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It’s what happens on the fringes

March 20, 2013

We had some great speakers at UCISA13, for sure, but often I find the most valuable parts of events are the follow up conversations with colleagues, the discussions that happen on the periphery and the “reading list” that starts to pile up for the day job.

First in the pile is the IPPR’s An avalanche is coming – HE and the revolution ahead.  Well, there’s a title to make people sit up and take notice!

Later in the conference Dan Derricott of the University of Lincoln gave a presentation entitled: Students as producers of IT departments.  He cited Lincoln’s student engagement strategy –  cue much furious scribbling and tapping from IT staff around the room, and from me.   It will be interesting to see what documents of this type mean for IT departments, and how IT can be at the forefront of student engagement.

Dan’s slides and a video of his presentation are now available from the UCISA website ,along with all other plenary sessions from the conference.

What a conference be without a sound bite or two? MOOCs were compared to “Nuremburg Rally –style pedagogy.”  I’m sure that’s not the first time I’ll hear this description.

The #ucisa13 Twitter stream was pretty active throughout the conference and I have also found reflections from others, gleaned from their blogs, useful. Special mentions go to  Chris Sexton, live blogger extraordinaire, and Gareth Edwards who have written up their experiences of their time in Liverpool.

In amongst three days of furious networking there was the odd moment of calm.  A favourite was hearing Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude being quietly played by a delegate whilst most people were busy demolishing the cheese board at the Thursday’s gala dinner.  Who was the mystery pianist?


UCISA Executive Committee Briefing

October 8, 2012
The UCISA Executive Committee oversees the Association’s activities and meets seven times a year. This briefing has been compiled to let you know about projects and activities the Executive Committee is delivering on behalf of the Association. We hope it gives you a view of some of the initiatives taking place across the membership.
UCISA responds to Universities UK’s Cyber security initiative
The UK Government has identified cyber attack as a tier 1 threat in its National Security Strategy published in October 2010, and has now published the UK Cyber Security Strategy. As universities are a part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure the Government wishes to work with the sector to help ensure it has the skills and capacity to deal with the cyber security challenge. Universities UK has convened a round-table discussion which is taking place later this month to discuss the issues and identify actions. UCISA will be represented at the session and will highlight resources, such as the UCISA Information Security Toolkit, that already exist. Although it is recognised that cyber security is not just an IT issue, Vice-Chancellors are aware of the existence of the 20 controls for effective cyber defence as set out by the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI).Refreshing the Top Concerns survey

The UCISA Top Concerns survey is a biennial exercise which identifies the current issues impacting IT service departments in sector. The results from the survey are used by the JISC and Janet in shaping their work, and by member institutions to understand the broad consensus on these matters and develop their IT strategies and plans. The Executive have agreed to adopt a different approach to the survey this year which identifies not only the issues but also the opportunities for IT services in supporting their institutions. It is intended to form a panel from the UCISA membership and beyond to assess the candidate concerns and to rank these to produce a top ten. Clearly the panel will need to reflect both the range of institutions and the interests of our members. To this end, we will be issuing a short survey to members in the near future to identify members’ areas of interest and expertise in order to assemble a balanced, representative panel.

Updating the Model Regulations

UCISA has produced template regulations for use of IT equipment and infrastructure in universities and colleges which have formed the basis for institutional conditions of use.  The model regulations also help to demonstrate UCISA’s commitment to furthering good IT governance to other bodies. The current model IT regulations were last reviewed and updated in 2007. The UCISA Executive Committee has agreed that the regulations should be revised and reissued to take account of significant changes in higher education, technology and its use.

Communities of practice

A number of communities of practice exist within the sector. The Executive Committee is aware that the good practice discussed often stays within those communities and issues identified are not always raised and addressed beyond the immediate membership. UCISA has identified a number of ways of supporting these communities and sharing the good practice more widely.

Joining a MOOC: some brief reflections

August 9, 2012

Yesterday I signed up for a massive open online course (MOOC) offered by the University of Edinburgh. 

The course, entitled E-Learning and Digital Cultures, explores how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice.

The University of Edinburgh has done a very good job of setting expectations, with a clear distinction on their website between their six MOOC offerings and the other courses available at the University. 

The section How does a MOOC compare to the University’s Online Postgraduate Programmes? is particularly helpful. 

The time commitment for E-Learning and Digital Cultures is 3-5 hours per week for 5 weeks.  The course does not carry any credit and is being delivered through Coursera.   It doesn’t start until the end of January but here are some early thoughts:

Positives, hopes

  • I’ve already got that “back to school” excitement about the opportunity to learn something new
  • Looking forward to being challenged by tutors and fellow students
  • Maybe I will  improve my street cred with the ALT types out there ; – )
  • Applying an academic approach to some of the issues in e-learning
  • The content of the course – looking at how learning and literacy is represented in popular culture – is appealing to me.  I have an Arts background and I do love a bit of critical analysis! 
  • Seeing how the platform works.  I have some experience of Moodle from a previous job.  What interface will be used for this course? 
  • Getting some further insight into how universities appeal to mature students
  • I’m curious to know what type of online learner I will be

 Negative, fears

  • Critical mass/ not enough participants to create a lively online learning environment 
  • What if I don’t “get it”?  But maybe all mature students have this little niggle at the back of their minds.

I’m sure I will have plenty more questions as the start date gets nearer.  And maybe some further observations in the run up to the beginning of the course.

In the meantime if you are interested in why Edinburgh decided “go MOOC” take a look at Jeff Haywood’s excellent blog posting No such thing as a free MOOC .

National Student Survey: Reboot and refresh?

July 17, 2012

New NSS questions for IT!

Now! ***

Consider the extent that students make of use institution–provided IT at university, and how vital it this is not only for their studies but the whole of the student experience. 

Whilst a fresher accesses the VLE for the first time, a psychology undergraduate is being taught SPSS on campus, and in the labs next door STEM subject students are mining and modelling large data sets.  Are these learners’ experiences tested by the current National Student Survey question: “I have been able to access general IT resources when I needed to”?


The question is unhelpful because “general IT resources” means too many different things to different students.  

As a starting point, the organisation I work for, UCISA, would like to propose that the NSS question concerning IT is reworded to assess both the availability of static IT facilities for students whilst on campus, and ease of access to resources when students are not on campus.

So the current NSS question 17 “I have been able to access general IT resources when I needed to” might become: “I have been able to access general IT resources on campus” and “My institution provides ways of accessing institutional resources (such as e-journals, software) when I am not on campus.”

What do you think of this idea?  Please leave your comments below.

My colleague Peter Tinson has also blogged on this topic .

*** HEFCE will review the questions in c.3 years.   But I’d like to get the conversation going now.

Student expectations of IT

June 25, 2012

What do students want from IT?

In short – everything.  And why not? Many students arrive at our colleges and universities as prolific and competent users of technology.  Some may be described as digital residents – that is to say, they use the web in all aspects of their lives from practical tasks such as banking, to study and recreation, to sharing ideas and images with others in order to create an online identity.

Freshers anticipate pervasive wireless across campus, easy connection to the institution’s network and intuitive, useful learning applications.  And, not surprisingly, they want to be able to make use of the tools that they have brought with them and are comfortable with such as smart phones and tablets.

How can IT departments fulfil these expectations?

The first step is to gain an understanding of what the student body requires.

Most institutions conduct annual student satisfaction surveys which include questions on IT provision.  In other instances, IT departments poll cohorts of learners specifically on their experiences of their use of IT services, or gain insight through messages received through institutional Twitter streams or Facebook pages.  Other universities and college IT departments prefer regular liaison with the student union, or have an open door policy for student representatives.

There are plenty of examples of best practice across the sector.  For example, London South Bank University had an initiative where IT staff shadowed students and attended their classes to better understand how technology was used whilst on campus.

Around 60 universities have migrated their student email to Google or Microsoft environments to give an enhanced but familiar service.  A further 30 universities and colleges are using university-branded mobile apps which enable students to view their library accounts, check computer availability on campus, and review course and seminar timetables whilst on the move.

Findings from the NUS’s HEFCE-funded report Students perspectives on technology  have been formalised into a NUS Charter on Technology in Higher Education. Recommendations include prioritising investment in IT infrastructure and using technology for student assessment, feedback, registration and module selection.  IT directors are making use of the Charter when they develop services.

What next?

It is beneficial to consider the needs and expectations of young learners who will soon become HE students.  Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World  gives a good overview of the concerns and aspirations of young adults in their use of technology.

 It concluded: “Entering HE, this generation encounters a world constructed on, and dominated by, a wholly different set of norms, approaches and experiences. Characterised broadly, it is hierarchical, substantially introvert, guarded, careful, precise and measured.  The two worlds are currently co-existing, with present day students effectively occupying a position on the cusp of change.  They aren’t demanding different approaches; rather they are carrying over their school experience and making such adaptations as are necessary for the time it takes to gain their qualifications.”

EDUCAUSE, UCISA’s sister organisation in North America, produces an annual report that considers future technologies.  Their 2012 Horizon Report highlights emerging technologies that will have a significant impact on higher education over the next one to five years, such as forecasting the adoption of game-based learning within two to three years.

 Closer to home, UCISA helps institutional and corporate members across the UK to meet student expectations by, for example, publishing resources on engaging with academics in the use of technology enhanced learning (TEL) and arranging events on delivering applications and services to mobile devices.


Not ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’ but ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ (Tall blog posting, July 2008)
Students perspectives on technology (HEFCE/NUS, October 2010)
Charter on Technology in Higher Education
(NUS, August 2011)
Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World
 (JISC, May 2009)
2012 Horizon Report
 (Educause, February 2012)

A version of this blog posting appears in the August edition of University Business  magazine.

Call for presentations at joint UCISA Networking/ Infrastructure Group Review of Cloud Computing (31 Oct 2012, Nottingham)

June 13, 2012

Initial deadline for responses: 29 June 2012

The organising committee for the forthcoming event to review cloud computing in the UK academic sector is seeking speakers willing to provide a critical evaluation (successful or otherwise) of the implementation of cloud computing solutions.

The review is designed as a follow-on to the successful seminar held in February 2011 that introduced participants to a range of cloud computing approaches. Eighteen months later and cloud computing continues to evolve and is becoming a normal part of the delivery of IT services within the academic sector. Therefore, this review event is intended to reflect on the demonstrable benefits and challenges offered by the adoption of cloud computing services whilst continuing a focus on innovative solutions.

The event’s programme will include a series of case studies drawn from institutions within the academic sector and it is for these that we invite presentations. Examples of topics on which the organising committee would welcome proposals include, but are not limited to:

* incorporating cloud computing services within institutional IT or procurement strategies and subsequent implementation;

* developing private cloud services, whether within a single institution or a consortium, and any integration with sector/public clouds;

* addressing the networking challenges associated with large, scalable, data-rich cloud infrastructure;

* brokering cloud services, including the creation of so-called ‘app’ stores within an institution or community;

If you would like to share your knowledge and experience, in a 30-40 minute session, with the wider community then please contact us (via this site or Tweet @m_fraser_oucs). We would be very grateful if you could send any initial ideas for presentations by Friday, 29 June 2012. We will then be very pleased to discuss your suggestions with you.

On behalf of the UCISA Networking & Infrastructure Groups,

Matt Cook
Mike Fraser
Roger Snelling

UCISA Executive Commitee Briefing

May 24, 2012

The UCISA Executive Committee oversees the Association’s activities and meets seven times a year. This briefing has been compiled to let you know about projects and activities the Executive Committee is delivering on behalf of the Association. We hope it gives you a view of some of the initiatives taking place across the membership.  Please let us know what you think of it.

The UCISA Executive Committee includes all UCISA Group Chairs, as well as Officers and elected and co-opted members. 

New focus for UCISA Procurement Group  

The Group will focus on the strategic elements on procurement such as supplier management and alternative service delivery methods.  Further details will shortly be available on the UCISA website.  In the meantime, please contact John Townsend, Group Chair, if you would like to contribute to the work of the Group.

Demonstrating UCISA’s impact to others within your institution

You may find it useful to direct members of your senior management team to Impact , a two-page publication showing the direct effect of UCISA events and activities.   

UCISA produces Impact to coincide with its three major conferences. 

Representing members’ interests

In May, staff from the UCISA office met with Janet, HEIDS (Higher Education Information Directors Scotland), the Leadership Foundation and SCONUL.    In June, UCISA staff will meet with ALT (Association for Learning Technology), HeLF (Heads of e-Learning Forum) and AMOSSHE, the Student Services Organisation.

Following on from a joint UCISA/Leadership Foundation event on the impact of IT on internationalisation, there has been further discussion on the challenges of working with overseas telecoms companies on network connectivity. UCISA is already exploring ways in which these challenges can be alleviated with Janet.

Outreach at Networkshop40

Members of the UCISA Networking Group were inundated with visitors to their stand and reported a good mix of interest from HE and FE IT staff, and corporate  organisations.  Delegates were asked what events they would like UCISA to provide; their feedback will inform event planning for the UCISA Networking and Infrastructure Groups for the coming year.  

A record-breaking UCISA Annual Management Conference

This year’s UCISA Annual Management Conference  (March, Celtic Manor, Newport) attracted the most sponsorship ever for a UCISA Management Conference.   There was also a substantial increase in delegate numbers.

In 2013, UCISA returns to the BT Convention Centre in Liverpool.  Planning for the Conference is now underway and the dates are confirmed as Wednesday 13 – Friday 15 March 2013.