Tag Archives: train

Caught the train – Weeknote #153 – 4th February 2022

We had our mid-year team summit this week. Originally planned to be taking place in-person in Manchester, the decision was taken back in January to move it online. Some interesting stuff, but what we didn’t really manage to do was have those conversations over coffee and lunch that happen at an in-person events and meetings.

I was reminded of this blog post which I wrote in August 2019 (ie pre-pandemic) and many of the observations there I think reflect what has happened over the last two years.

When it comes to the delivery of online learning, the assumption is made that it will just happen. Assumptions are made that academics who are experts already in delivering learning will be able to easily transfer their skills to an online environment. What can often happen is that the processes and methods that people use in the physical space will be translates verbatim to an online space. It will not taken into account the challenges of an online environment, or recognise the affordances of said environments.

I also wrote this in the blog post.

The overall experience is expected to be the same, but merely re-creating the physical experience online is often disappointing for both students and academics. Many of the nuances of face to face learning can be lost when moving to online.

During the pandemic I spoke to a lot of students and academic staff, who had expectations about their experiences, but in the end both were disappointed (and exhausted) by the experience.

Part of the issue is that physical learning activities don’t necessarily translate readily into an online environment, the nuances of what makes the face to face so valuable can be lost in translation, similarly the possibilities and affordances of the online space can be lost.

Moving forward on this, we need to recognise, that despite the experiences of the last two years, we may want to think about how we adapt our training and development going forward to, not only build on the lessons and experiences of the last two years, but build on them to take advantage of the affordances of online learning and teaching.

Wednesday I went to our office in Bristol. Caught the train to Bristol, still wore my mask. The last time I was in our  Bristol office was back in November. I had originally planned to go to Bristol in December, but with the new measures in place and rising infections, I took the decision, back then, to work from home. So, avoiding the train and what was later apparently a busy office. Would have been nice to see people though.

This time it was nice to see people and have conversations about stuff. It was apparent that the happenstance of conversations is something I have missed, but also rather challenging to recreate online. Possible, but challenging. I also had a conversation about the impact this was all having on new starters, who don’t necessarily get to see people on a regular basis and make those important (social) connections that can have a positive impact on how you view your work and your colleagues.

Spent some time preparing a presentation I am giving next week. It takes me back to the intelligent campus space.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Having an impact – Weeknote #129 – 20th August 2021

Well after a week of working in London, Monday with everyone out and about, I had the house to myself so I worked from home. It was also another shorter week as I was on leave on the Friday.

Plan to ban phones from classrooms is out of touch, say UK school leaders in an article on the Guardian.

School and college leaders have condemned the government’s plan to ban mobile phones from classrooms as outdated and out of touch, arguing that schools should be allowed to decide on appropriate rules.

My children’s secondary school have banned the use of mobile phones for some time now. Children are allowed to take phones to and from school, but at school they need to be turned off and put away. One of the challenges is that during the lockdown and forced periods of self-isolation, many young people used their phones to stay in touch and keep in contact with friends. There was a certain amount of reliance on them, so much so, that they became important for wellbeing as much as for communication, games, and distraction.

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Back in 2008 when I was working on MoLeNET (Mobile Learning Network) projects the issue of mobile phone bans came up quite often. I was often an advocate about instead of banning phones, think about how they could be utilised for teaching and learning. Today mobile phones are actually much more than phones, they are computers and internet devices. You can do so much more on them then the kinds of phones people had in 2008 (the iPhone was only a year old back then). I personally think a ban misses the point, yes, they can be a distraction, but we need to think about behaviour and engagement as well and how the pandemic has changed how people use their mobile devices.

Wednesday, I headed to the office in Bristol. This was not my first visit to the office, but the first since further restrictions were lifted. The office is now fully open, so we can work on all floors and don’t need to worry about booking desks. It was nice to have a much busier workplace than on previous visits to the office (and compared to last week when I was the only person in the London office).

I also made the decision to catch the train to work, rather than use my car. The train (the first off-peak service) was quite crowded, but then it was only two carriages. There is quite a bit of engineering work happening at Bristol Temple Meads over the summer, so there have been cancellations, rail replacement buses and signalling problems. My train in the end, was only a few minutes late.

Headed up to the third floor of the office. I was joined by some old colleagues from what was Futures within Jisc and had a really good chat. It had been over eighteen months since we had met in-person and in one case I had only met the person online. It reminded me of both the advantages and disadvantages of going to the office. I like the in-person interaction but can be disruptive if you have stuff to do.

The air conditioning was getting to me, so I hid in a meeting room and turned the heating up.

I caught the train home from Bristol Temple Meads (half of which was closed off).

Had a few ad hoc conversations on Thursday.

Quite liked these tweets from people who had attended the digital leadership consultancy I had delivered for Leeds.

I had as part of the programme delivered a session on e-mail. It incorporates much of what is in this blog post on Inbox Zero and this follow up post.

Always nice to see the positive impact that your training has had on the way that people work, they didn’t just attend the training, engage with the training, but are now acting on what they saw and learnt.

My top tweet this week was this one.

It’s back… – Weeknote #124 – 16th July 2021

I got my iMac back at the weekend. Spent best part restoring the iMac from backup only to find I was having a permissions issue with my OneDrive files and there was a problem with opening files. I had been  thinking everything had gone so well. I had virtually no data loss, so was pleased I had managed to get things sorted. However I was annoyed when opening a PowerPoint file from my OneDrive folder I got an error message.

In the end though I managed to resolve it.

Plans to go into the office later in the week were abandoned as two of my children were asked by the school to self-isolate and would be studying at home. I did take them for PCR tests, which were negative, but they still had to self-isolate.

Monday I took my car for a service and caught a bus (and then a train) home. First time I think I have been on a bus in years, certainly the last time I was on a bus was on the Airport bus in Glasgow back in November 2019.

I did another session for Leeds on digital leadership this week, we spent part of the session reflecting on the pandemic, what lessons we had learnt about change and what the potential impact of this would be in the future. One thing does keep coming up is how often we conflate digital with online. We talk about digital learning, but this isn’t always learning which happens online.

We also talked about innovation and how to mainstream ideas and new technologies.

Had a meeting about the initial results of the DEI survey which does echo many of our findings from our in-depth research with students. One area which still concerns me is how do we find out what the disengaged students are thinking and feeling, as both our research and the DEI is skewed towards engaged students with access to the internet.

Thursday saw a fibre company install a fibre cabinet right outside the front of our house, on the pavement, but slap bang middle in the front of our house. Looking over the legislation it looks like they can just do this without notice, or right of appeal. It counts as permitted development. You just know that it will become a magnet for dogs marking their territory, potential vandalism (graffiti) and a place for people to dump their rubbish.

Friday saw a repeat of Wednesday’s session on digital leadership which went well, but didn’t last as long, not sure why.

My top tweet this week was this one.

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. Continue reading Goodbye Castlepark – Weeknote #39 – 29th November 2019

Heading down Dawlish way

Travelling down to Plymouth today by train made me realise that despite living in the South West now for nearly twenty years, this was the first time I had gone south of Weston-super-Mare by train (well except for once travelling to Bridgwater by train, but certainly no further south than that).

It’s not that I don’t go to places like Taunton, Exeter or Plymouth (even Cornwall) it’s just that I have usually driven down the M5.

Often the reason for using the car was convenience, time and speed. Many of the places I needed to visit were not in close proximity to the railway station and that would have meant getting a taxi. Other times I was carrying a lot of stuff, you would be surprised by how much stuff you need when demonstrating mobile learning! Other times it was time. When I looked at going by train to Exeter or Plymouth, the only “available” tickets were on the very slow trains that stopped at every station, and as a result it would take anything up to twice as long as going by car. I was quite surprised though this time checking the train that I could change at Taunton and catch the “faster” train making the journey time about the same as going by car.

Perhaps I should make it clear that I actually prefer going by train, especially like today when the train is not very busy and I have a table. If I am going to London I will nearly always go by train and going north (unless I fly) I will usually go by train.

I am not entirely sure if every journey in the past I have taken it was necessary to take the car, but what I will say is that the train route this way is spectacular especially as it passes through Dawlish.

So though this is my first time by train to Plymouth I don’t think it will be the last time.

Fine, so still no wifi still on the train…

In May I wrote a blog post about internet access on the train. I talked about how in the past I had used various devices to connect to the internet while travelling on the train. A few weeks after writing the article I upgraded my Nexus One to Froyo 2.2 and now that is my main method of connecting my laptop or iPad to the internet while travelling with First Great Western. In the first article I did say:

One thing I have noticed though is that though my 3G connection from Bristol to London is pretty good, travelling on the Voyager trains from Bristol to Birmingham, the signal is really poor.

I initially thought this was just down to the route, but I have heard that the main issue is the construction of the train and the metallised windows. This basically blocks the 3G signal! So even with a Mifi, nexus one or a dongle it’s difficult to use 3G. One suggestion that I heard from John Popham was to keep the Mifi near the door area and that may mean a better signal.

I did wonder why CrossCountry Trains didn’t put in wifi as you find on the East Coast Main Line services and Virgin Trains Pendolino. Well it appears that providing wifi was part of their Franchise agreement with the Department of Transport. CrossCountry Trains was suppose to have wifi in place by November 11th 2009. They failed to meet this deadline and the revised deadline of the end of January, according to The Telegraph that was published in a recent article.

The service was supposed to be in place by November 11 last year. The company was given until the end of January to install the service, but this date was missed as well.

The response from CrossCountry was

CrossCountry suggested that the growing use of dongles, devices which link computers to the mobile phone network, meant that WiFi was no longer necessary.

Which when you consider the problems of metallised windows is a laughable excuse, more so when CrossCountry also say in that article,

A CrossCountry spokesman said the delay was due to technical difficulties especially on the Voyager trains where the signal needed for WiFi is weakened by the high metallic content in the windows.

Yes it does do that.

However the reason wifi works on other trains is that they put the wifi on the inside of the train and the internet connection on the outside of the train.

CrossCountry said they would provide wifi and so they should provide wifi.

They have now been fined twice and if by September 30th they still haven’t installed wifi then they will be fined again.

My question though is much more, why isn’t there wifi on First Great Western services from the West Country to London and why wasn’t it in their franchise agreement? I travel with First Great Western much more than I do CrossCountry and would really like it if they had wifi.

This is the age of the train…

About once or twice a month I find myself on a train travelling to some far flung exotic location, like London, Leeds or Birmingham! Though more often then not it is the First Great Western train to London.

As I travel I like to try and get some work done in the time I have available. One key aspect of my job is communication and for that I need a decent internet connection. First Great Western, unlike some other train operating companies does not provide wifi on their services.  So what is one to do?

I have over the last few years used different ways of getting online on the train, all of them though have involved 3G.

Well recent tests show, as reported by the BBC that:

Mobile broadband speeds are improving but coverage is getting more patchy, suggests a survey.

The survey was…

…carried out by analysts from comparison site Broadband Genie, the annual test involved using dongles from UK mobile operators during a long train journey.


T-Mobile came out top in the tests because it racked up higher speeds and proved more reliable during the tests.

So how do I use 3G on the train and with what services?

My original way of getting online was with a 3G PC Card from Vodafone, however this went once I changed jobs back in 2006.

I then had an 3G Dongle from Vodafone. This actually worked quite well, some dropped connections, but once within a 3G area, a good speed both up and down. I did notice though that more often then not, I could not get 3G speeds and the connection dropped to GPRS speeds. The main problem with the dongle is that it sticks out and on cramped trains this can be problematic.

After getting a T-Mobile contract phone (with Walk’n’Web Plus) I was able to use the phone as a tethered Bluetooth modem to connect to the internet at 3G speeds. The main disadvantage with this process was the impact that both Bluetooth and 3G had on battery life of the phone. The upside for me was a more reliable and faster connection.

Using a Nokia N95 I was able to use JoikuSpot on the Nokia, this shares the 3G connection over WiFI. This has one key advantage JoikuSpot allows more than one device to connect. A simple idea which just works. Basically it turns my Nokia N95 into a wireless hotspot, allowing me to connect multiple wireless devices to my phone’s 3G internet connection. I start JoikuSpot and once started I can then join the wireless and surf the internet. This was really useful allowing both my laptop and an iPod touch to connect to the internet using the single 3G connection. The Light version only really does internet, it doesn’t allow e-mail or https for example, whereas the Premium version does; this is the reason I upgraded to the Premium version and very pleased I am with it. The main downside is the impact it has on the battery life on the Nokia N95, down to less than four hours, often less!

I used this process for a fair amount of time, made easier when First Great Western introduced power sockets on their trains. Swapping over to the Vodafone 3G dongle if the signal failed or was weak.

I have recently tried a couple of other options, the first was not as successful as I would have hoped and that was the MiFi.

So what’s the MiFi? A battery powered 3G wireless router. Using a 3G SIM it would connect to the internet and then allow  up to five wireless clients to connect and share that 3G connection. With a four hour battery life, could be charged via USB and about the size of a credit card. Using a SIM from a Vodafone 3G USB dongle it was very simple to set up and configure and I would recommend that you use the details from Ross Barkman’s excellent website on connection settings for GPRS/3G to save having to work out where the information is on your providers’ website.

However one of the downsides for me was that though the MiFi worked a treat in stationary location (say at a conference) it was less satisfactory when travelling by train. What seemed to happen was that when the MiFi lost its 3G connection, as does happen on a train, it would switch itself off. As a result you had to check now and again and see if it needed turning back on. This also had an impact on the WiFi connection on my Mac laptop, which even when the MiFi was back on would not re-connect back to the MiFi wireless. In the end the experience was so unsatisfactory that I stopped using the MiFi on trains as a wireless router. The nice thing about the MiFi is that it will work as a USB 3G dongle, so you can use the MiFi in your event and meeting as a wireless router and revert to the dongle mode when on the train.

I have recently switched from the Nokia N95 to the Google Nexus One that runs the Android operating system. There is no JoikuSpot for the Nexus One and I am not 100% on how or even if it is possible to use it as a Bluetooth modem. One thing I have tried is PDAnet that allows me to use the Nexus One as a tethered 3G modem.

One thing I have noticed though is that though my 3G connection from Bristol to London is pretty good, travelling on the Voyager trains from Bristol to Birmingham, the signal is really poor.

I initially thought this was just down to the route, but I have heard that the main issue is the construction of the train and the metallised windows. This basically blocks the 3G signal!

I have used various methods to get online on the train and though each have their disadvantages and advantages, I think I prefer the 3G dongle, though the wifi methods are neater.

National Rail Enquiries – iPhone App of the Week

Update: Since this blog post was written, this app has been renamed UK Train Times and another app by a different company has been released which is called National Rail Enquiries. To add to the confusion the UK Train Times icon has changed, whereas the National Rail Enquiries app has a very similar (well identical) icon to the old icon of UK Train Times. Though National Rail Enquiries is free, having tried both, I do think UK Train Times is a much better app and you don’t get the ads you get on the free app.

National Rail Enquiries – iPhone App of the Week

This is a regular feature of the blog looking at the various iPhone Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive. Though called iPhone App of the Week, most of these apps will also work on the iPod touch.

This week’s App is National Rail Enquiries.

National Rail Enquiries provides complete journey planning for journeys across the UK National Rail network and live departure information for all National Rail stations in the UK. This is an official application from National Rail Enquiries, with fully-licensed and accurate real-time information.


For many users a 99p App is too expensive, this is a five pound App, so is it worth it? If you travel by train then in my opinion it is.

A simple example, I know that this App helped my college secure £40,000 of funding, so well worth the £4.99 I paid for it.


Well, let’s just say it certainly helped.

What’s the story?

I was on my way to London to be interviewed for a funding proposal we had put in.

The interview was at 11.00 and I had my train ticket and was intending to catch a train from my local station and arrive at 9.45 giving me just over an hour to get to the venue for the interview.

So there I was waiting…. waiting…. waiting…

I got out the iPhone and checked National Rail Enquiries.

It said that the train was running very late and would not be going to London! Confused I was to begin with. A few minutes later the “train” arrived. It wasn’t the big High Speed Train I was expecting, but a smaller local train. As it arrived the driver lent out the window and shouted that this was the next train to Bristol. What had happened was that the original London train had broken down and they were using this as a replacement. Arriving in Bristol later than expected and on checking the departures form Bristol on the iPhone via National Rail Enquiries, I knew that if I caught the Manchester train I could change at Bristol Parkway and catch a London train from there. This I managed to do with literally seconds to spare after running across the station; and eventually I was in London by 10.00! Only 15 minutes later than originally planned.

If I had relied on finding out trains from departure boards or information kiosks I would have been much later into London and would have been late for the interview.

Would it have made a difference? Don’t know for sure, but I am glad I was there in plenty of time.

So what about the App itself?

Simply it is a portable station display board. It tells you the departures and arrivals from any station on the national rail network. It can also tell you the whereabouts of your train, if it is running late or worse cancelled.

It can also be used for journey planning, though there are other websites that do that for free. For the immediacy of catching trains now, it works really well.

If you travel anywhere by train, then this is one useful app. True you can find the information online for free, but the user interface of this app beats most websites interfaces, which have been designed more often then not for use on a computer and not on an iPhone sized screen.

Tube Exits – iPhone App of the Week

Tube Exits – iPhone App of the Week

This is a regular feature of the blog looking at the various iPhone Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive. Though called iPhone App of the Week, most of these apps will also work on the iPod touch.

This week’s App is Tube Exits.

With unique information, Tube Exits will give the savvy tube rider the inside track on how to get one-step ahead of their fellow commuters to get a speedy exit off the Tube. Save about 10 minutes on average peak hour journey times. No more delays following crowds, and walking the length of the platform. Save valuable time out of your busy schedule and avoid frustration.


If you ever go to London and ever go on the London Underground then Tube Exits is one app you should get.

While writing this article I found a free App which does something similar, called Tube Changer Lite. Now I have not used the free app, but do make extensive use of Tube Exits when I am in London.

So what does it do?

Well to put it simply, it allows you to plan your journey on the London Underground and make it as easy and stress-free as possible.

The App works out your route and then lets you know which carriage to get on, so that when you arrive at your destination (or transit) station you know which side the doors will open and you get off on the platform next to the way out! This means, especially when the tube is very busy, you are not stuck on the wrong side of the train when it arrives at your destination and when you do arrive you can get out the station quickly, avoiding delays walking down the platform and the throngs of crowds as they stream to the exit.

You can save regular journeys, to save having to recalculate each time you use the tube.

A simple App that has made it easier and less stressful to use the Tube.

ALT-C 2009 Day #0

It’s day zero of the ALT Conference. Well the conference starts proper tomorrow on Tuesday and I am using today to travel up north like.

It’s a four hour train journey (changing at Bristol Temple Meads) and though Virgin Cross Country trains do have power they have a major flaw in that their construction blocks 3G signals quite effectively. Initially on the Bristol – Manchester route I thought it was down to the geography, but a recent trip on the line using a “normal” train demonstrated to me, yes there are areas with no 3G, but the trains used by Cross Country block the signal, especially when it is a weak signal.

Now I know that this is not a major design flaw (some would say it was a feature) but without on-board wifi, I would prefer to have a decent 3G signal now and again (as I can find when travelling to London).

Anyway back to the conference…

There is some stuff happening tonight, but I am hoping to touch base with a few people and go out for dinner, probably use Twitter to organise this.

I am pretty much prepared for the conference, I have a poster, organising and taking part in a symposium, supporting a workshop and running another workshop. I also have a fair few scheduled meetings during the conference too.

Hoping to enjoy the Gala Conference Dinner which is on Wednesday night.

I expect to be twittering over the conference, and I am also hoping to get a fair few blog entries in over the next few days too. Photographs should appear on Flickr and/or Twitpic. There may also be video too!

I have been preparing for the conference using the Crowdvine site that has been set up for the conference. You may recall that Crowdvine was in my top ten web tools for 2008. This has allowed me to sort my schedule, promote the sessions I am involved in and see who else is coming and what else they are doing. Hopefully this year the delegates will continue to engage with the Crowdvine site once the conference starts proper like tomorrow.

I have also been adding links to the ALT-C Cloudscape “clouds” for my sessions. Not sure at this time of this adds or detracts from the Crowdvine site.

Overall I am looking forward to the conference, it will be a time to share effective practice, learn from others, find out new stuff, network, meet old friends, discover new friends and leave with ideas, inspiration and stuff.