Lancaster innovators feature at Jisc’s first technology exhibition


On Tuesday of Week 6, Imperial College London hosted Jisc’s first ‘summer of student innovation’ technology showcase event.

The event consisted of 21 applicants showcasing their technological innovations to help students receive a better overall experience at university.

The projects varied in their approaches. Some concentrated on the social spheres of productivity whilst others put more of an emphasis on aiding students to achieve a greater understanding of complex information through the use of software tools.

One of these software aides was Progress, a program created by Lancaster University students Connor Atherton and Jordan Kirby. Progress is a software product that allows students to track their progress throughout their degree and forecast results. The tool takes the information directly from the student’s transcript on moodle and maps it into an interactive graph. The visualization of test and coursework scores enables students to tailor their work schedule accordingly, devoting more time to weaker areas of their discipline whilst also making tactical decisions concerning the likelihood of grade attainment.

When SCAN spoke to Atherton and Kirby they were enthusiastic about the reception of their product. “We’ve tested it with students and their first reaction is that they love it. The biggest thing that we have taken away from this is that what we have created can actually make a difference to students.”

Concerning the rest of the projects on show at the exhibition, SCAN spoke to Jisc representative Andrew McGregor who explained the process. He reasoned that overall student satisfaction was becoming increasingly dependent on the online experience that a particular institution offers. He went on to joke that during a creative meeting with his colleagues at Jisc, it suddenly occurred to them that they “were probably not the best people come up with the ideas.”  The concept of a student based innovation competition was born.

With internal funding Jisc set about creating a competition that would reach out to a national audience, asking for a short two minute video pitch in return for £5,000 prize money for each winning idea. At the close of the one-month application period, Jisc had received 36 applicants and quickly set about putting them into an open online voting format to gauge the opinion of their future users.

After 14,500 video hits and 6,500 votes Jisc provided 21 of the original 36 ideas with £5,000 funding and an invitation to the exhibition at Imperial College in week 6. During the exhibition the successful innovators were given a stall and the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a group of academics and potential third-party investors.

SCAN asked McGregor what the next stages of the process would be and whether Jisc would have any further involvement in the projects on show at the exhibition. To this McGregor responded that Jisc had independently selected five projects for potential collaboration. After investigations into the sustainability of the project’s business models Jisc would look into promoting them throughout the university networks: “We would like to trial particular projects at other universities and if it shows promise again then we are committed to supporting them through to the wider student population.”

When asked about any plans Jisc had to make the competition more accessible in the future, McGregor answered positively, saying that this years event was more of a “trial” and next year they hoped to allow for a “much greater time period to promote it more thoroughly and get people involved”. He went to add that they would also consider adding another dimension to the process by “match[ing] people who have the ideas but not the technical expertise to put the project together.”

The essence of Jisc as an organization based on technological innovation has paved the way for projects and ideas that operate much in the same. Using Internet based software the door has been opened for developments that allow greater ease for networking and group collaboration. McGregor agreed with this observation, concluding that the “more people involved the greater diversity of ideas, and the greater diversity of ideas the greater the chance for a better university experience.”

A quick look at SCAN’s top 5 projects at the exhibition:

MiMir – A new intelligent online learning system for Mathematics that breaks down equations into separate parts, allowing you to identify errors quickly and learn through trial and error.

PitchPatch – An online platform for students with projects to connect with others who may have the skills to help achieve success.

Progress – Web software that allows students to forecast their marks and view their progress throughout the year.

GoNCode – A program that develops applications through the aid of graphical representation of your code as you progress.

UniSocs – A website for students to receive help and advice from other members of their subject department.

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