So I have made it to a hundred weeknotes. Wasn’t sure if I could keep it up and some are better and more informative than others. The lockdown has resulted in them being less of a travelogue. Sometimes when writing them I would realise that what I was writing would be better as a blog post. They certainly are for me, the stats on them are quite low and there are many more popular posts on the blog.
Tuesday and Wednesday was Data Matters 2021, an online version of a conference which I did actually start planning back in 2019. The Data Matters event was going to be held in May 2020 in central London. However, no surprise that we decided to cancel the event. We did consider running it online, however due to the timing, the pressure that our prospective audience was under and translating an in-person conference to an online event quickly, we decided that we would reschedule the event to January 2021. We did think by July that we might even be able to hold the event in-person, but the realities of the world hit back. So the decision was made to still hold the conference in January 2021, but build it as a holding event and run it online. The existing theme was very much about putting in the (data) foundations to deliver the vision of Education 4.0 that Jisc was promoting. We could have run with that theme again, but the landscape had changed so much that we created a new more general theme on the uncertain future. I attended a lot of the sessions and did the final closing statement as well. It was well attended and as a paid for event was the first in modern Jisc as a paid virtual conference.
Did some planning as well this week, haven’t planned a project for a while, but it was quite easy to get back onto the Confluence Jira bandwagon for this. I have to say I use these tools for my individual work planning, but this was the first time in ages that I was doing this for a team.
Even though all my meetings these days are online meetings I found this article by Atlassian on better meetings useful and interesting.
Running effective meetings isn’t simply a matter of doing the obvious things like sharing the agenda and starting on time. While those things are important, they’re just table stakes. The real key to running a great meeting is organizing and running them with a human touch – not like some corporate management automaton.
More final-year pupils than ever before are applying to local universities so that they can study closer to home, amid concerns that the impact of the pandemic may extend into the next academic year.
This echoes one of the future visions on the hyperlocal university I wrote for Learning & Teaching Reimagined.
My top tweet this week was this one.
I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery. I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery. pic.twitter.com/9cMKpNVyUy
This week, we melted, we had a new Prime Minister, we had a new government and I didn’t go to London.
Monday I was back into the office to do what I initially thought was going to be a demonstration of Jira and Confluence, but in the end turned more into a discussion on how people are using the tools across Jisc.
Had to make a phone call on Monday, something which in work I don’t actually do that often. I make lots of audio conferences and skype calls, but I don’t use the phone as much as I have in other roles. I am part of a telephony project at Jisc and as a result I am now using Teams for making and receiving calls. It was a seamless experience, and it was nice making a call using a sound cancelling headset with microphone, rather than holding a handset or mobile phone to my head! I did feel that it was somewhat odd to use my laptop to dial the number rather than a number pad. A few years back I was looking a telephony and I remember thinking back then that there was a real culture shift needed by organisations moving from traditional PBX (Private Branch Exchange) system to a modern telephony system used through Teams. Even now I think there is still need for a culture shift that isn’t easy for some people to just get and then move on.
This week, eleven years ago I wrote a blog post about the CherryPal mini PC which cost $249.
“Anonymised” data lies at the core of everything from modern medical research to personalised recommendations and modern AI techniques. Unfortunately, according to a paper, successfully anonymising data is practically impossible for any complex dataset.
The article discusses the how data which has been anonymised data can in a number of methods be deanonymised to identify real people.
This has implications for universities and colleges, who are looking at using deanonymized data for intelligence and informed decision making.
If you think of anonymised data tracking students movement across campus, using wifi, this could be easily deanonymized using attendance data, swipe card data, PC logins, library card data.
Something to think about. The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.
Thursday, I was going to go to London for a meeting with colleagues from the DfE. However due to the heat we decided to have the meeting virtually. Though there are advantages in meeting face to face, the fact we now have the technology to make meetings virtual means that we don’t need to cancel or re-schedule meetings. There are also affordances with virtual meetings, I like using the chat to post relevant links rather than interrupt the flow of the meeting. The fact the links are “live” and saved, means people don’t a) need to copy them down or b) wait until the links are e-mailed to them after the meeting.
I spent some time working on abstracts and proposals for various conferences I am attending in September. Working for an organisation like Jisc, I obviously need to talk about stuff we’re doing at Jisc. I kind of miss the keynotes I was doing ten years ago, when I had a lot more freedom on the topics and subjects I was presenting on. Back then I spent a lot of time talking about the future of learning, which the main thrust was that change is going to happen, but the important part of that journey was people, academics and students. The technology facilitates and provides affordances, but in the end it’s people who will want to change the way they do things and people will need to demonstrate leadership if they want change to happen. For the conferences in September I will mainly be talking about Education 4.0.
Friday I was back in the office in Bristol working on my preparation for my end of year review. This year has been interesting as I changed roles in March so did not complete my previous objectives and inherited a number of new objectives.
I was reminded of the problems heat can cause this week with this photograph from seven years ago in 2012, my Google Nexus One got so hot I had to put it in the fridge….
Monday I was off to our Bristol office. There was quite a bit of disruption across the city with Extinction Rebellion demonstrating across the centre.
I was into the office to deliver some training on Jira for personal use. Though Jira and Confluence make great tools for projects I have been using it myself over the last few years to manage my work and individual projects.
As the main focus was on productivity, we did discuss manging e-mail and tasks. I use an Inbox Zero approach that I discovered back in 2007 when listening to a podcast.
I recently wrote two blog posts on Inbox Zero on my tech stuff blog, the first I discuss how I deal with e-mail.
Confluence is a wiki platform for creating documentation and some companies even use it for their actual website. Jira is an issue tracking system. You can embed macros in Confluence that can show details about your Jira issues.
I did manage to get out of the office and get a coffee at a new coffee place that has opened this year.
This week on my technology stuff blog I published a post about a QR Code which failed to work ten years ago with a specialised QR Code reader on my iPhone 3GS, but worked fine with the in-built QR Code reader in the iPhone 8 camera.
In the next few weeks I have a fair few meetings in London, so I have been booking travel and hopefully it will be slightly cooler than recently, as travelling in this heat is a real nightmare.
Last week I followed my colleague, Lawrie, on Twitter as he attended an event on Microsoft Teams.
“ #MicrosoftTeams is not a VLE/LMS replacement – why would we replace like for like” my reading? “We want to be something different, but we think we are a learning environment.” Just my feeling about what I am hearing and seeing.
I could argue various points, but these are my early thoughts. I’m remaining engaged with Microsoft Teams, I’m looking to see if this can be a “Digital Ecosystem” as we envisaged during the Co-design work.
I have always seen the VLE as a concept more than an individual product and I do like the term “Digital Ecosystem” as it kind of describes that viewpoint. If you say VLE or LMS then people think of products such as Blackboard, Canvas or Moodle. For me the VLE was something more than an individual product, it was a series of ways of working online using a range of online tools and services that were inter-connected. Teams is one such tool that can be connected into such a VLE concept.
Facial recognition was again in the news, this time the The House of Commons Science and Technology committee expressed their concerns on the technology.
The police and other authorities should suspend use of automatic facial recognition technologies, according to an influential group of MPs. The House of Commons Science and Technology committee added there should be no further trials of the tech until relevant regulations were in place. It raised accuracy and bias concerns.
Also this week everyone was talking about FaceApp with lots of different news outlets reporting on the app and concerns people had about it. There was concerns about the biased algorithim that the app used to make people “hot” was in fact racist. There was worry over privacy and security over the use of images and even if there was Russian collusion! Of course some people thought it was all a bit of fun!
My top tweet this week was this one.
With the introduction of the new @GWRHelp IET trains we now have these wonderful HST 125 trains as our local commuter services around Bristol and North Somerset. Ace. pic.twitter.com/R2fjBrVavo
With the bank holiday, a shorter week starting on the Tuesday. It was a pity the weather wasn’t better for the bank holiday weekend, so was slightly annoyed as I arrived for work in bright sunshine.
Tuesday was very much about touching base with people in person. Yes you can do this online or remotely, but there is something about that happenstance that occurs within an office environment.
There was some discussion about the ALT Conference this year, which is taking place in Edinburgh. Alas I won’t be going this year as I will need to be close to home as my youngest starts secondary school, and as most people know, transition is a challenging time for all. I have been going to ALT since 2003 when I presented at the conference in Sheffield. Since then I have been to virtually every conference , except 2004 in Exeter and 2013 in Nottingham. I missed Exeter in the main as I wasn’t presenting and I hadn’t really enjoyed the 2003 experience. I missed 2013 as I had just started a new job at the beginning of September in 2013, so couldn’t get funding. Since joining Jisc in 2015, I did go to Manchester that same year, Warwick in 2016, I enjoyed Liverpool in 2017 and returned to Manchester in 2018. This blog post describes my #altc journey.
I had an interesting discussion over lunch on wellbeing and mental health, and the potential of data and analytics in supporting (staff who support) students in this space.
I think it’s important that when we say something like…
Working on how data and analytics and other technology related approaches can support mental health and well-being for staff, students and researchers.
That what we’re actually saying is something more like…
Working on how data and analytics and other technology related approaches can provide insight, intelligence and inform those staff and services that work in this space and support the mental health and well-being of staff, students and researchers.
The conflation of mental health and well-being is not helpful for tackling either low levels of well-being or supporting those suffering mental ill-health.
The two issues are related, but they are not the same thing. Interventions can support both issues, but different approaches often need to be taken in order to increase well-being compared to supporting those with mental health issues.
Next week I am off to the University of Hertfordshire to participate in a series of workshops looking at the value of Jisc to our members. I was asked to facilitate sessions relating to that old chestnut of mine, the Intelligent Campus, but will also be supporting sessions on Learning and Teaching and Next Generation Learning Environments. Whilst preparing for this session on Wednesday I was reminded of the reports that have been published in this space by Lawrie Phipps.
The report was a response to the challenge of the following questions:
What would an environment do for staff and students?
What kind of learning experiences would an environment need to support?
What learning and teaching practices aren’t currently supported in environments?
The report makes for interesting reading
The changing nature of student and staff behaviours was something highlighted by many commentators; technology-led pedagogies, and emphasis on system features was another; and of course many people in the sector were commenting on the rise of analytics and the role that data may play in future systems.
As Technology Enhanced Learning continues to develop, it is clear that some form of digital learning environment will remain core to institutional practices; the levels of integration, features and porosity will continue to change, driven, and potentially driving the behavioural shifts we see in staff and students.
The second report which was researched as a result of the earlier work, with the aim to gain a detailed understanding of current teaching practices in universities and colleges.
Practitioners are struggling with the disconnect between what they need to do in the spaces their institution provides and what is possible. Staff have to work harder to deliver the kind of teaching they want to in spaces that are not always appropriately configured. Some of this difficulty is a result of limits on space as a resource, however, there is also an element of staff not always knowing what is possible in the spaces available.
Interviewees identified a lack of opportunity to reflect on and analyse their teaching practice. While there are forums and staff development opportunities, limited time is officially allocated to formatively evaluating how a course was delivered and received, beyond the metrics used for more formal summative evaluation.
The organisational distance between instructional designers, education technologists and the people teaching in HE and FE is clearly present in (the) data.
Institutionally provided systems are not single-stop places for practitioners, who use open web and commercially provided platforms as teaching and learning places. This is not new6, but it continues to have implications for the ways that institutions support and recognise teaching practices that leverage digital places and platforms.
I would recommend you read the whole report.
Also too some time looking at various university documents in preparation for a visit to the University of Hertfordshire next week. They certainly have some interesting ambitions for their student experience.
I smiled at the Wonkhe article on university car parking rankings.
Our calculations are based on the supply of parking (the number of spaces on campus) divided by the demand for parking (based on the percentages of students and staff driving or carpooling to campus). Such a clear methodology means we can ignore the qualitative opinions of students and staff, which are messy and difficult to put on a league table.
The environmental considerations appeared to be missed, but then you realise it’s just a parody. I once left a job, because of the car parking (well it was one of the reasons). We were moving campuses from a suburban campus with free parking, to a city centre campus where there was limited on-site parking and all day parking was (as it was right in the heart of the city) expensive. My hours were changing as well, so I would be teaching until 9:30pm, at which point I would be expected to use public transport (two buses) to get home. At this point I started looking for another job. Ironically I got a job at a city centre museum that had no parking either…
Even today my job with Jisc, our head office in Bristol has no staff parking, so I do the train instead, which actually is frequent, reliable (a lot of the time) and about the same price of parking and the cost of petrol. The main difference is that I don’t need to be in the office everyday, so commuting is much less of headache.
Spent some time reviewing my personal objectives for the rest of the year (which is the end of July 2019) as well as reflecting on potential objectives for the following year. In theory we use a platform called Fuse for our objective setting, I though put most of the detail into Confluence, and then using reporting on Jira tasks to pull out and provide the evidence for those objectives. I can also pull out a report of tasks I have done that are not related to objectives. This evidence is useful when pulling together end of year reviews (and mid year reviews too).
Monday I was off to London for a workshop looking at Education 4.0 as well as a meeting discussing strategy. The workshop was looking at Jisc’s work in the Education 4.0 space and what others are doing in this space.
I published another couple of use cases for the Intelligent Campus blog.
Working from home on Tuesday I had a couple of calls, though technical problems with VScene meant I didn’t get into one conference. I have no idea what the problem was, usually I don’t have an issue with VScene.
Wednesday I was into the office for an early meeting to discuss progress and objectives for my new role. I will be continuing some existing objectives on thought leadership (I know, I also hate the term); looking at the learning and research technical career pathway in Jisc; increasing member understanding of Jisc’s learning, teaching and student experience portfolio. In addition I am reviewing the HE and student experience strategy for 2020 onwards. Review our portfolio for the OfS and support a value study at the University of Hertfordshire (I discussed this back in March).
I had similar technical problems with VScene again, I was even using a different computer and browsers. I think I may have narrowed down the problem to my Bluetooth wireless headset. So next time I am going to use a wired headset and see if that makes a difference.
Had a meeting to discuss some future ideas in a space that is new to me and to Jisc. Where could we apply our work in digital capabilities and analytics in new spaces.
Most of the afternoon I was doing a dry run through the Agile Implementation Workshop I am helping run next week in London. I am talking about reporting and also doing an introductory demo of JIRA. Sometimes the value of a tool such as JIRA is not the value it adds to the individual using the tool, but the combined and added value you get when everyone in a team uses that tool. Reporting is something else that often is seen as a process between two people, but aggregated reports are valuable to a range of stakeholders in an organisation.
Had an interesting discussion with Lawrie on Thursday morning following a demonstration he had seen the day before.
Microsoft Teams is the digital hub that brings conversations, content, and apps together in one place. Create collaborative classrooms, connect in professional learning communities, and communicate with all staff – all from a single experience in Office 365 Education.
I’ve not looked in detail at all aspects of what makes Teams a possible VLE, though there are some key aspects of Teams that make it appealing as a VLE or LMS. It has all the functions you expect from a VLE or LMS, such as content, communication (individual and group) and assessment. You can connect a wide range of apps to Teams, you like using Twitter for tweetchats, connect it in.
This reminds me of the concept of the VLE I proposed at the infamous VLE is Dead debate at ALT-C in 2009 (was that really ten years ago now). I saw the VLE still being the centre of the student online learning environment, but other tools and services would plug into it.
Today we have the technology to make that a reality. It can be done with Teams, but similar connectors and connnections exist for tools such as Moodle. From a student perspective, they will be using a tool (and a suite of tools connected to that) they will potentially be using in the future. Yes of course the skills that you gain using tools such as Moodle and Blackboard (and Google Apps) are skills that are transferable, but not everyone sees them in that way, both students and employers.
There are already universities and colleges out in the sector using Teams as their VLE, I am interested in not just who is using Teams as their VLE, but also how they are using it, and how embedded it is into practice.
One thing that I noted was that, it’s all very well having a great tool, it’s quite another thing to understanding and knowing the potential of the functionality of that tool to enhance and enrich the student experience. It’s also another thing to have that functionality exploited by staff and students.
I spent some time setting up a Confluence Site and JIRA project for the Agile Implementation Workshop next week, I didn’t want to do something “not real” so will be using the sites and boards for work I am doing for our Learning & Research Technical Career Pathway.
A shorter week this week, due to the Easter holiday weekend, so also means a later start next week as well.
Five years ago or so I gave a presentation at an RSC South West event about my favourite iPad apps, ones I used on a regular basis for my work. Back then the iPad was still relatively new and shiny but there were still lots of apps available.
Today there are even more apps, the iPad is more powerful and we have a stylus (pencil). I have also changed jobs (a few times) so my work needs are different to back then. Another aspect is my default phone is the iPhone 6s Plus, the bigger screen makes a real difference to how I use the phone and I use it more like a mini iPad than just a phone.
So I thought I would talk about some of my favourite apps that I now use. Going through the list I am surprised by how many apps are apps that access cloud based systems. I have also found that I now less likely to try out new apps and that this blog post may get me thinking differently, trying out some new apps and revitalising my App of the Week series of blog posts, of which the last one was Prisma back in 2016… which is the only one in the last five years. A lot of apps have come and gone in those five years and there are lots of new apps too. Many of the apps I have reviewed have also changed quite dramtically, so I might re-review those apps too.
However here are some of my favourite apps that I use regularly now.
Though you can add an Exchange account to the default Mail App on iOS, I much prefer to keep things separate and use the Outlook App. It is a little limited compared to the desktop app and desktop browser experience, but for answering e-mails quickly and checking my calendar it is a nice app.
I really like using this app for sketch noting, combined with the Apple Pencil I can create pictures of the presentations I have been to, and looking back I can reflect on what impact they had and what they did to make me think. I’ve said before that I do sketch notes for myself, but it would appear that other people quite like them.
When it comes to editing images for posting to Flickr, Instagram or the Twitter, then I have a real fondness for Snapseed which has an amazing array of settings, filters and processes for manipulating and enhancing your images.
In my work I use Jira and Confluence quite a bit and therefore find the iOS apps for these two services useful to quick referencing and checking, less to actually use the services which I prefer to use a browser on a desktop for. Having said that I dislike how I am regularly locked out of the apps and it is a bit of a faff to add the password to get back in.
So do you use Slack? I find the iOS version of Slack just as good as the desktop app. It’s easy to find conversations you’re involved with, or to browse through a channel stream. Calls can be a little more complicated, but I like how I can connect to a Slack call on the iPhone, but then contribute to the channel using the iPad or the desktop at the same time.
So there are a few of my favourite apps, what are you using on your iPad or iPhone?
This is the ninth time I have compiled a list of the top ten web tools I have used during the year. I am finding it interesting looking back over 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, which tools I still use and which have fallen by the wayside.
Just outside the top ten were Slack, Evernote and Waze.
10. Instagram – a social tool for sharing pictures and over 2016 I posted an image a day to Instagram. I still think I am not using it to it’s full potential.
9. Dropbox – I like how I can easily work on files on multiple devices. It just works. I prefer it over Google Drive and though iCloud comes close that only really works with Apple’s apps such as Pages and Keynote.
8 . Flickr – I’ve been on Flickr for over ten years now, I still find it an ideal place to store and curate images.
7. Google Docs – Though I prefer using Dropbox for working on individual files, when it comes to collaboration and sharing then Google Docs wins out every time.
6. Tweetdeck – Though I usually use the web client on my Mac, or the Twitter App on the phone, when it comes to tweet chats and live events, I switch to Tweetdeck. I also find it useful when following various hashtags.
5. Yammer – a kind of Facebook for work, but in my current workplace it works really well and a good replacement for many of the conversations that would have been done using e-mail and probably lost in e-mail.
4. Skype (includes Skype for Business) – I used Skype for many years for conversations and then just stopped. I now use it on a daily basis for “phone” calls and instant messaging. I have never really been a fan of instant messaging, so still getting use to that.
3. WordPress – I like to blog (can you tell) and this is still a clever piece of software. Despite the trials and tribulations of maintaining security the functionality and the features of WordPress make it a really useful web tool.
2. Jira and Confluence – though designed for software development I have found these great tools for task management and projects.
1. Twitter is once again my top web tool for 2016. It works for informing, conversations and collaboration.
So that’s my top ten web tools for 2016, what were yours?
What’s the first thing you do in the morning? What’s the first thing you do when you sit down at your desk at work? I suspect you are probably checking your e-mail? It wouldn’t surprise me that you leave your e-mail client (like Outlook) open all the time and respond as those little pop-ups appear on your screen. So how often do you check your e-mail?
Actually I would think that if you are reading this blog, having seen the link on social media, that your answers to those questions would differ from the norms of the behaviour of most people in the workplace.
For many people e-mail is their work. Usually the first activity when arriving at work (after making a coffee of course) is checking the e-mail. Then throughout the working day the e-mail is checked and checked again. Productive activity is interrupted by those lovely notifications popping up. Mobile devices like the iPhone suddenly make e-mail even more accessibly, those red numbers going up and up and make it essential the e-mail is checked again, even when travelling, at home and at weekends. Work is e-mail and e-mail is work.
I find it interesting how often we default to e-mail as the main communication tool, to the point where it replaces other forms of communication or discussion. People also often use e-mail for various activities that really e-mail wasn’t designed for.