All you need to know about the Big Conversation and how to engage

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Take a few minutes to read this posting to find out more about the Big Conversation including aims, participants, opening questions, how to engage, and details of an exciting student competition with big prizes on offer.     

Universities are all about ‘futures’. Through their missions and core activities of education and research, universities aim to shape better futures for individuals and for societies.

Now, we invite you to focus on our University and help to shape its distinctive, innovative and sector-leading futures. Students, alumni (current and future), staff, employers and other stakeholders all share an interest in the future of the University of Birmingham. So, this is your opportunity to leave a legacy by engaging in a ‘big conversation’ about the possible futures that you can imagine for this great University.

What is the Big ‘Futures’ Conversation about?

We invite you to think ahead to 2026 and to share your vision for potential new futures for the University of Birmingham. As a reference point, imagine today’s 8 year old children because they are the freshers of 2026.

There are numerous ways in which we might imagine societal changes over the next ten years and the potential implications for our University and its learners. Yet, although we can’t be certain of the challenges ahead, major changes take time to design and deliver so we must take steps to plan for the future now. We want to make sure that our University is ‘ahead of the game’ and we want to engage the collective brain of the University to help us. So, we are opening a ‘Big Futures Conversation’ and we want to include as many voices as possible.

To ensure our big conversation has structure and leads to useful outcomes, we are opening the conversation with three initial themes and some indicative questions to prompt your thoughts. You can choose to engage in any or all of these themes/questions (some are more relevant to some groups than others). As the conversation progresses over the next 4 months, we expect new themes, topics and questions to emerge.

Opening questions to start the Conversation

The Futures Concept Theme (this is your chance to engage in some pioneering blue-skies thinking) 

Looking ahead to 2026:

  • What kinds of futures can you imagine for universities and what will be different compared to today?
  • How will research-intensive universities of the future need to be structured and organised? 

The Futures Learning Theme 

Looking ahead to 2026:

  • How will students want to learn and be assessed?
  • How will ‘on-line’ and ‘on-campus’ learning be blended in optimally effective ways?
  • What will employers require of graduates?

The Futures Curriculum Theme

Looking ahead to 2026:

  • What will students need to know in your subject area that is different to what they are learning today?
  • What will be the main differences between the way your subject is taught now, and the way it is likely to be taught in the future?
  • How will students want to learn in your subject area?
  • Are we likely to be offering the same subjects at degree-level or can you imagine new subjects/degrees?

How can you join the Big Futures Conversation?

There are many different ways in which you can join the conversation.

Students (studying on and off campus) can engage:

  • Through your Reps and SEPOs/SEOs who will be collecting your views in lectures and inviting you to contribute through social media and email
  • Through the Guild who will be inviting contributions and holding events
  • With academic staff in lectures and tutorials
  • Twitter/Facebook/blog #UoBFutures
  • Individual comments submitted by email
  • VC seminars
  • By entering our Student Futures Competition…

We are inviting students – as individuals or groups – to enter a Futures Competition. Students are invited to:

Either write a thought-piece of up to 500 words (in any style you choose)

Or create an e-poster, infographic or video.

Title: ‘A Futures Curriculum for the University of Birmingham’

The aim is to construct an innovative and compelling ‘Futures’ vision that ca inform the way we should design education and the curriculum for 2026.

Prizes:  There are significant prizes for most creative and forward thinking contributions from students in each of the five Colleges (£500 per winner, per College). The winners will be selected by a panel including academic, professional staff and the Guild.

  • Deadline for submission: 5.00pm, 31st March, 2017. Submissions and queries about submissions should be made via the Big Conversation dedicated email account:

Staff can engage:

  • Through your School/Department/section/research group meetings leading to submissions either through your HoE (academic schools) or your section-lead (professional services departments).
  • And/or by making individual comments via the dedicated email account
  • By posting comments to the blog site
  • On Twitter using #UoBFutures

In addition, a wide range of stakeholders will be invited to contribute as the conversation progresses including alumni, employers, PSRBs and BHP, current school pupils, policy makers, think tanks and journalists. Their contributions will appear on the conversation website – so look out for their inputs.

How will your views be heard and shared?

This will be an ongoing conversation that will build and evolve as contributions are made. Contributions made via all routes will be collated and made available on the Big Conversation website. Blogs are welcomed. We will also comment and invite new areas of discussion as your thoughts and ideas are posted. The winning entries to the Student Futures Competition will be published widely.

Why contribute? What difference can your views make?

Once the Big Futures Conversation has ‘closed’ the work begins. We will provide a collated report for the whole University community and its key stakeholders and we will use these findings to inform changes to the design, content, delivery and assessment of our curriculum here at the University of Birmingham. In addition, a series of engagement activities in the early summer of 2017 will be built around the outcomes.

Working together, we can construct a ‘Birmingham Futures Curriculum’ that will be distinctive, innovative and sector-leading. We will build on our strong reputation, and ensure our University remains strong in 2026 and beyond.

2 thoughts on “All you need to know about the Big Conversation and how to engage”

  1. What is the value of information? In the ‘information economy’ information and data will be a valuable commodity that can be monetised, traded and become a significant source of revenue. Universities should be well placed to participate in what may become one of the major industries of the 21st century.

    This is already happening, we are seeing opportunities arise to invest in and derive benefit from information ‘assets’ ranging from data sets containing medical statistics, student data and research results. But what do mean by ‘investing in information’?

    Applying expert human expertise, knowledge and experience combined with ensuring and improving integrity, accuracy and consistency and making it as widely available as possible subject to the need to protect confidential and personal information, obey the law and various regulatory rules. There’s much more to this than brute force data processing, it requires a combination of human and machine intelligence.

    Diverse initiatives at the University are coming together at the right time, such as Big Data projects and Data Management or curation in its broadest sense. Investment is needed in both information technology and also human capital in the form of new roles such as Data Scientists, perhaps trained by our own Data Science Institute.

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