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Digifest 2021 theme of ‘culture and resilience’.

image credit: Anne Quinney

Our earlier panel report…culture and resilience [first published on the NTF blog Nov 27 2020]

What do we usually do on Friday mornings during the pandemic? Routine work, think about the weekend, look at the weather forecast? This morning was rather different…I was invited to take part in a panel scoping out the DIGIFEST 2021 topics. I met the wonderful and inspiring Cameron, who is running the Jordanian pre-service teacher training service, as he joined us from Jordan, and Sarah, the awesome virtual reality educator from De Montfort University. Hosted by Jess Moore, the JISC senior digital content editor we were asked to discuss key questions around the Digifest ‘culture and resilience’ theme.

We started reflecting on the student experience, and all agreed that many colleagues had approached the whole of the ‘move online’ as a second best offering for students. There were lots of great examples where innovation moved ‘beyond’ the screen, embracing student as co-creators of content, of simulation and student centred, personalised best practice. Cameron shared insights from his project in Jordan, where committed teachers across the country were developing amazing resources, in cases for mixed ability pupil groups, with very limited digital infrastructure.  Sarah talked about being compassionate, to each other and to our students, in a time of so much multi-tasking in the home, and we thought the WonkHE piece on how universities can’t fix everything (and that is OK) really hit the right tone at this point as staff and students all become exhausted by constant ‘Zoom’ ing.

The conversation moved to challenges in supporting student and staff mental health and wellbeing; and initiative like the Students Minds Mental Health Charter and the Suicide Reporting Toolkit for educators were seen as major ways forward. Digital wellbeing is really important, (see and we felt that this was not adequately reflected in current strategy). online had a dark underside, which unfold in a myriad of ways: trolling and online-bullying; increased peer pressure for an instagram ‘perfect’ life and body image; and access and isolation (read more on The best way of promoting health in HE? blogpost). Loneliness is a key factor for students, as the recent paper by Bu, Steptoe and Bancroft explains, putting young people at risk.

And for the future? We all wanted the leap forward in digital education in its fullest, with simulations, virtual opportunities and authentic learning opportunities for all to move forward, but with access and equal provision for all to continue, and not, once the crisis had past, to slip back in ‘same old’ – we think our students deserve the best of all Higher Education has to offer.  We concluding thinking about ‘Universities of the Future and Education 4.0’ and what that may offer in terms of internationalisation, mobility and knowledge transfer, in physical space and time for many, but from their own homes for others.

I look forward to joining in with JISC Digifest 8-11 March 2021

Debbie Holley (National Teaching Fellow 2014 and ANTF Committee Events Co-ordinator)


Cameron Mirza (@cmirza1) Cameron is Chief of Party for IREX for USAID Pre-Service Teacher Education in Jordan.   

Dr Sarah Jones: (@virtualsj) The Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Media at De Montfort University. Her  practice and research sits within emerging technologies and the development of immersive experiential films.

Debbie Holley: (@debbieholley1) Professor of Learning Innovation in the faculty of Health and Social Sciences, and expert in blending learning, student centred learning and informal learning.

Our host was Jess Moore (@Jisc) Senior Digital and Content Editor

Debbie Holley, Cameron Mirza and Sarah Jones are members of the steering group supporting Jisc’s four-day digital event, Digifest 2021. Registrations are now open at

Resources information:

Education Report:

University of the Future Bringing Education 4.0 to life

The future of college

NUS Student Covid-19 Survey

National Union of Students, (2020). Coronavirus and Students Survey. April 2020.


JISC (November 2020) Learning and teaching reimagined: a new dawn for higher education?

Biggins, D & Holley, D: The use and value of TEL toolkits: designing for learning in a time of complexity (guest blog to for ALTs Summer Summit)


Bu, F., Steptoe, A. and Fancourt, D., 2020. Who is lonely in lockdown? Cross-cohort analyses of predictors of loneliness before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. medRxiv.

The best way of promoting health in HE?

The Student Minds Mental Health Charter

Self-compassion in the face of adversity in higher education, from the new VC at the University of Leeds

Suicide Reporting Toolkit for Journalists and Journalism Educators (has whole sector value) :

International resources from IREX

Online guide for facilitators

Guide to organizational performance improvement

DIGIFEST is on its way!

Panel: Cameron Mirza Chief of Party for IREX (Jordan) top left, Debbie Holley, Professor of Learning Innovation, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bournemouth University (top right). Jess Moore, Senior Digital and Content Editor, Jisc (host) bottom left, and Sarah Jones, Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Media at De Montfort University.

JISC DigiFest

“Digifest is the UK’s leading edtech conference. 2021 is about reconnecting as an industry to understand how learning and teaching, alongside libraries are at the heart of the transformed student experience. We’re opening up Digifest 2021 to be free of charge to all members, to ensure everyone can access these vital opportunities to connect and learn while still having to work remotely. If you haven’t already, you can register hereProfessor Debbie Holley is part of a national panel speaking about ‘Shaping the future of education’ on Monday 8th March”

The preparations have started! Our panel met to debate educational issues.. [below was first posted on the National Teaching Fellows Blog 09.02.2021]

New Year, New Lockdown.

This week the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported that 37 per cent of students report being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience, compared with 29 per cent reporting the same at the end of November 2020. And a statistically significantly higher number (63 per cent) of students reported a worsening in their wellbeing and mental health, compared with 57 per cent reporting the same in the previous survey. In this new report, Jisc and Emerge Education outline the need for a fundamental realignment of the ways in which mental health and wellbeing are approached and look at the role of technology can play.

Against this rather gloomy background, our panel met to talk about shaping education of the future, as part of the series of vodcasts Jisc are creating to highlight the importance and significance of DIGIFEST 2021. We started talking about our students – and complimenting them for their resilience, tenacity and dedication. We could each articulate examples of students sitting on the stairs in the family home, with earphones and mobile phones, trying to catch a class as younger siblings needed the home tablet for their schooling; for walking to a public wifi hotspot to access more robust internet connections, and, indeed, 39% have travelled back to rented accommodation to have a better study environment.

Our first conclusion: never assume. Internet access, access to devices of their own, access to their own study space in family homes

Staff implications?

We had a wide range discussion about our new roles – we too need to be agile and flexible, and be a subject expert, researcher and IT savvy in the new digital world. We all need to work together to create a safe and secure and supportive learning environment online, and it is unlikely the ‘lone’ academic will be able to achieve all of this on their own. Thus different team structures, skills and support from our professional colleagues are essential. We discussed rapid transitions is assessment design; and reflected on the usual pace of policy development in Universities. Bite sized learning, credit transfer and accumulation, understanding pedagogies such as hybrid learning and hyflex are key agenda items. These will underpin the lasting benefits of emerging new learning models the sector is adopting.

Our second conclusion: Universities are already starting to business reengineer their processes, and this work should continue through to considering the ‘student experience of the future’; the panel see these changes are essential in an area of very rapid HE policy change.

What are the challenges?

BIG unanswered question – what about the knowledge gaps with a generation of school students being home schooled, and inequalities? Need big investment and a national strategy to ensure parity and catch up; and Universities are key component between schools and employers, influencers in local communities, can implement strategic visions to build capacity and community.

Mental health and the continuum to mental illness – strategies to intervene early, intervene well, and at scale – the evidence suggests a need for a blend of digital and ‘real life’ professionals offering talking therapies. Simply pushing students towards an array of ‘self-help apps’ is not sufficient. We thought that good mental health policy was a political issue, nationally, regionally and institutionally, and welcomed the recent Government funding announcement allocating £20.million for student mental health and wellbeing.

Graduate employability is proving to be challenging for students and Universities. Data from the 2021 UK graduate market survey has graduate recruitment down by 15%. Graduate recruitment has fallen in 13 out of the 15 most sought-after industries and 50% of he UKs leading employers have reduced their graduate recruitment budget.

Our third conclusion: the sector faces a series of challenges, and we need to co-operate for successful scaling up and moving forward. Technology and the confidence about when to use (and when to step away) is crucial for shaping the future of education.

What are we hoping for at DIGIFEST?

Sarah summarised our hopes for Digifest:

“My session is about preparing for future with immersive technology within education. I’m also really interested to learn from one of the Jisc sessions on the data around how students are experiencing

learning online. I think it’s really, really powerful to help us inform thinking going forward. Changing cultures is really important – how can leaders support our staff some of whom are really struggling, like everybody, with homeschooling and delivery and workloads and research. How can we support people?

I’m hoping that by taking time off for Digifest my mind will become immersed with these great ideas and things for us to all to consider making Higher Education better”

Debbie Holley, Cameron Mirza and Sarah Jones are members of the steering group supporting Jisc’s four-day digital event, Digifest 2021. Registrations are now open at

Speaker biographies: Cameron Mirza (@cmirza1) Cameron is Chief of Party for IREX for USAID Pre-Service Teacher Education in Jordan.

Cameron recommends:

·High Fliers Research Limited: The Graduate Market in 2021

· Emerge education and Jisc (2020) employer-university collaboration Dr Sarah Jones: (@virtualsj) The Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Media at De Montfort University. Her practice and research sits within emerging technologies and the development of immersive experiential films.

Sarah recommends:

· Brown, M., McCormack, M., Reeves, J., Brook, D.C., Grajek, S., Alexander, B., Bali, M., Bulger, S., Dark, S., Engelbert, N. and Gannon, K., 2020. 2020 Educause Horizon Report Teaching and Learning Edition (pp. 2-58). EDUCAUSE.

Debbie recommends:

· Jisc (2020) The hyflex plus university: teaching and learning reimagined. 

· Kukulska-Hulme, A., Bossu, C., Coughlan, T., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Rienties, B., Sargent, J., Scanlon, E., Tang, J., Wang, Q., Whitelock, D., Zhang, S. (2021). Innovating Pedagogy 2021: Open University Innovation Report 9. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Innovating Pedagogy 2021 –

· Cohen, A., Nørgård, R.T. and Mor, Y., 2020. Hybrid learning spaces––Design, data, didactics.

Jess Moore (@Jisc) Senior Digital and Content Editor

Jess recommends:

· Jisc and Emerge Education (2021) Student and Staff Wellbeing: From fixes to foresight: Insights for universities and startups. https://