Insider tips on bidding to win – Grant 04/08: Learning and teaching innovation

JISC recently announced the funding call for Grant 04/08: Learning and teaching innovation (LTIG). These are small up to £50k one year projects giving institutions the opportunity to explore projects to support teaching and learning at the more innovative/high risk end of the spectrum. This is the 6th call for this particular type of funding and the lighter weight application process potentially makes it more appealing for those who have not previously applied for external project funding before.

I’ve helped to evaluate bids for round 5 of this programme and a variation of the call for Celtic FE colleges called SWaNi. This has given me some useful insight into the evaluation process and thought you’d all might like some insider tips. There is lots of general guidance and advice on writing bids, for this post everything I suggest is specifically targeted at your LTIG proposal.

For this post I’m also going to assume you’ve got some of the basics covered like reading the Call for initial proposals doc and checking your institution is eligible to bid. In Scotland this is made a little easier because ANY COLLEGE or university funded by the SFC can apply for funds. I highlight colleges because whilst this is a competitive call (last 3 calls have had 67/68 proposals funding 5 projects), I’m sure you can use the FE angle to your benefit, presenting JISC with an opportunity to fund innovation in a sector arguably usually overlooked.

So to start with I’m going to highlight some general philosophies I think you should have in mind in preparing your bid before then looking at each of the main sections of the Annex D – Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants Proposal Template.

Openness

JISC supports unrestricted access to the published output of publicly-funded research and wishes to encourage open access to research outputs to ensure that the fruits of UK research are made more widely available – LTIG6grant.doc Para B17

I would suggest that you shouldn’t see openness as a burden, but an opportunity to strengthen your bid. The are a number of ways you can do this and resulting benefits:

  • Open Bid Writing. Joss Winn at University of Lincoln is a strong advocate of open bid writing. Putting together your bid in an open domain is an opportunity to gather evidence of a need for you project, it’s also an opportunity crowdsource content for your bid
  • Making your project sustainable. Creating an open project increases the opportunity for sustainability beyond the funding period. For example, if you are developing any software tools building a community around their development from the very beginning increases the chance of greater adoption and continued development. If you are doing any software development contact JISC OSS Watch for advice before you submit your bid. There feedback can be used to strengthen your proposal.

Usefulness/re-usability

proposals will be expected to demonstrate: that they have a potential to be a benefit to the whole JISC community [and] the potential to be scalable and replicable – LTIG6grant.doc Para 14

Often in unsuccessful LTIG proposals there is a tendency to focus purely on the local benefits, or solely be carried out within institutional walls. More so than ever projects need to be explicitly linked to the bigger picture and address real world needs. So instead of ‘we will be addressing the retention on this particular course after students identified it as a problem in a small scale survey’ you should use ‘the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) (2008) Outcomes from Institutional Audit Progression and Completion Statistics. Second series. Sharing good practice. identified that …’.

The other thing to consider is interoperability and standards. JISC are more likely to shy away from a project which is deeply entrenched in bespoke institutional and systems not reusable by others.

Something to bear in mind is there is practically a standard for everything. If you are in doubt contact JISC CETIS, whose middle name is ‘interoperability’ and again if you contact them mention this in your proposal (if I read anything with ePortfolios it has to mention LEAP2A, for course information XCRI).

Dissemination/community engagement

The institution and its partners must commit to disseminating and sharing learning from the project throughout the community. LTIG6grant.doc Para B26

Most of the proposals I see include something about a website for dissemination, occasionally ‘a blog will be updated’. The danger with statements like these is they get lost as all the other bids are doing exactly the same thing. I’d include a strategy for making this more two-way. For example, as part of the JISC funded enhancement of the Twapper Keeper service several existing blogs were used to gather user ideas (e.g. here and here). The value of face-to-face shouldn’t also be overlooked. For the EVAF4ALL project they arranged for a meeting of ‘experts’ to come together and share ideas at a project start-up meeting (an idea might be to piggyback any special interest group meetings, HEA or RSC networks). Whilst mentioning dissemination it’s worth noting you should avoid end loading.

Student voice

If you do anything student facing make sure students are at the centre of the process. Holding a couple of student focus groups is no longer enough, you need to incorporate their expertise and knowledge into your project. My favourite quote to illustrate this is from Mayes (2007) referencing Etinne Wenger work:

Wenger describes how radical doctors are trying to describe a new paradigm for the doctor-patient relationship, where a consultation is re-conceptualised as a dialogue between two experts – one, the doctor, being expert in the generic medical science, while the other, the patient, is expert in his or her own case – medical and lifestyle history, symptoms etc. Both kinds of expertise are necessary for a successful diagnosis and agreed treatment regime and should be arrived at through a dialogue between equals – a horizontal relationship in which responsibility for outcomes is shared – Mayes (2007)

[Remember IMDB, Facebook and many other products were developed by students]

Bidding Template Breakdown

So with these general project philosophies in mind on to the bidding template. When writing your bid is keep looking at the evaluation criteria as laid out in LTIG6grant.doc Para 20. You must also adhere to the word limits, or your bid will be immediately discounted.

10. What is the issue, problem or user need that your proposed project is addressing?

A good place to start looking for evidence is the HEA EvidenceNet, which is “the place to come to find current evidence relating to teaching and learning in higher education”. As well as their main site it’s worth browsing the EvidenceNetWiki which is a useful way to identify some of the key references on most of educations biggest problems (assessment/feedback, 1st year experience, retention/widening participation). For general context Horizon Reports might also be a good source – here’s Horizon Report 2011

11. How does the proposed project address the issue described above?

Your essentially building an argument for funding your proposal. Section 10 was ‘what’ and this is ‘how’. You may want to break your ‘how’ into project phases. You definitely want to cover “the potential for sustainability of the work beyond the funded period”, as this is becoming a priority for JISC work. Something else to consider is ‘is the idea appropriate’.

12. What makes the proposed project innovative? Give references to any applicable previous research/work in this area and explain how your project would add or build on this.

The biggest failing I regularly see in this section is the failure to reference any prior work in your chosen area. In particular you want to see if there are any previous JISC projects on your chosen area. Identification of overlap is not a weakness but an opportunity to highlight how your project is different, why your project should be funded to fill the missing gap.

The best ways to find out what JISC has previously funded are Google ‘JISC funded with your project idea’. Alternatively use the CETIS PROD database to search for existing projects.

Obviously JISC aren’t the only project funders so you should reference other work where necessary (for example anything with mobile probably has some overlap with MoLeNET. Whilst I’m on mobile technology one of my pet hates is platform specific mobile apps. If you are doing something just for iPhone/iPad you’d better have a watertight argument for its use).

Edit: I should have also highlighted that anyone who works for JISC (in the Services, Programme support, RSCs) generally has a good overview of what is going on in the sector both nationally and internationally. Running your idea past one of us before submission is a good opportunity to find out if your idea really is innovative and areas where it overlaps with other projects.

13. What benefit will the outputs of your project be for other HE or FE institutions (outside of your institution)? Will they be able to use them, and why might they want to?

This is a new section to the bidding template. Often one of the criticisms I hear about JISC funded work is the wider impact on the sector. This is perhaps a bigger problem for the smaller projects which have tighter deadlines and smaller budgets. This is where the philosophy of an open and engaging project can be used to your benefit. If you have already generated interest in your idea and got some feedback this can be used to illustrate the benefit and demand of your project. You might want to consider the cost benefit here. We’re in the era of putting hard values on savings, so if your project is about retention what are the cost benefits for a student continuing their studies for the institution and even society.

14. Give brief details of the project timescale, project team (including how much time each member will be spending on the project), key work packages and outputs

An example I regularly use to illustrate one way to layout this section is the University of Strathclyde’s PEER Project submission, in particular the way it maps a timeline to workpackages, objectives and outputs. If your word count permits I would use it to go into more detail about your outputs (expected size, format, which Creative Commons license you’ll be using, where they will be put). If producing reports/documents you might want say whether drafts will be available for comment/contributions (various ways you could do this from making a public Google Doc or maybe writetoreply.org)

One of the evaluation criteria is “does the proposal suggest that it has the full support from the institution(s) involved” . For the initial stage of proposals you don’t need to, nor should you, submit a letter of support. I think it’s hard to fulfil this criteria within the bidding template so at the end of this section I would include a statement like “This proposal has been approved for submission by {Insert name of the person who has approved it}, {Insert job title} (and perhaps a contact email)”.

Budget Information

JISC are a bit coy when it comes to exactly how much your institutional contribution should be. The figure usually mumbled between markers is 30%. Remember that:

The proposal must not include the development or purchase of learning material/learning content, … software, licences and equipment purchase …, it would be acceptable to include this as part of an institution’s contribution  LTIG6grant.doc Para 8

On the budget form I’d use the ‘Details’ column for ‘Institutional Contribution’ to indicate any expenditure which falls in this category. I’d also use the details column to breakdown your entered amounts so that the markers can see if the project is value for money.

Finally

What were the most common reasons that bids were rejected during previous rounds of Learning & Teaching Innovation Grants? – from Guidance to Bidders

  • The proposed work duplicated existing work (including JISC funded work) and/or did not show any awareness of existing work in the same area;
  • Linked to the above, the proposal did not demonstrate clearly that it was innovative; the proposal did not make it clear that proposed outputs would be of interest, transferable or reusable for other institutions, groups or subject areas;
  • The proposal was not eligible – for example it would use JISC funding to buy hardware or software, to develop or purchase learning materials;
  • The proposal was for the development of a tool and there was no evidence of a demand from the wider community;
  • The proposal was not supported by an institutional financial contribution commensurate with the benefit of the proposed work to the institution;
  • Proposals involving the development of a tool did not adhere to standard JISC expectations (free release to the JISC community, use of appropriate web standards, support for interoperability and transferability);
  • Proposals centred on the use of new technology or online resources and tools without any consideration of pedagogical need or accessibility issues.

Bid documents

Final, finally

Even if you are not supported by your local RSC (depending on where you are in the UK we have limited support for HEIs, but do support HE in FE), I’d still get in touch before you submit your proposal because we are always looks for good examples to shout about from our own patch.

Update: Rob and Lis’s comments reminded me that I should have thanked Sheila MacNeil at JISC CETIS and the LTIG Porgramme Manager Heather Price for input on this post (CETIS providing interoperability/standards information and Heather highlight some useful bit and pieces including the details of the previously funded LTIG projects).

7 Comments




  1. Superb, comprehensive and practical.
    I’d reinforce the “Read the call doc” as it can save your valuable time drafting a bid that isn’t in scope.
    If in doubt ask the programme manager, it’s their job, their privilege and often delight to discuss the programme.


  2. Many thanks for this excellent post, I agree with all you say especially your point 12 (an initial chat with your Regional Support Centre may be able to help you decide whether your fledgling idea is sufficiently innovative and how it relates to previous JISC and other research). Also the vital importance of thinking creatively about dissemination and impact from the word go!


    1. Thank you both!

      @Rob Your comment reminded me that I should have thanked Heather (LTIG Programme Manager), who was very helpful in pointing out a couple of things for me.

      @Lis Not wanting to brag too much but we have concrete examples of helping institutions turn good ideas into great ideas which have gone on to be funded, so a quick call your your RSC (or appropriate JISC Service) is always worthwhile.

      Martin


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