Thursday, 31 October 2013

Back to work

Back at work this week after an amazing holiday in Jamaica - not normally away at this time of year, but last year we got hit by Hurricane Sandy, and they offered us a free holiday to make up for it. It would have been rude to say no.

Interesting to watch  business continuity plans swing into operation on our way out - we were at Gatwick when they suffered a power cut which brought their computer systems down. People with loud hailers appeared telling people what gate to go to, all tickets were checked manually, and although we were lucky and got on the plane, just after the cut, our bags weren't so lucky. Each one taken out of the container by the side of the plane and manually checked against a list. three and a half hours later, we took off. Interesting to see how a complex organisation can cope without its systems, but so much slower.

Some good news to get back to as for the third year running Sheffield's topped the list in the student barometer for student satisfaction for IT Support - I'll post more detail when I have it, but well done everyone.

Spent most of this week catching up, and also gave a telephone interview to a journalist about the changing role of the CIO as technology changes. I always out the phone down after these and think "what did I say?" Well, I hope it makes an interesting read when it comes out. It's always fun seeing how journalists interpret what you say.
 Here's the result of the last one I did. Bears some resemblance to what I remember saying :-)

Other things this week include a catch up with our finance manager about our budget, and some discussions about the data issues around a research proposal.

It was also Senate - our academic governing body -  where we had some really interesting debate around changes to our curriculum structure. Also about the environment we're in at the moment - there's constant change, there's no HE Bill so we're being ruled by a series of ministerial statements, and the "GoveEffect"is affecting everything about our admissions.  And our Vice Chancellor quoted Russell Brand when talking about immigration!

So, as it's Halloween, here's a scary fact to finish on from our comms team - our students print 5.6m pages a year.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Still here....

Lots of stuff to catch up - sorry for lack of posts. Lots happening both at work and in the evening and just haven't had a minute. Last week we had a meeting about how we're doing on our iTunesU Project. It will be launching in the New Year and we're working with our colleagues in Corporate Affairs to deliver it - looks like being very exciting.

Also saw the results of a study of the different points of contact into the department we have.  Although we might think we have a single interface - the Helpdesk  - the truth is we have many. Some are for good reasons, others could be consolidated. Also a lot of variation in how things are recorded - we are trying to standardise on our helpdesk software, but there are still groups using spreadsheets or inboxes. Lots to look at to both improve services, and make sure as a department we're more aware of our interactions with customers.

We had a meeting with a colleague from janet to review the services we get from them, and how we might work together in the future. Today I found myself being interviewed by janet about their super high definition TV project which was premiered last year. Done a lot of interviews recently - as well as three at the Google/janet event last week, I had a phone one on Friday, and have just been asked to do another. I'm in demand darling....

We got quite a bit of media coverage from the interviews, here, here, here and here ;-)  Not all of the quotes are entirely accurate....

Today was our Service Strategy Board, where we catch up on progress on projects - everyone can look at our news page which is here, and is updated shortly after each SSB. One of the issues we touched on was how to get rid of Windows XP. It won't be supported after next April, and although our managed service is based on Windows 7, there are still quite a few unmanaged XP users out there. Our unified comms project is getting underway, and we're working with Corporate Affairs on redesigning our website. Of course, there are still projects we can't progress because we just haven't got the resources, but we prioritise and deliver as much as we can.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

janet and Google announce framework agreement

Today I was at Google HQ in London for the launch of a framework agreement between janet, (part of JISC), and Google Apps for Education.  The agreement will make it easier for Universities and Colleges to sign up for Google Apps by using a model contract which has been approved by janet as meeting UK legal requirements. There's also a detailed guidance note to help Universities which is part of the agreement. There's more information in the press release here.

I was there as we've been a Google client for several years - we went Google in 2007 for students and 2009 for staff, and now have over 56,000 live accounts 15,000 of which are used daily.  We didn't have the benefit of this framework agreement, and did the due diligence and legal checking ourselves.

Today it was interesting to hear from Google and janet about how they see this partnership developing, and to take part in the customer panel with other customers. We were asked why we'd moved to Google  - better service provision, innovation, accessible of all devices including mobile, affordable (free), releases resource to concentrate on more value added services. We also talked about some of the really innovative ways our staff and students are using the full range of apps to collaborate, for learning, for information dissemination and for research. The usual questions about security and privacy and gave the usual answer - know the risks and manage them. It's really not a big issue. Also had an interesting question about the whole ecosystem of cloud based services - it's not just about the apps, but the infrastructure (connectivity, wireless), policies and processes, and support.

Lots of press there, and I did give a couple of media interviews - will look forward to seeing any coverage the event gets. Oh, and Google's offices were pretty good - who wouldn't want somewhere like this to sit in and work?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Question Time

Today I took part in a "Question Time" debate on the Future of Engineering Education in the Faculty of Engineering in some very good company including two PVCs and a Director of Learning and Teaching. Some great questions, including "Are MOOCs an opportunity or a challenge? The answer is of course yes.  Tremendous opportunities, I heard them referred to recently as the democratisation of HE - a much more accessible way for anyone to take a University course. There's also the opportunity to think differently about ways of teaching, pedagogy and course design, and to reach an entirely different demographic population. There are challenges - I used the example of the famous New Yorker quote from the mid nineties drawing attention to the anonymity of the internet - "On the internet, no-one knows that you're a dog". We don't actually know who is really taking our MOOCs, and there have been some instances of disruptive behaviour. They're also a lot of work to put on and have a very low completion rate  - about 5%. But, these challenges will be overcome, and it will be really interesting to see how the MOOC landscape unfolds.

Other questions included "As we grow our student numbers, what better kinds of automated teaching support can we expect, that will assess students’ active competence?" Answers ranged from my rather futuristic view that we will be using gamification techniques and attainment badges to motivate students and measure attainment using student, peer and self assessment, throught to the rather luddite we'll stick to human evaluation. A good debate :-)

We also talked about the importance of getting more women in engineering,  how industry can improve the employability of graduates, and whether we push our students enough.

Given that we are still having ongoing problems with the performance of our VLE, I rather expected a barrage of virtual rotten tomatoes, but being engineers, they understand that things break. And, that being in the hands of a supplier to come up with a fix is not a good place to be.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Grannies on Segways!

Something to amuse you. To help publicise the Mobile University, we had the world's first, and only,  shopping trolley formation dance team, Granny Turismo. On Segways!