Archive for April, 2009

h1

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.

h1

ICT Team Away Day – April 2009

April 22, 2009

Today has been a very busy day!  An early start saw me pulling together a variety of thoughts and pieces of information in preparation for the Higher Education Academy’s ICT team away day.  This was the first away day the team had ever had and there was certainly some apprehension as to how the day would pan out.

The aims of the day were two-fold.  In the first part the team was to engage in some tea building and learning activity based around supporting team planning exercises.  The second part was to put this into practice by planning out some upcoming work.

The day began with a nine thirty start at the Pavilion Hotel located in Fulford not far from the Academy’s York office where the ICT team are based.  The first task of the day as ever were some introductions and this was the first opportunity for the team to meet the consultants from Synergi who were to facilitate the day – Umran Amin and Ammaran Razaq.

After the introductions and a discussion around what people’s expectations for the day were out of the way the team got down to the business of getting to grips with a methodology developed by the prestigious Edward de Bono – The Six Thinking Hats.

This methodology categorises six different styles of thinking and provides a framework for sequentially applying the styles in a flexible way to allow people to pull towards a common goal in a common way that shifts and changes through the process to ensure an outcome is arrived at by the group.

For anyone who hasn’t come across the methodology, the hats are coloured and correspond to the following thinking styles:

  • Blue Hat – Management and process control.
  • White Hat – Data and facts focussed.
  • Green Hat – Creativity.
  • Red Hat – Instinct and gut feeling.
  • Yellow Hat – Positive aspects and benefits.
  • Black Hat – Potential pitfalls and negative aspects.
Six Hats

Six Thinking Hats of Edward de Bono

With an overview of the methodology the team set to using this to plan a significant piece of maintenance work. During May the team will be undertaking a piece of work over several days that will see a full reorganisation of the Academy York office’s server racks and the addressing of a number of bottle necks and issues that the team have identified.

The applicati0n of the methodology first looked at how the work could be structured and from this each area was picked up in turn and explored using the same methodology to flesh out the plans.  The day rounded off at a little after five with a large amount of planning agreed and specified.

Hopefully the effort put into the day will reap the reward in the successful development and implementation of the final plan and we’ll be able to use the methodology for future team planning sessions.

h1

Death of the iPod?

April 17, 2009

A little while ago I received a request for the installtion of Spotify on a work computer. I’d not heard of it at this point so I did some research and discovered that it was a piece of software that linked you to a massive library of music on the Internet. After a bit of discussion in trying to ascertain what the business case was for installing this to a work computer it faded away.

With greater news in the media recently I decided that I’d give it a go myself and see what all the fuss was about. A free version is available that allows you to listen to any track in the library, and you just get a few adverts every now and then – though a regular payment can eliminate these for uninterrupted listening. The application itself is very simple and is suspsciously similar to iTunes in styling which I guess makes it more familiar to a lot of people.

The quality of the audio was quite reasonable on my computer and in all for a free system it really does seem too good to be true. So is this the beginning of the end for the iPod and the death of the personal storage based media player?

Many journalists seem to think so but I would suggest that it is not.

I don’t think it will be long before the centralised storage access will become more available. The connectivity of devices such as the iPod touch (Wifi) and the iPhone (3G) mean that always on connectivity will allow access to these sorts of systems. This will be another leap forward in personal mobility of media, but there are a number of points that I believe will continue to see personal storage in effect (though probably combined with an online central storage option).

Power

The power requirements for streaming audio to your pocket device is such that battery technology will still have a long way to go. Imagine trying to get several hours play out of an iPod shuffle that is connecting to 3G. How efficient is that battery going to be?

Signal

It is realtively difficult to maintain signal quality in small devices with internal aerials and whilst it is obviously more commonplace these days with mobile phones to have internal aerials than it was say four or five years ago what is the transmission quality actually like? how often have you had a signal that wasn’t quite clear enough? That’s just on audio too which has been around for quite some time. Imagine the difference in data streaming. I assume some sort of buffering will be employed to resolve this, but if it isn’t buffering an entire track you may find that it just pauses at times detroying the listener’s experience.

Taking this further what happens in areas of no signal such as if you’re out hiking or possibly even on a plane or passing through a long tunnel on a train? A total lack of signal availability would effectively destroy your chance of listening to anything.

Range

The range of available tracks is growing all of the time. One of the first things I did when I tried Spotify was to try and find some tracks that I really liked to see if it had them listed. I would say that it managed to list about 50% of them … I didn’t count the karaoke only versions or covers recorded by another artist. Whilst I admit that this is going to grow extensively with a greater take up of such a service I do think that there’s always going to be something that isn’t available on it that I will want and in all likelihood will be likely to have or be able to get hold of in another format.

Podcasts

I actually rarely listen to music on my iPod unless I’m in the car. I more regularly listen to the radio (through an add-on to my iPod… I miss the inbuilt one on my old iRiver) or podcasts. It is not uncommon for me to re-listen to old podcasts (particularly technology related ones like Gartner and ones by the BBC). Some podcasts are always available for download, but others are subject to licensing restrictions which means that they are available for a limited period of time (e.g. BBC). Being able to store these allows me to listen to them in the way that I want.

So whilst I’m sure I could create a system that would allow me to securely stream media from a personal store (on-line or from my home) across the Internet I think that the limitations on power and connectivity will ensure that on device storage will continue to exist. I do think however that we will see more connected devices that allow access to on-line services like Spotify.

h1

Sharing Ideas and Good ICT

April 5, 2009

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation I’d been trying to put together for the best part of six months and this evening I’ve sent it on to the users who attended and who were unable to attend but showed an interest.  I realised at this point I hadn’t actually blogged about it so I thought I might put together a little post about it.

The aim was simply to share some ideas and some bits of ICT that could help people do their jobs quicker/better/cheaper/economically/more easily.  Many of these were based upon queries from users and solutions  found or in some cases pre-emptively finding options for issues that have yet to be raised.

A note was put into the staff briefing and some posters put up around the office to try and get people along to the presentation.  The attendance was surprisingly low and it’s unfortunate in terms of what people missed out on but I thought I’d highlight the areas that were discussed and some high level points on what was demonstrated and discussed.

The presentation was split into four main sections – software, hardware, web sites and engaging with the ICT team.

Software

  • Skype
  • Working with PDFs
    • Microsoft Office plug ins
    • PDF printers
    • PDF Bulder Toolkit
    • Drawloop.com
  • Public Folders in Outlook

Hardware

  • Photocopiers
    • Printing
    • Scanning
    • Secure printing & scanning
  • Data Capture
    • Dictaphones
    • Digital cameras
    • DigiMemo
    • MIMIO
  • Communication
    • Teleconferencing units
    • Audio/telephony cabling

Web Sites

Engaging with ICT

  • Service Desk
    • Queries
    • Training
  • Invitation
    • Project meetings
    • Team meetings
  • Communications
    • Presentations
    • Briefings
    • Mailings
    • Bulletins
    • Newsletters

I don’t plan on publishing the presentation widely as much of it is only directly relevant to Academy ICT users in the way it is presented, but the outline above gives an indication of the content and areas in which the user community is developing.

Hopefully some imminent developments might help create a greater sharing of such ideas and information within a community and build a better culture of knowledge sharing and management.