#cetis14, feeling a bit lost in the forest . . .

#cetis14 was a slightly different experience for me this year, as for the first time I attended as a delegate not one of the organisers, and someone who wanted to find out about what I should be looking towards in terms of innovation and key trends.   As the conference theme was  “Building the digital institution” I was particularly looking forward to insights on that and how it fitted with my thinking on that area.

Last week we hosted one of the Jisc Digital Student consultation events, in her summary of findings so far, Helen Beetham highlighted the importance of “space and place” to students at university.  During his opening talk, Paul Hollins showed a video his 12 year old son had made about his vision of a digital institution, and I was struck how important “place” (even if it was virtual) was to him too. His simulation centered on distinct buildings,not that dis-similar to many current university campuses (minus the holo-decks).   However it was a different kind of space that has left me feeling a bit bewildered about innovation and the future developments.

Giving a Cetis keynote can be a bit of a challenge. It can be a bit of a “tough crowd”, so Phil Richards, CIO, Jisc who gave the first keynote had his work cut out for him.  Jisc has been “evolving” and restructuring for a couple of years now.  Part of that restructuring has seen Cetis evolve too from a fully funded Jisc Innovation Support Centre, to a self funding centre. I was looking forward to hearing what and how Jisc will be working with the sector.  However, I am still a bit confused.

I know that the “old” funding mechanisms at Jisc weren’t perfect, but I’m not sure almost 3 years later Jisc still need to be referencing the Wilson report so heavily to justify changes. The million seeds left to flower analogy was used, and again I agree that in the past, some Jisc funded projects were much more successful than others and some, despite lots of funding did wither and die. Now it seems Jisc have been thinning the trees, and are now concentrating on maintaining a more manageable forest. There will be a nursery but just now there will be four large seeds (research, analytics, student information systems, and digital leadership). These have been decided through a process of  co-design with key stakeholders.  Through this process over the next three years Jisc will be developing its Product Catalogue and then we (the sector) can sign up to the new subscription model.  Well I think that’s what he said. . .  I’m still a bit confused about how the co-design process is extended to the sector, or how for example I could tell my PVC of Learning and Teaching how we can become involved in the process. I really like the idea of co-design, the most successful Jisc projects have always had that element in them.  I’m just still unclear how it will actually work in the “new” Jisc context.

In terms of innovation, it was useful to revisit the innovation, service, commodity cycle but again I was left feeling that if all services eventually become commodities then what is the value propositions of developing shared services just now if someone else will be able to provide them cheaper than we as a sector can . . .   Again I agree light touch specifications like LTI are really good, but they need to be nurtured too – and someone usually pays for that.

This is my visual note of the session (apparently there were unicorns somewhere but I missed them, and they are quite hard to draw)


I also went to the Developing Learning Analytics Strategy for HEI session.  Again more head scratching. I suppose I was just hoping someone would tell me what to do ( I know, nothing is that easy!!). Actually trying to map out the steps of developing a strategy was useful. Even if it did just confirm what a huge job that is. Being pragmatic for me I need a quick win, to get Senior Management buy-in and then we can start thinking about strategies.

So once again I am thinking about time. Jisc seem to be spending lots of time wandering around their forest, but where are the entry paths/sign posts for the sector? When will they open the gates? What will be in their product catalogue? How much will it cost?  Where do I look to for the fledgling seeds of innovation?  Will I have time to wait for the new seeds in the nursery to flower?  I was sorry to miss day 2 of the conference and Audrey Watter’s keynote, but I’ll catch up on that via twitter now.

Thanks to everyone at Cetis for organising the conference and bringing such an interesting and inspiring group of people together.  My final thought – are Cetis conferences now our equivalent of pop-up innovation centres?




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