Saturday, 28 March 2015

Difference is good for us

A couple of other interesting things from this week. CiCS was instrumental in organising the 4th HPC@Sheffield event. A one day research computing conference exploring how high performance  computing can help solve global challenges in Physical Sciences, Engineering, Health Care and Social Sciences. There were presentations, posters, vendor displays and demonstrations. unfortunately I could only be there for the opening, but reports are that it went really well.

Yesterday morning I spent 4 hours in a room with a handful of people drafting something. How awful you might think, but no, it was really enjoyable. We were drafting an educational rationale for Diversity at the university. Along the lines of "Diversity creates a richer university experience because:" and then a list of statements. Why we should embrace diversity in all forms - not just the protected characteristics - gender, race, disability - but all forms. Difference is good for us - diverse teams solve problems better and are more creative. It's why we should try and recruit the best person for the team, not just for the job. Not always easy.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Sheffield Professional awards

Last night I was privileged to be at the Sheffield Professional Awards. Held in the Octagon Centre, which had been suitable glammed up for the occasion - thanks to James and the team:

and hosted by Gill Valentine and Simon Fanshawe

It was a celebration of all the staff in the University who aren't teachers or researchers, but who are absolutely critical to supporting the University in delivering its mission. I was very proud that we had 36 staff in CiCS nominated for awards, none were shortlisted, but the field was huge, and every nomination was well deserved. The occasion was very celebratory, with excellent food

And I was a table host on a table with 3 winners. Including Emily, Finance Assistant from Engineering, baby due in a few weeks, and who is exactly the same age as my son, her Mum and me being best friends 30 years ago and pregnant at the same time. What a lovely coincidence to be sitting next to her!

Well done to all the nominees, winners and organisers of such a great event.

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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Efficiency conference round up.

Heres's a few random snippets from the rest of the efficiency conference today.

University of London has 300 organisations subscribing to their shared services, including 2.5 m students from 150 registered on their shared hosted Moodle platform.
Have achieved big carbon reductions through replacing kit, culture change and recycling. To raise awareness of sustainability they have beehives on top of one of their buildings and sell the honey in university shop.

Deficit in funding of research is increasing. For every £1 that comes in, we spend nearly half as much again, so we need to be more efficient in terms of equipment sharing and cost sharing groups.

HEFCE ask for Value for Money reports, but only get them from 60% of sector.

Over last 3 years sector has delivered over £1bn of savings, mainly in procurement, IT and Estates.

The HE is estate worth about 60bn. Need to drive value out of it. 2 main ways:
Reduce total cost of ownership.
Invest, and maximise return on investment

80% of students say that quality of estate affects their decision to choose a particular university and 30% have turned down a place because of the quality of the faculties. As a sector we've improved space utilisation in many areas, apart from space for academics!

Leicester university has a project called Flattening the Hierarchy, where managers and students work together to share information, learn together and improve the student experience.

Keele University has an avatar called Sam to answer student queries. You can ask him a question here.

Next years 18 yr olds were born in the first year of Blair government, 1997. They were 5 when 9/11 happened
Witnessed rapid change in technology, and have a different view of products and services to us.
For them, going to university is a social transaction, not a financial one. They don't want a consumer environment, but a personalised one.
Consumer implies consumer rights and consumer choice. Which they are not driving.
Grown up in a world moulded around them, and they want a highly personalised service.

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Innovations in TEL

Interesting to go to a session on innovations in technology enhanced learning, to people who aren't technologists. It was about how to get TEL embedded in the institution.

Our academic staff have to contend with many innovations, but many don't become embedded, even though some are technically simple.
One of big things students complain about is inconsistent practices. Some modules use technology, some don't. Want a consistent approach.
Also complain about very simple, basic things not being right.

How do we get better benefits from our investments in technology enhanced learning?

Align TEL with strategic goals.
Such as NSS, employability, efficiency etc.
Support senior managers in digital leadership.
Measure impact of TEL.
There are efficiency gains from things like on-line submission, on-line marking.

Innovation overload.
In manufacturing they have processes to bring things from R and D to production. Do we?
Need a more orchestrated approach to innovation.
Need to work systematically with departmental heads to show how they can take ownership of technology to help them meet their goals.
Academic staff believe that technology always burns up time. Need to address this to get better embedding.
How much is carrot, how much stick? Dictate from top or bottom up? Work with departments so they understand benefits of TEL.

Use innovative staff/student partnerships to drive change. Students make good change agents and leaders. Extend these partnerships to include employers.

Barriers to adoption: Digital literacy of staff. Confidence with using technology. Workload. - TEL can take more time than traditional methods. There's also a perception that our systems aren't reliable so staff are wary of using them. Learning technologists like working with innovators. Have to have coaching skills to work with people who aren't as confident.

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Efficiency in Higher Education

Today I'm at Universities UK for the 4th Annual Efficiency in Higher Education Conference.

First speaker is Professor Ian Diamond, who is chair of the UUK Efficiency and Modernisation Task Group. Back in 2011 I was on this group which produced an Initial report, and now a second report, phase two, has been published.

Started with some information about the economic impact of higher education in the UK, which I might have shared before, but no harm in doing it again.

It is important to remind ourselves how much of an impact HE has on the economy - locally, regionally and nationally.

In the last five years:
Cuts to capital funding, but continued investment needed
Erosion of the value of the tuition fee in England and Wales, efficiency and cost saving mandated in other parts of the UK
Science and research budget reduced in real terms
HE focus on efficiency, first report published in 2011. Been looking at efficiency for some time, but not necessarily getting the message out.
Universities have collectively reported surpluses, which could be interpreted as making a profit. But, in turnover terms they are not huge, and they are being used to fund investment, which is needed.

There is a funding challenge. There are pressures on public funding, and the next government will have tough choices to make. The UK needs a world class HE system, which is an integral part of economic recovery.
HE therefore needs to make a robust case for investment.
To do that, we need to demonstrate that we are efficient, and that we are taking improvements in efficiency seriously.

The latest report identifies 6 key work streams which will help us to do this:
Excellence, reward and the higher education workforce. This is our biggest asset.
Delivering value from the HE estate. We have a huge estate. 26m square metres, 7 times bigger than Tesco.
A world class and sustainable research base.
Harnessing the benefits of asset sharing
Unlocking value from higher education data
Evidence, oversight and sharing good practice. We need to be better about measuring what we do, spreading information and sharing through things like the efficiency exchange.

The report is well worth reading, it's available here.

This was followed from a talk from an economist, who looked at how we measure efficiency.
He demonstrated that universities operate at a higher level of efficiency than other sectors, including banking etc. Older Universites are less efficient, because we're looking after heritage assists. Also, specialist institutions eg for the Arts are also less efficient because of for example the amount of space needed for students.

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Monday, 23 March 2015

Final round up

A final round up about UCISA2015.

It was really enjoyable, with some great speakers and exhibitors, but I hadn't realised how tiring it would be as chair of the conference committee. Hat's off to everyone who's done it before me!

We had some good social events, and one of the perks of being chair is that you get to be part of arranging them We took a very plain room and turned it into a gothic/spooky themed event for the informal dinner, and the main formal dinner was in the wonderful surroundings of the museum of Scotland. Not a brilliant picture below, but it was a spectacular space. 

The other perk is that you gt to meet and sit next to the after dinner speaker. In this case the very lively and entertaining Gyles Brandreth! He was still tweeting about the stories we discussed into the weekend!

The only session I haven't actually written about, was one I helped to give. Together with Tim Kidd from JISC technologies we did a case study on the outage we suffered back in October, where the whole of the Yorkshire and Humberside region lost connection to the internet for just over 3 hours. We presented it as a lessons learned study, and both sides had some serious lessons to learn, especially around communication. Hopefully there'll be a link to a recording of it up soon, so I might just share it!

Only a couple of weeks to recover, and then we start planning for next years UCISA in Manchester!

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Friday, 20 March 2015

An inspirational morning...

This morning's session was brilliant - 4 excellent speakers, and we started with a solar eclipse!  A couple of weeks ago we'd decided to put the start time back, to allow people to watch it, and I've spent the last few days worrying that it would be cloudy and we wouldn't see anything. But, the sun was out - before the moon moved over it of course, and delegates got a great view - through the special glasses of course - don't they look cool!

We had four speakers - the first three talking about future trends and the last truly inspiational. Because of staring late we didn't have a break, but well done to all the delegates, and speakers for sticking with it. I was chairing the session, so wasn't taking notes for this blog, so these are just a few of my thoughts and memories.

The first session was Nick Jones from Gartner talking about trends in mobile technology. He covered the different platforms, operating systems, apis, app development tools etc, and what we should be looking out for. Secure the app and the data, don't try and secure the device was a key point. Watch the consumer space, that's where the innovation is. And we need to up our game in terms of user experience. Think gamification and employ psychologists for really good UX.

Next was Michael Wignall, National Technology Officer for Microsoft UK, who talked about when Digital Life meets Digital work. I think I can best illustrate the world he described by sharing the video he showed. Two different women, one a scientist looking for project work, and one an executive looking for a scientist.

What was really cool about that - all the technology in it is either in beta or in development right now. And no-one logged in to anything!

Third up was LJ Rich, presenter on BBC Click, journalist and musician. Boy was she lively. Her talk was pure "presentational caffeine".

 It was a brilliant, manic look at so many different examples of new technologies, especially around the internet of things. Who could forget the device that makes cauliflower taste of chips.

or brain controlled wearable cat ears (I so want a pair....).

Or this water based interface - great for playing games in the bath!

Out final speaker was Baroness Grey-Thomson. Luckily she didn't mind being called Tanni. One of the greatest paralympians ever. Winner of 11 gold medals, holder of over 20 world records, and 6 time winner of the London marathon.

She was truly inspirational. The whole room was engrossed. Very funny, interesting, personable, and some great anecdotes with serious messages.  Ejected at the age of ten from a cinema for being a fire risk in her wheelchair, she was taught the most appropriate response by her mother  "I have never spontaneously combusted in my life". She told us to always do the best we can, to be nice to people around us, that "technology can help me to make the best contribution I possibly can", and that parking in a disabled space without a blue badge should be a criminal offence! Truly inspiring end to the conference.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Cybercrime and cyber criminals

Really pleased to be listening to Charlie McMurdie, cyber security expert. Previously in the police, now an adviser for PWC.

Globally cybercrime costs $ 388bn a years in terms of financial losses and time lost. UK alone lost £408m from 250,000. Cybercrime is now classed as a Tier one threat.

93% of large businesses breached
Attacks by outsiders up 73%
Average cost of incidents was £65k to £115k
No of security incidents round the world rose 48% to 42.8m
70% of UK companies experiences downtime as a result of security incidents

Used to be mainly brute force, but now more subtle. Cyber criminals don't want you know about them. What to stay on your network longer. Much more sophisticated.

Cybercrime rising significantly in Europe. But Europe dominates other regions in detecting security incidents, a 41% jump in 2014.
Lot of intelligence sharing. Working better between agencies and pulling in intelligence from industry partners

Starting to be seen as a business enabler, not just province of IT department. Is now interest at board level.

Universities at particular risk. We have business reputations to maintain. Most of high end R and D is done in Universities. We are potentially more at risk than a traditional business. Students are the new generation, everything is technology enabled, lots of turnover.

Not just interested in stealing research data, but also a threat of contaminating date, either to discredit it, or don't agree with it.

Different sorts of cybercrime.
Nation state or commissioned attacks. hacktivism, cyber terrorism, organised crime.

Cyber criminals are becoming increasing sophisticated. 16 yr old lad, using old Dell PC, had 120 registered domains, 40 online identities designed to steal personal banking data. His computer had 16 virtual machines with 8m pieces of personal data on the hard drive.

Amount of mobile devices has increased. Are causing more problems than laptops and computers.

Hacktivism . Loosely organised gangs eg Anonymous.
Ryan Cleary, 19 was running a million node botnet. Used to knock over PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, CIA, FBI, NHS, together with other members of teams, especially Lulzsec.
Principals were in UK. Her team got them! Have to take all of them out at the same time, infrastructure disabled etc.

Some other great examples in her talk, amazing how these hugely well organised attacks are often no more than a bunch of very young people.
Lots to watch out for.

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Looking ahead to 2025

Jeff Haywood, VP for Digital Education at Edinburgh University
Post compulsory education in an even more technology rich world.

Technologies are not in a vacuum, but are socially shaped
They arise and are used in response to need
By 2025 there will be new technologies that we can't imagine today.

What sorts of things will we have to take account of over next few years?

Over next few years, we will see an increasing desire to develop an HE system that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. Political desire for change and modernisation will be in a policy agenda. Big consequence for the systems we use, and for the suppliers.

NMC horizon report in 2014 set out the significant challenges impeding higher education technology adoption in 3 categories:
Low digital fluency of faculty
Relative lack of rewards for teaching

Competition from new models of education
Scaling teaching innovation

Wicked ( complex to define, much less address)
Expanding access
Keeping education relevant

"IT has been extremely consequential in higher education over the last 25 years, but principally in output enhancing ways that do not show up in the usual measure of either productivity or cost per student"
Quote from William Bowen in October 2012

Things we have to look out for
Data based research for all. Will be a significant challenge we all have to grasp. So much data out there, can buy processing, storage analysis tools cheaply. Everybody can do research. How do we bring this in, give people the skills in analysis, data visualisation etc. We will have to engage with it.

Digital data and longevity. This is not just about research data, but our own data. How do we help people create, document, use, store, share and preserve data?

Bring your own technology. Not a threat, but an opportunity. People bring stuff that we don't have to buy, procure, manage or refresh. We would be foolish to ignore or exclude this. How do we capitalise on this? Support it without feeling the need to own or support it.

Open is going to grow. Open data, open science, open publications, open education. Is becoming accepted, and normal by default. Open virtual laboratory. Open Shakespeare. How do we capture citizen science? It will happen anyway.

Technology futures that will impact education:

Security, identity, surveillance, malevolence
Ubiquity of fast internet
Mobile everything and wearables
Internet of things, consumer devices and instrumentation
Semantic web and ubiquitous information, find and digitise on demand
Intelligent agents. Helping us to do things at scale.
Data driven world, analytics, predictive, on demand compute
Personalisation. Me+free+easy models will dominate
Video/audio will be easier than text
Speech recognition. Any voice instantly.
Real time translation. May not be a dominant language in future. Will radically change international collaboration
Digital/physical co presence. Think Princess Leia in Star Wars. Will radically change virtual meetings.
Social Internet. Collaboration and mass crowd sourcing
3d printing will be common, fast and cheap.

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The wind of change.....

Next session is from Alison Allden
Chief exec of HESA

Exploring the HE Information Landscape. We don't know a lot about it.
Only discovered last year that there are over 500 demands for data made by over 90 organisations to our institutions.
HESA data collected in July after a student has arrived, and released to us in following January, 15 months later.
Liken HESA to a dinosaur, becoming extinct?
So, has to change.

HEDIIP, information landscape project.
Introducing unique learner number. Will enable us to track students and link data.
About to report, and will produce a blueprint for a different information landscape.

In the centre, HESA transformed.
HESA must change its approach to the collection of HE data.
HESA cached.

Aim is to:
Enable timely data collection and reporting
Reduce the burden on data providers
Drive improved value for money
Deliver data that is fit for purpose
Support changes to data governance

Developing a business case at the moment.
Website for cached programme coming up.

Value of information, why do we have it and why are we collecting it?
University guides, helping students choose
League tables
Supporting students choice, KIS is open data.

Sector is changing, collecting data from a wider range of stakeholders.
Dramatic increase in requests for data.
Mainly market research data.
HESA now publish subject benchmarking reports to explore students, qualification outcome, employment. Can be used to look at your portfolio.

Can be used to look at strategic issues.
Interesting pic about proportion of women in education, women are pink, obviously

Or look at trends in education. Showed a slide showing that Computer science is the only science subject where number of graduates has declined in last 10 years.

Trying to make the data more accessible. There is a HESA app.
And building a next generation HEIDI, working with JISC, enabling us to build dashboards etc. Will be a licence to use it with tableau.

In conclusion, HESA has to change, but so do we. We will have to work together to take this forward

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When excellence is just a click away....

Opening session this morning is from Emer Coleman.
When excellence is just a click away, Average just won't cut it

Students have changed rapidly. They are not the people our educational system was designed to teach.

Three things universities do best:

Which can be delivered on line, and which need traditional methods?
We're now in the conceptual age, following on from:
The Agricultural Age
The Industrial Age
The Information Age
The Conceptual age

What can be done by machine, will be done by machine
3m packages from Amazon could be delivered by drones.
All in the near future.
Benefits, fewer cars etc. But, fewer jobs.

Kodak had 179,000 employees. They invented the digital camera. But fearful of what it would do to their traditional model, so didn't iterate it. Company folded.

Questions to answer about future of jobs:
Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
Can a computer do it faster?
Is what I offer in demand in the age of abundance?

Are our institutions ready for the next disruption?
Often our technology at home is better than what people have at work.

What does a truly digital institution look like?
Don't fear failure. Fail. Fail fast and learn
Collaboration not silos.
Rely heavily on collaboration tools, email relegated to only when necessary. Access information quickly, through a simple search.
Open by design. Use open products like Google. Only lock down when necessary. Expect to work from home.
Valued by outcomes.
Staff value more what their customers say about them than their managers.

The future is here, just not evenly distributed.

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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Opening keynote - UCAS

Well, UCISA 2015 has started. I've given my opening address welcoming everyone here and thanking the volunteers, and we've had an excellent welcome from the VC of Herriot Watt, Julian Jones. He emphasised that technology is at the heart of what we do. Fewer organisations have seen a greater rate of change than universities, and the reatest part of that change is in technology. he also said that he'd never been to a conference before where the programme had been reorganised to cope with a solar eclipse, and thought that we were his sort of people!

Opening keynote was from Mary Curnock Cook, Chief Executive of UCAS. Here's some notes from her talk.
The UCAS mission is to inspire and facilitate progression in education through information and admissions services,
It's a charity, with a commercial subsidiary, operating in Cheltenhem with 450 employees. As a charity, it is regulated. Have to report on the public benefit they deliver. So, they have to help learners progress etc.Not just about admissions.

They have no government funding.

Serve 163 universities, 167 university colleges and colleges offering HE.  c700 other HE providers
In 1962, less than 100,000 applicants. Now 700,000. . Much more diverse now.
In 62, nearly all men. Now more women then men, also worrying.
First shared service, argueably the most successful.
Business processes almost the same now as 62.
UCAS one of busiest web sites in country.
Now offer advice for post GCSE, not just HE. Advice on apprenticeships etc.
Trying to get good advice to kids earlier.
Big social media presence

On just  one day in August....
5m exam results
239 log ins per second
18000 phone call
1.25m log ins to Track

Thanks for the cloud. No way they could afford to gear up server capacity for this short time of capacity.

Key drivers of change in applications is not fees
Changing qualification landscape.
No of BTecs going up. Now 100,000 people coming into HE with BTEcs.
Demographics, no of 18 year olds dropping. No of vocational qualifications growing.
Big challenge for selecting organisations.

UCAS IT function is complex!
Moving to SOA.
Building a profile based on a learners journey.
Thought they would spend 50% on core services, and 50% on change
Closer to 90:10. Transformation plans slipping away. Every year something would go wrong with legacy systems.
So, proposed digital acceleration
Increase investment in short term. Every pound spent on legacy system is a pound wasted,
Need to increase velocity of change.
Used to traditional approach to project management - waterfall, prince2 but this eant working. 
So, moved to Agile. Embrace change, quality comes from feedback. Adapt as you go along. Collect information as you learn. Deliver working software as early as possible and as often as possible with feedback loop built in.
Good diagram of the benegits of Agile:

At "Wagile" at the moment, bit waterfall, but agile.
Gradually rolling it out.
Keeping an eye for what they want at the end

It's all about culture and mindset, not IT.

Great opening keynote.

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Tuesday, 17 March 2015

UCISA 15 is here

Well, for the past year I've been chairing the Organising Committee for the Annual UCISA Conference - and now it's finally here! I'm in Edinburgh, at the conference centre, waiting for it to start. The programme has come together really well, as far as I know all the speakers are turning up, the social events and the exhibition are organised and well under the control of the UCISA office.

Most of the plenary keynotes, including one from me and Tim Kidd from JISC tomorrow, will be live streamed here. Can't wait for it to start!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Digital vs Human

Final keynote of this DigiFest is from Richard Watson, writer, speaker and consultant who advises organisations on the future.

His talk was entitled Digital vs Human, and was actually about reducing, or limiting our use of technology. Some brief notes from an entertaining speech:

This year there will be more phones than people.
75% of 10 year olds in UK have a phone.
Voice traffic going down, text and image based rising.
Increasingly we are communicating with each other through a screen. Does it matter?
With text, there is no tone, no body language.
Even with Skype lose important elements of communication.
Can lose as much as 90% of clues without voice tone and body laguage
We are communicating more than before, but how much is being understood.

Recent research shows that on average we check our phones once every 390 seconds.
This sort of activity leads to "Constant partial attention"

When it comes to things that matter, nothing is better than face to face contact
Digital communications should be used to enhance relationships, not replace them.

Average office worker gets distracted every 11 minutes, can take 40 minutes to get back to where they were. A constant apprehension of being distracted causes big productivity loss

Could smart machines end up taking our jobs?
Possibly. Robots in have been in car assembly since 70s
But we are now on the cusp of smart machines making in-roads into many jobs.
Gartner suggests 1:3 jobs redundant by software by 2025
Robots are already being used in kindergartens and care homes in Japan

So, what can we do that machines are dreadful at? What makes us different?
Humans are curious
Like to interact physically
Highly creative
Care about welfare of other humans

If you can connect with people emotionally, your job might be safe :-)

Some consequences of interacting with digital and mobile devices. We are making conscious choices to avoid people, physical relationships. Simulations of life are more captivating than real life.

Attention spans are shorter now in children. Books are too long and boring. Solution, - more screens and more interactive content. But, isn't that making things worse?

There is a loss of deep thinking. Screens are great for finding and discovering stuff.  But no focus, no contextual thought.
Only 1% of people searching on Google get past the first page of search results.

Digital technology should be used to enhance human skills and behaviour not replace it. It's not digital vs human, but digital and human

Three suggestions from him:

Switch off
Ritualise being without our devices for a day a week. Switch off work device after 7. Switch mind off. If you want to have a good idea, stop trying to have a good idea. Silence, stillness, slowness should be valued.

Understand strengths and weaknesses of different technologies
Match the technology to the task. Paper and pixels are different. Screens are useful for connecting short bits of information. Great for collaboration and finding stuff
Paper good for complex arguments, contextualisation.
Work out the best technology to use. A pencil is much a piece of technology as an iPad

Important to get enough. Essential for physical and mental health and ideas.
Sleep on it is a good phrase. When we sleep the brain processes information and assimilates information as memories. Filters stuff. Links ideas to extract meaning.
Used to go to bed to sleep. Now bedrooms are media rooms or offices. Type of light in kindles and iPads disturbs our sleep patterns.
People used to sleep around 9 hours a night. Recommendation used to be 8 hours, now it's 7.
Sleep on that.

So, at the end of a Digital Festival, we have a call to reduce our use of digital. Interesting ;-)

Great conference, really enjoyed, it apart from seriously spraining my ankle and having to limp around for most of the day.

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Research Objects and Location beacons

Day two of Digifest kicks off with a session from Carol Goble, professor of Computer Science at Manchester University

Really interesting session about research methods, and how our knowledge flow is too slow. Research is published as a PDF, or as spreadsheets and the supporting data is embedded in a paper. Can be difficult to get at the actual data and often very hard to reproduce the actual experiments as methods are not included.

This is especially important in computer science, as researchers need to be able to inspect the software used in the research. Her assertion was that broken software equals broken science.

She introduced the concept of research objects, which I found fascinating. Rather than explain them, it's probably better to look at the web site if you're interested.
It's all about metadata......

Then a session on "bringing location indoors" using location sensors, iBeacons, GPS etc indoors. Floor plans extremely important. Lots of clever algorithms enable things to work together.

IBeacons. Low energy Bluetooth devices. Prices start at $5. Use some clever nanotechnology to stick to surfaces. An app will detect them from about 1m away. They work either in the background creating a proximity circle around the device which detects when you enter it, or ranging, which is when the app searches for any beacon in range. In theory can get pinpoint location from 3 beacons, but not very accurate at the moment.

Can use them to identify movement between location, eg by setting up virtual tripwires. Can use this for navigation.
Also use them for nearables. Finding and gathering content about specific nearby objects.

Some example use cases:
Indoor navigation
Estates and buildings reporting and ticketing esp for accessibility issues. Eg open an app and it will already know where you are so can flag a problem immediately.
Student recruitment events/open days, esp navigation and information
Conference and event navigation, better than maps
Social location sharing
Smart lecture room, to pick up digital information eg lecture notes
Study desk reservation
Student attendance monitoring which we're hoping to roll out soon using our iSheffield app. Details in an Ombiel press release.

Apple and Google both offering "submit a floor plan" service currently prioritising big commercial venues

Projection of a floor plan into 3d can make it easier to find your way round.

Good session, and we perhaps need to think about what else we can use the iBeacons for in our lecture theatres in addition to attendance monitoring.

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Digital students

This morning went to a session on the JISC Digital Student project.

The JISC project is well documented on the digital student blog

It has been running for a couple of years, and has involved literature reviews, stakeholder consultations, and school focus groups. Looking at what students think, and what they expect from university technology.

They found there was a clear difference between "entitlement" and "enhancement"

Entitlement, what they think should be there, as a matter of course:
Wifi, unblocked
Hardware/software. Students own all the technology they need to do their course, but there is an expectation that the university will provide it as well
Lots of digital,resources
Non mandatory support

Entitlement, didn't expect it, but if there, will use it.

Lecture capture
Organisional info
Use of technology in lectures
Social media, questionable, mixed views
Learning and teaching, very little expectation that this would use technology to be interesting. Expectation that university was about sitting in lectures.

This stuff slowly moving into entitlement.

Technologies will always creep, if find out others have it. Expectations are changing all the time. So, you need to have conversations with students.

The project has produced a lot of resources for institutions to use:

50 institutional exemplars

Digital students are different posters

Enhancing the digital experience cards

The student digital experience in 2020

"Enhancing the student digital experience: a strategic approach" guide.

Then there was a panel discussion with students doing different courses from different backgrounds, but their answers were very similar.

What did you expect when you came to university?
Reference point is college or 6th form.
Expected email, wifi, access to digital resources. Software to do their course. Not a lot else

How does online life overlap with the digital platforms provided by university?
Email. Have own personal one, usually user friendly available on mobiles etc. University uni one not very good. So they all forward their uni email to their personal gmail account.
VLE not accessible on mobile devices
Storage, want to use Dropbox, Google drive etc
Uni computer labs only used because of storage space. Their own laptops have better software on than university managed computers
Things like Dropbox are blocked.
Don't like using uni storage because servers down so often.
Systems not reliable
Synchronise all uni timetables to google calendar
If students want to collaborate, they set up a closed facebook group

What are your favourite tools or techniques when using technology in your course?
Google docs
Lecture capture
Google hangouts
Tend to use a lot of stuff the university doesn't provide
Loan of equipment, cameras etc
Powerful macs
Google sketch up

Very apparent that students are using their own software, often free to download especially Google, Dropbox etc.

One thing they all asked for is some way of students sharing good practice in what free software they could use. Mainly self discovery, or from peers. No formal system. Importance of induction.

Introduction of £9k fees has changed expectations. If software is a year and a half out of date or wifi doesn't work, don't feel they are getting value for money.

It led me to ask, what mechanisms do we have to capture this sort of information about what our students do?

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Monday, 9 March 2015

Bit of controversy at digifest....

One of the sessions this afternoon was a panel session, to launch the latest JISC report on The Changing Role of the IT leader. It's been a joint piece of work between  JISC and Educause with senior IT leaders from the U.S.and the UK looking at what it takes to be an IT leader.

You can download and read the report here.

This is their model for IT leadership:

The only real thing I disagreed with, was the assertion that technology is at the heart of everything we do, and therefore you must have a technology background to be an IT leader. In fact you must be passionate about technology. Well, as I pointed out to them, that rules me out then.  I think you have to understand technology, and understand what it can do, but you have to be passionate about the services you provide. If you are too passionate about the technology it can actually get in the way. I understand the panel were not unanimous in this, and even the ones who said it in the session, did back down slightly when challenged in the discussion.


Digifest is an interesting concept - designed to be more like a festival than a conference, there are some nice touches. There were a group of students using iPads to paint images of what was going on. This one's a picture of my favourite little robot - Nao.

Nao is so cute, and quite easy to programme. Well, it looked easy when someone else was doing it.

Plenary sessions are held in the main auditorium, but breakout sessions are held in "pods" which are part of the main exhibition and social area

As well as Nao, there are some neat gadgets here - an augmented reality dummy for training medical and nursing staff. Full of electronics, so that you can even inject it with drugs and it will react accordingly, with augmented reality video on an iPad

A 3D printing pen which you can use to draw 3D models

And my favourite  - a 3D display of outstanding quality which you control with a virtual pointer. this is John looking a 3D fully animated heart which you can turn, rotate, expose bits. I could have played with it all day!

 And finally, that little robot can dance....

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Securing mobile devices

Went to an interesting workshop this morning about securing mobile devices, and whether people bringing their own devices onto campus makes a difference. Led by Andrew Cormack from JISC we talked a lot about technologies, including mobile device management, automatic wipe of lost devices etc. But, I think we concluded it came down to two things. People, and risk. People are the most important factor, and an interesting fact was that in a recent survey by BT, 82% of people were not interested in the security of corporate data on their mobile device. And the figure increased, the higher up in management you were. The question is, how interested are people in the security of their own data. Most mobile devices now have a lot of personal information on. Access to bank details for example. I know I would be very concerned if I lost my laptop that I had lost my family tree data, not my work stuff which is all recoverable from somewhere else. The question is, can we get people interested in the security of their mobile devices by talking to them about their personal data.

The other thing we discussed on our table is risk. Everything is down to risk management and mitigation. We must assess the risk of information loss, and manage it appropriately. Too many organisations try to put measures in place to protect the most sensitive information and apply them to everything. And of course, this results in people finding a way round them. Forwarding all of your business email to your personal gmail account for example.

So in summary, know your risks, and use the security of personal information to educate users.

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Digifest kicks off, MOOCs and the future of Universities

So, we're at Digifest at the ICC in Birmingham. Bit of a festival theme... .

Posts will probably in note form. Haven't got time to put them into English
It kicks off with a keynote from the CEO from Futurelearn. Launched in 2012, the platform on which 40 Universities in the UK offer their MOOCS.

Worked in BBC radio, and with the onset of the Internet, talk was of the death of the radio, all music would be on demand. BBC rose to the challenge, and, launched 5 new digital radio services, put radio everywhere, and made it available on demand. Then moved to TV and headed up digital services. More hype. Assumption that live TV watching, channels and schedules would be wiped away by services like Youtube. Again, BBC didn't sit back and let it happen. IPlayer launched, on demand, on a variety of devices.

Now in HE, debating whether there's a future for Universities as we know them in this digital world. MOOCs obvious subject of discussion, but it's not about MOOCs, it's about the Internet. There is a bewildering range of opportunities facing HE. What do you prioritise? No right answer, just informed bewilderment. :-)

A number of different things to think about:

Opportunity to open up access to much wider range of audiences, on a wider range of devices, globally. Open up the huge range of expertise and knowledge locked up within its walls to everyone.
Futurelearn platform built from scratch, available on any device. Simple design and interface.
The ability to reach globally will change the mission of the University.
Good map of world showing the reach of a course run by Southampton University about the spread of the Ebola virus and its impact. Impact of the course already profound. Some of highest participation rate. Excellent feedback from medical staff in affected areas, to educate locals.
Just at the beginning of what's possible in opening up access to our knowledge.

Over 1m registered on Futurelearn in just over a year. 60% from overseas. Have overseas partners, from Korea, China, Europe.
Opportunity to recruit new students. Free, online courses can be an important recruiting ground, especially for international students. Can register interest in paid courses.
Need to make content open, shareable, discoverable on the web. Some of their step pages are now open to make them searchable by Google. Increase the digital footprint beyond the course. Some excellent content on courses, at the moment, is hidden.

Social learning
The ability to interact with content and engage with other participants is an important part of platform. All happens alongside the content they are consuming, enabling rich discussion. All participants have personalised profile page, and social networks can be built up.
Biggest course is Exploring English Language and Culture run by British Council, over 100,000 people participated. Lot of social interaction.

Enhancing and improving the teaching experience using digital technologies is essential if universities are going to keep pace with the increasing expectations of their learners. Have to work hard to make sure these courses are not just a load of videos on the web. Need good storytellers.
Also, put the learner first
Simple, delightful flexible user interface
Not just for MOOCs, but for on campus learning as well. Can be used for blended learning

Of the 1m signed up, more women than men, broad age range, and broad socioeconomic backgrounds. Enables universities to reach groups they would not normally reach. Courses for school leavers, professional learners, CPD, personal development. Wide range of motivations.
Futurelearn owned by OU. Free, but piloting different business models. Are producing a statement of participation, if complete most of the course, costs £29. Big uptake.
Courses are free, but are exploring other options for revenue generation.

Audience no longer a passive recipient of content. Are creators in their own right. Need to facilitate and enable that. Eg Help people create and develop games. Share photography on astronomy courses. Develop and share coding skills.

This is not the end of Universities, but an amazing opportunity for them to reinvent themselves in society.

Good start to the conference. Will be interested to see where MOOCs go....

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Sunday, 8 March 2015

Planning and Digifest

The end of last week was a bit of a blur. I had a lot of meetings, and we had to get out planning statement in on Friday. This is the document which sets out what we're going to do next year, and what resources we need to deliver it. A lot in it about our proposed new Research IT Support service, and also many developments in Digital Learning. I'll distill everything down tothe key points sometime this week and post up a summary.

Also met with two more of our faculties for our Strategic Liaison meetings - both went very well.

Now I'm in Birmingham for Digifest - JISCs Digital festival. Last year it was excellent, so I'm looking forward to it.  All of the keynotes and many of the sessions are streamed for free on line - you can register to see them here.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Final thoughts on strategy forum

A quick round up of a couple of other sessions from the Higher Education Strategy Forum, and a summary of thoughts about the event.

We had a really good session from the VC of the University of Greenwich on Universities in the Digital Age. He outlined the key drivers that are impacting us at the moment, ( these are not new btw...)
Cloud computing, Mobile, Social Media, Openness and MOOCs and how we can turn our Information Systems from liabilities to assets
His conclusions were that the speed of technology development is scary but exciting, student expectations are high and Universities are struggling to keep up. His final point was that technology is a means to an end, not the end itself. which is of course true. Great talk from a VC who is obviously very clued  up about technology.

We also had a session from Chris Hale, Assistant Director of Policy at Universities UK about the efficiency agenda.
The Efficiency and Modernisation Task Force was established in 2010, (I was a member of it) and it produced a report with 17 recommendations, commonly referred to as the Diamond Report. It set out a challenging agenda and there have been several successful outcomes, especially around collaborative procurement where sector wide savings of £435m have been demonstrated in two years.
Phase 2 started in November 2013, which identified 6 key work streams and the report was published last week. You can download and read a copy from here. Starts with an interesting infographic about the economic impact of Higher Education.

As well as the sessions I've posted about, we had a number of presentations from the vendors who had sponsored the event, individual business meetings with them and a "speed dating" hour where each vendor had 4 minutes to pitch to a small group of us. Overall I found it very useful. It wasn't just aimed at IT Directors, and there were VCs, PVCs, Deans and Directors of other professional services there, so some good networking opportunities. Most of the vendors were also pretty clued up on what we wanted to discuss. There were some excellent talks, and some not so good, quite a mixed bag, as often happens at these events. There were several things which could have been improved - the wifi coverage was dreadful, one of the days was too long( 0850 to 1905 with very short breaks only), and everything was very regimented. But, the venue was lovely, and when I did manage to escape for a short walk, I found this fantastic carpet of snowdrops and aconites under some trees.

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Moving away from technology, this morning's sessions were on space.

First up was the University of Warwick's PVC for planning talking about estates planning
Some interesting figures about UK University estate (all figures exclude student accommodation)
Capital expenditure on estate was £2bn in 2012/13. Revenue cost of supporting the estate is £1.9bn/yr
Size of HE estate is just behind NHS. About 7 times the size of Tesco estate!

Currently there is pressure on capital expenditure, little government funding now, most has to come from reserves or borrowing.
But there is a massive investment in the University estate because space is:
Central to operational effectiveness
Crucial to staff and student experience
Critical in ensuring ability to meet many different demands
Provides a competitive advantage
A third of students have rejected an institution based on the facilities they observed
80% of students say the quality of the facilities have influenced them to accept an offer.

Are issues about how we creatively use space, and space use and utilisation is very important. The effective use of our space is a particular concern of government
Analysis of space usage indicators over last decade tells a positive story, the total net space per fte student is down by 9%. However, the office space for academics is only down by 0.6 % We are not using office space efficiently.

Space norms and metrics can provide information against which opportunities and constraints offered by existing buildings can be reviewed.
Expansion of the estate in relation to growth can be forecast.
Expectations regarding space allocation between departments and amongst colleagues can be managed
But difficult to benchmark as few universities publish space use

Estate is core to the delivery of the academic mission
Student expectation, staff recruitment, retention all depend on high quality facilities.
Capital spending has to be linked to improvements in space management and utilisation
You need space norms, metrics and benchmarking to inform decision making
The sustainability agenda is very important

Last week's UUK efficiency report has a section on delivering value from the HE estate, and emphasises the need for academics and estates departments to work closely together. You can read the report here.

This was followed by talk on helping students to use technology in learning spaces. Primarily it focused on providing power for mobile devices using USB, not 240volts!

Previously discussions have focused around raised floors and floor boxes, but this is now unrealistic. Devices are less hungry for power and USB is fine.
They have some neat little devices, including this which is basically a big battery, which when charged up will provide 8 students with power all day. There are lots of configurations for using them - in middle of round tables or near soft seating and they can be built into furniture or a building.
I was quite impressed with them- so much better than floor boxes!!
They also had some neat collapsible computers in desks, can use space for computers or as desk space.

Finally we had a talk from DBS who design and install technology in teaching areas, residential areas and hotels. They shard a case study on what they'd done at Kings college for some new student accommodation.
They had had built 700 bedrooms, and put enough infrastructure in for at least 7 devices per student.
All the rooms had a flexible digital screen, and wired and wireless networks so all devices can connect to it. It delivered free IPTV and gave access to learning materials, streamed lectures etc

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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

From free to fee

Next session is a speaker from the Open University talking about changes in Higher Education, and how we should respond.
OU has been on a journey from late night BBC programmes, (they are proud of training the most number of inebriated physicists ) to co producing programmes like Frozen Planet with the BBC. 45% of people in UK watched at least one episode of it. The OU built on this to sell their Frozen Planet course. From free to fee.

We don't all have relationship with the BBC, buth there are other Free to Fee channels we can use. For example, YouTube. one of worlds top search engines. The OU have created lots of very short courses as tasters for their substantial ones. We cod all do the same.

Another channel is iTunes. OU have been on iTunesU for 2 years and have just passed 75m downloads. They are the most downloaded university in the world, beating institutions including Harvard.

We all need to embrace these new methods of delivery and marketing to leverage from free to fee.

The OU Anywhere app was launched last year, and provides everything for a course in one place, lecture notes, videos etc. available on a mobile device. The world has moved to mobile and tablet - 75% of logins to facebook now are from mobiles - we have to accept that the desktop is dying and we need to move to mobile delivery.

The OU was a partner in establishing Futurelearn, the UK MOOC delivery platform which currently has 41 Universities set up, and partners with BBC and British Library. They built it for mobile first, had an engaging environment and had employment outcomes at the start of the journey. Completion rate is 3 times higher than major rival and it hs a 75% student satisfaction rating.

There is a huge appetite for a UK education globally, and we should capitalise on that.

From free to fee. :-)

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Higher Education Strategy Forum- Student Experience and Digital Lancaster

I'm at a Higher Education Strategy Forum at the moment, which is an interesting event, but more on that later...

Lots of short presentations, so I'll see how I get on posting about them.

First up is about the student experience, particularly in relation to their learning experience, and what we should be doing to improve it. Important to understand the current experience, concentrate on what you can do something about and take action. Need to engage with students and gain their trust. Needs to be a much deeper engagement than just talking to student officers. Engage them in course design and development. They can bring elements around the curriculum, a broader picture to make sure it is engaging and relevant. Involve students in co production of knowledge, not just about the flipped classroom, but creating a space where students and staff can interact. My question was how do you get students to accept this way of interactive learning, our experience in some areas has been " I've paid £9,000, now teach me". If something isn't credit bearing, or it involves a lot of work, they're not interested. Of course, I've exaggerated slightly, but our recent experience of "Achieve More", where all of our first year students had to take part in a week long cross faculty exercise designed to teach them a number of transferable skills including team work, problem solving etc was very illuminating. The biggest complaint was that it had no credit attached to it, so why did they have to do it. Their learning experience didn't come into it. If it didn't contribute to their marks, they didn't want to do it. I found that really sad.

Next up was Paul Harness from Lancaster University, talking about Digital Lancaster. They have a five point Digital Strategy.
The world in changing, and many organisations have had to change and develop digital strategies including the music industry, retail, banking, cities and even the government. Universities are no different, and a digital strategy should attempt to answer the question:
How will our organisation survive and thrive in a digital world?
They used a model from Gartner, which was a lens on the university strategy to look at digital opportunities and threats facing the institution, and then looked at capabilities and gaps.
Vision is aspirational and ambitious. Trying to use digital technology innovatively to give them an edge, and make the institution think differently, ie about culture, not about technology.

They've put together a number of resources, including a one page summary and a video which you can see here.

Important that this isn't seen as an IT strategy, but a University strategy. Different parts of the strategy are assigned to different senior managers to oversee implementation.

Some examples of implementation:
1 Mobile applicant engagement.
Have a mobile app, 0.5 FTE working on it, rest of team are students. Have built a lot of functionality. Have developed an app tailored to the needs of applicants. iLancaster. Went into schools and talked to students about what they wanted. Information sent to them about the app with offer letter. Hoping it will improve offer take up. It contains welcome information, accommodation information, 3d tours, booking for visit days etc. Each academic dept can put their own content into the app. Also can initiate live chat sessions.

2 Innovation Hub
Small team of two people looking at innovation and ideas generation, operate in highly agile and flexible way. Operate like a start up, challenging existing processes. Partnering with computer science software development programme. Have created on line ideas platform where ideas can be submitted and voted on.
One of the ideas which came out of this was the Minecraft campus.
The student gaming team comes into their department one afternoon a week and are building the campus in Minecraft from info provided by estates. Can fly through etc. Has cost very little apart from engaging with students.

Some great ideas from Paul. I'm very keen to develop a Digital Strategy, and am hopeful that we can deploy our ideas platform, Ideascale very shortly. I also like the idea of partnering with computer science, and we have our very own company EpiGenysis, who might get a call when I get back. And as for building the campus in Minecraft, genius!

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Monday, 2 March 2015

See through science

Continuing the Public Engagement symposium, we had a keynote address from Stephen Hill, Head of Research Policy at HEFCE. Very interesting and thought proving talk about the history and development of Public Engagement in the HE sector.

He started with a picture of a news headline from 2000, "GM crops under fire again". Important word is "again". A problem that we couldn't crack, getting the message out about genetic manipulation and what it actually was. Or more importantly what it wasn't! As a geneticist by training, this is particularly close to my heart. About the same time, an important report from the House of Lords Science and Technology committee came out, and one of the recommendations was that direct dialogue with the public about research should be embedded and the norm, not an add on.

Since then, there have been huge advances in public engagement in Universities.

However we haven't got everything right, and a recent report in Feb 2015 about genetic techniques for improving crops, is still recommending the need to reframe public understanding of this area.

A major turning point was the publication of this document

Which made the argument that we needed to move to a new way of thinking, moving from a public understanding of science, ie one way communication, to a dialogue about research, not just science.

Another important policy intervention was the REF where public engagement was included as acceptable impact. 6975 impact case studies were submitted, and 447 of them are about public engagement, vast majority in arts and humanities.

In terms of the future, he suggested that we have moved towards a focus on civic cultural and community, and away from controversy. Perhaps we should clarify that we have two distinct missions:
Engagement and impact
Responsible research and innovation.

And, if we are going to tackle controversial topics, we may have to let people outside the academy in to our research governance.

Finally he used the recent example of the approval of the use of mitochondrial DNA in fertility treatments as a huge success story for public engagement. It would be difficult to imagine it happening in 2000. An interesting comment from one of our fertility experts in the audience was that it was the result of a 6 year dialogue which had resulted in getting the journalists on side.

In conclusion the message was that we need to get away from public engagement being about the "understanding of science" to the "enthusiasm for research"

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The Cosmos, Research on Tour, Castlegate and Robots

As part of the symposium, we had a number of showcases of successful public engagement.

First up,was Sounds of the Cosmos, from the 2014 Festival of the Mind, a joint production between the Departments of Music and Physics, and a local design agency, Human.
It combined the music from the Holst's The Planets, astronomy talks, and images of the cosmos. There's a great short video of it, produced by CiCS staff of course, on YouTube

and all of the talks are available on iTunesU.

The music, although called The Planets, is more about the astrological nature of the planets, so in between each of the movements was a science talk about research being carried out in Sheffield. Not about the individual planets, but about broad areas, including the birth of stars, the death of stars, galaxies, and the future.
There were workshops throughout the day with local schoolchildren about the research going on in Maths and Physics, and a special concert for them in the afternoon, with the general public concert in the evening. A great opportunity for outreach, and to get schoolchildren interested in science.
We helped out by fitting 8 huge screens in the Octagon for the images to be displayed during the concert. They were stunning, and produced by Human. There was 2 and a half hours of footage, because the screens were paired up with different images on each. Lots of NASA images were used, blended with their own visuals.
Overall a huge success with great reviews, good public engagement, and real partnership working across the whole University. And new opportunities have opened, with DocFest interested in it, as well as touring opportunities.

Second showcase was from Amy Beard from Point Blank Theatre talking about your Research on Tour, research from Professor Dawn Hadley looking at Sheffield's Manor Lodge. She was looking at the 19th century community living there, and worked with Point Blank Theatre to design a play to demonstrate her work on this mining community. Academics and PBT worked together to write a play called "All Sorts of Wickedness" which was performed to a packed house in the Spiegel tent in the 2012 FoTM. Some professional actors, but also a community cast. This led to another project called Performing the Past which was research into using performance to bring historical research to the wider community. In 2014 FoTM they put on another play about the late 19th century Sheffield showman Harvey Teasdale. All of these projects have brought Sheffield history to life and demonstrated the nature and vibrancy of working class culture in 19th century Sheffield. They've just got an Arts Council Grant to take the latest production on tour.
We also got a short performance, with both an actor and excerpts from a video from the live show.

Next showcase was from the Department of Architecture. They've been working with the city for 20 years on live projects, with students engaged at all levels. They are setting up an exciting new project called Liveworks, based in the city centre, very close to the city council offices. It's a collaboration between students, staff, and graduates from the School of Architecture, and one of the projects they've been working on is how to revitalise Castlegate, a very run down area of the City Centre. They've had a total of 65 students in two studios working on it. They've been looking at how to use the buildings round there, especially the old Town Hall, and using the rivers which run through the area to create more open spaces. Another project is looking at City Centre living, especially more mixed community groups, not just students, but older people. I think I might be one of them :-)

Final case study was robots. yay! Sheffield Robotics are a big research group with collaborations across all 5 faculties, and with Sheffield Hallam University and many external companies. They have about 40 academics and over 100 researchers. Disappointingly they didn't bring any robots with them. Lots of public engagement going on with them, especially around the general perception of what a robot is. Most of them don't look like the Terminator. They take cute little robots into schools to teach kids about science. Coming out soon, a robot kids can build, MIRO. Will be available to individuals and schools. I want one...

Great set of case studies, I've only captured the flavour of the work here.

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Go On Then

Today I'm in a Public Engagement Symposium, looking back over the last two years of our Public Engagement Team, and looking forward for the future. The team was formed in 2012 following a successful RCUK bid, and was set up to really change the culture in the University and champion and embed public engagement so that all researchers can contribute in taking research to the public. Public engagement has also been built into our HR strategy.

The team has delivered 13 festivals and 7 single events. Festival of the Mind 2012 was the first big event, with 18,000 attendees, and it showcased research from across the University, but also involved working with partners across the city. In 2014, the Sheffield Bazaar in was held in Castle House, a disused department store as part of Festival of the Mind, and 27,182 people attended the Festival. Also ran Sheffield Festival of Science and Engineering in 2013 jointly with Sheffield Hallam Univerity

Another example of a successful event was The Mobile University, where a vintage bus went to 3 different locations across City, equipped with mini iPads and local wifi, to provide a chance for early researchers to showcase their work.

The total number of visitors to all of the events is 60,468.

As well as delivering using our own platforms, the team have been working with partners, especially the City Council working on events including Off the Shelf and DocFest.

A major part of the day today is looking at case studies of successful examples of public engagement, many of them very impressive, so will try and post about a few of them.

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