Monday, 22 December 2008

Christmas festivities

Christmas Party today - lots of fun. Started with mulled wine at 11 - usually we have Buck's Fizz but this year we thought we'd have a change. I think it was probably my idea to make mulled wine for 150 people in a kitchen which is a flight of stairs away from where we were meeting. Not sure we'll do it again - the kitchen actually needs redecorating now, we made such a mess!

Then off to the hotel for more drinks, food and Karaoke. Didn't know we had so many budding singers in the department. As usual, I took lots of photos, but luckily for the singers, we didn't record anything!

This will be the last post until after Christmas - I hope everyone enjoys the holiday season, and I wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas and hope that the new year brings you peace and happiness.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Professor Vanessa's Twenty Performing Wonders

It is tradition in most Universities that when a member of staff is awarded a Personal Chair, then they give an inaugural lecture on their specialist research interest. Sometimes, it is quite low key - sometimes it is exactly the opposite, as was the case last night! Professor Vanessa Toumlin is Director of the National Fairground Archive (NFA) here at the University of Sheffield, and gave an entertaining talk on the relationship between the world of live entertainment culture and early film produced in the 1900s. As well as showing some wonderful early film - including one of the most bizarre films I've ever seen of a dancing pig - she was assisted on stage by a number of modern variety acts. There was a female sword swallower, Miss Behave, a female magician assisted by a very balletic grasshopper, and the Danger Boys - a pair of street enertainers who juggled sharp knives whilst riding giant unicycles on the stage. With their lovely assistant Stuart!

An excellent evening, combining academic scholarship with pure entertainment!

You have to laugh.....

RAE results announced at midnight. Web site falls over at one minute past! So much for people having an early night.

I'm sitting on the sofa tucked up in my pyjamas and dressing gown clicking the page with one hand and a glass of brandy in the other. It's the poor soul looking at the servers I feel sorry for!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Fingers crossed

Meeting of Senior Admin Heads this morning, and a presentation on the work of our Development and Alumni office. It's a much misunderstood office I think, with the connotations of the "begging bowl" - a phrase our development officer quite rightly hates!

Some of the older parts of the University were funded by local philanthropists, and indeed the University was founded after a campaign to the working people of Sheffield to donate a penny each so that their children and their children's children would have a University in their city. These days the office exists to make friends, reconnect with alumni and to raise donations. Donations are particularly important in providing scholarships to students who are suffering hardship - and these days many of them do.

It was a very thought provoking talk, and I hope dispelled many of the myths about fundraising - I'm proud to say I'm an alumnus of the University, and am even a member of the silver arrows club.

Of course the other topic of conversation acros the University today is the results of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) - received by the senior management team this morning, but embargoed until tomorrow. By the time you read this, they will have been released- fingers crossed for good news!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Exec meets the Section Heads

Meetings starting to wind down a bit as we approach the Christmas festivities, but still enough to keep me busy! Last week we had the inaugural meeting of the departmental customer service group. This is definitely not the Customer Services section of the department, but volunteers from across all areas who are coming together to look at where we can improve our customer service, how we can incentivate staff and improve morale and share best practice. Nice to see so many people at the first meeting, and I look forward to seeing it develop.

This morning we had a meeting of our Executive Team and our Section Heads. Lots to discuss, and the first item was the thorny issue of communication - what works well, what doesn't, and what can we do to improve things. Whilst a lot is working well, there are things to be improved - more meetings where the Sections Heads meet the whole of the Executive for example, rather than just their Assistant Director. We presented our two emerging strategies to the group - the Technology Strategy and the Learning and Teaching Support Strategy. A Research Strategy is under development, and all will help to guide the department to realise our vision over the next 5 years.

We discussed items we'd like to see on future meeting agendas, and the two main ones are resource allocation and escalation of issues. Resource allocation in its broadest sense - how we know what people are doing, how do we allocate resources to new projects as well as "business as usual", and what can we stop doing as we run more and more services. Escalation is deciding what decisions people can take on their own, and what needs to be referred upwards. Sometimes referral is not for a decision, but just approval, or even just to make sure people are informed. It's a difficult topic and one which I'm sure will generate a lot of discussion.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

New buildings

Managed to drag myself out of bed and back to work today. Spent the morning trying to catch up with emails, and then had a very pleasant lunchtime looking round three of the University's new buildings which will all be occupied after Christmas.

The first was The Soundhouse, the rubber clad rehearsal and sound studios for the Departmentof Music. Lots of small soundproofed rooms, some with round windows at interesting heights, and some with very interesting sound baffles on the walls. There's also a couple of recording studios in there. We even found a PVC practicing on one of the pianos......

Next was the refurbished Victorian Jessop's Hospital - once the main maternity hospital, and soon to be home to the Department of Music. It was in a terrible state when we took it over and had been home to colonies of pigeons for several years. It's also listed, and was riddled with asbestos. But, the main staircase has been reinstated, and the whole building beautifully refurbished. There are staff offices, postgraduate space and some very nice teaching and seminar rooms. Many of them have been designed acoustically for the Music department, and all are very bright and airy.

Finally we visited Jessop West, a brand new multicoloured building which will be home to the School of Modern Languages, English and History. Each department has its own wing and in the centre is a hub with a fantastic wooden atrium. The picture above is from the 4th floor looking down to the ground floor. Each wing has individual staff offices and shared postgraduate teaching and research space. On the ground floor is a cafe, an exhibition space and the main University visitor centre. The spaces are excellent, and looks like it will be a brilliant building to work and study in.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Try some new blogs.....

A new copy of our Newsletter is out - complete with its own front page wordle. A limited number of printed copies are produced, and then we make it available as a pdf on our web site. I'm a great believer in not printing if we don't need to, but our research has shown that people still like to flick though a printed copy of a publication such as a newsletter. It's the reason we still buy newspapers and books, despite many of them being available electronically.

One thing we keep trying to push to our users is to be aware of phishing, and there's an article warning them about giving away personal details such as user names and passwords. It was rather appropriate that it was published today as we were hit by a particularly sophisticated attack - over 4000 messages delivered supposedly from our Marketing Department, offering staff a pre-christmas, interest-free loan. As long as they divulged their bank details of course!

Sorry for short blog posts - like many people I've been struck down by a lurgy! Bad cold, cough and general fever symptoms. Spent most of today in bed, and the rest watching TV curled up in a duvet on the sofa. If you are suffering withdrawal symptoms, visit some of the excellent blogs in my Blog List over on the right - they include Gartner Analysts, other IT Directors and the Executive Secretary of UCISA.

Normal blogging will resume when I've stopped coughing.....

Monday, 8 December 2008

.uni anyone?

In London at end of last week for UCISA Executive meeting - quite a short meeting, but some interesting discussions. We looked at the implications of a .uni or .university domain name for web sites under the new naming conventions. Would we want to use them? Would it affect our branding if other organisations used them? No answers, but plenty of issues.

John Denham, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, is carrying out a review of Higher Education, and we looked at some of the papers that have been prepared for him to inform him of the issues. One of the contributions that is particularly relevant to us is the one from Sir Ron Cooke, until recently chairman of the JISC. He was asked to provide a contribution on becoming a world leader in e-learning, but his actual paper is entitled On-Line Innovation in Higher Education. It is worth reading - there is a good executive summary which outlines the three recomendations:
  • a new approach to virtual education based on a corpus of open learning content
  • revitalised investment into e-infrastructures
  • development of institutional information strategies
UCISA will be looking closely at this paper and its recommendations to see how we can help take this agenda forward

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Snowflake Ball

Another early start today - on 0719 train to London for UCISA meeting. Normally that's OK, but last night I was at a special party, so my head is feeling a bit sore!

We were celebrating the 25th birthday of the Octagon Centre, a multipurpose venue at the heart of the campus. I remember it being built, and during its construction it was always called the Clarkson Street building (because it was being built on the Clarkson Street car park), but before its opening there was a competition to give it a proper name and the Octagon Centre it became. Named after the largest space in the building, Convocation Hall, which is 8 sided! It was funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC), which no longer exists, with some additional funding from the University and the Student Union. It has unusual management arrangements, as for part of the week during semesters the Student Union have sole use of it, the rest of the time it available for University and outside use and under the management of the Octagon Centre manager and his team who are part of our department. Indeed, the management arrangements were seen to be so complicated, that back in 1983 when it opened, it had its own committee - the Octagon Centre Management Committee, and a certain newly appointed junior administrator, one Dr Sexton, was the secretary to it. Those were the days, when every possible function in the University was overseen by a group of august academics, who would make such important decisions as how the bar profits would be split between the Union and the University and who would be responsible for cleaning the venue after a Union disco!

The Octagon has seen many famous names on its stage, and can be adapted for many different uses. Currently it's used for lectures, exams and the Graduation Ceremonies, as well as concerts and celebrations. Last night it was beautifully decorated for the Snowflake Ball (I have some pictures but they're on my iPhone and I've no way of getting them off until later). It was a great night with an added bonus of raising funds for the Cavendish Cancer Care centre. I will be reminded of it all day, as during the evening as part of the fundraising events, I had to burst a balloon with a pin, whcih I did very close to my face, not realising it was full of glitter, which I was liberally coated with. Despite a shower, I still have gold glittery bits everywhere!

Edit - some pictures now added - not brilliant quality because they were taken with my phone.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

UEB and Apples

Early morning meeting today - University Executive Board meets Heads of Departments. Shorter meeting than usual, with another good presentation from the VC. Biggest discussion was about the release of the RAE results later this month, which will go to the press before the Universities. And even the Universities can only share them with a few senior staff as they are embargoed for a day before we can release them to the rest of the University.

Then at lunchtime my presentation to UEB - seemed to go OK. Lots of discussion and questions. Managed to find plenty of pictures to illustrate it, so very few lists of bullet points. Hope I got over that we're not just about technlogy, but about supporting the business needs and objectives of the University. We need and want to be involved in strategic discussions - almost every decision made by the Board will impact on us in some way, and almost everything we do will impact on the University. Partnership is the key, and we need to work together to make sure that the University gets the maximum benefit from our services.

Then later today I had a meeting with our Apple Higher Education rep. As I'm sure everyone know, I'm a real fan of Apple products, and this was a good opportunuity to talk abot some issues. I found out why Apple weren't at the EDUCAUSE exhibition, and why they won't be at UCISA later this year. A corporate decision aparently, but a pretty stupid one if you ask me. We talked about some of the issues we've been having getting iPhones on an O2 corporate contract, and also about iTunes U - something I'm very interested in. There's some excellent University sites onthere, and we will be considering having our own as part of our media hosting project.

Monday, 1 December 2008


Phew - HR stuff almost finished - can get back to normal work now!

Good planning meeting this morning looking at both our process and plans. Some interesting discussions about system reviews coming up. Our current student system is an in-house developed one, and has been live for 12 years. It's served us very well, and is totally customised to our requirements, and totally integrated. It does everything from dealing with the CRM side of prospective student enquiries, through on-line registration, assessments, graduation, careers and alumni. But, it's time we had a review to see if a bought-in package would give us benefits. That will probably take place next year. We'll be reviewing a few other systems as well, including the VLE, and possibly parts of the portal. Don't like to get complacent!

This afternoon we had an executive meeting, where we talked a lot about how we allocate project managers to projects, items for our upcoming Annual Report, and the content of the presentation I'm making to our Executive Board tomorrow morning. I've had great fun writing it, especially putting the actual presentation together. I don't like "death by bullet point" powerpoints, so this will be mainly lots of pictures. My favourite is the wordle I'm finishing with!