Monday, 14 July 2014

The famous CiCS BBQ

Last Friday was the famous CiCS BBQ, in our lovely back garden and in glorious sunshine. Lots of people helped of course - to prepare the food, to put up the gazebos, to BBQ, to move furniture, to test the beer.... All under Alison's direction of course - so thanks to everyone, and those who stayed behind to clear up and wash up. Forgot my camera, so here's a few iPhone pictures of a great event:

Friday, 11 July 2014

MOLE is moving.....

This week has mainly been about catch ups with senior colleagues in CiCS and in our Professional Services Executive, and Liaison meetings. We're in our second round of meetings with the Faculties where we discuss our plans for the year, and look at their strategic challenges and how we might help.

One of our key priorities for the coming year is to improve the availability and performance of our VLE, (called MOLE). Hopefully we will have achieved that very soon, as we are moving it next weekend to a managed hosted service. We only took the decision a few weeks ago to move, and the team here have worked really hard to get  it migrated by the end of this month so it will be ready for the start of the next academic year. We've done a few test migrations, and next weekend we take the service down, migrate all of the content over to a datacentre in Amsterdam, test it and hopefully go back live again. Our staff and students shouldn't see any difference, except in performance, responsiveness and speed at which any faults get fixed. We hope then that our Learning Technologies team will be able to focus their efforts on supporting MOLE and helping staff and students to use its features to produce innovative and engaging online content to provide our students with the best learning experience possible.

As part of our commitment to Technology Enhanced learning, we are running a week long Technology Enhanced Learning Festival in September with sessions including Using Social Media to Enhance Teaching and Learning, Mobile Learning, Online Assessment and Feedback, Multimedia to enhance learning and teaching, E-portfolios and Flipped Learning. As well as the workshop sessions there'll be panel discussions and drop in sessions. Watch this space for details and programme soon.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Living with 100 things

The last session at the SSG conference last week was a keynote from Jonathan Munn, a 26 year old who two years ago made the radical decision to give away all of possessions and live with no more than 100 things. He's since written a book about his experience called How to be Radical, with some suggestions about how we can all do something radical to change our lives.  Currently he has about 74 possessions I think, and yes that does include pants and socks, and a pair of socks counts as 1 item.

Although he wasn't suggesting that we all did what he's done, he did ask us all to do something different - to step out of our comfort zone and agree to DO something. Then do it, stop talking and do it, tell everyone we're doing it to make ourselves accountable. Simplify what we can - focus on what matters, and not distractions. He eats the same meal every day and has so few clothes he doesn't have to make decisions about what to wear. For someone who loves food and clothes, that would be a tad too radical for me :-)  Most importantly, and I cannot disagree with him here, live for the present - enjoy it!  As a rather nice parting piece of work, we all had to write down three things we were going to do, and give it with our email address to someone we didn't know. They will contact us in three months to check on progress. My biggest problem is I can only remember two of the things I wrote down....

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Innovation, Ideascale and a pet cow

I'm trying to catch as much of the SSG conference as possible while I'm here, and yesterday I managed to see Gareth Edwards talk about how they are handling innovation at the University of Surrey.

He began by posing the question, What does innovation mean to us? The conclusion was that it was solving problems with new ideas in response to external drivers such as changing technology and student expectations. It's something we should all want to do and we should be encouraging our staff to.

One the things they tried was giving some staff a 20% policy for two months where providing the day job was under control they could work in innovative projects with colleagues. This came up with some excellent small improvements. But didn't prove to be scaleable across the department.
They decided to set up an ideas board using idea management software and have implemented Ideascale, which is what we have been using in our Information Commons to collect ideas from students, and we are hoping to roll it out further.
Their experience came up with a number of lessons:
Get the commitment of management
Encourage staff to be involved
When you launch it to the department - explain it,  sell it, get participation.
Emphasise that failure IS an option.
Early adopters play a big role. Cultivate them.
Consider having a facilitator to keep up the tempo
Work out how to deliver stuff - its no good collecting good ideas if you do nothing with them
Use gamification - rewards, points etc to encourage people.

A really good talk, and some good pointers for when we roll ideascale out further.

I also had to give my Petcha Kucha talk yesterday  - surprisingly for someone who enjoys presenting and talking I wasn't particularly looking forward to it. The rigid structure of slides moving automatically after 20 seconds I found difficult. Anyway, it seemed to go OK, apart from a stumble over a word on the first slide! I was last on in the day, so gave what a hope was a reasonably
entertaining look at my life story in pictures and lessons learned. But they won't mean a lot without the preceding slides ;-) Oh, and I cheated on the format..... 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Tree in a sweater and other things

Yesterday I spoke at a seminar for PhD students and research workers about careers outside of their subject area, not in academica. it focused on opportunities in Professional Services, so there were a number of colleagues there across the institution.  I tried to get across that you learn a lot of transferable skills in doing a PhD, and when thinking of possible careers you need to think where you can use them. You also need to be able to draw them out on your job application or CV, and that's true for all of your experiences both at work and outside for all job applications.

Transferable skills I specifically mentioned were:
Time management
Project management
Complex problem solving
Writing skills
Self reliance
Attention to detail
Academic rigour
Self confidence, especially with academic colleagues

I also took part in a CV clinic where we spoke to students about their CVs and how they might improve them if they were interested in pursuing a career in our area. Really interesting morning.

Today I'm at Crewe Hall for three things - meeting of the UCISA Conference Orrganising Committee, meeting of the UCISA Executive, and I'm giving my Petcha Kucha session later this afternoon at the Support Services Group annual conference.

Crewe Hall is an amazing place, a Jacobian Mansion with a tree wearing a sweater in the grounds.

This morning we had the Conference Organising Committee meeting and its all going well so far - quite a few speakers already confirmed, and several others we're waiting for confirmation of.  Got a nice spooky vibe organised for one of the dinners as well.