Tag Archives: Analytics

Connecting on virtual reality through the UCISA bursary

David Vince
Senior Product Development Manager, Learning and Teaching Innovation
The Open University

Six months on from Realities 360 2018, San Jose

This year the UCISA bursary scheme enabled me to attend Realities 360. The conference, only in its second year, attracted an international audience of hundreds of colleagues working in education and interested in augmented, virtual and mixed reality. Having searched for an event closer to the UK, without success, it simply wouldn’t have been possible to attend the conference without UCISA’s support.
At the time of the conference, I was in the early stages of a project exploring the affordances of VR in education. As a distance university, our students at The Open University are geographically dispersed and study asynchronously. This poses us some unique challenges, particularly when introducing new or emergent technologies like VR. At the time, we had undertaken two small scale VR pilots to refine our VR production process. One of these pilots was a presentation practice tool for law students which gave them the opportunity to present virtually and take questions from a virtual audience. This gave students the opportunity to practice applying the law to near real-world problems and receive analytics data to aid their reflection before undertaking the task in person. I soon learned that VR demanded a new approach to design and construction over established media due to its uniquely immersive properties. I’ve used my experience of the conference to learn from other’s practice and refine our production processes. I’m now leading the project at a phase where we need to transition from a discreet R&D project to operating at greater scale.
One of the key takeaways from Realities 360 was to see how others were approaching the design and creation of VR experiences. It helped me to better understand immersion as a new form of narrative. There is a need to consider how users might interact (i.e. the interface being used – not forgetting voice, gesture and haptic interfaces) with virtual objects, as well as how those objects behave, so as to go beyond the affordances of established media.
Sharing my conference experience with my immediate team has led us to consider how we can enhance the design of our VR experiences. There’s a gap in evaluation of VR in education and we’re exploring how analytics might infer where students are becoming more proficient with tasks, and therefore eliminate the need to present them with text-based questions and interrupt their experience.
Learning from the conference has been shared internally at our annual university-wide Learn About Fair. This has enabled us to connect with faculty staff who see the potential for using VR in their discipline. It’s also helped us to attract support from a senior stakeholder!
Last week, my team presented at the ‘Immersive Environments’ event organised by UCISA’s Digital Education Group. This gave us the opportunity to share an output of the project, which is a VR suitability toolkit intended to support the design and creation of pedagogically viable VR.
Undoubtedly, the biggest benefit from the bursary has been the opportunity to connect with, and learn from, colleagues both nationally and internationally. This has given us a forum to share our experience and develop a support network, and learn how others are solving some of the technical challenges and issues of scale associated with producing VR.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

The truth about data and analytics

The driver for many institutions’ use of analytics has been improving retention. The worried well, high achievers looking to improve, may also benefit from monitoring their own performance. But is that a lost opportunity? Can improvement be achieved across the board? UCISA Executive Director, Peter Tinson highlights a different approach.




The recent report from UCISA and Sero HE, The truth about data and analytics notes that institutions’ primary aim of investing in learning analytics is to improve retention. Interventions triggered as a result of students failing to meet prescribed checkpoints lead to a discussion with the student as to the reasons for their lack of engagement and, generally, a subsequent improvement in student performance. But is an interventionist approach the only way? Are there ways to improve the performance of all students rather than focus on those at risk of failing?
Temple University in Philadelphia takes a different approach. Their Fly in 4 programme was devised to improve both retention and the number of students graduating in the minimum four years. The drive for the programme came from the top – Temple’s President wanted an initiative that focused on affordability as a result of on time graduation.
A cross-campus partnership was formed to deliver the initiative including staff from the student admissions, finance, student support, marketing and IT departments. The partnership first considered student behaviours and institutional barriers to progression and on time graduation. This review led to some process improvements and eradication of inconsistencies in the application of policies across the institution. With regard to student behaviour, it was recognised that it was relatively easy for students to drift; those who made a commitment to their studies were more likely to graduate on time.
The result was effectively a contract between the student and the institution. Each student makes a number of commitments to study and check in at key stages. This clearly places a high demand on advising staff and requires an investment in those resources to ensure that the programme is going to be effective. Advising staff were engaged in the programme at an early stage and throughout its development to shape messages and identify strategies to monitor checkpoints. On the other side of the contract, the institution commits to providing the necessary academic programmes and advice and support.
Fly in 4 has been a success with retention rates improving and numbers graduating in four years increasing. The initiative is not compulsory but over 90% of first year students signed up and are achieving demonstrably better results. It caters for all students and not just those at risk of failing or dropping out. The Fly in 4 agreement heightens student awareness of their responsibilities as well as identifying how the University will support them through the process.
Although data underpins the initiative, it is clear that student support is the key element in the programme. Without that support, the initiative would founder and the advising staff were engaged at all stages of the project to help drive success. Senior executive support led to a coordinated programme with the necessary resources for support.
The Truth about data and analytics report identified the need for senior leadership and recognised that the deployment of analytics required much more than deploying a technical solution. The Fly in 4 initiative shows how a data approach, underpinned by strong support, can deliver improvements across the piece.

Key take-outs:

  • Senior executive support is essential in developing data driven approaches to student performance

  • Data driven approaches need to be underpinned by quality support mechanisms

  • A ‘contract’ between the student and the institution improves student understanding of their responsibilities


UCISA welcomes blog contributions and comment responses to blog posts from all members. If you would like to contribute a new perspective or opinion on a current topic of interest, simply contact UCISA’s marketing manager Manjit Ghattaura via manjit.ghattaura@it.ox.ac.uk


The views expressed on UCISA blogs are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of UCISA

Interview: Deakin University’s AV solutions

Ben Sleeman
Service Development Assistant
University of Greenwich



AETM Conference 2017 and university visits, Melbourne, Australia

Ben Sleeman was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

As part of the UCISA bursary scheme, in November I attended the Audiovisual and Education Technology Management (AETM) Conference held at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. I also visited five universities in Melbourne including Deakin University.

While visiting Deakin University, I was able to interview Jeremy West, Senior Audio Visual Engineer and Tech Lead in the eSolution Team. He kindly answered questions about a range of topics including how new audio video technologies are coming to Deakin University and how these technologies converge with other IT solutions.

In the interview, Jeremy talks about how Deakin University is moving its traditional audio/video over HDBaseT to over IP solutions. He also talks about moving to cloud control for AV teaching space control and using analytics that come back from these systems to improve academic user experience. Collaboration has been key to this move to IP AV solutions, working with their network engineering and systems teams.

I will be blogging about my further conversations with Jeremy on other AV developments at Deakin.





 Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

EUNIS 2017 Day 1 Digital Insights



Ed Stout
Support Services Manager
Leeds Beckett University


Ed Stout was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

So, day 1 of EUNIS 2017 in Münster and I packed a lot into a very busy but great day!!
It started with a brisk walk from my hotel to the University of Münster campus, made all the brisker through a slight error of direction on my part. No problem, I just got to see a little more of this beautiful city than I’d bargained for at that time of the morning. That said, it was worth reminding myself to be mindful not to get run over by the hundreds of cyclists whizzing around in “the wrong direction”





Opening addresses

Following an early registration session we were straight into the programme at 9AM with the conference’s opening addresses  from Professor Johannes Wessels, the Rector here at University of Münster, EUNIS President Ilkka Siissalo and Dr. Raimund Vogl, the IT Director and CIO at University of Münster.

Prof. Wessels set the scene nicely for those of us unfamiliar with Münster. The university, he tells us, has 45,000 students and approaching 8,000 staff! That’s a bit bigger than I’m used to at Leeds Beckett (for reference we suggest we have approximately 30,000 students and 3,200 staff). The University of Münster has a not unsubstantial €610M budget, 15 departments and 238 buildings which make the their claim of “The City is our Campus” seem not far off the mark. See the campus map

Ilkka Siissalo is the CIO at Helsinki University as well as current EUNIS President and made reference to the state of a growing EUNIS community. He also identified upcoming EUNIS events including two analytics workshops  in Lisbon this December and a Rectors conference due to take place in Porto next spring.

Dr. Vogl opened his address with a look at the University of Münster’s IT Governance which has been in place in some form since the 1990s. A diagram of this can be found below:






Key points of the IT Governance structure are that:

  • The IT commission acts as a parliamentary institution (a larger body with members nominated by the senate of the university). It also allows them to obtain wider feedback inclusive of the student point of view.
  • IT steering decisions are formed within the IT Board which previously acted effectively as a commission CIO but;
  • A CIO position was recently created and subsequently filled by Dr. Vogl alongside his position as IT Director.


Keynote 1: NMC’s Higher Education Horizon

Eden Dahlstrom – Executive Director at the New Media Consortium 

Eden offered some very interesting insights into the findings within the ‘NMC Horizon Report’ detailing the developments, trends, challenges and anticipated time to adoption of technologies within higher education over the next 5+ years. The report can be found here with additional related resources here.






I suspect we all recognise that actively making change within organisations can be very difficult. Eden referenced a quote by Dr Peter F. Drucker which seemed only too fitting:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Get the attitudes and everyday principles right and the intended changes can become easier.

No paper available

Keynote 2: Digital Humanities 

Dr. Torsten Hiltmann – Associate Professor at the Institute for Medieval History, Münster University

I understand that this was a late addition to the EUNIS 17 agenda  but you wouldn’t have recognised it, Dr. Hiltmann certainly proved that he knows his area of specialism well. Now, Digital Humanities  or Digitale Geisteswissenschaften as I believe the locals call it is new to me but I certainly feel like I came away from this Keynote having learnt something.

Digital Humanities is “the use of computer-based tools and methods to answer existing questions to elaborate new questions in the domain of Humanities”. It is believed to have all started as far back as 1949 with data being transferred onto punch cards before making the transition onto magnetic tapes in 1955. Prior to the digitisation of information, projects had to be digitised in order to be able to be processed. Now, however a large portion of material is already accessible in a digitised form and thus making it much easier, quicker and more efficient to use.

Dr. Hiltmann went on to cover the importance of some of the methods in Digital Humanities with reference to mediaeval coats of arms. Understanding that there were over 1 million different coats of arms in the Middle Ages, it’s important to recognise and understand the differences. Dr. Hiltmann very knowledgeably broke down the anatomy of a coat of arms and identified the importance of a standard to describe them.






No paper available

Parallel Session 1: Leadership & Management – Building a Digital Roadmap for Greater Engagement and Success

Chris Bridge – ITS Director Queensland University of Technology 

This was quite literally a standing room only session…






Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is another substantial university by students and staff numbers with over 47,000 students and nearly 13,000 staff and in 2013 its IT strategy had expired. Chris informs us that there was an appetite for change, having recognised a shift in the sector and QUT took a new strategic approach to digital leadership.

QUT positions itself at the forefront of technology and innovation and identified that it needed to be agile in order to respond effectively to new challenges. It was therefore decided to build a new Digital Roadmap to ensure its competitiveness in the HE market. Their Digital Roadmap focused on three key areas; Students, learning and teaching; Research and innovation; People, culture and sustainability.

Chris referenced that the successes of the Digital Roadmap have been the improved alignment between IT investments and business strategy, funding now better balanced between innovation, strategy and BAU also common and well understood business language has been adopted across the roadmap in place of technical language ensuring that all parties understand it clearly.

A link to Chris’ “Building a Digital Roadmap for Greater Engagement and Success” paper can be found here. 

Parallel Session 1: Leadership & Management – Digitalization of Higher Education from a Student’s Point of View 

Anne Thoring – Centre for Information Processing, University of Münster

Anne and colleagues at the University of Münster have undertaken qualitative interviews with small groups of students to gather information on service requirements. The 3 categories identified as priorities for students related to IT were: study organisation, online literature and software provision.

Interestingly (although potentially not too surprisingly), findings from the interviews identified that students’ most important requirements from IT solutions are that they offer integration and standardisation with existing university services. Additionally, students identified that IT Services should simply enable them to focus on their studies and ensure that relevant resources are easily accessible. The study also asked students to rate services and systems such as Münster’s e-learning platform, exam administration system and 3rd party provided cloud based services https://www.oclc.org/en/news/releases/2017/201701oberhaching.html on a positive, neutral or negative scale whilst allowing them to pass additional comments.  It became clear that students are keen for IT departments to utilise services such as those available from Microsoft and Google as opposed to bespoke in-house offerings. The overall findings though allowed Anne and colleagues to make an assessment that students are taking a more pragmatic view on digitisation developments than has been suggested by a range of professional parties.






A link to Anne’s “Digitalization of Higher Education from a Student’s Point of View” paper can be found here.

Parallel Session 1: Leadership & Management – Essential IT capabilities for a Successful Digital Transformation in Higher Education 

Pekka Kahkipuro – Chief Information Officer at Brunel University London

In order to successfully complete a digital transformation in HE, Pekka proposes a 3 layered capability model for structuring the required IT capabilities.

  • Basic capabilities – current best practices in traditional IT form the foundation for digital transformation.
  • Standard capabilities – needed to maintain competition with other HE peers.
  • Advanced capabilities – institutions looking at using digital business as competitive advantage.

Pekka illustrated the typical IT function using Gartner’s “Four Futures of IT Organisations” model as below and recognised that whilst undoubtedly we work within all four quadrants, we commonly focus more regularly within the bottom left “Engine room” as in Figure 2. In here we are too commonly internally focused around operational activities (BAU) and in order to successfully complete a digital transformation it is important to look outside of this quadrant (Figure 3).






Digital transformation provides different options for different institutions and so, no two implementations will be the same. At the advanced capabilities level however is where the main differentiation will occur. These may be related to elements of the institution and not simply IT but if you get it right here you can maximise the competitive benefit.

A link to Pekka’s award nominated “Essential IT capabilities for a successful digital transformation in Higher Education” paper can be found here

Parallel Session 2: ICT Infrastructure & Security – Achieving a Trust Relationship Model in eduroam – The Case of an RadSec Pilot Implementation in Portuguese Higher Education Institutions 

Pedro Simoes – FCCN, Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT)

Now it would be very fair to say that this was a technical session!! Not one my expertise are specifically aligned with, however I thought it would be useful to learn more. In truth, this may have been a technical step too far for me… read the paper linked below if you don’t believe me, Pedro knows his stuff






Eduroam  originated as a service in 2002 and spread rapidly across 85 countries allowing students, researchers and educational staff free, secure wireless access at any participating institutions. Pedro and colleagues have been piloting RadSec (Secure RADIUS)  in Eduroam.pt amongst a subset of Portuguese institutions. They have taken a heterogeneous approach across the piloting institutions as a model for best practice for adoption nationally. Alongside this they’ve also been trialling Radiator, FreeRadius  and RadSecProxy  for authentication.

To really get to the depths of the study without the limitations of my understanding I would recommend checking out the paper as below.

A link to Pedro’s “Achieving a trust relationship model in Eduroam – the case of an RadSec pilot implementation in Portuguese Higher Education Institutions” paper can be found here.

Parallel Session 2: ICT Infrastructure & Security – Device Specific Credentials to Protect from Identity Theft in Eduroam 

Bernd Decker – RWTH Aachen University

As I always seem to personally be interested on the scale of an institution, here is RWTH Aachen University by numbers:

  • Approximately 45,000 students
  • Approximately 8,500 international students
  • Approximately 9,000 staff
  • Approximately 540 professors
  • 9 faculties offering 152 courses

This study was initiated due to the threat / possibility of Eduroam credentials being retrieved by a man in the middle attack. Mobile devices were identified as particularly vulnerable due to them persistently trying to find known WLANs and with the ever increasing growth of the Eduroam userbase combined with the fact that account passwords are too commonly used for non-university accounts, it was deemed a valid objective at RWTH Aachen University.

A web app was developed that allowed students and staff to create unique device based credentials. It was highlighted though that the drawbacks of this, whilst more secure, would require a uniquely generated username and password to be applied at the point of connection to the Eduroam service. This method allows devices to be granted/declined access to Eduroam and through a web interface, devices/location/time logs could be accessed for the last 14 days connections where it was possible to revoke access.






This was certainly a new method of Eduroam connection to me and whilst the security aspect was certainly improved, it left me with concerns (rightly identified by Bernd) that it was not intuitive and that students/staff would find it complicated to configure. It is certainly one for the security vs usability debate and whilst I, as a techie may come down on the secure side of the argument, being pragmatic I suspect it might be a tough sell to students, staff etc.

A link to Bernd’s “Device specific credentials to protect from identity theft in Eduroam” paper can be found here.

Parallel Session 3: Parallel Session 3: Sponsor Track – Panopto: Using Video to Enhance Informal, Formal and Blended learning approaches 

Denis Staskewitsch – Area Sales Manager DACH, Panopto

Adrien Bourg – Account Executive at Panopto 

The focus of this workshop was on the use of video with Panopto when used as a capture tool to enhance the formal, informal and blended learning approaches in HE. The session was low on attendees but this allowed for greater interaction between those of us that were present. At this session, and indeed as it has felt throughout the conference so far, I was one of a few representing institutions from the UK. Scandinavian institutions seem to be here at EUNIS17 in quite some number and this was evidenced by 75% of those at the session representing institutions from Norway and Finland.

Video is becoming a standard which our students are expecting or even demanding. Within the next 3 years, 80% of all internet traffic will be video content online. YouTube as an online social video sharing platform now has more than 1 billion users and over 300 hours of video content being uploaded to it every minute. To scale Panopto, it hosts more than 2 million videos within their cloud offering and actively streams more than 100 years’ worth of video every month. They also serve more than 5 million end-users all around the globe. This is clearly a growing market and not one that we within HE should sidestep.

Panopto have conducted a poll which identified over 90% of its users use the service to enhance their overall student experience. They recognise that it enables them to engage with distance learners (43%) and also see it as a tool to help increase student recruitment and retention (33%). Given how students use the service, it was also recognised by nearly 50% that it helps them improve their grades and can be used to train staff and enhance CPD (24%).

A breakdown of how it is being used in universities offers some interesting insights:





When students were surveyed regarding those views on technology to enhance their learning, 89% agreed that technology helps them improve their ability to learn. 75% had used an online platform such as YouTube or Vimeo to learn a new skills. Another interesting finding was that students felt almost in equal measure, that a formal and informal mix of learning approaches was most desirable:




I certainly see the use of video for educational delivery, whether via a lecture capture service alone or complimented by other means, continuing to grow and given some of the findings discussed, HE institutions would be wise to invest and reap the multitude of benefits.

No paper available

Parallel Session 3: Sponsor Track – Inspera: Digital Assessment in Norway – A Case Study from the University of Bergen 

Sofie Emmertsen – Executive Education Consultant, Inspera 

So, as it turned out I didn’t know a hell of a lot about digital assessments, at least not on the scale that seems to be commonplace across Scandinavian HE institutions. Sofie referenced that there are currently very few UK HE institutions that have taken up the digital assessment offerings from Inspera or any of their competitors. That said, I was advised that fellow EUNIS17 speaker Pekka Kahkipuro has encouraged / supported the adoption as CIO at Brunel University in London.

A case study of the University of Oslo in Norway referenced that 6,000 students sat digital assessments in 2014. This figure rose to 45,000 in 2017. It is certainly a fast growing market within the HE sector.

What are the benefits??

  • Markers and moderators have fast and secure access to all submissions
  • Reviewers and externals can be easily included in the assessment process
  • Markers can offer better feedback
  • Students use a media that they are used to during assessment exams
  • Student satisfaction is increased
  • Administrative work hours are reduced
  • Management have better control and insight into the assessment process

The University of Bergen, faculty of Maths and Science have gone from 48% of assessment digitised over 7 disciplines in 2015 to 55% of the assessments digitised over 35 disciplines in 2016. They also have the aim to have 100% of assessments digitised by the end of 2017. Bergen are seeing very swift movement in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biology whilst the Department of Maths are slower to take up the digital assessments. This in part was referenced as being due to the mathematical workings being commonly made by hand on paper and requiring of inclusion within the assessment. So, there are some limitations/challenges (namely those in red below) but please note the faculty strategy to overcome them below:




No paper available



Keynote 3: Digital Campus Management and Student Information Systems – A Customer’s Perspective 

Dr. Malcolm Woodfield – Global Vice President and Head of the Higher Education and Research Industry at SAP

Björn Kemmoona – Director of Marlin Consulting

Eva Mundanjohl – Head of the Department for Academic and Student Affairs, University of Münster

Unfortunately, I was tied up in conversations with other conference delegates and so did not make it to this session however, a summary of what was covered is outlined here.

Keynote 4: Maximizing Productivity and Learning Time – Fundamentals and Requirements in the Usage of AV Technology 

Frank Boshoven – Sales and Key Account Manager at the Crestron (Germany) & Crestron EMEA Education Program Manager

Now, I had wondered if Frank was coming to sell us a particular brand of kitchen appliance but it turns out he’s a bit of an AV evangelist so I quickly got over that and focussed on his keynote… Sorry, getting the obvious jokes out of the way first.

Frank started out in the AV business back in 1982 as an R/F technician but subsequently moved into sales. Crestron are big players in the AV market and with their headquarters in New Jersey and a range of global offices in over 90 other countries. As a company they were established in 1969, and now employ over 4,000 staff and have had the same management team for 40 years. Frank went on to offer us a journey through Crestron’s innovative company history. Since the first graphical programming language and colour touchscreen control panels were introduced in the early ’90s, through with the integration with PDAs, tablets and computers in the early ’00s and more recently the distribution of scaling of 4K/60 content.

Crestron have taken on the challenge of combining different manufacturers products and platforms into a centralised AV management solution. Crestron Fusion  is intended to maximise productivity and reduce overall costs through remote monitoring and management and control of all classroom AV technology. Live data feeds into Fusion allow relevant parties to identify room occupancy and through appropriate power management seek to offer maximum energy-efficiency / environmental gains.

A typical installation in a lecture theatre was suggested to consist of more than 30 power supplies, a multitude of connections and the requirement for time and effort to be spent programming devices. It was referenced that this places unnecessary expense on the business. Standardisation in hardware and configuration is the way forward to obtain maximum efficiency and usability.

Frank summarised the challenges within a professional AV business as below:




No paper available


Civic Reception – Historical Town Hall, Münster

It was a very enjoyable end to a very busy first day at EUNIS17. The event opened with some short speeches and allowed to delegates to mix whilst enjoying a little food and drink. The location could not have been more beautiful in the Historic Town Hall in Münster. This is the location that the “Peace of Westphalia” was signed in 1648 ending the Thirty Years’ War and marking the beginning of a long period of peace in Europe. We were even fortunate to be offered a formal tour of the building to gain some real insights into the history that it held.












This blog post first appeared on http://www.edstout.co.uk/blog/

Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

APIs, architecture and the Narwhal



Matt Cook
Head of Infrastructure and Middleware
Loughborough University
Chair of UCISA-NG


2014 Technology Exchange – Day 1

Courtesy of the UCISA 21st anniversary bursary scheme, I am in Indianapolis, USA this week for the inaugural Technology Exchange conference hosted jointly by Internet2 and ESnet. Internet2 is the USA equivalent of the Janet National Research and Education Network (NREN) in the UK. ESnet provides specific high bandwidth connections to Energy Science research organisations across the USA and beyond.

If you have never been to a conference within the USA before, I’d certainly recommend taking the opportunity to experience a different scale of event. I’ve spoken at VMworld in the USA before where over 7,000 delegates attended the conference, which was orchestrated more like a music concert or sporting event; I was pleasantly surprised to experience a more personal 750 delegates for the first Technology Exchange conference. The same networking opportunities are provided with mini sessions starting at breakfast, multiple mini working groups ‘camps’, Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions and both leadership and technical streams.

There are four main topics covered within the conference

  • Security;
  • Trust, Identity and Middleware Applications;
  • Cloud Services; and
  • Advanced Networking/Joint Technologies.

As an inaugural event, I’m interested to see how it positions itself along with the Internet2 Global Summit, TNC and Janet Networkshop. I really value colleagues in the community who dedicate time to blogging thoughts from the events they are attending. Collectively it provides a rich resource and I’m pleased to be contributing to this through the UCISA blog over the next four days.

Opening ThoughtsMatthew Cook Day 1

The opening keynote was delivered by Harper Reed who would not look out of place in one of the hipster cafes in the Wicker Park area of Chicago. This is by no means a coincidence as one of his roles is CTO of Threadless, the crowdsourced printing company in an adjoining neighbourhood. Harper delivered an excellent opening keynote in a TED Talk style highlighting many learning points from his technology career including that as CTO of the Obama for America campaign – remember the Narwhal?

Harper spoke about how we grow the talent pipeline and further develop the bright people in our team. We often concentrate on the development of future leaders; do we pay enough attention to our technical talent pipeline? A stream of the conference is focusing on the diversity of our workforce and providing the opportunity to tell the story of our career to date, would it not be interesting to hear how colleagues got to where they are today? The point was made that we should always hire people who are smarter than you and who are different to you. A sure-fire way to build a great team. A lot of the work Harper’s team developed on the Obama for America campaign was related to business analytics, turning the data obtained from the doorstep campaign through information, into knowledge and ultimately wisdom for the micro targeting marketing campaign.

Harper’s insights into the development of the architecture required to support this initiative is a similar challenge to that raised in the UCISA Strategic Challenge Report 2013 “Supporting the use of analytics/business intelligence to inform decision-making and planning.” Architecture is key for success in this area and Harper outlined the simplicity of making the same data available through straightforward API calls. Although on the one morning when the daily campaign bulletin failed to arrive, it was not a failed ‘cronjob’ as the team expected; an intern had simply not turned up for the shift to input the data.

At Loughborough, I have the pleasure of working with some extremely clever people who can code and build things, which are beyond the reach of my BBC BASIC skills of the 1980s. In terms of visualisation, Harper mentioned StatsD/Graphite, which looked extremely interesting to me, so a quick Google search found an introduction that those of you who can code may find useful. Some of the technology we promote within the community has a very long gestation period from inception through to fruition. Some technology doesn’t make it, but others become part of everyday life. Take Eduroam for example, 11 years in the making, it took a big push in the late 2000’s for organisations to take it seriously and now it is in commonplace use, including at the conference venue.

I was at an EMUIT (East Midlands Universities IT) Operations meeting a week ago and was pleased to hear a colleague explain that they ‘required’ IPv6 to be operational on their site to win a research contract; in a similar vein I was pleased to see Harper explain that he ‘required’ the cloud in order to develop the architecture to support his work. Sometimes we are blinkered by the architecture we have always had, supported by the resources we have always had and have done things in the way we always have done. There are opportunities to think differently, there were a couple of Apple references in the talk, but I do genuinely believe there are opportunities to approach infrastructure in a different way.

When the UCISA bursary call for interest was released, I was originally going to submit a request to attend the “AFRICOMM 6th International Conference on e-Infrastructure and e-Services for Developing Countries” conference in Uganda. I can see there is a lot of potential learning in how to do things differently in challenging situations. As I was still recovering from a rather physically challenging broken ankle sustained in last year’s snowboarding season, I thought I’d play it safe and travel to the USA instead. I’d certainly watch the African NREN’s with interest after hearing some of the innovative work they are undertaking at a previous TNC conference.

The final points I wanted to make surrounding Harper’s presentation are around failure, he was proud to announce “We practiced failure for over four months”. The learning points from understanding and embracing failure are great and often swept under the table, rather than embracing and celebrating the learning from failure.

Learning Points

• How do we grow our technical talent pipeline?;
• Designing the architecture to support analytics/business intelligence;
• Sometimes technology innovation has a long gestation period, be patient;
• Find opportunities to think differently about architecture;
• We should all train for failure to understand success.

Matt Cook

Disruptive innovation, competency based education and higher education of the future

Luke Taylor
Assistant Director
University of Bristol


Educause – Day 1

When I applied for one of the UCISA 21st Anniversary bursaries, I stated that my focus at Educause would be on the following three areas. These are strategically important both for UCISA members and for my University:

  1. Joined-up, student-centred enterprise systems
  2. Master data, reporting and analytics to support decisions for individual students, cohorts and institutions
  3. Consistent and effective processes and technology that can be used to support the management of the assessment and feedback life-cycle

Day 1 gave me the opportunity to look at the big picture – A view of students of the future and the higher education of the future. I also got some insight into the latest approaches to the use of analytics as a part of the education process, and an introduction to tools that support Competency Based Education (CBE).

Clay Christensen, Harvard Business School professor, used his opening keynote to provide some thoughts about disruptive innovation and why it matters to higher education. Drawing parallels with the technology business, Clay showed that, while established and successful universities currently retain their dominance through investment in incremental advancements to the traditional HE model, this will not be a sustainable approach, and will become increasingly under threat from smaller, more agile organisations that can introduce new education models through rapid innovation. A similar point of view was previously put forward in the IPPR publication “An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead“. Universities need to consider how to give accreditation for smaller ‘packets’ of learning rather than traditional degree courses, which students can draw together to prepare them for the jobs of the future.

The thoughts from Clay Christensen’s opening keynote were supported by Gartner Vice President, Jan-Martin Lowendahl’s presentation – ‘Introducing Visual Strategic Planning Using Four Higher Education Business-Model Scenarios and Strategic Technology Maps’. Jan described how the higher education delivery model needs to be completely rethought due to the opportunities brought about through technology. Universities need to consider their current model, what their future model will look like, and strategically plan how to develop their business model to react to the future needs for higher education.

Day 1 also introduced us to the students of 2020. Students that will need to prepare for careers that will include a variety of jobs, some of which don’t exist yet (the rise of the Data Scientist was difficult to predict). This view of the future means that students will want to gain many different skills, and make many adjustments to their education, over a lifetime of learning.

With these thoughts of future university business models and student needs, I used one of the breaks to go to the Educause Learning Theatre to see some new tools that can support Competency Based Education. Flat World and eLumen both provide interesting tools that support highly personalised student learning experiences. The demonstrations left me wondering how these tools could be combined with other student support systems, information systems and records systems to provide a joined-up, student-centred system.

Finally on day 1, I attended a session about building institutional capacity for learning analytics. This method of pulling together data from multiple sources in order to answer questions can be useful to the university and the individual student. Universities can use analytics to track student progress, plan future delivery and raise alerts for those who may need specific support to help them achieve their learning aims. Students can use analytics to guide their journey through university and converge towards their career steps. Accessing and analysing data about their own performance, comparing with the different degree pathways, understanding careers that led from similar pathways and how they relate to workforce trends, has the potential to guide students in a way that is difficult to achieve without analytics.


Students at the heart of the system


Luke Taylor
Assistant Director
University of Bristol



A status update via Educause

With many students paying £9,000 per annum in tuition fees and significant competition among universities to attract students, there is a greater than ever need to provide students with an excellent service, from prospect to alumnus.

Unfortunately, UK universities are faced with operating archaic student records systems (SRS) which, rather than putting the student at the heart of the system, focus on the recording of formal records in order to meet statutory and institutional administrative needs. A current SRS that can provide student self-service optional module selection is still considered leading edge!

UK universities need next-generation SRS solutions that can deliver true customer relationship management (CRM) underpinning support throughout the student life-cycle, and analytics also, to help guide each student individually through their journey at university, and assist the institution in reacting to and planning its way through this rapidly changing environment.

Is the UK alone in this predicament? Is there anything we can learn from our colleagues overseas? I applied to UCISA and was awarded one of their 21st Anniversary Bursaries to travel to an overseas conference. I have chosen to attend Educause to learn what U.S. and other international colleagues are doing to improve their delivery of systems to support students during their time at higher education.

Here is a list of some of the conference sessions I intend to get to (although many do overlap), which I hope will help me build a picture of the state of play overseas, and will form the basis of future blog posts:

Disruptive Innovation and the Future of Higher Education
Examining the Advancing Technology Market for Competency-Based Education
The Students of 2020
Adaptive Learning and the Quest to Improve Undergraduate Education
Student Systems Ascend to the Cloud: The Continuum of Solutions That Will Get You There
Behind the Curtain: Technologies Supporting Student Success
Building Institutional Capacity for Learning Analytics
Designing an Adaptable Evaluative Tool for Educational Technologies
Improving Student Graduation Rates Using Data Insights and Predictive Modelling
Kuali Student: Student Systems Solutions Already Making a Difference
Student Success Is Everybody’s Business
Organize to Get Analytics Right: Integrating Institutional Teams and High Speed to Improve Student Success
Learner Centric: The New Normal
Assessment with Learning Analytics: Combining Multiple Sources of Data to Support Student Learning with Educational Technology