In Conversation with Jess: a Digifest 2021 panel

Today’s blog has been written by Prof Debbie Holley, reporting on a Digifest event that took place recently (November 2021).

Picture of Zoom meeting, showing the panel members at the Digifest event - three women and a man
Panel: Jess Moore, Senior Media and Content Editor, Jisc) (host) top left; Debbie Holley, Professor of Learning Innovation, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bournemouth University (top right); Cameron Mirza Chief of Party for USAID Pre-Service Teacher Education in Jordan) (bottom left); and Dr Sarah Jones, Deputy Dean in the faculty of Computing, Engineering and Media, De Montfort University

Digifest 2021 theme of ‘culture and resilience’.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Resources information:

Education Report:

University of the Future Bringing Education 4.0 to life

The future of college

NUS Student Covid-19 Survey

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


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

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


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

The best way of promoting health in HE?

The Student Minds Mental Health Charter

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

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

International resources from IREX

Online guide for facilitators

Guide to organizational performance improvement

Call for Papers for Diversity and Inclusivity in Enterprise Education (EVOLVE) Conference Deadline: November 29

NTF Samia Kamal at Oxford Brookes University is organising an online conference on this topic welcoming all contributions under the themes: ● Enterprise and entrepreneurship effectiveness: development of a better mindset. ● Democratising enterprise and entrepreneurship education ● Challenges and opportunities of inclusive enterprise and entrepreneurship education. ● Inclusive curriculum design for enterprise and entrepreneurship education in HE.

Submission via a Google Docs forms–shEllE8JDfFDnPhV16rR5sIcFsEGgeXiG-Pqvgjdw/viewform

Full details in the Events folder of the Blog

Report on the “A conversation with successful NTFs” webinar

This blog has been contributed by Prof Debbie Holley, Events Officer on the ANTF Committee, who has organised our roadshow events for aspiring NTF and CATE winners this year. Here she reports from this webinar, in November 2020.

Image shows a Zoom meeting, featuring five female and two male presenters from the webinar event
The ‘rogues gallery’ from the webinar! The event was facilitated by Debbie Holley (centre top). Guest presenters were Professor Sally Brown (bottom right; @ProfSallyBrown), Dr Steve Briggs (bottom left; @drstevebriggs), and Beatriz Acevedo, (bottom centre; @beatrizacevedoX) . Support from Advance HE came from Leonie (top left), Dan Amin (top right), and Karen Hustler (centre). Thanks to everyone!

The Association for National Teaching Fellows (ANTF) and AdvanceHE collaborated to run this national webinar for aspiring National Teaching Fellows. Fully booked with 65 participants and a waiting list, this session offered a brief re-cap of the scheme and highlighted updates; the AdvanceHE pages have the forms, links to great videos and lots more.

This time we concentrated on what the evidence can be for the three main criterion; and explored this through the lens of our three panel guests.

A) individual excellence

B) raising the profile of excellence

C) developing excellence

Dr Steve Briggs shared his journey as a Professional Services member of staff at the University of Bedford, and showcased how he set about identifying an issue in the sector, where learning developers are seen as ‘betwixt and between’ and not ‘fitting in’ terms of recognition and reward in terms of University staff recognition pathways.  He set about challenging and changing this, through working with the Association for Learning Developer in HE (ALDinHE) by leading change and developing their own national framework for the Certified Practitioner (CeP) and Certified Leading Practitioner (CeLP) awards.

Dr Beatrix Acevedo, Creative Oracle and lecturer in sustainability at Anglia Ruskin University, based in their Business School challenged all of our preconceptions with her journey of seeking more creative ways to communicate her teaching passion! Her main message was to create an individual authentic and personal narrative that reflects across the three areas of ‘excellence’.

And Professor Sally Brown, one of the award co-founders added, in her own wonderful style:

‘shy bairns get nowt’ analogy – for non-Geordies,  this means if you don’t write about it, we don’t know you have done it! Key message is to step up, explain what you have done, the impact of this for yourself, for others and say why it matters..

Sally has some excellent resources, including a very detailed powerpoint about what counts as evidence on her blog. We concluded by encouraging participants to think about mentors, teams and collaborations as their way forward.

The full recording is available here (passcode v&&fZw8B)

Thanks as ever to the AdvanceHE team, Leonie, Dan Amin and Karen Hustler

Debbie Holley, on behalf of the Association for National Teaching Fellows (ANTF)


Webinar three: 3rd December 2020 “Institutional/Individual perspectives”

This webinar will briefly re-cap the previous two sessions, and the panel will include a representative from those tasked with staff development in our institutions, to offer the institutional viewpoint about the scheme, as well as NTFs happy to share their experiences. We will record and blog.

3rd December 2020 1-2pm (currently full with a waiting list in operation)