Champions Digifest

How 2024’s community champions are making a difference

Jisc’s 2024 champions share what motivates them and why community matters.

What inspires our newest cohort of community champions? They help the education and research sector share knowledge, become more inclusive, while removing feelings of isolation and supporting learners and teachers through their communities.

This year, champions are involved in creating practical tools for AI assessment, integrating cutting-edge technology into education, connecting a global community of researchers, improving open access, giving disabled students a voice and much more.

We asked the champions what motivates them and why their education and research communities are so important.

Inspiring innovation in education

Constance Henry, Gower College Swansea, who was nominated a community advocate, helping improve digital literacy via tools and knowledge sharing in the Digital Diamonds community says:

“I’m genuinely excited about technology-enhanced learning and the positive impact it has on not just our learners but also on boosting the confidence of others and igniting their enthusiasm for it. Knowing that people respond well to what I share and leave with a newfound drive to experiment with innovative approaches that can make things more interesting or efficient brings me great happiness.”

Innovation and collaboration go hand in hand, enabling people to explore the possibilities together. Carolyn Fearn, Sheffield Hallan University, helped shape and rebuild the Learning Analytics community adds:

“The prospect of collaborating with fellow professionals in higher education motivates me in driving innovation and positive change in the field of learning analytics. I believe that together the community can learn to leverage data not only to understand student behaviour and outcomes, but to shape strategies that foster a more inclusive and effective learning environment for all.”

Supporting digital skills

Ensuring learners and teachers are confident putting their digital skills to practical use is crucial. Being able to experiment in a safe environment helps learners and teachers adapt.

Phil Whitehead, DN Colleges group was nominated a community tech guru for his visionary work helping keep ahead of digital trends via the Teachblend YouTube channel. Phil explains:

“I often find many think using digital in classrooms and education is difficult. It can be so much more simple and this is what motivates me. Digital when I was a pupil had a profound impact. I struggled with an eye condition and my learning. I was lucky a teacher recognised the impact using digital tools could have and did have. I have built my entire career around giving that back to others.”

Paul Napleton, University of East Anglia who was nominated a community advocate for showcasing his expertise and commitment to adapting to new technology via EMEA Salesforce user group meetings, he adds:

“Community is one of the most unique aspects of working within higher education. We all gain, especially future and current students, when we can share what good looks like. Sometimes that will be via trailblazers in the digital space – redefining the art of the possible for all of our constituents. That’s what motivates me to adopt a growth mindset: finding new ways to do things and be an advocate to others, helping them succeed too.”


Collaborating and encouraging diverse perspectives

Dr Isobel Bowditch, University College London was nominated a community pioneer for developing AI assessment resources as part of the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence community and mentions how important it is to share:


“Generally in higher education we are all grappling with similar issues, albeit in different contexts. Cross sector/cross institutional collaboration is enriching, helps us not duplicate effort, provides a support network and achieves so much more than we can do on our own. In addition the idea of community emphasises the non-hierarchical nature of our shared enterprises so that everyone’s contribution counts (no matter their professional status within any given organisation).”


When there is duplication in any sector, community helps save time and highlights best practice for others to benefit. Carolyn Fearn also adds:


“The learning analytics community plays a crucial role fostering collaboration and knowledge-sharing among higher education professionals. By bringing together diverse perspectives, experiences, and expertise, the community enables the development of best practices and ethical standards in learning analytics, serving as a hub for continuous learning.”



Improving the student experience

Students are at the heart of everything we do. Finding ways to improve their experiences gives them the best chance of success. Kirsty Ingleson, Kirklees College, who was nominated a community pioneer, helping the AI collaboration group stay ahead of the curve explains:

“We are preparing young people for their digital future and it would be doing them a disservice if we do not build a curriculum and experience that prepares them for their next steps.”


Dr John Bustard, Ulster University was nominated a technology guru for his influence making technology part of the education ecosystem via the MarTech Laboratory, he highlights how innovation and collaboration contribute to improving students potential:


“In our case it’s a collaborative learning environment where students often lead and specialists support. This enables practical, hands-on experience (in our case by engaging with start-ups, social enterprises, and sustainability-focused projects), thereby bridging the gap between theory and real-world application. It’s a space for micro innovation, networking, and skill development, all crucial for students’ professional growth and societal potential.”


Removing barriers for the disabled

Giving disabled students a voice and involving them in the development of tools helps them communicate their needs.

Piers Wilkinson, Diversity and Ability was nominated a community pioneer joining the dots between policy and practice in the Assistive Technology community by helping develop the AXS Passport. Piers highlights that:

“As a disabled person, part of my motivation is to see a sector improve and change so other disabled people don’t encounter barriers that I did. Additionally, I enjoy encountering learning from others unique experiences, whether they are sector leading specialist or entirely new. Joining others together to share good practice and tips is an absolute joy when you see the enthusiasm for change and inclusive practice alight.”


Community is full circle

Reciprocity is another vital characteristic nurtured in education and research communities.

Puiyin Wong, Lancaster University, was nominated a community unsung hero helping mentor colleagues and connecting a global community of researched for the #TELresearchers & #HEresearchers series. Puiyin explains:

“It’s about paying it forward and sharing good practice. Rarely in life we can achieve our goals going solo; without the support of my peers, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve as many goals as I have. Organising the #TELresearchers & #HEresearchersv series is no difference, because doing research can be hard, confusing and lonely, especially if you are doctoral students or early career researchers. I think as individuals, we cannot possibly know everything. However, as a community, we can probably cover a lot of grounds.”

By advocating to improve education and research, these communities are uniting people, making them stronger, more adaptable, and knowledgeable. Each of our champions has an incredible passion and drive to improve the lives of their peers, students and wider institutions. Their commitment is nothing short of spectacular.

The new cohort of Jisc community champions will be at Digifest in the new community hub area in Hall 3, to network and show how their communities have made a difference in the education and research sectors.

Further information

A full list of champions, finalists, and nominees for 2024

For anyone running a community, see the support on offer and how to get in touch

Join a community group or find out more about how to get involved

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