What you’ll gain from coming to CAN 2019

A guest blog post from Elizabeth Ellis, senior product development manager at The Open University, hosts of the 2019 CAN conference.

My first brush with the Change Agents’ Network (CAN) came at the perfect time. I attended the CAN Meet Up hosted by the University of Lincoln in June 2016 and was swamped with relief. Here was a huge network of people learning, reflecting and strategising about the same issues that concerned me:

  • How can we as staff engage with students as partners in good faith?
  • What does genuine co-creation of the future look like across our sectors?
    How do we prevent ‘consultation fatigue’?
  • How do we make the best possible decisions to ensure that change is effective for everyone involved?
  • And how many different ways are there to deploy post-its and Lego in the quest for a perfect workshop?

Actionable ideas
I came away from that Meet Up galvanised by the ideas that I had heard about; the presentations, workshops, demonstrations and posters where I had the chance to learn directly from Higher Education and Further Education students from across the UK.

Rather than come away from the day navel-gazing, I was able to come back to my role at the OU and immediately apply the ideas I had been exposed to. We changed our tack on technology research and development, completely redefining our team’s approach to assessing the needs of students. We built a panel of students who are dedicated to the co-design of curriculum, which continues to have direct impact on the development of modules, and – crucially for OU staff involved in curriculum development – meet and talk to our students. When you’re a far-flung distance education outfit, meeting students face-to-face or having direct conversations with them, is never anything but a privilege.

Direct relevance of emerging practices to student-staff partnerships
The thing that makes a CAN conference different from other events is not just this amazing opportunity for witnessing genuine partnership between institutions and their students, but the direct relevance that the emerging practices, tools, approaches and – I’ll say it – mistakes made along the way have for our evolving landscape of staff-student partnership. You can attend a day, or both days, and feel that you can return to your team or department, and immediately begin to try out some of what you’ve learned.

CAN at the OU
Since attending the Lincoln Meet Up in 2016, I’ve been working on bringing CAN to the OU’s campus in Milton Keynes. There’s always a bit of a surprised, ‘Oh, I had no idea you had a campus!’ reaction when I say that. But we do, and we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. This has very naturally left us feeling quite reflective on how far we’ve come, how things have changed, and what the future has in store for us.

Key themes for CAN 2019
So with that in mind, and this being the 7th annual CAN event, we knew we wanted our six key themes to offer participants the opportunity to critically reflect on our collective progress to date, and to begin to envision the future of staff-student partnership in a rapidly changing education sector.

The six themes are:

  1. Informed innovation: working with students
  2. Partnerships in curriculum innovation/design
  3. Engaging students in change
  4. Landscape of student voice
  5. Positioning ourselves for future success
  6. Engaging a diverse student body

Plenty to get our collective teeth into!

Call for submissions
You can review the call for submissions in more depth here.

To make your submission, please complete the linked proposal form by 21 January 2019: CAN Conference 2019 Proposal Form

Once your submission has been confirmed, you will need to secure your ticket for the event. Early Bird registration will open in February 2019.

If you have any queries please email The Open University CAN Conference team (

By Clare Killen

Senior consultant, Jisc data analytics

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