Friday, 27 February 2015

Keep calm and call control...

Quick wrap up of things I've been doing this week.  As well as meeting Faculties, I've chaired a meeting of our Business Continuity Operations Group where we looked at a number things including how we respond to student occupations of our buildings, what emergency procedures the city has in place which might affect us, and a review of our major incident plan. We have a really good set of web pages about what to do in an incident, which everyone should be familiar with, and a neat little poster:

I've also taken part in a forum of Heads of Academic Departments and Director of Professional Services about how we should interact both with the University executive Board 9UEB), and with each other. Some very interesting discussions, and a general view that the current UEB/HoDS forum doesn't work well and can be improved. A set of recommendations will follow....

Finally, this morning I had a conference call with other members of the Steering Group for one of the JISC Co-Design projects which is looking improving the digital skills of staff in HE.   It's title is Building capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency, and you can read more about it here. The project intends to provide clear guidance over what digital skills are required, and equip leaders and staff with the tools and resources they need to improve digital capability at a local or institutional level. This will cover all areas of the University - technology enhanced learning, Administrative processes, and research.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

An Oscar at last....

 We're right in the middle of our planning round at the moment - writing our submission about priorities for next year, what resources we might need, and also going out and talking to all of the Faculties about their plans and how we can help them. We've seen 3 of the Faculties so far, and will see the other two next week. A lot of discussion about our plans to set up a Research IT Support Service. We already do support research in terms of providing computing facilities, storage, applications and help and support, but we are going to significantly increase this.  Our researchers have told us that what they really need is access to people, and we're about to go out to advert for a Head of Research IT, and then hope to recruit more to the team. In addition, we'll be providing access to our services which will be free at the point of use! Obviously they will have to be paid for, but we do not want to be recharging departments.

Other things discussed at the meetings include developments in learning and teaching - many areas are looking to increase their distance learning offer so we need to produce a framework for the delivery and support of that, as well as carrying our a review over the next year of our VLE.

We also talked to them about the review of the website which we have just kicked off, and we got a lot of support for the way we are approaching it - work out what we want the web site to do and what its purpose is and leave the technology till later. We also picked up that many feel our current web site is a good marketing tool, but doesn't serve other stakeholders as well, particularly current staff and students.

Great news this week as our Process Improvement Unit was nominated for an award.  They were shortlisted by the Institute for Continuous Improvement in the Public Sector, which given the small size of the unit - just 4 staff based here in CiCS - is a fantastic achievement. You can read the press release giving more details about the nomination and what the unit gets up to here

Sadly they didn't win, but came second, and now have a trophy to display!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Staff Survey Areas to address

Just before Christmas we ran the TechQual survey with staff at the University which measures satisfaction with our services against a benchmark service level that they would like to see. Some excellent information for us to analyse and work on, as well as the free text comments which always provide a fascinating insight into why people answer questions the way they do.  We've identified 8 themes we need to work on, and the Exec (me and my 3 Assistant Directors) are acting as sponsors for 2 each. They are in no particular order:

    •    My Sustainable Print
    •    Learning and Teaching Tools
    •    AV in Classrooms
    •    Student Administration Tools
    •    Timely Resolution to Problems
    •    Managed Desktop 
    •    Websites and Online Services
    •    Ability to Influence CiCS Developments

My two are the last two, and I had a catch up meeting this afternoon to go through an action plan. Some of the issues with the website and on-line services will be solved by projects we are already working on. Our SAP mobile project for example will soon launch a number of apps for our HR and Finance system which have hugely improved user interfaces. Our Web Improvement Project is looking at the overall University website, and we have installed a new Google search appliance and are about to start improving our metadata to give better search results.

In terms of influencing what we do, there are already many ways, but it's obvious people don't know about them, so we need to be much clearer about our governance. Our Service Advisory Groups have representatives from each Faculty, Professional Services and students, and the CiCS User group has a member from each department. However, we need to do more, and I'm hopeful that soon we will have an  IT Officer for each Faculty which will be a good liaison point.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

George and Mildred are back....

Over the last three years we've been watching a pair of peregrine falcons on St Georges Church Tower nest and rear their young, thanks to a nest built by our colleagues in Estates and Facilities Management and a webcam installed by us. The original webcam gave a really good view of the nest box, but nothing else. So, thanks to some sterling work, again a joint effort between us and colleagues in EFM, a second webcam has been installed, further away so that you can see the nestbox, the perch and the ledge. This involved some delicate work at the top of the tower, including hanging upside down....

Given my fear of heights, not something I would attempt.

The second camera is giving some great views of the birds, and there's often one sitting on the perch, feathers rustling in the wind, looking out for a tasty pigeon.

Today we saw both the male and the female ripping something to shreds on the ledge, so I think we can safely say they're back.

Watch them for the next few months here.

Friday, 13 February 2015

RUGIT awayday continued, JISC, HEFCE and N8

We started this morning with an update from JISC. Tim Kidd outlined some of the things JISC Technologies have been doing, including:
Agreeing terms of contracts with Microsoft and Google for the sector
Putting in place a dynamic framework for file synch and share.
Establishing an archive to tape framework
Amazon web services framework launched in October
Consolidating the Financial XRay which looks at the total cost of IT
About to look at what the sector wants them to do with cloud frameworks
The shared tier 3 joint data centre in Slough with an 800 rack and requirement gathering started for second data centre in North of

They are also just starting Eduroam service monitoring which shows compliance with Eduroam technical specification and provides real time feedback to sys admins. Prof of concept is complete and the "box" will soon ship to 300+ sites.

Also touched on Security, and they are enhancing the security monitoring of the network so that they can identify, analyse and classify events in near real time. They are also looking to protect customers from a wider range of DDOS attacks.

We also got an update about what the R and D section is doing, including some of the student projects from the summer of student innovation which I've written about before.

Something I'm interested in is their Learning Analytics project which aims to develop a dashboard and app so that staff can track students learning progress and get warnings when students are at risk of dropping out so that interventions can be planned. Some interesting ethical issues need to be addressed, for example when university data is combined with postcode data.

After that we got an update on the N8 HPC project which we are involved in, and you can read about that here.

Final session was from David Sweeney, Director (Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange) at HEFCE. As ever, an entertaining and informative talk, looking at the funding landscape particularly in relation to research. His main point was that UK Higher Education is world leading and will continue to be so. We should consider our cups to be half full rather than half empty, there's been so much change in last 20 years that we will surmount anything. It will be tough but we will win.
Higher education is vital for economic growth, and research is central to this. He touched on the REF, and particularly the impact measurements. I hadn't realised that all of the case studies are on line on the REF web site, and they make very interesting reading. The conclusion was that we should make strategic decisions about research investments, partner with big players and stop doing things that aren't productive.

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Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Google apps, an enthusiastic academic.

The final session this afternoon was from Professor Matthew Collins from York University about using Google apps for research. York, like us is a Google site, using the apps for education suite.

It was a passionate talk. I love listening to academics :-). It was based on the premise that Academics tend to write papers together, and do it quickly. So, they need good collaboration tools. They also process and store lots of data. Cloud services are great for this.

He moved from a Mac laptop to chromebook as an experiment, so he was forced to use cloud services. He has obviously never looked back!

He made the interesting point that all academics use gmail, no matter what you think they're using. He collaborates with academics using docs from many universities, and if they don't have a gmail account from their university, they log in with their personal one. He has rolled out lots of cloud services to academics who loved them.

He pointed out the difficulties of collaborating in other ways, such as track changes in word. His example was 30 authors collaborating on a paper which had to be completed in two weeks, which was successfully done using google docs. Would have ben impossible in word.

I was reminded of something which happened here recently when someone wrote a document in Google docs, asked for comments on it from a group of us, and someone converted it to word, used track changes, and emailed it to the group!!

He also uses Google Plus a lot with closed communities around separate research communities. When this is indexed it becomes a massive collaboration tool.
Some of the tools integrated with Google apps are very powerful. A free GIS tools allows mapping, and a cloud based based bibliography tool, Paperpile, looked particularly good and we'll certainly be investigating it.

He has 1.5m docs on Google drive!! This led to Google stopping his access because they thought he was doing something dodgy.

He has tried other cloud services eg iCloud, One drive, but in his opinion they were not as good as Google.

He's now using it for teaching preferring Google classroom to Blackboard, and
Google slides instead of Keynote or PowerPoint. I hadn't realised how integrated Google slides was with Google scholar, allowing you to select images which you can drag to a slide and it will provide the citation of the origin of the image.

He's also using Google plus for teaching. Students will post stuff there because it's a closed community and not part of their Facebook and Twitter worlds. They engage with it in a way that they won't with Blackboard.

Excellent talk, and some discussion afterwards. Especially liked the question, will Microsoft ever catch up, and his emphatic "no" as a response.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Next up at RUGIT was Andy Youell talking to us about HEDIIP, redesigning the information landscape. We all submit data to various bodies, including HESA. There's been a massive lack of coordination amongst data collectors with duplication and no standardisation. This has therefore driven uncoordinated responses from HEIs.

There's also data capability issues with data management and governance issues starting to come up. Of course, there's a desire to drive value from data, and therefore you need good data which requires data governance.

HEDIIP is a programme to drive change across the UK. The intention is to redesign the information landscape, not tweak it.
So far they have done an inventory of data collections from us. They found 523 separate HE data collections and 93 organisations collect student data every year. Many have them use different data definitions. Lots of scope for standardisation and rationalisation.

Lots of good work done so far on things like the adoption of the Unique Learner Number, Subject Coding, and data management. Lots of examples of Universities with hundreds of pockets of student data, often in spreadsheets (fun fact, you can get 1.7bn pieces of data in an excel spreadsheet). Also, different parts of the university will be sending data off to different bodies. Often with no-one else knowing about it.

If we are to redesign the landscape, there needs to be a standard data set with a standard set of definitions. For example, what is a course, what is a student? There will need to be a governance body to implement this. Will probably be built on current HESA return.

Really interesting topic, and I was seriously surprised how many bodies are collecting student data, and how many pockets of student data there are in an institution. One of the discussion topics was, how much is this costing us as a sector. The answer isn't really known, but a rough estimate is many millions of ponds.

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RUGIT awayday part 1

In York at the moment for our annual RUGIT ( Russell Group IT Directors) two day meeting.

Started with an update about the JISC Technology Consultative Forum. This forum is part of JISC's engagement strategy, and we are represented on it. One of the things we will be looking at is the services JISC offers, are they the ones we need and want, and what value do we get from them. The forum will give views, advice and suggestions, and also provide a means to discuss a strategic ambition about what could be achieved for HEIs and colleges by acting together for the common good. It's met once so far, and one of the main outcomes was to look into the provision of cloud services across the sector. Can JISC help broker cloud services for us for example. Priory topics for the next forum will be the research life cycle, teaching, learning and e-assessment, cloud services, remote management of services and information security.

We also had an update from UCISA on recent activities. We are in the final stages of putting together an Information Security Management toolkit targeted mainly at people responsible for implementing security management policies and procedures. That should be released soon. Social media and learning spaces toolkits are also in production. There's a few best practice guides which have just come out, including one on Effective Risk Management. And of course I got to give a plug for the UCISA conference in March, the programme of which is now complete, and looking good, though I say it myself :-)

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Friday, 6 February 2015

Have we got the right KPI?

Had an interesting meeting of the Equality and Diversity Board the other day. One of the University's KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), is raising the number of female professors to 23% by 2016. In fact, we have reached the target early, and the number of female professors continues to rise. There's a number of initiatives contributing to this, which you can read about here.  EDB received a report which will be going to Council next week outlining this progress, which is all good stuff, but we had quite a debate on whether this was an appropriate KPI. It only looks at part of the UNiversity - Professional Services are not considered at all as the KPI refers only to academic professors, not professorial equivalent staff. Also, even in academic departments gender equality across the board is not reported on, as only academic staff, not clerical, technical, manual, ancillary and other professional staff are not included. I think its great that we have a KPI relating to gender equality, and that we've reached the target, but I am disappointed that it is so limited in scope.

Also this week we had a visit from a CIO colleague from another University - he's an alumnus of Sheffield, and had been taking part in one of our Achieve More Faculty Challenges, by talking to Faculty of Arts Students in their ThinkCreate event. These events are huge undertakings for the University - the Social Sciences first year event is for 2,000 students, and the logistics are not inconsiderable!  Was pleased to hear that is was going well, and there was a real buzz in the room. Also gave us a chance to catch up and share some challenges and solutions from our respective institutions.

Also this week I've had a lot of one-to one catch ups with senior colleagues. These are invaluable in keeping up to date with what's going on, and building a network for help and support when needed. They also mean I drink far too much coffee!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

IC and iSchool

We're really into planning at the moment - looking at our objectives and strategies for next year and beyond. We obviously look at the strategic aims and big projects across the University, things coming up through the academic route from the faculties, and responses to other drivers, internal and external. Financial planning is important, as we look at our resource needs for staff, recurrent and capital costs. Lots to do over the next few weeks.

Today I spent an enjoyable and interesting few hours in our iSchool as part of their Advisory Panel. The iSchool is very successful, with 23 academic staff and 64 PhD students and 250 students doing taught masters degrees.

It was very interesting listening to their research areas and research projects - Smart Cities, Digital Societies, Information Systems were all ones which interested me, but you can read about other areas here.
They have a state of the art iLab, with a Usability Lab and a Digital Media lab which I did wonder whether we could make use of for some of our web projects.  We spent some of the time in small groups giving our advice and opinion as employers of information studies graduates about what we would like to see covered in the courses and what skills we look for. I was in the Information Systems and Information Management group, and one thing we identified was a better understanding of service management and service improvement, and the processes involved. We also emphasised the importance of the softer, transferable skills such as communication skills, interpersonal skills, problem solving, flexibility, creativity and team working which go hand in hand with technical skills to make the sort of graduate we would want to employ.

Finally, thanks to some good joint working between colleagues in CiCS and the Library, we have a new web site for the Information Commons. Some excellent content and well done to all involved.