Friday, 29 May 2009

Learning objects - content management related

We've had a couple of meetings in the last month to consider alternative options that might be possible for hosting learning content/objects in an "open standard" repository. This might mean that we could deliver the content through more than one learning environment if we wished. Such a demand has arisen with a partner Institution overseas that uses a different platform to Bradford. We also have technology pioneers who are experimenting with other learning platforms some of which are remotely hosted, as well as those that are "supported" by the University in its standard learning environment. I'm not being too specific about the particular products becuase this is probably less relevant at this stage than the concept of dis-aggregating content from delivery mechanism. There is also a consultation about to begin on the future of the current learning requirements (note academic and student requirements not platform/technology). This is very encouraging.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

A new politics: a blueprint for reforming government

Been interested to see the expenses saga become a platform for David Cameron in particular to now begin to set his stall out in terms of what he calls "progressive Conservative". I declare no particular allegiance or persuasion in terms of politics but find the idea of a parliament consisting of celebrities like Lumley and Rantzen actually quite appealing (but not Jordan and Peter Andre). The kinds of principles Cameron sets out also have a potential resonance in the Higher Education governance structures - the power of the executive for example, the limited voice of the people (aka rank and file staff and students) and the significant limits to local democracy within budget areas that are overseen by an all-powerful treasury function. So are some of things around fixed term parliaments and "power to the people". Maybe that hedge around the helipad will eventually have far reaching effects beyond central government to other publicly funded insitutions as all this unravels.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

A few random web sites

I've had a little break from this but going to try and get going again every day - it's a habit that is easy to break when life is busy. The three things I thought I'd share today are family photos - we have about 50 large photo albums which go back forty years - and Helen just ordered another 200 prints this weekend from the last three months from the digital camera. How about the true horror of family photos you would rather forget - but hey some people like to share them instead here. The second is the continuing furore around MP expenses including the cost of cutting a hedge around a helipad - a great collaborative application for GoogleApps? And finally for the family that seems to have a current competition about which TV Ads are coming on the screen and knowing the product first how about a bit of nostalgia? Oh well, it is a bank holiday week and most people are actually on vacation.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

IT Services Newsletter #8

Welcome to the eighth newsletter – a bumper edition. As always comments and feedback welcome.

NorMan out of hours service launched April 6th

On April 6th we successfully launched a new service for staff and students extending our IT support service to a round the clock 365 days a year provision. Full details were provided in the last newsletter. The launch of this has been a team effort but particular thanks to Roger Goodair and Christine Thacker making this happen on time and on budget.

Change Management Project – Jermyn Consulting
Since the last newsletter Jermyn Consulting has completed its analysis work and reported initial findings. Thank you to a number of people who contributed directly to the interviews and workshops that took place with 16 events taking place involving academic schools (Management, Health, Life Sciences) and Corporate Services (Finance, Academic Administration, Estates and LSS). The main objective was business continuity and by focusing on the services and processes that IT supports (rather than the “systems”) the conclusions will help us to prepare service agreements which will identify Recovery Time Objectives (time to restore a service after a “disaster” takes place) and Recovery Point Objectives (time between data backups). The report also compared our capability with three years ago when a similar exercise was conducted. We have made progress in some areas and the overall trajectory is improving, however, there are areas which we need to tackle.

Change Management Project - Renewing the IT Strategy
We have begun work on renewing the IT strategy which was last refreshed around 2004 when the last corporate plan was being assembled (for the period 2005-2009). As you will know, the University in now in the process of developing its new corporate plan (code name Making Knowledge Work) and there have been a number of open events and consultations about this including discussion about Values and Mission. A first draft of this strategy document has been circulating for about a month with a request for feedback. Please let me know if there is interest in organising a consultation/workshop on this piece of work. I am mindful that email circulations don’t always get a response and this will be a defining document for the next few years once it has been agreed.

New Furniture in JBP Building and GTA refurbishments (PC clusters)
For the first time in recent memory, there has been a significant investment in new furnishings. Around 120 new chairs installed during the Easter break in PC cluster areas, and also replacement desks and chairs for all those staff offices where there had been a Health and Safety risk identified. There is still a final phase of this work to complete involving one office and the remaining Group Study Rooms. I have talked to a few students and they have appreciated the changes. Over the Summer, I can confirm that three PC clusters outside JBP Building (Richmond J and L floor and Chesham C Floor) are going to be refurbished by Estates as part of a £50k package with new flooring and redecoration and repairing a number of issues identified during site surveys. This probably would not have happened without the feedback from the student survey of PC clusters we conducted earlier in the year, and the acknowledgment that PC clusters should also be classified as GTA (this had been overlooked in the initial Estates refurbishment program). Many thanks to everyone involved in this activity, in particular Richard Fletcher who co-ordinated the first furniture delivery, and Pat Henshaw who dealt with the second when many of us were on annual leave (including me).

Virtual Hub Nearing Completion
This is one of the e-strategy funded projects. In the last month new signage has been installed at the entrance to the Unity Building. It reflects the style used in the Hub in Richmond Building for the Unity Reception and “nano-hub” area – where there are Sunrays, telephones and furniture to enable students to interact with the main hub and other IT services without visiting the main campus. Thanks to Jamie Ansell for managing the installation of power/network and configuration of the large TV screen in this area which means that more dynamic School and University messages can be promoted. Jamie is completing this project with further large TV screens being installed in the Richmond Building and Norcroft Centre. The University Web Team are currently working on a solution to deliver material to all of the TV screens at the University using the Web Content Management System, and this has already been successfully tested at the School of Health.

Review meetings with School s and Corporate Services
I have begun a further round of review meetings with Deans and Directors this month which is about 6 months after the first visits. These meetings are preceded by an email setting out the responses we have made to the issues that were raised in the first round of meetings and which have been circulated in the form of three “trackers”. There is a tracker for Academic Schools, Corporate Services, and one-to-one meetings with all IT Services staff. It is encouraging that in this series of meetings there has been more time to explain what we have been doing to improve services, rather than listen to grievances and issues. This isn’t always the case however!

Staff Reflections
This newsletter cannot pass without reflecting on two significant events in the last month: The sudden and unexpected news that Denis Mistry had passed away affected many of us, and also the many people that Denis supported as a colleague and friend. Denis enjoyed working with so many parts of the University during his long career and will be very sadly missed. The second event was the announcement of Sara Eyre’s retirement from the end of July having completed a life sentence of over 3 decades of service to the University. I would like to take this opportunity to express sincere appreciation for all that Sara has contributed to our University and the broader Higher Education community in such a long and distinguished career – and look forward to the inevitable celebration party!

Any Other Business
As usual, this newsletter can only provide a limited and personal selection in terms of the many changes taking place within the service. Here are just a few more examples:

• The RoamNet wireless network has been extended in response to specific requests from the Theatre in the Mill, and the Horton D meeting areas.
• Email storage quotas have increased - in the first instance to 500MB as a result of the successful launch of new storage capacity.
• Exam Board Reporting is progressing well with new web-based reports completed for Undergraduates and a mock exam board held to test out the screen delivery of the information.
• The roll-out of online payslips has been progressing well
• The inaugural student satisfaction survey of IT Services will take place commencing May 5th and will be conducted by external experts (The Oxford Research Agency)