Articles from Jisc

Jisc launches strategy to support FE and skills providers through a tech evolution

A three-year plan has been launched that aims to “provide digital services that elevate the further education and skills sector’s ability to serve people as lifelong learners”. 

Could your students have the next big idea in education?

The question that we're constantly asking ourselves in further education (FE) is: "How can we use technology innovatively to support exceptional student experiences?".For college principals and teachers, trying to come up with new solutions to enhance learning is clearly a big ask. Yet, technological developments should not only be made from the top down. Think for a moment just how powerful it would be to ask the students themselves how digital technologies could support them in their studies. It sounds simple, but inviting their opinion and involving them in the development means that you're actually getting what students want and need.Summer of Student InnovationAt Jisc, we've been doing just that with Summer of Student Innovation, our annual competition that asks learners to come up with solutions to improve learning, teaching and research through technology. The competition invites students to put forward new and novel ideas on technology that could transform education for them, with the best ones then selected to receive funding and support from Jisc for development.Having grown-up with technology, students tend to be highly capable, confident and well-placed to comment on where it could play a transformative role, and I'm always hugely impressed by the calibre of entries we receive. In the past we've seen everything from tools to improve feedback between staff and students, to a 'murder mystery' game on a university campus that students make the transition from further to higher education (HE).Success at Sussex DownsOne of the most promising ideas from last year's cohort came from Lukas and Kamil Ondrej, brothers from Sussex Downs College in East Sussex. Their winning idea was Lingoflow, a language-learning app design to allow learners to create their own collections of vocabulary, score them on their recollection, and then encourage repetition of the less well-known terms and phrases.As Lingoflow was developed over a series of summer workshops, we quite quickly realised it could have real benefit to anyone trying to get to grips with a new language. When the initial Summer of Student Innovation run came to an end in the autumn we decided to offer further development support and extra funding to help turn it into a fully functioning product. A few months down the line I'm pleased to say that Lukas and Kamil are close to launching a new and improved Lingoflow app and website, including brand new features.Ideas in FEAs Lukas and Kamil's case demonstrates, learners in FE are very capable of coming up with ideas, but it can be difficult for young people who don't always have the technical know-how to get their ideas off the ground.With Summer of Student Innovation now in its third year, we want to make sure that learners in FE get a chance to express their ideas. For the first time there is a competition strand specifically for learner led projects in FE or work-based learning. We're not expecting these students to come to us with a fully-functioning solution. Instead, it is meant to encourage students to join up with their college or work-based learning provider, come up with ideas and work together to develop them, all with Jisc support.Getting involved in Summer of Student Innovation is hugely beneficial for everyone. Students get the opportunity to gain important design, entrepreneurial and project management skills as they work up their ideas, while for the staff and participating organisation it ensures they stay at the forefront of new technology developments.To help get people started we'll be hosting a webinar to offer guidance, and ideas generation workshops in Bristol, Birmingham and Newcastle. We have also pulled together some written guidance on how to create an idea. Entry is then made via a short video pitch, summary and 500 word description of your idea on the Jisc Elevator website detailing the benefits and how it will impact upon research and education. Applications are open until 18 May – good luck!Paul Bailey is a senior co-design manager at Jisc, which provides digital solutions for UK education and research

FE colleges increase their network resilience

Superfast internet access has come to be such a major part of our everyday lives that network connectivity is often seen as a given 'right', but as with all technologies it is not infallible, and things can and do go wrong.If your internet goes down at home chances are you'll be slightly inconvenienced while you wait for the problem to be put right. Not such a big deal if you're browsing for pleasure, but say you need to use the internet for work or study, a few hours offline can seriously hamper your output.Now think about what would happen if you lost connectivity in your college. Potentially hundreds of students and teachers would be unable to access the online resources and services they need. Bad enough if this were to transpire during teaching or study time; if a loss of connectivity were to happen during an exam, the outcome would be positively disastrous.Offsetting the riskWhen you consider that a typical telecommunications circuit will fail once every year, and take an average of six hours to fix each time, this could have huge repercussions for a college. You can see why internet connectivity is no longer just an IT issue but a boardroom one.As standard every further education and specialist college in the UK is provided with one connection to Jisc's network Janet. Ours is one of the world's most advanced computer networks and offers added value over commercial providers, being faster, safer and more robust. Furthermore, it's supported by our Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT), who maintain a safe online environment for users by monitoring and quickly responding to any security incidents that occur.But even with this assurance, relying on one connection alone does not contain proper risk and continuity planning. It therefore makes common business sense to have a back-up should the primary connection fail.Better connectedAlmost all of UK universities already have multiple network connections, and slowly but surely we're seeing FE move in the same direction.A year ago we embarked on a venture with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to improve network resilience in FE and support them in delivering the FELTAG agenda. BIS set aside a pool of money to fund the installation and first year rental costs for further education colleges in England to get additional connections to the Janet network, with Jisc responsible for the project delivery.We contacted all eligible colleges in England and received expressions of interest from 120. Of those, 92 colleges took up the offer, with a number even requesting two or more additional connection – particularly useful for rural colleges spread over multiple campuses and sites. At the time of speaking we are installing the final few connections, which will mean we will have delivered over 100 new connections through this work.Taking into account the colleges which already had second connections, this latest tranche of activity will mean that approximately 160 further education colleges in England will have more than one connection to the Janet network, accounting for well over half of all colleges in this category.Reliable and resilientWhile we are at the end of our funding with BIS, I would heartily urge other colleges in the UK to consider what an additional connection to the Janet network could offer them.I have already mentioned FELTAG, but in all nations there is a growing awareness of how digital technologies can attract, retain and support students in their learning, and equip them with the skills they need for the future – reliable, high quality internet connectivity is clearly an important component in delivery this. Having a resilient network infrastructure also supports the trend for colleges to store their digital resources on the cloud, allowing them to access everything they need without the costs and inconvenience of holding all their data in a physical location.For me, the argument is not 'why should I get a second connection for my college' but why wouldn't you? When the cost to run the additional connection is around £6,000, the equivalent to less than two learners per year – while a loss of connection at an inopportune time could run into hundreds of thousands, not to mention the impact on learners – that sort of reassurance is invaluable.Neil Shewry is a project leader at Jisc, which provides digital solutions for UK education and research

Further education, FELTAG and future gazing: what is the reality for providers?

Anyone working in further education (FE) at the moment would agree that the sector is facing challenging times. Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming general election, most agree that cuts will continue. 

Tips for making your digital technology strategy a success

They say the first steps are the hardest, and that's certainly the case for college managers looking to implement any large-scale change programme. This is particularly evident when it comes to areas that staff may not naturally be used to engaging with, such as using digital technology in the classroom.

Five top tips to make sure digital resources hit the mark

More and more organisations are going 'digital by default' - it underpins the UK government's own digital strategy – and as a result there has been plenty of debate about how to meet the needs of the digitally excluded.

Realising the potential of Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) in FE

For teachers looking for a practical, effective way to give learners more flexible access to resources, Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are an obvious answer.

Sharing and recycling in the Further Education and Skills sector

There has been a long-running teacher tradition of spending evenings creating learning materials, taking them into work and swapping them over the photocopier. But, how do today's teachers in the further education & skills sector locate and exploit suitable learning content in the digital age? With affordable – and portable – computers, cameras and recording equipment, they can create varied and high-quality multimedia and interactive content. But as the kit becomes more easily available, the time to create content becomes scarcer.

Looking at vocational learning and youth unemployment in Scotland and England

UK youth unemployment data for this quarter shows a 2.1% decrease on the previous quarter but at 16.9% for 16-24 year olds is still above that of the general population. Couple this with employers' views that the barriers to recruiting young people are a lack of appropriate skills (63%) and experience (61%) it is perhaps not surprising that devolved governments have commissioned expert working groups to find a solution to youth unemployment whilst addressing prevailing skills shortages within the labour market.Scotland like the rest of the UK is committed to reducing the levels of youth unemployment and in recent months there has been a raft of announcements detailing current and future proposed strategies to effect positive economic and financial benefits whilst supporting improved attainment and increased employment of young people.This month saw the announcement by Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing detailing that the NHS will recruit 500 new Modern Apprenticeships across the next three years and there is an expectation of a further pledge by John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, to create 30,000 MAs in Scotland by 2020.Cynics may believe that a key driver for these initiatives is the looming vote on Scotland's Independence and indeed in recent week's employment has taken centre stage of said debate. However, in January 2013 the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce was established by the Scottish Government and tasked with bringing forward a range of recommendations designed to improve young people's transition into employment.The Commission recommended a 'culture shift' in the education system of Scotland leading to a parity between University and vocational training to enable more young Scots into work and thereby reduce the jobless rate which is almost double that of the average working age.The report has highlighted that qualifications including Scottish Vocational Qualifications, 'Skills for Work' and Modern Apprenticeships are crucial if Scottish youth unemployment is to be effectively reduced. Currently the college sector involvement in the Modern Apprenticeships programme is predominantly via subcontracting of training to varying degrees dependent upon the individual employer. Looking to the future, there is a desire from within the college sector for an increased scope in the apprenticeship programme with a view to ensuring a minimum level of training and increased consistency in terms of quality of experience.The inconsistent quality of apprenticeship experiences and lack of advanced level routes has been acknowledged as an area for improvement, despite 87% of apprentices stating they were satisfied or very satisfied with their apprenticeship. Within the UK more generally with Dr Martin Allen and Professor Patrick Ainley from the University of Greenwich recently stated that the majority of apprenticeships are 'low skilled' and 'dead end' and a recent report has found that 14 % of apprentices were receiving no training at all. However, Matthew Hancock, the UK Minister for Skills and Enterprise, explained that the government is focused on improving the quality of the apprenticeship scheme and has stripped out nearly 200,000 apprenticeships that don't meet 'tough new standards'.Similarly, a commitment to ensuring high quality apprenticeship provision in Scotland is echoed in the Wood Commission report with the recommendation that Education Scotland assumes responsibility for the programme, enabling the development of an external Quality Assurance programme. Thus, there appears to be consensus regarding the need to improve quality; implement minimum standards and ensure consistency within apprenticeship programmes across the UK. As yet there has been limited comment on the potential mechanisms for embedding, creating and sharing standards and training materials to realise this. So the question is how can this be done? How can these improvements be made?

Unconventional approach to tackling employability issues

What's the very hottest of all the hot topics facing learning and skills providers at the moment? Employability must be one of the strongest contenders for the title, which is why we've chosen it as the theme for LearnPod14, this year's unconference for FE colleges and skills providers in the North.

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