Tag Archives: architecture

New ways of thinking

Emma Fletcher
Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor
York St John University

Highlights of EDUCAUSE 2017

Emma Fletcher was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

As a UCISA bursary award winner, I was able to attend this year’s EDUCAUSE 2017 conference. Some of the highlights included several general sessions as well as break-out sessions and a visit to the exhibition hall.

The general session for the second day of the conference was given by Katherine L Milkman, an expert in behavioral economics, and covered decision biases or choice architecture (which has some similarities with nudge theory). She covered the six principles to promote improved decisions:

  1. Set helpful defaults
  2. Prompt people to plan
  3. Leverage social norms
  4. Create accountability
  5. Capitalise on fresh starts
  6. Allow pre-commitment.

Other highlights from that day included:

The final session of the third day of the conference was the general session “Developing Students who have Different Kinds of Minds” delivered by Temple Grandin, a professor and author, talking about ‘visual thinkers’ and ‘pattern thinkers’. During the presentation, she talked a lot about her own experiences, thoughts and opinions.  She also discussed education at K12 and how children with different minds can struggle especially with fewer opportunities for hands on learning.


 

 

 

 

Overall, I enjoyed the conference experience although it was, at times, overwhelming due to the sheer scale of it. I personally found the breakout sessions more engaging and useful than the general sessions, although I still have FOMO about the parallel sessions I didn’t get to attend! The conference hashtag was full of reflections and discussions during the conference and is a good place to catch up.

Next generation Digital Learning Architecture

 

 

 

 

 

Ed Stout
Support Services Manager
Leeds Beckett University

EUNIS 2017

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

Dr. Rob Abel, Chief Executive Officer of IMS Global Learning Consortium, came across from the USA to talk us through his thoughts on the future of Digital Learning Architecture in Higher Education at EUNIS 2017. He very quickly put strong emphasis on the importance of a digital transformation strategy within HE institutions and outlined that IT should be an enabler to teaching and learning innovation. Dr. Abel’s presentation had so much content, in truth it was difficult to keep up. He gave us an overview of the tools and technology in place within the HE market for teaching and learning as outlined in the photo below: (apologies for poor image quality)


 

 

 

 

 

 

An outdated architecture for learning had different systems uniquely silo-ed with little to no interoperability:


 

 

 

 

 

 

What if now it was quicker and easier to make systems work in harmony, to benefit the connected learner? Well, Dr. Abel, in collaboration with Malcolm Brown (EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative) and Jack Suess (University of Maryland), had previously written a paper in 2013 analysing “A New Architecture for Learning” which highlights the need for an IT department to be agile, flexible and allow for personalisation when integrating new innovative learning technologies. Seamless interoperability between both current and future developed systems is the key to success; not simply an over-reliance on a current Learning Management System (LMS), but an ecosystem developed beyond it. Dr Abel referenced a very useful paper produced by the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative in 2015 entitled “The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment” which is worth your time to read and is available here

Dr. Abel then took the opportunity to take us on a high-speed tour of the benefits and impact of Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), which include:

  • Reduced integration time and cost by a factor of 100-1000x
  • Ubiquitous across 70+ learning platforms
  • Hundreds of certified LTI apps of varying types
  • Foundation of interoperable edtech ecosystem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMS Global have publicly released Caliper, a learning analytics interoperability framework that enables the collection, storage and transportation of data about learning. The Caliper framework removes the limitations of a single LMS system and opens up a broad range of benefits to be realised through the integration and interoperability of multiple systems. It is worth noting that it is being taken seriously by many HE institutions and partners, so is not one to simply toss aside without further investigation.

Seven things you should know about Caliper

This blog post first appeared on http://www.edstout.co.uk/2017/06/25/day-2-reflections/

EA and project portfolio management

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Ian Ellery
Head of IT Architecture
Canterbury Christ Church University

 

 

 

 

 

 

My final technical session was from an enterprise architect and portfolio manager at Danfoss, a Danish engineering company. Although very focused on improving the bottom line and digital innovation for a manufacturing company, parts of this were very relevant. Before architecture and portfolio got together, projects were initiated and governed by individual business areas (faculties?) with no overall coherence. While they have now moved to a single portfolio model, they still allow business areas to think they have their own portfolio, even if they don’t really own it. They also spoke about technical IT people never wanting to engage with business staff, expecting business partners to act as the interface and go-between. This certainly sounds familiar at Christ Church. Their final insight for me was that although they had a big vision for how architecture and portfolio was going to come together, they cautioned against trying to explain this to business colleagues all at once. Eyes would simply glaze over, so they realised it was easier to explain the changes piece by piece.

The last session of the day was from Neil Mullarkey – formerly of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and now using the techniques of improvisation to teach businesses how to collaborate. He drew out a lot of parallels between agile development and improv, as well as getting us all to improvise a story with those sitting next to us. An excellent speaker, with some strong messages, who I would strongly suggest UCISA consider as a guest speaker at the annual conference.

UCISA has an Enterprise Architecture community of practice which may be of interest.

EA and bimodal IT

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Ian Ellery
Head of IT Architecture
Canterbury Christ Church University

 

 

 

 

 

The next IRM EA conference I session went to was described as looking at the linkages between EA and portfolio management. However, little was said about the PMO, with the focus really being on setting up an EA function. One telling insight is that most EA tools are for enabling architects to talk to architects, not architects to talk to humans. The speaker’s company eventually settled on a tool with both PMO and architecture visualisation capability, which also links to technology life-cycle. This latter allows them to link projects to technology obsolescence. The speaker ended by commenting negatively on the Gartner model of bimodal IT. He felt that the faster mode does not understand BAU, while the slow side is seen as boring. This linked nicely to the next session.

This session was entitled “avoiding the bimodal disaster”, so we were in no doubt about the speaker’s viewpoint. He was president of a digital transformation consultancy, and strongly believed that the digital agenda is impossible in a bimodal organisation. In his view either the slow side will hold back the faster transformation efforts, or shadow IT will be created. There were some good aspects to this, such as not seeing EA as city planners, as planned cities are not agile. They may be efficient, but they are not able to cope with rapid change. However, throughout the talk I was left feeling that while there may be issues with Gartner’s bimodal model, there were at least as many issues with the “self-organised” approach advocated by the speaker. Perhaps it’s working in HE, but I was left thinking that there has got to be a compromise position somewhere. One observation I did agree with however, was the need to be ready for citizen IT: whether it be citizen integrator, developer or data analyst. We need to accept that in the future, these areas are no longer wholly owned by IT.

UCISA has an Enterprise Architecture community of practice which may be of interest.

EA – making a first assessment

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Ian Ellery
Head of IT Architecture
Canterbury Christ Church University

 

 

 

 

 

The next session  I went to at the IRM enterprise architecture conference was from the Head of Architecture and a solution architect from Cambridge Assessment: the examinations and marking offshoot of Cambridge University. To start architecture, you should always look at what is failing. When the new head of architecture joined, he sat in IT operations and observed what was happening. He realised that things were breaking constantly, but being fixed instantly before user impact by a very dedicated team. Poor architecture was being hidden by passionate staff.

There is a balance to be made between architecture for operations and architecture for the users. In the former it’s about reliability, the latter for example about moving away from pure infrastructure (“how many data outlets do we need?”) to asking questions about the users experience in a new building. They finished by describing architecture as a set of services with outcomes aligned to decisions. And compared all EA Frameworks to the labours of Sisyphus – forever pushing a boulder up a hill for no benefit at all.

UCISA has an Enterprise Architecture community of practice which may be of interest.

EA for managing change

ian-ellery-head-small

 

Ian Ellery
Head of IT Architecture
Canterbury Christ Church University

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so, here I am at the IRM enterprise architecture conference  . The opening introduction promised a mixture of talks about the theoretic as well from those who have actually done it. We were also told that there were representatives from over 30 countries and all continents (except Antarctica!). A glance at the delegate list showed that I am the only person from a UK university, with just three other university representatives. This is reflected in the talks, with lots of emphasis on product delivery, profit margins and managing a business across multiple international locations. However, there was very little that I didn’t feel could be translated into the UK higher education sector in some way.

The opening keynote was from Ashley Braganza, a professor at Brunel Business School. He spoke passionately and length about the fact that, when it comes down to it, everything is about change. Business process management leads to enterprise architecture which leads to project and portfolio management: but all of these are really about managing change.

Theoretically, everything that is being done should link back to organisational strategy, but in practice it rarely does. He used an excellent analogy of the strategy being a mirror. When SMT look in the mirror, they see their strategy reflected back at them. But the mirror is then broken apart and each SMT member takes away a piece that reflects their part of the strategy. The mirror is then broken down again and again until every individual in the organisation has their own piece of the mirror reflecting their objectives. But the big picture, the reflection of SMT’s real vision, has been lost. And unfortunately, it is the enterprise architects who are usually called on to fix things! My reflection on this (pun definitely intended) is that either we fight this and try and get a coherent strategic vision, or alternatively, perhaps we embrace it and welcome the fact that EA is the place where corporate strategy becomes visible.

To finish, Ashley reflected on different change models, which he felt were all lacking. He was especially vitriolic about Kotter’s eight steps to change . Finally, one of the phrases of the day which totally resonated with me: the problems, in his view, are that we have 21st century models and methodologies, working within 20th century organisations led by people with 19th century mindsets. By the latter he meant a Dickensian obsession with counting things. Budgets, REF, TEF… sound familiar?

UCISA has an Enterprise Architecture community of practice which may be of interest.

Reflections before the Enterprise Architecture Conference Europe 2016

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Ian Ellery
Head of IT Architecture
Canterbury Christ Church University

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am the lucky recipient of a UCISA bursary  to attend the Enterprise Architecture Conference Europe 2016 run by IRM UK. In the week before the conference, I reflect here on my reasons for wanting to attend, what I am hoping to get out of it and how I hope to use the information.

I have worked at Canterbury Christ Church University for nearly 10 years and have recently become Head of IT Architecture. However, I am not an enterprise architect by background or training I am a senior IT manager and strategist. The potential power of enterprise or IT architecture was introduced to the University by the new IT director and my challenge is to deliver for her a light-touch architectural framework. This will allow the IT department to create a blueprint for the future, and allow the University to manage the significant levels of application change currently planned.

But unlike many universities, we cannot afford to recruit a team of architects. It’s just me, a software/ solutions architect, three business analysts and some project managers. And all too often, architecture feels theoretic and more concerned with tools and frameworks than pragmatic delivery. I was looking for an opportunity to learn how enterprise architecture and IT architecture delivers in real life. A few months ago we worked with Sally Bean, now a consultant and formally an enterprise architect, who consults on building and maintaining high performance architecture teams. She regularly speaks at this conference as does Chris Potts (author of “FruITion” ), and John Zachman, creator of the Zachman Framework  .

By attending I hope to gain insights into the practical application of enterprise architecture, into an organisation which doesn’t realise it needs it. I’m also interested in how hard-nosed commercial organisations use EA to improve their business.  So I am looking forward to talks with titles such as “What Can You Achieve with a New Architecture Team?”   and “Outcome Driven Architecture” . The conference is also co-located with a business process management conference, with attendees of both conferences allowed to drop into sessions from the other. This is also interesting, as in common with many universities, Christ Church has processes which have built up and grown over the years and are no longer necessarily suitable for a 21st century digital university.

As well as writing a daily blog for the UCISA website, I will be posting the occasional Tweet as @e11ery, conference hashtag #EACBPM. I will also attempt to collate my thoughts and experiences, both from the past six to twelve months as well as the conference into a beginner’s guide to creating and using enterprise architecture in higher education environment: without actually employing any trained architects.

 

Building curiosity

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Michelle Griffiths
ITS Project Manager
IT Services
University of Oxford
Member of UCISA-PCMG

 

If you build it: The power of design to change the world

Emily Pilliton began her keynote session by talking about her book, ‘Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower’ which was published October 2009. She then moved onto to say that her presentation would be based around a couple of stories that she would like to share with us.

Emily runs a non-profit company named Project H Design, which practices design and architecture in a more meaningful way. Project H has been involved in various projects, including the re-design of playgrounds, computer labs, and a gym for a local football team. Emily started up the company after finishing her Master’s degree, because she felt that, during the course, she hadn’t learned enough about areas that provided any real value.

Emily then went onto talk about the people/experiences that influenced her through her life and career, including TV secret agent, MacGyver.

'MacGyver's Multitool', via Charles Williams, shared via Creative Commons licence

‘MacGyver’s Multitool’, via Charles Williams (https://www.flickr.com/photos/99652207@N00/366985080/), shared via Creative Commons licence

MacGyver focused on solving problems in unconventional ways, thinking ‘outside of the box’ and using whatever objects that he had to hand.

Other major influences in her life came from her grandmothers, who were both very strong-willed and passionate people. They were both librarians; one was a calligrapher, and the other was a cross-stich artist and part time musician.

The teachers at Emily’s school were also very supportive, and made her feel cool to be a nerd! Being a nerd is useful in architecture school, along with building knowledge in the following areas: maths, science, community, and social sciences. It is also useful for obtaining an understanding of and user knowledge about local areas, and the social landscape of the community that you will be developing or building in.

Experience is more important than content
Emily argued that experiences matter more than content; students remember experiences better if they have to work through a series of problem solving activities. She gave the following example:

First Project  (Farmers’ Market public space) – Project H were invited to go along to a high school in eastern North Carolina, to design a public space in the format of a farmers’ market for the town of Windsor. The town has an agricultural background, high obesity rates, poor public health record, and a stagnant economy. The students built the first set of models, which they took along to present to stakeholders. There were a number of constraints that the project had to work with, which included the following:

  • A $50,000 budget
  • A short time period (three months)
  • The local area being on a flood plain, so the building had to be above a certain height off the ground
  • They could only use construction students who were all under 18, apart from one student who became 18 during the project. Only people of 18 years and above were allowed to legally use power tools, so this one student became the go-to power tool guy!

The construction was made on the ground using manual tools such as mallets, and then the frame was raised up to position. The design of the farmer’s market building came entirely from the teenagers, who expressed the desire for it to be a “bold façade”. The next challenge was to find suppliers to sell their wares at the market. The students set out to find people to sell products such as kale.

The launch of the farmers’ market created four new businesses and fifteen new jobs. Emily mentioned that she asked one of the students involved in the project to provide feedback, and the following quote was given: “I want to come back someday with my kids, and tell them I built this”.

Seeking is more important than knowing
Emily suggested that asking questions, such as how and why, is more important than knowing the answers. Being in a constant state of enquiry is the best position.

Second Project  (Middle school library) – Emily went on to discuss her next project at the charter school in Berkley California, which was a useful exercise to demonstrate that Project H can work at both ends of the spectrum. The principal of the school wanted middle school kids (8th graders) to be involved in the project. The group of kids provided extra sets of challenges, including not being able to speak English, autism, and disciplinary problems.

The kids wanted to build a library for their school as a class gift, to give back to the school community. There had been a space earmarked for a library that was never built due to lack of funding. Emily decided as part of the initial planning process that the kids should visit a library; the feedback from the trip was that libraries are super boring! The following conclusions were reached:

  • The kids wanted the library to be a place of discovery and invention, not reference
  • The library would be designed to accommodate 108 8th graders

The group began to design a bookcase that could be put together in 108 different ways. The design that was chosen involved convex/concave shelves with a wavy design, which could be interlocked together in various ways to keep it as flexible as possible. The project felt unfinished and chaotic, but it was what the students wanted: “In Algebra, X is the unknown; the X-space is where we go to discover the things we don’t know”

Third Project (two individual homes built for the homeless) – Emily told us that Project H knew that, as a team, they could get this done no matter what happened. They did not have planning permission to begin with, and were in full view of the principal’s office, so they were expecting a visit to stop their work; fortunately, this didn’t happen.

When the big day arrived to raise the walls, Project H had up to 25 teenagers all working together, using geometry and trigonometry as core subjects that were applied to the project. Pallet wood was the material of choice to be used for the side walls, which posed problems as the wood was different colour, and often contained odd staples and nails hanging out of them. One of the students related to the pallet wood by saying “It’s all different, just like us, like a tapestry.”

Important design decisions were made as a group, such as, although this was a home for a homeless person, it would not contain running water, toilet or a kitchen. The group needed to address the issue that although it was public space, it also needed to provide a level of privacy.

The initial design the kids came up was that of a traditional house, and the two halves that were built, once placed together, resembled the original pencil drawing. A student that had worked on the project gave the following feedback: “I gave someone a place to live. Oh, and I got an A in this class, and I know how to build a house!”

Fourth Project (to create a space for young girls that celebrated curiosity) – This space was based around ideas to do with curiosity: “Curiosity breeds confidence.”

Project H wanted to create a space for young girls who were part of the Camp H after school summer programme for girls aged nine to twelve.

The first step for the girls to create was to build a bird house as a confidence builder, to get the girls used to working with the materials and some basic tools. The second step was to open up their curiosity, develop what you mean personally in order to express your identity as a person.

One of the favourite lessons was to learn arc welding, which really develops the girls’ confidence to move onto bigger welding projects.  The task set was to weld a symbol using four pieces of steel that represents both your first name and your last name. Emily talked through an example of a student with the first name “Ultraviolet” and a last name involving the word “Taylor” and a synonym for dark. The student created a symbol that featured a light and dark side, representing ultraviolet and darkness, which were stitched together to bring in the reference to “Taylor/tailor”.

Fifth Project (creating items to be used in a domestic abuse centre) – The project focused on creating a number of items that improved the experiences of the people living at the domestic abuse shelter. This included the following: coffee table, play house, shelving units, and a metre square garden.

Conclusion

  • “Curiosity takes you to a place where you can help others.”
  • “Curiosity is incremental, curiosity helps others.”
  • A student involved in the project was quoted as saying “I am a ten year old girl and I know how to weld: what can’t I do?”

Emily went onto to discuss the badge system that project H has created. This is similar to the badge system of the Boy Scouts, but the badges are a little different; they include as badges for welding, using power tools, carpentry, electronics and architecture.

She closed the session by advising the audience to think of themselves as learners, and to nurture their own creativity; that way you can nurture and mentor others.

Resource:
A recording of the presentation will be publicly available 90 days after the conference ends.

 

 

PaaS, bots, alerts and using analytics to improve web performance

Giuseppe Sollazzo

 

 

 

Giuseppe Sollazzo
Senior Systems Analyst
St George’s, University of London

 

 

Storytelling at Velocity

The second day of O’Reilly Velocity conference was definitely about storytelling: keynotes and sessions were both descriptions of performance-enhancement projects or accounts of particular experiences in the realm of systems management, and in all honesty, many of these stories resonate with our daily experience running IT Services in an academic environment. I will give a general summary, but also mention the names of the speakers I’ve found most useful.

Evolution in the Internet of Things age
An attention-catching keynote by Scott Jenson, Google’s Physical Web project lead, the first session was centred on a curious observation: most attention about web performances has traditionally been focused on the “body”, the page itself, while the most interesting and performance-challenged part is actually the address bar.

Starting from this point, Scott has illustrated how the web is evolving and what its characteristics will be especially in the Internet of Things age. He advocated for this to be an “open” project, rather than Google’s.

Another excellent point he has made is that control should be given back to the users. This was illustrated by a comparison between a QR code and an iBeacon : the former requires the user to take action; the latter is proactive to a passive user. Although we like to think of proactive applications, it only takes us to walk into a room full of them to understand being in control can be a good thing.

PaaS for Government as a Platform
Most of the conference talks have centred on monitoring and analytics as a way to manage performances. Among the most interesting talks, Anna Shipman of the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) illustrated how they are choosing a Platform-as-a-Service supplier in order to implement their “Government-as-a-Platform” vision.

I’ve argued a lot in the past that UK Academia will need, sooner or later, to go through a “GDS moment” to get back to innovation in a way it can control – as opposed to outsource in bulk – and this talk was definitely a reminder of that.

Rise of the bot
As with yesterday’s Velocity sessions, some truly mind-boggling statistics have been released today. One example is that that many servers are overwhelmed by web crawlers or “bots” – the automated software agents that index websites for search engines. In his presentation From RUM to robot crawl experience!  Klaus Enzenhofer of Dynatrace told the audience that he spoke to several companies for which two thirds of all traffic they receive is Google Bots. “We need a data centre only for Google”, they say.

Analytics for web performance
There has been quite a lot of discussion around monitoring vs. analysis. In his presentation Analytics is the new monitoring: Anomaly detection applied to web performance Bart De Vylder of CoScale argued for the adoption of data science techniques in order to build automatic analysis procedures for smart, adaptive alerting of anomalies. This requires an understanding of the domain of the anomalies in order to plan how to evolve the monitoring, considering for example seasonal variations in web access.

Using alerts
On a similar note was the most oversubscribed talk of the day, a 40 minute session by Sarah Wells of the Financial Times which saw over 200 attendees (with many trying to get a glimpse from outside the doors). Sarah told the audience about how it is very easy to be overwhelmed by alerts: in the FT’s case, they perform 1.5M checks per day generating over 400 alerts per day. She gave an account of their experience trimming down these figures. Very interestingly, the FT has adopted the cloud as a technology, but they haven’t bought it from an external supplier: they’ve built it themselves, with great attention to performance, cost, and compliance, surely a strategy that I subscribe to.

Conference creation
I also attended an interesting non-technical session by another Financial Times employee, Mark Barnes, who explained how they conceived the idea of an internal tech conference and how they effectively run it.

Hailed an internal success and attended by their international crowd, the conference idea came from an office party and reportedly has helped improve internal communications at all levels. As a conference/unconference organiser myself (OpenDataCamp, UkHealthCamp, WhereCampEU, UKGovCamp, and more), having this insight from the Financial Times will be invaluable for future events.

I’m continuing to fill in this Google doc with technical information and links from the sessions I attend, so have a look if you’re interested.