Tag Archives: conference

Ooh digital is a place on earth

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

Explaining user experience design with metaphors from construction

In November I shared some more UX Week takeaways in a talk at UCISA’s CISG-PCMG18 conference. It was UCISA’s bursary scheme that got me to San Francisco in the first place so it was great to meet the people behind it, along with 300 corporate information systems people and project/change management people from unis around the UK. Here’s the video of my 10min talk, and I’ve expanded on it a little in the write-up below.
My first recorded talk! Is this really my accent?

Inspiration

At UX Week I learned that designers love to do things in threes. By sheer coincidence, my talk was inspired by three things:
  1. The theme of CISG-PCMG18: Building Foundations for the Future
  2. My new favourite motto from UX Week: Build the Right Thing & Build the Thing Right
  3. The University of Glasgow’s ongoing campus development.
Maybe being surrounded by cranes, hoardings and the excitement of big building sites every day has made me hyper-aware of the metaphors from construction that show up again and again at UX and tech conferences: people talk about blueprints, foundations, scaffolds, platforms, information architecture​…
What if we fully commit to the analogy and think of our systems and services as literal places​? How might that help us design them in user-centred ways?​
At UX Week, three speakers went deep on this.

1. Digital as…public places

In his talk Living in Information (watch video)​, Jorge Arango looked at the broad, open digital systems intended for wide ranges of users — in HE that would include our Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), intranets and informational websites​ — and the places where people interact such as forums and chat services.
“These digital systems are more than products or tools…in many ways, they function like places: information environments that create contexts that change the way we think, act and interact…” — Jorge Arango
…so much so that we can directly apply architectural concepts.
Jorge originally trained as an architect then went into IT, and for many years was Director of the Information Architecture Institute​.
He highlighted three concepts:
  • Structure = design to support people’s existing mental models
    First we need to uncover and understand those mental models through exploratory research​ such as user interviews.
  • Systems = the key focus of design
    Architects don’t just design buildings for their own sake: they design whole environments for people to use. User journey mapping can help us recognise that our place forms part of the larger system of our University. This technique also shows us how the places we’re designing link with others in the local and wider information environment.
  • Sustainability = don’t pollute the information env​ironment
    We must consciously design content to avoid building in biases; avoid duplicating information​; and be careful not to damage useful concepts by using in inappropriate ways​.
Jorge’s example of the latter: “Breaking news” used to mean ‘Everyone needs to know this right now!!’ But now #Breaking is broken.
#Breaking is broken

2. Digital as…homes

Focussing in on the more personal places like homepages, dashboards and portals, visual designer Claudio Guglieri discussed HOME: Our everyday relationships with digital.
“For a vast group of people, home is no longer a physical space…many of us find comfort in digital environments.” — Claudio Guglieri
At the time, this quote immediately made me think of our youngest students, the so-called digital natives. For many, University is a massive life change, perhaps their first time away from home. You can imagine how the only bit of continuity they can rely on for comfort might be the familiar platforms they brought with them on their phones and laptops.
This idea applies much more widely too: our research for UofG UX showed that students and staff of all ages default to digital for connection and communication, entertainment, travel, shopping and to access support.
To this we’re adding a heap of new digital homes, so it’s important to consider how ours compare to the commercial places people go to for everything else. If they could choose, would they choose to use our system? But they can’t choose — we have a captive audience — so let’s put lots of care and respect into the homes we build for our students and colleagues, with the help of another set of three concepts:
  • Repetition = acknowledge that homes are for regular, repeated use
    Optimise for speed and don’t waste people’s time; kill pointless splash screens; automate out annoying repetition.
  • Evolution = minimise the impact of behavioural changes
    Claudio referenced a brilliant article by service designer Christina Wodtke: Users don’t hate change, they hate you. Change is inevitable but don’t just barge in and rearrange furniture: communicate carefully to avoid nasty surprises.
  • Ownership = reinforce people’s perception of control
    Localise, personalise and allow people to customise (but also set good defaults). And don’t get between intention and action: Claudio talked about poorly placed ads interrupting tasks but the same advice applies to comms: a message is only effective in the right context and when it offers value relevant to a person’s needs at time they see it.
To help defeat our assumptions and inform our decisions, the most helpful pointer is contextual inquiry: we must observe people’s actual behaviour in their digital homes.
We might think “Surely everyone knows how to find lecture slides in the VLE, it’s as easy as drinking a glass of water…” Claudio Guglieri won gif-of-the-week.

3. Digital as…escape rooms

The third type of place comes from Laura E Hall’s talk Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond. Laura is a game designer, famous for her real-world escape rooms, where you get locked in with a group of pals and have to solve puzzles and decipher clues to escape before the time runs out.
“A good puzzle tells you how to solve it, inherent in its design.” — Laura E Hall
Our digital escape rooms include registration and enrolment, online coursework submission, expenses, uploading results — anything where our captive audience has to complete a complex task to a deadline…all of which adds up to STRESS!
Laura talked about cognitive overload and ‘deep focus’, where people can’t see the wood for the trees.
There’s a key difference though: Laura aims to design IN the right level of stress to make game challenging and fun, while we want to design the stress OUT. Fortunately there are 3 handy concepts we can apply:
  • Simplify the process
    This is where UX merges with service design. Does the process really need to be this complex? Can we remove or automate any steps?
  • Simplify the interaction
    Through careful content design, represent the process as simply as possible, providing exactly what people need to complete their task and nothing more. See gov.uk for 100s of excellent examples.
  • Make it intuitive
    It’s always a good idea to apply usability heuristics but in our digital escape rooms more so than ever. Consistency, validation and error prevention and recovery are essential, as is maintaining the match between our system and real world by using the same language our users use.
And of course multiple rounds of usability testing and tweaking are essential to help our students and staff escape with confidence.
Image from Room Escape Artist’s review of the Edison Escape Room in SF. Laura called it one of the best in the world so a group of us went on the free evening in UX Week: it was SPECTACULAR 😀

4?! Digital as…boundaries and junctions

Time to break the rule of threes — gasp! This one’s not even from UX Week.
At UX Scotland in June, Kevin Richardson — a UX consultant with a background in cognitive psychology — gave a fascinating workshop on UX and the Spaces in Between. He explained how UX design can make the most difference at points of interface, highlighting three areas of tension in the ‘interaction ecosystem’:
  • Where an application meets a business process, especially legacy processes. ‘But we’ve always done it this way’ is no excuse for a poor user experience.
  • Where a person has to pass information between two systems: for goodness sake automate it!
  • Where a system meets the real world: why do students have to queue up for a print-out, which they then scan and email to their bank or council?

And finally…

The last quote goes to Mike Monteiro, the cantankerous UX evangelist, who sadly I didn’t manage to meet in SF.
“They don’t let just anybody walk in off the street and design a building.” — Mike Monteiro, speaking on the Voice of Design podcast
The same is true in digital: people want their places designed by professionals.
Whether we think of ourselves as architects, home-builders, game designers, city planners or just the IT crowd, every decision we make — or choose not to make — has an impact on the university experience for our students and colleagues, whatever type of place we’re building.
This blog first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
A copy of Kat’s slides from CISG-PCMG18 is available here.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Lessons learnt from US institutions at Educause 2018

Richard Goodman
Learning Technology Manager
Loughborough University

 

 

Educause 2018 – day zero

As I mentioned in my opening post, this year, I was one of the very lucky recipients of the UCISA bursary scheme, which has allowed me to be in Denver for the 2018 Educause conference.
Today is the day before Educause 2018 gets underway in earnest. The Tuesday is characterised by a mixture of pre-conference workshops (additional registration required) and user group meetings. The workshops cover a diverse range of topics such as GDPR, digital storytelling, procurement, portfolio management and many more.
My day began with attending a CampusM user group meeting. CampusM are one of Loughborough University’s educational technology partners, supplying the Loughborough University mobile app to give students access to key information on their mobile, including the University VLE, lecture capture, digital registers and mobile timetables.
It was interesting to compare and contrast approaches to the mobile app with universities in the US who were in attendance, and the different drivers for using a mobile app with students. The supplier also shared some highlights from the product roadmap, and the audience were discussing some of the potential uses for the new features, as well as sharing stories and experiences from our implementations of the product. A very useful session and I hope that all of the international attendees found the unique chance to share experiences with very different institutions as useful as I did.
Following on from that I attended the Oracle Executive Summit. Oracle powers some of our key corporate systems, and this panel session featured experiences from a range of US universities, telling the story of how IT and business leadership collaborated to leverage the process of migrating key enterprise applications to the cloud to build their overall capacity for innovation and achieve substantive change. We heard what prompted the innovation, how they transformed their institutions, and some of the benefits that they have achieved so far. A number of US institutions appear to be moving away from on premise computing, so it was interesting to hear their cloud migration stories.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about that photo above, one of the meetings was held in a Denver hotel that was built inside the former Colorado National Bank. During the renovation, they added two new floors to the building, whilst retaining most of its features, including the three-story atrium with classical marble colonnades and 16 large murals depicting the life of Native Americans on the plains. Three of the bank’s massive vaults were also retained, including the basement meeting room where we spent some of the day. The thought of doing some kind of Ocean’s 11 re-enactment did cross our mind.
Tomorrow, the conference begins, with over 8,000 people here in Denver ready to attend. That number is just a little bit mind boggling, and it has increased by 1,000 since my estimate yesterday, as the official figures have become available…
This first appeared on the East Midlands Learning Technologists’ Group blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme. 

Benefits of receiving a UCISA bursary

Giuseppe Sollazzo

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Last October I was lucky enough to be selected for a UCISA bursary to attend O’Reilly Velocity in Amsterdam. Velocity is one of the most important conferences for performances in IT Systems, which is my area of work at St George’s, University of London: I lead a team of systems analysts who take care of the ongoing maintenance and development of our infrastructure. I had wanted to attend the conference for quite a while, but was always prevented from doing so by the hefty funding required, something that my institution could not readily justify.

The format of Velocity is particularly well suited to a mixture of blue-sky thinking, practical learning, networking with other professionals. Each day ran from 8:30 till 18:30. Following this schedule for three days was intense, but extremely rewarding in terms of learning.

I have written blogs for UCISA day by day throughout the conference. You can read about the specific sessions I followed on each day at the following links: day one, day two and day three. In summary, I learned about a mixture of practical techniques and heard about experiences in a variety of sectors.

As I wrote in my first blog post ahead of the conference, a focus on performance and optimisation is important for academic IT services, and specifically for my institution: with our 300 servers and 30,000 accounts to take care of, this is not just an important consideration, but our major worry on a daily basis. Access to funding is becoming increasingly competitive, as is student and researcher recruitment; it is becoming our primary goal to provide systems that are effective, secure, scalable, fast, and at the same time manageable by constrained staff numbers.

I was interested in three types of sessions:

  • practical tutorials about established techniques and tools
  • storytelling from people who have applied techniques to certain specific situations
  • sessions about new learning about new systems, to see where the industry is heading to.

Velocity has been great to help me crystallise my strategy on how to make St George’s systems evolve. In the past four months, this has translated into taking action on a number of aspects of our infrastructure. The most important are the following:

  • leading the team to build upon our logging systems, in order to extract metrics and improve the ability to respond to incidents
  • increasing our dependability on our ticketing system, by measuring response times and starting a project to make the ongoing monitoring of this part of our weekly service reviews
  • launching an investigation into researchers’ needs in terms of data storage and high performance computing; this has so far resulted in an experimental HPC cluster, which we are testing in collaboration with genomics and statistical researchers who are interested in massively parallel computations where performances are vital to the timeliness of research results for publishing.

I’m very grateful to UCISA for the opportunity it has given me. The knowledge and experience I’ve gathered at Velocity have been invaluable not just for starting new projects and reviewing our current service offer, but most importantly in beginning to understand what our strategy to maintain performances should be to still be able, in five to ten years’ time, to provide excellent industry-standard services to our community.

Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme 2018.

Conversations and opportunities – the American way

Tim Banks
Faculty IT Manager
University of Leeds

Reflections on Day 1 at Educause 2015

Observation 1: This conference is big…really big. Over 7,300 delegates are attending this year’s Educause conference, which is being held in the Indianapolis Convention Centre. The venue is mind-bogglingly big, covering an area of 120,000m2 (1.3m square feet), including 50,000m2 (566,000 square feet) of open exhibition space across six blocks. IMG_8891There are 71 separate meeting rooms, which have been used by over 30,000 Star Wars fans during the two Star Wars Conventions that have been held here in recent years.

The exhibition hall is vast, with stands from over 250 suppliers, from small start-ups to global IT giants. There are up to 30 parallel sessions at any one time, making selection of the right one based on a short text description quite daunting.

Observation 2: The conference is very well organised (and sponsored). Despite the huge numbers of people and enormous scale of the venue, everything runs very smoothly, with few or no queues. The venue and organisers seem to have struck the right balance between the number of people attending and quantity of essential facilities on offer (catering, toilets, drinks stations etc.). Sessions start and end on time (by and large), and there is enough time built into the programme for the 10 minute walk between rooms.

Observation 3: The quality of the parallel sessions is variable. Some parallel sessions are most definitely better than others, although I have not found one today which I would class as truly ‘excellent’. This situation is helped by the fact that if you are really not getting on with a particular session, then nobody bats an eyelid if you stand up in the middle of it and walk out; it seems to be quite normal practice, and something which I have put to good use today on more than one occasion.

Observation 4: The people are very friendly and approachable. Conference delegates are happy to just talk to you if you approach them. I spent lunchtime sat on a table with attendees with varying degrees of hearing impairment, and we had a very interesting (sign-language interpreted) conversation about delivery of IT services and optimisation of hearing aids for listening to music. I was fondly referred to as ‘UK Guy’ by another attendee in the one of the sessions, so am thinking of a requesting a new conference badge proudly displaying my new pseudonym.

Observation 5: We are not going to starve or go thirsty. Cans of Coke, Sprite and other hot and cold drinks appear at regular intervals throughout the day; at lunchtime, enough food to feed several armies appeared from nowhere; cakes, pastries and chocolates were provided during the mid-afternoon break, and then during the early evening canapes, mini burgers, pasta and nachos were being served…

IMG_8898Observation 6: The suppliers’ fair is very useful. Due to the size of the conference, anybody who is anybody in the world of IT delivery is represented here with their top sales and marketing teams. I have had many extremely useful conversations with major global IT suppliers that just wouldn’t be possible if I tried to make contact by phone or e-mail. The quality of the freebies seems to be significantly better than previous conferences I have attended.

Observation 7: The US Universities are quite some way behind the UK in several key areas of IT service delivery. It is clear from listening to both speakers and delegates from the USA that they are several years behind the UK in areas such as Information Security, IT Service Management, implementation of the ITIL framework, and splitting budgets into ‘business as usual’ delivery and project work. This came as quite a surprise to me, as I had assumed that US institutions were at the same level of maturity or better than the UK sector.

It has been an exhausting, but very productive day. My next blog post will give a detailed overview of today’s sessions.

Heading to Velocity

Giuseppe Sollazzo

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

This blog is the first in a series about my participation in the O’Reilly Velocity Conference in Amsterdam, funded by a UCISA bursary.

My job is to lead a team of systems analysts who take care of the ongoing maintenance and development of our infrastructure. I have a genuine passion for my job; knowing we provide services that benefit future doctors and health professionals in training gives me a positive attitude. As I believe that expanding my horizons is vital in keeping my interest and skills alive, I also have a number of other activities outside of my 9-5 work, most notably as an Open Data activist. I have been a ministerial advisor for Cabinet Office on Openness and Transparency Policy for the past two years.

Until 2012, the academic IT community had a yearly meetup at dev8d, a Jisc-sponsored three day conference. This event gathered developers, systems administrators, devops, digital librarians and support staff in a feast of sessions about development, new services, maintenance of systems, performances, and the future-proofing of everything “digital” in academic environments. The resulting networking and experience swapping had a lasting effect on the quality of academic outcomes.

However, in the subsequent difficult financial climate, events like dev8d have become rare (with dev8d itself being cancelled). In a situation of budget cuts and increased pressure from students and staff, the IT community has had to find alternative ways to get that same level of training and thinking about the future that came from such events. In this context, receiving funding from UCISA in order to sponsor attendance to a conference that my institution could not otherwise afford was welcome news.

My choice of event is O’Reilly Velocity in Amsterdam at the end of October. Velocity is an important conference – it also happens in New York, Santa Clara and Beijing – and it provides forward-looking sessions about performance and optimisation in systems and web operations. The sessions are often very practical, providing attendees with clear, pragmatic, and effective ideas on how to improve services. Engineers, developers and technology leaders share the challenges their businesses are facing and provide insight on technologies, best practices, and solutions that they have successfully employed to address those challenges.

In the situation I have described, it is evident why a focus on performance and optimisation is important for academic IT services, and specifically for my institution: with our 300 servers and 30,000 accounts to take care of, this is an important consideration.

With access to funding becoming increasingly competitive, as is student and researcher recruitment, it becomes our primary goal to provide systems that are effective, secure, scalable, fast, and at the same time manageable by constrained staff numbers.

The sessions I plan to attend focus on a single goal; understanding how to improve services and ensure our users are satisfied and engaged with our systems. Some examples of sessions I intend to follow include:

I will be reporting from the conference floor both on Twitter (from my account @puntofisso) and this blog. Stay tuned!