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  https://www.jisc.ac.uk/rd/projects/next-generation-digital-learning

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 (www.studentcircus.com)

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.





A view from inside the student design sprint

Well we had a great week in Birmingham. It was an intoxicating week with lots of enthusiasm and great ideas from the students.

One of our student teams ‘App to the Future’ completed a vlog over the week have a look and see inside from their point of view.  Thanks Brad, Jake and Luke.

All of the teams worked really hard to turn their ideas into prototypes and were incredibly successful in doing so we wish them all well in the future and hope to see some of them again as I’m sure they will move on to success.

Student Design Sprint and Hackathon

I am looking forward to welcoming 12 teams of students to Aston Conference Centre in August for five days ed tech fun and some series design and development.

This is my 6th year of running student ed tech activity over the summer, we started the Summer of Student Innovation in 2013, each year it has bee slightly different and this year is no exception.

ARUni outputs from 2016 design sprint

ARUni outputs from 2016 design sprint

Edtech Student ideas

The teams include 7 winners of the Edtech student ideas competition who have received a £2000 prize to support their team and design or their edtech idea.

SurveyTandem. Team lead: Jakub Zimola, University College London. A web site to get people to take your student online survey for free by filling out theirs in exchange! The team are developing a free website on which anyone can post a link to their online survey and automatically collect responses in exchange for taking surveys of others.

App to the Future. Team lead: Brad Forsyth, Ravensbourne University London. The app is a directory of different university courses, work experience and apprenticeships available. It allows students to search by location, skill and subject for an experience suited to them.

Authorencity. Team lead: Hriday Agarwal, University College London.  An AI tool to detect essays that have been outsourced by students and submitted as their own for grading purposes.

TransArt. Team lead: Lenette Lua, University of Warwick. A community for arts passionate minds. Providing affordable content to people of all ages.

Citation Gecko. Team lead: Barney Walker, Imperial College London. Explore the citation network and discover relevant scientific papers!

Higherarchy. Team lead: David Buchanan, Imperial College London. An intuitive learning and revision platform where users can make their own maps

StudBud. Team lead: Ulas Can Erguney, University College London. A chat bot that helps students learn easily. We are developing an awesome chatbot that will make studying much easier and more efficient, making students’ lives better.

All of the teams will participate in a five-day design sprint based on the GV Sprint Book and supported by mentors and experts from Jisc and Emerge Education.

Teams will explore their ideas in more detail, explore users journeys, develop a wireframe prototypes or enhance existing products and undertake user testing at each step. All teams will pitch to a panel of invited guests with representatives from Jisc, Emerge Education, The House London Ltd, The Student Room, and the Department for Education. The panel will be looking for ideas that they can support through further developmental approaches.

Intelligent Campus Hackathon

They will be joined by five teams selected for the Intelligent Campus Hackathon as follows

  • Christopher Marsh “Hackstreet boys” from Nottingham Trent University
  • Alex Murphy leading team “Alpha” from the University of Bath
  • Matthew Protheroe-Hill leading a team from Teesside University
  • JackTolley leading team Daeda from the University of York
  • Connor Gill leading a team from the Loughborough University

The teams will be provided with equipment including a Raspberry Pi 3 B+, camera modules, sensors, NFC readers and lots of connectors to develop prototypes for data collection to support the intelligent campus.

They will be supported by developers from Jisc and Pan Intelligence (an Analytics & Business Intelligence Software Provider) who are also providing access to their data visualisation tools.

The hackathon teams will be competing for prize money of £1000 which will be awarded on the final day of the event.

The competed products will be used to collect data and inform Jisc’s ideas in developing a project around the intelligent campus to compliment the Learning Analytics Service that goes live on the 1 August 2018.

I expect the week to be totally exhausting, great fun (lookout for images from the serious Lego design activity) and very insightful about student ideas around edtech.

shout out team lego design 2016

Shout Out team’s Lego design 2016

All the team from Jisc benefit greatly from working with the student teams to explore and develop new areas of edtech and I hope we can share some insights following the design sprint and hackathon. Will we be doing it again – probably but it wil change and develop each year so keep an eye out for Jisc edtech activities on this blog and social media.


An insider view from Volo – 2018 cohort

A guest post from

2018 cohort

Lotis Bautista
Co-founder and Chief Community Officer, Volo Group

Mid-way through April we were ecstatic to find ourselves as one of five companies to win a place on the Jisc Edtech Startup Programme. Fast-forward to the start of the programme in May and it has already proven itself to be a turning point for us as individuals and our business. We’ve only just completed Week 3.

As a previous secondary school teacher and now co-founder of a business committed to learning and self-improvement, I can be very sceptical about “training days.” Before I enter the room, I usually consider really carefully whether this will be worth my time and will likely be hypersensitive to every “um” and rabbit-in-headlights look. I’m a tough crowd.

Add to the equation a room full of grown-ups that wear multiple hats to give their businesses a continuous pulse, get them to thrive whilst doing the marketing, strategizing, producing, selling, everything in between and all at once; how do you convince us that spending a day out of the office is really worth it?

Three key questions I ask myself:

  1. Are there clear, tangible outcomes that I can walk away with and implement more or less straight away?
  2. Do the presenters really understand that this is an opportunity for me to learn as both an individual and business owner, not just for them to talk at me?
  3. Do I trust that the people in front of me actually know what they’re talking about?

Needless to say, I was pretty ecstatic to recognise almost immediately that Jisc was likely to provide a very clear “Yes” to all of above.

Getting down to business

Day 1 of the programme- The phone call started with something similar to: “Good morning everyone, we’re here to talk you through the programme aims and outcomes and exactly what it is that we want you to get out of this. Afterwards we’ll have plenty of time for questions” Tick. Did those objectives actually make me feel like this was going to help our business? Absolutely.

Week 1 tasks- Company diagnostics: “The purpose of these activities is to make sure that we tailor the content of the kick-off to meet your exact needs, so please make sure to spend time on them.” (Not verbatim, but you get the point) I nearly fell over with excitement. Our actual company needs were being assessed in order to make sure that what we were being taught was completely relevant to where we were at that point in time. Brilliant.

Day 2 of training, Week 2 of the programme- The in-person kick off: Nic, Michael, Sue and Paul lay the groundwork for a day of action. Without giving too much away to future cohorts, there were a lot of us in the room with a lot of different starting and thinking points in terms of business stage, product market fit, validation and “traction” (and other very jargony, but nonetheless important words and even more importantly, action points). Did we all leave with an answer as to what to do next to propel our businesses into the next key stage or at least have something to do immediately to find the important answers that we didn’t already have? Yes.

Next steps

A few more weeks in and we are being prompted into our next set of actions: Do you know exactly who your customer segments are? Are you actually solving a Tier 1 problem? Excellent question. Am I?! Are we?! Very few sessions in the past have given me exciting existential angst. This is exactly what a young business needs.

The final verdict? Anyone can stand up in front of a room of people and talk shop but very few can stand up and inspire tangible action. Every interaction with Jisc has so far emphasised the importance of value over vanity and the value that they have brought to our business has already been unparalleled. And I’m so pleased to be reminded that at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

Thank you for letting us be part of your cohort.

About Volo:

At VOLO Group, we believe that everyone should have the chance to excel both personally and professionally. That’s why we’ve built career development technology to not only help you discover what you really want out of your career, but to connect you to the right opportunities, information and support to help you get there.

VOLO isn’t like other skill building platforms where you watch video after video telling you how to improve yourself. We connect you to real-life activities and roles where you get hands on experience to help you improve your skills whilst working on projects that make a real difference in the world.

Get involved with our Intelligent campus hackathon


As part of our edtech launchpad programme we are looking for student teams from universities and colleges across the UK to join us in building the campus of the future.

The aim of the hackathon is for student teams to design, develop and build “something” that would benefit students in the world that is the intelligent campus.  We are looking for some creative students to spend a week in August working to build and test tools that can enhance the student experience and make the campus more intelligent.

There’s up to £1,000 in prizes up for grabs, we’ll provide you with equipment and cover your accommodation and expenses.  .

Venue: Conference Aston, Birmingham

Timings: 12:00 Monday 6 August to 13:00 Friday 10 August

You’ll will need to bring laptops and the ideal team size is 2-4 people.

for more information contact paul.bailey@jisc.ac.uk

Entry form

Come along and join us – lets create something exciting.

Welcome to our edtech start-ups 2018 cohort


We ran the competition and announced the winners, and now its time to get down to the hard work.   Our 2018 programme kicks-off on Thursday 24th May and I’m excited and looking forward to working with our winners:

  • Blackbullion – a learning platform for students to get control of their money.
  • Oslr – an app to facilitate education centred around bedside teaching in hospitals.
  • VOLO – shaping the workforce of the future through skilled volunteering
  • Synap – an app to create, practice and share multiple choice tests and quizzes.
  • Student Circus – job finding for international students

who will be joined on the programme by Open Campus – the world’s first single platform technology bringing SIS, LMS and ERP together

Our initial welcome call bodes well for an engaged and proactive cohort – good luck everyone and i hope you enjoy the programme.


Edtech Start-ups 2018

We have just selected our new cohort of start-ups for the Edtech Launchpad start-ups programme for 2018. The selection process took place at Jisc Digifest 2018 on the 6 March 2018. Having already been shortlisted, nine companies presented to an interview panel of experts and pitched to the Digifest audience as part of the process.



The quality of companies continues to increase every year and the winners are congratulated to have made it through to the final five.


The five successful companies are

  • Blackbullion – a learning platform for students to get control of their money.
  • Oslr – an app to facilitate education centred around bedside teaching in hospitals.
  • VOLO – shaping the workforce of the future through skilled volunteering
  • Synap – an app to create, practice and share multiple choice tests and quizzes.
  • Student Circus – job finding for international students.

There is more information see  news story startups win thousands to develop edtech innovations.

digifest startup pitches

digifest startup pitches

The nine participants each gave a 3 minute pitch to the Digifest audience to help us decide the final five that will enter our development programme. Each delivered a concise and engaging pitch to a lively audience. It was obviously not the first time these participants had presented their products as the timing was impeccable

After each pitch, the audience were given the opportunity to score each via a poll, accessible from our event app. Scores were then considered by the selection panel of experts when deciding the five successful startups.

The selection panel had a difficult job to choose between the nine companies who each presented a convincing case for them joining the programme.

The five winners will now participate in a six month programme starting in May where they will explore and validate their idea product, market, business model and growth plan facilitated by experts and mentors from Jisc and Emerge education. The programme will be led by Nic Newman a partner in Emerge Educator and a successful entrepreneur.

However we should keep an eye out for the four runners-up

  • Adhoc Academic  – connecting universities and colleges with professionals and temporary academic staff. A useful service that we may see grow in the next year.
  • Hoolr – buying and selling second-hand text books and now offering an online tutoring service. Watch this founder as he has more ideas to offer.
  • ThinkSmart – a careers matching service with some interesting tools and services.
  • Stucomm – an already successful student focussed learning app in Europe, which may be set to take over the UK market.

Two of the startup companies we interviewed were also previous winners of the Summer of Student Innovation student ideas competition, so I am pleased to see they are continuing to be successful. The 2018 student ideas competition is now open for submissions, closing date 30 April 2018, where we will be looking out for the ideas that could form the start-up companies of the future.

A new guest blog – Atif Mahmood from Lumici

Atif Mahmood

Today we hear from Atif Mahmood, Founder and CEO of Lumici, and a recent graduate of the latest Jisc/Emerge start-up programme.  Lumici is an online collaborative lesson planning platform enabling teachers to use and modify existing lesson templates from other teachers. Just like Google has solved collaborative working in the enterprise, Lumici is solving it for lesson planning but in schools.

3 way’s we successfully pitched at the end of our JISC accelerator to a panel of judges

Recently graduating from the JISC Startup Accelerator with what we wanted to come out with as a tangible outcome was an incredible feeling. Having been exposed to account managers, marketeers and even the Chief Executive we’re in the right place for 6 months to develop the right skills, grow a deeper understanding of the Further Education and Higher Education market and be market ready when we graduate from the accelerator and that’s exactly where we are now.

I also want to touch on how we grabbed the attention of JISC and why pitching in the right way during and at the end of the accelerator makes huge difference. So here are my 3 killer tips!

  1. If you want to stand out from fellow presenters, you will have to answer this question right from the start: “Why is your startup different?”

Every startup’s unique selling point is different, and it does not always have to be about your product. It could be the existing traction or the track records of your team. Gain the audience’s trust and confidence right at the start by giving them the right reasons to pay attention. Trust and confidence goes a long way in education and because too many edict startups make false claims and don’t deliver on why they really stand out, do some research on your competitors and really understand what makes you stand out. It’s something I learnt to do during my time at Emerge Education and JISC.

  1. Sell the benefits and value to your audience and not just product features. JISC have a huge portfolio of products and have a deep understanding of the needs of the current market in FE and HE and its customers so get to know JISC and sell them your benefits and value.

Think of JISC as an investor in you.  Here is a list of frequent questions from Investors, which links to profitability: Answer these questions

  • How do you monetise your product?
  • How scalable is your business?
  • How can you dominate the market and stay ahead?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • When can returns be expected?
  • Is now the best time to enter this market?
  1. Blanket and ambiguous statements. Efficacy and credibility go a long way in presenting your argument and case for your startup to JISC. Make sure you present evidence to support your case, and not just big bold claims that will definitely be seen as false. Let me give you an example:

AirBnBs presentation is a great example of how to be specific. When the founder talked about Market Adoption, he listed partner names, the size of the audience at events and a viable way to poach customers from Craigslist.

Impact, value and presenting your ideas with an evidence based approach is key in proving there is value in your product to customers in education.

Having this approach will help you immensely during and at the of your JISC Programme.