Monday, 22 September 2014

You put your left leg in....

A quick post about today - another day for the CiCS team welcoming new students. It's much quieter than it used to be for us as we create student accounts before they arrive, fewer students have problems connecting and our networks are much more resilient. All good stuff. Interesting to note that on the wireless network, we have twice as many devices connected as students, So, most people have two devices, some will have more, some only one. Going up year on year.

Festival of the Mind is still going on, and this afternoon I spent some more time in the Spiegel Tent watching The Great Sheffield Mash Up with Ida Barr.  Not quite sure how to describe this music hall/hiphop/rap crossover, apart to say it was great fun. Lots of community singing, a gospel choir, hankie waving. Not forgetting 150 people doing a Conga/Lambeth Walk through John Lewis, which I suspect wasn't in the original risk assessment....

And a community Hokey Cokey. Fab.

What the team are doing is great, and a huge collaborative effort between many departments. And although it's great fun, it's really bringing the University into the City and engaging with local people. As it should do. Another week to go, and still some great events lined up. Full programme here.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

A great day in Sheffield

Those of you who know me well will know that I'm very proud of both the City I live in, and the University at which I work. Today has been a wonderful day, celebrating both. So, a bit of a different blog post - what I did today, in pictures.

Started off up at the Student village where our new students are arriving, and we put on a great event to welcome them and their parents and families. The sun didn't actually shine, but it did stop raining, and the helpful staff even mind the students' suitcases so they don't have to carry them upstairs to get their keys.

 Our team were out in force helping students connect to our network, and with any other IT problem they might have. Here's them at the start, waiting for the students to arrive.

As we make our systems easier to use and more resilient, the less we have to deal with problems, and the more we can help them get the best out of our services.

After spending soe time at both villages, I walked into the City Centre, mainly to see what was going on with the Festival of the Mind.  Saw the pop up gardens:

and went into the Spiegel Tent to see the CiCS team who are handling all of the technical support, including the AV and filming the talks.

Then went to the Cathedral where there was another pop up garden

and I got a chance to see the remodelling of some of the interior, including a new lantern in the ceiling

I really went in to see the Loomery Scrolls which is an exhibition of drawings by the artist Chris Wallbank documenting life in the guillemot breeding colonies of Skomer Island, based on the research of our own Professor Tim Birkhead.

These were really stunning, and I was lucky enough to bump into the artist, and had a really interesting chat about how he'd done them.
 I took the opportunity to have a really good look round the cathedral, which is spectacular, and had a good look at the candlesticks in the crypt made by my neighbour and good friend, Keith Tyssen.

Then it was down to Castle House, which used to house the Co-Op, but the University has taken it over and transformed it as part of Festival of the Mind into an Artspace. There was a display from the National Fairground archive, including the greatest photobooth in the world, which of course we had to have a picture taken in - the Clown, the Ringmaster and the Bearded Lady!

There were some great art installations in the building - here's a couple:

As well as a demonstration of how hot we are, and how hot buildings are demonstrating heat loss and thermal energy

The building is a fantastic example of  1920's architecture, including a cantilevered spiral staircase

It was great to see it being used in this way - it lends itself to pop up shops and art installations - hope for the future?
After all of that walking it was time to meet some friends for a sit down and well earned drink, and then it was back to the Spiegel Tent for Man vs Machine  - a great show looking at whether fMRI scanning can get the same result in judging what we are thinking about as a mind reader. Without giving too much away, the answer is yes.

Very entertaining show from Dr Aneurin Kennerley from our Dept of Psychology and an exceptional mind reader/mentalist/magician called Looch. I loved him!

After that it was wine, pizza, home, more wine.

Friday, 19 September 2014

New students on their way

Of course, the other exciting thing happening at the moment is our students are coming back. Tomorrow and Sunday thousands of first years will arrive to collect their keys for their accommodation and start a new part of their life.  We'll have staff in the student villages and on campus all over the weekend to help them get started with us, and get connected. We've produced a new set of web pages, and a new publication to help them.

We've also worked with International Student Support office to make a video about IT services aimed at prospective international students.

So we're all set for our new students, let's just hope the sun comes out!

Sounds of the Cosmos

So much going on at the moment!!  Happening for the next 10 days is Festival of the Mind  -  an extraordinary celebration of research here at the University presented in partnership with professionals from Sheffield creative, cultural and media industries.  The Spiegel tent is again on Barkers Pool, with a fantastic programme of events - the full listing is here

Last night I was privileged to be at The Sounds of The Cosmos. A collaborative event betwwen a number of different departments. The Department of Music organised the concert of Gustav' Holst's The Planets by the Sheffield Rep Orchestra, and the Department of Physics and Astronomy provided talk on the cosmos which interspesed the movements. Outstanding graphics and images produced by Human Studio were shown on 8 screens around the room.  We provided all of the technical and operational support which included installing all of the screens and projection gear, and filming the event. An inspirational event, and great team work. Unfortunately the only picture I've got was taken on my phone and isn't great quality, but gives you an idea of what it was like. It also demonstrated what a great venue we have in the Octagon Centre, and we should use it more for events like this.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Conferences, food tasting and project assurance

The last couple of days I've spent on conference organising business in preparation for the main UCISA conference in March 2015. So in a whistlestop tour of Edinburgh I've visited two hotels including checking out the different rooms, the conference centre including looking at entrances, exits, pedestrian routes and layouts, and the dinner venues. As well as getting a good speaker programme together, with keynotes, workshops, showcases and poster sessions, the 'environmental' factors are extremely important
You can have the best speakers around, but if the rooms are wrong, the food bad, or the coffee undrinkable, that's what people remember. We've had more complaints about the quality of the coffee than almost anything else! It's also important to make sure everyone is catered for, and in some recent conferences the quality of the vegetarian food has been particularly poor. A few years ago the lunch choice for vegetarians was fish and pasta....

So, in a very hard task, we now taste all of the menus in advance and choose what we're going to have. Can't remember how many canap├ęs, starters, mains and deserts I've tasted over the last couple of days. But I know I've put weight on! I've also met with an events company to theme one of the dinners which looks as though it's going to be exciting. It's all coming together now, with just a few more speakers to confirm, it should be a great event.

Today I've been at the UCISA Executive meeting, where most of the agenda was taken up discussing in detail the change in charitable status of UCISA, more of which here.

We also looked at the progress of the many UCISA groups who organise many events and produce some very high quality publications and toolkits. One of the latest is on Major Project Governance assessment, which you can find here.

It has been very well received and colleagues from Sheffield have contributed to it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 12 September 2014

Enterprise, Mobility and Digital literacy

Last night I was honoured to be invited to the Enterprise, Innovation and Impact awards in Firth Hall. The hall looked lovely as usual, and it's nice to see the window at the front of the hall which until recently was bricked up. The awards recognise the enterprising nature of many of our students, and the partnerships we have established with local businesses. There were some great projects, including The Bear Sock company promoting socks made from bamboo, the sales of which go to  support bear welfare, We Love Life, a community platform which helps people improve the way they manage diabetes and Panela, a company extracting raw cane sugar without using additives. An excellent evening, and so good to see what our students can do. Lots more info on the Enterprise web site.

Today we had the first meeting of our SAP Mobility project bard. We're about to start implementing a range of mobile apps which give access to functionality from our finance and HR systems - viewing payslips, booking and approving leave, approving purchase requests etc. All things people want to do on any device, and fitting with our mobile strategy. Using Agile techniques, we'll be rolling apps out as and when they're ready, and consulting about priorities.

Finally this afternoon I met with a JISC colleague to talk about another JISC project I'm involved in - Building Capability for Digital Leadership, Pedagogy and Efficiency.  This is about digital literacy skills for staff in all areas.All staff need these skills to get the most out of systems and services we provide, to make the best use of teaching technologies, and to improve efficiency in our processes.  We all agree this is a real need, but how we will address and solve it is another matter. Answers on the back of a postcard please!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Diamond

Today I was really lucky to have a site visit to one of our new buildings - The Diamond. Designed to provide space for engineering, lecture theatres, teaching space, and exciting Information Commons type space, it's really taking shape now.  The cladding's going on:

and it looks good from the inside as well - the whole building will be semi-transparent:

The lower ground floor where the lecture theatres will be is huge, and you can see the doors into the lecture theatres, and see up onto the ground floor with its bridges and jutting out platforms. Above that are the holes cut into the first floor moonscape where you see up into the huge atrium.

 Up on the first floor, the first pod is taking shape in the atrium:

This is what this pod will look like when finished:

A great visit - despite the fact that builders don't put stairs in at first. They seem to prefer ladders and scary steps. I was quite proud of myself for skipping up and down these.

Finally, my favourite picture from the day.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Keep calm, and go to the fairground....

Today it was our Business Continuity Operations Group where we looked at a number of things, including some new web pages to let people know what to do in case of an incident. We also signed off the Business Impact Assessment templates that are going to be rolled out across the University to help departments with their business continuity planning by getting them to think about what they actually do, and what the impact would be of them not being able to do it. We also looked at some very helpful case studies written very honestly by Universities which had suffered incidents rangin from earthquakes, to fires, to evacuating student residences because of potential flooding. Lots of learning points, especailly around disruprion to learning and teaching, and the importance of good crisis communications.

Tonight I went to the opening of Marvelosa, an exhibition in Library of original art inspired by The
National Fairground Archive which celebrates 20 years this year. There were wonderful works by Pete McKee: 

 and Anthony Bennett - this sculpture was my favourite.

Definitely worth a visit  - open to the general public until 8 January.

Monday, 8 September 2014


Today is the launch of TELFest - our technology enhanced learning festival organised by the CiCS Learning Technologies team. 21 sessions on offer throughout the week, and over 800 sign ups to the various sessions. There's sessions covering MOOCs, using the VLE, Mobile learning  and social media. I was chairing a panel session on the value and impact of learning technologies in Higher Education. Some lively debate and discussion on what technologies had made the biggest difference to teaching and learning, what sort of spaces we need to teach using new technologies, how we can help all staff get the skills they need to make the best use of them, and what the future might hold.

Then in the afternoon it was our Service Strategy Board where we looked at progress with our projects, some project gateways, and looked at some resource issues we have, especially around service transition, where are not always very good at operationalising new services. We also had an update on our introduction of agile project management, and you can read all about that here.

Friday, 5 September 2014

From Cradle to Grave

Yesterday I was at a JISC workshop looking at prioritising strands for one of the co-design projects, From Prospect to Alumnus, or From Cradle to Grave as it quickly became renamed.

Basically this project is looking at how we might provide a more joined up experience for students in their interactions with different bits of the university. Currently this tends to be disjointed, not coordinated and must be confusing for students. One of the things we looked at was the different "touch points" a student has with different parts of the University. These are many and varied, from initial enquires about open days and application, through registration, their academic department, tutors, the IT Helpdesk, libraries, accommodation helpdesks, to graduation, careers and alumni. Data is collected at many of these touch points, but it isn't collected in similar ways, and is often not shared across different agencies. We compared this with some good examples in the private sector.

We also looked at sharing of information across institutions, which will become more important as mobility between institutions increases. At the moment, most of us focus on retention.

We discussed the many cultural and process barriers to sharing information, which are often more important then the technical.

We agreed that the learner needed to be put at the heart of this journey, not the institution and not the systems.

We ended with a list of priorities for further development, including customer relationship management, vendor management, data structures and integration and employability. All of these will have action plans put against them which I'll share as soon as they are published. All very timely for our own student system review.

Today I've been meeting with senior executives from Computing magazine, discussing with them our current issues and what we would like to see them cover in future publications and events. A very mixed set of attendees from commercial private and not for profit sectors so a variety of views expressed!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 3 September 2014


I have to admit it, I'm a bit of a gadget person. Ruby Wax once referred to me as The Geek Girl. The last gadget I got was a Fitbit which I wear all the time (except in the shower) to measure how many steps I take, how many miles I walk, and how many active minutes I have in a day. when I first got it it was quite scary how little exercise I got on some days. Now if I haven't reached my target when I get home, I go for a walk. Headphones in, music or audiobook on and off I go. Much to the amusement of my neighbours, given that I live in the city centre. Made a real difference to how much exercise I take.

But, I've been looking recently at whether sitting down for long periods of time, which I often do, is good for me. The simple answer is, it isn't! I often get pains in my neck and shoulders, and I know I hunch and tense my shoulders when sitting over a keyboard. So, a few days ago I got a Varidesk - allows me to stand up when I want to, and sit down when I don't. Interestingly, in the 3 days I've had it, I've barely sat down. Don't feel the need to, and feel so much more comfortable. And no shoulder ache. Also, my step count has gone up considerably, presumably because it's very difficult to stand still.

I can't write a post about gadgets without mentioning the latest addition to the department  today -
Google Glass. Given us all much amusement today,  and it was quite weird when one of the Assistant Directors appeared at my door looking like The Borg and said - "I can take a photo of you by slowly winking"....

And this is the picture -  my standing up desk, taken with Google Glass.

Value for Money

One of the things we've been doing over the last few days is writing our value for money report - part of a series of reports produced for the University to show how we're achieving value for money, pointing out areas where we could do it better, and looking at future strategies. We have some excellent examples from CiCS, especially around infrastructure, voice and data and printing.

We've expanded our local cloud server and storage infrastructure making use of aggregation, resource sharing, standardisation and thin provisioning. This means we only grow capacity when it is really needed. We make the best use of resources by sharing - we supply capacity that meets peak demand, but not all peaks are at the same time. It also means we can clone test systems from live data ensuring that upgrades have a good chance of success with minimal storage overhead. We can also snapshot systems prior to upgrades etc quickly reverting if things go wrong.  This usually answers my main question at our weekly CAB (Change Advisory Board) which is "what happens if it all goes horribly wrong?" Usual answer - we'll have taken a snapshot so we revert. I have to admit that the "we" in the above paragraph definitely doesn't include me - some much cleverer people than that do it all.
Last year we had 750 virtual servers in production and development, this year we have 1063.

The way in which the network is being designed and deployed is also relevant to VfM.  Wherever possible we install an appropriate amount of outlets that meets the users needs (not too many, not too few) and only patch those that are actually being used. This in turn means that we can install fewer switches than under the previous ‘standard’ model making savings on both capital and operational spend.
We’re also revisiting older deployments and retro-fitting the ‘only patch used ports’ model, enabling us to reduce the amount of kit needed in those properties (making operational savings there), with recovered kit then being deployed in other areas (making capital savings on those projects)
Continued roll-out of IP Telephony and underlying infrastructure provides better/easier access to voice services for users whilst reducing the amount of network equipment needed to provide it.

My final example, from many more listed in the report, is the My Sustainable Print Service which went live in April 2014; the service was made available to all Staff and PGT and the Students Union. Student print equipment was replaced in the Information Commons as part of this agreement improving quality and functionality. The recurrent annual saving for the university is £1.4M; 19 tonnes of carbon saved, reduced from 24T to 5T. A new fleet of approx 555 new multifunctional print, copy, scan devices has been installed on campus. The legacy fleet has been removed and so far totals 1500 devices which have gone to a Social Enterprise; toner cartridges have been removed and/or sold with an approx value to date of £5k.

As user expecttions increase and  IT becomes even more ubiquitous and critical, we will keep exploring ways of making our services more efficient and demonstrating value for money.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Nothing worse than a wet morris dancer....

Back from my annual pilgrimage from Whitby Folk Week, and I know you all look forward to the gratuitous picture of Morris Dancers, but contain yourselves.....

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'd been helping  with the University's contribution to a civic event - The Sheffield Fayre.  Well, it's just happened, and I've spent the weekend there. Sunday was glorious, lovely sunny weather.  I only had one team to look after - The Sheffield Giants, who are magnificent.

I love this picture of the porters (who carry the Giants and dance with them), putting on their black large belts to help support them.

So, Monday dawned, on the day that I had 6 teams to juggle, and it rained. Rained, and rained. Threw away the programme, Tried to find dryish dance spots, and the show went on! Ably assisted by beer from the beer tent. So, here's a very wet, bedraggled morris team - actually the one I normally dance with.

So that's it. Your annual exposure to folky things. Normal CiCS service will shortly be resumed....