Summer 2019 challenge competitions open

Our summer 2019 challenge competitions are open now for submission of ideas and the closing date is the 20 May 2019. We are also using a new competition platform which re-introduces voting by staff and students in universities and colleges as part of the shortlisting process.

We have already run one challenge competition and two hackathons this year see so the next two challenges are numbered four and five. Challenge four is open to student and apprentices and invites ideas about the campus of the future. Challenge five is open to staff or students and invites ideas about how to stop cheating in assignments.

You can go straight to the compeition website and register now or read below to discover more about the challenges competition.

Challenge four: Student of the Future: Campus 2030

What will it be like to study at university or college in the future? Read about innovations around the campus of the future from the Networkshop conference in Share your vision of the campus of the future

We want you to know what you think it will be like to study ay University or College in 2030.  What is the one thing that you feel would improve your experience on your existing course? How might the technology you use today or that will be available in the next 10 years change the learning for the student of the future.  How might Education 4.0 change the design of courses in the future?

We have brought together some useful articles around education 4.0 under a page on Future Trends that looks at what education may look like in the future.

Paul Feldman the Chief Executive of Jisc suggests how technology will change the way we learn in the future in a recent blog post “The potential of Education 4.0 is huge – the UK must take the lead, now“.

Paul McKean (Head of further education and skills, Jisc) has provided a view of the college of the future through the eyes of a college principal. .

But what do you, as a student in higher or further education in the UK think? Submit your idea by the deadline, get support from peers to stand a chance of winning a prize.

Challenge five: How to stop cheating

We all agree that that getting someone else to write your essay or coursework is cheating and not fair on other students who work hard and don’t cheat. Recently this issue has attracted a lot of attention and over the past few years there has been many articles in the press relating to the increase in students using essay mills to cheat in assignments. Essay mills: ‘One in seven’ paying for university essays and essay mill firm targets new students through WhatsApp.

In September 2018 Universities leaders asked for a ban on essay writing companies and more recently PayPal urged to block essay firm cheats.

One of the major suppliers of detection software Turnitin have released a new product to help detect “contract checking” which they define as the practice of using an third party to complete an assignment see Turnitin Authorship Investigate Supporting Academic Integrity is Released to Higher Education Market

The Quality Assurance Agency for UK HE have asked for a removal of adverts for Essay Mills on social media channels see

What ideas do you have to stop students cheating and handing in assignments that are not their own work?  Is the answer more measures such as above or maybe you have a fool proof idea to detect cheats? With the emergence of data analytics is it time for some radical new approaches to assessment? How might education 4.0 change how we assess learning and remove the need to ditech cheating altogether?

Submit your idea now

To submit an idea you need to register at the competition web site The deadline for submitting an idea is 20 May 2019 but don’t leave it to deadline.  Voting will then open until the 10 June 2019. To vote users must register on the competition site, they will be allocated 10 votes which can be used to support one idea or many. Ideas that achieve 250 votes by the 10 June will be shortlisted and the winner selected by a panel of judges. The winning idea in each competition will receive £500 and runners-up £50. The best ideas will be shared on this site.

Five ideas to improve UK education and research

Five businesses have been selected for mentorships worth up to £10,000 after successful pitches at our showcase edtech event, Digifest.

The successful bidders presented ideas which have the potential to go on to improve, evolve and change UK education and research.

Selected by a panel of judges from Jisc and Emerge Education, the winners are:

Connect2Teach Limited

Designed as a unique knowledge network, the Connect2Teach Limited project connects industry experts to online course providers to develop and deliver relevant courses and increase student enrolment, engagement and employability.

miFuture App

The miFuture App provides better way of connecting school leavers with the world of work, offering them personalised career options in a format that tech-savvy young people are familiar with.


Scholarcy employs machine learning in an app that can digest any research paper, book chapter or report and create a summary flashcard that can be read on any device, instantly providing background reading, key facts and findings.

StudyBundles (trading as CampusConnect)

Connecting students with fellow applicants and student ambassadors prior to enrolment, this mobile app service helps to improve pre-arrival engagement and boost offer-enrolment conversion rates.


A medical training platform, Virti uses virtual and augmented reality to transport users into realistic, hard-to-access environments and safely assesses them under pressure to improve performance.

The mentorships offered by Jisc, Emerge Education and other industry experts include the possibility of up to £5,000 funding, with additional focused support worth up to £5,000.

Nic Newman, of Emerge Education, said:

“This year’s entries have showed very welcome variety and have included tools for mental health, tools for researchers and tools for students to select the right university.

“Apart from the variety, we’ve seen very high skills in presentation, and, more importantly, people talking about the impact that their ideas could create.

“The judges’ decisions are based on this potential impact and on how much Jisc and the programme could help and develop them.”

Sue Attewell, head of change – further education (FE) and skills, Jisc added:

“We’re really looking forward to working with the five winners over the next six months, supporting them to develop their product and business model to ensure a good fit with our members’ needs.

“It will be hard work for the winners, but is sure to accelerate their readiness for market.”

Jisc Digifest 2019 Hackathon – insider views

Hopefully you will have seen Peter Cliff’s blog post below on our recent hackathon, which was a huge success and a really enjoyable experience.

Now its time to hear from one of the participants, Nathaniel Reed from the winning Hull University team on what their experience was like.

The hull team spent the two days building an initial version of an ‘intelligent campus’ application which allows students to engage with student services, find out their schedules and be notified of changes by their institution more easily.

Read Nathaniel’s post here

Feedback from all the participants was that they had enjoyed the experience and all gained something from participating and we ere impressed by the hard work and outputs from all the teams taking part.

We’re planning another hacktahon May 29th – 30th to run alongside the CAN Conference at Open University Milton Keynes, watch this space for details on how to sign up and join us for what we hope will be an equally inspiring two days.



Jisc Hackathon @ DigiFest 2019

Peter Cliff, Senior innovation developer from Jisc writes about the Hackathon he led at 12-13 March at Digifest 2019.

We took advantage of DigiFest 2019 to run a student hackathon alongside the main event. It was great to be able to see the wonder that is DigiFest and I think the students appreciated the opportunity to see the conference too. Before we get to the outcomes of the event though, what is a hackathon?

What is a hackathon?

There are lots of definitions. I think of hackathons as time-constrained events during which teams or individuals work towards solving a problem, often building a tangible prototype. That prototype may be implemented in software, but could just as easily be paper models, sketches, a poem, or hardware to express their ideas. We ask the participants at our hackathons to present their problem and the idea to solve it at the start and present what they built or found out at the end. In the middle we provide the time, space, equipment and sustenance to ensure the participants can work without external worries.

Why run a hackathon?

Because of the time-constraint a hackathon focusses activity on producing a tangible thing. This helps repress inner critics and provides the perfect excuse to note and ignore all the “what if” questions that can limit creativity. Those “what ifs” are not thrown away though and it is through the creative process that unknown issues can come to light. These issues can themselves be a valuable hackathon output. The events also create a strong sense of community, promote team work, co-operation and healthy, friendly competition. They are also a great personal development opportunity, help on student CVs and provide interesting things to talk about at interview – what was the problem and how did you solve it?

Sounds great…but?

The output of a hackathon is often extremely impressive but sometimes this can be misleading. The same things that make a hackathon a creative and exciting event will lead to shortcuts being taken. Software may be created with a disregard for software engineering principles to create well structured, tested and maintainable code. Constraints are ignored: the Raspberry Pi will run fine during the demo attached to a battery on unsecured wifi but attaching it to power and WLAN in an office is going to take time. You are unlikely to deploy the paper-based prototype shelter into the field. It is important to realise that hackathon outputs are the solutions, noted pitfalls and ideas rather than finished products.

Themes and Teams

This year we asked for student ideas to solve problems in the themes of student wellbeing, shaping the curriculum, using AI or intelligent assistants or making campuses more responsive and welcoming. We finalised on seven teams from five different universities and an apprentice team from Jisc.

Digifest Hackathon teams

Digifest Hackathon teams

The range of problems they wanted to address were broad:

  • Student ID cards are easy to lose and create plastic waste (The ‘big’ Hull team)
  • The campus app does not work very well (The ‘big’ Hull team)
  • Lecture sign-in has potential for abuse ((The ’small’ Hull team)
  • Language students may suffer from anxiety and shyness (Huddersfield team)
  • Students with restricted mobility may like to experience things like extreme sports though VR (Buckingham team)
  • Students coming to a campus may want to acclimatise to the culture and surroundings before arriving (Buckingham team)
  • Voice assistants may require proprietary models and applications where they exist at all for a campus (Coventry team)
  • It is difficult to track contributions to group projects, potentially skewing marks (Jisc apprentices)
  • Can AR be used as a technique to improve memory and recall? (Glasgow


The Solutions

In no particular order, here is a summary of the the solutions created:

  • The team from Huddersfield built a flipped classroom to aid learning French – here Moodle was used to create a course for use at home to deliver lectures and other content to the learner. Google Classroom was used as a support mechanism for speaking and writing practice in class or remotely. This mean that shy learners could practice their speaking and writing in a safe environment and this work also suggested using speech interfaces as a means to assess pronunciation. I wondered here if institutions could offer greater support to their societies in using tools like Moodle.
  • Coventry used Google’s DialogFlow to build a campus voice assistant that could respond to questions like “how busy is the Library?”. The great thing about this solution is that it can integrate with existing voice apps such as those built into phones and near-ubiquitous apps like Facebook Messenger. The team from Coventry had built their model prior to the event and worked at the event integrating with several solutions including Google voice assistant and Alexa. Sadly a bug in the framework prevented the Alexa integration but Google worked well and they demoed this working on the phone.
  • The Jisc apprentices built a React-based application and a mobile app that allowed students to upload work and assign a percentage contributed to the project. The others in the could then peer review the work and the self-assessed percentage and post their agreement or otherwise. Disagreements would be dealt with by the tutor. This is a nice idea that we could develop further internally or at future events.
  • The team from Buckingham (a postgrad aided by our new developer Rebecca Flook whose second/third days at Jisc were the hackathon!) explored AWS Sumerian to build a prototype 3D model of a campus, illustrating us of voice to welcome visitors and demoed how videos can be embedded into the VR/3D interface. This team also explored further the issues of using campuses for the first time and suffered from lack of decent WiFi during the event.
  • The ’small’ Huddersfield team (2 members versus the ‘big’ 4 member team) produced a fully working app that used proximity to an iBeacon (a Bluetooth beacon specification from Apple) to prompt via a notification that students to check into their lecture. They also produced a lecturer tool that should show the students who had checked in, provide a real-time question/answer system, display the lecture room schedule (useful if you’re overrunning!) and even a whiteboard.
  • The ‘big’ Huddersfield team created a well designed application that offered a complete on-boarding process to the campus including setting up Eduroam on the device, viewing timetables and schedules and lots of other things including an iBeacon-based lecture check in system.
  • The Glasgow team – who were not developers – worked towards making their idea reality through use of AR toolkits and possibly existing applications. They took advantage of being at DigiFest to talk through their ideas and look at the technology on display. They also had a good conversation with Suhad Aljundi, one of Jisc’s Futures developers.

You said “healthy competition”…

All of the teams worked extremely hard and produced some incredible things. In the end we had to pick a winner and in this instance it was the ‘big’ Hull team for going from a few designs to a well-produced and functional application in a very short space of time. Their solution could solve a number of issues including saving the cost (and waste) of producing plastic cards and hopefully make it clearer why open APIs are the means to developing user-friendly applications and breaking down silos of information. While there was a single winner, there were no losers and all the teams took home a prize.

A huge thank you to all the Jisc staff who helped before, during and after the hackathon! If you want to know more about any of the ideas or make suggestions for future events, please get in touch!

Take part in our Summer 2019 hackathon taking place alongside the Change Agents’ Network Conference 2019 in May.

Filling the pot: The Edtech challenge and a VLE without a screen

“New ideas pass through three periods: It can’t be done. It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. I knew it was a good idea all along!”  Arthur C Clarke

We started this challenge as a way of filling the pot with ideas, Arthur C Clarke’s assertion of the three periods of an idea in our mind, never mind whether it can be done, let us first establish what would be a good idea.

Over the last few months we have received many applications to our first Edtech challenge. We were looking for inspired ideas, the grains of digital sand that, if technology were available could become an Edtech pearl. The winners and runners up reflected this philosophy in their entries. What would it look like if we could do what we wanted, unconstrained by current thinking and technology.

The winner was chosen because it not only thought about what was possible, but explicitly looked at the end users, their needs and their behaviours and designed a solution based on those requirements.

The runners up all explored new ways to interface and experience learning, thinking outside the box, and in one case building a box, to suggest what might be possible, someday soon.

The winners of the Edtech Challenge on VLEs without screens have now been announced and you can hear from the winner and judges discussing “Could future VLEs spell the end for screen time.

You can see the submitted ideas from the winner and runsner-up below


Runners up

Shortlisted entries

The following ideas gave insights into the future possibilities and also what is already happening in some institutions.We’ll be exploring some of the themes and messages from these challenge ideas in a future post….

  • Immersive collaboration. Delivering future facing learning environments through virtual reality. Karen Coyle, Coleg Cambria
  • See-Through Lectures, Alice Ashcroft, Lancaster University
  • Gesture-based learning, Charlotte Nash, University of Portsmouth
  • Socrobot Artificial Intelligence Tutor and the Voice Learning Environment, Alex Patel, University of Leicester
  • Learn³, Will Moindrot, University of Liverpool
  • Cognitive Assistants, Aftab Hussain, Bolton College
  • Engaging remote students with practical training in STEM subjects, using a VLE, Lois Gray, North Highland College UHI
  • The Intelligent VLE, Tom Foster, The University of Sheffield

We’d like to thank everyone who submitted an idea to the edtech challenge on VLEs without screens.

Look out for further challenge competitions.

Could future VLEs spell the end for screen time?

Students and higher education staff from across the UK have teamed up to imagine a screenless student experience as part of Jisc’s edtech challenge.

The winner – VLE of the Future

The winning idea from a University of Glasgow team uses the “memory palace” technique to create an immersive environment that aids learning. The vision is for an interactive, collaborative space for independent learning without constraints of time or location.

The judges chose this idea as it best encapsulates the benefits of learning in an immersive environment, is informed by students ideas and addresses accessibility and inclusion requirements.

Receiving the £1,000 top prize are Dr Mary McVey, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s School of Life Sciences, and a team of eight students.

The runners-up

Three runners-up will receive a £250 prize. They are:

The Student Body

Mark Shand, from the University of West of England, replaces the VLE interface with a patient simulation dummy, brought to life using technologies such as Bluetooth, sensors and augmented reality to challenge assumptions and requirements about a modern learning environment. The dummy is aimed at nursing students.


Leanne Fitton’s idea, Boxi, pulls together emerging technologies to create a learning companion. The student, from Manchester Metropolitan University, wants to change the way in which we think of VLEs using some retro learning technologies such as paper or a whiteboard, as well as newer innovations including chatbots.

Health + Content + Context

Two University of Hull staff members‘ vision of how, through better use of data, learning can be “dripped” seamlessly into students’ schedules. Thomas Tomlinson and Mike Ewen’s idea can assess health and wellbeing considerations through wearables and seamlessly connects to devices in the university, home and community, allowing students to access learning whenever and wherever it suits them – when they are at their most receptive.

James Seaman, account chief technologist at Softcat, was one of the judges for the challenge. He says:

“The winner and most of the ideas submitted have real-world application potential and the ideas that attracted me the most are deliverable and had direct student benefits.

“Any ideas that create a more in-depth and simple student engagement experience and simplify the use of technology really appeal to me. I am heartened to see the forethought and depth of understanding illustrated in the responses.”

The edtech challenge was open to all college and university students and staff with good ideas to share.

Rev up your startup

Enter our 2019 edtech startups competition and get your fledgling business on track

Read our latest blog on how to enter this years competition and hear from two of last years winners Volo and Synap

You have until 17:00 on Monday 21 January to make your pitch to us.

We’re offering five businesses mentorships worth up to £10,000 from ourselves, Emerge Education and other industry experts. There’s also the possibility of up to £5,000 funding and additional focused support worth £5,000.

Get involved

To take part, simply go to our edtech startups competition and submit a concise summary telling us what problem your product solves and who benefits.

Include information on your business model, your team and a description of the product. You can also provide a short video pitch if you like.

Shortlisted entrants will be invited to a speed pitch process at our showcase event, Digifest 2019, in March.

read more here

Where will your good ideas take you?

Inspire us with your ideas for a next-generation virtual learning environment in our first edtech challenge of 2019.

Read about our current edtech challenge and and hear from previous competitors how easy it is to take part.

We’ve deliberately made the ideas challenges very easy for everyone to enter, whether they’re technologically minded or not, because we want to see what’s on students’ minds.



Edtech Challenge Competition: A virtual learning environment without a screen

We have just launched a challenge competition for ideas around what a (virtual) learning environment without a screen might look like, by the this I mean it that allows you in access and interact with learning through other methods as well as or instead of a screen.

The challenge page suggests some technologies that may be relevant such as artificial intelligence and voice controls, augmented and virtual reality, gesture-based interfaces, wearable technologies, etc.

So what are we looking for…

A vision of what could be

I asked Marcus Elliot, Senior Digital Practice Adviser at Nottingham Trent University to comment on this before it went live. He made some useful contributions and also said it needs an example of what we meant by a vision. I try to avoid being too prescriptive of what we want from a challenge as it can skew what you get, however I am happy to share this one.

Marcus suggested an example could be “a voice-activated ice cream machine that dispenses desserts when someone answers a question correctly in a lecture or seminar”.  I responded saying I liked the idea of a voice activated ice cream machine and linking it to reward based learning and would you get an ice cream in the face if you get the answer wrong?

He responded, “ooh, operant condition with negative reinforcement?” (Ok he lost me there), “Mean but effective. It probably wouldn’t put me off; maybe fish flavoured ice-cream would be a better punishment.”

Ok, I know he meant it to be ridiculous but for me this is where a good idea can begin, as you start to develop it and explore the boundaries of what is possible and the reason for doing it. What problem does it address? Who will it appeal to and why? What would be innovative?

So the vision we after is a description of an idea of what could be developed. It should be feasible to develop. We don’t expect you to build it or even have the expertise to make it happen. As long as you can describe it, shows us what it might look like and be clear of the benefits.

Here is a bit more background and context that will help you to get started, Lawrie Phipps talks about the next generation of learning environments and how it can help to develop a more inclusive learning envirnment.

Ideas for the next generation of learning environments.

During Jisc’s “Co-design Challenge” around the theme of the next generation digital learning environments. Jisc asked “What would an environment do for staff and students?”, “What kind of learning experiences would an environment need to support?”  and “What learning and teaching practices aren’t currently supported in environments?”. Various themes around technology and pedagogy including the growth in social media, analytics, usability and design and the identification of new vendors in the market were all raised. With regards to technology in practice the report also identified that innovative practices in teaching tended to occur outside the virtual learning environment. Further information can be found at

A more inclusive environment

New legislation requires systems and content to be accessible, but can we aspire to be more inclusive. What tools would we need to build to engage disenfranchised groups that aren’t covered by legislation.  Instead of tools aimed at students, what would an “inclusion AI” do for staff developing content, or designing courses?

Some  other useful links

The chatbots are coming – a  recent blog post from Paul Hopkins explores the application of chatbots to education.

Bringing augmented and virtual reality to the classroom on a budget – Matt Ramirez looks at how this is innovativbe technology is already been used and suggests a future where AR/VR coudl be a more common tool used in learning. Do you have ideas of what that might look like?

The competition

Visit the challenge page to find out more, register for the webinar on the 14 November and submit your idea to this edtech challenge by the 3 January to enter the competition and chance to win £1000.

Developing a HE/FE Consultative sales strategy

A guest post from Tripti Maheshwari,

Co-Founder,Student Circus Ltd

After the incredible product workshop in July, it was time for the most awaited day of the Jisc Edtech Startup Programme – sales day!

 Day 3: A usual start to the day at EdSpace with coffee, croissants and conversations.

With the room full of Jisc staff and 5 high potential start-ups, I was very keen to see how the day unfolds. We started with a quick round of introductions to know the 25+ people in the room – most certainly the biggest gathering in a workshop for us. We quickly went on to a 15 min session with Chris so touched upon the HE & FE landscape with lots of acronyms (UCISA, CISG, HECSU, HEPI)!! We have based a lot of our strategies on representative bodies, think tanks & university groups so it was re-assuring to know that Jisc uses them too.

Next up was Niles Newberry to talk about pricing models – the most difficult thing to crack for us (& most start-ups!). This was the first time that the 5 start-ups heard a pricing pitch from one another- I was surprised to see the the similarities & also some smart differentiations each one of us uses – from discounting, freemium to bundling.

Moving on to the more practical part of the day:

1.Rich picture activity to draw the experience of working with HE/FE organizations.

It was unbelievable how each group was so creative about their approach – a common message that everyone touched on with a happy snail & a happy turtle – “This is a slow moving sector which requires patience but is a great place to be in!”

rich picture

 2.  PESTLE Activity to analyze whether should institutions should be open change or not – & what are the key things they might consider in this action.

  tripti 2

For me the next part was a key highlight – Account management. Andrew shared his top tricks & tips to get to the right person, with the right language & the right time. Considering budgets and understand how it works for Jisc was a gold mine- this will ensure we pitch to the budget holder at the right time.

Overall, the learning & practical approach by all presenters was commendable. Being a part of this programme doesn’t mean only attending the day in person – there is so much to take back and put in action! Each conversation has helped us push & think outside the box.

The next up is the pitch day to mark the finale of the programme. I think everyone has found a connect to start a on-going journey with Jisc and Emerge. It’s onwards & upwards from here.

Signing off,


Student Circus (

Millions of students travel the world for education & work. Starting with the UK, Student Circus is re-defining job search for international students. Having experienced the problem first-hand, the founders launched the platform which is now recognised by 100+ universities.

We are bringing innovative tech to help universities with data & insights to practically improve student placements in an immigration sensitive approach.