May 09, 2019

Hit the road to accelerate digital transformation in education

Teaching & Learning 4 min read last updated on: Mar 20, 2020

Hit the road to accelerate change in education 

At Barco we are firm believers in the value of digital transformation in education, but how can we accelerate change? We asked Duncan Peberdy of Jisc this and five other questions.

How do you accelerate digital transformation in education? 

Hit the road! Duncan organizes roadshows of the latest educational technology and specialist furniture for universities in the UK. Leaving the equipment in situ for a month, staff and students get first hand experience of new ways of teaching and learning, working out for themselves how they can change the way they work. A spokesperson from one university said “bringing the senior leadership together to experience the roadshow in the same location for a single meeting has probably driven our project forward by 2-3 years”. 

How did this come about?

Three years ago, Duncan realized that digital transformation in education was progressing more slowly than it should and one of the reasons why was that the stakeholders involved were not aligned. Estates experts were coming back from estates exhibitions with great ideas, technical experts were returning from tech conferences excited about new tools, but all these ideas were not connected. 

Duncan came up with a way to “cut through the noise” so everyone could move forward together. He proposed exposing all the different stakeholders to new digital learning spaces at the same time on their campus and away from any salespeople. He approached Jisc and the “Digital Classroom Roadshow” was born. 

Duncan has organized over 20 roadshows in universities right across the UK. In each roadshow, the university provides an empty room and Jisc delivers the rest. Tables, chairs, technology, advice and guidance are all provided for a month. The university decides how to use the space, typically arranging workshops with teachers and students and inviting visitors from other local universities and colleges. 

What has been key to your success? 

Involving everyone. The number of stakeholders with an interest can be surprising, e.g. timetabling should be involved as digital learning spaces have to be timetabled differently to traditional lecture spaces. Having a learning space on campus makes engaging everyone much easier. 

Leaving the universities to make their own decisions. Building learning spaces that are right for each faculty is essential and leaving universities to decide what works best has proved to be the best policy. Even Duncan is only on site for a few days. 

Choosing the right technology. Technology that delivers a great digital learning experience, yet simple enough to become part of the everyday culture of a university. If it is not simple, then it will usually be too difficult to implement or use. 

Chemistry students engaged in active learning – Sticky Campus Roadshow April 2018 

What have you learned along the way? 

Digital learning spaces are great for collaboration, but are not right for everyone, everywhere. There are scenarios where a traditional lecture space might work better. Explaining mathematical concepts, for instance, may be easier in a lecture room. 

Teachers need to adapt their approach and course materials to make the most of their new learning spaces. Having a setting for people to gather has additional benefits. Duncan encourages universities to arrange a meeting of their Senior Leadership Team in the learning space while it’s on campus. Having the Vice-Chancellor, the Bursar and others in the learning space can dramatically shorten the decision-making process. 

What advice would you give others? 

We asked Duncan for tips on introducing digital learning spaces, here are his top five: 

1. Focus on student outcomes and the space they need to achieve them. 

2. Don’t overload a learning space with technology – expensive equipment needs extra security; more modest investment will mean that learning spaces can be left open for students to use outside normal hours 

3. Involve all the stakeholders and make sure no-one is marginalized – including faculty members, IT, estates, timetabling and of course students 

4. Make sure the technology is simple enough to use – in our homelives we only use technology we can use easily and disregard the rest; it shouldn’t be any different in education 

5. Make good use of your AV experts (in the past lecture rooms might have been designed around the screen at the front, but connecting students so they can share within and across groups in a digital learning space needs careful design and collaboration with teachers) 

What will the future hold?

Creating digital learning spaces in our universities is a huge step forward, particularly for encouraging collaboration and active learning. In the next few years we will see many more projects devoted to establishing these spaces. 

There is even more opportunity though, to engage remote students more effectively. Duncan is excited about tools, such as Barco’s virtual classroom. He feels that the “ability to engage meaningfully over distance and be an active and full part of a class” is a game-changer and far superior to “logging on alone and watching videos at a time that suits you”.

Many find remote learning a lonely experience and will relish the social and educational benefits of working with a class in the virtual classroom. Fixed class start times may also provide the discipline some students need. 

A quick word about Jisc 

Jisc is a membership-based organization, who provide UK universities and colleges with shared digital infrastructure and services, such as the superfast Janet Network. They also provide expert advice on digital technology for education and research. 

Providing the opportunity for universities and colleges to experience digital learning spaces is a natural fit for Jisc and is closely aligned with its commitment to the advancement of education through the appropriate application of technology.

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