Supporting Independent Specialist Colleges

I was lucky enough to be invited to an event recently focusing on UK Independent Specialist Colleges (ISCs). I haven’t worked with any ISCs in the past and so I saw this as a real opportunity to learn more about them and their use of technology. Listening to a number of the talks and talking to individuals during the breaks I got a sense that the issues weren’t that much different to FE/HE, discussed in greater detail below.

Joined-Up Systems

There is a major issue with regard to joined up systems. I recently wrote about this in a report I did for another college. Unfortunately there is no easy answer and it’s been something the sector has been dealing with for many years, well before I started with infoNet 10 years ago. HE and some FE institutions have been investigating Enterprise Architecture (EA) as a strategic tool. It can provide an organisational view of business processes, applications and technology. In some cases it can include data but it’s typically complex enough. Most projects are investigating EA as part of a complex project they might be running e.g. those involved with Jisc’s Course Data programme. I’d thoroughly recommend @gillferrell and @hanettehillock’s paper which covers the topic very eloquently.

Discussions around Enterprise Architecture (EA) also focus on how we get systems to talk more effectively with one another, if at all. The answer, although again something very difficult to achieve is a Service Oriented Approach (SOA). One of the difficulties with this is working with suppliers to ensure they develop systems and services that work in this way.

Business Intelligence – decision-making

One of the shorter sessions focused on “data management” although I’d argue it was more about Business Intelligence which is a real hot topic at the moment. Indeed Maria alluded to the idea of having a dashboard in her talk. Business Intelligence is all about bringing together lots of disparate data sets to provide meaningful information to Senior Managers, often in the shape of a dashboard. Rather than reinvent the wheel I’d recommend taking a look at Jisc’s guidance in this area which provides a maturity model, guidance, case studies and a gallery of data visualisations. Also worth mentioning a talk I heard from University of Liverpool. Many people think the main issue is one of data cleansing, they found the work and effort actually went into defining data definitions.

Continuing Professional Development

There seems to be a real issue associated with Continuing Professional Development (CPD). People just don’t seem to be able to keep up. Whether it’s e-safety, policies and procedures, the newest gadgets or whatever. I don’t really have an answer to this but I am wondering, where relevant, if we could carry out a training needs analysis at a regional level. The RSCs could then liaise with relevant parts of Jisc to deliver that training. Capacity will be an issue but online delivery mechanisms might help to get around this. I’m aware Jisc Netskills are developing a Jisc Online Training platform which will provide a catalogue of Jisc’s offer, and associated learning objectives. I’m also wondering whether or not badges have a role to play here.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

I’m not going to bother putting my own spin on this. Jisc Legal provide a range of advice around BYOD. It might be worth reviewing some of their material and investigating how the colleges might take it forward.

Moving to the Cloud

There was an interesting discussion around cloud based provision. It was off the back of a presentation from one college that has recently moved to Google Apps for Education. Interestingly Janet are working with Google to resolve issues around data protection. For an annual fee of £500 they will ensure contracts are updated and help to ensure data is stored in the EU in the long-term. This service is already available for Microsoft 365. Janet were present at the event and recommended anyone moving everything into the cloud should ensure they have two lines ensuring they have some form of resilience if the main Janet connection went down.

Living on the edge

It was a very interesting day. I was very taken by Maria Chambers, Beaumont College’s Principal, who mentioned that she encourages staff to “live on the edge” which she believes gives them a real competitive advantage allowing them to flourish. She has also adopted a distributed leadership team which links to something I’ve recently been banging on about with regards to Leadership Everywhere.

Another comment I found very interesting from the day, in relation to blocking access to certain sites, came from Dawn Green, Principal at Landmarks College.

We don’t stop our learners from crossing the road because it’s dangerous, why block websites.

The idea here being that it’s not a case of closing things down. That’s not the answer, it is about encouraging everyone to think about the consequences of their behaviour online and taking more responsibility for their actions.


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