Thursday, 20 August 2009

Twenty five years of Powerpoint

Did you know it is 25 years since Powerpoint came on to the market? I didn't until I read the BBC article here, aptly titled, The Problem with Powerpoint. I also didn't know that it was originally designed just for the Mac, and it was called Presentation. Not too much seems to have changed in those 25 years. It's still the mostly widely used presentation tool by a long way with 500 million users worldwide. Apprently there are 30million powerpoint presentations a day, and the average slide contains 40 words.

The BBC article is worth reading, especially if like me you fear death by Powerpoint. Endless slides of bullet points, presenters talking to the slides and not the audience, text that you can't read, and presenters who merely read the boring bullet pointed lists that they are imposing on you. And clip art. Don't get me started on clip art.....

There's an art to a good presentation which is nothing to do with what's on the screen - some of the best I've seen haven't used any visual aids at all. If I am going to use them, if I get time I go for photographs, visual images, stories - to connect with people's emotions. Yes you occasionally have to use words, but make them interesting! Of course, that's down to my personality type, and I'm sure there are people out there who love presentations based on lists of facts, numbers etc. So, the knack is to tailor your presentation to the type of audience you have, or include a mixture of types of slides so that you don't turn anyone off. Difficult, but worth doing.

Today is an exciting day for many people - it's the day the A level results are announced and thousands of young (and some not so young) people find out whether they've got the place at University they want. It's also an extremely busy time here as we handle many hundreds of calls from anxious students. Good luck to all of those hoping for a place, and to all of those at this end staffing the phone lines and keeping the systems running in the background.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

To iTunesU, or not to iTunesU

Had an interesting discussion today about whether we should establish a presence on iTunesU.
Many issues to look at including technical ones (how do we do it), what do we use it for (marketing, academic content, research dissemination), how does it fit in with other hosting mechanisms (our own streaming media servers, YouTube etc). Obviously the major question is should we do it - what are the benefits to us, and what are the costs. Benefits are difficult to quantify - how will know if it's bringing in more or better students, or improving our research profile?

And what about the content - we have some good existing stuff, but what resources will be needed to keep producing enough high quality content to keep the site fresh and interesting? Content will be key - we need to determine what it is we're trying to do, and the mechanism by which we disseminate it follows that. So, a strategy document is being prepared.....

Monday, 17 August 2009

Savings and services

Back to work today with a vengeance. Long hot days in Mallorca, dips in the pool, and very good meals seem a long way away. Emails were looked at and mainly deleted last night, so today was a round of catch ups, meetings, and some difficult decisions to be looked at.

Like many Universities, we're looking for financial savings, and a number of staff are leaving - this department is losing 20 with many of them going in the next couple of weeks. Of course, the departures aren't evenly spread, with some teams being hit much harder than others. So, those discussions we started a few weeks ago of what we can stop doing, and where our priorities should be, are now going to be put into practice. There will be some hard choices, but we have to be clear that we cannot continue to offer the same services as we do now and certainly not manage them as we currently do. Unless a service affects the bottom line (ie bringing in more students, more research income or reducing costs) should we be doing it? Not in the current financial climate. So, an interesting few weeks in store.

As well as looking carefully at our services, we must not stop innovating - none of us want to work in a boring environment. So I am excited (yes really excited - how sad is that!), that I have two more brand new Gartner Hype Cycles to read. One on emerging technologies, and one on social software. Maggie Shiels on the BBC technology blog has already commented on the emerging technologies one, especially the suggestion that microblogging sites such as Twitter have peaked and are on their way to the trough of disillusionment. Haven't had chance to look at either in detail yet, so will reserve comments till later, although one thing that did strike me on a very quick glance at them both earlier this evening was the difference in timescales until technologies are adopted (and also with the Higher Education one I wrote about earlier).

Normally time to plateau is expressed as less than 2 years, 2-5 years, 5-10 years or more than 10 years, and there's usually a sprinkling of all of them. In the social software analysis, everything is so much quicker, with nothing taking longer than 10 years, and most things below 5 years. Much more rapid development and adoption.

I am of the opinion that we need to mirror this - rapid development and deployment is going to be key to staying ahead of the game.

As I said, the holiday seems a long time ago.....