Reflections of Spotlight23

08 May 2023 - Reflections of Spotlight23


As a new member of the UCISA Digital Capability Group committee, I was excited to attend Spotlight23 and to connect with my new colleagues and other institutions sharing similar challenges. The event focused on exploring the meaning and delivery of blended learning, and here are my key takeaways from the event, along with my recommendations for those attending for the first time.

One of my key takeaways from Spotlight23 was that it is crucial for institutions to define (and understand) what their own offer is in terms of blended learning and to be able to communicate this. Institutions need to be able to answer questions such as - ‘what does blended learning look like in our institution?’ and ‘how do we distinguish between blended, and hybrid learning and make this clear to students?’.

The opening keynote delivered by Melissa Highton set the tone for these ideas extremely well, and Jisc shared their progress on 5 principles for ‘beyond blended’ which is a helpful set of guiding principles to consider when taking a holistic approach to designing learning activity. The pandemic accelerated the shift towards online learning, and institutions must continue to focus on how to provide high-quality learning experiences that blend the online and in-person elements, making it clear to students (and parents) what the expectations are and what that will look and feel like.

A recurring theme throughout the event was the importance of student engagement. Educators by default must find new and innovative ways to engage students, but this is particularly important in the online learning environment to encourage active rather than passive engagement. This can include using interactive technologies, providing personalized learning experiences, and creating a sense of community and belonging, but this does also require developing competence and capability amongst both students and educators.

Research presented at the conference by Instructure (Canvas) suggested that students rate the development of competency and capability higher than the degree title itself, and that there is an increasing importance placed on career readiness. The use of technology to deliver blended and hybrid learning, if supported by initiatives to build student competence, capability and knowledge in the use of these technologies, could help institutions meet these demands. The research also suggested that students demand flexibility and convenience in their experience, and the use of technology to deliver a blended learning experience could facilitate this.

Attending Spotlight23 was an enriching experience that provided valuable insights into how peers are dealing with current challenges. From blended learning to student engagement, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, the event covered a wide range of topics that are critical for educators and institutions to remain aware of in a rapidly changing landscape.

For those attending a UCISA event for the first time, my top recommendation would be to plan and prioritise the sessions that align with your interests and current challenges. There is always someone from another institution working on similar issues or who has ‘been there done that’. I very much recommend taking advantage of the networking opportunities that an in-person event such as this offers, as these can lead to valuable connections and collaborations.

Jack Ennis, Digital Adoption Manager, Newcastle University