Thursday, 29 January 2015

Build and deliver, your money or your life

After the JISC Stakeholder forum on Tuesday I went to the Chemistry Club, for an evening networking with colleagues from other sectors. it's an informal event, and I got to talk to many interesting people, including from the Cabinet Office where we talked about the Government's "Digital by Design" initiative, some CIOs from Local Authorities who are moving to cloud based solutions and wanted to talk about how we'd done it, and a number of suppliers. We also had a talk from Chi Onwurah, Labour MP and shadow minister for digital government & cyber security.

Yesterday I visited  colleagues from London Universities to talk to them about a number of joint issues, especially around how we organise and shape our departments to deliver services. A common theme was separating out "Build" and "Deliver", and handling the transition between the two. I like to walk wherever possible, and my meetings yesterday were on opposite sides of London - I walked to all of them, and when I checked my fitibit before collapsing into bed, realised I'd clocked up just over 10 miles - I slept well!

Today was the UCISA Executive meeting, also in London, so I missed all the snow, although did get stuck on a delayed train coming home. The main item on today's agenda was looking at the business plans for all of the UCISA groups.They do a great job, including producing guidance and organising lot of events which are of great benefit to the sector. I do encourage staff to get involved with them, and am always pleased to see that Sheffield is well represented.

(btw, apologies to readers who are to young too get the significance of the title of this post...)

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

JISC Stakeholder Forum

Today I've been at the JISC Stakeholder Forum meeting in London. A range of people present including PVCs, CIOs, Librarians, and from across the sector, including FE as well as HE. The meeting was for JISC to tell us what they've been doing, as well as to get feedback from us on the direction we'd like them to take. They've undergone quite a transition over the last couple of years, and I think are now beginning to gel into a single organisation serving the sector. Lots of talk about engagement, and how they are going to work with us to deliver services.

We had a look at some of the last years achievements. Including the shared London data centre, a tier 3 data centre based in Slough with a number of anchor tenants already agreed. Hugely successful development, saving the sector about £20m over 5 years.

We also looked at the Summer of Student innovation and some of the successful projects that have come out of that. JISC have a new R and D web page which lists all of their projects which makes interesting reading.

We had a good round table discussion about how we can work together and how we can get the best value out of JISC services. Knowing what the services are, how much they cost and much they save us was probably the most important point to come out of the discussions.

This video looking back over the past year is worth a look and has some interesting figures in it

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Students, Power and Excellence

On an early train to London at the moment on route to JISC Stakeholder meeting, more on that later.

Yesterday was a real roller coaster day of meetings, I had 8! That will teach me to go away for a week.

In the morning I went to a consultation event with the Vice Chancellor and a good cross section of staff about our current review of our strategic plan, and the topic was The Student Experience. Some interesting presentation with some quite provocative ideas. By focusing on putting current students at the heart of everything, are we failing to meet the needs of other stakeholders, for example employers? Are we giving students what they want, rather than what they need? They want easy As, but they need a good education. What will the University of the future look like, and how will developments in technology change the way we teach?A very good session, with some excellent group discussions. One theme that emerged was the need to look at how we transition students from school to University, and also the need to radically review the way we teach to increase our flexibility to deal with non standard students and courses, which are increasingly becoming standard.

As well as updates on projects for which I am sponsor, I also caught up on an incident last week, where some electrical work caused us to loose power to one of our data centres. Because of the nature of the fault, the generator didn't kick in, correctly, so we ran on our UPS for 40 minutes, which had 3 minutes left when colleagues got the power restored. I think we can class that as a near miss.

Recently we launched our Customer Service Strategy which comes out of a lot of work we did last year within the department. Looking at the results of our recent staff survey, it's obvious that we do provide excellent customer service in some areas, but as in all things, there is always some room for improvement, and that's what we'll be working on this year.

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Friday, 16 January 2015

TEL, SAP, Value and TechQual

I posted the other day about TELFest which has been hugely successful - congrats to the whole team. The team have also just launched a new website - the TELHub - a website which provides information about technologies available to all staff to enhance their teaching as well as case studies showcasing the innovative use and effective practice of learning technology from colleagues across the University. Another great resource.

Other stuff happening this week - our Corporate System team completed an upgrade of our eRecruitment System delivering some real enhancements to the service, and they completed it ahead of schedule. Congrats all round.

I went to the first meeting of a new University committee to look at Public Value. I'm really quite excited about this group. It will look at how the University creates Public Value by looking at questions including  - what is the value of what we do, what are we for, who do we serve? It is intended to demonstrate that our activities make a difference and ensure that our stakeholders can engage with us. It will also look at difficult issues - where we might have different views from some of our stakeholders - and encourage an open debate. Some issues we discussed yesterday included whether we should disinvest from fossil fuels and how we might help asylum seekers in Sheffield.

The other interesting discussion this week was a first look at the results of a recent survey we've done of our services to staff using TechQual. This doesn't just measure satisfaction with our services, but it measures our customers expectations. Not surprisingly these have rocketed in the last year or two, and we are struggling to meet them.

OK, off on leave now for a week. See you soon.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Tiny Twins at Winter Graduation

Always a nice buzz on campus when it's graduation, and this week its our Winter Graduation ceremonies. As usual we're filming it, live streaming, and selling the ceremony on DVD and USB stick. Glad to see the team scrubbed up well ;-)

Also got a great range of gifts on sale from Print and Design Services

And for the first time, something new - meet Tiny Twin. You can have a whole scan, and then a model of you in your gown produced using 3D printing technology.

Cool!  And I'm told 3D photoshopping is possible, so you can have those few extra pounds removed ;-)

Monday, 12 January 2015

SSB Highlights

First Service Strategy Board of the year today - not a lot of project reports as we don't bother in January as it covers the Christmas period. However we do look at any projects having difficulty and try and solve any resourcing issues. We also get updates from each Service Manager on whats been happening in their area. A few things of note to report.

Today Winter TELfest started - organised and run by our Technology Enhanced Learning team, it follows the very successful one we ran in September and provides workshops, drop in sessions and networking sessions for staff who want to develop their technology enhanced teaching.  There's a great buzz over there at the moment, and it looks like being extremely interesting - there's sessions on our VLE, on Pebblepad, on getting the most from Google Apps, MOOCs, Twitter, lecture capture and mobile learning tools.

On the research side, we're working with one of our very successful professors who's just received a large MRC grant to set up an imaging lab, and we will be helping him with the computation and storage requirements.  The lab will use innovative and state of the art techniques developed here to produce high quality images of lungs which involve patients inhaling small amounts of noble gases before an MRI scan.

We also looked at a proposal to implement an event booking system for our performance space, buying some desktop scanners as a pilot for our student eFile project, and going through our release checklist for some new Google features which people have asked us for.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Annual Report

Welcome to our Annual Report - read about what we've been doing over the  last year!  Something for everyone - a review of achievements in our seven service areas, and some interesting facts and figures.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Happy New Year, and welcome to the Internet of Things

A Happy New Year to all of you, and welcome back!  I hope 2015 brings you peace, health and happiness.

A brand new year is ahead of us, and I've been giving some thought to what my priorities are in the first few months. I will be concentrating on:
  • The action plan following the staff survey and all of the data we have collected about the results
  • Implementing our Customer Service Strategy which we circulated to our staff just before Christmas and will be launching more widely soon
  • Improving our stakeholder relationships
  • A common framework for IT support across the university
  • Putting in place processes to better plan, design, build, transition and deliver services
My colleagues on the Exec also have priorities that they will be taking forward, and I'll share them with you over the next few days.

One thing I haven't managed to achieve yet, is a trip to CES - the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It's the place where all the new gadgets and inventions are showcased, and the consumer space is definitely the place to look. Being a bit of a gadget girl, I'd love to go. Big thing this year - well, everything. The Internet of things has really taken off.  Everything that can be connected to the internet, will be. Everything is now in place to link our phones, TVs, appliances, cars, and homes. Computers, storage sensors, and wireless network connections have all become cheap enough to add networked intelligence to practically anything.

For example, Whirlpool has a new washer/dryer that speaks to the Nest thermostat. With its motion-sensing technology, the Nest knows when nobody is home. It tells the dryer, which then switches to a lower-temperature setting. The clothes dry more slowly to save energy because no one is in a hurry to put them on. The user does not have to program this behavior; the dryer and thermostat work it out for themselves. Is that a bit spooky? Or just very clever? 

Apparently they're also working on a coffee maker that will connect to your fitbit, to turn itself on as you're coming in from a run, or makes stronger coffee if you've had a bad night sleep!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Merry Christmas

And so another year comes to an end, marked by the annual event which is the famous CiCS Christmas Party.  I hope everyone enjoyed it, and has a good break. Here's some pictures:

Friday, 19 December 2014

December round up

Myself and the Assistant Directors went away for a couple of days last week. to look at two main items. First was an analysis of how we interact with our major stakeholders, whether we have it right, and what can we do to improve it. Before we went we did a survey of some of our senior stakeholders, and their responses were extremely useful. We got some very good feedback, and some that was more constructive :-) What was obvious were some big differences in different parts of the University. We used the following grid to map our stakeholders which plots how much power and influence people have, and how interested they are in our services. It was quite illuminating :-)

I'm not sure I agree with some of the labels, but it did show us where we were not engaging appropriately in some areas. So, we've come up with a plan which we are putting in place in the new year.

The other big discussion we had was about the future shape of the department, something that we've been looking at for a while. I use the phrase shape, rather than structure deliberately. We're looking at how we can improve our planning and architecture, the design and building of services, transitioning them then into delivery. I am keen to get it right rather than do it quickly, so a lot more discussion still to be had.

I also attended an open forum with the Vice Chancellor, other members of UEB and a selection of staff from across the institution. This was one of a series of workshops as part of the consultation on our strategic plan, and was about Our Strategic Partners. Some good presentation and lively discussion about what partnership meant, who we should partner with, and who we shouldn't.

Almost my final meeting was Senate Budget Committee (SBC) where I represent the Professional Services, and we had our annual meeting with the Vice Chancellor. SBC looks at the budgetary processes in the University, and we were discussing with the VC what its future role should be. SBC makes public all of its discussions, and has a webpage of very useful resources about University finances.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Thank you...

Thursday I spent in London at a UCISA executive committee meeting, As well as the normal business, especially looking at what the many UCISA groups have been up to, we had a visit from the Chief Executive of HESA.  HESA is the body that collects and collates data from Universities in many areas - from the student record on how many and what sort of students we have from finance on what we spend our money on, and on HR.  This data is then sent to various agencies - including our funding bodies.  At the moment HESA is undergoing a transformation programme - looking at all of its processes and how it collects this data, and as we are are heavily involved in this, it will affect us. so we will be watching with interest, and taking part in the consultations.

Friday saw our annual thank you party for staff - some drinks and food and what has become a bit of a tradition, the annual charity raffle. Over 130 prizes donated by our staff and our suppliers,

and we raised about £1,000 for two charities - Diabetes UK and Roundabout, a local charity which helps homeless teens in Sheffield. Many thanks to everyone, for your hard work throughout the year, for donating prizes, buying raffle tickets or helping on the day. Much appreciated.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Diamond and MOOC hype

Our new building, The Diamond is really coming along now - it looks fantastic. The base layer of the cladding is on, you can see the pods inside, and the spiral staircase has been installed. hopefully the aluminium cladding will start to go on in the next few days. There's a great webcam of the construction site here. This screenshot taken a couple of minutes ago shows the huge study pod from the east of the building, and the cladding panels stacked up ready to go on the left.

We're on target to open for September 2015, and this week we've been having discussions about commissioning and fitting out the building. There's a lot of work for us to do!  The network to commission - this building will increase the size of our campus network by 10% - the teaching technologies in the pool teaching space to install and commission, over 700 PCs to install, and all of the creative media spaces to be kitted out. We'll be looking to dedicate people to work on this to make sure everything goes to plan.

Also this week we've had an call with a Gartner analyst about the future of technolgies in teaching. Some of the up and coming ones including Learning Analytics and Adaptive Learning, and existing ones such as MOOCs. Interestingly Gartners latest education hype cycle have MOOCs heading off into the trough of disillusionment, and disappearing before they ever reach a plateau. That's mainly due to a lack of a sustainable business model for them, and their view is that once the hype surrounding them has gone, they will transform into something different. This year's hype cycle has some interesting stuff on it - must find time to study it in a bit more detail.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Summer of Student Innovation Showcase

Today I'm at the Summer of Student Innovation Showcase at Reading University. This was funded as part of the JISC codesign programme, and it's great to see so many student projects which have been developed as part of it. It's the second year it's run - students suggest projects to improve student life  and JISC fund them to get them into an early stage of development. 18 student teams are presenting what they've developed over the summer. Amazing how much has been done in a short time.  Each project had a stand with a demo, and gave a 5 minute short presentation. Some of the projects are listed below, and I've done some brief notes, and included a link where there is one. They are definitely worth a look, and it is quite illuminating to see what students think is important to them. Most have a prototype, and have done a pilot, and are are looking to extend the pilot to other Universities.

20,000 students made a complaint about their university in 2012. Student expectations are very high, and student satisfaction is critical. Student feedback is key, so this is a way of collecting feedback from students. Unitu is an app which facilitates a collaborative feedback process by creating communities of course reps and staff where issues can be raised and resolved. Being piloted in two Universities already.

Learning and retaining foreign vocabulary can be difficult. This is an app for teachers and students providing tailored support for commonly taught languages, with a vocabulary library and  tests for students and analytics for staff.

Open Access Button
A suite of  apps to help researchers, students and the public get access to scientific and scholarly open access research. There's also functionality  for publishing your own research in an open access way.

This is a peer to peer teaching initiative enabling medical students to deliver regular structured teaching to younger students. Medical students already help each other and there is currently lots of information from students, on Facebook, Dropbox etc, but it is hard to find. This brings it together. Being piloted at Universty of Liverpool and Limerick.
I was really impressed with this - there's some good content there, and I can see its application to other subject areas.

An app for getting someone to proofread work before its handed in. Based on the premise that it is often difficult to spot your own mistakes and it's expensive to employ a proofreader. This development is an online platform so students can swop their work and proof read others for free.  It also aims to improve reading and writing skills as will be building in tips on grammar and spelling.
Impressed with this one as well - they've given a lot of thought to how they might handle plagiarism etc.

Fully functional app which actively solicits feedback from students after every lecture or seminar and feeds it back to teachers. Being piloted at LSE.

An app designed to help students plan and deliver assigments etc on time - a sort of academic to do list. It helps student meet deadlines. Has a lot of tips built in on referencing etc. Gamification is built in so you can see how far along the timeline you've progressing.
I can see the potential for this to all students. but particularly those who have difficulty organising themselves. 

Students are better connected then ever before, not only to each other but to information and resources.
This is an app which allows students to create and share multiple choice tests. To create a test means you have to understand it. A dashboard is being created to allow insitutions to look at what the students are doing.

A platform for students to submit ideas, discuss them, and have them turned into action by their student union. Ideas can be voted on and have comments on them.
Launched in University of Edinburgh Student Union, and they have built it into their portal so their is single sign on to it.
Free and open source.
I was very interested in this. It looks very much like Ideascale but simpler, and it is free :-)

A murder mystery game as part of student induction. Takes students to places they need to know about, meet people they need to know. Uses a lot of technology including geoloaction maps, virtual reality (aurasma).
This was great, if slightly wacky. Not sure how they would roll it out further as it requires a lot of input form them, but very cool!

A flashcard app for vet students. Lot of content to learn in vet studies they study more species than medical students! Does 3 things. Spaced repetition, a algorithm which schedules a card just before you forget it. Database of 80,000 cards - huge database of vet content. Also uses collaboration - can work with other students.
Saw a demo of this and very impressed, especially with the algorithm which works out when to repeat a card based on when you are going to forget the info.

Project to help students sell themselves. Students undersell themselves through using traditional paper based CVs. Also good way of making better contact with employer at application stage. Biggest problem not technology, but most people don't know what their most sellable skills and assets are. So, as well as making the videos, they run workshops to help students to work out what they should be emphasising.  They've run a pilot scheme at Loughborough University and want to expand. Really good project.

Host and Dine

An app to put students in contact with each other, to cook for and with each other. Encourages
students living in halls to learn, share and cook meals together. For example, you want to cook a Sunday roast. Not practical on your own. So you post it as an event. Others can join, and come over and cook together. Also good for sharing cooking for different cultures. Have run a pilot, and now want to extend it. Also getting in touch with private companies such as Unite.
I though this was great - the pilot has apparently been ery successful.

 Online money saving community which calculates the cheapest prices possible for products and tells you where to get them. Also a crowd sourcing site for people to share information about offers etc.
Developed by a student who was having trouble making ends meet. 

Some of last year's funded projects were also there:

An online noticeboard for students to search, buy and sell at their local university. 
Phase 1 developed and rolled out at Brunel University.
Now looking to roll out phase 2.

Call for Particpants 
This offers tools to researchers to connect them with volunteers to take part in research projects and then for a university to measure public engagement with research

So, a great day, some great projects. Really enjoyed talking to the students.