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Annual JISC Conference explores innovation

Sarah Holyfield
Last modified 21 Apr, 2008
Published 21 Apr, 2008
Over 700 delegates from all over the UK and further afield, attended the annual JISC Conference in Birmingham on 15th April.

People came from right across the post-16 education world, and from many different organisational roles and positions ranging from practititoners, technical developers and researchers through to senior managers, members of government agencies and the Funding Councils. The wide ranging aspects of work funded by JISC were represented through stands and presentations, and there were many opportunities for networking.


The theme of the conference was ‘Enabling Innovation’, and the conference was covered online by streaming the keynotes, recording all the sessions for later podcasts, providing a conference social networking site and capturing blog posts. The conference website has a rich source of all the conference sessions and materials for those who could not attend.

The themes that came through very strongly in the first keynotes from Sir Ron Cooke, the Chair of JISC , and Lord David Puttnam, Chancellor of the Open University, were the ongoing and rapidly accelerating rate of change that was taking place, both in terms of technological developments, but also socially in relation to the changing patterns of work and expectations that students bring to their experience of education. Sir Ron Cooke described these as ‘constant bedfellows’ for JISC. Some of the changes taking place are also difficult to predict, and require us to be able to respond with innovation and creativity. Lord Puttnam discussed how we in the UK are very strong in our innovation skills, but less good at exploring the relationship between infrastructure and innovation. He described how passionate he was about the core role education must play in our future and our ability to sustain ourselves on this planet, and the role technology can play in helping us to do this.

Sir Ron Cooke described how the question of how we work in this new world of ‘unprecedented increases in user-generated content’ was a problem we need to address, and studies are showing that people are not necessarily developing the skills they need to study and work most effectively with this ‘superfluity of information’. Further problems include portability, sustainability and green computing, along with a variety of political imperatives.

Lord Puttnam described how ‘we have barely begun to explore what’s possible’, and that we need to nurture ambition and creativity, and encourage new forms of engagement involving the changing roles of teachers and learners.

The afternoon keynote was given by Angela Beesley, the founder of Wikia, and the Chair of the Advisory Board of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organisation which operates Wikipedia and other wiki-based reference works. Angela explored the role of wikis, and the vision of ‘a world in which every person can freely share in the sum of all knowledge’. She talked about ‘Wikiversity’, and explored the question of trust and user-generated content, and how Wikia is addressing this problem, and the developments that are taking place.

Dr Malcolm Read, the Executive Secretary of JISC, closed the conference and outlined some of the priority areas and challenges for the coming year, which included a greater integration of advisory services, a focus on the area of repositories with the vision of an open layer of scholarly and academic resources which would linked up and searchable, and a spotlight on the issue of green computing.

There were a number of parallel sessions which addressed a wide range of topics including the launch of the ‘Tangible Benefits of eLearning’ publication by JISC Infonet, and sessions on Virtual Research Environments, the changing student experience and expectations of ICT, the emerging XCRI standard for course advertising and admissions, and the launch of a JISC campaign on ‘Libraries of the Future’. There were also many demos and stands representing many JISC Advisory services. The website provides a full list of these sessions and their associated presentations and videos.

Personally I found the day wide ranging, and inevitably with so much happening it was only possible to see a small proportion of the presentations and exhibitions, which is why the availability of the conference presentations is very welcome. Of course the opportunity for networking was also very welcome and fruitful, especially as JISC is such a widely distributed organisation. There are so many aspects of JISC's work which are quite awe inspiring, such as the National Grid Service which provides access to enormous computing power, and JANET, which provides 'one of the world's leading research and education networks'. Because of the size of JISC, it's not always easy to keep abreast of everything that's going on so it was great to be able to do a bit of exploring, catching up and of course letting people know about what we can offer.

The underpinning theme of the day was concerned with the fundamental importance of education to our future, and the significance of the role technology can play, and how, along with the emerging theme of green computing, this relates ultimately to the sustainability of our future.

Programme and videos, presentations podcasts etc


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