Goodbye Castlepark – Weeknote #39 – 29th November 2019

Ramsay Garden in Edinburgh
Ramsay Garden in Edinburgh

It was a much busier week this time, with a lot more travelling, including trams, planes, trains, buses, cars and walking. At least the weather wasn’t too bad, but there was certainly some rain and wind about.

University of South Wales
University of South Wales

Monday I was in Wales for one of Jisc’s Stakeholder Forums. It was interesting to talk to colleagues form universities and colleges about how they felt about Jisc and the services we provide them. I really enjoyed the session delivered by my colleague on big challenges and co-design and on my table we had a really insightful and interesting discussion about  a Netflix style model for education.

Landed at Edinburgh Airport
Landed at Edinburgh Airport

Tuesday I was off to Scotland, staying overnight in Edinburgh, before heading off to Glasgow for a meeting with QAA Scotland.

I realised as I walked around Edinburgh having checked into my hotel, that I have been to Edinburgh many times over the last twenty years for work, but have never actually visited the place in a personal non-work capacity. I go to London a lot for work, but also go there with family to visit and explore. So I am thinking about possibly visiting Edinburgh in the future to explore and look around.


Wednesday morning I attended the Digital Capabilities Community of Practice. It was a packed room full of people listening, discussing and thinking about digital capabilities.

Digital Capability Community of Practice in Edinburgh
Digital Capability Community of Practice in Edinburgh

The opening keynote from the University of Edinburgh on their digital transformation journey was interesting. One aspect that I had seen before was the feeling the need to create their own framework and definitions about digital capability, introducing terms such as digital competence, digital fluency. Now I appreciate the importance of language, and the nuances of different words, capability doesn’t mean the same as skill or fluency or competence. However is there a need for every University in the UK to do their own framework when it comes to digital skills and capabilities? Surely the effort being put into this could be better off put into developing and working with staff?

This tweet from Shelia MacNeill made me think

I think one of the challenges, is defining “digital” it’s not static and  like technology is continuing to change. Transformation can imply a change from one state to another. In reality I think we need to be continually transforming, it’s a journey not a destination.

Due to unavailability and other issues I left the meeting in Edinburgh early and headed off to Glasgow by train. I had never travelled by train in Scotland before and to be honest it’s no different to travelling by train in England. I was amused though to see some old First Great Western train carriages being used, having been retired from the mainline down in Bristol and then moved up to Scotland.  On the day I was in Glasgow, on the same day two years previously I had also being in Glasgow.


I was in Glasgow for a meeting with QAA and afterwards I was able to use the Jisc hotdesks in the QAA office before I made my way to the airport for my flight back to Bristol and home. I like the fact that the Glasgow Airport Bus has tables. A little too bumpy for typing though.

First Glasgow Airport Bus
First Glasgow Airport Bus

Thursday I was back in the Bristol office, his was the penultimate day we were in Castlepark before moving to our new offices on Portwall Lane. I needed to pack the stuff in my locker into a crate. A few years ago we moved to hot-desking so I didn’t need to clear a desk or pack a pedestal. I know hot-desking is a sensitive and controversial topic for some, for me it’s not really an issue.

When you consider a week like this one, one day in Wales, two in Scotland and one working from home, I only needed a desk for a day. If I had my own desk in the office then it would be “unused” for four days. This isn’t an efficient use of resources. Even on that one day I was in meetings for three hours so wasn’t using the desk during those times.

Back in the 1990s when I was lecturing, I had my own desk in the staff workroom office. It didn’t have a computer on it, as we only (originally) had a single computer for the whole faculty! I remember it being a bit of a mess, though once I got really organised in my teaching, it was a lot tidier. As I was teaching, my desk was unused for most of the day, so did become more of a place to store stuff rather than a place to work. I remember also the shared office was rather busy, so it wasn’t conducive to working at a desk due to the noise and constant interruptions.

When I worked at the Western Colleges Consortium, I had a lot more input to my working environment.  I remember when we moved to our new office in Keynsham, I had a huge desk complete with end table for meetings. To be honest the desk was way too big for the size of the office, but I did have two desktops on their and two (at the time) huge 17” screens. The job itself entailed a fair amount of travelling, so I wasn’t at my desk on a daily basis.

Gloucestershire College
Gloucestershire College by James Clay

It was when I moved to Gloucestershire College, that my thinking on “having a desk” changed quite a bit. Initially I was based at the old Brunswick Campus, and I “borrowed” a desk in the library office from a colleague who was on maternity leave as my “allocated” desk was at the top of a tower block quite a hike from the library where my team was based and worked. When we moved to the new college building in the Gloucester Docks, the office space we were allocated was a lot smaller than before. I recall having a discussion with the team about desking. The main feedback I got was that people wanted to have a desk so they could put their stuff and work somewhere. As the majority of the team were customer facing (working with staff and students out in the library and elsewhere in the college), some were part-time, it was apparent to me that if I gave everyone a desk (and it would be a small desk) that they would be empty most of the working week. We also had team members from other campuses coming to the Gloucester Campus and needing somewhere to work (and leave their stuff).

So rather than have twelve small desks, we made a decision to have only six big desks and a fair few large cupboards. We would have a clear desk policy and people would store their stuff in the cupboards. We also then had the space to have a sofa in the office as well and a coffee table.

It has to be said, partly down to the C-shaped aspect of the office, that I had a “separate” desk in a part of the office. However I was very clear to the team that they could use my this desk and was also equally clear, that if I arrived and they were using the desk, they would remain at the desk and I would find somewhere else to work.

I was also quite clear that we would review the situation in six months and if it wasn’t working we would change the space.

Well, what happened, after six months we actually gave away two desks out of the six to new admin staff.

CastlePark in Bristol

When I started at Jisc in 2015, I wasn’t allocated a desk as there wasn’t one, but after an office re-shuffle, I did get a desk. Though it was “my” desk, I kept it clear, so on those days when I wasn’t in the office anyone could use it, and they did. I could tell because they re-adjusted my chair! A year or two later, the situation changed and in the Castlepark office we moved completely to hot-desking. My only complaint about that was we had to use a booking system to book desks, and though I see why people think this is necessary, the reality is that it results in more empty desks.

I wrote this article in 2016 on library PC booking systems, but the essence of the article remains the same for desk booking systems.

Can I book a PC please?


When asked, why you need a desk booking system, people often say that, I don’t want to arrive at the office and then find I have nowhere to put my stuff… Desks should be about doing stuff, not as a place to store stuff.

On my visit on Thursday I noticed (obviously not been to Castlepark for a while) that on the building site next door the lift shaft of the new building had been built, all twenty plus floors of it.

Castle Park View
Castle Park View lift shaft

I took a picture of the artist’s impression and I was amused that the new tower block will block the sunlight, leaving a shadow across Castlepark, needing to have the lights on during the day…

Castle Park View
Castle Park View

Though we already have the lights on during the day…

Friday I couldn’t have gone to our Bristol office even if I wanted to…. Well I could have gone for the morning. We then have a week without an office, before the new one in Portwall Lane opens on the 9th December.

One thing I learnt this week was how to download a transcript of a YouTube video. Really useful when you may not have the time to listen to all of a video (or podcast) but want to see if a particular word or phrase was used.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I read a couple of interesting blog posts on Friday, one about mental health and digital technologies

What will it take to get digital tools into regular use in mental health services, and what could researchers do to help make this work?

The answer is simple. Do better research and research the right things. But how?

The other was on Wonkhe about how universities can not afford to ignore “confession” sites.

If universities are serious about student conduct, all of this means that institutions need to develop a greater institutional knowledge regarding the digital world. “We can’t do anything” is not the case, but one does require a certain level of knowledge to be able to tackle these issues. Awareness would be a start. We wonder how many of those in senior management positions in universities are aware of the existence of these pages, let alone the high publicity reputational damage that can result from a national news story about one of them – or a failure to support victims who might feel unsafe or threatened as a result of what is posted?

There is a lesson here about digital capability that often people think is about using tools such as the VLE or office suites, but digital capability is also about understanding the issues (and risks) that can arise from the use of digital technologies and services by students and staff.

My top tweet this week was this one.

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