6 May 2015

'Talking Student Engagement' Interview with Celeste McLaughlin, Jisc

In this interview we talk to Celeste McLaughlin from Jisc, an organisation which champions the use of digital technology in education. Celeste has worked with the organisation since 2005 in a variety of roles, currently as Subject Specialist for Teaching, Learning and Assessment. She has an interest in staff development, open education, social media and much more.

1.  First of all, can you tell us a bit about Jisc’s role in sharing best practice in e-learning and assessment across the sector? What role do students play in this?

Jisc is the UK’s expert body for digital technology and digital resources in higher education, further education and research. Jisc has played a pivotal role in the adoption of information technology in universities and colleges and supports them to improve learning and teaching, and the student experience.

An example of how Jisc shares best practice in e-learning includes the work it is currently doing via the Digital Student project looking at learner expectations and experiences of digital technology. Jisc is also working in sharing best practice and advice on aspects of digital literacy and has developed a short guide on Developing students’ digital literacy that highlights different elements of digital literacies including media literacy, digital scholarship, and career and identity management.

2.  What are the main challenges for you in engaging students in commenting on and shaping digital technology in universities and colleges?

Encouraging students to become involved and letting us know about their experiences and support requirements in the use of digital technology is a challenge and also an important aspect of our work. Technology is now a part of life and using it effectively while at university or college will help engage students with their studies and help them develop employability skills.

Jisc encourages students to get involved in a variety of ways, such as the Change Agents Network which is a network of staff and students developed and funded by Jisc to support curriculum enhancement and innovation. Jisc also runs a student competition each summer, the Summer of Student Innovation and successful entrants are awarded a grant and support from Jisc to develop their education technology ideas. The competition aims to improve students’ creativity, research, entrepreneurial and project management skills.

3.  How do you – and how can the sector as a whole – work with the diversity of technological competences in the student population? You say technology is a part of life, but is there a danger that we assume all students are “digital natives”?

Students have a range of abilities so it would be wrong to assume that they are “digital natives”. It’s important that we recognise that students have different support needs when using technology and that there are challenges in ensuring appropriate support is in place. Universities and colleges need to work at a strategic level to ensure the correct infrastructure is in place to support students and the Enhancing the student digital experience guide gives advice to help support the sector to develop a digital environment that meets students’ expectations and helps them prepare for further study and employment.

I think it’s important to motivate and reward students for working towards new skills and Open Badges have a lot of potential in recognising students’ skills and abilities. Open Badges are digital rewards that capture achievements and allow people to showcase their abilities. They can engage students while working towards technological (and many other) competencies to show evidence of employability skills. This post on the Jisc blog gives an overview of Open Badges and their potential.

4.  You mentioned Jisc’s Digital Student project, whereby you are finding out what students in further education want and need from digital technology. Can you tell us more about what you have been learning from students from this process, and what are the implications for the sector?

Phase 1 of the Jisc Digital Student project reviewed students’ expectations and experiences of the digital environment at university, and phase 2 of the project, the FE consultation, is currently taking place. The findings indicate that student expectations are implicit and they punish failure but may not recognise success, their experiences are highly variable. The executive summary report, Students’ expectations and experiences of the digital environment gives a good overview of the HE phase of the project.

The HE consultation identified a number of challenges for institutions in supporting and enhancing students’ digital experience. The project outputs include a number of ‘Digital Student’ cards that are designed to support conversations around students’ digital experiences. The cards explore a number of questions such as ‘How do we engage students in developing the digital environment?’ with suggested input such as involving students in user groups for relevant systems. This ensures course reps have a good understanding of digital technologies in learning and can have input to the planning of content and teaching methods. The outcome, resources and reports from the project are available from the Jisc Digital Student site.

5.  Open Educational Resources (OER), where institutions basically give their materials away for free, have become a big thing, especially in the USA. What are the opportunities for it in universities and colleges here?

Open Educational Resources have many potential benefits for universities and colleges. Students can benefit from OER by enabling them to gain access to higher quality teaching resources, give them more choice in where to access the resources, and provide an opportunity to evaluate potential courses by participating in free online courses, often referred to as MOOCs. In the UK, Jisc has worked with partners in over 80 UKOER projects and many of the teaching and learning resources created are available online in Jorum, a service that shares OER resources created by UK universities and colleges.

There are a number of challenges that impact upon the use of OER, including providing support and guidance for students to use these resources effectively. Teaching staff also face barriers, including having the time to find and evaluate resources.

There has been a big focus on OER in the UK and globally, and in Scotland work has taken place collaboratively to produce the Scottish Open Education Declaration, this work is led by Open Scotland in an effort to encourage and promote the use of OER and Open Education in Scotland.


Thanks to Celeste for being an interviewee. To suggest a future subject for interview, please contact us.

This interview is part of a series of occasional interviews on our website with student engagement practitioners – both staff and students, and from within Scotland’s university and college sector and beyond. The interviews aim to capture the different perspectives that people have on student engagement in the quality of learning.

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