Monthly Archives: June 2014

Using the Students’ Union to “Step it Up”

I have had the opportunity over the last year of working closely with our Students Union here at the University of Huddersfield. Historically we have just had a process of updating the SU with upcoming projects etc. but have never really worked collaboratively on anything. This is the story of two IT initiatives that we decided to work on collaboratively with the SU, and how in doing so these initiatives came to life in a way that we in Computing Services could never have imagined on our own.

This is how the SU helped us to ‘step it up’ and make two good initiatives great. hud2The first was a project the SU collaborated with us on is UniAsk. Our vision was to create a peer-to-peer support forum packed with guides for popular University systems. This we did, and the principle was sound, it looked great and worked as intuitively as we had hoped. The problem was we now needed a community to drive our amazing empty vessel. I approached the SU with the hope that they could do something along the lines of promotion through social media and inclusion on the regular email that goes out. What I got was an entire marketing plan and a volunteering project just for UniAsk. Thanks to the SU we don’t just have a few engages students, we have an entire network of volunteers dedicated to engaging with UniAsk, driving improvements to the system and promoting it to others. I guess to call it a ‘step-up’ would be understating the benefits of the SU input, more a leap-up with a slam-dunk at the end. hud1

The second initiative started life as an attempt to target the advertisement of our fantastic services to third year students leading up to the completion of the NSS, in the hope it would bump up our percentage. This led to the rather marvellous idea (even if I do say so myself) to create a ‘dissertation survival guide’. The pack would be some kind of physical, tangible thing that had an element of fun to it whilst still promoting our services. I took the idea to the SU, and they loved it. All I had to do was provide text information on the services we wanted to advertise, and the budget we wanted to spend. The SU did the rest, again their creative cogs set in motion and despite a tight deadline they pulled off another blinder. The SU designed the boxes, sourced the items that would go into the packs, designed the poster advertising our services, packed the boxes and distributed them to students. Over 2 days in January the SU distributed 500 dissertation survival guides, tweeted about it including pictures like the ones you can see in this post, and even produced an executive report once the project was over. We are yet to know whether the project had an effect on our NSS scores, but regardless – the effort and energy our SU put in was fantastic. So maybe you have an SU that would help you step-up your ideas. They could be the piece of the puzzle you have been missing all along.

This blog post contributed by Alistair Reid-Pearson MBA MCMI MBCS
2nd Line IT Support & IT Training Manager
Computing & Library Services
University of Huddersfield

Google Glasses, flipped classrooms and Digital Darwinism



Gillian Fielding
Learning and Skills Development Manager
University of Salford


EUNIS 2014 – Day 2

Michiel Boreel’s advice for CIOs and all managers

Day 2 at Eunis was no less intensive or interesting. Michiel Boreel’s keynote kicked off the day with an insightful view of ‘digital disruption’ (e.g. uber, Airbnb) and how these are changing their respective marketplaces, and how these will change our sector.

Michiel raised a valid point: we are often too busy to ask “why” (what is the value, what is the change, what is going to be possible) but focus on the “what” and “how”.  Technological changes are going to be the biggest driver of behavioural changes in society. Students/people want things “quick and easy” and now and from anywhere (see “What digital natives want from their library“). Having devices in “our pockets” (mine’s rarely there) and not desktop machines has rapidly changed our expectations. Michel reinforced UCISA’s Strategic Challenges emphasising the significance of “data”, suggesting “data is the new oil”. The phones in our pockets betray us by sharing where we are, what we are doing, etc. In LA the police are using data to predict crimes (PredPol), doing more for less. Looking to the future, Michiel predicted that by 2020 we will have 500 billion smart devices, e.g. smart pill boxes which alert us to when we should take them and GPs when we do not; and ‘moomonitors’ for monitoring a cow’s health and wellbeing and adjusting its food and medicine; ‘wearable’ tattoes and microchipped pills!

CEOs/IT and other organisation managers must recognise that technology is the most significant factor to affect businesses and it is changing faster than businesses can deal with it. “Digital Darwinism” is creating Zombie companies that will die. Apply Management 2.0 – build a flexible organisation, employ digital natives!

Research needs and IT

Nick Gibson of Unit 4 covered the challenges research departments have with IT e.g. funder’s requirements, greater need for cross-institutional systems and sophisticated audit trails. Nick has been working with Oxford and Cambridge Universities to provide sustainable and suitable systems.

Video, flipped classrooms and MOOCs

The benefits and issues of creating video content for online delivery and for flipped classrooms was covered by Carlos Turro of the Universitat Politecnica of Valencia (UVP) – see ‘Networked Teaching. The story of a success on creating e-learning content at Universitat Politecnica de Valencia’. Carlos outlined his view of a “MacDonaldisation of networked teaching” where ideas are gathered from the community to change the delivery and provide a menu of burgers and fries. UVP has installed 8 production studios for academics to use, along with templates and guidelines. They provide support which staff have to apply for. They also have 52 lecture halls with lecture capture. The benefits for students of the videos included viewing for “solving doubts” prior to exams. The recordings were also used for MOOC content, particularly useful to UVP as the South American market is very receptive to Spanish speaking MOOCs. A question from the floor asked how the staff and unions had responded to this. This had not been an issue as academics got paid a small amount. However the main reward for the 20% of academics who had participated proved to be the students’ improvement. Courses with PoliMedia got around 4% higher marks and groups with lecture recordings realised a 9% increase in grades.

 Linking Moodle and BYOD

Thierry Koscielniak from Paris Descartes University highlighted the benefits of making lessons interactive by using Moodle in combination with BYOD. Carefully timed questions which students answer on their own devices, i.e. after five or no more than 20 minutes.

Radical transformation of IT Services and doing more with less

James Davies’ session “Building a Collaborative Service Culture” outlined the University of Creative Arts’ implementation of ‘Bomgar’ to transform their IT Service. Bomgar is an IT Solution which works well on a multitude of devices and software. It enabled UCA to do more for less: to increase the number of first line resolutions; to give greater support to off-site users and international students; support previously unsupported devices, e.g. iPhones; and easily establish where faults lie (between vendors’ systems and their own systems). There was, however, the odd annoyance with its implementation – team members had to talk to each other!

Google Glass, telepresence robots and iPads

The final sessions of the day outlined the exciting research Umea University staff (Isa Jahnke, Anders Norberg, LarsNorqvist and Andreas Olsson) are doing with Google Glass, telepresence robots and iPads. We were enthralled not only with the technology but with the impact on the teaching.

One set of Google Glasses enabled dentistry students to be more effectively supported, assisted them to utilise their time better, and meant patient care improved (as they weren’t left unattended). There were hitches and considerations too, you had to think before you spoke, imagine that reaction you’ve all had to certain emails. Google Glass could have sent your reaction before you knew it! Eva presented a humorous adaption of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – with wifi underpinning everything!

Google Glass doesn’t work on authenticated wifi like Eduroam and could be slow. The use of telepresence robots (made up with iPads) to undertake teaching observations and other assessments was discussed and certainly seemed to astound all present. Finally Isa Jahnke rounded off the day by enthusiastically presenting her theoretical model of “Digital Didactical Design model”. This was a fascinating approach provided a framework for practitioners and staff developers to adapt their teaching practice to incorporate technologies and the changing pedagogies. The concept of having to rethink and incorporate (more) multiple-layers for today’s classes rang true, with technology, learner centred activities, peer assessments, problem based learning, etc. Note to self: read Isa’s work and rethink my teaching.

Another day filled with thought provoking ideas.

The slides from all the presentations will be on the EUNIS website after the event.


Strategic benefits of cloud computing, SFIA and hybrid clouds



John Beaver
Assistant Director
Department of Computing Services
University of Bath



Update from Umea

Day two of the blog and another varied and interesting crop of presentations. There was a lot talk of about cloud computing, both from a business and technical perspective.

Two presentations from SURF, the Dutch partnership for Higher Education and Research, outlined how they have been pulling together a framework and reference architecture for cloud in HE, as well as a long term plan to help HEIs realise some of the strategic benefits of cloud computing. They’ve even produced a nifty little video here.

From a more technical perspective, two presentations from our hosts at Umeå University outlined the work they have done in implementing VMware and Microsoft Azure technology to create flexible and cost-effective hybrid clouds.

In my final session of the day, Noel Wilson talked about the changing skillsets required of an IT organisation and of how frameworks such as the British Computer Society’s Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) can help.

Learning analytics, MOOCs and the Examinations Factory

Gillian Fielding
Learning and Skills Development Manager
University of Salford



Reflections on the first day of the EUNIS conference

I have to say how delighted I am to be here, and thank you to UCISA for awarding me this bursary award.  I confess I had not heard of EUNIS prior to the award and have rapidly come to realise how much we have to learn from this organisation. .

Expect the unexpected

And what a start to the Congress! Gerry Pennell from Manchester University gave a fascinating presentation about how he managed the IT for the London Olympics. IT Directors wouldn’t be surprised by his content but for me as a Digital Skills Manager there was so much in it. Having said that, the key difference from HE, and maybe of interest to IT Directors, was the deadline. It could NOT slip. Also of interest was everyone’s motivation in taking those roles considering they knew that the role would end immediately after the event. Understanding what drove people helped.

Other lessons for our sector: “expect the unexpected”. Cyberattacks were expected and ‘easy’ to deal with, wobbly poles caused by screaming crowds were not. Keeping calm and addressing issues was essential. It was essential to resolve the wobbly pole issue so potential photo finishes in the 100m finals were discernible. Gerry pointed out that projects can be delivered on time and should not drag on. Staying focused on the ‘must haves’, not getting side-tracked with bells and whistles, were key factors.

In year, immediate use of learning analytics

Use of learner analytics to go beyond retaining students was covered by Cheryl Reynolds from Huddersfield University in her really thought-provoking presentation. Cheryl and Cath Ellis used data from Turnitin’s GradeCentre to alter the curriculum during the module to suit immediately evident needs. Examples included students not using subject specific literature, incorrect use of possessive apostrophes and having poor, or non-existent, introductions. Data from GradeCentre was immediately analysed to form part of the next lesson on whatever was needed to find those that were closely associated with success. The data was presented to the students, carefully, so they could learn and improve. Cheryl pointed out this needs to be done discreetly so as not to embarrass anyone or negatively impact the low achievers.

In his presentation entitled ‘Blowing Backwards into the Future of Higher Education’, Anders Norberg of UMEA University pointed out the need and some of the issues we need to address to change our thinking about teaching and learning. He illustrated this by saying we often use ‘transfer learning’ in education but outside education people learn by ‘experimental learning’, suggesting this is an unsustainable mismatch. Anders raised many thought-provoking points, including that we think of learning in rooms, and that defines how we approach content and timescales. We need to move away from this, from ‘courses’ to ‘learning expeditions’.


Many aspects of MOOCs were covered, practical and otherwise, in the presentations from Yves Epelboin and Juan Antonio Martínez Carrascal. The number of MOOCs are rapidly, very rapidly, increasing. The main player is the Spanish ‘Miriada’ who are big in the South American market, ‘FutureLearn’ is next, then the French ‘Universite Numerique’ and the German ‘iVersity’. Interestingly, iVeristy has said there is no (MOOC) business in HE, they are focusing on working with the private sector.

Student retention – no one knows how many get to the end, some are lurkers and some are not interested in the quizzes and assessment. There is no research on what people want out of MOOCs. Flipped learning and SPOCs had benefits for HE in that they allowed academics to start dipping their toes in the waters of what’s needed for MOOCs. The advice from both presentations for HE was to start getting into MOOCs.

Eunis has resources on MOOCs.

Prof Mark Stubbs’ presentation was on Manchester Metropolitan’s Eunis Elite Award-winning EQAL project to implement major system changes across the institution to easily enable students’ wishes for ‘engaging and well-organised courses’ and ‘inspirational tutors who know me’. The project saw the student information system, Moodle and timetabling all talk to each other and give students their timetables, amongst other things, on their mobile devices. The project included single course codes, five well-written learning outcomes with employability skills and provided academics with useful analytics, and took four years to complete. I’m not surprised it was award-winning.

Blackboard’s Dan Peters’ presentation on the opportunities that ‘selfies’ offer us, was another thought-provoking session. Dan gave a convincing case that selfies were evidence of students wanted to produce and that we should monopolise on that in education. Dan cited Stanford who had interestingly made lecture attendance optional after introducing the flipped classroom and problem-based learning approach. They found that attendance increased. They didn’t produce their own recording but used OERs.

Reasons for academics not to engage were discussed e.g. time, skill, however the arguments for were compelling: use of OERs; recordings don’t need to be BBC quality; students want short, engaging content.

Assessment and electronic assessments formed the final sessions of the day. Gill Ferrell pointed to the fabulous resources that JISC have produced to guide staff when considering or reviewing assessment.  Possibly the most important point in this session was that peer reviews have a high impact on learning, though we need to explain to students why they are doing peer assessments, especially as it is not what they expect of HE. Gill also flagged the new JISC mailing list.

Copenhagen University and the Swiss Federal Institute addressed one of the sector’s key strategic challenges (see UCISA’s Strategic challenges for IT Services publication) by sharing their interesting practice in on-line assessments. Both are undertaking large numbers of on-line assessments in Copenhagen in the ‘Examinations Factory’ – a dedicated building. Practical issues covered cheating but little new here, looking over shoulders was still the same as when I was at school and did my 11+ (a long gone UK test for 10/11 year olds). Randomised questions helped mitigate the possibility of cheating. The other issues they’d had were also not new to exam cheating e.g. bringing data/devices (USBs and mobiles etc) into the testing room, and were easily combatted with locked systems and mobile detectors.

The benefits were improved quality, learning outcomes and efficiency, as well as easier to read exam scripts, so well worth it. Average cost €21 per exam. Many different types of exams were held, the obvious multiple choice, also ‘written’ exams, task based ones including conducting an Information Literacy search. The only exam types that were not possible were hand sketched submissions and ones which included written formula.

A great but exhausting first day. In the land of the ‘summer light’ I shall be getting an early night to rest my challenged brain.

You can follow Gillian’s Tweets @g_fielding, or follow the conference hashtag #eunis14.


Electronic assessment, information security and lessons from the Olympics



John Beaver
Assistant Director, Department of Computing Services, University of Bath

A UCISA bursary award winner at EUNIS

John is attending EUNIS 2014 in Umeå, Sweden as a result of receiving a UCISA 21st anniversary bursary.  He will be blogging and Tweeting (@johnbeaver) about his experiences.

I almost didn’t make it here at all. An hour before my flight, the lock on my suitcase jammed imprisoning my passport and boarding pass. But with the help of a good Samaritan at a luggage shop and a hefty screwdriver, the lock was defeated and I was able to board my flight.

Day one began with a welcome from the president of EUNIS and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Umea and then straight into the keynote from Gerry Pennell, former CIO for LOCOG. Delegates at the recent UCISA conference in Brighton will have seen much of Gerry’s presentation. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be in awe of the magnitude of the project to deliver IT for the Olympics. Whilst there are some similarities between his old role and his current job as CIO at the University of Manchester, his experience of delivering a project which simply cannot be late and cannot iterate offers a very interesting insight to project management and service delivery from which I’m sure many in HE could learn.

The University of Huddersfield’s Cheryl Reynolds spoke about the power of drawing together data from electronic assessments to derive information, identify trends and draw conclusions which can then directly feed back into the curriculum or trigger interventions in the students’ learning experience. Powerful though this can be, Cheryl urged caution in how these data are used. We need to be mindful of the future (ab)use of the data and understand that a student’s learning experience is far more than just the set of digital artefacts about their studies.

One final highlight of the day was Runa Sandvik’s analysis of the NSA leaks. A former acquaintance of Edward Snowden, Runa is a security researcher. She reminded us that, thanks to “dragnet” surveillance and her connection to Snowden, the audience were now just two “hops” from Snowden themselves!

John Beaver

Slides from speakers  on the first day of the conference