Monthly Archives: September 2013

Disruptive Engagement

Disruptive Engagement

I was recently lucky enough to be able to attend (& present a paper) at the Designs in E-Learning conference hosted by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and organised by The University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Center for Teaching Excellence with Penn State University and the University of the Arts London. What attracted me to the conference was the theme; ‘The Art Disruptive Engagement’

The conference was small and in some ways that made it a better experience, I enjoyed being able to talk to practioneers in disciplines who bought to the conference some really interesting aspects of ‘disruptive engagement’. It seemed to me to have been some time since I was able to reflect on what happens to the ‘rules and technologies’ we collectively introduce and maintain within our institutions, it caused me some some pause for thought.

My session was in partnership with a Programme Leader from another UK university where we ‘posited’ on the role of the CIO and the ‘lowly academic’ who just wanted to use some of these great tools ‘out there’. I’m not sure we reached a consensus but it was none the less a good debate, what was clear was that the distance we believe there is between our Academic colleagues views about technology and ‘managements’ is far greater than I imagined.

This led me to think more about the role that we play in supporting learning & teaching, are we ‘my way or the highway’ and ‘holding academics to ransom’ or do we re-think the academy and release aspects of ‘control’ and fully embrace the almost limitless options for digital literacy. This I believe is a key debate.

I attended a session with a group of students from the University of North Carolina, and their views about social media, the boundaries between the University and their personal life were clearly delineated…i.e. would you mind if your Professor followed you on Facebook answer;

‘No — but it would be a bit creepy and I would adjust my FB settings so they couldn’t see much’. Which led to the inevitable question; ‘do you worry about what you put on Facebook?’, ‘no we don’t and besides you shouldn’t be using Facebook if you don’t know how to use the privacy settings’

…another questioner then asked ‘do you use other sites?’, they all used Linked in as their ‘professional contact site’. I asked about the use of portals and virtual one stop shops, they all stated they used it at UNC and it was a great idea, however they also hated using the UNC internal file storage (which they did not trust) and wished the UNC system would just use drop box…which they fully trusted.

I asked about their Professors and how they used digital tools, they said some good some bad but believed the generation gap had allot to do with adoption of digital skills, they used the examples of software they just pick up and use without any training such as slide share and felt the intuitive process they go through when faced with new software was a direct result of the exposure they had to digital tools.

It was interesting to debate with other delegates what services ‘e’ Universities should offer and what services should be allowed to happed externally, my own view is by all means use freely available tools if you like but return to the University systems when needing to interact formally with the University. In response some delegates asked for a set of guidelines to be developed not only for Directors of Services but also for our Academic colleagues, this is something that UCISA are hoping to produce by mid 2014.

I would urge colleagues to consider the forthcoming Changing Landscapes event as a useful forum to listen and discuss current trends ‘of best practice in approaching the challenges of IT and digital skills training in the changing HE landscape’

Jim Nottingham Chair DSDG


Changing Landscapes

Designs on E Learning

New Shree Publication
Literacy in the Digital University: Critical perspectives on learning, scholarship and technology July 2013

Confidence, community, camaraderie… I *will* not cry!

July 2008 – Carla Thornley Application for Joining the UCISA TLIG – Advisory Services Working Group

“I am passionate about providing high quality, relevant support… and equally passionate about the need to develop helpdesk/first and second line support roles which are attractive, interesting and highly valued to the organisation. My own personal goal within this role here at SHU is to ensure that we develop and deliver a professional, proactive service which meets the changing needs of our users. I do feel sure that being part of the work of this UCISA group will assist me in achieving this goal. I would like to meet and share best practice with like-minded colleagues across the sector, and gain more experience to help ensure that here at SHU we are doing the best for both our users and our staff.
I have the full backing and support of both my Service Manager in wishing to become a member of your working group. I do hope that you may feel that I have the relevant skills mix and that I can perhaps bring something of value to your group.”


Sat here today sorting through 13 ½ years of paperwork, files and documents as I prepare to take up a new post, I have just come across my application to join what we now know as the UCISA Support Services Group.

In a bittersweet occasion last month, I attended my final SSG meeting up at Leeds University – where I felt a mixture of pride for the work that I’ve been part of, alongside a huge pang of jealousy with the realisation that I’d no longer be a part of the events and activities we were discussing and planning as we went through our business plan.

Back in 2008 as I stepped in to a new role with responsibility for managing our Helpdesk services, finding ways to connect with external networks was one of the very first things I sought to do. This stemmed in part from a lack of personal confidence, but mostly from a desire to avoid becoming too insular; focussing too intently on what was, or had always been here at this University. Knowing, understanding and responding to the foibles of own unique user community is truly a great strength within HE support departments…but sometimes in responding so faithfully to our internal stakeholders, we might perhaps forget that the activities and tasks we engage in are far from particular to our sector or our home institution. We all have similar stories and common goals. Absolutely NO point in reinventing the wheel.

“Goal” appears to have been a much overused word in my application – but upon reflection I have to say that my 5 year tenure on this group has delivered in every way. Hard to believe it has been 5 years! And in all fairness it is probably true to say that leaving the University…and indeed the HE sector might well have been the only way I would have relinquished my place on the group, given that it has – as with so many other things in life, very much been a case of getting back much, much more than I put in.

I am not the only one to be leaving either….and so we at an interesting point in our history where things are changing and we are now looking for people to fill a number our vacancies.

If you are considering taking that same step that I did back in 2008, and planning on putting forward an application to join then you will have perhaps taken a look at the website and reviewed our goals and mission here:

But what might you really be letting yourself in for….??

A quick snapshot of my last 5 years reveals:

  1. Light-hearted geekery and ribbing at each and every committee meeting (around four each year) as group members consistently turn up with – and struggle to use, a procession of the latest gadgets.
  2. Hosting meetings at your home institution – showcasing your services, discussing your plans (and comparing in-house catering)
  3. Earnest deliberation and debate (…often not without disagreement) around hot topics or future plans
  4. Detailed planning for the delivery of a range of events which might strike a chord with our community – Developing A Service Desk Good Practice Guide at LSE memorably being my first ever one-day event (apologies to you if you attended and were subject to my rookie facilitation!) 
  5. Devising, surveys and compiling reports such as the 2012 Service Desk Group Benchmarking Survey 
  6. And the big one… planning for, and playing your part in the success of our fantastic (now annual) Support Services Conference – when it comes to these – well there, the world is your oyster! Even if like me you shudder to think of standing up to speak to 120+ of your peers, there are a multitude of ways you can make a difference. So across my time, I have enjoyed facilitating World Café’s; being a speaker in a conference debate; volunteering to be a “speaker meeter/greater”; dashing around with flipchart paper, post-its and pens, tweeting; retweeting; tweeting some more…mopping brows and generally offering any support I can to the committee, UCISA admin or those brave enough to speak (note to self: one day I will present at a conference!) .

And in return, what might you get out of it?

During my time we’ve hosted conferences in Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge, Crewe..and Edinburgh – fantastic places all! Through these and other events and communication channels, many UCISA delegates and members have become familiar faces, trusted colleagues, sounding boards and dare I say it …friends! Connecting with professionals in similar roles has given me the personal confidence to push ahead with changes and cope with challenges within my own job. If I need help or advice, a sanity check or completely a new perspective, then I know where to go. I have been lucky enough to meet and connect with people I truly admire and respect – and these people have been generous enough to delight in my successes and share the burden when times have been tough.

All in all, a pretty good deal!

One final note has to be to say that my employer Sheffield Hallam University, my manager and other senior staff here have been very generous and supportive in allowing me to pick up what is in essence a voluntary role. All members of our group are busy, busy people and have challenging day-jobs, and yet the success of UCISA depends in part upon the effort we put in. But then once again, I’d say I strongly believe that you get out more than you put in…

So here is a personal account of my own UCISA journey. I wish those of you lucky enough to go on to become members of SSG all the very, very best – now get on with submitting your application form!

As for my fellow group members…hmmmm….another gulp….

Well, I may be leaving HE but I can promise you I will be keeping in touch! People keep telling me that I will be shocked by the differences in the Corporate Sector. I’m throwing that back to say that actually I reckon “hashtag UCISA SSG-HE-Posse” has plenty to offer, plenty to give and loads that others can learn from.



[This post written by Carla Thornley as she prepared to leave the HE Sector and leave the Support Services Group]