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A new beginning…

May 3, 2010

This blog is now being migrated to a new location – thoughtasylum.com.  Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll be replacing articles with links to their new locations.  I apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause.

For more information about the move see the new beginning post on Thought Asylum.

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Get on the Bus with Microsoft

October 29, 2009

This post has now been migrated to ThoughtAsylum.com.

Follow this link to go directly to the article.

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DokuWiki Sync

August 15, 2009

This post has now been migrated to ThoughtAsylum.com.

Follow this link to go directly to the article.

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Evidence Net Workshop 2

July 31, 2009

Last week I attended a second workshop on Evidence Net.  It was launched a few weeks ago at The Higher Education Academy Annual Conference 2009 and has been growing in use across the HE sector ever since.

The previous Evidence Net workshop was aimed at identifying the sorts of features that the second phase of the Evidence Net site might have.  This workshop was very much aimed at prioritising the suggested features.

The workshop began with an activity to get some idea of people’s initial thoughts around some of the ideas that were to be discussed later in the day.  People were asked to stand in a line with their position representing how strongly they felt about a topic.  This sparked off a bit of discussion and the day then started in earnest.

The next activity was a short listing of the feature sets by each person.  A summation of the votes was carried out and this was used to specify the prioritisation of the features.  The top feature identified was functionality around adding resources to Evidence Net.

The workshop was split into groups to discuss how the addition of resources should take place.  This included not only articles, case studies, papers, etc. but also things like events and collaborative networks.  The groups came up with details about how things should work and some basic workflows and ideas for things the interface should offer to an Evidence Net user and an Evidence Net administrator.  The workshop spent a good while discussing the options raised and how this would affect the usage of the site.

With time fast disappearing the afternoon kept the group set-up but with each group tackling just one of the next four or five priority sets.  Each group presented their ideas and the whole group discussed each for a few minutes.

One factor that kept cropping up was that of having users login.  As well as helping to identify and log who would be contributing what it just as importantly formed the basis of allowing the site to deliver customised content such as recommendations and news about updates.

Overall it was again a very lively workshop which I hope everyone got a positive experience from attending.  I’m sure that the Evidence Net team came away with lots of useful views and ideas that will keep them busy analysing for weeks to come.   The workshop is just one of several second stage activities that the Evidence Net team are carrying out and I would guess that the  other activities are likely in the main to identify the same sorts of features.

These wide user base information gathering activities should help to ensure that the best possible range of input is obtained to develop the next phase of this resource and I’m looking forward to seeing what impact we’ve had on defining the feature set of Evidence Net phase 2 and from my personal perspective the technologies and solutions identified to deliver what is potentially quite a complex but rich set of requirements.  It will almost certainly be a phased delivery but the final version will surely be an exceptional educational resource.

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The Higher Education Academy Conference 2009

July 16, 2009

It’s been quite a few weeks since I’ve been able to devote any time to blogging. It has just been a really busy time for me. However I’m currently sat on a train between Edinburgh and York so it’s an excellent opportunity to have a bit of a catch up. Specifically I wanted to post something about one of the biggest things I’ve worked on recently – The Higher Education Academy Conference 2009.

The conference took place between Tuesday 30th June and Thursday the 2nd of July in Manchester at University Place on some of the hottest days of the summer so far. I was on hand for the second two of the four days (Monday 29th June was the set-up day) as part of the events team or more accurately as one half of the IT support contingent for the conference. Previously I’d only attended an Academy conference as a day delegate and it was a valuable experience seeing the other side of the story.

The support mainly consisted of ensuring that the presenters and speakers running workshops were having no problems with the laptops and projectors that were set-up in the seminar rooms. For the most part people were just fine, and there was the odd more interesting issue where a video would not display correctly (as it required an unusual codec) or where a presenter was having trouble displaying notes on the laptop and something else on the projector screen (setting up Microsoft PowerPoint in presentation mode or reconfiguring screens for desktop extension rather than cloned display). There were however a number of last minute requests for audio speakers and software installations that I had not expected, but with something of this scale involving this many external presenters it is difficult to account for every eventuality. I was impressed that the majority of presenters who had issues raised them prior to the start of the workshops having taken the breaks between sessions to get to the seminar rooms and test their presentations. This certainly made my job a little less stressful as trying to fix the more obscure issues in front of a room of people and knowing that there are a couple of other rooms needing your attention a.s.a.p. can be a little taxing on a warm day.

Overall though the preparation carried out by my colleagues both in ICT and in the events team allowed me to hit the ground running and pick things up with the minimum of fuss. I’m sure that’s no suprise to most people, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few of the ideas and best practices that were used or might well be used in the future in case they can be of use to you in your endeavours.

  • Set the wallpaper of the PCs being used to display the contact details for IT support.
  • Ensure that all portable equipment is secured within rooms – use cable locks not just door locks.
  • Be generous with power saving modes. By all means use them and look after the planet, but make sure the presenter doesn’t have to press a button every few minutes to keep the screen saver from kicking in.
  • Label equipment with unique identifiers and any basic instructions – e.g. logon details.
  • Have presenters send their electronic content to you at least a few days before they present and check that they work on the presentation machines – particularly if they have video content.
  • Copy all content to all presentation machines during the event set-up so that if there are any technology or room swaps everything is still available and ready.
  • Send presenters a check list of things they can request for their presentation and details of what is supplied by default.
  • Ask presenters to provide a packaged copy (e.g. Package for CD in Microsoft Powerpoint 2007) as this reduces font missing resource related headaches.
  • Examine carefully what your laptops and projectors can do. Many projectors for example include a basic audio speaker (suitable for smaller rooms) and a USB connection and remote controls to control not only the projector but also the computer too.
  • For every projector and laptop add in a set of audio speakers as full multimedia presentations are practically the norm.
  • Carry a USB flash drive.
  • Think about what equipment people might need – laptop, projector, presentation controller, DVD player, speakers, microphone, projector screens.
  • Think about room layouts –
    • Where will the presenter be?
    • Where does the projector need to be to project a large enough image?
    • What will the projector and PC sit on?
    • Where will the audience sit and will they be in groups or rows?
  • Power sockets will inevitably be in the wrong place – take extension reels and multiple socket extensions.
  • Take adapters for computers that may not have a VGA output (e.g. DVI and mini-DVI on Apple Mac devices).
  • Consider Internet access ahead of time. If you’re relying on WiFi then make sure it is available reliably everywhere you need it.
  • If you’re using something new (especially technology) then make sure you give it a test run on location to ensure it works.
  • Take hazard warning tape and trip guards to venues to allow health and safety compliance.
  • Take spares of everything.

Another thing I found interesting was the use of Twitter at the conference. A couple of hash tags (#HEA09 and #ACADEMYCONF09) came into play for the conference. I’ve seen it used (from the Twitter end) successfully for conferences and events before, but these have always been technology focussed events. This conference however was focussed on HE and so the take up of tweeting on the conference was limited to those who were already familiar with Twitter and hash tags. There were certainly some who were more prolific than others, but given that this was not a technology focussed conference I was impressed at the general buzz on Twitter for the event and I do wonder if even more people posted tweets without hash tags as not everyone who uses Twitter knows what they are/are for? As Web 2.0 (and all that comes after) becomes more integrated with our culture I’m sure this form of communication will improve. It will be interesting to see how the Academy uses Twitter post-conference. I personally hope that it doesn’t end here.

Unfortunately I didn’t have chance to sit in on any of the debates, sessions or workshops. I managed to get some first hand overviews whilst making conversation and addressing some of the IT related issues and I managed to speak to a few of the exhibitors. So if you want to know more about the conference I’ll have to direct you to some other resources. In addition to the Twitter conversations…

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Server Reorganisation

May 25, 2009

It’s been rather busy of late and I’ve only just got chance to start posting again.  So I thought I’d best begin by posting about the weekend of the 8th, 9th and 10th of May.

We had spent several weeks planning the work for this weekend including having the first ICT team away day.  The aim of the day was to carry out a number of infrastructure changes to position us to be able to overcome a few historical obstacles and to position us for the future.

Friday 8th.
The work began at noon on Friday with the ICT team updating the software on the organisation’s servers.  Along with all of the usual Microsoft updates, there were a number of other administrative updates to go alongside.  This was also a valuable oportunity to have a good trawl through the system logs looking for anything else that might mean the servers were not running optimally.

Server Room Cabling

Server Room Cabling

Saturday 9th.
Saturday was predominantly a lift and shift day with four of us working in the tiny chilled server room to re-rack the majority of the servers into contiguous blocks to make space to rack more servers.  Incorporated into this work we racked up four new servers and a disk array – more about the specific purpose of these in future posts I hope.

Along with the physical arrangement of the servers, the work also began on recabling and relabeling the servers.  This was further complicated by the necessity to rack up the servers to a Raritan KVM and our UPS systems and an increase in numbers of servers certainly makes it more difficult to keep on top of this.

Sunday 10th.
After completing the cabling and labeling and having some discussions about strategies for software deployment for some upcoming end user hardware updates the day drew to a close with an afternoon of deploying a new network administration password and general testing.

Whilst not without issue, the weekend’s work has now opened up new opportunities for how to better use the ICT infrastructure to support the work of the Academy.

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EvidenceNet Workshop

April 24, 2009

For the second time this week I’ve been out of the office and working in one of York’s many hotels.  This time rather than a team away day I was at The Grange Hotel attending the first of a series of workshops on Evidence Net.

Evidence Net is a service that The Higher Education Academy is developing to support the process of using evidence based research to inform practice in the HE Sector.

The workshop was attended by a number of Academy staff with an aim to generate lots of ideas and to pull together a common understanding of the sorts of things the second phase of the Evidence Net web site should be looking to deliver.  The morning was spent setting out some of the background and establishing a base of common understanding.  From this a set of objectives for the work was outlined through some combining people’s individual thoughts of what the objectives should be and to a limited extent a start on what sort of measures could be used to measure the success of this.

After lunch, the approach turned to team discussions and sets of functional requirements were drawn together though  “solution-mode” was purposefully avoided by an approach of focussing on what was needed rather than any technologies that could deliver it.

The day seemed to work well and I look forward to the opportunity for the ICT team to feed into the rest of this project.