Tag Archives: diversity

“We are really important to the future of education”

Marieke Guy
Learning Technologist
Royal Agricultural University

ALTC 2018

Last month, courtesy of being awarded a UCISA bursary, I travelled up to Manchester (the city of 100,000 students) for the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Conference 2018. While it was my first ALTC, it was actually the 25th in the series and there was considerable reflection on changes to the learning technologist role and in learning technology itself.  In my posts about ALTC, I want to share some of the noticeable themes and my favourite moments.
The ALTC 2018 committee team launch the conference

I am woman

This year saw three inspiring women providing the ALTC plenaries, unfortunately, unusual enough an occurrence that it warrants comment. On day 1 Dr Tressie McMillan Cottom, Assistant Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, gave a sociological unpacking of educational technology and explored the idea that context matters and learning technologies do not exist in a vacuum. Tessie suggested that the time is right for us to deconstruct learning technology and consider how we want to put the pieces back together. Learning technologies have (in the US) emerged as administrative units but would they benefit from being a unique academic discipline? She shared the example of the born digital programmes she has led on where “edtech is not just a set of tools but a philosophy about how we think about things” – offering opportunities to the non-traditional student.
On day 2 Amber Thomas, Head of Academic Technology, University of Warwick, gave a wonderful talk considering ‘Twenty years on the edge’. You can read a summary on her blog: Fragments of Amber.  Way too much good stuff to write about here but the main take away was a pat on the back for those of us working with learning technology in HE.
ALT’s 25 year anniversary playing card pack
Things aren’t easy – not only do we suffer from impostor syndrome when we do well but there is also a misapprehension that innovation is isolated to the commercial sector and that governments and agencies are blockers of change. Amber pointed out some of our collective work, from 3.5 million spent on MOOCs, to great collaborative projects and organisations including Ferl, Jisc and EU projects. However, change in universities requires patience and it is important that we listen to the mainstream, after all digital is really about people. We need to be ethical, respectful and useful, for we are “really important to the future of education”.
Dr Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of ALT, gave the last plenary of the conference ‘Beyond advocacy: Who shapes the future of Learning Technology?’. She brought together the conference themes, a good dose of ethics (“equality is everyone’s responsibility”) and empowerment pants.
Amber Thomas presents her twenty years on the edge
She considered the difficulties learning technologists face in being both advocate and critic in a “risky business” where things often go wrong. Perhaps we need to get better at sharing our failings. Maren concluded with a personal reflection that “EdTech is a field of practice, not a discipline”. You can read Maren’s recent post on the state of Education Technology in HE on WonkHE.

Beetastic Manchester
More to follow on the noticeable themes and favourite moments at ALTC.
This blog first appeared in the ‘Digital Transformation at RAU’ blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Testosterone, mental well-being and Robotics Engineer Barbie

UCISA’s recent Support Services Conference in Crewe saw a passionate panel and audience debate on a wide range of diversity issues including ways to increase the number of women entering and progressing across the sector’s IT workforce and how members can support colleagues facing mental health challenges. Supporting diversity is a key aspect of UCISA’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan and here, UCISA Executive Director Peter Tinson reflects some of the key comments and learning from the SSG18 session.

 

TESTOSTERONE, MENTAL WELL-BEING AND ROBOTICS ENGINEER BARBIE

When De Montfort University’s Tim Ingham kicked off the SSG18 debate on diversity he led with some interesting statistics. Less than 20% of software roles in IT are held by women. Less than 16% of tech companies are founded by women. Only 18% of computer science graduates are women and across the IT industry only 17% of organisations have women in a Board role.
Despite many positive steps, including the fact that diversity is now an accepted priority for any forward-thinking organisation, IT still has an image problem. As a career destination, it doesn’t look or feel welcoming to women when, as one female audience member attested, you may well find yourself one of only three women in a department with 46 men. It’s sadly not surprising that another reported just two of 48 recent service desk job candidates were female.
Panel member and itSMF Director Barclay Rae won support for his summary of the driver of IT’s career destination perception as simply testosterone – an overabundance of masculinity that’s a challenge not only for women but also, as we heard when discussing mental well-being, for men.
One of Barclay’s earliest managers, a woman, impressed the necessity of what she described as a good mix of people in any successful team. He reminded us that most programmers were women in the early days of IT ­ – Margaret Hamilton, lead programmer of the Apollo 11 moonshot, being among the most notable.
So what can we do? Many delegates bemoaned the dearth of female candidates in the educational and recruitment pipeline and pointed to the importance of neutral language in job ads – and in the day job.  As one delegate noted, we can all, men and women, play a role in calling out inappropriate blokeish behaviour even when it doesn’t cross the line to illegal.
When it comes to recruitment, all of us can influence HR colleagues not to demote communication, teamworking and relationship building as afterthought soft skills. These are vital proficiencies in customer facing roles and why lead on technical skills when most young candidates have lived with, and used, digital technologies since childhood?
Indeed, why not reappraise traditional recruitment approaches in more radical ways? Blind recruitment can help eliminate unconscious gender, class or socio-economic bias in not requiring candidates to reveal their name or background until the final interview shortlist following a text-based interview and technical challenge.
Attitudes are shaped from an early age and while schools can do their bit, delegates suggested those of us who are parents can speak with our wallets. A two year old is well capable of interacting with an iPad and 50 per cent of youngsters playing Minecraft, which inculcates many of the skills and interests needed to work successfully in IT, are girls. Further, Mattel’s latest Robotics Engineer Barbie shows an acceptance that toy choice can make a difference.
But ultimately, what influences the study and career choices of women is framed by society’s expectations and wider culture. It’s not something UCISA or UCISA members can change alone. However, we should not overlook the incremental power of individual changes ‑ such as Barclay’s refusal to sit on any all-male panel.
The fact that the conversation on gender diversity is in full flow is positive for both men and women. Just as positive is the fact that open conversation around male mental health and well-being is also gathering pace. In England, more women than men are likely to have a common mental health problem according to the The Mental Health Foundation.  But it’s men that make up 78% of all suicides. Traditional attitudes to masculinity can make it difficult for men to admit or talk about such issues.
As one delegate related from personal experience, It’s easy to talk about the effects of a broken arm or leg on work performance and attendance but psychological injury is unseen and, for many in unsupportive environments, harder to disclose.
With Mind reporting one in four UK adults suffer a mental health problem each year, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a large number of the panel audience acknowledged they’d faced a mental health challenge. What was significant, and encouraging, was the level of openness.
Managers can, and are, playing a key role here – having a strong relationship with their team, checking people are OK as well as their activity, being open enough to have trusted conversations, taking the time to read up on, understand and recognize common conditions.  Institutions can help too – by having mental health awareness days, making it easy for staff to access appropriate professional counselling and support and encouraging staff to tend to their mental well-being on an ongoing basis through approaches such as mindfulness and meditation.
The bottom line? Tackling diversity and helping colleagues overcome barriers is a duty on all of us. Male or female, everyone has a right to be treated with respect, empathy and simple humanity.

Key take-outs:

    • If you are leading a team, lead by example. Set the tone and contribute to a culture that’s appealing and welcoming to employee diversity.

    • The modern student body is diverse. Foster and encourage the mix of people and talent on your doorstep to consider a career in IT at your institution.

    • Reconsider your recruitment approach. What actions can you take to support applicant diversity?

    • Look out for news of UCISA’s new Mentoring Scheme and support progression of junior staff through use of UCISA’s Bursary Scheme which covers the cost of event and training programme registration, accommodation and travel for successful applicants who might otherwise miss out on such opportunities.

    • Take a look at the Tech Talent Charter. Can you persuade your institution or college to sign up?

    • Be human kind. Take the time to monitor the mental well-being of your staff as well as their workload progress. Deal with mental ill-health with the same empathy as physical ill-health. Understand different conditions and ensure access to necessary support.

 

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 Executive Director Peter Tinson execsec@ucisa.ac.uk

 

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

 

The importance of networking for women in IT

Rhiannon Gillespie
Service Desk Advisor
Cardiff University

CISCO Live 2018, Orlando

Preparing for CISCO Live

As a UCISA bursary award winner for 2018, I had the opportunity to visit CISCO Live in Orlando, Florida.  CISCO Live is CISCO’s annual customer and partner conference with sessions, hands-on training and an exhibition. With just three weeks to prepare before setting off, I registered for the conference and got to work choosing which sessions I’d attend. There were hundreds to choose from, so I stuck to one area: the ‘Leadership and Equality’ track. I had to register on the sessions before arriving and some I wanted to attend such as the ‘CISCO Live orientation’ were unfortunately fully booked.
I downloaded the CISCO Live app, which held my schedule, helpful information like meals and shuttle times, and general information about the conference. This was very useful while at the conference to keep on top of where I was supposed to be.
I arrived early to allow myself to acclimatize before the conference started.  The conference was just a shuttle ride away, so on the Saturday before the conference I got the shuttle so I could find where the stop was for when the conference started and went to pick up my badge to beat the Monday morning queues.  On the Monday morning I got to the conference early to take advantage of breakfast. I could tell how big the conference was just by how long it took to walk from the shuttle stop to the dining area!
I attended two or three sessions a day and spent the rest of the time wandering around what CISCO dub the ‘World of Solutions’.  This was an area with various technical labs, ‘DevNet’ developer area and a trade show type floor where CISCO partners conduct talks and demos of their products.

CISCO Empowered Women’s Network

The track of talks I attended used to be a four-hour session called CISCO Empowered Women’s Network or ‘CEWN’ on the Sunday before the main conference. This was the first year they had spread it over multiple sessions over multiple days. A newbie to networks and the only female in the IT Service Desk team, I sometimes lack confidence. There were more technical sessions, which matched all levels of technical ability but owing to my lack of confidence I didn’t attend any of these.  The CEWN sessions, however, really helped with my confidence. They discussed varying diversity issues and how to overcome them, and some sessions were presented by women who work in different areas of CISCO discussing their roles. They also discussed how to create more diverse teams and the benefits this can have, this included a talk from the main person behind ‘CISCO men for inclusion group.
My favourite talk was about ‘Women on the Front line of Disaster Response’ which consisted of three managers from separate teams (one a different company, NetHope) discussing how they approach disaster response and help bring back networks to disaster areas. This included man-made disasters, natural disasters and refugee camps (pictured the CISCO van and inflatable satellite they take to disaster areas).
It was interesting learning how they managed this as well as the results from completing the work.  For example, one of them discussed how when speaking to some refugee children, it transpired that they had learnt how to speak English by watching videos on the Wi-Fi.
If anyone is ever thinking of attending CISCO Live, I highly recommend it. If you are a woman thinking of attending, definitely go for it. Only 8% of attendees this year were women, but this was up from 6% last year – we need to keep pushing that number up! The conference really did help with my confidence and it was just generally really good fun (especially the party they held at Universal Studios!).

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

CIO+1 – celebrating diversity in IT

Anna Mathews
UCISA Head of Policy and Projects

 

 

In April UCISA sponsored a CIO + 1 event, as one of our activities to support diversity in our sector, as outlined in the UCISA 2018-2022 Strategic Plan  CIO +1 is a series of events designed to improve diversity in IT, and expert speakers, technology or subject matter-leaders are  involved at each event.
Established by Claire Priestley, Director of IT at City, University of London, CIO +1 gives underrepresented groups in the sector access to unique networking opportunities.  The CIO +1 audience is therefore CIOs and IT leaders, accompanied by their nominated individuals from HEI and FEIs (as well as local and central government, charity, NHS and the private sector).

As Claire explains, “CIO+1 is an initiative developed to help diversity in IT leadership. CIOs are invited to high calibre, free networking events on the basis that they bring along a talented individual from within their own teams – ideally someone from a typically underrepresented group. The “+1” gets exposure to the same high profile networking, strategic conversations, products and presentations that we – in tech leadership – have the opportunity to experience regularly.”
And what a fun, informative evening it was!  One element that really stood out was the care and attention Claire’s well-briefed colleagues took to host the reception and  ensure that people were brought into conversations if they found themselves on their own; another was Claire’s emphasis on “breaking bread” –  the excellent food, along with the convivial, friendly atmosphere made for a relaxed evening.

 

There were three guest speakers:  Professor Marianne Lewis from the Cass Business School; Sarah Wrench, AI expert from Ernst Young; and Aline Hayes, who is leading the development of big data and AI at Lloyds Banking Group as Head of Systems.
In a funny and engaging hands on presentation Sarah covered all manner of topics:  boxing, the importance of positive and negative data sets in machine learning, and using magic tricks at interview.  Aline, who many of us know from her previous roles in higher education spoke about her role at Lloyds and about employment practices, such as flexible working, to support diversity.
We concluded with a fascinating talk from Marianne who explained polarity mapping in organisations, using  the changing fortunes of Lego as a case study.   In short, in trying to reinvent itself twenty years ago, Lego moved too far away from its core values and central business (creating too many new product lines, not listening to retailers, ignoring the strength of the heritage brand it had built up).   When falling sales led the company re-examine its culture, it realised that it had “over adjusted” (or to put it another way the pendulum had swung too far).  This realisation led to a return to Lego’s core values.  And from that new position of equilibrium the company went on the success it now enjoys by innovating but always paying heed to its history.

You can find out more about the CIO + 1 initiative from Twitter and the CIO + 1 page on LinkedIn.  The next event takes place on Tuesday 31 July and it is being sponsored by the UCISA London Group , which is supported by the London Metropolitan Network. 

Benefits of a steep learning curve by a UCISA bursary winner

Sara Henderson
Graduate Intern (Student Champion)
Student Systems Project (Corporate Information and Computer Services)
University of Sheffield

 

 

Sara Henderson was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

Being awarded a UCISA bursary to attend the UCISA Support Services Group (SSG) 2017 conference was a highlight of my working year. Although SSG was not my initial choice, I felt privileged to be accommodated by the scheme nonetheless. Below is an account of how my attendance has positively shaped my professional development, institution and how this interacts with the wider HE IT sector.

For context, I am no longer working at Student Lifecycle Project at the University of Sheffield (formerly Student Systems Project), but the experience of UCISA-SSG has still had a lasting effect on my experience of the sector, as I will detail in the following paragraphs.

Professional development

Many aspects of the conference were a steep learning curve. Although I had attended conferences before, these were alongside my peers as an undergraduate, whereas UCISA-SSG17 allowed me to network with established and influential people in the sector. In some ways this was challenging – introducing myself and my involvement in the Project made me feel slightly vulnerable, but everyone I spoke to was interested and encouraging in equal measure.

Most notably, I was asked to speak on the Panel session – the headline event of the conference. Members of the panel were James Smith, Director of IT Services, Birkbeck, University of London; Adam Kearns, Students’ Union Postgraduate Office, University of Bath; Sebastian Barnes, IT Support Specialist, Leeds Beckett University, and myself. Although I was taken aback by the offer, I’m glad it was given relatively last minute, as it didn’t leave much time for the nerves to kick in. I had given presentations and spoken on a panel and in front of moderately-sized groups of people before, but never on this scale. I was accompanied by confident and competent speakers who luckily had most of the spotlight, and despite the topic areas being somewhat unfamiliar I was still able to draw on my experience as a student and university staff member. I was extremely proud of myself for accepting such a daunting but exciting opportunity, and grateful to UCISA for the experience.

Institutional benefit

Unfortunately, I was unable to present my experience of UCISA to student representatives at the University of Sheffield as I had hoped to, because the recruitment of said students was delayed for the duration of my contract on the Project. The time-scales and priorities of such a major business change project are extremely variable, so this is to be somewhat expected. However, I did share my experience with colleagues, conversationally rather than formally, and believe my attendance at the conference had a genuine impact on Student Lifecycle Project.

Firstly, I’m reminded of the ‘Adding Value with Values’ talk given by Alistair Reid-Pearson, IT Manager at the University of Huddersfield. I was heavily involved in the communication and marketing of the Project to stakeholders, and contributed to the development of our ‘Vision’, including our core values and principles. We acknowledged the importance of gaining buy-in from our team by inviting everyone to participate in the process of developing this piece.

Secondly, the electric discussion by Paul Boag, ‎User Experience Strategic Designer, Boagworks about User Experience How to start a user experience revolution’ carried through all the work I’ve done since hearing it. Being heavily involved in the prospective student enquiry management element of the project, I helped design enquiry categories in the new system, and formulate FAQs for student support and guidance. From content to layout, I began every consideration from the user’s perspective, as championed by Paul.

Lastly, Francesca Spencer’sTechnophobe Testing – an experience of providing a service to those who fear, dislike or avoid technology’ put accessibility at the forefront of my mind when supporting the development of software and services. I made it my priority to advocate for the needs of all staff and students, be it ‘technophobes’, disabled or differently-abled people, by urging their inclusion in the room.

Wider sector

It was a pleasure to contribute my dissemination to UCISA’s website (Part 1: Fresh meat and learning about user involvement and Part 2: Not in the IT crowd (and that can be a good thing) ), and I hope this was well-received. I connected on LinkedIn with some of the people I met at the conference, which has since provided plenty of reading material and food for thought, and allows me to learn from the hard-work and perseverance of others in the sector.

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

Part 2: Not in the IT crowd (and that can be a good thing)

 

 

Sara Henderson
Graduate Intern (Student Champion),
Student Systems Project (Corporate Information and Computer Services)
University of Sheffield

UCISA SSG17: Reflections from a bursary scheme winner

Sara Henderson was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

This is the moment of truth.  I take to the stage to speak on my first ever conference panel session, an extremely popular fixture at UCISA-SSG .  As I meet my fellow panellists, I’m half-waiting for someone to yell “INTRUDER” and haul me off the stage, but before I know it my name flashes up on the screen and all eyes are on us.

The questions roll in, some wackier than others, and I do my best to answer them honestly, but with many falling outside of my remit, I find it difficult to feel completely at ease.  I’m in the strange position of being a recent student and new staff member, meaning I have a slightly diluted experience of both roles.

Nevertheless, the panel really coloured my reflections of the conference and beyond.  It also tied together some themes which came out of the week – that people come before technology, services need to be user-focused and the tech industry ought to be a collaborative space.

To borrow Francesca Spencer’s poignant acronym DISC (Dave, Ian, Steve and Chris), alluding to the lack of diversity in IT (which she affectionately Room 101-ed), it was difficult not to contemplate this reality as the only woman panel member at a conference of mostly men.  This is not to bash the conference or its attendees, but simply to acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do.

So if you’re yet to be a believer in the power of diversifying IT, let’s call this my manifesto.

  1. It’s good for business

Beyond a moral impetus, crudely speaking, a diverse team is a more effective one.  Looking at the demography of the industry, we are only making use of a limited cross-section of society within our teams, leading to a major skill-shortage despite growing demand.  So – diversify, or get left behind.

  1. Challenge is good

A homogenous group is less likely to be critical of each other because of their shared experiences. Imagine asking two identical job candidates to critique each other – it would be a bit like playing spot the difference.  But by broadening your team’s demography, you embed the opportunity for challenge in its make-up.  The right kind of challenge drives success.

  1. Stop! in the name of users

Perhaps you’re with me so far, and you’re wondering “what does this have to do with me and my team’s work”?  But there is another, more nuanced point to be made for the case of diversity within IT, regarding the diversity of users’ experiences with technology.  Asking an IT expert about an IT question is going to get you a professional answer.  But asking a “layman” might get you a more interesting one. Take the example of me sitting onstage at the panel session and feeling like an imposter – maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to have someone there who was agnostic to the cause.

  1. Students know what they want (and they’re not afraid to say it)

 That the panel got such a positive and enthusiastic reception is just a reminder of how keen university staff are to hear the “student voice”.  So if you’re aching to hear how to provide the best support services to students – just ask them!  You can only ‘put yourself in their shoes’ so many times before you hit a dead end, and it’s dangerous to make assumptions.  As Kerry Pinny so passionately expressed, there is no such thing as a digital native: being a millennial doesn’t mean you come out of the womb holding an iPhone, and students have a diverse range of experiences to offer you.  So maybe I wasn’t the best user for that panel, or maybe there isn’t such a thing.

Follow me on LinkedIn

(Presentations and video catalogue are available on the conference website)

(Further information on Sheffield’s Graduate internship scheme, can be found at: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/hr/recruitment/graduateinternship)

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