Today’s blog has been written by Prof Debbie Holley, reporting on a Digifest event that took place recently (November 2021).
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 https://www.jisc.ac.uk/events/digifest-08-mar-2021/tickets
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.
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