Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Final thoughts on strategy forum

A quick round up of a couple of other sessions from the Higher Education Strategy Forum, and a summary of thoughts about the event.

We had a really good session from the VC of the University of Greenwich on Universities in the Digital Age. He outlined the key drivers that are impacting us at the moment, ( these are not new btw...)
Cloud computing, Mobile, Social Media, Openness and MOOCs and how we can turn our Information Systems from liabilities to assets
His conclusions were that the speed of technology development is scary but exciting, student expectations are high and Universities are struggling to keep up. His final point was that technology is a means to an end, not the end itself. which is of course true. Great talk from a VC who is obviously very clued  up about technology.

We also had a session from Chris Hale, Assistant Director of Policy at Universities UK about the efficiency agenda.
The Efficiency and Modernisation Task Force was established in 2010, (I was a member of it) and it produced a report with 17 recommendations, commonly referred to as the Diamond Report. It set out a challenging agenda and there have been several successful outcomes, especially around collaborative procurement where sector wide savings of £435m have been demonstrated in two years.
Phase 2 started in November 2013, which identified 6 key work streams and the report was published last week. You can download and read a copy from here. Starts with an interesting infographic about the economic impact of Higher Education.

As well as the sessions I've posted about, we had a number of presentations from the vendors who had sponsored the event, individual business meetings with them and a "speed dating" hour where each vendor had 4 minutes to pitch to a small group of us. Overall I found it very useful. It wasn't just aimed at IT Directors, and there were VCs, PVCs, Deans and Directors of other professional services there, so some good networking opportunities. Most of the vendors were also pretty clued up on what we wanted to discuss. There were some excellent talks, and some not so good, quite a mixed bag, as often happens at these events. There were several things which could have been improved - the wifi coverage was dreadful, one of the days was too long( 0850 to 1905 with very short breaks only), and everything was very regimented. But, the venue was lovely, and when I did manage to escape for a short walk, I found this fantastic carpet of snowdrops and aconites under some trees.

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Moving away from technology, this morning's sessions were on space.

First up was the University of Warwick's PVC for planning talking about estates planning
Some interesting figures about UK University estate (all figures exclude student accommodation)
Capital expenditure on estate was £2bn in 2012/13. Revenue cost of supporting the estate is £1.9bn/yr
Size of HE estate is just behind NHS. About 7 times the size of Tesco estate!

Currently there is pressure on capital expenditure, little government funding now, most has to come from reserves or borrowing.
But there is a massive investment in the University estate because space is:
Central to operational effectiveness
Crucial to staff and student experience
Critical in ensuring ability to meet many different demands
Provides a competitive advantage
A third of students have rejected an institution based on the facilities they observed
80% of students say the quality of the facilities have influenced them to accept an offer.

Are issues about how we creatively use space, and space use and utilisation is very important. The effective use of our space is a particular concern of government
Analysis of space usage indicators over last decade tells a positive story, the total net space per fte student is down by 9%. However, the office space for academics is only down by 0.6 % We are not using office space efficiently.

Space norms and metrics can provide information against which opportunities and constraints offered by existing buildings can be reviewed.
Expansion of the estate in relation to growth can be forecast.
Expectations regarding space allocation between departments and amongst colleagues can be managed
But difficult to benchmark as few universities publish space use

Estate is core to the delivery of the academic mission
Student expectation, staff recruitment, retention all depend on high quality facilities.
Capital spending has to be linked to improvements in space management and utilisation
You need space norms, metrics and benchmarking to inform decision making
The sustainability agenda is very important

Last week's UUK efficiency report has a section on delivering value from the HE estate, and emphasises the need for academics and estates departments to work closely together. You can read the report here.

This was followed by talk on helping students to use technology in learning spaces. Primarily it focused on providing power for mobile devices using USB, not 240volts!

Previously discussions have focused around raised floors and floor boxes, but this is now unrealistic. Devices are less hungry for power and USB is fine.
They have some neat little devices, including this which is basically a big battery, which when charged up will provide 8 students with power all day. There are lots of configurations for using them - in middle of round tables or near soft seating and they can be built into furniture or a building.
I was quite impressed with them- so much better than floor boxes!!
They also had some neat collapsible computers in desks, can use space for computers or as desk space.

Finally we had a talk from DBS who design and install technology in teaching areas, residential areas and hotels. They shard a case study on what they'd done at Kings college for some new student accommodation.
They had had built 700 bedrooms, and put enough infrastructure in for at least 7 devices per student.
All the rooms had a flexible digital screen, and wired and wireless networks so all devices can connect to it. It delivered free IPTV and gave access to learning materials, streamed lectures etc

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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

From free to fee

Next session is a speaker from the Open University talking about changes in Higher Education, and how we should respond.
OU has been on a journey from late night BBC programmes, (they are proud of training the most number of inebriated physicists ) to co producing programmes like Frozen Planet with the BBC. 45% of people in UK watched at least one episode of it. The OU built on this to sell their Frozen Planet course. From free to fee.

We don't all have relationship with the BBC, buth there are other Free to Fee channels we can use. For example, YouTube. one of worlds top search engines. The OU have created lots of very short courses as tasters for their substantial ones. We cod all do the same.

Another channel is iTunes. OU have been on iTunesU for 2 years and have just passed 75m downloads. They are the most downloaded university in the world, beating institutions including Harvard.

We all need to embrace these new methods of delivery and marketing to leverage from free to fee.

The OU Anywhere app was launched last year, and provides everything for a course in one place, lecture notes, videos etc. available on a mobile device. The world has moved to mobile and tablet - 75% of logins to facebook now are from mobiles - we have to accept that the desktop is dying and we need to move to mobile delivery.

The OU was a partner in establishing Futurelearn, the UK MOOC delivery platform which currently has 41 Universities set up, and partners with BBC and British Library. They built it for mobile first, had an engaging environment and had employment outcomes at the start of the journey. Completion rate is 3 times higher than major rival and it hs a 75% student satisfaction rating.

There is a huge appetite for a UK education globally, and we should capitalise on that.

From free to fee. :-)

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Higher Education Strategy Forum- Student Experience and Digital Lancaster

I'm at a Higher Education Strategy Forum at the moment, which is an interesting event, but more on that later...

Lots of short presentations, so I'll see how I get on posting about them.

First up is about the student experience, particularly in relation to their learning experience, and what we should be doing to improve it. Important to understand the current experience, concentrate on what you can do something about and take action. Need to engage with students and gain their trust. Needs to be a much deeper engagement than just talking to student officers. Engage them in course design and development. They can bring elements around the curriculum, a broader picture to make sure it is engaging and relevant. Involve students in co production of knowledge, not just about the flipped classroom, but creating a space where students and staff can interact. My question was how do you get students to accept this way of interactive learning, our experience in some areas has been " I've paid £9,000, now teach me". If something isn't credit bearing, or it involves a lot of work, they're not interested. Of course, I've exaggerated slightly, but our recent experience of "Achieve More", where all of our first year students had to take part in a week long cross faculty exercise designed to teach them a number of transferable skills including team work, problem solving etc was very illuminating. The biggest complaint was that it had no credit attached to it, so why did they have to do it. Their learning experience didn't come into it. If it didn't contribute to their marks, they didn't want to do it. I found that really sad.

Next up was Paul Harness from Lancaster University, talking about Digital Lancaster. They have a five point Digital Strategy.
The world in changing, and many organisations have had to change and develop digital strategies including the music industry, retail, banking, cities and even the government. Universities are no different, and a digital strategy should attempt to answer the question:
How will our organisation survive and thrive in a digital world?
They used a model from Gartner, which was a lens on the university strategy to look at digital opportunities and threats facing the institution, and then looked at capabilities and gaps.
Vision is aspirational and ambitious. Trying to use digital technology innovatively to give them an edge, and make the institution think differently, ie about culture, not about technology.

They've put together a number of resources, including a one page summary and a video which you can see here.

Important that this isn't seen as an IT strategy, but a University strategy. Different parts of the strategy are assigned to different senior managers to oversee implementation.

Some examples of implementation:
1 Mobile applicant engagement.
Have a mobile app, 0.5 FTE working on it, rest of team are students. Have built a lot of functionality. Have developed an app tailored to the needs of applicants. iLancaster. Went into schools and talked to students about what they wanted. Information sent to them about the app with offer letter. Hoping it will improve offer take up. It contains welcome information, accommodation information, 3d tours, booking for visit days etc. Each academic dept can put their own content into the app. Also can initiate live chat sessions.

2 Innovation Hub
Small team of two people looking at innovation and ideas generation, operate in highly agile and flexible way. Operate like a start up, challenging existing processes. Partnering with computer science software development programme. Have created on line ideas platform where ideas can be submitted and voted on.
One of the ideas which came out of this was the Minecraft campus.
The student gaming team comes into their department one afternoon a week and are building the campus in Minecraft from info provided by estates. Can fly through etc. Has cost very little apart from engaging with students.

Some great ideas from Paul. I'm very keen to develop a Digital Strategy, and am hopeful that we can deploy our ideas platform, Ideascale very shortly. I also like the idea of partnering with computer science, and we have our very own company EpiGenysis, who might get a call when I get back. And as for building the campus in Minecraft, genius!

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Monday, 2 March 2015

See through science

Continuing the Public Engagement symposium, we had a keynote address from Stephen Hill, Head of Research Policy at HEFCE. Very interesting and thought proving talk about the history and development of Public Engagement in the HE sector.

He started with a picture of a news headline from 2000, "GM crops under fire again". Important word is "again". A problem that we couldn't crack, getting the message out about genetic manipulation and what it actually was. Or more importantly what it wasn't! As a geneticist by training, this is particularly close to my heart. About the same time, an important report from the House of Lords Science and Technology committee came out, and one of the recommendations was that direct dialogue with the public about research should be embedded and the norm, not an add on.

Since then, there have been huge advances in public engagement in Universities.

However we haven't got everything right, and a recent report in Feb 2015 about genetic techniques for improving crops, is still recommending the need to reframe public understanding of this area.

A major turning point was the publication of this document

Which made the argument that we needed to move to a new way of thinking, moving from a public understanding of science, ie one way communication, to a dialogue about research, not just science.

Another important policy intervention was the REF where public engagement was included as acceptable impact. 6975 impact case studies were submitted, and 447 of them are about public engagement, vast majority in arts and humanities.

In terms of the future, he suggested that we have moved towards a focus on civic cultural and community, and away from controversy. Perhaps we should clarify that we have two distinct missions:
Engagement and impact
Responsible research and innovation.

And, if we are going to tackle controversial topics, we may have to let people outside the academy in to our research governance.

Finally he used the recent example of the approval of the use of mitochondrial DNA in fertility treatments as a huge success story for public engagement. It would be difficult to imagine it happening in 2000. An interesting comment from one of our fertility experts in the audience was that it was the result of a 6 year dialogue which had resulted in getting the journalists on side.

In conclusion the message was that we need to get away from public engagement being about the "understanding of science" to the "enthusiasm for research"

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The Cosmos, Research on Tour, Castlegate and Robots

As part of the symposium, we had a number of showcases of successful public engagement.

First up,was Sounds of the Cosmos, from the 2014 Festival of the Mind, a joint production between the Departments of Music and Physics, and a local design agency, Human.
It combined the music from the Holst's The Planets, astronomy talks, and images of the cosmos. There's a great short video of it, produced by CiCS staff of course, on YouTube

and all of the talks are available on iTunesU.

The music, although called The Planets, is more about the astrological nature of the planets, so in between each of the movements was a science talk about research being carried out in Sheffield. Not about the individual planets, but about broad areas, including the birth of stars, the death of stars, galaxies, and the future.
There were workshops throughout the day with local schoolchildren about the research going on in Maths and Physics, and a special concert for them in the afternoon, with the general public concert in the evening. A great opportunity for outreach, and to get schoolchildren interested in science.
We helped out by fitting 8 huge screens in the Octagon for the images to be displayed during the concert. They were stunning, and produced by Human. There was 2 and a half hours of footage, because the screens were paired up with different images on each. Lots of NASA images were used, blended with their own visuals.
Overall a huge success with great reviews, good public engagement, and real partnership working across the whole University. And new opportunities have opened, with DocFest interested in it, as well as touring opportunities.

Second showcase was from Amy Beard from Point Blank Theatre talking about your Research on Tour, research from Professor Dawn Hadley looking at Sheffield's Manor Lodge. She was looking at the 19th century community living there, and worked with Point Blank Theatre to design a play to demonstrate her work on this mining community. Academics and PBT worked together to write a play called "All Sorts of Wickedness" which was performed to a packed house in the Spiegel tent in the 2012 FoTM. Some professional actors, but also a community cast. This led to another project called Performing the Past which was research into using performance to bring historical research to the wider community. In 2014 FoTM they put on another play about the late 19th century Sheffield showman Harvey Teasdale. All of these projects have brought Sheffield history to life and demonstrated the nature and vibrancy of working class culture in 19th century Sheffield. They've just got an Arts Council Grant to take the latest production on tour.
We also got a short performance, with both an actor and excerpts from a video from the live show.

Next showcase was from the Department of Architecture. They've been working with the city for 20 years on live projects, with students engaged at all levels. They are setting up an exciting new project called Liveworks, based in the city centre, very close to the city council offices. It's a collaboration between students, staff, and graduates from the School of Architecture, and one of the projects they've been working on is how to revitalise Castlegate, a very run down area of the City Centre. They've had a total of 65 students in two studios working on it. They've been looking at how to use the buildings round there, especially the old Town Hall, and using the rivers which run through the area to create more open spaces. Another project is looking at City Centre living, especially more mixed community groups, not just students, but older people. I think I might be one of them :-)

Final case study was robots. yay! Sheffield Robotics are a big research group with collaborations across all 5 faculties, and with Sheffield Hallam University and many external companies. They have about 40 academics and over 100 researchers. Disappointingly they didn't bring any robots with them. Lots of public engagement going on with them, especially around the general perception of what a robot is. Most of them don't look like the Terminator. They take cute little robots into schools to teach kids about science. Coming out soon, a robot kids can build, MIRO. Will be available to individuals and schools. I want one...

Great set of case studies, I've only captured the flavour of the work here.

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Go On Then

Today I'm in a Public Engagement Symposium, looking back over the last two years of our Public Engagement Team, and looking forward for the future. The team was formed in 2012 following a successful RCUK bid, and was set up to really change the culture in the University and champion and embed public engagement so that all researchers can contribute in taking research to the public. Public engagement has also been built into our HR strategy.

The team has delivered 13 festivals and 7 single events. Festival of the Mind 2012 was the first big event, with 18,000 attendees, and it showcased research from across the University, but also involved working with partners across the city. In 2014, the Sheffield Bazaar in was held in Castle House, a disused department store as part of Festival of the Mind, and 27,182 people attended the Festival. Also ran Sheffield Festival of Science and Engineering in 2013 jointly with Sheffield Hallam Univerity

Another example of a successful event was The Mobile University, where a vintage bus went to 3 different locations across City, equipped with mini iPads and local wifi, to provide a chance for early researchers to showcase their work.

The total number of visitors to all of the events is 60,468.

As well as delivering using our own platforms, the team have been working with partners, especially the City Council working on events including Off the Shelf and DocFest.

A major part of the day today is looking at case studies of successful examples of public engagement, many of them very impressive, so will try and post about a few of them.

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Friday, 27 February 2015

Keep calm and call control...

Quick wrap up of things I've been doing this week.  As well as meeting Faculties, I've chaired a meeting of our Business Continuity Operations Group where we looked at a number things including how we respond to student occupations of our buildings, what emergency procedures the city has in place which might affect us, and a review of our major incident plan. We have a really good set of web pages about what to do in an incident, which everyone should be familiar with, and a neat little poster:

I've also taken part in a forum of Heads of Academic Departments and Director of Professional Services about how we should interact both with the University executive Board 9UEB), and with each other. Some very interesting discussions, and a general view that the current UEB/HoDS forum doesn't work well and can be improved. A set of recommendations will follow....

Finally, this morning I had a conference call with other members of the Steering Group for one of the JISC Co-Design projects which is looking improving the digital skills of staff in HE.   It's title is Building capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency, and you can read more about it here. The project intends to provide clear guidance over what digital skills are required, and equip leaders and staff with the tools and resources they need to improve digital capability at a local or institutional level. This will cover all areas of the University - technology enhanced learning, Administrative processes, and research.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

An Oscar at last....

 We're right in the middle of our planning round at the moment - writing our submission about priorities for next year, what resources we might need, and also going out and talking to all of the Faculties about their plans and how we can help them. We've seen 3 of the Faculties so far, and will see the other two next week. A lot of discussion about our plans to set up a Research IT Support Service. We already do support research in terms of providing computing facilities, storage, applications and help and support, but we are going to significantly increase this.  Our researchers have told us that what they really need is access to people, and we're about to go out to advert for a Head of Research IT, and then hope to recruit more to the team. In addition, we'll be providing access to our services which will be free at the point of use! Obviously they will have to be paid for, but we do not want to be recharging departments.

Other things discussed at the meetings include developments in learning and teaching - many areas are looking to increase their distance learning offer so we need to produce a framework for the delivery and support of that, as well as carrying our a review over the next year of our VLE.

We also talked to them about the review of the website which we have just kicked off, and we got a lot of support for the way we are approaching it - work out what we want the web site to do and what its purpose is and leave the technology till later. We also picked up that many feel our current web site is a good marketing tool, but doesn't serve other stakeholders as well, particularly current staff and students.

Great news this week as our Process Improvement Unit was nominated for an award.  They were shortlisted by the Institute for Continuous Improvement in the Public Sector, which given the small size of the unit - just 4 staff based here in CiCS - is a fantastic achievement. You can read the press release giving more details about the nomination and what the unit gets up to here

Sadly they didn't win, but came second, and now have a trophy to display!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Staff Survey Areas to address

Just before Christmas we ran the TechQual survey with staff at the University which measures satisfaction with our services against a benchmark service level that they would like to see. Some excellent information for us to analyse and work on, as well as the free text comments which always provide a fascinating insight into why people answer questions the way they do.  We've identified 8 themes we need to work on, and the Exec (me and my 3 Assistant Directors) are acting as sponsors for 2 each. They are in no particular order:

    •    My Sustainable Print
    •    Learning and Teaching Tools
    •    AV in Classrooms
    •    Student Administration Tools
    •    Timely Resolution to Problems
    •    Managed Desktop 
    •    Websites and Online Services
    •    Ability to Influence CiCS Developments

My two are the last two, and I had a catch up meeting this afternoon to go through an action plan. Some of the issues with the website and on-line services will be solved by projects we are already working on. Our SAP mobile project for example will soon launch a number of apps for our HR and Finance system which have hugely improved user interfaces. Our Web Improvement Project is looking at the overall University website, and we have installed a new Google search appliance and are about to start improving our metadata to give better search results.

In terms of influencing what we do, there are already many ways, but it's obvious people don't know about them, so we need to be much clearer about our governance. Our Service Advisory Groups have representatives from each Faculty, Professional Services and students, and the CiCS User group has a member from each department. However, we need to do more, and I'm hopeful that soon we will have an  IT Officer for each Faculty which will be a good liaison point.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

George and Mildred are back....

Over the last three years we've been watching a pair of peregrine falcons on St Georges Church Tower nest and rear their young, thanks to a nest built by our colleagues in Estates and Facilities Management and a webcam installed by us. The original webcam gave a really good view of the nest box, but nothing else. So, thanks to some sterling work, again a joint effort between us and colleagues in EFM, a second webcam has been installed, further away so that you can see the nestbox, the perch and the ledge. This involved some delicate work at the top of the tower, including hanging upside down....

Given my fear of heights, not something I would attempt.

The second camera is giving some great views of the birds, and there's often one sitting on the perch, feathers rustling in the wind, looking out for a tasty pigeon.

Today we saw both the male and the female ripping something to shreds on the ledge, so I think we can safely say they're back.

Watch them for the next few months here.

Friday, 13 February 2015

RUGIT awayday continued, JISC, HEFCE and N8

We started this morning with an update from JISC. Tim Kidd outlined some of the things JISC Technologies have been doing, including:
Agreeing terms of contracts with Microsoft and Google for the sector
Putting in place a dynamic framework for file synch and share.
Establishing an archive to tape framework
Amazon web services framework launched in October
Consolidating the Financial XRay which looks at the total cost of IT
About to look at what the sector wants them to do with cloud frameworks
The shared tier 3 joint data centre in Slough with an 800 rack and requirement gathering started for second data centre in North of

They are also just starting Eduroam service monitoring which shows compliance with Eduroam technical specification and provides real time feedback to sys admins. Prof of concept is complete and the "box" will soon ship to 300+ sites.

Also touched on Security, and they are enhancing the security monitoring of the network so that they can identify, analyse and classify events in near real time. They are also looking to protect customers from a wider range of DDOS attacks.

We also got an update about what the R and D section is doing, including some of the student projects from the summer of student innovation which I've written about before.

Something I'm interested in is their Learning Analytics project which aims to develop a dashboard and app so that staff can track students learning progress and get warnings when students are at risk of dropping out so that interventions can be planned. Some interesting ethical issues need to be addressed, for example when university data is combined with postcode data.

After that we got an update on the N8 HPC project which we are involved in, and you can read about that here.

Final session was from David Sweeney, Director (Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange) at HEFCE. As ever, an entertaining and informative talk, looking at the funding landscape particularly in relation to research. His main point was that UK Higher Education is world leading and will continue to be so. We should consider our cups to be half full rather than half empty, there's been so much change in last 20 years that we will surmount anything. It will be tough but we will win.
Higher education is vital for economic growth, and research is central to this. He touched on the REF, and particularly the impact measurements. I hadn't realised that all of the case studies are on line on the REF web site, and they make very interesting reading. The conclusion was that we should make strategic decisions about research investments, partner with big players and stop doing things that aren't productive.

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Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Google apps, an enthusiastic academic.

The final session this afternoon was from Professor Matthew Collins from York University about using Google apps for research. York, like us is a Google site, using the apps for education suite.

It was a passionate talk. I love listening to academics :-). It was based on the premise that Academics tend to write papers together, and do it quickly. So, they need good collaboration tools. They also process and store lots of data. Cloud services are great for this.

He moved from a Mac laptop to chromebook as an experiment, so he was forced to use cloud services. He has obviously never looked back!

He made the interesting point that all academics use gmail, no matter what you think they're using. He collaborates with academics using docs from many universities, and if they don't have a gmail account from their university, they log in with their personal one. He has rolled out lots of cloud services to academics who loved them.

He pointed out the difficulties of collaborating in other ways, such as track changes in word. His example was 30 authors collaborating on a paper which had to be completed in two weeks, which was successfully done using google docs. Would have ben impossible in word.

I was reminded of something which happened here recently when someone wrote a document in Google docs, asked for comments on it from a group of us, and someone converted it to word, used track changes, and emailed it to the group!!

He also uses Google Plus a lot with closed communities around separate research communities. When this is indexed it becomes a massive collaboration tool.
Some of the tools integrated with Google apps are very powerful. A free GIS tools allows mapping, and a cloud based based bibliography tool, Paperpile, looked particularly good and we'll certainly be investigating it.

He has 1.5m docs on Google drive!! This led to Google stopping his access because they thought he was doing something dodgy.

He has tried other cloud services eg iCloud, One drive, but in his opinion they were not as good as Google.

He's now using it for teaching preferring Google classroom to Blackboard, and
Google slides instead of Keynote or PowerPoint. I hadn't realised how integrated Google slides was with Google scholar, allowing you to select images which you can drag to a slide and it will provide the citation of the origin of the image.

He's also using Google plus for teaching. Students will post stuff there because it's a closed community and not part of their Facebook and Twitter worlds. They engage with it in a way that they won't with Blackboard.

Excellent talk, and some discussion afterwards. Especially liked the question, will Microsoft ever catch up, and his emphatic "no" as a response.

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