A change in approach to educational technology projects for a bursary winner

Matt Goral
Educational Technologist
City, University of London

Media and Learning 2018 Conference – Leuven

It’s been several months since I attended the Media and Learning conference in Leuven, courtesy of a UCISA bursary. Whilst I was very inspired by the cutting edge projects with 360 video and interactive video, and would love to do something similar, it was the less visible threads that I noticed running through the discussions that had the biggest impact on me and the projects that I’ve been involved with since I came back from the conference.

Pre-production and handover

The importance of pre-production and planning were mentioned by a lot of people during the conference, but in a rather understated way I felt. It was acknowledged as something that we all know is important and should be done, but something which is rarely the focus of presentations. Lots of sharing of successes, sometimes of failures or obstacles, but almost never any detailed discussion of the planning stage, what documentation is important, how to ensure pedagogical effectives at the point of delivery.
I recently completed a large project that resulted in about an hour of footage and took over three months to finish. The direction and scope changed a few times, there were technical problems and decisions which we couldn’t anticipate, illness and holidays meant people were unavailable and dates slipped, etc. Normal project stuff. Without planning we would have struggled a lot of course, and location scouting, shooting cut-aways, sharing of interview questions beforehand was essential. However, it was only when some project members got ill I realised a lot of the editing, design and implementation decisions, were not written down anywhere and made handover impossible. I have made recommendations to our Project Office for such fail-safes to be included during pre-production on critical projects, so that in case of project members being unavailable, someone with similar skills could pick up the project.

Presence and presentation

The other idea I still think about months after the conference is the fact that presentation is a skill and that some people are more “watchable” than others. It seems obvious but has some implications which changed the way I approach video shoots.
The most important consideration is that not every video needs to have the presenter visible if they are not comfortable with appearing on screen. Screencasts, animations, podcasts, etc., are all great options if it is not possible to have the expert appear in person. Furthermore, studio setups with lots of hot lights, hanging microphones and multiple people can intimidate people. The results whilst maybe having perfect light, will be found lacking. Lots of people who ask for video, imagine themselves talking to camera from a teleprompter both of which are hard things to do and require lots of practice, not realising that a much simpler approach could be potentially more effective.
Keeping this in mind, I started to make decisions about how to approach projects by thinking about the subject matter and the skills and personality of the participant first, rather than pushing for best quality every time. It also made me behave differently when filming, where I try to make the person feel as comfortable as possible at the expense of ideal setup. The results have been very positive so far with people being pleasantly surprised by the experience even if they were dreading it to begin with.
Those two ideas have greatly influenced the way I approach projects nowadays. Whilst seeing finished projects and innovative ideas has been inspiring, often it is difficult to implement projects we’ve seen at conferences immediately. There isn’t always someone who would be interested in using 360 video in their module, for example, and pushing for it can lead to the medium not fitting the message and using new tech for the sake of it. For me the most valuable aspect of this conference were the ideas about planning and setup, rather than specific tech. In the future I will be looking out for similar threads.
Thanks again to UCISA for not only making it possible for me to keep developing my practice, but also as a result of attending the event, my conference reflections are being fed into a review of video and multimedia at City.
My blogs from the conference as a whole can be found here.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

How technological change is shaped by people

Karl Luke
Business Change Officer, University IT
Cardiff University

ALTC 2018 conference reflections

Thanks to the UCISA 2018 bursary scheme, I recently attended the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Conference 2018 in Manchester.
This post shares some themes and highlights from the conference, together with emerging ideas I am keen to take forward at Cardiff University.

Technological change is… inevitable

A common topic throughout the three day conference concerned technological transformation and how change is managed by organisations, divisions and individuals. In the keynote address on Day Two, Amber Thomas (Head of Academic Technology, University of Warwick) fascinatingly reflected on her personal and professional experiences of using educational technologies over the past two decades. You can read a summary on her blog: Fragments of Amber.
Amber highlighted that throughout history there have been many examples of disruptive technologies and offered parallels to some initiatives involving education (use of virtual learning environments, lecture capture). However, as Amber stressed, change takes time and is not about the technology, but the people. This chimes with my experiences as Business Change Officer at Cardiff University and reinforces the importance that Learning Technologists, and others involved in implementing learning technologies, need to carefully prepare and manage the “people side of change”.
Related to the topic of change management, Jessica Gramp and Tim Neumann offered a captivating insight into how UCL developed, implemented and reinforced an e-learning strategy. Their presentation is available here and highlights some key areas that need to be considered for successful adoption of a change. In supporting a change, the presentation stresses the importance of communities of practice. Intriguingly, UCL have established a Teaching Administrator (TA) Network, whose membership include staff who make a significant contribution to the student experience. The presentation highlighted many helpful change management strategies and I have obtained lots of ideas which I am keen to explore at Cardiff University.

Lecture recording is a popular topic

During the conference I presented on my experiences of working in partnership with students to research how lecture recordings are used by learners.  I have previously written about this subject here and my ALT-C presentation can be viewed here.

The area of lecture capture appears to be a current institutional priority for many UK HE institutions. During the conference I also attended five separate sessions devoted to the subject of lecture recording and capturing educational activities. These included:
Many of the themes arising from the sessions have been documented in Martin Weller’s excellent blog post here. However, any discussions around lecture recording cannot escape the obvious questioning around pedagogical value and possible negative effects on physical attendance. It is therefore essential that those involved in the implementation of technologies, such as lecture capture, maintain critical engagement with emergent case studies and original research. There were plenty of rich case studies presented in the ALT-C sessions and some compelling research which advances discussions. For example, Stuart Phillipson presented data from Manchester University which demonstrates no correlation between the introduction of lecture capture provision and actual occupancy of teaching rooms (using data on room occupancy between 2007 and 2016). You can watch Stuart’s talk here and read more here.
However, lecture recording is a contested area. As Tressie MacMillan Cottom’s keynote from Day One proclaimed, “context matters”. The arena of educational technologies is messy, and Tressie reminded us technological tools are non-neutral; they are socially shaped and negotiated by a range of actors and interests “both in their construction and procurement and in their realization and use in practice” (Selwyn & Facer 2013 p.10). As such, technologies should also be considered in a social, political and commercial light. Moreover, both the domains of “education” and “technology” are intrinsically linked with the social, cultural, economic and political aspects of society.
In the case of lecture recording, context does indeed “matter”. Melissa Highton discussed how recent employment and political issues have manifested itself within the implementation and adoption of widespread lecture recording. Learning technologies do not exist in a vacuum and we have a responsibility to critically unpack the assumptions embodied in technologies and their use.

Reflections on the role of a Learning Technologist

The event was full of insightful sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and the opportunities to network with professionals involved in using technologies to enhance teaching and learning. There are emerging opportunities for collaborations with other institutions on the subject of lecture recordings, arising from my involvement at the conference. In particular, it was great to connect with fellow UCISA bursary recipient, Marieke Guy. Marieke has written a great reflection of the conference here.
I also have left reflecting on my professional role as both a Change Officer and Learning Technologist. Technology should be viewed in terms of the “process and practices” that unpin the availability and affordances of devices, systems, software etc. Technologies can be the impetus for transformative change; helping human endeavour, agency and progress human activity. Technology should be used to enable us to explore otherwise impossible tasks, or do them more efficiently, however this is not always the case in practice. As mentioned, it is important those involved in implementing or supporting the adoption of learning technologies consider the human side of change.
Moreover, we occupy a unique position within institutions whereby we are not easily pigeon-holed. I could easily relate to Amber Thomas’ reflections that Learning Technologists suffer from imposter syndrome and we operate across many overlapping divisions. However, as Amber argues, we are increasingly occupying roles where we have to balance priorities between embedding technological practices which not only offer pedagogical value, but also offer scalability, sustainability, institutional benefits, and align to strategies and polices.

Amber Thomas ALT-C presentation available at: https://youtu.be/XOPkC311rvY
Finally, there was also personal celebration as I was awarded my CMALT certificate during the conference. If you want to know more about CMALT please read this post.

For further insights into the content of the conference search of #altc on Twitter
Reference
Selwyn, N., & Facer, K. (Eds.) (2013) The politics of education and technology: Conflicts, controversies, and connections Palgrave Macmillan
This blog first appeared in the Cardiff University Learning Technology blog
This blog is also available in Welsh: Myfyrdodau ynghylch Cynhadledd ALTc 2018

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Making a difference in education beyond technology at DigPedLab 2018

Marcus Elliott
Digital Practice Adviser
Nottingham Trent University

 

 

Digital Pedagogy Lab 2018

In July 2018, I travelled out to the USA with the generous funding of UCISA to attend the Digital Pedagogy Lab 2018 (DPL18). This blog post will be some of my reflections about what I took part in, learned, and applied.

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Bursary winner given Cardiff University ‘Outstanding Contribution Award’

Rhiannon Gillespie
Service Desk Advisor
Cardiff University

 

 

CISCO Live conference reflections

In June 2018 I was lucky enough to receive the UCISA bursary to go to the CISCO Live conference in Orlando, Florida. The conference brought together thousands of IT network professionals from all over the world to learn and discover new technologies. Five months later I have been reflecting on the benefits of the bursary and the conference.
As an individual it has helped me grow as a person as well as with my work. My main aim was to attend the ‘CISCO Empowered Women’s Network’ track and in doing so it has helped, especially with regards to my work. I always felt like I wasn’t allowed to fail and because of this I often didn’t try new things. The opportunity the bursary provided enabled me to push myself and when I returned to work I started a secondment in the network team. I felt far more confident in my abilities and it reflected in my work. I wrote about the ‘CISCO Empowered Women’s Network’ track in my UCISA blog.
I shared a lot of what I had learnt with my colleagues in the network team and my original team, the IT service desk, on my return from the conference. I discussed various new products that I had hands on experience with in the ‘World of Solutions’ and discussed future CISCO innovations and products that would be of use to our team. I am also looking at sharing what I learnt in a Q&A session at our university IT staff conference in January.
Everything I learnt has helped with my work and as a result I was nominated for and won an ‘Outstanding Contribution Award’ at Cardiff University.
Following on from my experience of the bursary, I recently contributed to a session about potential future UCISA bursary schemes. I would encourage anyone to apply for the bursary, you learn so much and it gives a massive sense of achievement both in getting the bursary and then attending a conference you would have not been able to attend otherwise. It also really does make a difference to your personal and work life.
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Communities matter

Marieke Guy
Learning Technologist
Royal Agricultural University

ALTC 2018

Any conference attendee will know that the real value lies in networking. The ALT community are a very friendly bunch and I met some great people at ALTC. Special mention goes to my UCISA bursary buddy Karl Luke from the Cardiff University. We definitely bonded through our bursary.
In the lightening talk session I presented my ‘From little acorns’ poster on my experience of being a one-person Learning Tech team at the RAU institution. I had lots of positive feedback on the work we are doing and requests to link up when back in the South West.
Presenting my poster – photo by Jenny Crow, University of Glasgow

 

 

 

 

I’m not alone though. I took inspiration from an earlier talk by Michael Egan from the Northern School of Art who offered some great tips in his talk ‘Witchcraft to Wonder’ on how you can win hearts and minds:
  • learn the academic calendar
  • show don’t tell
  • be the person people want to see rather than the one they run away from
  • consider ‘nudge’ strategies.
Here’s hoping we get lots more Learning Technologists visiting us at RAU before next year’s event.
I had a great conference and want to say a big thanks to UCISA for allowing me to attend!

Networking
This blog first appeared in the ‘Digital Transformation at RAU’ blog.
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

International lessons in applying continuous improvement

Leah March
Process Improvement Facilitator
University of Sheffield

 

 

Lean HE 2018 Conference

I recently returned from the beautiful Tromsø where I attended the Lean HE 2018 Conference, thanks to being one of the very lucky beneficiaries of the UCISA bursary scheme. It was a brilliant week with many informative, interesting and applicable sessions.
The sessions included key notes from Niklas Modig, researcher, Center for Innovation and Operations Management, Stockholm School of Economics (author of ‘This is Lean’ about ‘How to generate change and engagement’) and Tove Dahl, Professor at UiT the Arctic University of Norway, on courage and the importance of inspiring and rewarding courage throughout change activities. The following sessions covered many topics including: incorporating visual management into everyday working, games to encourage idea generation, using institutional risk to drive change and inspiring Lean at the leadership level and within teams, to list but a few. Myself and Mark Boswell form Middlesex University will be drawing together a guide over the next couple of weeks with links and descriptions about the key tools shared, useful software used and signposting to details about next year’s conference.
There was lots of learning to take-away, particularly the similarities around the current
situation/climate/ issues many of the delegates institutions from across the world were facing. These related to difficulties finding operational staff the time to engage in change activities, uncertainty about what the future might hold in relation to funding, student numbers and student expectations and the high level of change occurring within their organisations. I found meeting delegates from other institutions and discussing how they are applying continuous improvement and overcoming obstacles in their institution a really valuable part of the conference.
Key learning points from the conference:
  • There is a huge support network within HE both UK based and across Europe, Australia and the Americas, reaching out to this network can provide you with great insights, reassurance and ideas about how to optimise your work.
  • Senior management support is crucial in driving continuous improvement within organisations and getting buy-in from senior leaders should be a key priority
  • We need to put customers at the heart of the changes and improvements we drive, on both an institutional and team level
  • Many organisations are embracing a multi-methodology approach (combining lean, service design, continuous improvement etc.) but all at maintain, at their heart, the importance of respect for people
  • It takes courage to drive and embrace change and this courage needs to be recognised and rewarded
  • As well as reaching out to colleagues within the sector we can also learn a lot by adopting open process innovation. Looking towards other industries for ideas and best practice.
  • Stories can be used as powerful tools to encourage analytical thinking in a ‘safe’ way.    
I would like to say a huge thank you to the Lean HE Europe committee and of course, to the team at The Arctic University of Norway for organising such a brilliant conference. Everyone I spoke to remarked on the wonderful and open atmosphere and interesting and engaging topics.
I would also like to say a huge thank you to the UCISA bursary scheme for enabling me to attend and learn so much and to the UCISA PCMG community for their support and interest.
Next steps, myself and Mark will share our summary guide to the conference and key tools shared, and Mark will be blogging about his conference experience and key take home points.

Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Open scholarship challenges

Alice Gibson
Research Publications Officer
Library & Archives Service
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Post-conference reflections on FORCE2018

Introduction

Further to my post ‘Planning to get the most out of FORCE2018‘, written before attending the conference through a UCISA bursary, I have been back from Montreal for over a fortnight now and have had time to reflect on the key points I have learned from the experience, as well as how I wish to integrate this into my professional work moving forwards.
I participated in a publisher-led conversation about what support we might want to see from them regarding open access books and was encouraged to submit a poster at the conference, which I found to be a beneficial experience. Standing by this during the poster sessions led to several engaging discussions with people from across the open scholarship environment, from a lawyer, a fellow researcher, librarians and publishers. I found it encouraging that people with a variety of outlooks, coming from a variety of professional backgrounds and personal interests, could also appreciate the positivity of Creative Commons licences and consider the ways in which their use can be extended beyond academia, in addition to across the research and teaching process.
In my previous write-up, I said I was particularly looking forward to Asura Enkhbayar’s presentation linking Wittgenstein and scholarly communications. I found this humorous and insightful, and it was great to see it appreciated by a room full of enthusiastic attendees on the first session of the first official day.

Asura Enkhbayar presenting ‘Throwing away the ladder. Wittgenstein’s philosophy and and scholarly communication’

Central Themes

Over the course of the workshops and presentations (from October 10-12, 2018), I was struck by the proportion of the challenges that were discussed in an international setting that are the same as those that we face in the UK. This convinced me that the move towards open scholarship is a global challenge that we must tackle from both local and international settings.
What follows is a brief summary, in which I seek to highlight my conviction that the academic reward structure must be revisited as a matter of priority to ensure that the effect of associated procedures are not detrimental to the progression of open scholarship or the mental wellbeing of academics. The failure to protect either of these is also the failure to ensure the flourishing of the pursuit of knowledge in our societies. It seems to me that one constructive way we might confront such a challenge is by doubling down on our efforts to further existing commitment for essential initiatives like the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).

Open Access and Academic Reward and Recognition Policies

A theme that struck me throughout the conference was the need to ensure that mission statements of institutions and reward procedures align with initiatives prioritising open research.
Erin McKiernan’s excellent presentation demonstrated the extent of the disparity between academic promotion procedures and open research. I was alarmed by the results, which showed that words that appeared regularly within tenure review documents include ‘public’, ‘community’, ‘public engagement’ and ‘community engagement’, all of which have close affiliations with open research, whilst only 5% of analysed documents directly mention ‘open access’. Moreover, when such documents mentioned ‘open access’, they often did so with neutral or even negative connotations. This highlighted to me that the challenges we face in Europe are shared by institutions in North America, and most likely, also elsewhere. It consequently convinced me of the need to direct extensive efforts in this area, particularly towards encouraging a culture shift in those who are empowered to revise reward procedures.

Erin McKiernan presenting ‘A look at public engagement, publication outputs and metrics in the tenure review process’
We ought to combine this ongoing effort with those that guide researchers who are earlier on in their careers, who are most receptive to adopting good practice, which can have a ripple effect, informing the practice of their colleagues. As such, Dominique Roche’s presentation ‘Open data: nice people can’t share!’ (summarised in his poster to the left) touched upon a welcome topic by examining why researchers might be hesitant to share their work. An understanding of this can help drive a culture change that works from the ground up.

San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)

Returning to the findings of Erin McKiernan’s presentation, these led me to consider a theme that emerged at an open access meeting in London (known as the ‘London Open Access Network’, or ‘LOAN’ meeting) the week prior to the conference.
At this meeting, a colleague shared thoughts on an event that took place in September, ‘Mapping the Future of Research Assessment’ at Imperial College London. This event (#ImperialDora) associated the theme of review procedures with the need to consecrate the ethos of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) (of which London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a signatory) with institutional policies. Many stakeholders are working to improve good practice within this area, striving to promote real change in research assessment, but challenges remain. The Imperial College event highlighted, as outlined in Elizabeth Gadd’s post on the LSE Impact Blog, the need to ensure that such practices are not in conflict with the necessity to protect and foster mental health within Higher Education environments, amongst staff and students alike. This seems to me an area that we at LSHTM, a School that underlined our commitment to tackling stigma surrounding mental health by signing the Time to Change Employer’s Pledge, have to take seriously.

LSHTM Open Access Week – Screening ‘Paywall the Movie’

One event that LSHTM ran for our open access month series was a screening of the movie ‘Paywall: the Business of Scholarship’ (in which many attendees of FORCE2018 are featured!). In the post-screening discussion, one member of staff noted the continued and problematic use of impact factors in review procedures. This prompted an interesting discussion within the room similar to that which took place during many of the presentations at FORCE2018, notably, during the questions after Elisabeth Shook’s presentation ‘Thanks, Sci-Hub!’.
This too convinced me of the global commonality of such issues within Higher Education. The theme of impact factors (created by Eugene Garfield for selecting journals to include in the Science Citation Index in the 1960s,) which are no longer deemed credible, was examined in another engaging session at FORCE2018 by the bibliometrician Stefanie Haustein, who ran a metrics literacy quiz on Twitter during her talk. Within her talk, Stefanie highlighted that the impact factor is mentioned by one fifth of Canadian and US universities in review, tenure and promotion documents, despite having widely been recognised to cause harm to scholarly communication by causing ‘salami publishing’, ‘citation cartels’ and fostering a problematic ‘publish or perish’ mentality.
Overall, the event reminded me of the shared work that we have to do as a community concerned with open scholarship. It left me feeling lucky to reside in London (although Montreal was beautiful to see in the Autumn!) where participating in such a community can occur with relative ease thanks to networks like ‘LOAN’ bringing together workers promoting open research in various institutions. In the meantime, I would encourage individual researchers and organisations to read and sign DORA and express these values when they hear of the use of impact factors to make unjustified claims for the quality of research.
This blog first appeared in the LSHTM Library & Archives Services blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

What is content management, and how do we support it?

James Cox
Customer Success Analyst – Web CMS
University of Oxford

Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) 2018

This summer, with the aid of the UCISA bursary scheme, I attended the Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) in York. This was my first conference since I started working in HE Digital 16 months ago, when I became part of an in-house software development team in the University of Oxford’s central IT services department.
My team built and develops a University-wide platform which comprises two distinct elements: a ‘toolkit’ to build and host websites; and a service, which responds to queries which users have raised, and provides a set of resources for users, such as live demos, documentation, and how-to guides. Ultimately, our team provides a potential solution to anyone in the university who needs to quickly create engaging web content and to make their administration of their website as painless as possible. No small task when you’re serving a highly-devolved organisation containing a wide array of use cases and user needs!

IWMW17 Ruth Mason, Matthew Castle by Kevin Mears is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
I have the reassuringly positive title of Customer Success Analyst, which situates me somewhere between the developers and business analysts – both of whom work with project partners to move the toolkit forward – and our users, who so far in the platform’s short life (the full service became operational two days after I joined the team) have created almost every kind of website a university could expect to host: from individual academic and research group sites to new web presences for academic faculties and museums.
As a customer-facing person in a technical team, I get to see both sides of the software creation and usage coin. And, as someone new to web management in HE and working on a relatively new service, I’d like to know what challenges similarly-positioned professionals are facing. As a result, IWMW seemed like a convivial space where HE Digital folk could share their experiences wrestling with similar considerations, such as supporting the creation of engaging, on-message content within their organisations, and how to make a technical solution like a CMS useful and usable to people whose day-to-day work includes only peripheral technical engagement with systems.
So, what struck me most from my first conference since working in this new sector? Which messages resonated strongest with me? And what lessons have I tried to put into my work in the four months since?

It was my first conference whilst working in HE Digital; what struck me most?

The balance between content-focused talks and ones centring on the technical parts of institutional web management differed to what I anticipated. Although the technical and management side of maintaining web services within HE was touched upon, there was a strong emphasis on content, and how to create it in a way that strengthens an institution’s brand and ultimately establishes a space for an audience to identify with it – as showcased by this promotional video for ETH Zürich, mentioned in a talk by Dave Musson. Reflecting on this during the conference, it seemed that one reason for this balance might be that technical offerings available to universities now often mean turning to SaaS solutions, which bring with them a reduced need for in-house technical expertise – allowing for greater resource allocation to the parts of web management where demand is now greatest: content and user experience.

Which talks did I enjoy and which prompted some lightbulb moments?

Telling the Birkbeck story: How customer journey mapping helped us develop our new approach to web

  • Brand identity through customer journey mapping: I enjoyed the unpacking of customer journey mapping and how it was used to design the UX of Birkbeck’s new website, and how this approach was undertaken as a foundation in promoting the Birkbeck brand: beginning with understanding the brand you have, and importantly “how your brand is no longer what you say it is, but what your users say it is”. This means you better give them a good experience or else you’re going they’re going to tell you about it – most likely through the amplification of social media.

Old school corporate identity: Blackbeard’s brand promise.
Reproduced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pirate_Flag_of_Blackbeard_(Edward_Teach).svg, CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
  • Mapping customer journeys and where the experience can be improved: The mapping process was presented in detail (key events and stages in the journeys; user feelings; touchpoints, friction, opportunities for improvement), which resonated with work that our team is currently going through, working with our administrative division.
  • Guidelines for the design process: Birkbeck adopted five design guidelines: simplify and clear clutter; push content up within the navigation and reduce user steps; connect content and surface related content on every page; flatten navigation hierarchy; don’t be afraid of long pages. Presenting good web design and information architecture practice is central to our team’s work so it’s interesting to see another institution’s take on what principles to follow.

Understanding invisible labour: University of Greenwich

  • Think about the cost of the ‘invisible’ work: A huge amount of time is lost during task switching. A Microsoft study of one of its development teams and the effect of task switching found an average increase in the time to complete a task of 226%. Think about the process a user has to undertake to complete a task using the system you support. How many steps are there? How many times does the user encounter ambiguities or increases in cognitive load, where they need to make a decision which could result in an error being made? How likely is a support request going to be raised under these circumstances? Can a change to something within the service remove this problem for the user and reduce the support load?
  • Learn the art of nudging: some users won’t jump; you need to give them a gentle push. Make tutorials (good documentation, videos, how-to docs) so users can easily engage with the system you are supporting but they need to operate. Turn it into a user experience exercise – ‘how would I have wanted to learn about that?’
  • Manage how users interact with your system: provide the basic config options and hide the rest. There is often a lot of advanced functionality in CMSs – features the average content editor isn’t likely to need. Keeping them all on display is at best confusing for users who will never need these features and at worst can result in the web-equivalent of ‘Leeroy Jenkins’, i.e. an editor clicking on the option which makes a major adverse change to the site – our team learnt that this is a thing last week, when a new content editor unfamiliar with the editing options deleted their organisation’s homepage. As a result, we’re going to make a change to prevent homepages from being deleted.
HE Digital is a small community and IWMW does an amazing job of bringing together web management professionals into a supportive community to share experiences and lessons learned. Head over to the IWMW website to see some videos of the plenary talks this year.

Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Improving focus and productivity with GitKraken and GloBoard

Annet Soos
Senior Web Developer
City, University of London

 

 

Discovering new software development tools at DeveloperWeek 2018, New York

Web development is a constantly evolving discipline. Keeping up to date with current trends and technologies is mandatory and with the help of the UCISA bursary programme, I was able to attend the DeveloperWeek Conference in Brooklyn, New York City. This conference included an expo, a hackathon for seven different challenges, five stages, and company representatives from Silicon Valley, and Japan. I also met developers from around the world, learnt agile team management techniques from people on C-board level, and discovered the latest tools available to improve my own personal and team’s development.
Attending this two-day event has been hugely beneficial for me and I’ve so far shared my new-found knowledge with colleagues and the developer community in London. For example: there are two tools that I came across, which I found exceptionally useful: GitKraken for version control and GloBoard for collaboration. I have integrated them into my team’s workload at City, University of London and noticed the improvement in my team’s focus and productivity.

Why version control?

When multiple developers are working on the same codebase, code-conflicts can happen, bugs can be introduced, wrong files may be accidentally deleted. Version control can help teams to retrieve earlier versions of their working source code.
By using Git as your distributed version control system, you can cover the following areas:
  • Collaboration by allowing developers to work on multiple versions of the same codebase simultaneously
  • Reviewable and restorable previous versions of the same code
  • Test alternative features before production release
  • Back up your code to a remote server.
There are several platforms to make Git work with a web interface and amongst them Github is the web community’s favourite. In 2018, it has 28 million users and 56 million repositories. Github also offers you free public repository hosting, access management, editing tools, issue tracking and more.

What does GitKraken offer?

GitKraken by Axosoft is a Git-client software that has a fun look and its intuitive user interface helps developers and non-developers equally, to understand what is happening with the source code.
As Bruce Bullis, Senior Engineering Manager of Adobe Pro Video Integration, states “software with a personality, makes you want to use it”.
The Web team at City, University of London have started to use GitKraken and have noticed the positive results. Personally, this new tool has helped me to track progress of different feature branches and it saves me time by allowing me to resume back to earlier versions, without looking for abstract commit numbers. It also makes on-boarding quicker, as I have noticed with new developers, who do not know how to use the command line, can start contributing to the codebase straight away and allows them to concentrate on the important work at hand.

Improving collaboration with GloBoard

Axosoft has another product called GloBoard. It is the extension of Gitkraken and it introduces source code workflow by allowing Git-issue synchronisation with their Git-client. My team started to use GloBoard as a scrum board, where we organise our backlog cards into designated columns. It is very similar to how Trello cards work. The benefit of using one integrated system, is that it reduces time loss and there is no context change. Once you make a Git-commit and finish a task, you can move the designated card from the progress queue to a finished status instantly, without logging into a different system.

At the time of the conference this software was not fully developed, and it was very exciting to talk about the product with Axosoft’s founder, Hamid Shojaee.

What is next

CodeStream team at DevelopWeek, NYC 2018

There were lots of other great ideas, for example:
  • code chat and documentation from CodeStream;
  • developer recruitment applications from Codility.
These tools are still in the testing phase in our team but hopefully in the near future, they will make our team’s life easier. We are continuously looking to test and innovate our workflow.
Being on this conference has allowed me to talk to entrepreneurs like Hamid, who are creating these innovative tools. Giving early feedback on beta versions of products makes me feel part of the development project. It was truly a fantastic experience to be part of it.
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

We are all human

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

Reflections on mental health from this summer’s conferences

Our users are humans, and so are we.

Inspired by some of the heartbreaking, challenging and thought-provoking stories I read on World Mental Health Day, here’s a breakdown of one of the themes that emerged from the conferences I attended this summer: UX Scotland, IWMW  and UX Week (the latter funded by a UCISA bursary).
These were my takeaways from the talks, case studies and throw-away lines that tugged at my heartstrings, and reminded me that before we can truly take care of our users, we need to take care of ourselves, and each other.

From Kevin Mears’ sketchnote for ‘10 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier (In My Career)’

Know yourself and own it

“Introverts are ace​”

Half way through opening IWMW with her talk ‘10 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier (In My Career)’, blew me away. Her voice cracking, she confessed to just how difficult and uncomfortable it was for her to stand up in front of us and talk. But here she was doing it anyway, and she’d done it hundreds of times before.
Her experiences were so much like mine it was uncanny: she’d faced crippling social anxiety, low self-esteem and depression; she was convinced there was something fundamentally wrong with her, and embarrassed by that, so the whole thing became self-perpetuating. She’d rarely dare speak up in meetings, so how did she transform herself into an articulate public speaker, and become Head of Digital then Head of Marketing?
The answer: someone believed in her enough to send her on a leadership course, where she learned from a speaker she respected and admired that he also struggled with nerves every time: turns out his distinctive relaxed-but-confident pose was actually his way of dealing with the discomfort and getting through his talks.
Alison took this revelation as evidence that, while it wouldn’t get easier, she too could find ways to put herself across clearly and inspire an audience. That self-belief led her to success.
I took three lessons from this:
  1. Believe in your introverted colleagues: shy-and-quiet doesn’t mean nothing-to-say.
  2. There’s value in being able to recognise yourself in others you admire and are inspired by, so look for it and be open to it.
  3. There’s value in openness: share your struggles and you will inspire others.
“For those of you that are introverts, I’ll not see you in the bar later!”

“Humans are cursed with human brains”

When stress overloads the human brain, it can become “deeply focussed, to the point of distraction” and reverts to pattern-seeking behaviour, as Laura E. Hall  explained in her UX Week talk on ‘Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond’ (which I briefly covered).
As designers, if we observe our users enough we can predict their stressors and mitigate them. And if we listen to them enough we can come to understand their behaviour and design for it.
It’s the same in self-care, with mindfulness — thinking about our thinking — as the key. Whether we’re intro-, extra- or ambiverts, and whether or not we’re also affected by poor mental health, the more we develop our self-awareness, and the more objectively we review and reflect on our actions, their causes and their outcomes, the less our brains can hijack us.

The problem of perfectionism

“It’s good to have ideals, but don’t be an idealist”

This was no. 4 in Alison Kerwin’s ‘10 Things’. Working in digital, we have access to an enormous amount of user data that isn’t available in other areas. Understanding this data helps us identify problems and what we might do to fix them but it’s just as important to understand the politics of our organisations and the interweaving priorities of our stakeholders.
For our sanity’s sake, we have to accept that we can’t fix everything. Instead we must be pragmatic and learn when to push and when to let things go.

“You will make mistakes”

And that’s fine, as Andrew Millar made clear in his IWMW talk ‘Stress…and what to do when everything starts falling apart. He pointed out that, whether the drive to achieve perfection is internally generated or the result of external pressure, the very concept of perfection is an illusion anyway.
Book-ending his moving personal story of learning to cope with a panic disorder, Andrew called for a culture change. There’s a lot we can do for ourselves, and for each other as teammates and managers, but employers must also take active steps to tackle work-related stress and its underlying causes.

One of many zingers from Steve Jobs’ 1997 WWDC talk

Beating imposter syndrome

Award-winning Hollywood Production Designer Hannah Beachler gave the opening keynote at UX Week. Hannah was headhunted by director Ryan Coogler to bring to life the Afro-futuristic nation of Wakanda for Marvel’s Black Panther. The $200 million movie was of course wildly successful, not least because of the entire civilisation she built, that persists in imagination beyond the edge of the screen.
How could someone who moves in those kinds of circles, and whose work is sought after and celebrated by so many people possibly doubt herself? But she did, and she talked inspiringly about faking it ’til she made it.
Meanwhile, another great point from Andrew Millar’s IWMW talk on stress highlighted the importance of both getting and giving an outside perspective: so that’s another vote for keeping yourself open to favourable comparison with your heroes, and for sharing your truth.

Possibly my favourite slide of the summer, from Andrew Millar’s talk on stress.
As for me, I’ve previously written about my in-the-moment tactics for beating imposter syndrome. I’m less affected by that now but still an introvert so, while keeping an eye on my energy levels and letting myself flop when necessary, I actively look for ways to trick myself into socialising.
For example at UX Week, where delegates get a notebook with a blank cover and there are prizes for the best designs, I decided to crowd-source mine by asking at least 20 random people to draw me a dog 🐕 It was a great conversation starter and I ended up with 27 dogs, a load more friends and contacts, and a runner’s-up prize — woot!
If you please, draw me a dog!

In summary

  • Know yourself and own it
  • Accept that perfection doesn’t exist
  • Share and share and keep sharing
  • We are all human.
This blog post first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.