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A new one-day conference for UX professionals working in Higher Education

On Tuesday 17 September 2024 people from educational institutions across the UK will gather in Manchester for a day of talks, workshops and networking on the theme of challenges and opportunities of UX in Education. Tickets are now on sale if you would like to join us.

I’ve co-chaired a UX Community of Practice as part of UCISA (an organisation supporting digital professionals working in the education sector) since January 2022. After running many successful webinars, panel discussion and community events online, I was keen to run our first in-person event.

UCISA in Education conference page (UCISA website)

Why run an in-person conference for UX professionals in Higher Education?

The idea for this conference came to me after I chaired one of our online panel discussions – in which we heard perspectives on UX from Higher Education (HE) leaders.

Read my blog post about this event:

Hearing about UX from Higher Education leaders – our latest UCISA UX Group panel discussion

As the panel shared their experiences, the online chat rolled with questions and comments – the energy in the online room was palpable. I closed the session thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we were all in a room right now, to continue these conversations?’. With no prior experience of organising conferences, I turned to the UCISA Events team to help me turn the idea into a reality. A core organising committee was formed, including Esther Wong from UCISA, myself, Sonia Virdi (University of Edinburgh) and Graham Hancox (University of Nottingham), with additional help and support from the UX Group committee members.

What can you expect from the programme?

We put out a call-for-speakers at the end of last and closed it recently. We have had some excellent proposals on a diverse range of topics and will finalise the programme soon. For now, here is a taster of what to expect:

Tash Willcocks and Ben Holliday are our keynote speakers

As Head of Learning Design at TPX Impact, Tash Willcocks has a wealth of experience from years of working in the design industry. She’s an expert in training people in digital management and digital experience design and she’s also one of the most enthusing, encouraging and inspiring speakers out there, bringing a fresh take on weighty topics like systems thinking and change management to being them to life in context.

Ben Holliday is Chief Designer at TPX Impact, he is well-known for his book ‘Multiplied’ about digital transformation in the public sector. His blog posts are an inspirational source of insight for a range of topics including design leadership and UX value and the personal perspective he brings is both refreshing and motivating.

TPX Impact is our sponsor

We’re really pleased to have the support of TPX Impact for our event, their ethos of people-powered transformation aligns well with what UX in HE is all about!

Ayala Gordon, Samantha Fanning and other stars of the UX in HE community

We’re very excited to have secured Ayala and Sam as speakers in our programme as they are highly revered in the UX-in-HE realm. They have achieved great things in their respective universities (Ayala – University of Southampton and Sam – University College London) and they always have inspirational stories to share.

How will this conference be different from other UX conferences?

I’ve been very lucky to have attended several different conferences in the fields of UX, content design, service design and content management. I’ve been able to absorb generic concepts and external perspectives, improve my understanding with additional reading and apply what I’ve learned to my role at the University. I’m never sure if I’m doing it in the best way though. Books, blog posts and videos can only teach me so much. I’m always seeking to understand what other UX professionals working in HE are doing – to help me learn experientially, and to combat the ever-present imposter syndrome associated with working in a relatively young discipline in what can be a heritage-led, traditional sector. That’s what this conference aims to address.

Multiple case studies specifically about UX in HE

Seeing and hearing about real-life applications of UX techniques to HE scenarios turns the theory into practice and shows what is possible. In our UX Group webinars, colleagues have provided detailed accounts of their work and been honest about their successes and failures and it’s been heartening to see the virtual hands go up and the chat flood with questions as others seek to learn more. Real-life examples of UX in action in HE will form a major part of our conference, not only to provide food for thought for attendees, but also to celebrate and showcase the great work of those presenting.

Hands-on workshops to try out techniques in a HE context

‘How do I get started?’ has been a recurring question from those attending our UX Group webinars over the past few years. As a practitioner, it can be unnerving to plan and facilitate UX activities if you haven’t tried out these techniques before. An in-person conference presents the perfect opportunity to offer attendees the chance to learn by doing, to practice techniques in a supportive environment, to build confidence, skills and know-how to take back and apply in their own institutions. For this reason, we’ve sought to include a choice of workshops, delivered by UX people working in HE for UX people working in HE.

Chance to share and learn around HE mutual goals and challenges

Although every university and Higher Education institution is different, when it comes to UX, there is a lot of shared ground when it comes to challenges and opportunities. We all want our technologies to support the highest possible quality of learning and teaching practices. We all want our systems to support the fundamental tasks our staff and students need to complete. We all want to ensure our digital services to align with the capabilities and expectations of our staff and students.

At any point in time, different institutions will be at different stages of their processes to address these goals. Bringing people from different institutions together therefore affords ample opportunities to reflect on and learn from past practices, apply learnings for future actions and set up collaborations to join forces and work together towards our shared aims and objectives.

Perspectives from both HE leaders and practitioners

If you practice UX in HE, you soon become familiar and comfortable with multiple perspectives. Different users approaching tasks differently. Stakeholders varying in seniority bringing varied, sometimes opposite expectations. Colleagues prompting pivots with fresh critiques and feedback. Appreciating and understanding varied views of UX helps to grow UX maturity and culture, to work out how to grow UX practices into programmes, how to embed UX into service strategy and, crucially, how to convince and influence senior management of the value and necessity of UX. In our conference programme, we’re endeavouring to include both UX practitioners and UX leaders to provide a combination of ‘zoomed in’ and ‘zoomed out’ perspectives to provide inspiration at all levels.

Become part of a thriving, supportive community

As well as tangible skills and insights to take away, we want our conference to help you feel connected to our growing UX community. UX can often be misunderstood in HE institutions as seldom does it neatly fit into existing hierarchies and procedures. For this reason, speaking from my own experience, working in UX in HE can often feel quite lonely. To counter this, I’ve found it helpful to connect with others like me, to sense-check my thoughts, check my understanding, seek reassurance, and in some cases, indulge in some group therapy. This conference will offer the chance to empathise, encourage and inspire other HE UXers face-to-face, making valuable connections to draw upon for support as and when needed.

Here’s some help for your business case form if you want to join us

It can be difficult to make the case to get funding for attending conferences, so here are some ideas to get you started.

How will you benefit from attending this conference?

Attending this conference will provide a valuable source of new ideas of to help you keep up-to-date with the latest best practice, trends and standards in user-centred design. Skills, techniques and insights gained from UX24 can be applied directly to your work and shared with colleagues to bring others onboard with the benefits and value of applying user-centred practices.

How will your institution benefit?

Improving student experience and staff experience in your institution is recognised to bring tangible, long-lasting benefits and value, yet knowing how to make best use of the UX staff and resource available can be difficult. Attending this conference will provide a source of case studies showcasing the application of UX practices to address common Higher Education challenges and maximise opportunities. Furthermore it will offer the valuable opportunity to network with other professionals in the sector, facilitating learning and collaboration opportunities both during and after the event.

Visit our conference page to sign up for two-for-one tickets

Tickets to the conference are now on sale, priced at £165 for UCISA members (early bird rate until Monday 19 August). There is also a ‘Plus One’ scheme available, which means you can purchase two-for-one tickets. More details below.

UCISA UX24 prices and tickets

UCISA Plus One scheme


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