Category Archives: UCISA-SSG

Part 2: Not in the IT crowd (and that can be a good thing)



Sara Henderson
Graduate Intern (Student Champion),
Student Systems Project (Corporate Information and Computer Services)
University of Sheffield

UCISA SSG17: Reflections from a bursary scheme winner

This is the moment of truth.  I take to the stage to speak on my first ever conference panel session, an extremely popular fixture at UCISA-SSG .  As I meet my fellow panellists, I’m half-waiting for someone to yell “INTRUDER” and haul me off the stage, but before I know it my name flashes up on the screen and all eyes are on us.

The questions roll in, some wackier than others, and I do my best to answer them honestly, but with many falling outside of my remit, I find it difficult to feel completely at ease.  I’m in the strange position of being a recent student and new staff member, meaning I have a slightly diluted experience of both roles.

Nevertheless, the panel really coloured my reflections of the conference and beyond.  It also tied together some themes which came out of the week – that people come before technology, services need to be user-focused and the tech industry ought to be a collaborative space.

To borrow Francesca Spencer’s poignant acronym DISC (Dave, Ian, Steve and Chris), alluding to the lack of diversity in IT (which she affectionately Room 101-ed), it was difficult not to contemplate this reality as the only woman panel member at a conference of mostly men.  This is not to bash the conference or its attendees, but simply to acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do.

So if you’re yet to be a believer in the power of diversifying IT, let’s call this my manifesto.

  1. It’s good for business

Beyond a moral impetus, crudely speaking, a diverse team is a more effective one.  Looking at the demography of the industry, we are only making use of a limited cross-section of society within our teams, leading to a major skill-shortage despite growing demand.  So – diversify, or get left behind.

  1. Challenge is good

A homogenous group is less likely to be critical of each other because of their shared experiences. Imagine asking two identical job candidates to critique each other – it would be a bit like playing spot the difference.  But by broadening your team’s demography, you embed the opportunity for challenge in its make-up.  The right kind of challenge drives success.

  1. Stop! in the name of users

Perhaps you’re with me so far, and you’re wondering “what does this have to do with me and my team’s work”?  But there is another, more nuanced point to be made for the case of diversity within IT, regarding the diversity of users’ experiences with technology.  Asking an IT expert about an IT question is going to get you a professional answer.  But asking a “layman” might get you a more interesting one. Take the example of me sitting onstage at the panel session and feeling like an imposter – maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to have someone there who was agnostic to the cause.

  1. Students know what they want (and they’re not afraid to say it)

 That the panel got such a positive and enthusiastic reception is just a reminder of how keen university staff are to hear the “student voice”.  So if you’re aching to hear how to provide the best support services to students – just ask them!  You can only ‘put yourself in their shoes’ so many times before you hit a dead end, and it’s dangerous to make assumptions.  As Kerry Pinny so passionately expressed, there is no such thing as a digital native: being a millennial doesn’t mean you come out of the womb holding an iPhone, and students have a diverse range of experiences to offer you.  So maybe I wasn’t the best user for that panel, or maybe there isn’t such a thing.

Follow me on LinkedIn

(Presentations and video catalogue are available on the conference website)

(Further information on Sheffield’s Graduate internship scheme, can be found at:


Part 1: Fresh meat and learning about user involvement



Sara Henderson
Graduate Intern (Student Champion),
Student Systems Project (Corporate Information and Computer Services)
University of Sheffield



UCISA SSG17: Reflections from a bursary scheme winner

I should start by introducing myself.  I’m Sara and I work as Student Engagement Officer on a major business change project at the University of Sheffield.  I began in January on the University’s Graduate Internship Scheme, before being extended in my role.  A colleague encouraged me to apply to UCISA’s bursary scheme as a junior member of staff, so that I did.

I am interested in technology but motivated by people, so SSG17 presented the perfect opportunity to learn from others in the sector and gain a wider perspective on the work I’m doing.  Now that’s out of the way, we can get to the good stuff.  I present to you my diary (of sorts) from the conference, showcasing some of my thoughts and favourite moments.

Day 1


Fuelled by coffee and adrenaline, I find myself in the conference exhibition space, perusing the exhibition but avoiding eye contact.  I glance around the room to see pockets of conversation forming; for some this is an opportunity to catch up with old friends and colleagues, whereas the rest of us are fresh meat.


Neil Morris from the University of Leeds captures the delegates’ imagination with his presentation ‘Reimagining Traditional Higher Education in the Digital Age’ , focused on how to embed technology-enhanced learning in partnership with students.  “We don’t involve students in projects, we don’t seek their feedback in ways they are interested in giving it, or make use of their intelligence and creativity”.

Neil’s talk affirms why I wanted to come to this conference, challenging the status so often assigned to students – as being passive receivers of knowledge and services, rather than intelligent consumers.  We ought to be involving students in project work, fundamentally and authentically.


Room 101 proves a fantastic way to end the first day, with an all-female panel and some very funny moments.  Did someone say Apple Genius Bar?


The day kicks off to an unnerving start when I find out that the panel I am shortly appearing on is one of the most popular sessions of the conference.  To find out more about my experience, head over to my second post – ‘Part 2: Not in the IT crowd (and that can be a good thing)’.


Now for perhaps my favourite talk of the conference: ‘Technophobe Testing’ by Francesca Spencer (Leeds Beckett University).  The basic premise is that in IT of all places, we ought to be involving technophobes, because they can actually be a help rather than a hindrance to our work.  Francesca had the brainwave of recruiting some self-confessed technophobes, and observing their use of AV equipment in a judgement-free zone to determine how to make it more user-friendly.  We need to embed our users in the process of implementing technology (before it’s too late).

Day 3


I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to climb down from my pedestal during breakfast, on what is affectionately known as “fuzzy Friday”. Unlike some of the conference-goers making a beeline for a fry-up, I opted to for a sensible night in after a case of conference-fatigue…


Paul Boag closes SSG17 by informing us ‘How to Create a User Experience Revolution’ .  His insistence that “if you don’t speak to your users once every six weeks, you don’t get to be a stakeholder in a project” certainly rung true, and he comfortably drew together some key themes from the conference, about collaborative working, establishing shared values and cultural change.

So there we have it – my experience in a nutshell.  Thank you to UCISA for having me, and if you want to hear more from me, head over to my second post ‘Part 2: Not in the IT crowd (and that can be a good thing)’, or follow me on LinkedIn:

(Presentations and video streaming available at the conference website)

Is Jill Watson after your job?

She began work as a teaching assistant at Georgia Tech in January 2016, helping students on a masters level artificial intelligence course. At first, she needed help from her colleagues but she soon learnt and it wasn’t long before she was providing support to all students without assistance. Human assistance that is. “Jill” was the creation of course leader Ashok Goel – an artificial intelligence tutor developed using IBM’s Watson platform.

The course was entirely online and questions were submitted via an online forum. Initially the AI derived answers weren’t so good so the human tutors responded. But as time went on “Jill”’s answers improved so the tutors took the answers and posted them to the forum. Within a short space of time, the answers were near perfect and the AI instance was responding directly to the students. The students were not aware that they weren’t dealing with a real person – but then, do they really care if they are getting good advice?

This isn’t the only form of AI that I have seen applied in the education environment. At EDUCAUSE last year, I saw a demonstration of an AI based chat bot that guided an applicant through the process of identifying a suitable course at university and ultimately the application process itself. I was driving the questions, playing the role of the applicant – the responses were reassuring and at the end of the process, I felt satisfied that I had been given good advice.

In both instances, the AI instance will have had to learn from real life examples to build up its knowledge bank in order to make informed decisions. In the case of Jill Watson, that learning took little time; with the AI applications assistance there was more initial programming which was underpinned by some clear rules and expectations. But given that in both examples, the AI instance learnt from patterns of behaviour exhibited by real people, is there scope for using artificial intelligence at the service desk?

The answer has to be yes. The service desk system has a wealth of information about problems and their solutions that can be drawn upon and used to address submitted problems. There are many repetitive questions that get asked of a service desk which could easily be handled by an AI instance. Many service desks have identified these – password resets being an obvious example – and have sought to reduce the impact of these through FAQ sections and similar channels. But how effective are these mechanisms? Do they help deliver a one stop shop?

Could AI further aid service desk staff? It could – dealing with repetitive queries is one thing but artificial intelligence could be deployed to recognise similar questions from the bank of queries in the service management system and identify solutions. The service desk staff would then be able to give a quicker response rather than having to re-learn how to deal with a problem or seek out the expert that dealt with it last time around. Alternatively, the AI system might identify the person with the most expertise and route the query accordingly.

AI is far quicker at identifying patterns than people. As a result an artificial intelligence based system would give an earlier indication of an incident or bug and so help the service desk respond more quickly (perhaps before some realised there was a problem).

So where will that leave the service desk? Will the use of AI allow service desk staff to focus on the really meaty problems that are more satisfying to solve or will it give staff the opportunity to focus on new areas? Alternatively, will it lead to a deskilling of staff, an unrewarding role reduced to passing on solutions that are drawn down from a vast body of previous experience? Is Jill Watson going to take your job?

Windows 10 community day


On Wednesday 12th April over 50 IT staff from Universities all over the UK, from Glasgow to Brighton, met at Edge Hill University’s central Manchester campus to discuss the shared challenge posed by the move to Windows 10.

The event began with presentations from four organisations ahead of the curve on the migration – Leeds Beckett University, University of Liverpool, Lancaster University and York St John University – all of whom shared the approach they’d taken, the keys decisions they’d made and the lessons they’d learned.

During the Q&A that followed, we were able to dig a little more into shared concerns like admin rights for users, project resourcing and managing applications.

After lunch, we were joined by representatives from IT service provider Softcat, who shared some of their experience and tips in planning a move to Windows 10, delving into some of the more technical questions that need answering such as choosing a branch and the challenges posed by Microsoft’s new update and support model for the operating system.

The day ended with a workshop structured to help delegates think about, discuss and record the key points picked up during the day. Considering questions around planning, infrastructure and ongoing support, small groups produced prioritised lists of the issues that they wanted to take back to the office and consider while plotting their own migrations.

We’d like to say a big thank you to the representatives of Leeds Beckett, Liverpool, Lancaster and York St John who gave excellent presentations during the morning session and continued to offer their expertise throughout the day. Without their input the day would not have been possible.

Thank you also to Softcat for their input and support for the day and to the staff at Edge Hill University for hosting us and making us feel welcome.

Recordings, presentations and photos from the day are available from the Resources page

Gareth Edwards
Head of IT, Engineering Science
University of Oxford
Member of UCISA-SSG committee

Business Relationship Management

My Director and line manager, John Ireland, and I completed the Business Relationship Management Professional (BRMP) foundation course last month. We worked together and used a course delivered entirely online with lots of videos, course notes and quizzes at the end of each module. The course was extremely interesting and it was valuable completing it with another member of our organisation as we had good opportunity to reflect on how its content was relevant and resonated in our own University and IT Services department.

The course syllabus is devised by the Business Relationship Management Institute and is accredited by APMG International. It is a modular course and starts with an introduction then closer consideration of the six main competencies of the BRM role. We looked at definitions and how the BRM role is about managing the relationship between Service Units (e.g. IT Services, HR, Finance etc.) and Business Units (e.g. academic departments, faculties and colleges in the Oxford context). BRM is different to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as that manages the relationship between customer and business unit (e.g. students, research councils etc. in an HEI context).BRM-CRM

We were introduced to the metaphors of Connector, Orchestrator and Navigator for the Business Relationship Manager and this certainly makes sense to me in my role as Head of IT Support Staff Services in IT Services in Oxford. Local IT Support Staff are our service delivery partners but they are also part of Oxford’s business units rather than its service units.

We noted that there is not yet a BRM standard but that ITIL mentions and describes BRM; COBIT5 recognises the important of BRM and recommends appointing one; and SFIA includes some of the required expertise for a BRM in some of the responsibilities for roles it describes.

We also learned about the core disciplines of BRM – Demand Shaping; Exploring; Servicing; and Value Harvesting. These are underpinned by the six core competencies: Strategic Partnering; Business IQ; Portfolio Management; Provider Domain Knowledge; Powerful Communications; and Business Transformation Management.

The next six modules looked at each of these competencies in more detail

Strategic Partnering
The core components of this module are
a. Business-Provider alignment: where we considered Strategic context, Environment, IT Strategy and IT Portfolio and their interactions.
b. Strategic Relationship Management: where process, business drivers, customer value hierarchy, diagnosing relationship quality, relationship value mapping are all used to work towards building an improvement plan.
c. Relationship Vision and Strategy and Building a relationship strategy on a page.

Business IQ

This is all about understanding capability of the business, road mapping it and determining the right enabling IT capabilities to enable the business capability at the right time.

We learned about value management and I was particularly interested in the causes of value leakage, namely: Misaligned values of service unit and business unit, missed opportunities, suboptimal design, and suboptimal deployment and implementation.

This unit also looked at the discipline of business value optimisation, recognising that in any organisation value is delivered by the business unit, with the enabling capabilities of the service unit.

Portfolio Management

This module looked at how portfolio management is the essential discipline of balancing investment mix and policy to ensure that objectives are met and that performance is balanced against risk. It is the key way that value is managed by a BRM.

We learned how portfolio management balances resource use in activities that are retireable, transactional, informational, strategic, and discovery-enabling. We looked at the Boston Square Model and the Weill-Broadbent portfolio management frameworks.

Portfolio Management is the process of balancing the selection of programs that are ongoing in the service provider and Programme Management manage groups of projects. In the order Portfolio Management – Programme Management – Project Management planning information flows left to right and executive information flows right to left.  We noted that programs deliver business outcomes, projects deliver services or capabilities and portfolios deliver central business strategy.RACI

This module also looked at Business-IT governance – a framework that ensures rights
and responsibilities are correctly assigned to support business outcomes. We looked at the Responsible-Accountable-Consulted-Informed(RACI) model and noted that a common failure of IT Governance is just to consider new resource expending proposals and to fail to keep ongoing resource use under review.

Business Transition Management

I think this was the most interesting module for me as it looks at the people-centred side of business changes, something I think a lot of technical providers could do a lot better. It’s about understanding the drivers for change and overcoming some of the myths about change like the “if it makes sense to do it then people will do it” misconception. We learned about the need to build urgency for change and the need to build an effective business transition network consisting of stakeholders, an instigating change leader, sustaining change leaders, change agents and advocates. We learned about change black holes caused by gaps in the change leadership chain and the risk of change leaders not being visible enough to be perceived as supporting the change. I was struck by the importance of leaders needing to visibly support the journey as well as the goal involved in a change as the former is often the harder bit.

Provider Domain Knowledge

This unit is all about understanding the services available from the service unit and understanding how service management works. We reinforced the important difference between products and services in that products are “things” that have intrinsic value (think car, house, computer, television) whereas services only yield value as they are used to achieve business outcomes for the customer.

We reminded ourselves that services have to have both utility (i.e. being fit for purpose) and warranty (being fit for use) before they can create value for customers. We noted that while value can be measured in terms of business outcomes it is also important to consider the value as perceived by the customer. BRM can address this second aspect by being an advocate for the service and adjusting the customers’ expectations so they are satisfied.
We considered the eight key questions that a service definition needs to answer and they are: What is it? How do I get it? How is it delivered? How do I use it? How do I get help with it? What does it cost? How is it supported? What does support cost?

Powerful Communications

This module was another one I particularly enjoyed because it relates closely to a lot of my current work. We firstly reminded ourselves of how important good communication is and then considered the art of listening and learned six aspects to that including: be present; shut up; notice tone; validate; empathise; spot ideas behind words. All great techniques that I think we all use to a lesser or greater extent at least some of the time.

Persuasion was also an important aspect of this unit and we considered how a good persuasive argument needs to appeal to ethos, pathos and logos for people. That is we need to have credibility, appeal to emotions and make logical and reasonable points that the person(s) being persuaded will share.

I liked the method of framing a proposal that we looked at. It includes agreeing shared goals or concerns, establishing the current facts, stating each side’s point of view and recognising constraints and limitations.

Practice and exam

brmp cert redactedThe final module of the course was preparation for the exam. In addition to the quizzes, one at the end of most sections of each module, there was a mock exam paper which we both sat. This enabled us to complete the course.
Last week we both spent some hours revising the material and then did the real exam, provided by the APM group and done through the ProctorU service. This enables exams to be taken anywhere and needs a webcam and microphone so that exams can be properly invigilated online. Doing an exam this way was a good experience and enabled immediate provisional results to be delivered immediately and verified results and certificates after just a few days.

I think the BRMP qualification is an excellent thing for IT professionals in HEIs to gain as it effectively and efficiently crystallises and categorises how the relationship between IT Services units and academic units in Universities should work and how staff can strive to keep it on a path of continuous improvement to maximise value realised in return for investments made.

While it was good to train with someone directly related to my work it was quite hard work using videos as there was a lot of information to gather and it would be fair to say we both spent three days furiously making notes. A real person would slow down their speaking a bit if they observed an audience doing this, and would speed up if the audience was looking like it knew the particular part of the material. Videos don’t do this so we did have to do quite a lot of pausing and rewinding. That said, it was an efficient way to learn a large amount of material over quite a short time and without any need for travel or hotel accommodation and with the ability to do it at a time that suited both of us.

tony presenting


Post by Tony Brett
Head of IT Support Staff Services
IT Services, University of Oxford
September 2015

Plate spinning and other things: Your assistance is urgently requested!

plate spinningMy life has a tendency to feel like I’m balancing a series of plates on sticks, and day to day I run between each plate to keep it from falling off its peg. Generally if I work hard and smart enough they all stay up, and I go to sleep congratulating myself on a well-planned, organised and successful day. However some days, and usually more than I would like to admit to, I have to make a choice over which plates are going to hit the floor, and those that get to stay up. And in reality it’s down to luck if one breaks or one bounces. It is however always about my choice over which to prioritise and which to let slip.

One of my big plates spinning this month is the research phase of my PhD, and I’m asking you all for your help in order to keep this plate spinning for the time being. Featured below is a very short survey which I would ask you to:

1. Fill in if relevant
2. Pass on to any relevant managers

The survey will be out for next 2 weeks, after which I am hoping to start organising a small number of interviews with institutions that would like to participate in the follow up research.

This is moving toward the culmination of a 4 year part-time Professional Doctorate. I would firmly recommend doctoral study to anyone thinking about further development. However, I would firmly recommend learning the art of Plate Spinning prior to commencement to ensure other aspects of life and work can continue!

Post by Sonya Campbell
Customer Services Development Manager
Glasgow Caledonian University

photo credit: IMGP1962 via photopin (license)

How can a mid-life crisis support you in delivering an excellent service?

Apparently mid-life crises are still alive and well, according to the Telegraph Article I read earlier in the year . It occurs because ‘happiness’ dips after turning 40. And rather than being just a loose term to account for slightly mad behaviour during this decade, the midlife crisis it is a recognised condition. As a society we are living longer lives, and as a result there is a challenge to prove that our bodies are still vital and able to compete. So what are the consequences? Both men and women over the age of 40 are now throwing themselves at triathlons, marathons and various hard core sporting challenges. A prime example is Tough Mudder, an extreme sports event that has a massive worldwide following and sees participants slog through mud, drop into icy water, and be electrocuted at regular intervals.

mudI read this article with mixed emotions. Why?

I turned 40 this year
I signed up and completed my first triathlon this year
I completed my first Tough Mudder
I completed my first Spartan Challenge

Mmmm, so have I had my first mid-life crisis? Who really cares because what I realised after re-reading the article and reflecting on these challenges was all the new transferable skills I now had. Like what?

• The triathlon requires an athlete to compete and complete 3 separate sports, and the key here is consistency. You need to be good at all the disciplines, not just a specialist in just one. A good service delivers a consistently high level of service which has a wider range of knowledge and ability to answer more types of questions. A focus on the end goal assists in the successful completion of separate challenges. This is similar to the task setting we deliver day to day, and reminds me to keep the end goal more transparent for all concerned.

• Tough mudder showed the importance of team work. 10 people started the 12 mile obstacle course, all with differing skills, fitness levels, motivations and goals. 10 people finished the course together. It wasn’t about being first, or being better than anyone else, it was about getting the best out of each and every one of your team. On a service desk you want to bring all your available skills to the table, endeavour to get the best out of all your team, to motivate and bring them along on the same journey.

• Spartan challenged me to climb several hills, both physically and mentally. On your journey to a better service you will continuously find yourself back at the bottom of the next hill. The view from the top however is always superb, and tends to make up for the effort of the climb!

So in conclusion, don’t wait until you are 40 to face up to a challenge, you don’t need to use a mid-life crisis to justify developing your own skills and that of your teams!

Post by Sonya Campbell
Customer Services Development Manager
Glasgow Caledonian University

Change is the only constant

For the first time in a few years, I’ll be missing the UCISA SSG conference this time around and I’m quite sad 🙁  Looking back, the last blog I wrote here was on the subject of planning for the last one so hello again!

This time I’ll talk about a significant week in my life – the life of an IT Customer Service Manager here at Edge Hill University. And specifically, last week. And even more specifically, two events last week.

The first was our transition changefrom RMS Service Management to Point of Business Service Management which was live on Tuesday, 9th June. This was the culmination of a project which started in December 2014 but which was delayed due to illness. We rekindled the project on 9th March and were live three months later on 9th June.

Colleagues from other institutions have nicknamed me the ‘RMS Anorak’ but really, all I did was state that it did what it said on the tin. For seven years we have managed our incidents / problems and latterly changes with increasing success and the customer service culture has spread through the IT Services department during this time.

It wasn’t an overnight success and it wasn’t an overnight culture change but it worked for us and in 2012 as you may know, we were voted ‘Top IT Service Desk’ by our customers.

So changing our software was a big deal. Our processes were pretty robust and didn’t need much adjustment just tweaks here and there. Just about everyone in the Department had training (from me) and those who didn’t, have actually managed to teach themselves very well. It’s been a great success and a remarkably stress-free experience. Thanks go to Anne of the Knowledge Group for working with us so closely over the last three months. Anyone who wants to come and visit us is very welcome to do so.

The other significant event last week that I attended was ‘Inspiring Excellent Customer Service in Higher Education’ which was hosted by Leeds Beckett University.

A fantastic range of speakers, workshops and sessions filled the day and there were many great takeaways to be had. For me personally, the de-mystifying of ‘Customer Journey Mapping’ was the highlight of the day and made something that sometimes seem impossibly difficult to start, quite clear. I’d best invest in some post it notes now!

It was a risky business to be out of the office on the day after going live with Point of Business. Our IT teams stepped up to the bar and made the leap of faith to new software without difficulty whilst I refreshed my skills remembering that the customer is at the heart of all we do.

I shall miss the UCISA SSG conference, my UCISA colleagues and meeting new friends this year because it’s my daughter’s prom night on the night of the main conference dinner. But I’ll be thinking of you all and joining in with the live screening when I can. Have a fabulous time one and all and see you next year.

Post by Jenny Jordan
Customer Services Manager
Edge Hill University

21st Century Learning Spaces: are you in the zone?

Admit it. You read the title and went what’s that got to do with me? Or perhaps you thought actually, we already do learning spaces here at ‘whatever university’ so I’m not really sure what I’m going to get out of this post. It doesn’t really matter what side of the spectrum of interest you sit on because if you think you are already doing it, you’re probably not! Ok, so what do I actually mean?

I’m writing this blog post from within one of the first big purpose built ‘learning centres’ The Saltire centre at Glasgow Caledonian University. Opened with lots of fanfare, JISC supported and bulging with pedagogic research to back up its 5 floor library and learning centre, the space has, and continues to deliver informal learning spaces for its 16,500 students. It has undergone subtle and not so subtle changes over the years, and types of wear and tear that only 40,000 visits a week can inflict on a building. So why should we bother developing the space when it’s quite plainly doing what it set out to achieve? Ask yourself two questions: (1) Is it really delivering what students want, and (2) How do you know? Now hold on to those answers while I digress slightly…

I was fortunate to secure a recent trip to Loughborough University where they hosted an event called Informal learning spaces in the 21st century University. If you haven’t had an opportunity to visit Loughborough, the first thing that hits you is its size. With a campus of over 400 acres it’s posed with the difficulty associated with offering learning spaces to its students throughout the campus, especially those working at opposite sides and not in close proximity to the library. To support their students they have delivered informal learning spaces within other buildings across the campus as seen by the picture below.


An ‘epiphany’ moment for me occurred just before lunch and was one of several that happened to make my day quite profitable.

Epiphany 1. The need for departments to collaborate effectively. To that end Loughborough established a cross departmental ‘Project Board’ to manage the spaces on an on-going basis. Ask yourself are you or your team collaborative? Are they pro-actively involved in providing these learning spaces, or do you just attend if the kit fails?

Ephiphany 2. The realisation that although informal learning space has developed over the last decade, with learning commons, cafés and centres all popping up in libraries across higher education, what has changed within formal learning environments over the last decade? Loughborough had one large lecture theatre with group seating which was apparently in high demand (and was very nice as the workshop was held within it) yet this was the only one in operation on their large campus. Personally I had learning space envy as we don’t have one here!

Ephiphany 3. Does your formal learning spaces ‘connect’ with the informal spaces, or are they disjointed and organised separately? There is a need for pedagogy to keep pace with informal developments, so to that end are your academics on board?

Ok back on track. Now going back to my original questions: are you delivering what students want, and how do you know?

We discussed the results of a recent student survey which asked what they wanted from their learning spaces. In the main students identified a need for more privacy or peacefulness within informal study spaces which seems to link well with our student feedback here at GCU.

Ephipany 4. Almost as if we have gone a bit too far down the ‘social’ learning space route. However it was stated that students appeared to find it difficult to identify what they needed when they were asked this question.

Ephipany 5. Work is needed in this area to ascertain what is required by our students and when, and as such this may require more than just your usual survey to get closer to student requirements.

Ephiphany 6. Despite developing ‘self-policing’ and ‘ intuitively’ designed spaces (tends to be design team speak), there is still a need to ‘manage’ the informal learning culture to ensure that different spaces deliver their intended outcomes. It was suggested that a way to achieve this extremely difficult balancing act was to clearly state the areas purpose, or ‘zone’ which would assist learners in remaining within the accepted boundaries without too much restriction. Loughborough have tried to answer the questions by ensuring the consistent delivery of learning space through the development of a ‘standard’ of informal learning space, and each of the areas is assessed and must achieve the relevant criteria to attain the standard. They ensure that students are utilised as skilled assessors in this regard and ensure that they are present as advisors within the Project Board and throughout the institution.

So hopefully that whistle stop tour helps you identify that at the very least learning spaces should be on your radar. And finally as a note of caution, providing informal learning spaces is a journey and not a destination. If you think you are already there, you’re not in the zone, keep developing, keep evaluating and keep going!

Thanks to Sonya Campbell, Customer Service Development Manager at Glasgow Caledonian University and member of UCISA Support Services Group, for this post.

How Oxford securely disposes of data and legally disposes of hard disks

I thought you might like to see how we dispose of data and hard disks in Oxford as we have EDR Europe here today to do just that.

Some people like actually to see the disk destroyed rather than just getting a certificate so we enable exactly that here. The crushing machines use a hyraulic ram to push a big fat blunt pointer into the middle of the disk thus destroying the motor and bending all the platters. That is quite enough to render the data irrecoverable.  This video shows how:

As Oxford is so distributed, with many IT support operations all over the City, we get people to tell us in advance how many disks they will bring and then we book EDR with their disk crushers to come to our offices for a day of crushing.  it’s quite noisy so we try to do it when teaching is not happening in the nearby lecture rooms!

Once disks have been crushed, and people are welcome to stay and watch, then EDR takes away the very bent remains and disposes of it via a fully weee-compliant and accredited waste disposal company.  The person or college/department bringing the disk gets a certificate from EDR confirming both secure data destruction and weee-compliant disposal of the hardware and identifying it by serial number.