Digifest 2020: Bears, Holograms and Gen Z

This year’s Digifest transformed the Birmingham ICC into a futuristic looking Blade runner set with Holograms and VR at every corner. I’m not sure we are quite there yet at the RAU but it was still interesting to see. I was there as a community champion but still had time to browse the programme. The opening video was amazing.

AI Hologram presenter

Hearing from Gen Z

Two of this year’s plenaries were delivered by representatives from the Gen Z generation.

Jonah Stillman (co-author of Gen Z Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace) shared some thoughts on the differences between Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2012) and Millenials (born between 1980 and 1994). While the talk didn’t go down too well with the audience (Generational talks rarely do, too much generalisation) I found many of Jonah’s observations rang true. Gen Z are realistic, driven, and exist in a state of survival mode (given the state of our environment and economy). They are also the first generation to grow up with digital, making it nearly impossible to dazzle them with technology. Some have begun to refer to them as the ‘phigital’ generation because they don’t differentiate between the physical and digital worlds and are comfortable in both. These traits have significant implications for how we deliver learning and teaching and the boomers in the audience should listen up!

Jonah Stillman presents

Jonah Stillman presents

In her talk entitled ‘The hidden filter’ Hayley Mulenda shared the inspiring story of her struggle with mental health issues: “I found my degree but I lost myself“. Hayley spoke honestly about her, and her friends’ difficulties in navigating the modern world and student life. Her advice was that we be aware of other peoples hidden filters and don’t aim for perfection, aim for progression. She also appealed to educators to be honest and open with their students: “We don’t need more role models we need more real models“. As institutions we need to be directing people to professional help and support and the sector needs to explore how we can ensure early intervention and engage parents and guardians (when possible).

Here’s one I made earlier

I’m always looking out for ideas I can take back to the RAU. This year my favourites were:

  • Catriona Matthews and the team at the University Warwick have been experimenting with delivering academic skills (those important skills you need students to learn that don’t relate directly to their discipline) in innovative ways. They’ve begun to refer to an ongoing induction and have found 20 minute lecture interventions to work really well, especially when the interventions are practical and contextualised. Also the students attend the session because it is tagged on to a core lecture.
  • Worcestershire council shared their SCULPT framework to help staff create accessible resources. An incredibly useful resource and I’ve already linked to it from our VLE.
  • In his talk on Climate Control on the journey to zero waste Jamie E. Smith, executive chairman, C-Learning talked about how we should making sure the right procurement (and other) policies are in place to make sure we make the best environmental choices in our organisations. Jamie’s suggestions included a move to cloud technology, recruitment processes that included assessment of digital skills, strategic workforce development and flexible working. I enjoyed his story on how he removed all the printers from a previous place of employment! Sometimes radical is the only way!
  • The main coffee break conversation topic was (unsurprisingly) Coronavirus. We compared business continuity plans and shared tales of internal Covid-19 committees. The Microsoft stand was busy with people asking how they could rollout Teams in under a week. The Teams webinar series and the Enable Remote Learning Community could prove useful.
  • The AbilityNet session on accessibility came up with some useful tools including Call Scotlandmy computer my way and my study my way. I also love the idea of microkindness (the opposite of microaggression), it’s really just another name for inclusive design
The accessibility panel

The accessibility panel

The closing plenary on day one was delivered by Lindsay Herbert, Author of Digital Transformation. Lindsay introduced us to the idea of the bear in the room – those problem that drain all your time and will rip your organisation apart. This is contrast to the elephant in the room which of course people chose to ignore. You need to get to the heart of these problems and progress and the rub is that you can’t adapt to major change without technology.

Lindsay presents

Lindsay Herbert presents

Lindsay’s key thoughts and examples were:

  • Real transformation starts with a problem worth solving (that aligns to a mission)
    • Danish oil and natural gas applied their experience to wind energy after asking themselves what was their core mission? Selling oil or providing energy for Denmark?
    • Rijksmuseum decided to go down the no tech in galleries route, but images of all their collections are released as highres on their website, copyright free.
  • Real transformation needs lots of people from lots of sources – it will be too big to solve alone
    • Netflix’s mission is entertaining the world, hence original content. They work with independents, they don’t decide on next big thing by analysing past behaviour, they need expertise from a lot of sources.
    • The Guardian don’t put their content behind a paywall, online is their priority and they have a two tier sponsorship model
    • The United nations refugee agency website wouldn’t display on a mobile phone despite most of their clients using a mobile.
  • Real transformation is learned and earned and not purchased – We tend to outsource when there could be a better way.
    • Ecolab made water purification systems but ended up merging the company rather contracting out work.
    • Harvard had a new tool but university policy dictated a minimum of 5 years experience and it might have been easier to hire freelancers. Instead they c changed the hiring policy.

There was a lot of valuable stuff in Lindsay’s talk and I’ve actually ordered her book. My plan is to get the highlighter out, mark it up and leave it on random senior leaders’ desks! She left us inspired by encouraging us to build wide support for the change want:  “You might not have the seniority to go right up the ladder, but you definitely have the influence to go right across.”

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