Thursday, 29 October 2015

Water feature in the IC

Yesterday I got a call to say that there was a flood in the Information Commons Yes, there had been heavy rain, but the University is on the top of a hill so I was a bit bemused....  When I got there I discovered that due to a problem with drainage, water had built up on the flat roof until it had overflowed, and we had what amounted to a waterfall water feature down one of the walls. It was really quite spectacular. I had been called not just because we jointly manage the facility, but because the Duty Manager wanted a standby incident manager. I'm one of the trained IMs for a major University incident, but after some discussion with the duty manager we decided it wasnt an mjor incident, but I would remain on standby and keep a watching brief. We went through our checklistsof who had been informed and needed to be involved - Health and Safety, Insurance, Comms, EFM, Cleaning, Library. And of course us - we needed to check that no equipment had been damaged - we were lucky that only a couple of PCs had been splashed, but we were more worried that water might have gathered under the floor and damaged our network cables. luckily it hadnt'!  The EFM team were great, climbed onto the roof and drained the water away until a drainage company arrived to clear the drains. Only part of the building had to be closed, and after a catch up nmeeting later inthe day, and inspection the following moring it was reopened.

Today we had a conference call with another University who are arranging a major incident simulation and wanted our advice on how to organise it - I think we were able to give them plenty. We've had a lot of practice recently!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Quantity vs quality

In the last couple of days I've had a meeting with our newly appointed Digital Learning leads. A great discussion - we talked about where technology enhanced learning is going, what the coverage is like across our different departments, what barriers there are in adopting TEL, and what the future looks like. We also touched on what makes a Learning Technologist - how are they different from an IT technician. It's very clear to us, but not so clear in departments, where IT support staff are being rebranded as learning technologists, when they have no experience in learning, just the technology. It's important that LTs understand the pedagogy - it's how technology can be used to enhance learning which is important, not just the technology itself.

I also met the Vice-Chancellor for a regular catch up where we discussed a Digital Strategy for the University.

Following that I went to our UEB/HoDS forum where our Executive Board and heads of department meet to discuss different topics. This time we were looking at student recruitment. In particular, what was more important, quantity or quality. Should we take more students, no matter what grades they have, or take only the higher graded students to keep our tarif score up. After a couple of presentations we had a lively discussion on the tables - I'm not sure we came to a conclusive answer though!

Finally today I had a meeting with an IT Director from another Institution. Newly appointed she was keen to catch up with what's happening in the sector, and it was a very useful exchange of ideas.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A testing time..

We take Business Continuity and Incident Management very seriously, and hold a major incident simulation annually. Today we had another - quite scary as usual - and although a group of us were asked to assemble at a particular time with no idea what would happen, we had a suspicion it would be based on a reputation incident rather than a physical one due to the presence of most of our comms team.

So, we arrived, and this was the calm before the storm....

After a short briefing we were off. Thank goodness I wasn't Incident Manager, but part of a standby team - in a separate room, waiting to be called. We were played a short radio clip, supposedly from Radio Sheffield about 4 students being arrested at dawn, supposedly from University accommodation, and not given much more information. NOTE  - THIS WAS A SIMULATION - IT DIDN'T REALLY HAPPEN.  Sorry about the shouting. Apparently simulations have been known to become real incidents when information has leaked and people haven't realised.  As well as the information we were drip fed, we also had a twitter feed to follow. Four members of CiCS had 10 fake twitter accounts with different profiles - students, staff, local resident, journalist etc - and tweeted from them from the duration of the incident. We had the incident team in one room, and the comms team in another. The whole thing was a test of how we would repond to an incident receiveing a lot of media and social media attention, when we had little information. I was late to be called, so I did what I would have done in real life, and stormed in asking what was going on :-)  Then I was asked to step outside (for a breath of fresh air) and was doorstepped by a BBC journalist complete with camera and microphone and had to give a live interview.

Later we had a press conference, with an elected spokesperson and a number of nasty journalists in the audience (including me).

It was very tiring, stressful, enjoyable, interesting - and a great test of how we might cope.  Somethings went really well, others could do with improving, but that's what it was for - to learn from.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


Today I went to a Samsung event in London, Futurescape. We'd been invited because we talking to them about providing some technology support for our next UCISA conference and we wanted to see
the sort of things they could offer. It was a good showcase of their display technology, and they had a number of partners with applications showing how it can be used.

Based on the theme of the mobile workforce, they had mocked up how the technology could be used in an airport, a warehouse, a station, an office.... They'd also got some interesting virtual reality demos.

The presentations focused on the pace of change of technology and the rise of mobile technology at home and at work. Everyone wants and needs a mobile device - and just one. No-one  wants a work one and a personal one, so we're in a world where personal data and mobile payments have to live in harmony with corporate systems and email. apparently 80% of people interviewed in a recent survey said that they couldn't do their job without mobile technology, but only 33% said that the technology they were provided with at work met their need. 29% said that they use their own mobile technology to fill gaps in work technology. Would be interesting to know what the figures would be if Universities were surveyed.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Final talks - funding and student engagement

Some of the other sessions at the Higher and Further Education show included:

A talk from the Director of Finance from HEFCE about how the funding environment has changed. You can see from this slide how the funding distributed by HECE has decreased, and how for the first time in 2015/16 they are distributing more research funding than teaching funding. 

A session from the Chair of AUDE (Association of University Estates Directors) about how we have to deliver more value from our estate. Our estate is very big, and very costly so we have to drive as much value out of it as we can, by using as efficiently as possible, and looking for commercial opportunities.

An excellent talk from our own Deputy Vice Chancellor Shearer West, after only 6 weeks in post, on some of our excellent initiatives in student engagement. These included the  #weareinternational campaign run jointly with our Student Union to raise the profile of what it meant to be a global university which now has over 100 universities supporting it. She also talked about our advanced apprenticeship scheme, SURE which provides research experience for undergraduates, and of course, the concept of the Sheffield Graduate. Good to see the Diamond get a mention too!

The closing keynote was David Willets, the former Minister for Universities and Science on the funding of university education - who benefits from it, and who should pay for it.

All in all an excellent day. I hadn't been to ExCel before - it's huge!  And the show managed to pack a lot of high quality speakers into one day. 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Learning Analytics, a shared service

Interesting session on Learning Analytics from Phil Richard, Chief Innovation Officer at  JISC
Learning analytics is the application of big data techniques such as machine based learning and data mining to help learners and institutions meet their goals. 

Everytime a learner touches something digital, they leave a digital fingerprint. By looking at changes in these, can improve retention, achievement, employability, and help deliver personalised learning

Learning analytics has been requested as a new national shared service by the sector.

This is the proposed architecture. Shared multi tenanted data warehouse at the centre. 

Will be a staff dashboard, and also will present the data back to students through an app.
JISC have been out to tender and filled all slots with commercial partners except student consent service. Going to build that themselves.

The data model is consistent with the HEDIP landscape and HESA data service.

Commercial partners are Unicom, Marist, Blackboard, Tribal, Therapy, Box and HT2. Half are open source.

Staff dashboard will be delivered through Tribal insight. Will show how a student digital fingerprint changes. Eg if a student stops attending lectures, borrowing books, but spending more on thier cashless card at midnight in the bar it might trigger an alarm for some sort of human intervention. Should help with retention, student well being.

Will be an app which feeds back data to the students so for example they can set targets. Can even share targets for a bit of competition.

Are some ethical questions. JISC have produced a code of practice to help with issues such as informed consent.

Also is a guide produced by NUS

Working with universities to build the system which they hope will be running before Christmas

Efficiency and VFM in Universities

Next up is Sir Ian Diamond, who has been leading the efficiency agenda for several years.

HE is one of most important economic sectors, very effective in our contribution to the National Economy. Nice infographic:

Education transforms lives and promotes social cohesion. We are a very effective sector, but have also to be efficient.

In the last five years there have been a number of changes. HE has been focussed on increasing efficiency and value for money. Capital fudging has reduced enormously but investment by Universities has been maintained,The tuition fee value has been eroded in England, efficiency and cost saving is mandated in other parts of the UK, the science and research budget has had a c£600m real term reduction.

We are faced with challenges, but this is not new. We have had to meet efficiency targets over the last 10 years, and these have all been met. For example, over £435m has been saved between 2011 and 2014 in procurement efficiency. Pay growth has been in line with public and private sectors. Huge savings also made in IT ( have they?).

Efficiencies also made in shared services and estates

Gold star to N8 universities who have done magnificent things in equipment sharing

What's the future?

Unprotected departments in government are being told to model cuts of 25% to 40%. BIS is biggest unprotected department. Clear sense that there will be big changes in BIS. 

Areas we need to look at include (all in last Diamond report):
  • Maintaining a high quality workforce.
  • Delivering more value from our university estate. Will be more estate sharing. Need to utilise space better.
  • Deliver a world class and sustainable research base. Need to make a robust case for greater investment in the research base.
  • Harness the benefits of asset sharing.
  • Unlock the value of higher education data. Huge opportunity in open data. Need to facilitate and stimulate greater use of open data.
  • Collaborate! Need more collaboration and sharing of good practice.

It is imperative that we demonstrate what we are doing and evidence our success

UUK, HEFCE RCUK and professional bodies must work together to develop a framework.

The Future of Work

At the ExCel in London today for the Higher and Further Education Show. Lots of top people here from different agencies across the sector, and an interesting mix of sessions.

Opening one is from BT on The Future of Work: How Technology Innovation will transform our working environment. Given by Head of BT's Global Innovation Team. Working on a project on the future of work.

What are the trends influencing the future of work, and how should we be training students to enter this new world of work?

The Ds driving the future of work. 6 trends.

Dilbert. How physical workspaces are transforming . More choice about how and where we work. As a student at University, you don't have a desk. You move around seminar rooms, cafes, libraries. Activity based learning, some companies moving towards this. One size does not fit all. Some people like offices, cubicles some hate it and prefer open plan. Don't need to go into the office, can work from coffee shops, office hubs. Home working is more productive, but tough. People need to be social. Physical environments are big collaboration tools. Need to construct spaces where you can move around and select the environment you need for the task you are doing.

Not going to kill distance, but meeting face to face is becoming a luxury. Using FaceTime, Skype etc we are becoming more comfortable collaborating by video. But, some people don't like it. Voice is a good collaboration tool. But until recently it has been hard work to have multiple people on a conference call. BT has teamed up with Dolby to improve the sound. High definition sound, different voices separated in space, noise cancellation for heavy breathers! Improves engagement. But our inner Neanderthal needs to meet and form our tribes. Engage in augmented reality or virtual reality? Psychology is as important as the technology.

Dr No.
Consumerisation. Bring your own apps, hardware, software. IT dept don't like it. Say No. Of course this is changing. Need to take account of security etc, but accept it.

Dolly. (Parton, obviously)
From 9 to 5. This trend is dying, often we work in global companies. And we now blur work, home life. Constantly connected. Are we more productive? Need to handle work life balance

One of most interesting trends in workspace. We are culturally diverse. Gender diversity is important, especially in STEM subjects. Age diversity. For first time ever we have 5 generations in the workforce. We are living longer. Will need more education, skills will change over the period of work. Flexible working will become more important. Retaining staff, especially younger ones will be a challenge. Different age groups will have different expectations of work, and of the technology they use. Collaboration is increasingly a key skill. Technology for collaboration has changed, younger people share a lot more, possibly over sharing, happy with use of social media and chat. Older generations deeply suspicious of use of social media at work. They use email, which is a terrible collaboration tool! Some companies ban internal email. Danger is that we have little islands of people talking to each other. Leaders have to set the scene and become more social, it's all about networking. Good leaders are connectors.
You don't get innovation without diversity.

A lot of the things we assumed automation would never be able to do, they are starting to do eg language translation, driving a car, IBM Watson won jeopardy! Internet of things, smart cities all emerging. Are privacy and security implications for all of the data being collected. But, jobs will be automated out. Always happened eg printing press. typing pool. Taxi drivers probably doomed, either by Uber or self driving car.
We're seeing the rise of the assetless company. Instagram only had 13 employees when it was sold to Facebook for $1bn and had 30m users. Uber has 160000 drivers but doesn't own a car.
Robots may be able to out-diagnose a GP, but can't care.

We will need to educate people throughout their career. Will need flexibility and different types of education. We will be short of high skilled workers and too many low skilled ones. So need to upskill.
Sort of skills we will need are
Some traditional
Personal Carers
Hairdressers, for women at least:-)
Some new ones
Virtual personality designers
Climate change engineers
Data scientists
Lifestyle auditor
Body part designers
DNA programmers

Interesting talk, especially around the age diversity in the workplace.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Round up....

After the excitement of the Diamond opening, the week went a bit downhill as I became strikes with a lurgy, commonly known as Freshers Flu. And yes, I know it's not flu, and it probably doesn't come from Freshers, but hey, it's just a name :-).

Managed to make my first meeting of the Board of Trustees of Inspiration for Life. I was honoroured to be asked to join this board of a charitable trust set up to celebrate the life of Tim Richardson, a Physics lecturer who died of cancer in 2013. Some of the readers of this blog might remember posts about the 24 hour lecture which is held every year to remember him and raise money for charitable causes.

Also this week I went to a strategic liaison meeting with the Faculty of Science, and had another meeting with a head of department. I've almost got to the end of my road trip this summer visiting every HoD, and it's been an extremely interesting and valuable exercise and one I will try and repeat.

On Thursday evening I went to a dinner with members of the Board of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable development . This is a collaboration between the University and the Grantham Foundation to conduct research into sustainibilty, you can read more about it through the link above. Also at the dinner where some of the researchers, and we had a number of presentations and demonstrations of things they were researching into. My favourite of course was the drone, which is used for surveying crops. Unfortunately due to health and safety reasons, it could only hover, and not fly over the audience.

A very entertaining evening, and a great demonstration of the research we are doing into sustainibilty.

Off for a week now, back soon.