Friday, 8 August 2014

Dancing in the Park

So, the end of my first week back after the holiday. It's been a long week :-)  Most of it spent catching up, and looking forward to the new academic year. Perhaps the most important job I've been doing is looking at our budget for next year and how that compares with our financial forecasts. Its fair to say it's not an exact match, and we are looking at how we might manage it in terms of current vacancies. We're identifying areas where we believe the staffing resources needs to be protected, where it could reduce (albeit with a drop in service levels), and where we need to invest. There may be tough decisions to be taken....

Also this week I've caught up with some of the new student sabbatical officers. Always a pleasure to meet them at the beginning of the new academic year, and I'm afraid it only seems like a few weeks since I was was welcoming the previous holders. I don't envy them having such a short period to learn how the University works, and make their own impact on it. It's vitally important that we work together to achieve as much as we can in their period of office. This week we've talked about the design and operation of The Diamond,  how we might encourage students to vote and how we might better analyse our student data to look at the attainment of different diversity groups.

It was really good this week to meet colleagues from another university and exchange information about our strategies, service management implementation etc. It's always time well spent finding out what anther institution is dong, even if they came here to find out what we're doing.

And finally, I did some scheduling for an event I'm helping with - The Sheffield Fayre. To celebrate 20 years of The National Fairground Archive, the University is sponsoring this event.  Given my connections, I'd been asked to get some local traditional dance teams to appear. Yesterday I had to work out the timings for 6 teams, across two stages, making sure everyone had enough time to move between spots, and didn't dance with the same team. A post-it note nightmare :-) Looks like a good event - and it's free. So, if you're not doing anything get to Norfolk Park on Sunday 24th or Monday 25th August.

Thursday, 7 August 2014


While I was off, we successfully moved our VLE (MOLE) to a hosted service.  I missed the fun and games, but by all accounts it went very well - so congrats to all of the team. The only noticeable difference to our users should be that content creation is faster - everything else should be just the same, despite the fact is is now not running here, but on servers in a different country. It was a very aggressive timescale we worked to to get everything migrated in plenty of time for the beginning of the academic year, and I'm really pleased it was so successful.

Technology Enhanced Learning is an important part of our strategy, and this year we are running a
week long TEL festival in September and I'm pleased to see that arrangements for this have really come on in the past few weeks.  TELFest-2014 is designed to give help, guidance and support to anyone develop their skills in this area, no matter how much experience they have. There's workshops, drop in sessions, panel discussions and much more - the agenda looks really interesting, and we hope it will be a well attended event.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Graduation Round Up complete with Google Glass

Sorry for interval to blogging - been on my hols to Turkey for a couple of weeks. A bit earlier than we normally go, and as such I missed Graduation Week for the first time in many years. Very disappointed as I always love it - its the culmination of the year, and always brings it back home to me what our jobs are all about.

As usual, we tried to make it as good a day as possible for our students and family and friends, and our creative media team did a great job again. As well as live streaming of the ceremonies, and recording them on USB sticks and DVDs ready soon after the ceremony, we had out famous handshake videos - those few seconds as the graduand walks across the stage that everyone is really interested in. My favourite one was of Alan - famous for replying to the whole list about not having any robes, and starting the hashtag #prayforalan. He got his robes, and graduated to a huge cheer:

 A great moment!

We also had the gigipixel photos available again thanks to our friend Ed from Business Tours UK which are taggable on Facebook.  A new development this year was The University of Sheffield Yearbook, a set of photos taken during the week of students, staff and family and friends, together with their stories - definitely worth a look, there's some lovely stories.

And finally, our Corporate Affairs department showed what you can do with Google Glass - fantastic film:

Monday, 14 July 2014

The famous CiCS BBQ

Last Friday was the famous CiCS BBQ, in our lovely back garden and in glorious sunshine. Lots of people helped of course - to prepare the food, to put up the gazebos, to BBQ, to move furniture, to test the beer.... All under Alison's direction of course - so thanks to everyone, and those who stayed behind to clear up and wash up. Forgot my camera, so here's a few iPhone pictures of a great event:

Friday, 11 July 2014

MOLE is moving.....

This week has mainly been about catch ups with senior colleagues in CiCS and in our Professional Services Executive, and Liaison meetings. We're in our second round of meetings with the Faculties where we discuss our plans for the year, and look at their strategic challenges and how we might help.

One of our key priorities for the coming year is to improve the availability and performance of our VLE, (called MOLE). Hopefully we will have achieved that very soon, as we are moving it next weekend to a managed hosted service. We only took the decision a few weeks ago to move, and the team here have worked really hard to get  it migrated by the end of this month so it will be ready for the start of the next academic year. We've done a few test migrations, and next weekend we take the service down, migrate all of the content over to a datacentre in Amsterdam, test it and hopefully go back live again. Our staff and students shouldn't see any difference, except in performance, responsiveness and speed at which any faults get fixed. We hope then that our Learning Technologies team will be able to focus their efforts on supporting MOLE and helping staff and students to use its features to produce innovative and engaging online content to provide our students with the best learning experience possible.

As part of our commitment to Technology Enhanced learning, we are running a week long Technology Enhanced Learning Festival in September with sessions including Using Social Media to Enhance Teaching and Learning, Mobile Learning, Online Assessment and Feedback, Multimedia to enhance learning and teaching, E-portfolios and Flipped Learning. As well as the workshop sessions there'll be panel discussions and drop in sessions. Watch this space for details and programme soon.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Living with 100 things

The last session at the SSG conference last week was a keynote from Jonathan Munn, a 26 year old who two years ago made the radical decision to give away all of possessions and live with no more than 100 things. He's since written a book about his experience called How to be Radical, with some suggestions about how we can all do something radical to change our lives.  Currently he has about 74 possessions I think, and yes that does include pants and socks, and a pair of socks counts as 1 item.

Although he wasn't suggesting that we all did what he's done, he did ask us all to do something different - to step out of our comfort zone and agree to DO something. Then do it, stop talking and do it, tell everyone we're doing it to make ourselves accountable. Simplify what we can - focus on what matters, and not distractions. He eats the same meal every day and has so few clothes he doesn't have to make decisions about what to wear. For someone who loves food and clothes, that would be a tad too radical for me :-)  Most importantly, and I cannot disagree with him here, live for the present - enjoy it!  As a rather nice parting piece of work, we all had to write down three things we were going to do, and give it with our email address to someone we didn't know. They will contact us in three months to check on progress. My biggest problem is I can only remember two of the things I wrote down....

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Innovation, Ideascale and a pet cow

I'm trying to catch as much of the SSG conference as possible while I'm here, and yesterday I managed to see Gareth Edwards talk about how they are handling innovation at the University of Surrey.

He began by posing the question, What does innovation mean to us? The conclusion was that it was solving problems with new ideas in response to external drivers such as changing technology and student expectations. It's something we should all want to do and we should be encouraging our staff to.

One the things they tried was giving some staff a 20% policy for two months where providing the day job was under control they could work in innovative projects with colleagues. This came up with some excellent small improvements. But didn't prove to be scaleable across the department.
They decided to set up an ideas board using idea management software and have implemented Ideascale, which is what we have been using in our Information Commons to collect ideas from students, and we are hoping to roll it out further.
Their experience came up with a number of lessons:
Get the commitment of management
Encourage staff to be involved
When you launch it to the department - explain it,  sell it, get participation.
Emphasise that failure IS an option.
Early adopters play a big role. Cultivate them.
Consider having a facilitator to keep up the tempo
Work out how to deliver stuff - its no good collecting good ideas if you do nothing with them
Use gamification - rewards, points etc to encourage people.

A really good talk, and some good pointers for when we roll ideascale out further.

I also had to give my Petcha Kucha talk yesterday  - surprisingly for someone who enjoys presenting and talking I wasn't particularly looking forward to it. The rigid structure of slides moving automatically after 20 seconds I found difficult. Anyway, it seemed to go OK, apart from a stumble over a word on the first slide! I was last on in the day, so gave what a hope was a reasonably
entertaining look at my life story in pictures and lessons learned. But they won't mean a lot without the preceding slides ;-) Oh, and I cheated on the format..... 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Tree in a sweater and other things

Yesterday I spoke at a seminar for PhD students and research workers about careers outside of their subject area, not in academica. it focused on opportunities in Professional Services, so there were a number of colleagues there across the institution.  I tried to get across that you learn a lot of transferable skills in doing a PhD, and when thinking of possible careers you need to think where you can use them. You also need to be able to draw them out on your job application or CV, and that's true for all of your experiences both at work and outside for all job applications.

Transferable skills I specifically mentioned were:
Time management
Project management
Complex problem solving
Writing skills
Self reliance
Attention to detail
Academic rigour
Self confidence, especially with academic colleagues

I also took part in a CV clinic where we spoke to students about their CVs and how they might improve them if they were interested in pursuing a career in our area. Really interesting morning.

Today I'm at Crewe Hall for three things - meeting of the UCISA Conference Orrganising Committee, meeting of the UCISA Executive, and I'm giving my Petcha Kucha session later this afternoon at the Support Services Group annual conference.

Crewe Hall is an amazing place, a Jacobian Mansion with a tree wearing a sweater in the grounds.

This morning we had the Conference Organising Committee meeting and its all going well so far - quite a few speakers already confirmed, and several others we're waiting for confirmation of.  Got a nice spooky vibe organised for one of the dinners as well.

Friday, 27 June 2014


I spent yesterday at Lancaster University with colleagues from other HEIs and Gartner talking about Innovation. Started with a tour round their data centres, normally I'm not a fan of data centre tours, but these were really interesting! Overhead cabling, water cooled, nice and modern. As our main one is in danger of being knocked down as part of the University's development plan, we may have to build a new one soon and move services, so we might get a nice shiny one as well.

I also had a chat with a lizard called Eddie (Eddie Lizzard, get it?) in a Digibooth, but that's another story...

The main part of the day was some presentations and discussions about Innovation, and how we can build it in to the way we run our deaprtments.

One of the fitrst questions we asked, was waht are the barriers to innovation - what stops people doing it? One the main ones is not asking people to innovate, and assuming they will figure it out for themselves. Others include being afraid to fail (innovation requires that you take risks), not rewarding people for innovating, only allowing the "creative types" to innovate and making the innovation process really bureaucratic and slow

Two other key processes which need a lot of attention are motivation and momentum. People have to be motivated to innovate - a clear purpose is needed, not to restrict ideas, but to give some focus that everyone can work towards.

We spent a lot of time discussing whether an "innovation team" was needed, or whether this would give the impression of elitism If we did have an innovation team, should people rotate through it?  Should we give everyone some innovation time, or run competitions for innovative ideas? What about hackathons, innovation jams?  Suggest that people do something different to promote creativity - nice quote from Chip Heath, author of Switch:

"You cannot direct people to each have a brilliant idea every Tuesday at 4 p.m. But you can direct them to do something that is likely to spark that brilliant idea — for example, taking time every Tuesday at 4 p.m. to go to a different department or talk to a potential user of your product."

The reason why we need to innovate? As has been proven many times, if we keep on doing the same things, in the same way, we will quickly become irrelevant.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Presentations, Pecha Kucha and Printing

Spent much of the last couple of days writing presentations. One to give next week at a conference which is a Pecha Kucha, or 20 slides for 20 seconds each. I must admit, I'm not entirely sure about this style. I find it quite difficult stick to 20 seconds, often wanting to digress into a story... I will just have to be more disciplined! The other is also to give next week to postgraduate research students about possible careers after they've finished their PhD, trying to open them up to things other than a career in academia. Many transferable skills are acquired doing a PhD and then writing it up including critical thinking, problem solving, writing, organisational skills and project management.

We've also had a a departmental meeting this week where I outlined our proposed new service portfolio and we had presentations on our staff creative media service and our graphic design and wide format printing service. This service has just won a national award for some design and printing work they did in of the catering outlets. Space was limited, so they designed prints to cover the cupboard doors.great work and a deserved winner.

Our external speaker was Chris Murray from epiGenesys, who gave us a fascinating overview of their history and the sorts of things they do.

Also this week I've been to a steering group meeting about how we develop the Sheffield Professional concept. Look out for some exciting announcements!

Now I'm on my way to Lancaster for a seminar on Innovation which I'm looking forward to.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Ten great things and a murder mystery

Busy campus today as its an open day. As usual we have a stand telling students what to expect when they get here, and what they might need to know about IT facilities.

Building on our success as being number one for student experience this year, we've devised a new set of web pages and a small booklet with the Ten Great Things in IT here in Sheffield.

Also today, the Student Summer of Innovation awards were announced - I blogged last week about the selection process, and now can tell you about the 20 projects that will be funded. You can see a complete list here and read about them in detail. There's some really good ones. To give you an idea of the diversity of them they include:
  • An app to encourage female students to break gender stereotypes
  • A flashcard revision system for veterinary students
  • The Duct Tape University - an Open Education Resource discovery and publishing tool for learning communities
  • Homicidium  - a nomadic campus game which aims to introduce students to elements of their modules in a day long murder hunt. 

Will be really exciting watching them all develop over the summer.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Successful completion of My Sustainable Print

This morning I went to a celebratory event for the end of our My Sustainable Print Project. All of our print champions were invited (the people in departments who really worked with us to make this happen), as well as some of the CiCS team and Sharp, our suppliers.

It was an opportunity to thank everyone for what has been a technical and operational challenge, as well as a huge culture change across the University. Our  network of print champions, the suppliers and the different teams within CiCS have collaborated and cooperated to get to where we are today.

We started a few years ago with a complete print audit of the University by our consultants, Wyse, and from that we realised how many benefits a completely managed print solution would bring.
Sharp were awarded the contract in Dec 2013, and began planning immediately, and the roll-out programme began on 6 January 2014. Between 6 january and 31 March 521 devices were rolled out across the whole campus.

As well as rolling out the new machines we also introduced a new Pharos control solution across the fleet, a new scanning function and  follow you printing for all staff so that everyone can print to any machine across campus. In addition,  all old photocopying equipment was removed, some devices were redeployed to student library locations and a procedure for logging support calls was established. Finally,  all old printers were removed. This was not without difficulties ;-)

The old printers were sent to a community enterprise in Sheffield, Aspire, which provides support to vunerable and socially excluded people. They have arranged for the printers to be reused or recycled, thus providing significant social benefit to the local community. So far we've removed about 1800 printers, with more to go.

There were challenges which had to be met during the deployment, including the logistics of ordering, storing and delivering so many printers to different locations, the aggressive timescales, the extent of remedial works needed (for example provision of additional power and data points), changing departmental requirements, health and safety issues around location of devices, and some product specific issues including an early problem with the scanning software.

However, the deployment has been hugely successful, and we are now transiting from deployment to management and support, with a fleet manager and two engineers permanently based on site.

One of our next developments will be the roll out of Everyone Print which will facilitate printing from mobile devices and manage guest print at the beginning of September
Some of the many benefits are:
1 Cost savings of c£1m per annum. Getting rid of expensive to run printers, replaced with more cost effective and more functional devices

2 Positive contribution to green credentialsReduction of power consumption of the print fleet by 80%
CO2 emissions reduced from 24 to 5 tonnes per annum
Reduced size of printer estate.
3 A fully managed service with a reduction of internal IT time spent working on printers. which can be redirected to other projects.

4 Improvements to service delivery with a team based on site working to a tight SLA with specific targets

Going forward, we now have a sustainable print coordinator based in CiCS who will manage the contract and the service, and act as coordinator with technical teams and support teams in CiCS as well as all suppliers.
We are looking at establishing a Service Advisory Group to input into development of the service

The Helpdesk are providing first line support, logging calls on our servicedesk software which handles the escalation to second line support provided by Sharp.

A benefits realisation group had been established which will analyse and report on savings and benefits. and produce case studies to demonstrate best practice .

Finally, our highly successful Print Champions network will be maintained to help us in collecting feedback and optimising the service.

Its really nice to see the completion of such a successful project, and I'd personally like to add my thanks to everyone involved - the Project Team, the technical teams in CiCS, the Helpdesk,  the print Champions and the suppliers  -  Sharp, Wyse and Aspire. Well done everyone! But we mustn't forget our comms team who worked hard to get the message out to the University about what was happening:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Diamonds, students and stolen tapestries

Started the week with a Senior Management Group meeting for our new building, The Diamond. We're into the design freeze now, so discussion is about progress on the building, and interior layout and details. Progress is good. Fascinating discussion about concrete. Who knew it was so interesting. Listening to the progress reports, and watching the webcam, as well as hearing about the lorries of concrete lined up at intervals and managing the tower crane capacities makes you realise what a massive logistical exercise it is.  And also now starting to appreciate what a huge, and stunning, building this is going to be.

Today I had a meeting with JISC to discus one of their latest innovation projects which I'm going to be involved with. Called from Prospect to Alumnus this is a big project which aims to provide a joined up digital student experience from pre-application to employment.  More details in this infographic. Just at the scoping stage at the moment, but I'm looking forward to being involved.

Finally, a piece of news tonight which made me smile. We used to have a meetings room called The Tapestry Room, with two Eighteenth Century tapestries. About 20 years ago one was stolen, rather brazenly by a couple of guys who walked in wearing brown coats, rolled it up, carried it out and calmly nodded to the porters as they went. It was some days before someone realised it hadn't been taken down for cleaning....

So, one of the tapestries remained until recently when the room was refurbished and decorated, and it was taken down.  We were going to sell it, but it's origin was traced to a French chateau where it had been looted by the Nazis in WW2. So, we've returned it! How cool.