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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The Strategic Developer

Really interesting session from Paul Walk on a role he thinks is missing in most HEIs - the strategic developer.
Some notes I took cover the topic I hope:

How do we view software developers?
Hard to manage
Not valued role
Very few developers become senior managers
Rarely invited to input at strategic level for fear of being too technical
Come and go, often on short term contracts
Growing appetite for outsourcing IT
Replacing them with people who know how to manage SLAs

What do we lose when we see IT as commodity?
Capacity to offer differentiated services
Capacity to integrate systems
Does outsourcing have an effect on our ability to deliver a good student experience?

How do we exploit SaaS?
Benefits are real, but we lose the ability to customise. Some vendors offering APIs, or interfaces into these remote services. These change the picture.
APIs often described as machine interfaces, but are really interfaces for developers.
So, you need developers.

The value of a local developer:
should understand local conditions
is more accessible
can tailor remote services to local needs
can engage with the technical people in an external supplier
can engage with and exploit open source products.

Procurement of SaaS needs to take into account the APIs provided by supplier.

There are two relationships in SaaS. First, between the account manager and the local service manager
Second the technical relationship between local technical staff and developer in company. Usually ad hoc, and often not strategic.
Sometimes there's a development company in between.
Can be complex.
If have strategic technical developer locally, can liaise and build relationship with suppliers, users and service managers.

A strategic developer has moved beyond problem solving, more of a leadership role.
Is this a missing career path for developers?
Often choice is to become a manager, (and often an unhappy manager at that). Or leave and get job somewhere else.

Business has solved this by creating role of CTO.

Conclusion. Quote from Eric Schmidt
"Take a lead from the Victorians and ignore Lord Sugar – bring engineers into your company at all levels, including the top.”

Very good presentation and food for thought. Interesting discussion at the end about how hard it can be to have these sort of roles where some HEIs and some grading profiles look to management of people as a key indicator, rather than technical specialism and responsibility.

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The Digital Student

First session this morning was on The Digital Student, a study reviewing students expectations and experience of the digital environment at University.
There's also a parallel study looking at secondary schools. Lots of universities are doing similar reviews locally, and not surprisingly, there's no typical digital student.

All of the findings so far, and some useful resources can be found on the project blog.

The study has looked at the digital environment generally, eg wifi and access to technology, and also the academic digital environment, ie how it's used.

Biggest thing that students want is wifi. Ubiquitous, high quality, fast, wherever they are. It is if you like, the bottom of the pyramid in the hierarchy of needs. It must be there for everything else to work.

For most students, the expectations of they how they might learn with technology are less clear as they have had little experience. So, we need to have a dialogue with them, but cannot just ask them what they need.
Most of them have good digital know how, know how to use devices and services. But, don't know how to use these in academic context.
They are comfortable with personal and and social use of technology, but much less comfortable with institutional systems such as VLEs. So immediately they are presented with something that seems difficult, special, different. There is a sense among the young students that technology will be frictionless to use. Don't have to learn how to use it. But, they have to use complex bits of software in some disciplines.

There's some nice downloadable posters here, about listening to students, and JISC have just released a new Infokit on Digital Literacies which is a very useful resource.

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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Social media engagement and student innovators

Final round up for today, two sessions.

1 Using social media for engagement with students

See them as not just receiving content, but as collaborators and creation of content. Engagement is a dialogue and a conversation.
Not just engagement with students, but staff, local community, the media, prospective students, parents...

Top tips.
  • Don't bark. Don't just get information out. Has to be a conversation
  • Build relationships.
  • Learners congregate in diverse spaces. Not just Facebook and Twitter. Snapchat, tumblr etc all popular. It's not about us. Need to be inclusive and have conversations where they want to have them.
  • Provide a quick response. Turn poor customer service into bad.
  • Collect data. You need metrics to inform your service and your planning.
  • Take a strategic approach. Look at the different channels and how they fit together.
  • Support your staff. Can't base social media strategy on one person being available.
Article from the speakers in latest JISC Inform which is worth a read.

As part of the session we used a neat little bit of software to share ideas about how we could use social media to enhance an open day. Never used todaysmeet before, but looked as if it could be useful.

2 Summer of Student Innovation

I've blogged about this before, so won't bore you again, but it was great today to meet and talk to some of the students whose ideas are being developed as part of this programme. They had stands in the exhibition, and also took part in a panel session about how the initiative had gone, and what they'd learned from it. You can see the 6 projects which have been taken into productions here.

The new programme has just launched, so if you are a student who has a great idea for how technology can enhance the student experience, and want to get £5,000 to develop it, go here and enter.

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Efficiency Exchange and Staff development

A brief update on a couple of sessions from this morning:

Staff development
Session from JISC Regional Support Centre for Yorkshire and Humberside about a new approach to staff development using a roadshow model. Mainly working with FE colleges. Taking technology round the region, focussing on teaching and learning, not the technology. Used the day to use collaborative scenario based activities. So, scenarios published in advance which attendees can work through, or come up with their own.
The kit is getting smaller, using tablets and mobile technology. Also a lot of free software out there. Look at new and emerging technology such as Augmented Reality, often staff don't know what's out there for them to use. Can create eBooks easily on the day.

There's a YouTube video about what they're doing here.

Efficiency Exchange
Really interested in this as I was part of the Diamond group which recommended it be established. It's a web resource for sharing and promoting efficiency, process improvement and sharing initiatives in HR.
The web site is excellent, and our own Process Improvement Unit has contributed to it.
They have a partnership with the Guardian, and there is a section in the Higher Education Network with content sourced directly from the EE.

This is definitely worth subscribing to.

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JISC Digifest, Changes at City University

Second keynote from Professor Paul Curran, VC of City University about Aligning IT and University strategy.

Some relevant demand trends :

1. Humanising HE, ie need to develop personal experience for students.
Some HEIs meeting this challenge by using IT

2. Enhancing education experience
The flipped classroom if used well can enhance educational experiences
Academics can prepare lectures and stream on line
Academics can use their time to focus on mentoring and coaching students

3. Engendering community spirit
Staff and students need to work collaboratively

Some big changes in IT at City.
Had been very devolved. IT perceived as reactive, lacking agility, no real standards. Complex application architecture.

IT became part of strategic plan. Engage IT closely with needs of students. Set up different work streams, not just IT projects, but looking at services and objectives.
Rationalised applications. Put in place efficiency programme to simplify core business processes.
Reorganised around One City IT, shared service model for delivery of IT in centralised model.
Sourced commodity services from outside.
Now have fewer staff, but staff competences changed. More junior staff.
Significant improvements in wifi.
Implemented Moodle and Office 365
Have transferred some systems to shared data centre, reduced cost of hardware by 9% annually.
System downtime reduced
Staffing costs reduced
NSS scores increased
Perception of IT services now proactive and agile.

Increasing commoditisation will present more opportunities for outsourcing.
Skill set in IT department changing away from technical to supplier management
System integration more relevant than application development and maintenance.

Interesting look at how a different university handled these challenges. Must talk to them :-)

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JISC Digifest, Designed Digital

At the JISC Digifestival in Birmingham.
Opening keynote from Diana Oblinger , CEO of EDUCAUSE on Designed Digital.

Many things in our institutions that we call digital are bolt-ons, or retrofitted. We're still not designing digital. Our role is to design and implement a true digital experience for our staff and students.
Digital not just about work, but about society, especially civic engagement. We need to capture ideas to crowd source innovation,

Demographic changes drive new consumption patters.

How can we use our expertise as IT Professionals to drive changes in education?

Student Engagement
When you are engaged, you learn more. Use the best technology has to offer, not just text on the screen to produce an immersive, collaborative learning experience. Example of molecule in 3D.

Higher order learning comes from complex challenges. Gamification can assist this, integrating game elements into simulations and scenarios. Transform assignments into challenges.
Practice helps develop expertise. Also, generates data. Develop practice environments, virtual client simulation, artificial intelligence interactive agendas. And collect the data, use to feedback to students and teachers.
You can do many things with data. Feedback to instructor, can track student learning and see where you need to intervene for example.
With large amounts of data, patterns emerge that can be used for personalisation. Creating individual learning pathways for examples which are tailored to student needs and behaviours using adaptive learning engines.

Student empowerment
Not all of our students are the same. Some lack sense of belonging, some don't believe in ROI of investment, some have financial worries. Many are juggling coursework and work.
Some examples of how good IT can assist.
Career coach, a tool that links to local employment trends, income potential, required education.
Students need help with complex lives. Counselling and intervention software can monitor, engage and support students. Case management, dealing with student holistically, bringing together data from different services. Early alert system can make a difference to student completion rate.
Predictive analytics and intervention can advise students on how they are progressing through a course.

Alternative models
Education is a tightly interconnected interdependent system.
We now live in a course rich world, eg MOOCs and private providers. Finding ways of bringing these in to system by giving them credits.
Competency based education big in the US. Demonstrate mastery by completing tasks. Many student systems don't support these different models.
So, instead of IT leading, we're pulling things back.
Delivery systems and support models need to change to support different models, eg work based learning.

There's lots left to do in this digital world. It's about designing for digital, and about people and machines, not one or the other.

Questions to ask ourselves:
What will it take to exceed expectations tin this digital world?
Do we have the capabilities required to deliver value from IT?
How can we optimise education for a digital future?

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Monday, 10 March 2014


Sorry for  week off from blogging- been away to visit family in the Caribbean. I know,  it's a hard life. Can you imagine living where the beaches are this packed?

No, me neither.

Anyway back to work now. Here's a bit of a plug to start with.

In addition to the great work we do supporting learning and teaching at the university, we have a team at CiCS dedicated to supporting research, promoting collaboration, sharing resources and supporting high performance computing - all helping to further our international reputation for world class research.

To showcase the exciting work being carried out by Sheffield research groups and look to the research computing horizon we host a prestigious annual HPC@Sheffield High Performance Computing event. Organised by the Research Computing Advisory Group, the 2014 event, taking place in March, covers a diverse range of research interests with the themes 'High Performance Processing, Big Data and Visualisation'.

With a welcome from the Vice Chancellor, the event features presentations from leading Sheffield
research groups, an exhibition space for vendors including Matlab, Dell, SGI, Nvidia and Simulia, and a research computing demonstration desk hosted by CiCS. A key element of the exhibition is a poster competition which provides an opportunity for Sheffield researchers to showcase their work. 

HPC@Sheffield takes place on Monday 31st March and details on speakers confirmed so far are included in the full programme which you can access here, and you can reserve a place here.

I'm sure attendees will find the event useful and will be inspired hearing about innovative research ranging from the discovery of the Higgs Boson to the advances in evolutionary biology made by the revolution in modern genomics.