Jisc’s annual conference, Digifest is a splendid celebration of innovation in teaching, learning and research. I was there hosting a group of community champions, people who actively share learning outside of their institutions. The champions facilitate communities of practice, they share their knowledge and experience with peers, or they support projects that bring together multiple institutions. What connects them, is clear passion to enrich lives.
What struck me this year, was how stories of our communities impact flowed through the event. It highlighted the strong foundations the sector is built on.
Enabling innovation in research
The new research track started with a focus on how community supports innovation. We heard stories of community enabling participants to save time and resources, originate new ideas, and providing a platform for marginalised groups. Hearing real stories from our community champions brought this to life.
Jo Fletcher-Saxon (Assistant Principal, Ashton Sixth Form College) talked about creating a HE and FE “dating service” which is giving FE practice-based research a sharing platform. Niamh Tumelty (Head of Open Research Services at University of Cambridge) shared how her membership of the Digital Research Community allowed her to increase the speed of change by working with peers from other institutions to replicate their work and learn from their experiences. This was echoed by Chris Banks (Director of Library Services, Imperial College London) who mentioned the increase buy-in from colleagues when they can be reassured by what others in the sector have done.
My favourite comment from the session was Niamh, saying that as someone who has benefited from community it’s “common decency” to share and “pay it forward”.
Community needs championing
We also featured the champions on the new DigifestTV, broadcast live. Hearing them talk about their work and the experience of being recognised was humbling and inspiring. The champions were all keen to acknowledge it’s the whole community working together that creates real value. Whilst I know that is true, without the energy that the champions give it wouldn’t happen.
For me, this need for a champion was again highlighted by the amazing keynote from Dr. Sue Black (Durham Uni), “if I can do it, so can you”. Sue’s talk was full of the power of community, both in the work she did to save Bletchley Park and how she continues to raise up women in tech.
Sue is a model for community champions, showing that community action needs someone passionate to drive it. A little ‘star’ power also helps – for Bletchley Park this came from Stephen Fry.
Generating open resources
Producing pragmatic outputs for the wider community is important. Through this academic year we have been experimenting with co-creating content with community. A pilot that has just launched its initial outputs of learning and teaching materials is from historical texts. Sharing the project at Digifest was Dr. Bonnie Latimer (Associate Dean for Education & Student Experience, University of Plymouth) and Stephen Brooks (Jisc). I already knew a bit about this project, and it was exciting to hear the audience’s reaction to the concept – overwhelmingly positive – the next step will be increasing the number of contributors. The audience rightly wanted to know how impact and engagement will be, which Stephen was ready to answer. Again, highlighting that contributors want community to have impact.
How to help
Whilst I am very interested in what makes community tick, those who are driving communities are most interest in the issues. What motivates them is making a difference to their learners, peers and society – the mechanisms of community are a means to that end. We need to keep coming back to the impact, and evidencing and sharing benefits of working collectively. By testing and sharing the ideas that work and building more connection, I hope to encourage and support community champions make the difference.