We need to talk about Jisc

See Speak Hear

Jisc has been a huge part of my personal and professional development. Jisc offers us access to a wealth of expertise and has created networks of professionals that would otherwise be unlikely to exist. But in the last year or so, I have begun to worry about what Jisc is becoming.

Like all things in the public sector, Jisc are having to reduce their costs and align to other external priorities. Which is likely one of the main reasons for the change in the organisation that are visible to those who work closest with it, and rely on it.

Let me be very clear. This is not an attack on the individuals who work in Jisc who, in my experience, are extremely dedicated, hard working and knowledgeable. They continue to work to aid the sector but like all of us, they are subject to the priorities and values of their employer. When they change, they must change with it.

We are not blameless either. For years we greedily lapped up their funding and, more often than not, did very little of value with it. We took and took and took. We benefited from their experience, from their networks and their prominence.

I was one of these of people. I have benefited from their free pilots, their development programmes, from their free visits and most of all, from their expertise. I have taken everything I can and given nothing back.

The irony is, we’ve taken everything we can get but the minute Jisc asked us to pay for some stuff, we lost our sh*t. We became so used to taking from them. “But Jisc stuff has always been free” we exclaimed. “Where’s the funding? Surely, there’s some funding? Won’t somebody think of the funding?” we cried. I defended Jisc when they began charging for a VERY worthwhile development programme. I have no problem with that and Jisc should be able to charge a reasonable amount for this aspect of their work.

They have now moved in to being a service provider and charging for those services and this is where I become troubled.

Jisc has some…interesting…partnerships with vendors.

Jisc feels like a vendor.

If you want to know how I feel about vendors, read this.

Take for instance, the Digital Capability tool. I used it, read about that here, and found it useful. We raised some good conversation, we found out some useful information. We had a 25% response rate. Feedback was mixed. It hasn’t changed much since. Would I pay for it? No. (I’m not speaking on behalf of my institution here, after all, who’s going to listen to me!?) It’s a survey with ‘personalised’ results. Yes, you can customise it, bla bla bla but it doesn’t do anything I couldn’t do. I would rather spend the money on doing something about the things I already know need attention. I know there are areas for improvement, what could it tell me that I don’t already know? What does it tell staff? Our feedback was, not a lot. Jisc has fallen in to using the ‘problematise a thing and make a thing to fix it’ technique of the vendor. The project was built on sound research by people I respect. They continue to work hard. If this were the old Jisc and a vendor were peddling this solution, would they support it? I don’t think they would.

I valued that Jisc was on our side, they represented us and fought for our interests. Now, I feel their interests are in making profit whether or not that’s in our best interest.

I valued Jisc’s impartiality. Now, I feel their need for profit has put impartiality at the bottom of their list of priorities.

I valued Jisc’s criticality. They wouldn’t recommend something they didn’t believe in themselves. I don’t think that’s the case now. It’s all a forced positive message. Even the people involved with them temper their criticism when talking about projects they’ve been working on.

I valued Jisc’s knowledge. Where is the understanding of higher ed, where is the scholarly approach, where is the grounded thought leadership? Where have all the people who worked in education gone?

I valued Jisc events. I have been to many Jisc events over the years and there was always an element of self-promotion. Rightly so, since they were funding them for free. But now there’s more sales than value. It’s soundbytes, stats and the same faces.

I’m sorry to be so blunt but I miss the old Jisc. I worry about the talented people who work there and most of all, I worry that education is losing one of its most important allies.

*** This post reflects my views only.

Defining digital leadership: a debate

I am currently participating in a debate at Digifest 2018 in Birmingham. This post is details my thoughts on what makes a good digital leader. I don’t know what questions we are going to be asked or what conversation will naturally arise from the panel, so these are my initial thoughts. These are the traits of the best digital leaders I know.

The blurb for the debate is as follows:

The Jisc digital leadership programme helps delegates to look closely at their own practices. This will be a debate around what makes a good “digital” leader, discussing some of those practices. It will draw on the content of the Jisc digital leaders programme and the panel speakers will be alumni from the course.

I’m not sure what the ‘digital’ bit means.

I really don’t. I can’t work out if it’s a buzzword thing or if there is a genuine difference between a leader of any other kind and a digital leader. So I’ll do my best to talk about ‘digital’ leadership but to some extent, I’m just talking about leadership in general.

A good digital leader…

…knows that technology is not a solution

Technology solves some problems but not all. A good digital leader knows that there’s more to fixing problems than plugging stuff in.

…seeks understanding

It’s tempting after a long time in this profession to think one knows it all. I certainly don’t and I don’t think HE and technology are things that can ever be fully understood. Good (digital) leaders know that there is always something to learn are not so self-absorbed as to think they have all the answers.

…knows that barriers are often cultural, not technological

Technology is a thing we use to do a thing. The barriers to technology use are actually very easy to break down. Skills can be trained. Processes can be refined. Technologies can be integrated, developed and improved. Culture, however, is not easy to change and, in my experience, is the biggest barrier to the use of technology. Culture being the ideas, attitudes, feelings and behaviours that a group of people might display. Changing something so deeply entrenched as the culture of an institution is a long, hard game.

…is able to play the game

In HE there is always a game to be played to get something done. An angle to pursue, money to be scrounged or getting the people with the right influence on board. A good (leader) knows how to play those games to their and the institution’s advantage. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game’ and all that, but thangz gotz to get done y’all.

…is quick to get to know the right people

Influence, influence and influence. A good leader is able to gain the confidence of those in positions of influence. It’s so important to know who your decision makers are and to get to know them.

…develops credibility

If people think you’re a tool, they’ll treat you like a tool. Credibility is so key when instigating change at an institutional level. If they have no faith in you, how can they have faith in what you’re trying to do? How can they have confidence in you?

…sees where the organisation is, and should, be going

Keeping an eye on the future, as well as the here and now, is a skill. Knowing how to get there is a talent.

…accepts that change doesn’t happen overnight

A good leader is patient. Real change is hard work. It takes time and commitment. The ‘bull in a china shop’ approach does not go down well with your immediate team or the rest of the institution.

…will say they don’t know

It’s hard to trust anyone who acts as though they have all the answers and never asks for help. These people are usually exposed for the charlatans they are. Asking people who know something, or will be affected, by your work is not only polite, it’s sensible. Arrogance does not instil confidence.

…is able to say they’re wrong

Reflecting on your mistakes and where thing’s didn’t go quite as planned should be a must.

…knows that changing everything is not a sign of success

Changing all the technology you don’t like is a cop out mate. It’s not really change, it’s just a change. It’s the lowest common denominator and if it’s your first port of call, then you’re more worried about looking like you’re doing something than actually doing something meaningful. Doing stuff ≠ success.

…puts people first

This should be at the forefront of their mind. They shoul be thinking about everyone in the institution, their team, the students etc. They do what they do for them. They are their champion.

…is realistic

Digital stuff in HE isn’t all VR and raining money. Often, all you can do is make the most of what you have, therein lies true skill.

Our Digital Capabilities Journey

I am passionate about staff and students being supported to develop their digital capabilities. So I thought I’d write a follow-up to the presentation Marcus Elliott and I gave at ALT Conference 2016 ‘Creativity takes courage and digital capability‘. I’ll provide some extra detail that we couldn’t include and answer some of the questions that arose.

Why did we start the digital capabilities project?

So what made us start this journey? I’ve always been interested in supporting staff to use technology properly.  Having spent my entire career trying to encourage staff to use it, training them to use it and seeing first hand the mixture of ability levels, I realised we really need to do more. What we could do and how was not so clear.

Marcus and I attended a lot of conferences over the past two years where digital capabilities were discussed. Jisc Digifest, UCISA’s Spotlight on Digital Capabilities and we were lucky enough to get a place on the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme. What attending these conferences gave us were many ideas and approaches we could take back. They convinced me more and more that we weren’t doing enough

So is it the responsibility of the institution? Or, should staff be making sure they are fit to work? These are questions that have been raised a couple of times. I wrote a blog along these lines a while ago Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills? To me there is an equal responsibility, staff should take responsibility but the institution should ensure the opportunity to develop is available. We strive to ensure our students leave here with more skills and aptitudes than they arrived with, shouldn’t the same apply to our staff? An institution dedicated to developing their staff is one that will attract and keep the best staff. As the featured image for this post says

Passion led us here

What did we do?

  1. The project began very informally. Marcus and I had many conversations about digital capabilities and I had always been shocked at how little support there was at the University. So I decided to take the bull by the horns and spoke to my manager. I told her we needed to do something, I told her about the experiences Marcus and I have had dealing with staff and the huge leap using technology is for some staff. Luckily she was very open to the idea and agreed to use her influence to gather a group.
  2. We brought together representatives from Educational Development, ICT, HR, Library, Student Services, a representative from all colleges and other interested parties. I presented the Jisc project and emphasised the impact of digital identity and well-being. I have always felt that senior management know that support surrounding technologies are important but often other considerations drop this issue to the bottom of the pile. When we leverage digital capability to the impact on well-being and identity we create a better more persuasive argument. If you can link it to real world examples, for example we had a student who did something naughty on social media, it becomes even more pertinent. Everyone agreed that we needed to do ‘something’ and a group was formed.
  3. We formed the Digital Capabilities Group and began to consider what we could do to make a quick impact.
  4. We decided to pilot Lynda.com. A number of schools were paying for a licence and it seemed wasteful to spend almost as much per school as it would be to have a site licence given the difference was nominal. The added value for staff and students seemed huge so we asked 100 staff and students from across the University to consider how Lynda.com could be used to support their personal development, their students and in their teaching. We had very positive responses and we hope to secure the funds to roll it out for September 2017.
  5. We had been considering how we might gather a baseline of capabilities across the University and were toying with the idea of creating a needs analysis survey. We looked at a few drafts but found they tended to be full of questions about specific software and features. Lots of questions like “are you confident using x”. It was too constraining. Technology changes all the time, list one application in a survey and the next day there’s a replacement. We didn’t want to know whether they could use Microsoft Word, what we were looking for was whether they were capable of handling the changes. Did they have the broad capabilities to handle a variety of technologies. So when we heard at the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme that Jisc had developed a beta discovery tool we were very excited! James Clay, project manager for the building digital capability R&D project, visited us and talked us through the plans for the tool. It was in beta when we joined the pilot and there were a number of improvements that would be made to it in the future. We were sold!
  6. James created an instance of the tool for us. We crafted a carefully worded email and sent it out to all staff. We asked a senior member of staff to send it out in the hope it would have more gravitas and we titled it “How digital are you?”. The title was really hard to decide on. I’m still not sure it worked but we didn’t want some tedious title that people would scroll past. We left the tool open for 2 weeks and sent out a follow-up email to encourage the last few people to complete the tool (although that email was sent about an hour before it closed on the last day, thanks Marketing). We had 422 respondents which equated to a 25% response rate at the time. All participants completed the tool which shows it wasn’t too onerous to complete. We were really happy with the response given we did no promotion whatsoever! We received some helpful feedback which we passed on to Jisc and they have improved the tool based on the feedback from all the pilots.
  7. We interpreted our results, with the help of James, and have a list of areas we know we need to work on. For example there is work to do around the benefits of social media, copyright and open content etc. Overall we were really pleased with how capable our staff are the results showed we had staff who were willing to try to resolve technical issues themselves, who saw the benefit of collaborative working tools and are interested in new technologies. Obviously I understand that 25% is hardly representative of the entire university but it has given us some areas for development and an insight in to our staff.

How does the Jisc Tool work?

The tool is completely anonymous the only identifying information is in the designation of the type of role and area of work the user selects before they begin. They can select whether they are in an academic or profession role in FE or HE etc. There are currently 48 questions in the tool grouped in to the areas of capability from the 6 elements framework. There are four options per question each assigned a weighting from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Once submitted the results create a graph which shows the level of capability in each of the areas. The results also provide some recommendations which help to give staff ideas on how they might improve that area of capability. In the future we will be able to link to our own resources, 3rd party resources and even lynda.com tutorials. Participants can then send the results to themselves. We received the results from the whole survey in an Excel spreadsheet but Jisc are developing a results dashboard which should help to make the interpretation and access to the data.

Jisc Discovery Tool or build your own?

So should you use Jisc’s Discovery Tool or make your own?

That entirely depends on what you want to know. If you want a list of they can or can’t do this then make your own. The Jisc tool does not give you the answers it’s very much about interpretation of the data and understanding what the questions mean. We were lucky that James was able to help us interpret our results, otherwise I am not sure we would have got as much from it as we did. The tool has improved vastly since we used it and I’m excited to try it next year. For example we would like to be able to better narrow down the areas in the university the respondents are from and that feature has been added without losing the anonymity. It’s also nice to compare yourself against other institutions.

Personally I think the Jisc tool offers something that would be hard to replicate in-house. Firstly it’s hosted and maintained by Jisc so you don’t have to worry about development costs and maintenance etc. Also they have avoided the pitfall of getting caught up in the ‘can you’ type questions. It’s also based on research within in the sector so you know you are getting something that has been rigorously tested and  researched.

What is the future?

We need to get the hidden 75% how are we going to do that? I don’t really know. We’ve had a lot of changes her so the future is uncertain at the moment. The University is committed to improving digital capabilities and that is wonderful to see. I think our work will be formalised and a more coherent plan of what we will be doing will emerge. The group will be changed and membership widened to ensure that as many staff and students are represented as possible.

I think the Discovery Tool will continue to be improved and we will use it again next year.

Things to consider

Digital capabilities are not a quick fix. They are complex. They are time-consuming. There is no one size fits all solution. If you’re going to start something you have to be committed and doggedly determined. You’re going to have to push and keep pushing to make sure it doesn’t lose momentum. You’re gonna have to be prepared, and prepare others, for a long piece of work. This isn’t something you can fix in a year-long project. It’s a lot more complex than increasing your CPD offerings. The institution needs to be committed both in time and financially to making a difference. Focus on small initiatives that you can achieve quickly (senior management like to measure progress right?) whilst keeping the huge goal in mind. Get the right people involved who will support you, you can’t do it alone.

If I could leave you with one piece of advice it would be that you only need one person to join you in your fight. That one person needs to be the right person, someone with influence, but once you have them you’re set. Get one and the others will follow.  Check out this lesson in leadership

Further reading

There is sooo much I could link to so I’ve tried to gather a few of the thought-provoking ones I have read:

Building digital capability project

Jisc digital capability codesign challenge blog

Sarah Davies: So what’s the challenge?

James Clay: Engaging the invisibles

James Clay: It’s still not easy

Sue Watling : The invisible tribes and territories of the TEL-People

Marcus Elliott: How PAW Patrol saved my life

Lawrie Phipps: Mapping for Change

Lawrie Phipps: Perspectives on Digital: Change isn’t coming, it’s here and it’s permanent

Donna Lanclos: Ta Dah! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Doing a Visitors and Residents Workshop

Dave White: Visitors & Residents – navigate the mapping

Peter Bryant: It doesn’t matter what is in your hands

Helen Beetham: Framing digital capabilities for staff – deliverables

Helen Beetham: What is ‘Digital Wellbeing’?

Helen Beetham: Revisiting digital capability for 2015

Kerry Pinny: What is institutional digital capability?

Kerry Pinny: But what about staff that wont or don’t want to engage in cpd?

Kerry Pinny: Stop moaning, start doing

Jisc Digital Leaders Programme

​I have seen a worrying amount of criticism recently for this programme. Not criticism of the speakers, topics or validity of the programme, criticism solely of the price. So, as someone lucky enough to have been a part of this programme I thought I would share my honest feedback on it. 

(Please forgive any typos and grammatical errors. This post was written on the A1)

The price

Is it expensive? Yes, on the face of it. But, as my esteemed colleague put it, let’s not confuse price with value. Remember what you are being offered. You are being offered the opportunity to listen to industry experts who will give you practical strategies to instigate change at your institution. Tell me how much are you willing to pay for that?

Jisc used to be free

Education has long taken advantage of Jisc. Before successive governments stripped these kind of organisations of their funding we took full advantage of whatever Jisc had to offer. Greedily guzzling up funding and attending their workshops. Sadly in the current climate that’s not sustainable.

We don’t need to listen to experts

Recently there has been a lot of anti-expert feeling floating around. Thanks Brexit. What you are paying for here is the advice, experience and knowledge of experts. These programmes are not formed on a whim. They are created based on years of research and hard work. The people who speak are credible and knowledgeable. Again, how much would you pay for that?

You will learn something valuable

I took away a number of things from the programme. Donna Lanclos and Dave White facilitated an exercise around the concept of digital residents and visitors. Remember, much like digital natives these theories are not fact. They are simply helpful ways of visualising a concept. Visitors and residents is a way of helping you think about your digital practice and behaviours. It is a useful tool that I will use when talking to students and staff about their digital lives.

The whole programme is facilitated by James Clay and Lawrie Phipps. What they don’t know about institutional change is not worth knowing. The featured image for this post is a drawing I did at the event, showing a change anchor. This is what Lawrie and James focussed on. How do you make change happen?

This was invaluable. Without it we would not have a digital capabilities project and I wouldn’t have had the strategies in place to get people to listen to me.

It was fun

My abiding memory is of having great fun. I met so many people at other institutions that I am still in touch with. It broadened my horizons and gave me the confidence to try and effect change. I can’t put a price on that.

Full details of the programme are available on the Jisc website.