In Conversation: a Digifest 2021 panel

Today’s blog has been written by Prof Debbie Holley, a member of the steering group of Jisc’s Digifest event, which is taking place 8-11 March 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

UniMaker: Academic Makerspace Conference at the University of Sheffield

Conference information provided by Pete Mylon, @iForgerPete on Twitter

Building a Community of Makers

UNIMAKER is a conference for anyone working or studying in and around HE who loves making, creating, designing, inventing, building and exploring using a range of different tools and materials. Last year, this exciting forum attracted delegates from over 20 higher education (HE) institutions from across the UK with a diverse and dynamic programme. Why not take a look at our highlights here.

We are aware that many makers have been playing a key role in responding to the crisis, as well as coming up with innovative ways for students to engage with Making in the context of the current restrictions. We would like to capture these stories and be able to share them with one another, and continue to build this wonderful community. We hope to do this through a mixture of live online sessions and pre-prepared material. We are aware of how busy universities have been over this period and hope this will allow you some flexibility to engage with the content around your other commitments.

The live sessions will run September 7th and 8th 2020 as originally intended and are free to join in- save the dates!

There will be no formal review process for contributions, so feel free to share with us what you have been doing or thinking in as much or as little detail as you like and in whatever format seems most appropriate – papers, short reports/blogs, pictures, videos or something else… if it involves Making we want to hear about it! 

This invitation is open to anyone, from academic staff, students and alumni to technical and professional services staff, whether you are running an established makerspace or just starting out on your making journey.
Please send your contributions in or email us to talk about your ideas at
As we collect these contributions, we will then endeavour to create a programme for the live sessions and a platform to share asynchronous content. Areas we’d love to hear from you about include (but are not limited to):

The response of Makers to Covid-19
Maker initiatives for PPE, medical devices, social distancing solutions and coping with lockdown; How Making can assist with global economic recovery; The #pivotonline – how Making in HE is changing as a result of online working; How student-led and co-curricular activities have adapted

Starting and Running Makerspaces
Access and supervision models; Student leadership and ownership; Funding and industry engagement; Technology for enabling student autonomy; Training and Health & Safety

The Impact of Making
Making for mental health and wellbeing; STEM and community outreach; widening participation; Influencing University culture; Sustainability; Knowledge exchange and industry collaboration

Supporting and Developing Students and Staff
Employability and enterprise skills; Developing staff from supervisors to mentors; Entrepreneurship and supporting start-ups

Building a Community of Makers
Initiatives to sustain community and facilitate making during lockdown; Creating a welcoming and inclusive space; Sharing good practice; Regional engagement and collaboration; Working across disciplines

If you can let us know as soon as possible if you would like to contribute something (it doesn’t have to be fully formed yet!) it would be really helpful for structuring the event.

All the best,

The UNIMAKER 2020 Team