Wednesday, 26 November 2008


Sorry - too busy to blog today. Promotion panels, scoring exceptional award cases and writing presentations taking all my time!

But I'll leave you this to play with - it's a stunning application.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Planning a presentation

Spent yesterday morning at another University helping them interview for a senior post. I always enjoy doing it - it's really interesting seeing how other institutions do things and meeting new people.

Most of the afternoon was spent in an Executive Meeting going over our planning documents and strategies which ill be subitted later today.

I also started planning my UEB presentation - I always finding starting these things the hardest - once I've got an outline I'm fine. Anyway, now I have an outline, so just got to write it. This is what I plan to talk about:

What’s in IT for me?

Support by CiCS to the business needs of the University can be categorised into the following broad areas:

• Teaching and Learning
• Research
• Collaboration and Communication
• Help & Support
• Corporate Business Activity
• Supporting Infrastructure

Taking each of these areas, the presentation will illustrate how CiCS is working to help the University achieve its objectives and what developments are either planned or are currently being implemented which will have a strategic benefit. Themes will include working smarter and more efficiently, working with the Faculties and the impact of innovation.

So, now to find pictures and interesting things to illustrate the presentation with - I hate death by powerpoint bullet points!

Sunday, 23 November 2008


Busy week about to start - two important meetings coming up which require a lot of preparation.

First, next Monday, is my opening discussion as part of the new planning process where I will be meeting the Registrar and members of the planning team to look at both our process and our plans for the next 3 years. Most of the documentation is already completed - we have a process in place stating with our vision, which the department agreed earlier this year at World Cafe style events:

“We will be an innovative and influential department, respected by the University and recognised as a leader in the sector, delivering excellent, customer focused services”

This is underpinned by a number of departmental strategies which inform planning, objective setting and the business processes of the department. Existing strategies are:

• Technology
• Teaching and Learning
• Customer Service
• Communications
• Research – (currently under development)

Objectives for the year are set at department, section and team level, and are communicated and available to the whole department. Individual objectives are set during the annual Staff Review and Development Scheme (SRDS)

New developments are managed by the CiCS Programme Board as part of the departmental programme of projects and outlined in our programme definition document. Other programmes oversee specific University initiatives, including the SAP programme and the University Collaboration Improvement Programme. For Business systems, Application Groups receive all requests for new developments for prioritisation, with individual projects then going to the CiCS Programme Board.

So, I think we've got the planning process sorted out, but we need to ensure that we are aligining with University priorities, and that we have the resources to carry out our plans.

Immediately following that on Tuesday I have a session with our governing body - the University Executive Board - where I get the chance to talk to them about how we are supporting the business needs of the University. We will be looking at current and future developments and what strategic benefits they will achieve.

More on that later, I've got to write the presentation now.... Oh, and I've got a week full of meetings.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Collaborating smarter

Collaboration high on the agenda at the moment. UCIP Programme Board meeting yesterday, and a useful discussion on some of the projects which come under this programme.

We're moving forward with the implementation of Zimbra as our next calendaring and email system, and made a decision to roll it out to students first. A number of reasons why : we can roll it out in a phased way, starting with first years who have no experience of current systems so no data to transfer or new systems to learn; students don't have access to a calendar at the moment, and we do have a concern about how we're going to move all of the data over from staff calendars; students complain less!

Clearspace implementation also going well - production service just about in place, pilots identified and starting, and still a lot of buzz about the place as to how this will utilise Web 2.0 technologies to improve collaboration, communication and discussion.

We've also started to pull together a set of web pages about collaboration which will eventually develop into a repository of information and advice for staff and students. Still a work in progress, but moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Koi Carp and Web Sites

Still spending lots of time on promotion and contribution award panels - all other work having to be fitted round it. Did have time for a good discussion yesterday about the future direction of our departmental web site. Who is the audience? What messages are we trying to get over? How can we make it easier for customers to find what they need? How much wizzo stuff do we want to put on it. I think the formal term is probably Web 2.0, but I prefer wizzo. I was in a very wizzo mood, having spent my lunch hour downloading apps onto my iPhone. I can get very excited about stuff - and two apps definitely fell into the wizzo category.

The first was the new version of Google for the iPhone which includes voice recognition. It's fab - you just open the app, move the phone to your ear, the accelerometer in the phone recognises that you've done that, so you speak the search term, move the phone away again, and Google does the search. I tried loads of search terms and it recognised all of them - even with my accent. It also uses location awareness, giving results appropriate to your location.

The second is Shazam, (which I know has been around for a while). Basically you just let your iPhone listen to about 10 seconds of music, and then it tells you what it is - and finds you a youTube video of it! How cool is that. Great for cheating in music quizzes.

So, how can any of that help us with the design of our web site? Well, we need stuff on there that will keep people coming back to it, information that is relevant to them, and interactive features such as discussion boards, polls, blogs etc. We also need more information about our services rather than our systems, and help for users to decide which services they need to use, rather than just listing them. All currently being worked on.

Perhaps we don't need a Koi Pond (my other favourite iPhone app), with tropical fish which are currently in holiday mode, with Christmas Lights, holly in the water and bright red noses on.....

Monday, 17 November 2008

Infinity Bookcase

I've already posted about some chairs I'd like to see in our innovative Information Commons.

Well, how about this for book shelving:

Photo: Job Koelewijn

Supporting Teaching and Learning

We've always provided support for teaching and learning by providing student computing rooms, software and more recently as a partner in the Information Commons. However, the climate in which we now provide support is changing rapidly. The emergence of Web 2.0 technologies, providing new ways to collaborate and publish user generated content means that we have to take a serious look at our role. We need to become facilitators, supporting the use of new technology and embracing the different ways teaching space might be used.

In the light of this, we have produced a strategy for the support of teaching, learning and assessment which will provide a framework for how we provide our services over the next few years. The aim of the document is to align those CiCS objectives that affect the student experience with those of the University and to ensure that CiCS plays its part in achieving the University’s aspiration ‘to ensure that the highest standards of excellence are maintained within the student learning experience’ .

The strategy outlines our direction in three different areas - physical spaces, technology and support. One of our objectives is to enable students to develop their own use of technology to support both their learning as well as their development of skills for life, and our Student Learning Community project is an example of how we are aiming to deliver this.

As part of developing this strategy, and looking at how we might work collaboratively with other support departments to provide the most appropriate support for learning and teaching, we're having a forward look at what technology changes are on the horizon and what effect they might have. Web 5.0 anyone?

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Cultivating, parking and housing

Busy day today - spent the morning scoring promotion cases. I'm heavily involved with the HR process around promotions and contribution awards and on 3 panels for each. Lots and lots of cases to read and score. Hard work, but I enjoy it - keeps me in touch with what other departments do, and with HR processes and policies.

This afternoon we had a presentation and discussion with Cultivate, a company who assist their clients in the adoption of innovative technologies across their campuses. Some very interesting insights into the issues around technology adoption, particularly the "what's in in for me" syndrome. Some of their outputs were very visual and creative, and would appeal to the non technologists looking for the business slant rather than the the IT one. We will be considering whether we might use them to help us with some of our new projects.

Then we had a Programme Board, looking at progress with our existing projects, proposals for new projects and project closures. Good progress on most projects, but as always some delays due almost totally to resource issues. Only 2 new projects approved - one is a feasibilty study into a pay-on-the-day parking scheme Currently staff pay a yearly fee for a parking permit, no matter how many times they bring their car in. A pay on the day scheme might be fairer to part-time staff and might encourage staff to use their cars more selectively. To walk in on nice sunny days for example. If we had any nice sunny days of course. The other project was a rewrite of our private housing system which allows private landlords to register with us and have their details accessible via a web site which students can search for appropriate properties. Our existing system was written some years ago and could do with updating, but it will have to be prioirtised along with all of the other student related projects we have.


Videos of some of the sessions I attended at EDUCAUSE have just gone on line - I've put links to them at the bottom of the relevant blog posts. All of them can be accessed from here, and I might now use the opportunity to watch some of the ones I didn't get to - it's difficult when there's 20 sessions running at the same time, there's always at least two I want to get to.

And if you want to watch a funny video, try this one

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

A day in the life of

As part of the University Collaboration Improvement Programme we're drawing up a blueprint - a look forward 5 years of where we want to be. How do we think we'll be collaborating, what do we want to be able to do that we can't do now? We're looking at it from a number of different angles - researchers, teachers, senior management, support staff and students - with a different person taking the lead role in pulling a scenario together. What we're intending to produce is a "day in the life of" story which will help guide the project which form part of the programme and clarify what benefits we're hoping to achieve. An initial meeting today with the 5 of us who are responsible for the areas clarified how we're going to go about gathering the information. I'm looking at the professional support staff - if anyone wants to contribute ideas I'd be more than happy to receive them.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Be careful of...

Given the momentous events of the last few days, there were several things in the last talk of EDUCAUSE which had particular relevance.

It was given by Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and he was inspirational – there were many IT Directors in the audience who left wishing that he was their President/Vice Chancellor.

He told us the story of his grandmother who as an African American growing up in the Southern US (I think it was Alabama) couldn’t vote. Eventually non-whites were given the opportunity to vote, but had to take a literacy test, and he read out 3 sample questions and asked us to raise our hands if we knew the answers. Given that the questions were on the American constitution, I didn’t know any of them – but nether did any of the Americans in the audience! Based on the results, there would have been a very small turnout on Tuesday. It was his grandmother’s overriding wish to be a voting American citizen, so she had to take the test. It took several failed attempts and weeks of revising the American constitution, but she became a voting citizen at the age of 73. His message – don’t take your right to vote lightly – exercise it!

His final comments (which he made us learn and recite back to him)…

Be careful of your thoughts, they become your words.
Be careful of your words, they become your actions
Be careful of your actions, they become your habits
Be careful of your habits they become your character
Be careful of your character, it becomes your destiny

A video of the session is here

OK – that’s the last EDUCAUSE post – normal service will be resumed next week when I leave the beautiful Lake District and get back to work.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Hire the Howards

One of the general sessions was given by Moira Gunn - she’s a former NASA scientist and now hosts Tech Nation. I didn’t take a lot of notes in this session, (battery must have been running out), but one of her anecdotes stuck in my mind - although with apologies to those concerned as I’ve probably gone some details wrong, but the general principles are right!

Whilst she was studying for one of her degrees, she was allowed to share an office, unlike other undergraduates, because she was already a graduate teacher. Also in her office was an undergraduate, Howard, and she couldn’t understand why he was allowed an office – when pressed he told her the story why.

It was in the days of the mainframe, and rooms full of teletypes where you input your code. Howard had worked out how to get into the kernel of the mainframe and thought he could shut it down and bring it back to life seconds later by typing in a time.

One day, in a very noisy room of teletypes, all clacking away, he watched the clock second hand coming up to 30 – he keyed in 35, and miraculously the room went silent as the machine stopped, and then at 35 seconds, it all started up again. Howard thought this was hilarious, and did it again, stopping the machine for a few seconds. Then he realised that maybe, someone in the computer room had spotted this, so he ought to leave – he gathered up his belongings and crept out, passing the Head of Computing and some technicians storming towards the room.

A week later he thought he’d try it again, and again it worked. Next time he thought he’d try for longer – watching as the clock second hand approached 50, he typed in 60 – the room went quiet, the clock second hand passed by the top, and nothing happened. Howard had forgotten than a second counter never goes to 60 – it goes from 59 to 00!

As he made to run out of the room – he was too late – there was the Head of Computing, with a number of other systems people blocking the door, pointing a finger at Howard, he shouted, trembling – “you, you, you’re hired!”

And that was the finale of her talk – Hire the Howards!

A philosophy I completely agree with. You can teach people technical skills - it's difficult to teach creativity, innovation, a different way of looking at things, and a desire to push things to the limit.

Howard did go on to make quite a name for himself by inventing something a lot of us use, but no-one knows him as Howard now – any guesses as to who he is?

A video of the session is here

Monday, 3 November 2008


I got a few blog posts behind last week, so saved them up for this week, as I'm having a few days leave in the Lake District and won't have anything work related to blog about!

Sarah Robbins, (aka Intellagirl - have a look at her site) gave a very good talk on Social Media and Education: The conflict between technology and institutional education and the future

Sarah started by postulating that many of the benefits of institutional learning can now be accomplished via social media. If we (as University staff) don’t realise this we will get left behind and possibly replaced. She compared what HE offered with what role social media can play:

What does HE offer?
  • Membership of intellectual and social affinity groups
  • Engaging in intellectual discussions
  • Access to resources and experts
  • Official endorsement of completion ie graduation
  • Accumulate and develop skills for employment
  • Association with professional communities
  • Guidance through experiences and thought processes
What role does social media play in the lives of those engaged in it?
  • Self expression – can upload anything you’ve created and share it with the world
  • Sharing enthusiasms for common interests – web sites, blogs, wikis ,
  • Access to experts and personalities –people you might never meet face to face _ (see TED talks)
  • Enhanced personal and professional reputation – you can create on-line portfolios
  • The ability to build and share skills. The example here was the “You Suck at Photoshop” videos.. which were put together by an out of work graphic designer.
Social media changes who we can reach and how many we can reach. Web 2.0 facilitates two way communication – the difference between giving a lecture and having a discussion. Social media creates new ways to learn without the communities and structures created by institutions. You don’t have to sign up for a class to learn Photoshop for example, although students do have to have some critical literacy skills to recognise what’s good and what isn’t.

What is the educator’s role in a world where production and consumption of information has become:
  • Democratic – Wikpedia vs Encyclopedia Britannica
  • Amateur –eg you tube – a student can film a video in their free time and millions of people can watch it
  • Distributed – information is spread out – being aggregated by sites like delicious – imagine going into a library and finding every book had been reviewed by students.
Educators are not the gatekeepers of knowledge, but need to teach students how to learn in an information economy. Access to information is their right and their responsibility. They need to be taught the importance of contributing to a community - they are global citizens now. Academic staff need to be relating to students as more experienced co-creators, serving as guides as students shape their own paths. The world is out there – they are not limited by the resources we can provide.

In a world of social media, the role of the educator is more important then ever.

Enjoyable talk, but my thoughts were perhaps summed up by someone who asked a question about the appropriateness of using this type of learning for all disciplines - would you really want to drive over a bridge where the bridge builder had learned his skills from Wikipedia? No, not necessarily - you'd want some formal imparting of facts, theories etc which have been peer reviewed. But social media does still have a part to play in discussions, inquiry based learning etc

A video of the session is here