FE & Skills assessment benchmarking tool  as a really useful framework to enable institutions to see where they are in this area and reflect on their practice and on what they need to do to develop further.

They also drew attention to the Jisc work on employability, where a study of this area has led to the development of a set of guidance materials to help institutions understand the requirements for producing employable students in a digital age.

They also touched on Jisc’s work across the learner analytics space, and the really useful insights and metrics that can come from successfully interrogating the huge amount of data that institutions produce these days.

Learning spaces and the way that effective design of classrooms and other spaces can help facilitate good learning experiences were also highlighted. There are many good examples of this from across both higher and further education including:

  • Interactive lecture theatres
  • Active learning classrooms
  • Multi-discipline laboratories
  • Technology offers new possibilities to simulate work environments

Finally Lisa and Sarah stressed the role of students as change agents, and highlighted guidance for institutions in forging effective student-staff partnerships.

Case Studies in Digital Skills – Ufi Charitable Trust

Katherine Laux is a project manager at the Ufi charitable trust. She explained that Ufi works to:

  • demonstrate the art of the possible
  • create a vocational technology market
  • change the way we learn

Ufi achieve this by funding projects that can provide scalable solutions to improve vocational skills. Katherine highlighted two case studies from the Ufi stable (these case studies are free to users).

Blended learning essentials

This online, interactive course aims to introduce anyone working in further education, skills or vocational training to the benefits of blended learning and the way that technology can support learners to be better prepared for the workplaces that they will be entering.

The course was developed by the University of Leeds and the Institute of Education at University College London. It is available for free, although for a modest £62 it is possible to access more support and ongoing access to the course.


iDEA (Duke of York inspiring Digital Enterprise Award) is the digital and enterprise counterpart of the Duke of Edinburgh Award. It is completely free and can be accessed on virtually any device. Anyone of any age can sign up and earn badges to show their achievements in four categories: citizen, worker, maker and entrepreneur.

By taking on further challenges, participants can progress to Bronze, Silver and Gold awards. As well as being fun, the badges provide a visual acknowledgement of achievement which can then lead to improved employment prospects in the technology and enterprise sectors.


The presentations from this event are available on the Jisc website.

Thank you to all those who participated and for their willingness to share their practice and ideas with us. Please continue this conversation by using #FELTAG and by joining the FE and Skills Coalition mailing list:

Augmented and Virtual Reality for FE and Skills


There was a really good turn out for the latest in the FE & Skills Coalition series of meeting on the 31st October. There were many issues discussed and debated at the meeting, and some of  these will be covered in subsequent blog posts.

The focus in the afternoon session was on the role that Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR & VR) tools can play on FE and Skills education and training.

Following some hands-on demonstrations from Jisc’s own team who are working with these tools, and from Steve Smith and Frank McHale from Preston College at lunch time, the afternoon session heard from Jisc team, Leeds College of Music and Preston College.

There was a lot of interest in the role that these technologies can play in the FE and Skills sector. The ability to give students access to learning experiences that are either expensive, complicated or hazardous makes one case for exploring their use, as does the possibility of constructing learning opportunities that would be physically impossible in the real world.

Jisc’s activity

Matt Ramirez, Senior Innovation Developer in Jisc’s Digital Futures directorate opened the proceedings. He ran through some of the history of these tools, and their previous and current place on the Gartner hype cycle, and stressed the changing landscape due to the opportunity arising from the ubiquity of VR and AR capability on smart phones. Both Apple with its ARKit and Google with its ARCore are offering developers ease of access in return for entering their particular walled gardens. Standards that allow easy interoperability in this space are needed to break down these proprietary islands.

Jisc is looking at what institutions need to help them get going. Along with advice about how to select particular technologies for  evaluation or use in production environments, Jisc is looking at how to help with advice on things like repositories like SketchFab. Read Matt’s blog post which covers other interesting applications of these approaches to medicine, archeology and technical education. Martin Hamilton is Jisc’s Futurist, and he has written about Apple’s ARKIt, highlighting the way that it is mainstreaming augmented reality.

Preston College

Some colleges are already embracing AR and VR approaches. Steve Smith and Frank McHale form Preston College’s Preston’s College‘s Learning Lab confessed themselves near the start of their journey, and described their initial explorations and paid generous tribute to Matt Ramirez for his help in making some initial good choices in terms of technologies to investigate without spending a fortune and ending up with an expensive white elephant.

Steve and Frank stressed that while the potential of AR & VR tools is immense, their early experiences of talking to vendors was not encouraging. Their recommendation was to avoid the hard sell from the vendors with their ecosystems and explore ‘consumer’ level hardware and explore what can be done with these tools. They both stated that exploring the affordances of these tools had revitalised their interest and excitement in their role as teachers .

They concluded with these thoughts:

  • AR/VR is not a ‘Black Art’
  • It is not a gimmick anymore
  • Don’t be put off by high-value providers with inflexible offers
  • You can make a start for a few hundred pounds
steve vr

using VR headset and wands

Leeds Collge of Music

Leeds College of Music told us that they were further down the track in terms of implementing and making effective use of these approaches. Being a specialist music college, they have a requirement to teach students to be effective in the studio as well as as performers. They have created an AR resource that helps students get experience of setting up the patch bay (where audio signals are routed to sound processing modules and onwards). Students found this approach really useful, as it gave them the opportunity to fully interact with the patch bay and work things out for themselves.

LCoM AR Patch Bay

If you missed the session, there is a Periscope recording
Note – this was captured via an iPhone with no external microphone.

Presentations from this session are available on the Jisc Website.

Please continue this conversation by using #FELTAG and by joining the FE and Skills Coalition mailing list:

FE and Skills Coalition Meeting – The Apprenticeship Journey in a Digital Age

On the 10th May over 50 representatives from further education and skills across the UK attended the Jisc hosted FE and Skills coalition meeting in London. The theme of the meeting was the apprenticeship journey in a digital age. The aims of the meeting were to explore how we can embed technology throughout apprenticeship design, delivery and assessment and to hear from participants on their experiences of using technology in support of apprenticeships.

With apprenticeships going through a period of great change with government targets to deliver 3 million new starts by 2020, and a move from provider-led frameworks to the delivery of new employer-led standards. Many providers are now seeing technology as core to their delivery model if they are to be cost-effective.

You can access the Storify summary of the day

Highlights from meeting include:

The meeting began with an overview of how Jisc is supporting colleges and skills providers with their use of technology and highlighted the new resources available to support organisations develop their digital environment. New resources include:
Online guide on developing organisational approaches to developing digital capability
Briefing paper on developing organisational approaches to developing digital capability
The evolution of FELTAG: a glimpse at effective practice in UK further education and skills
• Enhancing the digital experience for skills learners online guide
• Area review toolkits available here

Joe Wilson sharing his views on apprenticeship landscape

Joe Wilson sharing his views on apprenticeship landscape

We heard from Joe Wilson, @joecar, on his views around the current apprenticeship landscape and the challenges facing colleges and providers with the anticipated changes.

Apprenticeship toolkit from Jisc

Apprenticeship toolkit from Jisc

Lisa Gray updated the group on the work Jisc has been conducting in relation to how technology can support the design, delivery and assessment of apprenticeships. Jisc is developing guidance to providers moving to these new models of delivery, and Lisa provided an overview of work to date. The guidance available is based on a roadmap of effective practice from the preparatory stages through delivery of training to end-point assessment and highlights the key role of technology throughout. You can view Lisa’s slides here. Read Lisa’s blog post about the project and you can access the apprenticeship toolkit here. We would welcome your views and feedback on this resource through our feedback form. Please contact Lisa Gray ( for more information.

You can view the Periscope recordings of these presentations here.

Nick Poyner, Real Apprenticeship Company presented on how technology supports their delivery

Nick Poyner, Real Apprenticeship Company presented on how technology supports their delivery

We heard from Nick Poyner, from the Real Apprenticeship Company, on how they are making effective use of technology to support the delivery of their apprenticeships. Nick’s slides are available here and you can access the Periscope recording here. Read more about their work here

The Education and Training Foundation have a programme of support for providers and colleges delivering apprenticeships and Alison Morris and Dawn Buzzard presented to the group on what support and training opportunities are available. You can access their slides here.

Dawn Buzzard presenting on ETF support programme for apprenticeships

Dawn Buzzard presenting on ETF support programme for apprenticeships

In addition, Ufi run the Blended Learning Essentials course and are developing a new course aimed specifically at supporting staff delivering apprenticeships and the role of technology. For further information visit

To end the day Rob Bristow and Sarah Dunne ran an activity on developing user stories to capture user requirements, to feed into the developments on the Jisc digital apprenticeship work. You can view the user stories here.

The meeting ended with a plenary panel where each member of the panel was asked to share their key take away message from the day. This included the importance of developing a digital vision, supporting staff with the development of their digital skills and capabilities, realising the value and benefits digital can offer. You can view the Periscope recording of the panel here.

Thank you to all those who contributed to the event and for the rich discussion. The next meeting of the group is on 11th October. You can join the mailing list for this group by visiting FELTAGIMPLEMENTATIONGROUP and continue the discussions on Twitter using #FELTAG

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.