Wednesday 11 May 2016

Be Inspired...

A very special event coming up tomorrow. Inspiration for Life presents the 24 Hour Inspire.  Starting at 5pm on Thursday and running for the full 24 hours till 5pm Friday, there's a fantastic line-up of speakers - physicists, lawyers, linguists, historians, engineers, medics and more - something for everyone!

This year it is raising funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust and Impact Young Heroes, in memory and in celebration of Tim Richardson and Victoria Henshaw. You can pop in and out as you please, or stay for the full 24 hours.

The event is in memory of Tim Richardson, an inspirational physics lecturer, and I've worked at it on two out of the three times its happened. It is a great event - lots of fun, lots to learn, lots of laughs, lots of great speakers. Here's the detailed programme.

There's always a few suprises, and this year we're hoping there'll be an appearance from Dr Frank n Furter about  midnight....

And this year we're running a fringe event - 26 hour radio!  Starting at 3pm there'll be a pop up radio station - a series of staff dropping some vinyl, desert island discs (I'm on at 4pm Thursday) and even a quiz. Tune in here to listen. 

Friday 18 March 2016

A very special Friday morning

On the final Friday of UCISA, we try and line up some excellent keynotes, usually a Gartner Speaker, our Platinum Sponsor, a talk with some fun in it, and a closing keynote. Well, we followed this pattern and it worked perfectly!

Ant Allen from Gartner gave us a good overview of Identity Management and how our strategies are going to have to change. Then Marcus Jewell from Brocade talked to us about the network - probably the only real technical talk from the conference. We've tried to move away from very technical issues to more strategic ones, and this one ticked both boxes as it was a strategic look at a technology. And whats the most important thing we need from any network? Zero downtime, obviously. Talk is here.

Then it was time for the fun. Jamie Anderson trying to get us to think creatively. Lots of interaction, lots of getting us to do things - including drawing a picture of the person we were sitting next to. And a call to do the things that make us more creative - exercise, eat chocolate and have sex. Preferably in the lunch hour.

Watch his talk here, it's brilliant!

And finally, the very last talk of the conference, and the one I've been waiting 30 years to hear. In 1986 John McCarthy, a young british journalist went to Lebanon on a two month posting. When things started to get a bit dangerous, he tried to leave the country, and was kidnapped about 10 minutes away from the airport. He was the same age as me, and I followed the story, as much as you could - there were no mobile phones, no internet, no social media - for the next five years. When he was released 5 years later, like many people, I cried. He has been a hero of mine ever since, for the way he coped with a dreadful ordeal, and dealt with it with such dignity and strength. It was a real honour to meet him, and talk to him over dinner about his 5 years as a hostage. He is a lovely, lovely man. Today he gave a talk to our conference about his time as a hostage, and what he had learned from it. So, so moving. He told the most awful stories, including being wrapped from head to toe in parcel tape and loaded into a metal cylinder under a lorry, and yet still made us laugh. You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium. And virtually no-one moved to tweet.   And he gave me a hug and a kiss, which was a great way to end the conference.

Living the dream

After lunch yesterday we had an excellent talk from David Sweeney, Director (Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange) at HEFCE about the challenges facing Universities. One of the things he drew attention to, was the amount of bad press we've been getting. university news used to be about exciting developments in research, but we are much more likely to make the front pages now with bad news stories. Attacks on free speech, anti-terrorism stories, poor education attainment, you name it, we've been on the front page about it. It was an interesting observation. You can watch what he thought we should do about it here.

Next up were the university showcases. We had two  - Mark Franklin telling stories from a Multi Storey. How we had to do some very clever things with our network when the university wanted to build a multistory car park over land where we had multiple optic fibre network cables. Operation Cut N Hope, as Mark put it.

Our second showcases was Janine Barraclough taking about our hugely successful and award winning My Sustainable Print project  which is saving about £1.6m a year.

Then it was the conference dinner - always a highlight. As conference chair, I'm very lucky that I get to meet and sit with our special guests. This year, I found my between Steph McGovern, our after dinner speaker, and John McCarthy. Talk about an ideal dinnerparty! Of course, we had the obligatory selfies:

Actually I think Steph had selfies taken with almost everyone in the room! She was a brilliant afterdinner speaker - very funny, and had so many tales to tell. She even told us about the latest row
on BBC Breakfast, or sofagate.Quite a colourful speaker as well ;-)

Thursday 17 March 2016

Minecraft, flying solaris boxes and a telling off.

We had some excellent talks this morning. Started with Michael Stephenson from Northumbria University who talked about using cloud services to implement two speed or bimodal IT. He had some nice demos of using Minecraft to prototype services, and even demonstrated a service status page in Minecraft which sent a firework up when there was an outage. He challenged us to think about what 10 year olds will expect from IT when they come to university. Some are already coding in Minecraft. His talk is here.

Next up was Paul Boag who challenged us to think differently about digital transformation. Paul has been to Sheffield to help us set up a digital transformation team, and as usual was lively, fun, and provocative. If you want to see a room full of IT people being told off, watch his talk.
He talked about students as consumers, and how we're all one disgruntled student away from a PR disaster. They all have a voice and will complain loudly about poor service. He chhallenged us to think about whether we're in denial as a sector about how our business model might need to change because of disruptive technologies. A bit like Blockbuster and Kodak were. Too many of us are dabbling in digital transformation and not doing it properly. One organisation which has it right is UCAS who are really embracing it. To be really digital, we need to stop long term planning the Government Digital Service doesn't plan more than 8 months ahead. It was a great talk, and I think his message needs to heard by all senior managers in Universities. Especially his final question - how much do e spent on our digital estate, compared to out physical?
He has a page of resources about digital transformation in HE, which is really useful.

After the break, Simon Moores on cybersecurity - chillingly entitled, "It's not if but when..." You can watch it here. He started by talking about how much stuff runs on old technology. Apparently  planes are just flying solaris boxes. I didn't like flying before.... He talked a lot about risk, and I particularly liked this apparently real question on Quora:

Something that was mentioned a number of times in the conference, is that in terms of cybersecurity, the emphasis is moving away from prevent and protect, to detect and respond. Analysing patterns of behaviour, machine learning, analytics, all important techniques we will have to ue.

Final session this morning was Paul Feldman from JISC talking about the future direction of JISC. JISC provides many services that underpin everything we do - our network Janet, access to publications, and lots of specialist advice and guidance. As the funding model for JISC changes, and we move to an opt-in subscription service, JISC will be working with us to provide the best possible digital services. His talk is here.

Baby can't add up...

Often at a conference I take detailed notes about each session which I put in this blog, but I'm so busy at this one, that I don't think I'll have time to do them all, and most sessions are available on the website anyway. But, I will try and capture a flavour of what is going on!

Second session yesterday was very complimentary to the first. It was from the University of East London, who had given all of their new first years a Samsung Galaxy tablet in 2014. They'd worked with various partners to provide access to eTexts and learning materials, and provided support and guidance to staff and students on how to get the best from them. They were being used in innovative ways by the staff and students, and the project had moved from delivering ebooks to being a learning tool. It started out to improve student satisfaction, and was now about research and evaluation.
You can watch the talk here.

There's always a social programme at UCISA allowing delegates to network with each other, and last night we went to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, where we had a drinks reception in the power hall. IT people and engines - what a good combination.

Then we had a meal next to a working model of Baby, or the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine. the world's first stored program computer, built at Manchester University in 1948. It had a 32 bit word length and a memory of 32 words. It also couldn't add up - it had to do that by negative subtraction!

Wednesday 16 March 2016

California Dreamin'

The conference got underway with an introduction from myself as conference chair, and the chair of the Executive committee. Then the first real session was from Hilary Baker, CIO of California State University Northridge. The University of California system  is huge - 23 campuses, 460,000 students, 47,000 staff and at Northridge there are 41,548 students.

Hilary spoke about how they had used technology to improve student success, which is largely about largely about increasing the graduation rate - trying to get as many students as possible to graduate in 4 years.  They had provided tools to help students plan and manage their degree progress, navigate their university experience and prepare for careers.I'm just going to give a brief outline of some of their other initiatives:

They had developed a very functional app, which had a lot of the standard features such as maps, lecture schedules etc, but they were continuing to add ne things, with extra functionality added every two months. Use it for class schedules, maps etc.  It was tightly integrated with their student system, and could be used for many transactions including updating their details, paying for things, getting thier grades.

Another initiative was myCSUNtablet initiative which aimed to increase student learning and engagement, improve the quality of teaching materials, decrease student cost. Students bought their own iPads, but they were promised that the cost would be lower than cost of buying textbooks.
Used for creating and delivering teaching materials, eTexts.
Learning has gone from passive absorption to active learning.
Students can no longer escape learning. This is one of the slides showing seats in a lecture theatre, after the lecturer has asked a question and the students have had to respond on their ipad.

APPJam, was a competition for students to develop an app, and the winners had their functionlity put into the CSUN mobile app. 56 teams entered this year and the are partnering with their local chamber of commerce equivalent to help students take apps to market.

I particularly  liked their EPortfolio for students to showcase their work. Can add images, link to videos,  - looked a bit like a cross between Linkedin and Facebook.  Provides proof of competencies through examples. Provides a professional online presence for emplyers. Called Portfolium, its worth a look.

Her closing thoughts:
 Need a culture of innovation. But there is a balancing act between innovation and keeping things running. Have to get the basics right before you start innovating.
Innovation is risky, some will fail.
Follow technology trends. Use things like Gartner hype cycles, New Media Consortium Horizon reports. Don't just look at HE.
Select innovative efforts strategically. Consider your campus culture, align with University goals. This is not about IT, but about university initiatives.

Excellent opener, and you can watch the talk here.

Morning set up

Busy morning. First up a briefing for the exhibitors about what to expect from the conference, what sort of issues they might want to talk to us about, and not sitting on their stands reading thei emails and expecting delegates to talk to them.

Then helping to set up the screens for the video posters which were one of the innovations this year. We submitted two - think they looked really good on the big screens.

This yea we had a technology partner, Samsung, who provided some great kit for us - they had mocked up a student bedroom, learning space and lecture theatre using state of the art technology to show what was possible.

And of course, there were 3D virtual reality headsets to play with!

So, with the exhibition looking great, the only thing left for me to do was register, and get ready to open the conference. I think I win the prize for the most name badges...

Tuesday 15 March 2016

UCISA 16 is finally here

Many of you will know that for the last two years I've been chair of the conference organising committee for the main UCISA Conference. Well, the second full conference I've organised is finally here. We arrived in Manchester today to find Manchester Central a hive of activity as the exhibition was being built, boxes unpacked, screens wheeled into position. 

A table full of electronics for the mock up student bedroom and teaching space

And the auditorium looking great

So, all I have to do know is keep my fingers crossed that all the speakers turn up, the food is good, and there are no major disasters. So many people work hard to make the conference a success, I'm sure it will be great!

Thursday 10 March 2016

Nostagia rules...

This week I've been mainly catching up on writing notes from my meetings with Heads of Departments. I started meeting them last summer, but one Faculty, Medicine, Dentistry and Health, was undergoing a restructure, so I decided to with until later to meet them. I've almost completed the meetings, and they've all been very interesting, and extremely positive. A theme coming out of all of them is data - lots of it is being produced. And it all needs storing securely, managing and often publishing.

I've had a great time reminiscing as well. My visit to the head of Neuroscience involved a trip to SITRAN, which is built on the site of the old Genetics department, where I did my degree, PhD and postdoc. Genetics was housed in a prefabricated building (or shed...), but I loved it. There were 11 of us in my year.  That's right, 11. Talk about a close community. Here I am, walking at the side of the building  - duffle coat, double denim, and what looks like a bottle of wine in my hand.  After Genetics merged with Microbiology, Biochemistry and Biotechnology to make the new department of MBB in the 80s and moved to the central campus, some local youths set fire to the building, and it was no more.  But, as I moved through the corridors of SITRAN (which has some amazing facilities), I could still place my lab and workbench. And the spot where I wrecked a £120k ultracentrifuge only a few days after it had been delivered. But that's another story. 

I also got to reminisce when visiting the Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, which is based in the Hallamshire Hospital where I worked for 6 years as Head of Administration in the Faculty of Medicine. I even got to visit the Deans' office, where I used to get called Christine if he was in a good mood, Dr Sexton if he was in a bad mood, and, on one occasion, Ma'am when I knew I was in dead trouble!  Fascinating work going on in this department. They are looking at personalised medicine, and part of this is looking at the gut flora, which is considered to be significant in why we react differently to different drugs, and are susceptible to different diseases.

I do love my job in computing, but I do miss science sometimes!

Friday 4 March 2016

Final Round up from Digitfest

One of the last sessions at Digifest was about data. First off was Euan Adie from Altmetric how data we mine from the web can help research.I'd never heard of altmetrics before, but apparently in scholarly and scientific publishing, altmetrics are non-traditional metrics proposed as an alternative to more traditional citation impact metrics. Basically trawling and searching the web to see how much your research has been mentioned, discussed, tweeted or blogged about. This data can be collected automatically, but human intervention is still needed to but it into context. , but it still needs a human to put it into context - bad papers can get mentioned a lot!

Next was Tony Hey, previously from the eScience initiative talking about data intensive science.
A thousand years ago science was mainly experimental, describing natural phenomena. In the last few hundred years science was theoretical postulating things like Newton's Laws. In the last few daces we have seen the rise of computational science with the simulation of complex phenomena. But today science is data intensive. Scientists are overwhelmed with datasets from multiple sources - generated by instruments, simulations or sensor networks. New skills are needed for analysis and data mining, data visualisation an exploration, and for communication and dissemination.
Genomics and personalised medicine is a huge  growth area, producing vast amounts of data. A recent experiment by the welcome trust looking at genetic markers would have taken 1,000 compute years to complete using a state of the art machine learning algorithm. Using 27,000 compute cores in the cloud, the analysis took 13 days. Just to demonstrate we need new ways of working.

One other highlight from Digifest was a demonstration of  Mi.Mu  gloves. These are gloves designed to create music using complex motion tracking and algorithms linked to  gesture detection and mapping software.

Used by Imogen Heap originally, they are fantastic. There's a great TED talk of Imogen explaining about their origin and how they work here:

There was a great musician demonstrating them at the evening dinner, but I'm afraid I made a complete cock up in recording a video if her, and just got a video of the table instead!  Just watch a bit of the TED talk above to see how amazing they are.

Final thought from Digifest is about spaces. They manage to take a very ordinary exhibition space and create some great spaces for listening to and learning.

Thursday 3 March 2016

Resources for electronic management of assessment

In a session on electronic management of assessment (EMA) this morning, a couple of useful JISC resources were announced. Transforming assessment and feedback with technology provides ideas and resources to enhance the assessment and feedback lifecycle.

The other, Electronic management of assessment in Higher Education: processes and systems, is a guide to to help universities improve business processes and choose information systems to sport assessment and feedback.

The improvement and standardisation of processes was something that came out as a major issue in this talk, and it was often only when an HEI tried to implement EMA that the different processes in departments were uncovered.

Another favourite soundbite from this session "We still assess students by traditional methods including handwriting an essay or an exam. Something they will probably never have to do again in their lives."

Use of digital in learning and teaching

Opening session had 4 speakers talking about different aspects of use of digital technology in learning and teaching.

Opening speaker, Principal of Loughborough college, started with something that resonated with me, as she reminisced about what it was like to be a student in the 70s. No mobile phone, no internet, no google, no PC, no social media. Our only tools were a biro and a single landline for the whole hall.
Now, people are predicting that Within a decade 60% of retail jobs could be done by robots. And many more. 11m people put out of work by machines? Are we moving towards an egg timer economy, only low paid and high paid jobs existing.? But this intelligence is only artificial, will never replace the power of the human brain. So, we must embrace digital and new technologies. We need diverse, agile and on demand approaches to learning. Creative pedagogies, self organised learning, flipped, playful learning, learning from peers - vision for teaching and learning for FE and HE

Next up was the professor of digital learning at Wolverhampton talking about mobile learning. Is it dead? When the phrase mobile learning was coined, about 10 years ago, there were phones, limited smart phones, limited 3G coverage, and no tablets. Mobile learning was e-learning's dream come true. It offered the potential for completely personalised learning to be truly anytime, anywhere. Instead, we've ended up with mobile access to virtual learning environments that are being used as repositories. So, in practice, students reading their notes on the bus. For what went wrong, and some suggestions for the future, read this article about the talk here. It's a good, thoughtful piece.

Next up was Ian Dolphin from Apereo who have a number of open source products including Sakai, Opencast and Xerte. He talked about a conversation which had recently happened in the US about the next generation digital learning environments. There was general agreement that current VLEs are Inflexible, course and teacher centred, don't adapt well to student centred learning New VLEs:
  • Should be easier to integrate other tools
  • Accessibility should be built in
  • Should support collaboration
  • Should support learner analytics
  • Should be more personalisable, for individual learning styles
Most of these issues not new. But more people now discussing them. Technology more scalable now, and better able to integrate and cope with flexibility and plugging in other tools. Obtaining, understanding and using analytics is key for the future of service provision. Learner analytics currently focus on retention but has potential to deliver much more personalised learning, Learning analytics will not replace an educator, but will augment what they can do to aid learning.

Final session was on the importance playful learning. Need to be more creative. Stop teaching students stuff they can teach themselves. Create time in the curriculum for playful learning. And of course, we had balloons!

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Robots, VR and social media

Quick round up of the rest of the day at Digifest. A very packed session from Eric Stoller on the use of social media in education. Lots of interaction, and discussion about how social media can be used to enhance various aspects of the educational experience. These include student engagement, employability (interesting discussion about how we should be encouraging students to build up profiles and endorsements on sites like LinkedIn), critical thinking and Alumni engagement.

Favourite quote of this session- "Social media takes time to learn. We haven't got the hang of email yet."

Then there was a session about engagement with students, and a progress report of the JISC digital student initiative.

Many of us collect feedback about what our students think, but few of us engage students in the development of our digital strategies.

The project has produced a tool to benchmark our student digital practices.
Have also developed a student digital experience tracker. Enables universities to gather evidence from students about their digital experience and track changes over time. Make better informed decisions about the digital environment and better target resources. This is being piloted at the moment,
Couple of examples of digital student engagement:

Harlow college have created a student digital partnership. They have appointed Student Digital ambassadors who do the following:
  • Represent the college in digital focus groups
  • Help in organisation of at least one digital activity
  • Promote use of technology with fellow students
  • Act as role model for good use of technology, eg staying safe.
  • Paired with digital leaders
  • Help in creation of resources
Birmingham City University work collaboratively with students and pay them to work with members of staff to enhance the student experience. Lot of work has been done around improving retention by creating a mentoring programme for first hers using social media.

There's also a lot of technology to play with here, including virtual reality headsets

Fetching aren't they? At least it matched what I was wearing. And of course there's robots, including my favourite, Nao. I want one for the department, I think it would do a lot to enhance our wellbeing!