Thursday, 28 May 2015

Keep right on walking

Today I've been either walking, on a train, or in meetings! The train bit was to get to London and back.

The walking bit was part of the Global Corporate Challenge, an initiative to improve employee health and well being all over the world. Teams of seven from organisations either carry pedometers or use their own devices (mines a Fitbit one) to measure how many steps you do a day for a 100 days, and your combined distance is plotted on a virtual map starting in Japan, and the aim is to see how far round the world you can get. And to get fit of course. We have a team of seven in CiCS, and we started the challenge yesterday. I usually aim to walk 10,000 steps a day, but I'm going to up it  over the challenge  if I can - today by walking to my meeting in London and back, and walking back from the station I've done 15,000. Not bad on a recovering and still painful sprained ankle! Of course, the published aim is to get fit, but we're only doing it to beat the teams from EFM and the Library....

The meetings in London were the UCISA Executive, and then a conference organising committee. We spent quite a lot of time at the Exec discussing our structure - we're made up of a series of groups, made up of experts in the relevant field who do an excellent job of promoting best practice, organising events etc. But, they do look a bit technology based, and maybe don't show the services we support - research IT or teaching and learning technologies for example. The support is there, but perhaps not obvious in the current organisation. Its a bit like trying to map a service catalogue onto a line management structure. We need to make the matrix clearer - and that's our task over the coming months.

The conference committee is now well into organising next year's event - getting the speakers booked is the priority at the moment. As a charity we have to look after our funds, so we can't afford the big fees that some speakers demand, so our negotiating skills are often put to the test!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Chelsea and Interns

What with bank holidays and my annual trip to Chelsea Flower Show last week, not been a lot to post about. Unless you like pictures of gardens and flowers of course. Here's a couple of my favourites in case you do :-0

OK, back to work related stuff....

Today I went to a presentation about our Graduate Intern scheme. Running for the past 4 years, we've had 16 interns who work in departments across the University on a specific 6 month project from December onwards. Our current cohort have just finished, and its the first time for a while we've not had one in CiCS. This event was to look at how successful the scheme had been, and the interns gave a short presentation on what they had been doing and what skills they had gained.

Some of the projects they had worked on include:
  • Evaluating arts and humanities public engagement activities
  • Market research with current EU students to improve our EU website
  • Helping the outreach team in school of languages
  • Redesigning the Faculty of Arts Postgraduate website and looking at using social media to promote international students 
  • Exploring use of mobile technology in teaching environments
  • Researching the public perception of carbon utilisation
  • Working with the Medical Schools Athena swan committee to promote gender equality in education and academia
  • Building an intranet for the Faculty of Science
  • Redeveloping the staff exams resources website within SSID
  • Administration of IT systems replacement projects and auditing and telephone equipment within ACS
  • Redeveloping the Ask Sheffield FAQ pages
It was interesting to see how many of the projects had involved technology - especially around websites.

During the internship they had a number of training sessions including project management, time management, coaching, how to manage a university, networking and action learning sets

The interns were all very positive about the scheme, and felt that had gained a lot of transferable skills which would improve their emolyability - communicationskills, software skills, report writing, administration, web page design, and budgeting and financial management.

Of course, there are benefits to the Universty as well - the interns often bring a fresh perspective into a department and in many cases have helped to deliver back burner projects - things that have been planned for a while but no-one has had time to do.  Because they've worked as a team, there's also been improved collaboration  across different departments.

All of them had been really surprised at how many people worked in a University, and how many different roles there were - commenting that during their undergraduate course they tend to see only their lecturers and the people they had their assignments in to! I remember I felt the same when I came out of an academic department - I had no idea really what "the Administration" did. Got a better idea now.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Working together

Yesterday the Talent Management Steering Group discussed the recent Sheffield Professional Awards. We had a lot of feedback about the awards and the ceremony itself, as well as some statistics about the staff groups nominated, which departments they came from, and from which grade. Lots of good stuff, and it's great to see Professional staff rewarded for what they do - but lots of things to think about for next year when we run the awards again. Here's a great little video - produced by CiCS of course - about the event.

Today I went to a meeting about a pilot mentoring scheme we are about to launch. Established to break down the barriers between academic and professional service staff,  CAMPUS  will see academic staff mentored by professional service staff, and vice versa. I'm one of the mentors, and am really looking forward to it. It is a divide I have encountered so many times in my career here, but one I truly don't understand.  The "we earn the money and you spend it" divide between academic and professional staff is just so ridiculous, as is the belief that we have nothing to learn from each other. I'm hoping that after this initial pilot we can roll this scheme out across the wider University and recognise that we are all in this together, and that the only way we are going to be successful is if we all understand each other and work together.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

User Group

CiCS User Group today - a chance for us to tell people what we're up to, and get some feedback. I
kicked off with the results of our survey of staff, and what we're doing about what people told us. we've picked eight themes to concentrate on, and you can see them and our action plans here.

We also showed our users what our new mobile apps for accessing our HR and finance system (SAP) will look like.  The interface into the desktop versions of some parts of these systems are complex, but these apps which are especially designed for mobile devices will be much simpler to use. You'll be able to book and approve leave, view your payslip, approve expenses, and eventually many more things, from your smart phone or tablet. We've been piloting them for some time, and we're just waiting for some bugs to be fixed before releasing them.

A rather exciting pilot we're just about to start is the use of iBeacons, (little bluetooth devices) in conjunction with our iSheffield mobile app to do student attendance monitoring in teaching space. The way it works is that as a student enters a teaching space, the iBeacon triggers the app on the student's phone to check if the student has a class running in there. If they do, their attendance is registered.
Ombiel have released an information paper which you can read here.

Another new development is the linking of our lecture capture system to the timetabling system, so we'll be able to record many more lectures. Lots of information about our lecture capture system here.

Finally,  we introduced our user group to the concept of Agile project management which we're now using for all projects where it's appropriate. More information on our projects page.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

New projects and Diamond approaching completion

Service Strategy Board yesterday - had a good discussion about the Bimodal IT presentation we had a couple of weeks ago, and how it might work. It addresses how to deal with core stable services whilst also being able to quickly create innovative solutions. So,what sort of projects could we apply this quick, innovative sort of development to? Also looked at how we might generate ideas, and decide whihc to take forward. I'm really interested in talking to students, getting them to come up with things - and then maybe taking them on to help develop them? It will help when we get our ideas platform up and running again, which hopefully will be in a few weeks.

We also approved a couple of new projects. One to help with managing personal tutoring, and to pont tutors in the direction of student support resources. possible a good candidate for a quick, innovative solution! The other was to enhance our website by providing a facility for users to build and deploy data collection forms in a secure manner. This is being done now in an ad hoc way with various approaches including using Google forms, and using tailored apps so we want to find a better, more secure way of doing it.

Also had our usual look at existing projects, and new things happening. One very exciting thing coming up is the completion of The Diamond - our brand new teaching and learning building. A lot of work for us to do between now and the end of September when it opens. We have the network - wired and wireless - to commission. All of the teaching spaces - including 9 lecture theatres will have state of the art AV in, which also needs commissioning. And on top of that, there are about 900 computers to be delivered, unpacked, connected and imaged.  Not forgetting staff to be appointed and trained, and services to be designed. The building is enormous - and stunning, both inside and outside. The wow factor will not be a problem!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Summer of Student Innovation is here again

The JISC Summer of Student Innovation is with us again. If you're a student with a good idea to improve student life through digital technology, or know of one, and want to win £5000 to help develop it, then submit it here

This year's there's other categories as well -

Supporting technology start-ups
Learner ideas in Further Education
Apprentice-led ideas

Looking forward to judging - over the past couple of years we've had some great projects - you can read about some of them here.