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  • Student ideas become a reality following two app development challenges
    We only asked for prototypes – but two student teams in our development competition gave us app store-ready solutions to tackle common campus annoyances. Events where participants are challenged to come up with ideas for a digital solution in a few days are nothing new for Jisc. But rarely have we been in a position where several ideas have been ready for the market at the end of a challenge. In fact, two were in the app store around the time they delivered their final pitch.This year's challengeLast week’s five-day challenge at Conference Aston brought together 12 teams to explore digital solutions to problems on campus.Seven of the teams took part in our annual student ideas competition. Teams had to bring their own idea for how technology could improve education, research and student life, often based on their own experiences.Students often have a different set of priorities to university staff. And these students are the ones that see an issue and are prepared to put time aside to solve it. They don't want to walk down to the laundry with a basket to find that the machines are full and have to go the way back up to their room. They are the ones asking, "how do I best make notes so when I get to the end of the course I can revise most efficiently and effectively?"[#pullquote#]They are experiencing these problems first hand and they see a technology as offering a solution.[#endpullquote#]They are experiencing these problems first hand and they see technology as offering a solution.Student ideas teams 2018 Citation GeckoApp to the FutureTransArtSurveyTandemHigherarchyStudBudAuthorencitySee the pitches on PeriscopeCampus of the futureThis is the sixth student ideas competition and it saw a big focus on research and career choices.This year, the ideas competition ran in tandem with the intelligent campus hackathon where student teams designed, developed and built “something” that would benefit students in a campus of the future. Having two competitions running at the same time helped. We had a design sprint programme, including sessions where we brought participants in the two challenges together. We mixed up the groups and the participants fed off each other quite well. While they started off separately, by the end, they worked so well together, they used each other for user testing.The amount of work people did in a week was immense - I was really impressed with the application and hard work and how people worked together. It was a competition, but with a positive, constructive atmosphere.The estates team from the University of Birmingham came to see us on the penultimate day of the hackathon to see how the ideas were progressing. They said that all the solutions the students were exploring were things they are considering themselves – that was some validation for those students.Hackathon teams 2018 Alpha - "Seat Seeker"Lough BrosHackstreet BoysDaedaTeesside Test DummiesSee the pitches on PeriscopeThe team behind the winning hackathon pitch, Seat Seeker, started without an idea and used the programmable computer Raspberry Pi to help students find free seats in the library.Team Alpha, from the University of Bath, even saw how Seat Seeker could be integrated with existing cameras in computer suite and libraries.By the end of the week it was in the app store, as was Daeda, a quiz app to promote interaction and monitor students’ receptiveness in lectures.Finished solutionsThe student ideas competition also generated finished solutions.Higherarchy, which seeks to address problems around collaboration in many current TEL tools, and the research app Citation Gecko, were both working products by the final day.[#pullquote#]The basic problems that inspired all these products came from real user experience [#endpullquote#]The basic problems that inspired all these products came from real user experience, and this is what allows students to think about solutions differently to institutions. That's the main reason we do these challenges.The second reason, is it gives us the opportunity to work with students - they just expect the hurdles and sail over them.I left on Friday feeling full of enthusiasm and inspired by the adept technical and creative skills of these impressive students.You can read more details of the competition in our edtech launchpad blog.
  • Are FE colleges underestimating the risk of cyber attacks?
    A new survey[1] of cyber security attitudes across the further and higher education sectors indicates that colleges are overestimating their ability to guard against cyber attacks. When asked to assess their perceived level of protection, 43% of colleges scored their organisation eight or more out of ten. The mean score was 7.1, which was more optimistic than universities’ mean score of 5.9. This optimism is despite the fact that the survey also found colleges have less in the way of budget allocation and specialist staff than universities, and are far less likely to have achieved the government’s Cyber Essentials standard. On the plus side, many more colleges this year (29% compared to 3% in 2017) are working towards Cyber Essentials.[#pullquote#]Colleges still appear to be unrealistic about the risk[#endpullquote#]The survey results are released just a couple of months after Jisc’s CEO, Paul Feldman, warned that a lack of resources and investment meant colleges are not as well defended against cyber attacks as they should be, and colleges still appear to be unrealistic about the risk.[#pullquote#] in the first six months of this year, colleges were targeted by 225 DDoS attacks[#endpullquote#]Our data shows that in the first six months of this year, colleges were targeted by 225 DDoS attacks (designed to bring down the network). This represents an increase of 35% compared to January to June 2017. Jisc’s security operations centre also handled almost three times as many other security incidents or queries from FE colleges over the same period.Through regular meetings with members, we know colleges have concerns over security, so the relatively high posture assessment was surprising. On the other hand, colleges know that Jisc is here to support them – preventing some attacks and helping them to recover from breaches – so they feel secure. We are concerned that their optimism could be due to the lack of security specialists working in the FE sector, leaving colleges in the dark.What are the biggest threats?Lack of awareness and accidental breaches – such as emailing sensitive data to the wrong recipients – are considered by colleges to be the biggest threat to their cyber security, according to the survey.Ransomware/malware comes in at number two. This is followed by phishing and social engineering, such as clicking on dodgy email links or being tricked into giving away passwords.External attacks aimed at the college and DDoS attacks complete the top five threats.Colleges are right to be concerned about the risk of human error to cyber safety since duping staff and students is the most common method employed by criminals to infiltrate systems, steal data and commit fraud and other crime. Phishing attacks and social engineering are becoming more sophisticated and difficult to spot, so good security training and using a second factor for authentication for users is essential.From Russia without loveA surprising outcome of this year’s survey is that our members seem unconcerned about one of the threats that is big in the media and high on the list of priorities for security agencies. Earlier this year, the National Cyber Security Centre took the rare step of publicly naming a nation state when it published a document in collaboration with US security agencies stating that Russian state-sponsored cyber actors were targeting network-based intrusion detection system (NIDS) devices.However, only one person who responded to our survey listed the threat from nation states as a worry.[#pullquote#]the education and research sector is just as much of a target as other sectors in the UK[#endpullquote#]Perhaps that is understandable, given the multitude of more common threats to the education sector, but complacency is dangerous: the education and research sector is just as much of a target as other sectors in the UK.It’s true that, if a specific threat actor is determined to attack your institution, then there may be little you can do, but if they are trying to find an easy victim to use to attack another site (whether inside or outside the education sector) then there is much you can do to make your organisation an unattractive target.Make a racket about protectionOne of the most effective ways to guard against the top threats is to educate users.Of those taking part in this year’s survey, 55% of colleges provide compulsory staff security training and 31% insist students undertake a course. There is optional training for staff at 18% of responding colleges, and for students at 10%. But there is still room for improvement: 24% said there was no system of security awareness training for staff and 43% failed to teach students.[#pullquote#]we would like to see compulsory training for all staff and students.[#endpullquote#]While it is encouraging to see the proportion of respondents reporting compulsory staff and student security awareness training has increased since 2017, we would like to see compulsory training for all staff and students.One of the most effective methods of discovering how good, or not, college defences are is to ask an independent expert to conduct a penetration test.Many more colleges have decided to do this in 2018 (only 14% don’t) than in 2017 (when 41% did not test). We are also pleased to note that colleges are far more interested in security assessments this year (76% in 2018, up from 59% in 2017).[#pullquote#]colleges think they are in a better place than may in fact be the case.[#endpullquote#]We can draw the conclusion from this survey that colleges are taking cyber security seriously and acknowledge the risk of human error and the value of expert advice. However, there is still an air of complacency that needs addressing – colleges think they are in a better place than may in fact be the case.Footnotes[1] The survey was conducted over six weeks from the end of March until the middle of May and collected responses from 49 colleges and 65 universities.
  • How we can make the government's edtech vision a reality
    The government has signalled its ambition of realising the untapped potential of technology across the education ecosystem - we fully support those aims. Writing in yesterday's Telegraph, secretary of state for education Damian Hinds outlined his vision for education technology - or edtech - talking about the “revolutionary ways” he has seen it in use.Students “are able to explore the rainforest, steer virtual ships or programme robots” from their classroom, Hinds notes. Meanwhile, teachers are able to access training, share best practice with colleagues and update parents on a pupil’s progress whilst keeping their main focus on teaching.[#pullquote#]We’ve seen first hand how nuanced use of digital technologies in education can reduce teacher workload, enhance student success and boost learners’ mental health[#endpullquote#]At Jisc, we welcome this high level focus on the potential of edtech to support innovation in teaching and learning and were glad to be a part of the discussions with DfE and other industry bodies that led to this high level vision. We’ve seen first hand how nuanced use of digital technologies in education can reduce teacher workload, enhance student success and boost learners’ mental health and wellbeing.The results speak for themselves, and sometimes in the most unexpected ways.For example Goole College, part of the Hull College Group, has found that its virtual welding app lets learners on NVQ and BTEC engineering courses progress faster towards their employment goals, making welding training enjoyable, risk-free and even accessible to younger learners on the college’s 14-16 programme.What can make the secretary of state’s vision a reality?First and foremost, it is crucial to establish a level playing field across the education ecosystem in terms of ICT infrastructure.Learners at school and college should have a high standard of broadband and wifi, and access to the devices that will let them use it.A recent BESA survey found that only 33% of secondary schools and 60% of primary schools consider that they are sufficiently equipped with ICT infrastructure and devices.Jisc’s high-power Janet Network already connects nearly half of UK schools to the internet, working with NEN – The Education Network. We’re keen to explore the scope for how technologies that universities and colleges already benefit from could also be used by schools, such as single sign-on (one user name and password for everything) and eduroam wireless roaming.Tackling the digital skills shortageWe need to embed digital skills into the curriculum and give educators the support they need to teach them.[#pullquote#]75% of UK firms are facing a digital skills shortage[#endpullquote#]The British Chambers of Commerce spoke to businesses and found that 75% of UK firms are facing a digital skills shortage. There has been some great work done here by the devolved nations, and the Welsh government’s Digital Competence Framework nicely complements the English curriculum’s focus on coding.But this isn’t just about schools. Jisc’s student digital experience survey in 2017 found that only half of further and higher education learners felt that their course had prepared them for today’s digital workplace.[#pullquote#]It’s time to get smarter about supporting edtech innovators and "edupreneurs" [#endpullquote#]It’s time to get smarter about supporting edtech innovators and "edupreneurs".According to Private Equity Wire, the edtech sector is one of the fastest growing digital sectors in Britain with over 1,200 companies and UK schools alone spending some £900m on edtech every year.Approximately 25% of Europe’s edtech firms are UK based, and the UK is Europe’s number one in edtech venture capital, responsible for a third of all investment.But even then the edtech startups and scaleups that we work with as part of the Jisc edtech launchpad accelerator tell us that they struggle to sell into the fragmented UK market of some 25,000 schools, and hundreds of multi-academy trusts, colleges and universities.Working to cut teachers' workloadsAs we use apps, devices and websites for work and play, we generate a trail of data. If handled carefully, this could be used to help reduce teacher workload and even nudge learners and tutors - like a virtual sharp elbowed parent.[#pullquote#]we’ve been working to harness this "data exhaust" [#endpullquote#]At Jisc, we’ve been working to harness this "data exhaust" through our national learning analytics service, which has just gone live with 30 universities and colleges in its initial cohort.We think there’s ample scope for learning analytics to automatically gather data that would previously have required laborious manual work by teachers to capture and moreover, will make a big difference to student success and wellbeing.What's next?I hope you can see that there’s a recurring theme here - edtech isn’t a silver bullet for student success, a magical and sparkly sci-fi solution looking for a problem. It’s here and now, but as author William Gibson once famously wrote, “the future isn’t evenly distributed”.Our job now is to help translate what works from one setting to another, from schools to colleges, from universities to lifelong learners.It’s a very exciting time and it’s great to see that the government is lending its support to this work which will be so crucial to the future of the UK.
  • Could the research data lifecycle be the engine to drive open science?
    We want to make the UK the most digitally advanced research nation in the world. There are some strong foundations to build on, but one area that needs continued support is how we manage, and make the most of data produced in the process of research. This is where Jisc can help. The useful life of research data doesn’t grind to a halt when it’s created. That’s just the start of its journey. It has a whole lifecycle that takes it from creation through to discovery, reuse and citation; and understanding this process is key to unlocking the potential that research data can have outside of university walls – the goal of open science in a nutshell.The data we’re talking about here is vast in scale, scope and complexity. We’re on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution, data is big business, and there is potential in this data for life changing discoveries which could change the future of humanity. With this opportunity come concerns about how we manage research data, but focusing on the research lifecycle can help.[[{"fid":"2495","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_additional_information[und][0][value]":"Research data lifecycle diagram","field_rights_owner[und][0][value]":"Jisc","field_resource_home[und][0][value]":"","field_other_license[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false},"link_text":null,"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"default","field_additional_information[und][0][value]":"Research data lifecycle diagram","field_rights_owner[und][0][value]":"Jisc","field_resource_home[und][0][value]":"","field_other_license[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"height":702,"width":700,"class":"media-element l-shift-right file-default","data-delta":"1"}}]]Current challengesFor researchers, whether or not the data they inherit or produce is interoperable can make or break careers; it’s also an expectation within many funding agreements that research data is shareable. Perhaps more importantly, the impact of research in the wider world is limited if it’s not held in a format that can be reused. So right at the inception of the lifecycle, there’s a challenge ahead to keep in mind.But before we even know whether data can be reused effectively, we need to address the issue of discoverability – this is where the lifecycle both begins and ends.[#pullquote#]By incorporating data as part of the research achievements, making data open will become part and parcel of the citation process.[#endpullquote#]Our research data discovery service is all about breaking down the data silos and linking data to other research outputs, which means the impact and potential impact of research is easier to ascertain. By incorporating data as part of the research achievements, making data open will become part and parcel of the citation process."Discoverability isn’t just about reuse and impact.  Delays in disseminating research and data can be economically devastating and even life-threatening. Early research on Avian flu published in Chinese in 1998 “…attracted very little attention…”. The opportunity for an early global research effort was missed."Webster, R. G., Hakawi, A. M., Chen, H., & Guan, Y. (2006). H5N1 Outbreaks and Enzootic Influenza. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 12(1), 3-8Past progressThe concept of keeping research open really isn’t new – The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 called for ‘observations and results to be made freely available’ and those within the academic community have been calling for this to be the default position for many, many years.The Panton Principles, famously created in a pub in Cambridge, came as a call to action for the academic community to take on the mantle of making research open; data and findings from publically funded research should be available in the public domain. The newest principles within the community link us back to the lifecycle at each stage; research needs to be FAIR - findable, accessible, re-usable and interoperable – more on this to follow in our recent report, FAIR in Practice. [#pullquote#]we need to take a sector-wide approach, covering the research lifecycle in its entirety.[#endpullquote#]This report is part of a growing conviction amongst researchers (and policy makers) that the fruits of our labour deserve to be shared as widely as possible. When it comes to the melting pot that is cross-disciplinary, global research, it’s not enough for individual researchers or university departments to be doing things right, we need to take a sector-wide approach, covering the research lifecycle in its entirety.Data championsAs sponsors of the UK’s Research Data Champions, we are working to support colleagues from across the sector so we can share best practice, and help institutions manage their research outputs as effectively as possible.To create a launchpad for UK open science, and enable more powerful, impactful research, managing and storing research data is essential for both publication and collaboration – a buzz word in the research press as we await the impact of Brexit. This movement is also enhanced by the new disruptive publishing initiatives that challenge the traditional commercial routes to publication, with universities and academics 'doing it for themselves'.[#pullquote#]managing and storing research data is essential for both publication and collaboration[#endpullquote#]And infrastructure matters as much as policy. Considerations such as whether or not the software we use has source codes freely available so that data can be redistributed and modified according to the users’ needs – in this case the researcher or research data manager – need to be factored in.It’s great to see the likes of UKRI and the research councils addressing these types of barriers, and looking for sector-wide solutions, but we need this work to pick-up pace if the expectations placed on the UK’s future research economy are to be realised.Future milestonesThe pilot phase of our research data shared service (transitioning to a fully-fledged service later this year) is all about enabling researchers to easily deposit data for publication, discovery, safe storage and preservation. This means that we’ll be able to provide sustainable access to research data for the long term so it can be re-used, overcoming one of the significant hurdles of producing FAIR research.Our work on this project with member universities and research institutes has given us a persepctive on the challenges and the reality of research which is allowing us to shape services that support the lifecycle, and make research data both as open as possible and as closed as necessary.[#pullquote#]we expect that open science – especially where research is publicly funded - will become the norm[#endpullquote#]In the future, we expect that open science – especially where research is publicly funded - will become the norm, with a sector joined up to support UK researchers at every stage of the cycle, but as our data champions explain, '…we’re not quite there yet'. Within our daily roles however, all of us in the research sector can drive the open science agenda at each stage of the research lifecycle, and bring the possibilities of open research to life.Read our guide on managing research data in your institution.
  • Apprenticeships: are colleges meeting the challenge?
    In May 2017 the government changed its approach to apprenticeships, putting employers in the driving seat for the first time via a new funding model. These days, apprentices are first and foremost employees, and employers are expecting a slick business-to-business relationship with providers that can demonstrate professionalism, efficiency, results and flexibility. This represents a huge culture shift for many colleges, some of which need help to adapt.ConnectivityApprenticeships must include 20% off-the-job learning. In the past, this meant spending a day a week, or a block of weeks during each year, at college. While this does still happen, including at Jisc, it doesn’t suit all employers.Jisc has 590 employees and our apprentices go to college on a day-release system. Their work is carefully structured, so they are not delivering on key projects and can be released from the workplace on a regular basis. But if a small employer with two or three apprentices encounters a problem which requires all hands on deck, there’s no time to spare them for college.[#pullquote#]apprentices want and need to study flexibly, without too much constraint around when and where.[#endpullquote#]It follows that apprentices want and need to study flexibly, without too much constraint around when and where. A flexible approach needs to be built into the system from the off, which is where technology can play a crucial role.[#pullquote#]Anytime, anywhere connectivity to a provider’s systems is particularly important. [#endpullquote#]Anytime, anywhere connectivity to a provider’s systems is particularly important. For example, an apprentice who has missed one or more college sessions because of an emergency at work, illness, injury, or a significant life event, ought to be able to catch up on their learning at a time to suit. Similarly, their commute on public transport could be used productively to research, study or review using a laptop, tablet or smartphone.FlexibilityFlexible learning means having support in place, so apprentices can move between the two fields of work and study and deliver what they need to for both.[#pullquote#]It’s essential they are connected to the virtual learning environment[#endpullquote#]It’s essential they are connected to the virtual learning environment (VLE), for example. It’s also vital that communication travels in three directions, not simply between the college and the apprentice, or the employer and the apprentice.I had an apprentice in my previous job and his assessor would come into the workplace to see him from time to time, but I was very rarely brought into their conversations. That must change, which is why Jisc is in the middle of building a data management platform which will help solve that problem.Digital technologyColleges may find that increasing technology in apprenticeship delivery has efficiency benefits.For example, using Skype is a much quicker way of assessing and keeping in touch with apprentices than physical face-to-face meetings. It leaves teachers and assessors with more time to offer personalised, ongoing coaching to more apprentices.[#pullquote#]moving to a flexible digital learning model can be a challenge for some apprentices [#endpullquote#]On the other hand, moving to a flexible digital learning model can be a challenge for some apprentices used to a far more structured approach to education, as is the case in many schools.While technology can facilitate more independent learning, a lack of personal interaction could leave some apprentices feeling unsupported.Once learners adapt though, they will realise they can still interact well online with teachers, assessors, their employer and other apprentices. They’re also far more likely to feel satisfied with how they learn.[#pullquote#]64% of FE students agreed that they were more independent in their learning when digital technology was used [#endpullquote#]Our 2017 student digital experience tracker report showed that 64% of FE students agreed that they were more independent in their learning when digital technology was used. A further 57% of FE learners agreed that digital approaches help them to fit learning into their life.  More importantly, digital skills are now a part of everyday life and are important in virtually every workplace, so embedding digital technology into the learning process will give students the chance to develop skills they need to thrive in today’s ever-more connected world.Who does it well?Our advice is that colleges need to be serious and strategic about making changes.They must find a way to integrate flexibility in apprenticeship provision, to build a digital-first, adaptable system that can shift to meet apprentice and employer needs, and to make it efficient by offering learning, reviewing and assessment online, using tools including apps, quizzes and social media. There are some excellent examples of this approach in action from:City of Plymouth CollegeBasingstoke College of TechnologyBrockenhurst CollegeGlasgow CollegeThe Real Apprenticeship Company
  • Look who's talking: the chatbots are coming
    As chatbots are being used more and more to communicate it's time to look at how we could use this AI-driven technology in education. During the 1990s, increasing use of the internet led to a scramble to develop "web-sites" at each institution. At the time, we weren’t sure what we would really use this new channel of communication for – or even who would use it. Around a decade later, we saw social media take off as an additional channel. I recall trying to explain Facebook to my university executive board. They couldn’t “get it” and one eminent dean said, “what on earth would anybody want to do that for?” So, you can appreciate why I didn’t tell them that I’d signed up for something called Twitter as well. I recall a meeting of university IT heads in which we despaired about our academic colleagues insisting on using a new channel called Skype because it kept "stealing" our bandwidth.  Subsequently we have seen the introduction of two-way SMS text messages, live chat and other ways to communicate with students, staff and visitors. This year, we are seeing the introduction of yet another channel built around AI-driven natural language text and voice - chatbots.  [#pullquote#]Already, we can see some entrepreneurial colleges and universities incorporating chatbots in to their communication strategies.[#endpullquote#]Personally, we are getting used to asking our smartphone questions such as “Hey Google, will I need my umbrella today?”. Already, we can see some entrepreneurial colleges and universities incorporating chatbots in to their communication strategies.  In June, Becky, a virtual assistant, helped Leeds Beckett University to win a prestigious THELMA Award, sponsored by Jisc, for the Outstanding Digital Innovation of the Year. Becky, who cost just £30 to create, provides information to prospective students about course availability, accommodation, scholarships and student support.  Creating a chatbot Technically, it is neither difficult nor expensive to build a chatbot story around one part of the student experience lifecycle to answer questions such as “When does the library open?” or to perform actions such as “Please change my password”. [#pullquote#]each supplier has many pre-built chatbots available which could be customised to an institution’s specific environment.[#endpullquote#]It is relatively easy to link the speech recognition tools of a major supplier to a university process to enable text or voice interactions. Integrating with university transaction systems - student record, CRM, email etc - is not difficult. Additionally, each supplier has many pre-built chatbots available which could be customised to an institution’s specific environment.  The most challenging area of development appears to be when training the chatbot to follow the institution’s conversational process flow in a way which satisfies each customer.Currently, early adopters are deploying chatbots to deliver relatively narrow outcomes and then bundling many conversations to create a more complete service. Jisc’s role in chatbots In addition to delivering a range of operational services, Jisc has a strategic role involving scanning the technology horizon. This role is about observing the take-up of new technologies in global HE/FE and in other sectors, understanding whether and how these innovations may be relevant to UK education and developing programmes to encourage the adoption of such new tools and ways of working. [#pullquote#]Jisc will also be looking at how we can encourage more institutions to explore these technologies.[#endpullquote#]In relation to chatbots, Jisc has commissioned me to undertake a rapid review of what early adopters and explorers are doing within HE/FE, review the activities of the major suppliers - Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM etc - and to make some simple recommendations to help different institutions to get started. The report should be published in early September. Jisc will also be looking at how we can encourage more institutions to explore these technologies. As chatbots take off across all sectors, there may be significant employment opportunities for graduates who are trained to develop the "guided conversations" which a chatbot will have. The market may well be as large as that for web designers and similar established IT roles. How you can help I have already collected details of successful chatbot developments in many colleges and universities, however, I would welcome even more examples of good practice.Please send me just a simple description and your contact details so that we can get a better understanding of how many FE and HE institutions are already developing chatbots. Also, it would be interesting to identify which institutions are teaching students to use these technologies already, as this would point us towards pools of people who could help us all to move forward. During August and September, Jisc will be formulating its plans – along with many of the largest chatbot suppliers – to provide more information and practical support to early explorers.  Please email me at paul.hopkins@jisc.ac.uk if you are able to contribute any advice and assistance. 
  • Inspiring colleges to improve the learner experience
    Over the last few weeks we’ve been immersed in our Connect More programme of regional events and it has been as rewarding as ever to meet with Jisc members. At each event, I’ve been seeking out practitioners in FE and skills to talk about the ideas and insights we shared in the various sessions and to find out where we can help people to do things better. One of this year’s Connect More themes explores ways to improve the learning experience using digital technologies and we know that FE members have a good understanding of the ways that Jisc products and services support their organisations to develop richer and more personalised learning experiences.From the superfast Janet Network and its inbuilt cyber security measures through to ‘sharp end’ learning resources such as e-books for FE, which offers unlimited downloads of curriculum-mapped e-books for A-level, BTEC and vocational programmes as well as GCSE English and maths, these services are recognised as our core offering to member colleges.[#pullquote#]it’s been really useful to talk to individual teachers, librarians and learning technologists about what helps them in their own daily practice. [#endpullquote#]But it’s been really useful to talk to individual teachers, librarians and learning technologists about what helps them in their own daily practice. This comment, made to me by a director of learning technology, has now been echoed by several people:“The things I value most about working with Jisc are the specialist expertise that I can tap into, the opportunities to work on shared priorities with colleagues in other colleges and the chance to be part of a community of practice.”There’s no doubt that being part of a group of people working towards a shared vision brings many advantages. It allows you to avoid mistakes that other people have already made; it also enables you to find out who is doing things well and to pick up tips to make your own journey smoother and faster.So, as well as facilitating these groups, we’re developing more case studies that highlight best practice. The advice and guidance in our report, the evolution of FELTAG, is being refreshed to include new member stories, including one from Grimsby Institute that demonstrates a well thought-out, strategic approach to learning technologies.From gamification that boosts engagement and use of augmented reality and virtual reality to teach practical skills, to the Jisc-supported implementation of Microsoft 365 to familiarise learners with systems they’re likely to need when they get a job, the institute’s approach has improved learner experience and attainment. It has also boosted the institute’s Ofsted rating from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’.Making the most of the resources you haveLook out for these resources and the innovative case studies. They offer inspiration to help you make sure your own college is on the right track. You’ll see how colleges are making imaginative use of technology to create simulations and immerse learners in virtual reality worlds, enabling them to offer really high quality vocational training that prepares learners for working life.[#pullquote#]I’ve found once again that many of you want our help to make sure that your college has the culture, policies and infrastructure to ensure that digital practices are enabled and supported. [#endpullquote#]The case studies also highlight how colleges are extracting maximum value from the technology they already have, by committing time and resources to developing staff and student digital capabilities. This last point is important - while I’ve been talking to members I’ve found once again that many of you want our help to make sure that your college has the culture, policies and infrastructure to ensure that digital practices are enabled and supported. Our guide to developing organisational approaches to digital capability shares some models and approaches that might help.[#pullquote#]You also want us to help you to develop a strategic vision for digital, and to understand how the student voice is informing that. [#endpullquote#]You also want us to help you to develop a strategic vision for digital, and to understand how the student voice is informing that.We have been working with 48 colleges, skills and adult and community learning providers to pilot and assist with the development of our new digital experience insights service (formerly known as the student digital experience tracker), which launches in September. Building on Jisc’s digital student work, it provides survey questions that allow students and staff to share what they think works well in terms of their digital experience and what they think could be done better.[#pullquote#]findings can inform future strategy direction and help set priorities, measure progress and benchmark against peer organisations. [#endpullquote#]Throughout the development phase colleges have taken part in a pilot of the service, tailoring some of the questions to align with their own strategic priorities. The findings can inform future strategy direction and help set priorities, measure progress and benchmark against peer organisations. When the full service launches it will be a paid-for optional extra but, over time, it will enable users to save money, make progress more efficiently and demonstrate the impact that their digital strategy is having on learning and teaching.Look out for the latest tracker report, "digital experience survey 2018: insights from students in UK higher and further education". We will publish it on 11 September and it gives a national perspective on FE and HE students’ experiences of technology.We’ve been working with colleges on a number of other initiatives and I’ll have more news to share on these in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about the digital experiences insights service, do please get in touch with your account manager or fill in the form to register your interest and we’ll keep you updated.
  • What I’ve learned as a woman in tech with gender dysphoria
    Hi, my name is Chloe and I work in strategy and corporate services where I'm a SharePoint architect and developer. I've been at Jisc for about four years or so both as a contractor and as a full time member of staff. In my spare time I'm an artist and photographer, and also study Chen style Tai Chi. I have gender dysphoria, and I transitioned from male to female whilst working at Jisc. I've been transitioning for most of my life in some form or another but I've been living full time as Chloe for two and a half years now. The road to accepting my real identity, hasn’t been entirely smooth.There are many things to think about, issues that arise, and unfortunately – prejudices to combat. You’ve got to tell your friends and family, deal with reactions from the general public, and generally learn a lot as you go along.All this whilst coming to terms with the realities of your new life. In my case I struggled initially to make progress working as a female in a technical role.[#pullquote#]I wouldn’t give up my life as a woman for all the male privilege in the world[#endpullquote#]But it’s not all doom and gloom of course – and I wouldn’t give up my life as a woman for all the male privilege in the world. It truly is excellent, and I’m proud to be one of Jisc’s women in tech (I hasten to add here that Jisc have been exceptional and supportive to me throughout, and I’ve been very lucky to work here. More on that later).[[{"fid":"7905","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_additional_information[und][0][value]":"Illustrations from Chloe Gilbert's presentation on being transgender in tech","field_rights_owner[und][0][value]":"Chloe Gilbert","field_resource_home[und][0][value]":"","field_other_license[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false},"link_text":null,"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"default","field_additional_information[und][0][value]":"Illustrations from Chloe Gilbert's presentation on being transgender in tech","field_rights_owner[und][0][value]":"Chloe Gilbert","field_resource_home[und][0][value]":"","field_other_license[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"height":277,"width":736,"class":"media-element l-shift-right file-default","data-delta":"1"}}]]The workplace from a unique perspectiveAmongst all of this I came to appreciate the unique view that I had of the workplace, from both sides of the coin. I’ve been working in IT for over 27 years, but only in the last two have I been treated differently in the workplace in terms of my knowledge and skills.Having spoken to several friends in similar positions, it seems that this is a common observation. I believe that people are not malicious, and that this is a deep-rooted societal trend. One that so deeply rooted in fact, that we don’t even notice it happening.‘Mansplaining’ - not a mythAt the start of my transition, I was overlooked a lot more in meetings, something that genuinely surprised me. I’ve even noticed it happening to other women when they in fact, have not.I’ve chatted to friends at other companies, and it seems the age old: ‘stuff women have to put up with in the workplace’ rumours are true. (The term mansplaining has had its fair share of media attention of late, and is recently explored in the Guardian article: ‘Is the term ‘mansplaining’ sexist?’).Unconscious bias is also very real – and I’ve been really surprised how some people assumed that since transitioning, my technical knowledge has somehow been removed.[#pullquote#]I’ve been really surprised how some people assumed that since transitioning, my technical knowledge has somehow been removed[#endpullquote#]Obviously there’s a wider debate here. Sure, women can raise their voices at work to try and take up some ‘male space’, but they then run the risk of being labelled rude, bolshie or even difficult.I think it’s all about awareness, perhaps if we all start paying attention a bit more – we might realise where we’re going wrong.Working at JiscJisc have been completely wonderful throughout my male to female journey – I feel very lucky to work here and to have had such a safe and supportive experience. In fact, nobody really batted an eyelid about the whole thing!I can highly recommend working here if you’re looking for a welcoming and accepting environment.What can you can do to support someone who’s transitioningTalk to them and include them – transitioning can be a lonely and daunting time. Find out about any common interests, or take a coffee break together to learn about each otherAsk questions, no matter how silly you think they might be. Information will always beat ignorance                        A really good source of information about gender issues is GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society). GIRES was founded by Terrie and Bernard Reed who have both received OBE’s for their work. GIRES contributes to de-psychopathologising gender non-conformity. Along with many other things, they provide training for staff and companiesWhat can you do if you’re transitioning and need support?Being transgender and realising you are in the wrong body is not a lifestyle choice. It is something you know about from an early age. If you are planning to seek help and maybe even transition to your true gender I recommend that you contact your GP or one of the Gender Identity Clinics.[#pullquote#]Being transgender and realising you are in the wrong body is not a lifestyle choice[#endpullquote#]Be aware there is a long wait for services via the NHS (18 months just to get an assessment) and then further waiting for treatment (18 months – 2 years is not uncommon).The process is extremely disruptive and can be overwhelming at times, so usually some form of therapy is recommended to help you cope with the upheaval. I stress again it’s not something you enter into lightly, but there is support out there if you need it.That’s all for now…So that’s it from me for now. I hope by sharing my experience you might be inspired to pluck up the courage to strike up a chat with a colleague, or ask them a question that’s been bugging you for a while. We’ve all got a story to tell, and hey, it’s nice to be nice.
  • Open science is all very well but how do you make it FAIR in practice?
    Open science is about increasing the re-use of research, and making sure that publicly funded research is accessible to all. It sounds straightforward, but there are some issues that we need to iron out first, and this is where FAIR comes in. For research to be truly ‘open’ both the findings and the data behind these results need to findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR), which means rethinking the research landscape as it stands.At a recent workshop of world experts organised by McGiIl University, The Wellcome Trust, The Gates Foundation, Research England and Jisc - part of the defining success in open science project - FAIR success measures and a better understanding of implementation was identified as vital for progress in open science.In order to assess the UK’s progress in this area we commissioned a report, FAIR in practice, to take stock of how far FAIR principles are supporting open science, and to better understand how they play-out in the research community.Read the FAIR in practice report The state of playFAIR in practice highlights some key findings about where we are, and where we need to head, to realise an open research culture in the UK:There is a lack of knowledge and understanding about what FAIR means and what the benefit of FAIR data and processes could be for research. This is unevenly distributed over disciplines and stakeholders; change is needed to educate and invest in training and skills for researchersAt present, development of tools and processes are not focussed on ‘FAIRness’ so research potential is limited. Adhering to the FAIR principles should guide development of data services to support open research, and this is central to the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC)Efforts and initiatives on research being FAIR are scattered but the greatest benefits to the research community come from adopting the principles across the board. This requires coordination of activities and policy development at cross-discipline, national and international levelsAcross disciplines and bordersThe report offers a unique insight in the actual situation in the UK around FAIR data. Expectations and progress really differ across the disciplines, and this is explored within biological sciences, digital humanities - including history and archaeology, chemistry - including computational chemistry and crystallography, and social sciences, indicating that a ‘one size fits all’ approach just won’t work to create open research.[#pullquote#]a ‘one size fits all’ approach just won’t work to create open research[#endpullquote#]Coincidentally, SURF in the Netherlands published a report, FAIR Data Advanced Use Cases, and the conclusions of this report come very close to the three mentioned above. It states, ‘FAIR is seen as part of a cultural change', 'there is a tension between domain specific and interoperability needs’ and ‘policies cannot be about FAIR alone’. For the future, the SURF report suggests ‘integrated approaches with domain specific guidance’ and that ‘FAIR takes effort but it is worth it’.We are engaged in the EOSC, and along with Science and Technology Facilities Council, this is an important European initiative, developing a state of the art research environment and infrastructure. It will promote best practice for research data and FAIR is a key underpinning. Defining FAIR within and across disciplines, and seeking to ensure the UK is engaged and able to progress in this area, is therefore essential.Measures of successAlthough the FAIR data principles are clearly formulated, it is not so easy to come up with a measurement to indicate the level of ‘FAIRness’. Metrics are needed to indicate the level of data, processes or tools which are FAIR, to keep check on our progress.[#pullquote#]it is not so easy to come up with a measurement to indicate the level of ‘FAIRness’[#endpullquote#]The FAIR Metrics group, in which Susanna Sansone - one of the experts contributing to the FAIR in practice report – participates, is working to create more clarity on how measurement is carried out internationally.Here again it is important to recognise there is not a one size fits all approach; different research communities have different norms and practices and these must be respected in the process of defining what FAIR means and how we monitor progress towards this goal.Where next?With this report, we hope to fuel the discussion in the research community on what to do next. A consultation between stakeholders in the UK on the feasibility of a national GoFAIR node, and a Jisc workshop to coordinate uptake of FAIR, are just two possibilities. [#pullquote#]we hope to fuel the discussion in the research community on what to do next[#endpullquote#]The Open Research Data Taskforce will also be key to taking the agenda forward, as will the European Commission’s H2020 project investment in this areaThe report also shines a light on the drivers for successful adoption of FAIR principles, including Political, Economic, Social and Technological aspects. To support researchers to deliver open results and open data, the policies and the technology available needs to support FAIR, from the outset.To ensure reproducibility of research and good research data management, which increases research impact, the FAIR principles are inseparable from open science; they are gaining enormous traction in Europe - the ‘Integrated advice of the Open Science Policy Platform, Recommendations FAIR Data’ delivers strong recommendations:"Funders and Research Performing Organisations should give credit for Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR) data resulting from research work…Output Management Plans (OMPs), including Data Management Plans, (DMPs) and their implementation should be mandatory for all research projects. OMPs should be machine readable and regularly modified to reflect ongoing research developments. Data resulting from publicly funded research must be made FAIR and citable, and be as open as possible, as closed as necessary".It is increasingly important that research is good quality and widely understood and FAIR data contributes to this. Technology offers a lot of opportunities to help make sure research is findable, interoperable, accessible and re-useable.  However, the move toward FAIR is not just a technical matter but one of cultural change, for a global research community to embrace.Read the FAIR in practice report
  • An update: Jisc and FE subscription
    So far, I have refrained from responding to comments in the media and among sector representatives relating to the requirement from the Department for Education (DfE) for Jisc to introduce a subscription for further education colleges in England. I know that change like this is never welcomed, not least by us, and of course it triggers debate. We have been holding meetings around the country with affected colleges and conversations with individual colleges and we are listening to feedback.Our sense is that, although colleges have rightly been testing the market, they have found Jisc is both value for money and that our offer is not replicable through other providers.However, the Collab Group is considering spending time and money going to tender for services currently provided by Jisc. This flexing of muscles will probably take it to the conclusion that staying with Jisc is the best outcome. If not, the Collab Group could well find itself in an unsustainable position and be financially poorer too.A significant number of the Collab Group have already indicated they will stay with Jisc, so I have to question the wisdom of the move to tender.Network and securityJisc was established as a not-for-profit to work on behalf of colleges and universities – to protect their interests and not for commercial gain. We work hard on behalf of those members to ensure they have the best network possible and robust built-in cyber security protection. That is why we will be covering the cost of providing a 1Gbit/s connection as part of membership, over and above the 100Mbit/s connection that the DfE will pay for.Colleges that stay with us after subscription is introduced in August 2019 will benefit from £10m to £15m each year in network and cyber security improvements, thanks to the expertise of our staff. If Collab Group was able to procure a comparable set of security and network services, will that provider evolve and invest to keep up with the latest infrastructure developments and security needs?And, judging by our stats on cyber attacks on the network, Collab colleges need to be careful they are well defended. Of the 486 such attacks on colleges in the last 12 months, 101 were against Collab Group members.The quality and performance of the network and its protection is critical to college business and learning provision. If it stutters or fails, do colleges have any idea what that will cost, not just in terms of money, but in damage to their reputation too?Incredibly, we got wind that one member of the Collab Group is thinking of using a standard consumer-level network connection rather than one comparable to ours. That college will have to hope that its neighbours aren’t streaming Netflix during prime-time usage of the virtual learning environment.[#pullquote#]Recent independent studies have suggested that an appropriate level of cyber security for an FE college will cost, from the open market, around £70,000[#endpullquote#]Recent independent studies have suggested that an appropriate level of cyber security for an FE college will cost, from the open market, around £70,000 per 1Gbit/s network connection. I have reiterated many times that this is the level of protection that Jisc members benefit from and, considering that subscription costs for the majority of colleges will be under £20,000, staying with us is a no-brainer.Other servicesColleges that offer higher education courses and those that collaborate with universities (as most do) have other things to consider on top of the network and its protection.If they choose to leave Jisc, there is no access to education-specific wifi, eduroam, or shibboleth-based services, which give learners and staff single sign-on to multiple systems. Under these circumstances, it becomes much harder to operate and all online communication with universities will have to go over the public internet. That’s a risk. Is it safe?[#pullquote#]Colleges that opt out of Jisc will end up paying thousands for these, and other e-books, on the commercial market. [#endpullquote#]Also included with subscription is a set of digital content specific to FE, including unlimited downloads of curriculum mapped e-books for English and maths. When the government made English and maths retakes compulsory for some college learners, it did not offer providers any extra money to do so. Colleges that opt out of Jisc will end up paying thousands for these, and other e-books, on the commercial market.Reserve fund and cost savingsCollab has also questioned why the DfE is introducing a subscription when Jisc has £86m in reserves. Firstly, it makes good business sense to hold reserves – it’s common practice. Secondly, the vast majority of that fund is restricted, designated or otherwise limited for specific purposes by our higher education funders. The amount that is not limited is in the region of £8m and all of our development work for FE comes out of this pot.Over a five-year period (2014-2019), our DfE funding has been reduced by £10m. We have already absorbed more than £4m pa through our own efficiency savings, and we will share the benefit of VAT changes, worth £1m pa, with FE colleges that indicate they intend to sign up with Jisc. (A letter of intent has gone out to all FE colleges in England).[#pullquote#]Being part of a very large network of multi-sector organisations is invaluable [#endpullquote#]Being part of a very large network of multi-sector organisations is invaluable. It gives collective financial strength and bargaining power, plus sector-specific services, digital content and security protection that is not available from any other body. This situation has been hard won, but could be easily lost unless we all stick together. Is that a risk worth running?
  • Why it's time to get tough on passwords
    Earlier this year, Jisc informed several universities and colleges that compromised usernames and passwords belonging to some of their staff and students had appeared in the public domain, on one of several legitimate websites often used for this purpose. This is not unusual and, while the compromised user credentials were not taken from the organisations concerned and were not directly associated with their user accounts, it was of immediate concern as thousands of individuals were involved.The website where this information was spotted, and sites like it, are double-edged swords.On the one hand, listing compromised credentials acts as an alert to security analysts. On the other hand, those with malicious intensions can use the information to hack accounts and commit crime.[#pullquote#]Data is traded between criminals and the final act of posting it online is simply to boast.[#endpullquote#]In most cases, however, the fraud will usually have been committed long before the information is posted to such websites. The data is traded between criminals and the final act of posting it online is simply to boast.Part of Jisc’s role is to protect the national research and education network, the Janet Network, and our members (universities, colleges and research centres) from cyber crime and to share intelligence on security threats with our community. As such, the Janet Network Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) quickly alerted those universities and colleges concerned – something we do quite regularly.Such incidents highlight the risks of weak password management. The galling thing is that, this problem could so easily be avoided, if only people and organisations would take better care of their online security.What are the risks?A report published in March 2018 on behalf of the Government’s Cyber Aware campaign raises just this point and describes “the worryingly large misconceptions the public has about cyber crime compared to the reality of the threat”.It identifies three key myths:That cyber crime isn’t "real crime"That it "won’t happen to me"That there’s "nothing I can do about it"The minister for security and economic crime, Ben Wallace, warns in the report that such misconceptions lead to “dangerous inertia”. He goes on:“As a result of the perception gap, millions of people are leaving themselves, UK businesses and UK infrastructure vulnerable by failing to follow even the most basic secure online behaviours…criminals frequently exploit the weak cyber security of individuals to facilitate their attacks.”How can we protect ourselves?In February 2018 we published a blog from Cyber Aware that highlighted the importance of having a separate, strong password for your email account.The point is that, if you use the same old password for everything, hackers who get into your emails will be able to help themselves to all sorts of other goodies.But what does a strong password look like, and how do we convince people that having separate, complex passwords for each online account is not a nightmare for all but those with super-human memories?There is a simple, two-step solution: use a password management application in tandem with multi-factor authentication (MFA).Using a password manager (there are many opensource/ freeware variations, such as Dashlane and LastPass) will allow you to create unique passwords for all your accounts, store them, and have them automatically entered online when you log in.This is far from a complicated procedure and requires remembering only one master password.[#pullquote#]When combined with MFA, each user will have greatly increased the strength of their credential security. [#endpullquote#]When combined with MFA, each user will have greatly increased the strength of their credential security.MFA gives the user three lines of defence that are required to access accounts:Something you know: your master password, which you rememberSomething you have: your mobile phone or hardware crypto logical key generator (such as a Yubico), or virtual MFA (such as AWS Virtual MFA)Something you are: iris scans are not far away, but this currently refers to a fingerprint, which can be used to unlock your smart phonePassword management applications allow you to generate passwords that are up to 100 random characters long, although something of 30 characters is the current “unbreakable” standard.There is no easy way to force the use of true password complexity without employing software, other than to generate random passwords and hand them out to users, which is bound to be unpopular. It also leads to a greater concern that users will write down their passwords, which makes them – and their organisations – even more vulnerable. Using the secure password generators included in most of the password management applications mostly voids this issue.Educating to ensure good practiceWe advise our members that educating staff and students in good security practice is an essential part of cyber protection because, not only are they the first line of defence against attack, but also the biggest weakness.The most common method of infiltration by cyber criminals is through phishing emails, which trick people into revealing confidential information such as their username and passwords. As you can imagine, if users pick the same password for multiple accounts, the risk of multiple attacks increases.A survey we conducted among members in 2017 showed:83% of universities provide training for staff, which is compulsory in 46% of casesOnly 40% train students and a disappointing 8% insist that students take a course[#pullquote#]We’d like to see mandatory security training for all users [#endpullquote#]We’d like to see mandatory security training for all users, which includes advice on how to spot phishing emails, iffy websites, dodgy links and, of course, good password health.We’d also like to see blanket use of password management applications.When creating, storing, and using personal credentials, a heightened security awareness is as important to organisations as it is to individuals. So clearly it makes little sense to leave individual students and staff to carry on using authentication practices that put both themselves and their college or university at such risk. Both password management and MFA offer a cost-effective solution that is easy to use and gives a clearly defined advantage over maintaining the status quo.
  • FE subscription: members’ top concerns answered
    Since March, when the Department for Education (DfE) announced that English colleges must pay Jisc a subscription from August 2019, we’ve been talking with as many affected members as possible to answer questions and listen to feedback. Several common concerns have emerged from this country-wide communications process, mainly around:Cost and value for moneyConnection to the national research and education network (NREN), the Janet NetworkCyber security provisionThere have also been queries around digital resources, and scrutiny of our own cost-saving plans.Here, we try to answer those questions and bust a few myths.Members who would like further information should contact their account manager.What are the risks of moving away from Jisc?  You will expose yourself to slower, more contended network provision that is less secure, more unstable and operated by commercial vendors whose priorities are more aligned to profit than working for the good of the sector.As a shared service and a trusted partner, Jisc responds to your needs now and develops technology for the future in consultation with members.Rather than dealing purely with Jisc, you will need to invest significant time and effort in procuring and managing multiple contracts with a variety of other organisations to gain services for digital content and learning resources, wifi solutions, IP addressing, router services, consultancy, and many others.  What’s so special about Jisc’s Janet Network and cyber security protection?The Janet Network is tailored to the needs of the education and research sector, so it is super-fast and can carry enormous amounts of data, enabling learning and collaboration nationally and internationally.Serving around 18 million users, Janet is the busiest NREN in Europe and its in-built cyber security protection means it is also one of the most secure networks in the world.No other internet service provider (ISP) includes DDoS attack mitigation as standard.  DDoS attacks (designed to bring down the network) are increasing for colleges, so this is an essential service if colleges are to avoid the disruption and financial and reputational damage associated with such an outage. Jisc is also the only organisation to provide a sector-wide security incident response service, which is also included in the core subscription.Because Jisc protects the network that all members connect to, and we gather and freely share security intelligence to help defend education from cyber attacks, it's a safer place for everyone.Why should I pay for services in the core that I am not using?Connectivity (the network) and cyber security account for 87% of the subscription.Other services in the core are chosen because they are most widely used by FE colleges, such as e-books, including maths and English GCSE text books.If I choose not to subscribe to Jisc, can I still buy Jisc services?Due to the nature of our funding model, we do not envisage offering the majority of core subscription services to non-members. Our core cyber security offer is not available without a Janet connection, for example, and only members can benefit from Jisc Collections negotiations, including access to e-books for FE, and to our expert advice and practical technology assistance.What has Jisc done to reduce the impact of subscription?Our funding has been reduced by £10m over the five years to 2019, and we have already absorbed over £4m in efficiency savings.For example, we are reducing our office overheads, and continue to look for further efficiencies as we move forward.DfE only funds a main connection to the Janet Network of 100Mb/s, but most colleges choose to invest in a connection up to ten times bigger at 1Gb/s.From August 2019, we will provide the first 1Gb/s for free, at a cost to ourselves of £750k pa.A recent VAT ruling from HMRC means we can reclaim VAT on our costs when we charge a subscription and will share with FE members in England some of that saving, which amounts to around £1m each year. And, although we will be charging VAT on subscriptions and other optional services, we will absorb that cost so there is no adverse impact on colleges. As a result of these changes, the average subscription rate will be around 0.07% of college income, rather than the 0.085% we originally estimated. Some colleges will actually pay us less from August 2019 than they do today.Why do colleges need Jisc’s digital content and resources when there are so many free alternatives?We recognise there is a lot of free content available for colleges to choose from. Therefore, the majority of the digital resources provided by Jisc are optional and not part of the subscription.However, we also recognise there are key text books which colleges require to support their courses, such as GCSE English and maths text books vital for learners resitting these subjects. Through our sector-wide negotiations, Jisc has been able to broker a significant reduction in the cost of e-book titles and to change the publishers licensing model.This means, as part of the subscription, Jisc is able to provide unlimited concurrent access to all the e-book for FE titles (which are constantly refreshed in consultation with members) for all college learners.Won’t subscription force colleges to cut back on Jisc services?Education minister Anne Milton told Parliament that a mixed funding model for English FE colleges will encourage them “to make use of the full range of services that Jisc provides”.Certainly, this was exactly the outcome when a subscription was first introduced for higher education (HE) in 2012. And all universities chose to pay the subscription and stay with Jisc.Our account managers are working with individual members to review the elements of Jisc’s offer they currently use and to determine where better value can be had from our services. We are already hearing of colleges which are making better use of some of the services they get from Jisc, such as e-books.Finally, we know the subscription is a burden that colleges could do without, but we sincerely believe the sector will be better off if it sticks together.
  • Taking pride in who you are: a personal coming-out story
    At the start of Pride month, our executive director of technologies, Tim Kidd, talks about the difficulties of coming out, what it is like working at Jisc, and his passion for helping young people through his role as the Scouts' UK chief commissioner People have the capacity to build boxes around things they don’t want to admit to themselves, and I buried something very important very deeply for 33 years. I knew I was gay from the age of 13, but I didn’t admit it to myself until I was 46 and it took another year before I could pluck up the courage to actually tell people.A horrible yearThe year between admitting it to myself and telling others was really horrible and very stressful. The more I stewed, the bigger it became. My experience, and certainly everyone else I’ve spoken to about this agrees, is that, when thinking about coming out, I thought of all the worse possible outcomes. I didn’t spend time thinking ‘there will be rainbows and glitter and everything will be wonderful’; I thought about how it would feel if I wasn’t accepted by all the people I care about.[#pullquote#]coming out was the hardest thing I’ve ever done[#endpullquote#]Although I’ve done a lot of things in my life, some quite difficult things, and there isn’t that much I’m scared of, coming out was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. People who’ve never gone through the experience of coming out might not really know what that means. But the moment that you are about to say something that might cause you to lose friends or change a relationship is very significant. Once it is done, it really does feel like a weight is lifted. Having to lie and pretend is hard and very wearing.Telling peopleThe first person I told was a scout friend, who I chose because I thought he would be very ‘factual’ about it – I didn’t want lots of hugs and sympathy and for someone to say “there, there”. But it still took me three attempts to say the words “I’m gay” because my throat closed up. This friend’s reaction was really good, so that was fine, but then I had to tell the family.I have a twin brother, three sisters and my parents and I told all of them in a week, one night after the other. That was an interesting week! They were all fine about it, so none of my dire predictions came true. I have 13 nephews and nieces, and I left it to their parents to decide if they were old enough to know, but it turns out that having a gay uncle is quite cool. Who would have guessed!The response at JiscThe reaction at Jisc when I came out was very good. I had told friends and family first, which was useful because I was pretty rubbish at telling people at the start.Edging around it at the beginning of a conversation must have sounded like I was about to tell people something really awful, like I was going to die, so when I said “I’m gay” they were quite relieved! By the time I got to telling people at Jisc I was a bit better at it, but still scared. The reaction was generally understated – I kind of hoped there’d be a bucket of glitter, but it was a damp squib in a good way, which was important. I have experienced only acceptance and support at work which, believe me, is great.[#pullquote#]The reaction was generally understated – I kind of hoped there’d be a bucket of glitter[#endpullquote#]There are many LGBT+ people who work for Jisc and such is the culture here that they can have pictures of their partners on their desks and nobody cares a jot, any more than if a staff member were part of a straight couple. I think Jisc is a very accepting place.Society needs to changeHowever, my sense is that across society there is still prejudice and ignorance – people thinking for example that you can choose to be gay. I haven’t experienced much of that myself, but I know people who have.Unlike many LGBT+ folk, I managed to navigate growing up without prejudice or bullying. At school I was stereotypically gay in one sense because I loved singing, while sport was horrendous for me, but I was also good at maths and technical stuff. Socially, I was careful never to speak with anyone about relationships, or women, and I didn’t grow up with a bunch of lads who wanted to discuss relationships, so I was either lucky, or charted my way through all that stuff very well.As an adult, I notice that people make assumptions and use language that can make things awkward. No-one expects people to say “by the way, I’m straight” because the assumption is that they are straight because most people in the world are straight.People might ask “have you got a wife then?”, when it would be better to ask “have you got a partner?”. It feels difficult because I don’t have a partner – if I did then I could say, “no, I’ve got a boyfriend, or a husband”. Correcting people becomes awkward and I hate making people feel uncomfortable, so changing the way people think, and the sort of language they use is important. It’s one reason why a lot of LGBT+ people talk about constantly having to come out to new people they meet.[#pullquote#]we shouldn’t assume that simply because being gay is not illegal and we have equal marriage rights in the UK that being gay is always simple. It isn’t.[#endpullquote#]For me the key message is that we shouldn’t assume that simply because being gay is not illegal and we have equal marriage rights in the UK that being gay is always simple. It isn’t.Inspiring young peopleI’m particularly concerned how young people cope with confusion or difficulties around their sexuality and I’m proud to say that scouts, as an inclusive organisation, can be a safe place for them to talk.The scouts’ equal opportunity policy came in in the late 80s and it was quite controversial at the time. Over the past five or six years we’ve been involved at Pride marches and the family-friendly parades are good recruitment grounds for adult volunteers.We now have over 800 scout sections running in the most deprived areas of the UK, and young people who thought they could never do anything are now achieving all sorts of things. We are continually giving young people opportunities. Scouting did that for me since I joined at the age of eight, and I’m proud that I am now passing on that ethos.Why I love working at JiscOctober marks my 20th anniversary working at Jisc and what keeps me here is very simple – I know that what we do makes a real difference to students, to universities, colleges and research centres, and to the UK economy. Without Jisc’s work to maintain and advance the national research and education network, a lot of research at universities would either be impossible, or it would cost the state more, and without the research we wouldn’t have UK universities up there in the world rankings.[#pullquote#]It’s important to me that Jisc is a not-for-profit[#endpullquote#]It’s also important to me that Jisc is a not-for-profit; I couldn’t work for a purely commercial organisation that was all about making money and it’s the same for many staff. The bit that really gives me a glow is that we run a very large set of services for the sector, we work really hard behind the scenes and we continually look for the next thing we can develop to help our members and the young people they educate. That’s really neat.How did I get here?I never had any ambitions. Things happen to me and it’s always a constant surprise, so I’ve never thought about, expected or envisaged doing the job I am doing. At the start of my career I was writing software, which I loved, I always thought I’d have a technical job, but I don’t now.Instead, I‘m a manager, but I never had a plan to be responsible for a large number of people and for making sure we deliver a large number of services; it happened by accident. My Myers Briggs profile says: “Find yourself in charge and have no idea how you got there”. That’s me to a T. I am now responsible for scouting across the whole of the UK and I have no idea how I got there either.I don’t think I’m any better because I happen to be executive director of technologies for Jisc or UK chief commissioner for scouts, than anything or anyone else, but I can point to things I’ve done as part of those roles and say, “I’m proud of that”. The titles are just a thing.Getting my OBE in 2016 for services to young people was a surprise. It’s lovely that people who nominated me thought about it, but I am embarrassed by it. I don’t use it because it feels like boasting, but I was happy to accept it on the basis it’s recognition for all the good things scouts does for young people.[#pullquote#]I’m really grateful to my colleagues at Jisc for accepting me for who I am[#endpullquote#]As a final thought, I’m really grateful to my colleagues at Jisc for accepting me for who I am – and I guess, at times, I can be quite complex! We achieve more at Jisc by combining the ideas and skills of people with different views and different backgrounds and together creating services of which we are truly proud.
  • A robust cyber security strategy is one of the top priorities for my college
    As a college leader there are many concerning issues to consider, including the pressure on funds, doing the best I can for staff and students and keeping up with ever-changing shift in government policy. But right up there on my list of priorities is cyber security, particularly protection of the college network and the countless online systems which depend upon it. The national research and education network, Janet, is central to everything we do, so losing that connection would be a disaster: pretty much everything would grind to a halt.Just imagine – no email, no admin or finance systems, no wifi or internet, no virtual learning environment and no access to learning resources. There’s also a risk that students could lose their work and we’d have to revert to a style of teaching we’ve taken years to modernise. Last, but by no means least, it could be a PR nightmare.Students don’t hang about when something like this happens. There’d be no hope of keeping such a huge problem quiet, since students used to smartphones and 24/7 internet access will be quick to vent on social media, just as soon as they can get connected. Their comments are bound to be picked up by the media, and your comms team will be doing their best to limit the reputational damage.[#pullquote#]my advice is to concentrate on preventative measures, which are expensive, but still cheaper in the long run[#endpullquote#]Then there’s the obvious disruption and loss of productivity for the duration of outage, not to mention the cost of extra personnel hours to deal with the clean-up and repair. There is some research which puts the cost of a network outage at around £3,300 per minute, but I’d rather not think too much about that! Instead, we recognise something like this is avoidable and my advice is to concentrate on preventative measures, which are expensive, but still cheaper in the long run.However, I know cyber security isn’t always a priority for college leaders, and that must be a frustration and a worry for staff in many colleges who realise that it doesn’t pay to skimp on this issue.For colleges like Forth Valley, which are thinking about upgrades to digital systems or infrastructure, it’s important to consider cyber security as an integral and inter-dependent part of all college systems. A college-wide strategy sets clear goals and outlines how you’re going to achieve them, but for this to work effectively, buy-in from senior decision-makers is essential.[#pullquote#]it’s important to consider cyber security as an integral and inter-dependent part of all college systems[#endpullquote#]At Forth Valley College, we have recently launched a creative learning and technologies strategy, with six “ambitions”. One of these is that our IT infrastructure is safe, secure, robust and agile enough to embrace changing needs and practices. This places cyber security at the heart of both our strategy and our thinking.As part of this strategy, and as we move into a new headquarter campus, we are planning to re-invest in our infrastructure, ensuring that we take advantage of advances in technology.During this process, many companies are keen to talk to us, and tell us how good their products are. Getting good and, crucially, impartial advice can be tricky, and potentially costly if you go down the private consultancy route. This significant role is performed for us by the sector’s not-for-profit technology solutions organisation, Jisc, which acts as both an impartial and critical friend.[#pullquote#]Jisc acts as both an impartial and critical friend[#endpullquote#]We have worked closely with Jisc for some time and benefit hugely from its advice and guidance. Staff on the Janet Network computer security incident response team (CSIRT), for example, are always available to help us deal with security problems. And our IT staff are often signposted to Jisc experts, who in turn may put us in touch with other further education institutions which can demonstrate best practice on projects that are already in place and we can emulate or learn from.Steps you can takeAs a result, we know what we must do to keep our staff, students, network and systems safe. If you’re not sure what a good cyber security strategy looks like, contact Jisc, check out the National Cyber Security Centre website, or go through the following check list:What are the risks?Start with a risk assessment. What are you trying to protect against? Criminal gangs, disgruntled students and staff, 'hacktivists'? Does your institution have relationships with organisations or industrial partners that might make you an attractive target? And where are your biggest vulnerabilities?Network securityPut measures in place to defend the network perimeter, and to filter out unauthorised access and malicious content. Monitor and test these security controls. Segment your network so if one machine gets infected with malware you limit the ability for it to spread across the whole institution.User educationProduce security policies for all users clearly setting out acceptable and secure use of your systems. Maintain awareness of online security risks by providing ongoing training for staff and students, covering on-campus and remote access.MalwarePut in place anti-malware defences such as anti-virus software, end-point protection solutions. Make sure they are turned on and kept up to date.PatchworkMake sure you know what software and hardware you have in place, so you can easily and quickly update as soon as new security patches are released.Managing user privilegesNot everyone needs full admin access, so only provide privileged access to those who need it.Incident managementAccept that bad things will happen, and encourage a culture where people know how to report things that seem suspicious. Set up protocols so everyone knows what to do in the event of security incident and practice it. Know who to call if you need help when you are attacked.MonitoringEstablish a monitoring strategy and produce supporting policies. Continuously monitor all systems and networks. Analyse incident logs for unusual activity that could indicate an attack.Share intelligenceJoin CiSP (Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership) and encourage your staff with responsibility for cyber security to network with peers. Make use of existing capabilities. For example, if you teach cyber security courses, encourage those students to become security champions/ambassadors for others. Jisc members will be automatically plugged into its sector-specific intel sharing system.Set the standardOnce the basics are in place, aim to reach the government’s Cyber Essentials or Cyber Essentials Plus standards. These provide assurance that you are on right track and can demonstrate to stakeholders that you are cyber security aware.Finally, remember that the threat landscape is ever changing, so it’s important to regularly review and evolve your cyber security strategy and to adopt a digital infrastructure that can evolve to accommodate the latest technology. At the end of the day, the principal and/or chief executive must understand the risks and responsibilities of cyber security; ultimately, it’s their job to ensure the cyber safety of their college, their data and their people.
  • What are the key challenges facing FE college governors?
    When I thought about the key challenges currently facing FE college governors, the first thought in my head was: “Where should I begin?” MergersAs a governor of an FE college that merged with another institution last July, the challenges presented by that process seemed a good starting point.[#pullquote#]Governors must accept that it takes time to win hearts and minds[#endpullquote#]Creating a one-college culture from two is never going to be an easy task. Governors must accept that it takes time to win hearts and minds, while still driving the new organisation forward towards improved performance.Merging college systems and processes is a necessary but time-consuming and resource-heavy challenge that can divert staff at all levels from the path of achieving core strategic objectives.Governors in many colleges that have gone through, or are still contemplating, a merger will know (or should be warned) that it will have a strong influence on progress for at least the first year.At governing body level, the challenge is, as always, to bring the right level of detail to the board and any committees.This task is made more complex by a merger, which necessitates the need to report on larger and more complex college curriculums and provision across multi-sites.[#pullquote#]All this at a time when Ofsted inspectors could call at any time[#endpullquote#]I’m sure many boards are still finding their way in newly merged colleges in this regard, trying to find a balance between enough information and too much; they will need to clearly define the wood from the trees. And all this at a time when Ofsted inspectors could call at any time, as is their prerogative for newly merged colleges.FundingFunding, or the lack of it, remains a priority.As was emphasised at the AoC Governance Summit (March 2018), there is:Limited growth in the national economy, which meansLimited taxes, which in turnLimits public fundingThe FE sector has felt this squeeze for some years now, and the problem shows no sign of abating.FE colleges and their boards attempt to set strategic objectives around government strategies (such as Train to Gain (T2G) and, more recently, apprenticeships), but if employers don’t universally buy in to such strategies, the FE college that doesn’t have alternative cards up its sleeve will live to rue the day.[#pullquote#]Diversification of income is imperative [#endpullquote#]Diversification of income is imperative to avoid this scenario, but difficult to achieve when staff and other resources have been cut to the bone after so many years of effective funding cuts, and against a background of an ever-more competitive environment.Student experienceWhile dealing with mergers and finding financial solutions are important, for me the most important aspect of my governing responsibilities is to stay focussed on the needs of our students.There are many distractions both locally and nationally that consume governor time, but the thing that we must never lose sight of, and must devote our time to most, is the quality of the student experience.[#pullquote#]They deserve and need the best we can give them. [#endpullquote#]Our students may only be with us for one year, but they deserve and need the best we can give them.Does the curriculum meet student and employer needs? Will it lead to meaningful employment or higher education? Will students want to come to college and to engage in all that it can offer? Will they both enjoy and benefit from the highest possible quality of teaching? Are we doing everything we can to make college accessible to all, though our support services and our resources?These are questions that we have always asked ourselves at governing body level and they continue to be paramount, whatever else may be trying to steal our attention.Future student experienceIt’s no good focussing purely on present issues.[#pullquote#]We must strategically look ahead, to what our students will want of us in the future [#endpullquote#]We must strategically look ahead, to what our students will want of us in the future and how we are going to deliver.In particular, when creating and approving curriculum strategies, a board will do well to look beyond the core offer and ask questions about the part that technology could and will play in the student experience going forward.[#pullquote#]Are we doing all we can to keep our systems and our students safe from cyber criminals? [#endpullquote#]What technology and supporting systems do our students expect of our college, both in the classroom and in social spaces? Is our college using technology that is focussed on making continuous improvements to the quality of teaching and learning, and assessment? Can learners access resources and systems from home or their workplace as well the college campus? Are we doing all we can to keep our systems and our students safe from cyber criminals? Are all teaching and support staff digitally adept?How can Jisc help?Jisc's guide, key technology questions college governors should ask, expands on the questions and issues I have highlighted above and is a helpful checklist for any board reviewing a curriculum and/or technology strategy.The few challenges I mention are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg for FE governors, but has it not always been thus?[#pullquote#]For me, the issues governors face do not detract from it being a rewarding role [#endpullquote#]For me, the issues governors face do not detract from it being a rewarding role where I feel that, even as an individual and in a small way, I can make a contribution and make a difference.
  • The fourth industrial revolution: how can universities respond to the rise of the robots?
    It’s official - up to 800 million global workers will be replaced by robots and AI by 2030. A rethink of education is needed to keep humans employed, but should universities be concerned about the robotic takeover? It seems that everywhere you look these days there are articles about AI. It’s certainly the matter of the moment, but how can we best prepare our learners for the new careers that are being ushered in by these technologies? Moreover, how do universities need to change, and should we be concerned?Dame Wendy Hall’s 2017 review of artificial intelligence concluded that “industry should sponsor a major programme of students to pursue masters’ courses in AI, with an initial cohort of 300 students”.Further recommendations include creating an additional 200 PhD places dedicated to AI at leading universities, and the recently published Industrial Strategy white paper earmarks £30m funding to test the use of AI and innovative education technology in online courses.What will future courses look like?We can learn a lot from the Stanford online education spinout Udacity, which launched a self-driving car engineering nanodegree in autumn 2016.This short, $2,400 course is roughly equivalent to a masters’ degree and aims to take learners through key aspects of using AI to process images and sensor data from a self-driving car. This is one of the most challenging applications for AI, because real-world road conditions can be so unpredictable.The nanodegree demonstrates how different AI courses could be to traditional graduate or postgraduate courses.[#pullquote#]Perhaps most significantly, there are no academic institutions involved in this course – learners get assigned industry mentors [#endpullquote#]The course is largely self-paced learning from online material and is only several months long. Perhaps most significantly, there are no academic institutions involved in this course – learners get assigned industry mentors from the likes of Mercedes, BMW and Uber.A wake up callThe real wake-up call for our universities is that, almost overnight, Udacity had over 30,000 people from all over the world wanting to take this course.Could traditional degrees learn from the nanodegree’s flexibility and fast pace? It seems that’s what students want.[#pullquote#]22,000 students have told us recently that they want staff to be better with digital, not use more of it [#endpullquote#]At Jisc, 22,000 students have told us recently that they want staff to be better with digital, not use more of it, and that they strongly value the convenience of online systems.How could institutions replace people with AI?Robotics and AI are also set to have a transformational effect on the business of being a higher education institution, too.San Francisco startup Knightscope has been in the news recently after one of its robots was apparently being used by a customer to discourage homeless people from sheltering near their premises. Will we see our universities and colleges replacing their security guards and manual labour roles with robots?[#pullquote#]Could machines eventually sweep dorms, serve pints in the SU, or even do the day-to-day organisational admin? [#endpullquote#]This might seem farfetched, but Knightscope has priced its robots very competitively. At just $7 an hour, they’re far cheaper than hiring a security guard and the robots work all day and night with just the occasional break for charging. Could machines eventually sweep dorms, serve pints in the SU, or even do the day-to-day organisational admin?We’ve already seen some signs of institutions using AI in a targeted way to help students, such as when Ashok Goel, a Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology introduced his new assistant Jill Watson, who would field questions from students to reduce his workload.Yes, you’ve guessed it, Jill was actually an AI ‘bot’ using the award-winning Watson software from IBM.Using AI to assist learningCloser to home, at Jisc we have worked with around 100 institutions to develop a national learning analytics service that uses AI to:Improve retentionEnhance the student experienceMake the organisation itself more productiveThe service uses the data from institutional IT systems like the library catalogue and virtual learning environment, which would historically have been discarded, but can actually give us some very useful indicators of student engagement over time and correlation with learning outcomes.The futureUniversities are a bit like ocean liners – they tend to struggle with sudden course changes.[#pullquote#]It’s clear that institutional agility is becoming an increasingly important topic[#endpullquote#]In my job as a Futurist I often work with senior leadership teams that are devising or implementing a digital strategy, and it’s clear that institutional agility is becoming an increasingly important topic. This may involve new ways of working such as fully online delivery and blended learning, but just keeping track of key technologies can be quite a challenge as they keep evolving at a very fast pace.So yes, the robot revolution is coming, and things won’t ever be the same again.The jobs sector will change, and so then, must universities. If institutions keep up, our students will be prepared for the robotic future ahead. Technology doesn’t wait for anyone, so we may as well jump on board. It’s going to be a wild ride!
  • From plagiarism detection to academic integrity
    After two decades in which our technology has played an important role, we are now seeing universities deploying new tactics in the fight against plagiarism. You know that something is just not right, but you don’t have enough evidence to suggest that a student’s work is not their own. You now need to decide whether it’s worth the time and effort to pursue or just let it go. In an age of increasing competition between education providers, upholding a university’s reputation and the integrity of the awards it offers has never been so important. In this new environment, the last thing any university needs is students failing due to academic misconduct or to hit the headlines for ‘cheating’.New and emerging academic misconduct threats, combined with the sector’s focus on new measures, the National Student Survey, and supporting and improving the student experience, puts increasing pressure on teachers and leaders. [#pullquote#]students are still looking at new ways to help them to get the results they want, which is why universities are not relying on technology alone.[#endpullquote#]Our journey as Turnitin began over 20 years ago to tackle the issue of copying and pasting directly from internet sources, and as different types of plagiarism emerged our solution evolved. However, students are still looking at new ways to help them to get the results they want, which is why universities are not relying on technology alone. They are shifting their focus to the development and reinforcement of academic integrity skills - through actively promoting the benefits and expectations to students - as opposed to just detection.From plagiarism detection…Checking final assignments for unoriginal content helps universities to protect their reputation and identify students who have copied work intentionally or unintentionally. However, what many have quickly realised was that checking work at this stage, whilst essential, is happening too late in the process to do anything about.[#pullquote#]checking work at this stage, whilst essential, is happening too late in the process to do anything about.[#endpullquote#]Assessing writing skills at the beginning of the course and identifying students who are struggling is far more effective, but due to class sizes and demands on educators, it’s not always possible to provide detailed guidance and instruction every time.This is when we started to look at the root cause of plagiarism and how technology could support teachers to identify and address problem areas. By checking originality of students work, identifying sources that are being used and providing tools to enable teachers to feedback quickly, we were able to help educate students and reduce the risk at final assessment time.…to academic integrityThrough working in partnership with the sector, we’ve seen an increasing shift in how universities are addressing academic integrity. What was previously a one-off committee meeting to implement a policy and update in the student induction process, is now transforming into a continuous and more formalised programme with positive reinforcement at its core. The focus is shifting from risk detection to helping students learn the skills they need, whilst protecting the reputation and values of the university.[#pullquote#]The difference between detection and academic integrity is the focus on educating students[#endpullquote#]The difference between detection and academic integrity is the focus on educating students and promoting the positive benefits and expectations of integrity. Academic integrity is a learned skill that needs to be reinforced throughout education.In working with this expert community, it’s clear to see that achieving excellence in academic integrity requires a fine balance between policy, education and technology and one without the others will not suffice. Tackling new emerging academic misconduct threatsContract cheating - students engaging a third-party individual or service to complete their assessments - is becoming an increasing problem. As the recent coverage of the undercover Panorama report shows, students are walking away with qualifications that are way beyond their capabilities.[#pullquote#]research suggests between 2-10% of student submissions are not students’ own work. [#endpullquote#]Some 800 to 1,000 websites selling essays/dissertations have been identified by experts and research suggests between 2-10% of student submissions are not students’ own work. We’ve been working with experts in the field of contract cheating to understand this issue and we will be introducing a new solution, later this year, to support institutions in identifying and investigating potential contract cheating incidents.
  • FE and social media make the perfect match
    The UK’s further education (FE) sector is known for its capacity to adapt and innovate; its ability to morph in response to the changing demands on post-16 education. Which is perhaps why it so often finds a bedfellow in social media – flexible, ever-evolving, and for the most part free. Since the days of early social media, the platforms themselves have always been evolving: pokes have gone extinct; walls became pages; favourites switched to likes; and threads have become home to any online interaction worth its salt.How these changing functionalities are applied to achieve communication goals and interact with audiences, has only ever been limited by users’ creativity. And creativity is something FE has in spades. Which brings me to the Jisc social media superstars competition for FE.How do you use social media in teaching?We’re on the hunt for the best uses of social media by FE practitioners. That could be managing social media groups across a cohort, sharing resources on Twitter, or re-thinking how Instagram could be used as a learning aid. If you’re using social media for the good of teaching and learning, or education and the sector more broadly, we want to hear from you.[#pullquote#]We will be compiling a list of the top ten social media superstars in FE to shine a spotlight on the innovative work that’s being done across the sector.[#endpullquote#]We will be compiling a list of the top ten social media superstars in FE to shine a spotlight on the innovative work that’s being done across the sector. What type of thing are we looking for? Anything and everything that makes effective use of social media to support your work in FE.Which platforms do you use?Mainstream platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are ideal as informal mechanisms for disseminating information or bringing cohorts together to discuss hot topics, projects and social events.There are lots of great examples of course-level Facebook groups. One in particular I was involved with saw second-year students organically take on responsibility for supporting first years with ideas, reading suggestions and resources. The group became a really valuable space for both teachers and learners, evolving year-on-year as students progressed through the course.Other platforms that are more restrictive, and which are more typically associated with social lives, such as Instagram, can require a more creative approach. But get it right and the rewards can be great. An excellent example of this was a winner in our HE social media superstars competition at the end of 2017. Vikas Shah’s innovative use of Instagram has enabled him to make radiology accessible to his tens of thousands of followers.Similarly, Instagram stories, although not particularly the new kid on the block anymore, do present interesting new possibilities for creative educators connecting with 16 to 18-year-olds. As the platform has seized the monopoly on the temporary, instant-sharing market, it’s the place to be right now. And if your audience is there, why wouldn’t you be? So do you have learners or peers hanging off every one of your perfectly crafted stories?[#pullquote#]do you have learners or peers hanging off every one of your perfectly crafted stories?[#endpullquote#]Then there are those platforms that may require some outside the box thinking. Strava for training routes? Goodreads for reading lists? Snapchat for tutorials?Tell us about your successWhether you’re taking on more alternative platforms, or mastering the mainstream options, we want to hear about your successes, the challenges you’ve overcome, and the problems social media has enabled you to solve.[#pullquote#]we want to hear about your successes, the challenges you’ve overcome, and the problems social media has enabled you to solve.[#endpullquote#]Just fill out this short form before midnight on Thursday, 29 March, 2018, and you’ll be put forward for the Jisc top ten list of social media superstars. Each of our winners will receive a visit from Jisc’s Digi Lab to their class, complete with virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), an Emotiv Insight EEG brain reader and a robot.Enter the competitionFollow us on Twitter and join in with #JiscTop10.
  • How do you keep students safe from cyber crime? By teaching them to behave like a stealth bomber!
    While most college or university students have grown up using internet-enabled devices, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are savvy and careful about online safety. With the explosion of the internet of things (IoT), there are now more connected devices than there are people in the world, which provides an exponentially growing opportunity for cyber criminals to steal, disrupt and exploit.Perhaps the most effective defence against criminals’ activity is knowledge of their tactics and how to reduce the risk of becoming a victim.Jisc research (2017) found that:83% of universities provide training for staff, which is compulsory in 46% of cases40% offer training to students, but only 8% insist that students take a courseInstruction on good security practice is essential for all end users – that’s staff and studentsI’d argue that instruction on good security practice is essential for all end users – that’s staff and students. They need to be able to spot dodgy websites, iffy emails and other common attack vectors. For universities and colleges, it’s about extending the scope of student care to enable their learners to live an easier and safer life.When unattractive is a good thingReducing risk in this context is about making your environment as unattractive as possible to criminals. In the physical world, if your house is the only one in the street surrounded by a high fence, with anti-climb paint on the drainpipes and prickly shrubs under every window, burglars will probably look for an easier target.The same principle applies to online property; if you protect your accounts, (particularly email), your privacy, and your devices as best you can, then your attack surface is minimised – a bit like a stealth bomber. If you protect your accounts, your privacy, and your devices as best you can, then your attack surface is minimised – a bit like a stealth bomberThese aircraft are designed to have a very small area visible to radar. If you can minimise that radar blip and look like a seagull nobody is going to pay much attention, but a massive plane is a different thing altogether.What more can universities and colleges do to help?In my view, the more that organisations can do automatically to protect end-users, the better.Let’s take the machines owned by universities and colleges: they should be covered by advanced versions of anti-virus and anti-malware and probably a web filtering service, which takes out some illegal material. If you don’t use web filtering you’re potentially leaving yourself open to reputational damage. Email content filtering will pick up some spam and a few of them will pick up phishing attempts too.If people are going to use your systems, they have to adhere to the rules, and ignorance is not an excuseSomething that adds a complication is that students are often using their own devices, which may not be as secure as those owned by the university or college. Many institutions will have deals with software providers for student to use on their own devices for discounted rates – and that’s a good idea.Institutions need to be advising students on appropriate protection methods and putting that in a code of use and their security policies. If people are going to use your systems, they have to adhere to the rules, and ignorance is not an excuse.Seven steps to staying safe online:Suss out suspicious apps: Why, for example, would a calculator app be asking to access your phone’s camera? It doesn’t need to, so it probably has an ulterior spying motive. Apply common sense.Avoid the phisherman’s hook: One of the recent scams that first-year students are subjected to is an email telling them they’ve won a bursary and all they need to do to get it is to hand over their bank account details. The rule is, if it seems too good to be true then it probably is.Take care what you click: If you receive an unsolicited email from someone you don’t know, or a strange email from someone you do know that contains a puzzling attachment or a link, it’s best avoided – it could be a virus, or a spoof website.Resist temptation: Students are often targeted to use as mules to launder money. It sounds great – hand over your bank details and you get £50 a week, no questions asked – but you’d be breaking the law by allowing someone to use your account for illicit purposes.Beef-up passwords: Use a separate password for your email account, which if breached, can often provide access to many of your other online accounts. A solid password is one that comprises a short phrase of at least three words, plus numbers and/or other characters. Avoid using obvious passwords such as children’s or pets’ names, which criminals may be able to guess after looking at your social media accounts – so be careful what you post. It’s best never to repeat password and, so you don’t have to remember them all, use an online password safe, which will store them all securely. The government's Cyber Aware campaign has further advice.Keep computers healthy: Install anti-virus software (a free package is better than nothing), back-up regularly, and update software when prompted to do as they often contain security patches.Preserve privacy: be very careful of communicating personal or sensitive information when using public computers, or a pubic wi-fi network, which are vulnerable to hackers. Your name and address maybe all that’s required to steal your identity, for example. Be similarly warey what you post on social media and check your accounts’ privacysettings to limit who can see what. Ideally, use a VPN (virtual private network) which uses data encryption to hide internet activity.Think you’re playing safe online? Take our short quiz to find out.To find out more about Jisc's work in cyber security, go along to Networkshop, 27-28 March,2018, in Birmingham.
  • Think virtual reality surgery is a thing of the future? Think again…
    I’m on a mission to merge the world of medicine, global education and immersive technology, and here’s why… Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be a surgeon? For many, working in medicine was a childhood dream. It was certainly one of mine, and now I’m a cancer surgeon at The Royal London and St Bartholomew’s Hospital.[#pullquote#]I never thought that I’d be the ‘most watched surgeon in human history’[#endpullquote#]I never thought though, that I’d be the ‘most watched surgeon in human history’, but hey, technology is full of surprises."Digital is on our side"An enormous amount of people worldwide don’t have access to safe, affordable surgery.  If the outlook is going to improve, we’re going to need a lot more medical professionals worldwide, and fast. Luckily though, digital is on our side.I’m the co-creator of Medical Realities, the world’s first VR interactive surgical training module. Our company mission is to solve big problems in surgical training using immersive technology. We use virtual reality to train surgeons, saving money, and scaling surgical education to make it accessible to everyone.Sounds pretty exciting right? That’s because it is, and you can even try the platform for free to gain an insight into the operating theatre for yourself.Livestreaming surgeryIn 2013, I got my hands on a shiny pair of Google Glass (much earlier than most), and used them to livestream the removal of a liver cancer from a surgeon's point of view to over 13,000 students from all over the world.[#pullquote#]The great thing about them being that students can ask questions live, and everyone gets a good sight of what’s happening[#endpullquote#]There have been many more livestreams since then; the great thing about them being that students can ask questions live, and everyone gets a good sight of what’s happening. Often in the traditional training operating theatre students end up craning their necks for hours, and bobbing around to try and get the best view.A future full of potentialThe VR module is only the start of the technology revolution for medical field though, there’s a lot more to come.Imagine a world where surgical students can actually perform computer simulations of operations that look and sound very, very real. There might even be gloves that give students real-time feedback so it truly feels like they’re making incisions, or holding a surgical implement.[#pullquote#]Imagine a world where surgical students can actually perform computer simulations of operations that look and sound very, very real[#endpullquote#]Training could become so much easier, and so much more accessible globally, all thanks to technology.Meet me at DigifestI’m happy to report that this year I’m a keynote speaker at Digifest, Jisc’s annual celebration of digital and technology being used to enhance and transform education – something that as you can tell, I’m enthusiastic about to say the least.I’m looking forward to hearing from other people on the ground about the latest ways that technology is being used to overcome challenges around the education sector, and trying out the latest edtech too.  See you there!