Archive for the ‘Event’ Category


Get on the Bus with Microsoft

October 29, 2009

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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.


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…


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.


Technical Community Event

February 26, 2009

Today the Academy York office hosted an event for the Academy’s technical community.  Staff with ICT interests from York were joined by a range of like minded colleagues from the Academy Subject Centres and some guest speakers from outside of the community – around thirty in total.

The day began with a brief summary of points from each area.  This is a regular starter for these bi-annual gatherings and there were over a dozen updates on various web site updates, new technology implementations and practices.

This was then followed by a presentation from one of the guest presenters from outside of the Academy technical community – Dominic Watts from Microsoft.  Dominic is the Business Manager for Higher Education and he gave an overview of SharePoint and its features more specifically Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) and its implementation within Microsoft itself.  Various customised implementations for other institutions (including a number of Higher Education ones) were also shown though I think the real insight came from the Microsoft in-house implementation as that gave a view from the side of a collaborative user rather than a relatively passive web browser.

This lead nicely into a demonstration of Microsoft Office Communications Server (MOCS) by James Cummings – a member of the York ICT team.  With assistance from Paul Hayward (another member of the York ICT team) an overview of the communications benefits of the system was presented live using the ICT teams (relatively) new virtualised development environment.  Dominic was also able to support this presentation and identified that multiple sites running Microsoft Exchange could support a federated set-up allowing presence identifiers (i.e. do not disturb, busy, available – status) to be used outside of an organisation.

This was followed by Martin Poulter of Economics presenting on some of the tools and lessons learned from his more recent forays into the use of RSS news feeds.  There were a number of tools such as Yahoo Pipes and xFruits that were demonstrated to show how feeds could be filtered and aggregated and the underlying message was that we could make the feeds work for the Academy (both for the public & media as well as internally) and that agreeing on a standard (RSS 2.0) including publishing date would be a logical step in bringing things in line.

A quick update from Mike Clarke (York) on an internal Academy collaboration project was followed by a chance for interpersonal networking over a spot of lunch.

The afternoon sessions kicked off with a review from Sarah Heaton (York) on the project relating to EvidenceNet (formerly the Research Observatory).  The focus here was very much on bringing everyone up to speed on the phased nature of the work and setting up the type of support required from the Subject Centres and how they could be engaged for the second phase in the future.

The second post lunch presentation was given by staff from Jorum.  The presentation was opened by Nicola Siminson (Community Enhancement Officer) and was generally an overview of the service.  Funded by JISC it is a free online service for staff in UK universities and colleges that allows them to share e-learning/teaching resources.  There was a significant amount of time given to explaining how Jorum is adopting a three tier access system.

  • Jorum Open will give clear access to resources covered by a Creative Commons licence.
  • Jorum Education UK will ensure that resources marked for this level are only available to UK FE & HE institutions as access is provided through a system of federated access management.
  • Jorum Plus is the most restricted access level and is reserved for resources that are specially licensed (e.g. JISC collections).  For this level of access additional institutional authorisation is required.

Matt Ramirez (Training & Support Officer) then picked up the presentation and talked through some of the latest work carried out on Jorum and specifically the Jorum Search Tool.  The big change seemed to be in the speed of the system as the open source search server Apache Solr is now being used as a cache.  Further developments are in the pipeline so everyone will probably be keeping an eye on this.

A brief coffee break later and Martin Poulter was back to the PowerPoint this time giving an insight into his recent experiences with Wikipedia.  After covering off several acronyms Martin showed how several Wikipedia pages were driving traffic to the Economics Subject Centre web site.  The odd thing seemed to be that in order to produce this it was actually done through not setting up the pages himself.  Rather he made ‘specific’ and open contributions as someone with a vested interest at the same time as building up his Wikipedia user profile as a considerate updater who was contributing to the content of Wikipedia in a variety of ways – particularly in managing Wikipedia vandalism.

Wikipedia certainly seems like an area where knowing the territory and community is the key to your own success outside of it.  It may well be something I’ll explore more deeply at a later date.

John McNaught of the National Centre for Text Mining gave an interesting presentation on … text mining.  By using a range of tools (/services) based on natural language processing and significant computing power, text mining analyses large quantities of textual information and attempts to find key words, phrases and even context to allow a user to focus searches, and even potentially develop new hypotheses.  There could well be areas in which to exploit some of the search tools to narrow and contextualise subject/discipline searches as well as even potentially help automatically identify appropriate key words as the basis for meta tagging for respoitories like Jorum and EvidenceNet.

The final presentation came from Paul Harding of York’s Online Services Team.  Paul gave a brief update on the current scale of the Academy’s public facing web site and a view of some of the upcoming sub-sites that were currently in development and that would be appearing in the coming weeks and months.

There were also a few areas where new functionality had been introduced, mainly around RSS feeds (both incoming and outgoing), but also some integration with micro-blogging and social networking sites.  Thematic searching was also something that was coming to the fore and a rating system is felt to be progressing such that it should be deployed in the not too distant future.

Overall this seemed to be the most well attended and agenda packed Academy technical gathering I’ve been to, and I think everyone came away with plenty to think about.


BETT Show 09

January 14, 2009

As anyone who’s been following the RebootIT Twitter feed today will know, I’ve been at the first day of the BETT Show 09. BETT (or British Education and Training Technology) is an education focussed technology event with the global industry giants of IT such as Microsoft right the way down to businesses run by individuals providing specialised learning materials. Whilst the Academy is not dealing directly with educating students, we do work in the HE sector and so the suppliers are often the same. Additionally we do need to train our own staff in technology and so there’s some parallels there too.

I spent a few minutes at one of the two large Microsoft areas watching a demonstration of Microsoft Surface. This has been all over the Internet and in the media in general for some time now but this was the first opportunity I’ve had to see it actually being used. I had expected it to be a bit sluggish or non-responsive, but it was working really smoothly and Microsoft have obviously been investing in developing software specifically for using it in a school environment with a range of demonstrations including – wiping the screen to reveal an underlying image a bit at a time, building a photo collage and interacting with an intricate 3D model of the human heart.

The reaction from the audience was verfy positive and the people around me were audibly impressed with it. This became particularly so as small groups were invited up to have a go themselves with some of the software and they all had no difficulty with it finding the interface very naturalo and fluid to work with. It was interesting to note that Microsoft had adopted the use of some finger based pinching gestures that Apple have used on the iPhone … but these gestures seem to be appearing on many of the laptops these days as “gesture enabled glide pads”.

I had been looking forward to looking at some of the latest offerings from ASUS that might be useful for the Academy’s mobile workers. Unfortunately the tempting news item on the BETT web site about the new EEE tablet was a bit of a let down as there wasn’t one available at either of the ASUS stands. There were a variety of other ultra mobile laptop developers showing off their latest and greatest including Dell, HP and MSI.  I also got a close look at the Sony TT Series laptop.  Whilst the integrated web cam was not the best I’ve come across it is dockable and has the most amazing flexible screen I’ve seen – it looks much more durable than past Vaio machines.

I revisited a couple of suppliers who I spoke to last year to see what updates they had. The first was a supplier for AceCad DigiMemo a clipboard that acts as a real time scanner and captures whatever you draw or write. This can later be exported or even OCR’d (handwriting recognition). Their update was a plugin Bluetooth module for the clipboard, but at significantly over sixty pounds (+ VAT) I think most people would stick with the ubiquitous mini-USB cable that comes with the clipboard.

My other visit was to Mimio. They now provide a portable tablet device to remote control this portable interactive whiteboard and data capture system. This probably won’t be of much use in the Academy, but I can see how this would free a classroom teacher to be able to walk amongst the class whilst teaching and also allow children who maybe aren’t confident enough or are unable to stand in front of a class to use the system without leaving their desk. What I did discover however was that there has been a significant update to the Mimio Studio software and this is available from the Mimio web site as a free upgrade for existing customers.

The Academy York office has both of these technologies available for staff to make use of, but I’m hoping to run some sort of show, tell and use session in the not too distant future to highlight some of the underused and unknown technologies that the ICT stores have to offer.

BETT has a whole section on assistive technologies and since the Academy hosts and provides ICT support for JISC TechDis I also had a chat to some of the suppliers. One of particular note was HumanWare who provide a number of products for supporting people with visual impairments and visually related learning difficulties such as dyslexia. The item I found most interesting was an item called the BrailleNote – a kind of Braille laptop. It features WiFi, a Braille output, text to speech, and text entry for the onboard applications (word processor, e-mail, etc.). At the same sort of price as a low end laptop or a netbook this appeared to be a very functional and versatile device. Apparently there are cases that allow it to be worn at the waist and “used on the move” … but I’m not exactly sure how safe that is whether your sight impaired or not.

Specifically in relation to events I had a chat to some guys from TxtTools about their SMS system for use by the Academy at the larger events such as the Annual Conference or Academy Away Day. The system essentially allows the routing and collating of text messages for groups. This allows an events team to text delegates reminders or changes to an event schedule and delegates to text in responses for evaluation of a session or questions for a live debate. Whilst I think that an RF based remote control system would be good for a consolidated session such as a main presentations (allowing for instantaneous responses, feedback in zero cell reception areas and typically more sophisticated data collection), the SMS approach allows people who are spread across a site to have simple, direct and personal interaction with the event when it suits them. So if you’re attending one of the aforementioned Academy events in the furture it may well be worth ensuring you have your mobile phone with you to take advantage of this sort of offering.

An interesting theme throughout the event was that of robotics. Whilst not relating to the work of the Academy it was something you couldn’t really help but notice. As usual LEGO Mindstorms had a popular demonstration though they were having trouble with their coloured brick sorter when I wandered past – red and blue were good but yellow proved a bit of an issue for the new colour recognition sensor. There were also a couple of Wow Wee robots (such as Robosapien) suppliers providing programming software and another one from the Far East (probably Japan) that I’m sure was aimed at encourging kids to build little robots for the next series of Robot Wars. Finally Dell had brought along their robotic salesman.

I was hoping to get some information at BETT around Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), remote and self-supported computer based training systems (CBT) and services for broadcasting and arranging online learning sessions.

Most of the VLEs were heavily focussed on fulfilling the needs of primary or secondary education which was not surprising but I hadn’t expected the focus to be such that it really didn’t look professional enough to be used in a progressive corporate HE environment (for supporting the training of Academy staff). There was an organisation who support the leading open source VLE of Moodle, but I was amazed that there was no representative for Blackboard – the leading commercial package.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any CBT or broadcast based products to examine and talk to someone about. There were plenty of course materials bundled with the VLE packages on offer and also various video recording systems with online functionality, but there was nothing for really allowing the sort of CBT functionality and webcast/webinar functionality I was really looking for.

I came across many others at my day in BETT and apologies if you didn’t make it to my blog post … but from my point of view you just weren’t quite interesting enough for me to blog to the masses about – so please don’t take offence. Hopefully I’ll be able to use some of the informaiton and contacts I made to good use and progress the efficiency and effectiveness of the Academy’s ICT services.


Push the Button

December 11, 2008

I thought I’d start my first post with a bit of a why I’m starting this blog….

For the last couple of days I’ve been attending an event for The Higher Education Academy where the staff from all of our subject centres and our office in York got together to collaborate and discuss various topics as well as have a bit of a seasonal do.

The sessions over the course of the two days were quite varied (and captured in a special away day blog) but one in particular was the starting point for this blog.

Terry McAndrew from the Academy’s Bioscience Subject Centre was facilitating a technology session during which there was a bit of discussion about blogging and about some of the ways that the technical community within the Academy were sharing information and informing other members of the community about interesting.  A brief conversation with Terry after the session about a particular web based service brought up the topic of perhaps having a few more blogs in the Academy’s technical community to inform on useful things like that.

So after a spot of thinking for some hopefully slightly geeky play on words I created the “Reboot IT” blog and so the time has come to push the button on my first post and publish it to an obscure corner of the Internet.