Just like Elsa being called by unseen voices into an adventure as yet undefined (for those that don’t know, this is a reference to Frozen 2 and Elsa’s new and improved version of Let it go), Digifest 2020 or #digifest20, if you want to track it on social media, opens its doors and I step into the unknown, exciting event hosted by Jisc. Digifest is new to me, but to those that have been before it offers innovation, inspiration and opportunity. 

This two day conference that Jisc organise every year at the Birmingham ICC is a window into the latest ideas that help create and shape fantastic innovations in learning and teaching. 

The conference opened with, what would turn out to be, a controversial keynote from Jonah Stillman (@jonah.stillman on instagram), firstly outlining how the generations were categorised and then with a look into Gen Z and their approach to learning. It was an interesting insight into how Gen Z are not like the Millenials (who started in 1980!) and are being told they are winners and losers, it’s not about the taking part anymore, it’s about the winning. This, he argues, will be a potential hurdle through their learning and into the world of work as they are not able to collaborate (while admitting this was a wide generalisation). 

For me the biggest take away was that you can’t wow Gen Z with technology. They quickly investigate and analyse a tool and quickly decide if it is useful or redundant. Where the older generations would see themselves as technology inept and the problem is with them, the Gen Z learner sees it as a problem with the product and that it either works for them or doesn’t. 

We are all at that point where we have technology or using technology in some way as part of our lives, but for Gen Z there is the expectation it is there. It should be integrated and seamless to their experiences. Jonah Stillman expanded on this with the concept of Weconomists. The simplest example of this is Uber, but it is the shared economy. If you need something there will be someone available that can offer that service. How that fits educationally is going to be the next big sticking point. At worst we have the idea of buying essays, but how can we turn this into a positive? How can the shared economy of learning be expanded? 

For me it fits into the idea that was presented by Rachel Hall (@rachela_hall on Twitter) at the next panel “Changing the world of work in the digital age” and how The Guardian has focused their future on the digital output of their journalists. They have looked at how people access the news depending on the time of the day. Headlines in the morning, just short sharp bite sized pieces of information that people can choose to discover on their commute to work. At lunch a more in depth article that expands on their day while they have a larger chunk of time to be critical of the stories that hold the most interest to them. By the evening they are looking at more lighthearted content that relates to their social experiences and lifestyle. This for me presents one potential solution to the shared economy, where students can share their stories and knowledge. They each process that information differently but if they can help interpret that to their fellow learners they will adapt the material and help reframe learning in a way that makes it accessible to everyone. 

Just from the two opening sessions of this year’s Digifest, I feel inspired to think about my own practice and how as an educator I am trying to predict what is going to be useful for students in their learning. I am now more aware than ever that I am using technology in such a different way to that of the students at the university. The change we are seeing should not be seen as a problem. It should be seen as an opportunity, while we are taking a step into the unknown (just like Elsa!). We can take the challenge and channel our current students desire to learn and look at how we facilitate that desire in a way that may not be comfortable to us. 

Stay tuned for Part 2, when I will focus on academics who are facing this challenge of a student body that potentially knows more than they do in terms of technology!

All the notes taken at #digifest20 can be found on Twitter @TelPortsmouth