Monday, 14 April 2014

Diversity beats Ability

On Friday I took part in "The Big Message" discussion. Along with a number of other Heads of Department, we were talking about Diversity - why it matters, how it can add value to the educational mission of the University, what barriers there are to diversity, and what actions we need to take to overcome them. The conversations had been taking place all week with different groups of staff, facilitated by Simon and Roy from Astar-Fanshawe, and will result in a message about how diversity can help us work more effectively with each other and enhance our teaching and research. Our first question we had to work o was "how can diversity enhance our educational value", and the obvious answer from our group was "how can it not?".  Some great discussions around how diverse teams work better   - "diversity beats ability" - and how being at University is about learning new things, coming into contact with new ideas, new cultures etc, all of which are enhanced if we have a diverse population of staff and students.
Some of the most interesting discussions were around barriers. Recruitment was one which as already been identified, not picking the right person for the job, but recruiting for a team can be difficult.  The tendency for mini-me-ism - recruiting people in our own image, with our own personality and skill set. Lots of talk around diverse meaning a truly integrated polulation - a diverse group of students is not truly diverse if chinese students only talk to each other in chinese, and the UK students stick together for example. Lots of good action plans came out of it - an excellent session.

Today it was our Service Strategy Board where as well as catching up on project progress we talked about how work is requested, how it comes into the department, and how we allocate resources. Also, we had a presentation and approved a way forward to implement Agile Project Management which is going to lead some some big changes in how we run projects. We also approved a new project, to investigate how we store and retrieve digital media.

Tonight I went to the opening of one of our new buildings - The Pam Liversage Building  - great to see an engineering building named after a women engineer! It's a stunning seven storey building, and has been designed to join an existing building, with an atrium containing the external wall of the original building. It will be the home to our engineering graduate school, and there's more information about it here.

You can also explore the building using Google Streetview here.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Innovation and ideas

Yesterday I was at a workshop run by JISC as part of their Co-Design programme, which involves a number of stakeholders working in partnership with JISC to agree on priorities and projects for innovation funding.

Our job yesterday was to come up with ideas - a very well run day, and a lot of good ideas came out of it. We started with challenges that we thought technology could solve, grouped them into themes, and then spent some time working on them in groups, refining and defining them.  In the end we had to produce elevator pitches for each, and pitch to the rest of the group - we came up with about 15 challenges, with defined outcomes and benefits - which finally we voted on. JISC will now work on them and come up with some suggested projects to take forward. The main themes in the groups I was involved in were around Digital Literacy and the Student Experience

Digital Literacy is vital for all staff. Academics need to feel comfortable with new technologies and the best pedagogic way to use them in their teaching. Professional support staff need to know how to use technologies to make processes and procedures more efficient, and all staff need to feel part of the community and conversation which takes place on social media. There's a wide range of digital literacy out there, with different skill levels, and there is a lot of work to do to ensure that everyone has the skills they need.

The student experience is important for so many reasons - for student satisfaction, for league tables such as those based on the NSS, to make students feel connected with the University. We need a digital environment that is fit for the 21st century which covers the whole student lifecycle from enquiry to graduation and employment. this is a huge project which could take in many things, including some of the issues around identity which I posted about after Tuesdays meeting.
Quite intense hard work,  but the view made up for it!

Today I was in Oxford for the Organising Committee of the UCISA Conference. UCISA14 only finished a couple of weeks ago, and we're already planning UCISA15 - and I'm now Chair of the group. The feedback from delegates which we got today confirms that is was very successful, and many said it was one of the best. So, we've got to follow it next year in Edinburgh.  No pressure there!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Which Identity?

I'm in London today and tomorrow for a couple of JISC meetings. Today was the Identity Management Task Force, set up as part of the co-design process last year to look at the polices, processes and people issues around identity management. Not technical ones!

Some interesting discussion around what we mean by Identity Management. Does anyone really understand the phrase other than IT people and Librarians? Is it any wonder we can't get anyone else in our institutions to be interested in it if they don't know what it means? The simplest definition we could come up with is "access to stuff". Stuff that you need to do your job, or be a student. It could be an IT service, an electronic journal, a building, an email account, the Finance system, the VLE......

Part of the discussion was where we want to take the project now. We have lots of outputs from phase 1 although not necessarily disseminated yet to the wider community but that's another story....

One area we're already looking at in Sheffield which seemed to get a lot of support, was the whole question of identity. For example, students come to us with an identity, or multiple ones, and we give them another. Why not trust one of their other identities and let them use their Facebook authentication for example to get access to our services? I get access to many web based services using my google account, or my Facebook account, or another account, and we need to be looking at how we make things as easy as possible for our users. The world has changed since students came to us without even an email address and were hugely excited when we gave them one, and we need to change with it.

Tomorrow I'm at a workshop looking at what sort of innovative ideas JISC ought to be funding over the next year or two. I'm open to suggestions!

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Friday, 4 April 2014

Building bridges...

Varsity - something I've not really taken much notice of until last year. Then I realised how important it is to many people- the two Sheffield Universities competing against each other in a week of sports competitions. Last night I was lucky enough to go to the Ice Hockey event in the Arena which was the final. Sometimes the winners are decided at the final event, but this year we'd won before it started. That didn't stop the excitement though! 8,000 students in the Arena - half in red and white and half in black and gold (us), cheering the sides on. Never seen an ice hockey game before - would love to know if there are actually any rules :-) The noise, the excitement was fantastic.

We lost the ice hockey.  But, we won Varsity!

Great celebrations all round. Getting my black and gold scarf ready for next year....

Today we had a "Meet the Department Event" as part of our CUP (Centre of the University Programme), aimed at bringing Professional Services and Academic Departments closer together.  The last one we took part in was with the Faculty of Arts, and this one was with the Faculty of Engineering. about 100 staff attended - 50 from CiCS and 50 from the Faculty, and we began with an overview of the Faculty  - what the departments did, and where it was going.

Then - we tried some engineering!! With a small box of Lego, the different tables had to build a bridge that two people could get under. There's nothing like Lego to get people talking to each other and bringing a room to life.

Our bridge was fab!

Followed by some great talks on the student experience - drawing out where things work well and where they don't - and the research lifecycle. I presented about CiCS services and our priorities and we had roundtable discussions on several topics including support for teaching and learning, research,  social media and security. Then we went for some tours to see some of Engineering's interesting stuff - 3D printing, Robotics, and my favourite, the flight simulator.

Great session - organised brilliantly, and I hope it has helped to bring us and the Faculty together. Here's to many more such sessions.

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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

UCISA14 part 2

You may have noticed a distinct lack of blogposts from UCISA last week - truth is, I was either too busy, too enthralled, or sitting on the stage chairing sessions - to take notes and post. So here's a summary of what I got from each sessions, as well as links to some of the talks which were recorded. This year we made a real effort to "up the game" of the conference, bringing in outside speakers and moving away from technology and towards leadership.

Clay Shirky is a very well respected american writer, educator and consultant on the social and economic effects of internet technologies - I've heard him speak a couple of times, and there are some excellent talks on the TED website of his.  Clay flew in to give his talk, and it was extremely thought provoking. He talked about IT becoming the central function in the HE enterpise as it already embedded in the way we live. IT is not just being asked to do more, but different things, and we may have to lead change without buy in from our senior managers.
Watch the talk - you'll enjoy it.

Simon Fanshawe is a writer, broadcaster, stand up comedian, founder of Stonewall and describes himself as a Provocateur with a Purpose. He's been working with us here in Sheffield on our equality objectives, and dos a lot of work with organisations on why diversity matters, and how it produces better performing teams. It was an entertaining talk - getting your lovers knickers off in the first few
minutes - but full of really good content. My take home moment, possibly of the conference was - "don't appoint the best person for the job". In fact, never appoint the best person for the job. Appoint the best person for the team. Some interesting HR issues around this one, especially with job specs etc.
Again, the talk was recorded and its well worth a watch.

Vorsprung durcht Technik was the unusual title of a talk given by our own Heidi Fraser-Krauss,
Director of IT Services at York University, and Professor Thomas Krauss, Professor of Photonics at York University. Think it was the first married couple double act we've had at UCISA, and I was hoping that we didn't witness another conscious uncoupling. Luckily we didn't, but we did see a great role play of an IT director trying to deal with a very excited research professor. Anyone who has to deal with academics should watch this!

The final talk on Thursday was from Professor Sue Black, Computer Scientist, founder of the campaign to save Bletchley Park, recently voted Inspirational Woman of the year, and a champion for women in computing. She gave a potted life history, from leaving school and 16, through being a watch here. One of my favourite bits was about her campaign to save Bletchley Park, where Stephen Fry retweeted one of her tweets really showing the power of social media.
single mum of three children, to getting back into education and becoming an academic. Truly inspiring. She's recently formed Savvify, a social enterprise which is currently running techmums - a programme to get mums to be more tech savvy. Another great talk which you can watch here.

Thursday night was the conference dinner, where I had the honour of sitting with John Lloyd who was our after dinner speaker. John was the producer of Spitting Image, Blackadder and QI to name
just a few. Fascinating chatting to him about possibly bringing Spitting Image back - can you imagine Boris's puppet? he gave a great afterdinner talk - so funny, and quoting some great bits from the meaning of Lif, which he co wrote with Douglas Adams. Of course, there was the obligatory selfie.....

Friday morning strarted with Simon Mingay from Gartner talking about Service Porfolios. I've heard Simon to do this talk before, and blogged about it - excellent talk as alwyas, but not recorded.

Next up was Dave Coplin from Microsoft talking about the Future World of Work - excellent presenter and thought provoking talk about how our working lives and environments might look in the future. Also what skills our students and children might need to succeed. He's written a book - Business Reimagined - which is free to download for the kindle edition.A good soundbite from this - its not emails fault we get too many emails. It's ours for not using it properly. Do watch the talk if you get chance - there's lots of really good stuff in it.

Final two talks of the day weren't recorded so you can't watch them - first was from Linda Davidson, now a Global CIO but started life as an actress (you might remember her as Mary the Punk from Eastenders) who had some fascinatng insights into leadership:
She started with a great video predicting what technology might look like from the 1960s - love the bit about the husband paying!

Finally, we closed the conference with a talk from Alex Hunter who was responsible for getting Virgin America off the ground and then became head of Virgin Online talking about how to engage with customers, how to build a relationship with them, how to create a fantastic use experience with the wow factor. Couldn't record this, but there's a number of clips on YouTube of him speaking if you want to look him up, and his website has one of his good examples of customer service and how he fell in love with Pact Coffee.

Though I say it myself, it was one of the best UCISA conferences, and the difficult part starts now - how do we follow it next year?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Influential leadership

Well, after the fairground last night, I must admit I've felt better. I blame the arm wrestling and trying to ring the bell with the hammer

This morning we kicked off with Paul Gentle from the Leadership Foundation talking about Engaging Stakeholders with Courage. Started with a very lively discussion on our tables about who are our most difficult stakeholders to deal with! Given that most of the Sheffield contingent were sitting together, there was a fair amount of consensus. Won't give away what we came up with :-)

We spent the session discussing why some stakeholders present certain challenges, fear often playing a part. Also looked at what skills and behaviours are needed by good leaders to successfully engage stakeholders:
Challenger role. Being prepared to challenge the prevailing culture with a clear vision of what a new culture might be like.
Influencing role. Understanding relational aspect of how people work together. Understand what drives individual and how they can contribute
Balancer recognise that conflict can sometimes be a positive force, can act ina mediating role
Questioners can think about operating beyond the tired and tested. Use questions to get insights into th complexity o situations and use user ions to get to innovative solutions
Learners use everything as a learning opportunity. Can surface issues of failure and learn from them.

Very good interactive session with lots of discussion on our tables interspersed

Second speaker was Colin Gautrey talking about Influential Leadership.
Leadership is about outcomes, about getting things done. You need a goal, and the help and support of others. Need a big vision, not just short term. Mark of great leadership is how you get people to go the extra mile.
Need to create time to make progress against the big goal. Managing the short term and the long term is a challenge.

Develop a clear focus. What are you trying to achieve?
Identify important stakeholders, who are the most powerful people who can influence outcome, in a positive or negative way
Analyse what your relationship is with stakeholders and how it needs to change
Plan your strategy of engagement
Engage with stakeholders
Maintain that engagement. Has to be repeated and regular.

Stakeholder mapping needs to take into account your relationship with them. Has to included trust.
Nice quadrant to map stakeholders onto. Not a good picture, but relationship is on x axis, agreement on y axis, and players clockwise from bottom left are enemy, player, advocate, critic

Do a political analysis on your stakeholders.
Power, what makes them influential
Agenda, where are they going
Connections, who do they know
Performance, are they succeeding
Values, what's important to them
Behaviour, how do they do things
History, where have they come from

All of above are key in understanding and then influencing stakeholders.

Influencing strategy
Concentrate on impact
Advocates are top priority, they are already on side
Critics make great opponents
Ignore your enemies. Low levels of trust, and they disagree with you. Engaging with enemies is hard work. Understand their position and the threat they might pose to you and come up with strategy. Neutralise any damage they might cause.
Remember the indirect routes

Five rules of ethical influence
Always help people to make balanced and informed decisions
Ensure pitches include drawbacks as well as benefits
Be clear and open about your own interests
Aim for people wanting to do what you want them to do
Never mislead people into doing something that you know will harm them.

Be politically active. Get out into the organisation and understand people.
Influential leadership is not a solo activity.
Rational persuasion at best gains compliance.
Most effective tactic is inspirational appeal. Communicating with people's values. Can only do this if you know the other person.

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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Evaluating TEL

Part of the UCISA conference is always dedicated to hearing case studies from colleagues at other universities who share their experiences with us. I went to one this afternoon from a colleague, Sarah Horrigan who worked with us in Sheffield until last year. It was about evaluating institutional Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) practice at her new institution.

The basic question was, how do you know what good practice looks like? You can ask people, look at your system, or do both.You can run reports from your VLE, but do they tell you whether technology is enhancing learning?

We need digitally literate staff and students to really have TEL. Digital literacy defines those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society.
At her new University they had what they called threshold standards for using the VLE ( eg every course must have ....). Sarah looked at the threshold standards, combined with the digital literacy definition and came up with a rubric for module evaluation. Then a selection of modules were audited. The results were not surprising to those of us who work in HE, and I suspect would be replicated in many institutions.

They discovered lots of tumbleweed moments! Lots of modules set up on the VLE, with no content.
There was also lots of stuff in VLE, powerpoints, module handbook etc. But no interaction, no communication.
They had a threshold standard that said the folder structure in VLE should match scheme of work. But lots of modules didn't have scheme of work. Setting up standards to fail. There was no prioritisation of standards
and where the standard was prescriptive, (eg put on handbook on line), there was more compliance, but where the standard was vague, there was more exemplary practice.
They also found gaps in digital literacy and particularly there was very little skills support.

So, what are the recommendations?
Talk to academic community. Find out what's important to them.
Replace the threshold standards. Look more at a framework of enhancement.
Facilitate via design of the system. Build the boring stuff into the VLE
Develop digital practice skills. Have a training menu, let staff picks what they want and deliver itto them, where they are.
Repeat the processes to deepen understanding. Don't assume what people are doing, they probably aren't!

Sarah finished with a nice quote: "Direction is more important then speed. We are so busy looking at speedometers that we forget the milestone. ". Keep going in a positive direction. That's more important than how fast you get there.

In the same vein of sharing case studies, the last session was a poster one, where twenty or so case studies are shared via a poster with the authors on hand to answer questions. Quite a buzz around the posters this evening, and it gave us another opportunity to talk to suppliers.

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UCISA 2014 Kicks Off

I'm in Brighton on a lovely sunny day for the UCISA conference, with a view of a very sad pier from the hotel.

Started the day by briefing the exhibitors on how to get the most out of the conference, and then spent some time going round talking to various of our suppliers, and some exhibitors who hope to be!

Conference proper kicked off with a welcome from the Vice Chancellor of Brighton University, and then the opening keynote from Gerry Pennell, currently IT Director at the University of Manchester, but previously he was CIO for the London Olympics. I've heard him talk a couple of times, and always find it fascinating to hear what went on to prepare for such a big event.

Started with a great video of the what the Olympics was about, amazing quality and it brought a tear to my eyes!

Olympic delivery authority, delivered the infrastructure, venues etc and were publicly funded.
LOCOG actually ran the games, he worked for them. Privately funded, £3.2bn. Technology budget was about 25% of this.
Some special factors which made this job different to any other IT Director post:
Fixed deadline.
High profile and expectations
Only one shot
Life cycle of the organising committee, it had never delivered an Olympics before!
Process development and engineering lead times are longer than other parts of organisation.
Key clients/users arrive late

Scope of technology:
Enterprise systems and IT, accounting, HR etc.
Applications specific to games, tracking arrivals, VIPs etc
Large telecoms and data network
Specific venue technology, scoreboards, music technology
Internet operations
Results technology, most mission critical

Starts at field of play with sporting performance.
Specialised instrumentation measures the performance
In venue have results technology, which looks whether timings were world records etc, database of performances etc. Quickly can flash this on to scoreboard
Pump information to broadcasters
Send information to commentators

Everything gets sent to Central repository system. Coordinators with athletes biographies, weather, everything else.
Then to web sites via data feed, press agencies etc.
All glued together!

Most of software brand new for London.
Massive systems integration job. 56 different pieces of software.
20 different suppliers
110,000 different prices of technical equipment rolled out, often at last minute, for example, Wimbledon finished 3 weeks before Olympics
5500 km of cabling
60% of load came from mobile.
Andy Murray final was highest load, were providing real time delivery of results and public were checking on a point by point basis. Servers got hotter than planned!

Fantastic talk and insight into what went not, including lots of insider information about things that went wrong, cybersecurity and how challenges were met.

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Monday, 24 March 2014

Inspiration, planning and turkey oaks

Sometimes its great to be involved with something far removed from the day job - last year at this time I was about to help on the night for the 24 Hour Inspire. It's happening again - this Thursday and Friday - there's an amazing programme of speakers that you can see here. Do try and get there if you can, and dig deep for the charity. Unfortunately, despite being part of the planning team for this, I won't be there, as I'm going to be in Brighton at the UCISA conference, which I've also been helping to organise. 

Another departure from IT caused me last Friday to spend an hour in one of my favourite parts of Sheffield - Norfolk Heritage Park. I used to live very close to it, and used to frequently take my kids in the evening and weekends up the long avenue of Turkey Oaks to the playground at the top. There's an amazing view across Sheffield, with our own Information Commons very visible. I was there because the University is celebrating 20 years of the National Fairground Archive by partnering with the organisers of Sheffield Fayre to provide entertainment at the event. I'm in charge of morris and clog dancing!

Today was back down to earth with a series of back to back meetings - detailed discussion of our planning statement and budget bids for next year, a senior management meeting for our fabulous new building on the Jessop East site (which you can see going up here), and planning for an awayday.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


Kicked off this week with our Human Resources Committee - good progress being made on our Talent First strategy, and we had a interesting discussion about what an ideal Reward and Recognition strategy would look like. Answers on a postcard please :-)

We're looking at making some major changes to our service cataologue, and we're working on a much higher level Service Portfolio which describes what we do, and how it brings value to the Univeristy. Made a lot of progress, and it's been good recently to catch up with the Gartner Analyst who's been advising us. Glad to know he was very complementary and thinks we're going in the right direction!

Its also that time of year for planning, budgeting, forecasting, looking forward to the next academic year, and sorting out our objectives, making sure they align with what the University's plans are, and that we have the necessary funding to achieve them. Lots of work.

Finally today I had a conference call about the Summer of Student Innovation - blogged about it before so this is another plug! There's £5000 available, and a lot of help, for students who have a great idea about how to improve student life with technology. All they have to do is go here and enter. One of the major points of discussion was how we get the message out to students. Blanket email we know don't work, and although there's a press release and a number of media articles, that's not going to get to the students. We know how hard it is - even Fileman didn't get to all of them.  I'm looking for an eye catching, maybe whacky, graphic image that basically makes it clear that there's money available for great ideas. Hopefully this year we'll get an idea from Sheffield.

This initiative is being funded by JISC, and we're meeting soon to look at other innovative ideas to fund - let me have any. My suggestion is a Summer of STAFF Innovation - I'm sure there are plenty of staff out there with ideas who just need a bit of time and funding to make them happen - what do you think?

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Digifest Online and Regenerating Cities

Just a couple of links to things you might be interested in. Many of the resources for the JISC Digifest I've been posting from for the last couple of days are now on-line, including video recordings of the keynote talks if you want to watch any.

Also, I posted a few weeks ago about a talk from Marcus Westbury about regenerating cities, and that talk is now available if anyone wants to watch it who couldn't make it.


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Futurology and the end of Digifest

Final talk was from a Futurologist - Ray Hammond. Accepting that "Futurology" was an odd name, Ray began by postulating that we have no language for future technologies. This causes problems with adopting new technology. Some good examples:

What we now know as the projector, was originally called a magic lantern
The train - an iron horse
A fridge - an ice box
The car - a horseless carriage

Currently we have something called a mobile phone.  The language  "mobile phone" is as much use to describe its future as "horseless carriage" was to describe the future of the car

A recent report has estimated that 47% of jobs that exist today won't exist in 20 years time. So, how do we prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist? We need to ensure that they have instilled in them a love of constant learning and adapting to change

There are 6 drivers for the huge changes we are going to see over the next 20 years:

Asymmetric population growth.  The population will rise in sub-saharan Africa, in SE Asia, and in other parts of the developing world.  In 20 years time 50% more people will need fresh water, food and energy. Can we find it on this planet? Big technology driver.

Continuing climate change

Energy. We will need cleaner energy supplies at a time when demand is rising

Continuing modern globalisation. When done ethically and sustainably, this is the greatest force for good. Brings a future to the poorest people. Offers opportunity for growth and development.

Medical revolutions in:
DNA decoding
Stem cell treatments
Nanoscale medicine
Will mean that we will all live longer

Accelerating and exponential technology development

He then gave a scenario about what the world might be like in 30 years - where an implant called Maria is behind his left ear.....


Great talk, and an appropriate end to what has been an excellent two days. I think the format - a mixture of plenary sessions, workshops, panel discussions and expert speakers worked well. And the slightly wacky festival atmosphere was very appealing.

There was a groovy booth where you could have photos taken

a digital dream wall, where some great artists illustrated our suggestions on the future of education

and some of us got to take the table decorations home from the Digifeast!

Hole in the Wall

This lunchtime's keynote was from Professor Sugata Mitra, streamed live on a link from Calcutta. Professor Mitra is most famous for his Hole in the Wall experiment when in 1999 he took a computer and embedded it in a wall in a slum in Delhi so children could reach it.
Despite the fact that the street children had never seen one before, and all interfaces were in English, 6 hours later they were browsing and teaching each other.
He repeated the experiment in other locations with reproducible results.
The experiments showed that groups of children left unsupervised with a computer learn to use the Internet. Over 9 months they reached the same level of proficiency as an office secretary in the west.
Didn't happen as effectively if an adult or teacher was there.

Rather than read me writing about it, you can watch his prize winning TED talk about it. Fascinating subject.

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