Thursday, 30 August 2012

Appalling decision by the UKBA

Last night I was happily watching the opening ceremony of the Paralympics, a great celebration of diversity in every form, when some disturbing news  began filtering through on my twitterfeed. The UKBA had told London Metropolitan University that it had revoked its Trusted Sponsor Status for overseas students. Well, actually, they'd leaked it to a Sunday Newspaper a few days before.   Apparently a press release had been issued, people had seen it, then it disappeared from the UKBA site. But, people had screenshots. Eventually the news was confirmed by a short press release on London Met's page. 

This is an appalling decision by the UKBA, appallingly mishandled. It threatens not just London Met, but UK Higher Education as a whole.  This decision, taken just weeks before the start of term, means that not only can London Met not admit any overseas students this year, (even those who have already been offerred places and may have accommodation booked, flights arranged etc,) but international students who are already studying there who may have done 2 or 3 years of a course, have 60 days to find another course, or face deportation.  This will affect over 2000 students.

If you were a friend or relative of one of those students, or a teacher at a school overseas where one of them came from, would you care that it was just London Met, or would it affect your decision to apply or recommend applying to any University in the UK?  Bearing in mind that two other Universities have had their status suspended temporarily.

The money this is going to cost London Met is many tens of millions, it will threaten jobs and courses, and possibly the University's future. And let's not forget the real losers in this. The students who have either got places, or are already studying there. They have perfectly valid visas, but now face financial hardship, uncertainty over where they can study, and possible deportation.

I don't know the details of the problem at London Met, and undoubtedly there are some. But the UKBA itself admitted that it was a "small minority" of students they audited who hadn't got the correct documentation or leave to stay. The UKBA flexing its muscles in this way  - presumably to send a message to the rest of us that it can - is unacceptable and an overreaction which will have far reaching effects on all of us unless action is taken to curb them soon.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Thanks for all the fish

No more blogging for a week, I'm at my annual pilgrimage of Whitby Folk Week. But just wanted to thank everyone Involved in clearing and confirmation last week. It's always a big operation, with so much depending on it, not just for our admissions, but for the thousands of young people getting their results and hoping to get a place at University.

It's a massive operation, and this year slightly more nerve wracking as we were using a new system, written for us by our colleagues in epiGenesys. This year we had contingencies in place covering everything from the call centre burning down to complete systems failure. But, everything went well. So, thanks to everyone who helped set the PCs and telephones up, looked after the back-end infrastructure and systems and monitored and helped during the days. Particular thanks to Epigenesys, the system worked fine, and it was really pleasing to see them there in the call centre, watching over how the system worked, looking for improvements and helping when there was a problem. Even using the system by working on the phones. Great work from everyone.

I've also just had a really nice thank you from our PVC as we've been one of the first Universities to submit our KIS return to HEFCE. This was a real collaborative effort from many colleagues in different departments, including CiCS.

So, thanks all round! Now back to the fish and chips and folkie stuff......

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Creative Media Suite

I wrote yesterday about the impact of technology on learning and teaching, and one of the things we are encouraging is the creation of media by students.  In the Information Commons we have a Creative Media Suite which consists of a production room and an edit suite.

in the production room students can create media - it's got equipment in for students to produce many kinds of multimedia projects including video editing, podcasts, screencasting, presentation recording and motion graphics creation. It contains both an iMac and a PC, as well as recording equipment and is bookable, and our staff are on hand to help and advise students. We also loan out equipment to students including digital video camcorders and audio/video recorders - these can be loaned to students for up to 7 days at a time.

The newest of our facilities is the edit suite, which has been open for about 5 months now, and is very popular with staff and students. It contains 5 managed iMacs and you can create media work directly over a network using 100 specially created accounts with access to 20GB of storage. This means we don't have to give individual students access to large amounts of filestore, but more importanly, allows students to work collaboratively on group projects through a joint account.

The suite is open 24/7 so students can work when they want to, and we hope to be able to open the production room 24/7 in the near future.  Having just iMacs in there isn't a problem, and we get a lot of feedback saying how easy they are to use and produce media.  There's lots of info about the facilities, including video of how to use them here.  Our staff are available to help, support and advise, and have worked closely with academic staff and students on a number of projects, including Storying Sheffield. This is a community project based in the School of English where students and people from the city  are working and studying together to produce, record, and collect stories,  of the lives of Sheffield people, and the `life´ of Sheffield using a variety of media. A recent workshop made extenisve use of the suite, and thanks to Andy Brown for these photographs.

We expect demand for this sort of facility to increase, and we're intending to put more "media pods" in the IC space we're designing in the new engineering building.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Student feedback on technology

One of the things we've been looking at recently is a report commissioned by our Student Union earlier this year on the impact of technology on learning and teaching. Some interesting, but not entirely unexpected, findings. 

We know that students use a variety of devices including laptops and smart phones, and technologies ranging through email, social networking, Microsoft office, Google apps, the VLE, and ebooks. Some are institutionally based, some external. Students use technology in formal teaching and assessed work as well as informal learning and peer support. They mainly see technology as an enabler to learning, not a barrier. The research revealed that negative views are mainly around the lack of consistency in the use of technology  across different departments and variations in the student experience. There's also some confusion about the different systems, platforms and sites available. But the students also asked for our content to be available on more open platforms such as iTunesU and youTube, rather than just our in-house systems. 

It's clear from the research that students want to be involved in discussions with us, and are keen to give us feedback. They want a more consistent, joined up approach to the use of technology in learning and teaching, and more use of technology by those staff who don't currently engage.

So, all of this will get fed into the eLearning strategy which we're currently writing, and I'm very keen to see how we can engage more with students to get not just their feedback, but their ideas.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Agile, Audit and Availability

Yesterday we had our monthly meeting of Service Strategy Board. We don't get project reports in August, but we had a number of items on the agenda to discuss. These included:

We're moving towards much more agile, faster development, and so we need to look at how we run and manage projects alongside this. We had a presentation on Agile Project Management which was very interesting, and well received. In summary, this involves a more iterative, collaborative development between the customer and the developers, keeping customers continually engaged and with a shared ownership of outcomes. Use of prototypes early, not waiting till all specs are finished, More consideration of different options, less getting fixed down one route early. More staging of delivery, short development cycles, release of different stages early. More harnessing of users creativity - this is particularly beneficial when prototypes are used.  Of course, we already embrace some of these concepts to a greater or lesser degree, but we are now looking to increase them. With my customers hat on, I particularly welcome iterative and collaborative development using prototypes - I find it much easier to think about what I want when I can see something in front of me. For those in CiCS, there'll be more info at the next departmental meeting.

Another thing discussed was an audit of learning objects within the University. At the moment we have a range of different sorts of learning objects including audio, video, captures lectures etc, stored in a number of different places and not necessarily easily discoverable by all users. This audit will help us come up with a plan to index, catalogue and make easily available all learning content, which will be a collaborative venture between us and the Library.

As part of our Service Management implementation we looked at a proposal for Availibility Management, and the role of Availability Manager will  initially be to produce a mechanism for automated testing on the availability of our IT services. The aim will be  to provide availability information on all the IT services as defined in the service catalogue (which we also discussed at SSB as we've made a number of revisions to it). So, we 'll be  putting in place automated testing  using the most appropriate technology, but of course there'll  be instances where it may not be practical to put these in place  due to  overhead  issues. Hopefully the outputs of the tests will be developed into appropriate dashboards to help improve information and therefore the quality of our services.

We had a couple of "lessons learned" project reviews to consider, of our SAP upgrade and our Google Apps implementation, so, a busy meeting.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Super High Vision

Well, we had a great time in Lanzarote, if you're really into "what I did on my holiday stories", which I suspect most of you aren't, you can read what I did here. The highlight was 3 hours off-roading on a Segway - my favourite thing!

This week has been mainly catching up, deleting emails, unsubscribing from many email lists and quite a bit of stuff that's confidential and I can't blog about. But, a highlight was last night, being invited to a Janet event at the National Media Museum in Bradford.

Janet have been part of an international collaboration with the BBC and NHK, Japan's national public broadcasting organization, to showcase Super High Vision (SHV) technology. SHV is ultra high quality and transmits images with 16 times sharper resolution than standard HD television. It was developed by NHK, and has been used in selected venues in the UK to show footage from the Olympics. All of the data has been transmitted over Janet.

Last night we watched a selection of clips, about an hour's worth of coverage, from the Opening Ceremony, athletics (including Jessica Ennis and Usain Bolt), and the cycling (including Chris Hoy). Together with the ultra high definition images, there was 22.2 multichannel surround sound!  I have to say, it was stunning. Absolutely stunning. It felt as if you were there. The detail and the definition was amazing, and the sound made you feel part of the action. It is very difficult to describe. Everything at the moment is in prototype, the cameras apparently worth about £1m each. Even the projector at the back of the theatre was worth between £500,000 and £750,000.

At the end of the screening, representatives from the BBC and NHK and the head of projection at the museum did a Q and A which was fascinating. Sadly, everything is about to be dismantled and transported back to Japan, but if this is the future of broadcasting, I can't wait!