Safer Internet Day: Reflections and Plans

Staff at the Jisc’s Regional Support Centre Wales have been doing the final rounds of our friends and colleagues in the colleges, universities and skills providers across Wales, before we wind up as ‘RSC Wales’. In the New Year, ‘Jisc Wales’ will be born – so please watch your mailboxes and the Jisc website for news of that. The last few meetings have been an opportunity for reflecting on the key issues which are exercising minds right now, and internet safety has been one of the themes which has emerged several times. In view of this,  I thought that now would be a good time to bring together a few of the resources which were created in the course of the #SID2014 activities.

Students and staff at Coleg Cambria supporting Safer Internet Day 2014.

Providers set up a range of activities which engaged learners with some key questions which elicited their attitudes to the internet – both what they value and appreciate, and those things which concern them or make them anxious. The activities ranged from classroom discussion, to the use of ‘pop-up photo booths’ and some fully fledged video content. This has served at least two purposes: firstly, encouraging learners to reflect on their own roles as participants in the internet; secondly, giving the providers more information with which to work on internet safety.  For me, one key message emerged: user attitudes and skills are as important in keeping people safe online as are specific security policies and technologies (important as those are).

Providers have already begun to use these outcomes to inform both their planning of their events for #SID2015, and are also incorporating them into current classroom sessions on a range of topics, helping to embed digital literacies into the wider curriculum.

Some examples are included in the ‘Livebinder’ which I have set up here: .I think that the quality of these contributions from learners speaks for itself. Enjoy!

Find out more about Safer Internet Day here:;jsessionid=FE6CFD76670B0447F14F330A3A29CA3E , and take a look at Jisc’s own resources here: Those who attended the  recent Wales Learning Technology Forum in Llandrindod Wells may like to follow up some of the references on internet safety which came up in that discussion, here:


Understanding the digital student

Since we held our HE digital forum back in the summer term, quite a lot has been happening in Jisc around the themes of the digital student and student innovation. Jisc RSC Wales staff have been working with members of the Jisc Futures team to try and ensure that Jisc’s work connects with developments in Wales. Here’s a brief round-up of some recent work and some future opportunities:

Transforming the digital student experience

This term Jisc has carried out a number of strategic conversations with universities in Wales, with more in the pipeline. The engagement of students in these conversations, alongside senior managers, academic and professional services staff, has proved particularly enlightening. More information about the project is available on the Jisc website here.

Jisc Summer of Student Innovation

We were delighted when students from two Welsh institutions, Cardiff University and University of South Wales, had projects accepted for the Jisc Summer of Student Innovation 2014. Both Welsh projects – University of South Wales’ StartWrite and Cardiff University’s UniSaver – will be among the twenty projects featured at a special invitation-only Student Innovation Showcase event on 26 November. Congratulations to all the student innovators on their success, not only in developing products but in adding to Jisc’s learning about the needs and expectations of digital students.

FE Digital Student project kicks off

Following the success of the Digital Student project in Higher Education, Jisc warmly invites participation in one of a series of national consultation events being run as part of the FE Digital Student project from January to April 2015.  This Jisc project is exploring FE learners’ expectations and experiences of technology and future work will expand the remit to the wider FE and Skills sector. One of the consultation events will take place on 23 April in Swansea. To find out more and book your place at this event visit the project blog You can also follow the project on Twitter via the hashtag #digitalstudent.



Advancing Open Educational Practice in Wales

Over the last few months we’ve been busy continuing our work with our customers and organisations in Wales and beyond to help develop understanding and capacity in the area of open educational resources (OERs) and open educational practice. This blog post aims to give a brief update and highlight some forthcoming opportunities to develop the work of your organisation in this field.

If you’re not familar with OERs you may find the Jisc OER infoKit a useful reference point. As well as providing a plain-English overview, it includes not just the resources themselves (the OERs) but coverage of the many issues surround OERs. Open educational practice and open academic practice are about much more than the creation of materials. In this blog post, I’ll use the term ‘OER’ as shorthand for OER and the surrounding practices.

Here are a round up of some current projects Jisc RSC Wales has been talking to and you may want to get involved in their work:

•    The OER Wales project, based at University of South Wales, is running a series of free workshops which aim to foster a network of ‘OER champions’ for Welsh higher education. This project has grown out of the aspirations set out by Universities Wales in their Wales Open Declaration of Intent. The next workshop will be held in Carmarthen on 20 November with a third to come in Bangor on 3 December. For full details see the project blog here.
•    The CoPilot group are running a free workshop at Cardiff University on 24 November for librarians involved in teaching information literacy and would like to find more about open educational resources (OER). Booking details are here. Hurry as there are only a small number of places left!
•    The Association for Learning Technology is running a series of webinars on open educational practice including one on copyright basics (Dec 11). Details at
•    The OER15 conference is happening in Cardiff on 14-15 April, entailed Mainstreaming Open Education. Jisc RSC Wales are contributing to the conference planning and we hope many of our customers across different sectors will want to get involved. The call for abstracts and other contributions is open till Nov 24 and bookings are set to open in early December.  Full details at You can also follow the conference on social media via the Twitter account @oerconf and hashtag #oer15. All are welcome to ‘like’ the conference Facebook page and join the conversation on Google+.

Meanwhile number of institutions have been encouraging the development of open and online resources. For example:

•    OpenLearn Cymru from the Open University in Wales. View an introductory video here or view the main OpenLearn Cymru site in Welsh here.
•    A free iBook from University of South Wales: Research Methods for Business Students, Managers and Entrepreneurs.
•    In North Wales the Cadarn Learning Portal team have started delivery of workshops on educational media production. Find out about these events here.

We wish all these initiatives continued success over the coming months.

Welsh HE forum on technology, change and the digital student

Jisc RSC Wales recently enabled Higher Education staff to come together face-to-face to exchange practice relating to change in a digital environment.

Staff in diverse roles and HE settings are working to manage change around technology – in learning and teaching, in library and information services, in business processes, as an extension of the ‘day job’ and on special projects. Something they often have in common is a difficulty connecting with other innovators who are in different networks, so they can become isolated and their work doesn’t always reach people who could benefit. Feedback from our customers has indicated that there is a need for some kind of forum to assist this crossover process on themes of particular relevance to HE. So, in spite of the logistical difficulties and scheduling challenges, we took the plunge and converged on Llandrindod last week for our first HE face to face event in three years. Initial reflections suggest it has been worthwhile and this post attempts to sum up a very busy and information-packed day.

Around 25 staff from wide variety of HE roles turned up, not just from universities but also colleges, a workbased learning provider, projects and agencies. We also had a similar number of expressions of interest from individuals and organisations unable to attend but who we hope will be able to engage more in the future. We made a particular effort to invite representatives from the many networks and groups which Jisc RSC Wales is in touch with.

One of the priority themes we’d identified early on, and which affects almost anyone working in HE at present, is “digital student experience”, so we made that the main discussion topic. Around that we arranged a variety of elements designed to help people to make contacts and discover the variety of activity in Welsh HE relating to technology and change. Here’s what happened…

Exchanging wares – speed networking style

In the morning we adopted the approach of a bazaar. In Wikipedia we learn that a bazaar can mean not simply the physical marketplace but also the network of merchants, bankers, craftsmen and craftswomen who congregate there to trade their wares. We wanted to create a space where people could be exposed, in a very short time, to a wide range of possible contacts and could sample the wide range of digital change happening in Welsh HE. We very much wanted to minimise presentation overload.

Image of groups taking part in the networking activity

Participants during the speed networking session – the current speaker wears a paper hat

A speed-networking session gave every participant 2 minutes to introduce themselves, share one thing they were looking to get from other forum participants to help them manage change with technology, and in return present one thing they could offer others (be it a project, a resource, expertise etc). Speakers were designated by paper hats (apologies to those who felt a tad uncomfortable wearing the hats – some chose to carry them instead). They had to move swiftly between tables to give their lightning spiel before passing that hat to the next person. I can’t say it worked without a hitch but but it certainly created a good buzz to kick off the day. Examples of some of the new initiatives discovered during the session were the arrival of a Wikipedian in Residence at the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol (information in English and Cymraeg), the Student Participation Recording and Feedback initiative reported by staff from Cardiff Metropolitan University and the Agri-Wales Online Moodle led by Coleg Sir Gar. Amid the hustle and bustle Paul Richardson somehow managed to capture some links to various projects here.

We also highlighted a few of the key national projects which Jisc RSC Wales has been engaging with recently. Tom Bartlett spoke about the Cadarn Portal project which is working across HE in North Wales to widen participation supported by technologies. Paul Richardson flagged up the recently-published Welsh Government report Open and Online with its recommendations to government and to institutions and noted how Jisc RSC Wales were working with a number of sector bodies and institutions to help achieve their aspirations around OER and open practice.

You don’t have to be called a learning technologist to be one!

We were delighted to welcome Shirley Evans who came wearing two (virtual) hats – one as a trustee of ALT (Association for Learning Technology) and one as a Special Projects Advisor with Jisc Techdis. You can view her presentation here:

ALT_Jisc Innovation Event May 2014

Shirley began with an introduction to the benefits of being involved with ALT, highlighting in particular the formation of a new ALT-Wales SIG (special interest group). More information and an online expression-of-interest form are here. It was pointed out that you don’t have to be a member of ALT to take part; as Shirley pointed out, “You don’t have to be called a learning technologist to be one!”. Around 40 responses have been received to date and if you haven’t the chance yet you still have time to express interest. It is hoped that plans to set up the SIG will go ahead in the near future. Jisc RSC Wales warmly welcomes the move to strengthen ALT in Wales and we look forward to supporting the group as it gets established.

Image of Shirley Evans with a presentation slide about ALT Wales

Shirley introducing ALT-Wales

Here are few more nuggets I picked out from Shirley’s very detailed ALT presentation:

Paul Richardson also flagged up his involvement (along with others in Wales) in the recently-formed ALT OER Special Interest Group (OERSIG). Their first webinar is set to take place on 4 June, and Jisc RSC Wales will pass on publicity and booking details as soon as we have them.

We’re grateful to ALT Trustee Haydn Blackey (University of South Wales) and ALT Chief Executive Maren Deepwell for kindly facilitating Shirley’s input to the event.

Inclusive technologies can help all work smarter

Shirley then switched roles to talk about some new offerings from Jisc Techdis, as well as reminding us of a few tools that we may have forgotten about. One of the key facts that leapt out for me was that according to HESA there are nearly 200,000 higher education students who have declared a disability. Jisc Techdis’s work is particularly concerned with the needs of the disabled but the tools it promotes can be good for everyone. If you are making good provision for your disabled students you are helping everyone to get the most out of technology and work more flexibly.

Shirley flagged up a couple of news items:

  • ENABLE conference 18-19 June on using new technologies for inclusive learning. Face to face bookings have closed on 9 May but there is still time to book online and attendance is free.
  • Small Business Research Initiative: projects which enable the public sector and small businesses to join forces to solve specific problems. Jisc Techdis is co-ordinating eight projects in two areas specifically relating to inclusion: Ready Steady STEM (opening up access to STEM subjects for those with disabilities) and Good to Go (increasing independence in relation to work-based technologies). For more details on these projects and how they will help learners, see the the Jisc Techdis website.

Familiar Jisc Techdis services – still relevant!

When free resources and tools have been around for a while it can be hard to remember if they are still current and worth promoting to your students and colleagues. So I was pleased to hear from Shirley about some resources which were launched a while back but are very much ‘alive’ and worth exploring today:

  • The Techdis Toolbox – a collection of tools and tips to help learners work smarter – for example tools for collaboration, planning and organising.
  • Xerte Online Toolkit – the free open source tool which allows staff with limited technical skills to create rich online content. It has a number of built in accessibility benefits including colour and font change, keyboard access and text to speech). There is a new version available. Jisc Techdis run regular Xerte Friday webinars and the next one is on 30 May.
  • OASES Online Accessibility Self Evaluation Service (OASES). Jisc RSC Wales and some librarians in Wales helped Jisc Techdis recently to update the area of the evaluation tool relating to library services so thank you to everyone who supplied comments and suggestions!

In discussion Shirley noted the importance of the library community in supporting disabled students and highlighted the work Jisc Techdis is doing to make e-books more accessible.

Digital Student Experience and the Welsh Higher Education strategic context

After lunch, Lis Parcell highlighted the Future Directions teaching and learning enhancement initiative which is coordinated by HEA Wales. Jisc RSC Wales is one of the  agencies on its steering group and we try and ensure appropriate links are made between the Future Directions programme and Jisc activity in Wales. Lis pointed out that the current Future Directions theme Global Graduates: Enabling Flexible Learning should afford many opportunities for non-academic departments such as library and information services to support the development of effective digital practice by students, staff and institutions. Digital practice is no longer cordoned off as a niche activity but is emerging as a dimension of day-to-day university teaching. Lis encouraged people to make contact with Future Directions leads in their own institutions for more information and to explore the resources and contact information available on the HEA Wales web pages.

HEFCW highlights

Next up, HEFCW’s Head of Student Experience Dr Cliona O’Neill joined us by video link from Cardiff to highlight some key areas of national policy which are setting the context for our work over the next couple of years.

  • value of networking

Cliona welcomed the staging of this forum event, as well as online events, to share good practice. She stressed that there was a challenge to us all to transplant innovation successfully from one area to another and to support each other in doing so.

  • review of the strategy to enhance learning and teaching through technology

The Enhancing Learning and Teaching through Technology Strategy for Higher Education in Wales, published in 2007/2008 and last revised in 2011/2012, is currently getting a refresh to take it through to 2016/2017. The emphasis is on updating to maintain relevance and take advantage of new developments, rather than any major shift in focus. Jisc RSC Wales is one of the organisations playing a part in the Task and Finish group which is working on a revised version. It has just gone out to “soft consultation” with HE institutions and bodies with a view to publication by July 2014.

  • call for case studies and impact statement

As part of the ELTT Strategy review, Cliona explained that HEFCW have just issued a circular to universities and also those colleges delivering directly-funded HE to request three case studies

  • the one that they are most proud of;
  • the one that is most ‘portable’ (readily transferable to other institutions;
  • and one for an initiative that was unsuccessful but provided useful lessons.

Institutions are also being invited to provide a summary of the impact of the ELTT strategy in conjunction with their students’ union. The case studies will be disseminated by HEFCW.

  • transforming the digital student experience

The refreshed ELTT Strategy will include reference to a new initiative Transforming the Digital Student Experience which Jisc is about to launch in Wales over the coming weeks. It will involve universities as well as one college provider of directly-funded HE. Similar projects are starting up in Scotland and Northern Ireland also, and it was noted that there could be benefits in comparing approaches with institutions in those countries during the project.

Jisc workshop: students expectations and experiences of the digital environment

The workshop was led by Sarah Davies. Sarah is Jisc’s Head of Change (Student Experience) and is going to be managing the Transforming the Digital Student Experience work in Wales.

Sarah introduced her presentation by giving some key findings to date from Jisc’s work exploring student experiences and expectations in a digital environment (see the Jisc Digital Student blog for more info). On the back of an earlier phase of work, Jisc is now working with co-design partners to undertake further consultation across the HE sector, both at open public events and with specific groups. I think some fascinating results are emerging from these consultations which all HE institutions will want to note and contribute to. You can see Sarah’s presentation in full here:

Sarah Davies Digital Student Wales presentation

image of two party hats

Getting together to talk digital student experience

Sarah then led two short workshop activities where groups could input to collaborative online documents.

  • HE2020 – we reflected on the key ideas collected so far through the Jisc research on what HE might look like in 2020 and submitted a few more thoughts of our own via a Google doc here.
  • What should institutions be doing as a priority to respond to students’ changing expectations and needs? And what support and tools would you like from sector bodies such as Jisc? Groups fed comments into the Jisc Digital Student padlet (which had already been started at the Future Directions conference in Aber on 2 April). If you missed the event and want to add your views please visit the padlet here:

As well as the two mini-consultations which have now been carried out in Wales, Jisc are offering two further consultation events for HE at venues in England:  21 May in London and a final event on 16 July in Birmingham.

Useful resources

  • The Digital Student blog.
  • Follow the #digitalstudent hashtag on Twitter
  • The Developing Digital Literacies infoKit (Sarah urged colleagues in Wales to give their feedback on this resource).
  • Change Agents Network – a relatively new initiative that developed out of a Jisc project and is now offering a number of ways to develop students as change agents. The network is for students and staff.

More things to look out for

  • A parallel study is about to commence for FE and Skills with similar consultation events.
  • Jisc Summer of Student Innovation 2014 – students/learners in HE or FE can take part. Student proposals need to be submitted by 30 May. More details here.

Where next?

Image of coloured lamps in a bazaar

Lamps II – Grand Bazaar (Istanbul) by Guillermo Fdez on Flickr

Alyson Dacey chaired a brief closing discussion on how we might take forward some of the ideas which had emerged for Welsh HE forum type activity around digital innovation.

An informal survey at the start of the Spring term had suggested a number of possible themes and formats for future get-togethers. A number of useful new suggestions are emerging and we’ll report on these in a separate blog post once we’ve analysed the feedback from the day. One thing was definitely agreed: that Jisc RSC Wales is committed to listening to your recommendations and taking them up with Jisc and other organisations where necessary so they can be acted upon.

A massive thank you to all our participants and speakers for their valuable contributions. We look forward to building on these conversations with our HE customers and our Jisc colleagues in the coming months. If you have any further ideas on how we can help HE staff to get together, share experience and embed innovation successfully, please email Lis Parcell or post a comment on this blog.


Video presentations: sharing your message after F2F events

Have you given a killer presentation and realized that some of the key people you were hoping to reach were not there?

Have you ever facilitated a really productive workshop, only to find that some colleagues have not been able to attend?

Some speakers post their slides online after the event, and these can be useful if there are plenty of explanatory notes. My slides are minimalist though – almost no words and lots of strong images. They serve as a backdrop to the activities that are going on in the room.

Having worked hard to produce thought provoking content and engaging visuals, I didn’t want these workshops and presentations to be lost. I decided to share some of my presentations as videos, showing the slides and speaking over them, but cutting it down to an easily watchable few minutes.

So, I can share my thoughts in my own voice – and anyone who missed the F2F experience can access an abridged virtual experience.


Have a look at my recent videos:

Customer Engagement

Digital Literacy

Free and Easy Tools for Teaching


‘Conker Tree’ Citizen Science Paper Published

Horse chetnut leaf affected by moth larvae

Citizen Science took a significant step forward last month, with the publication of a paper called ‘The Success of the Horse-Chestnut Leaf-Miner, Cameraria ohridella, in the UK Revealed with Hypothesis-Led Citizen Science’.  A bit of a mouthful, I know, but every word is apt. Here’s some background….

The authors of this paper, Michael Pocock and Darren Evans, have been tapping into the power of citizen science to help them to monitor and understand the spread of a moth which feeds on horse chestnut (conker) leaves. Participants were asked to take a picture of a typical leaf, estimate the degree of damage in relation to an arbitrary scale, and select from a list of descriptions of the immediate environment. If you were using a mobile phone, you could simply allow the app access to location data, and upload the record directly to the server.

The power of this is that lots of data can be gathered quickly and cheaply, from many locations. In this case, the project would have prohibitively expensive if the data had been gathered entirely by professional scientists. Some drawbacks include that some of the data are arbitrary values, and that it may be possible for non-experts to report inaccurately. However, the authors of this work had some nifty ways to overcome these difficulties. For example, participants were provided with a large database of images of damaged leaves, and invited to rate the damage to these, on the same scale which was being used for the field measurements. Experts did likewise, and the results were compared. Statistical analysis of these results enabled the scientists to determine whether or not the participants were rating the damage levels consistently with each other, and with the experts. The good news is that it seems we did well at this task.

However, there was a catch. This moth is also preyed on by birds, and parasitized by a certain wasp, and the authors wished to incorporate the impact of these into their model. Unfortunately, attempts to measure these by citizens were less robust, although systematic correction was possible, again by comparing the results of the citizen scientists with those of experts.

This means that this is a rare example of field research carried out by citizens, driven by scientific hypothesis, and where the results are verifiable. This distinguishes it from longer-term but less robust survey work, such as iSpot, or the RSPB’s annual bird survey – valuable though these are.  The paper discusses not only the significance of gathering data in this way for professional scientists, but also the potential for stimulating public engagement with science.

I am proud to have been involved in this. There were over 3,500 of us, so no individual acknowledgements I am afraid! I am hoping the appearance of this paper will draw attention to citizen science in the UK and beyond, and encourage even more people to get involved. Better still, this peer reviewed publication is available for all to read, via the open access platform PlosOne. Take a look…


Blog, quick summary of the findings, and links to other articles:


Staff conferences: a case of give and take

Reading Paul Richardson’s recent blog post about Glyndŵr University’s Learning and Teaching Symposium has set me thinking about staff learning and teaching conferences in general. These days many of our supported organisations put on some form of internal event for staff around learning and teaching; sometimes the event has an overt “e-learning” focus, sometimes the digital element is more incidental. We know that putting on such events costs time and money, and attending them also makes demands on resources.

So why do I think internal staff learning and teaching conferences are worth the effort, what do I get out of them and what can I and my colleagues contribute to them? I’ll try to answer these questions from my own experience, and hope I give you some ideas about your next event.

What do I take from internal staff events?

  • I get to find out digital changes happening on the ground and how they are received by regular staff. These innovations, often relatively small in scale, can be very useful to share with other organisations in Wales and beyond, and they help us build up a picture of what works. Staff are invariably modest about their achievements with technology and are usually surprised that anyone outside their organisation might be interested!


  • I’m able to hear staff speaking openly about the challenges they face and how they cope with them. They often tell the story of work-in-progress rather than a glossy project output. At internal conferences I meet staff (and occasionally students) who would not necessarily see themselves as digital leaders or enthusiasts, but who might benefit from learning about the digital advice and support  available to them from Jisc.


  • In some cases I’ve been lucky enough to attend the same conference year on year and so have been able to see the organisation develop over time. This helps me gain a better understanding of trends and target support for the future.


  • At conferences it’s often those chance conversations over lunch or in the coffee queue that lead to longer-term conversations, requests for support or ideas I can share. Such connections wouldn’t always happen if I only met staff in more formal boardroom settings.


  • At internal staff conferences I discover the language being used by staff on the ground to talk about e-learning and other aspects of teaching.  I am reminded that each university has its own acronyms and terminology (which I have to pick up pretty quickly if I am chairing a conference discussion!). This helps me to speak to customers in appropriate language when I’m providing day to day support.
We can help you capture key learning points

We can help you capture key learning points

What does the organisation get?

So much for what I get out of internal conferences. What can I and my colleagues give back to the organisation? Well, no two events are alike but here are a range of things we can do:

At the planning stage

  • help identify suitable speakers
  • advise organisations which want to amplify an event with technology, eg via a Twitter hashtag, audience polling or video streaming

On the day

  • act as speakers or workshop leaders in specific areas (recent examples include digital literacy, social media, open educational resources, MOOCs and online learning)
  • chair, facilitate and/or capture key learning points from sessions according to your needs
  • staff an exhibition stand where participants can engage with us, find out what Jisc has to offer them, try out equipment, ask questions, discover resources and give us  feedback

After the event

  • if the organisers are happy for us to do so, we can share our experience on social media, typically via tweets or blog posts (see for example my colleague Catherine’s post about a staff development day at Coleg Sir Gar)
  • where staff are keen to showcase their work further afield we may be able to help find opportunities to disseminate and network with peers beyond their organisation
  • the event adds immeasurably to our knowledge of the organisation: we can support the organisation better because we have spent time learning with the staff.

Listed like that, it sounds exhausting! But I wouldn’t normally aim to do all of the above at every staff conference I go to. Sometimes it is best to spend as much time as possible listening and observing. As a guest at an internal event I feel it is important to fit in with what the organisation needs (though hopefully I am still visible and approachable!).

Last but not least, there is one other strong argument for us to meet with staff on their home turf, in a conference setting: it is great fun. I love to see staff being inspired by the work of their colleagues in different departments who they may never have met before.

Organising a good conference, as anyone who’s tried it will know, is very hard work, but it creates a unique energy and a spirit of co-operation. This energy and spirit is important in sustaining innovation long after the poster boards are packed away and the evaluation forms digested.

So when’s your next staff learning and teaching conference?

Image by André Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (] via Wikimedia Commons

To any of our customers running a staff conference this year which might be able to use a little digital input, we wish you every success with it.

If you think you could use any of the support outlined above and would like us to be part of your next internal conference, symposium or seminar, why not drop us a line? You can go via our helpdesk or email your regular contact.

Innovation in Universities: A Symposium at Glyndwr

I attended a Symposium at Glyndwr University last week, and gave a presentation about MOOCs and OERs (recording here). There was a range of other presentations on various subject from internal and external speakers. During the session, it became clear that there were some key common themes running through the event.

Mark Stiles spoke about ‘Sustaining Innovation in University Teaching’. He challenged the audience to think about what universities actually sell, arguing that the key element is assessment and accreditation. This has been said before, of course, but what emerged from this argument from Mark’s perspective was not the cataclysmic proposition of people such as Michael Barber, but a more practical and homespun vision of how universities should be thinking about governance, change and technology. He emphasised that the organisational side is important (if boring), and that system choices and interoperability were key. However, the key question which emerged (for me) was ‘who decides?’.  Change imposed by a central model rarely works, and usually leads to resentment. However, there can be plenty of difficulties with individual models and team models too.  But one clear predictor of success is that senior management needs to understand information governance.  I take from this that they don’t need necessarily to understand the technical details, but they need to appreciate how it works.

Interestingly, we saw this theme emerge again and again during the morning. Robin Trangmar talked about the need to provide portfolios for trainee teachers at Llandrillo, and how this can differ from the needs for other course. The solution which has emerged is an individualised Personal Development Plan (iPDP), built around Google Apps. This has been modified from a system developed by Cheryl Reynolds at Huddersfield.  This aims to move the profile exercise on from merely ticking boxes to something which is truly developmental.

Speakers from Glyndwr demonstrated some outstanding examples of innovation. ‘The Dome’ is a piece of immersive technology to help nursing students to engage more deeply with specific issues, for example by experiencing how it feels to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Tellingly, this project emerged from a close collaboration between nursing professionals and computer scientists. This underlines a key message from the Mark Stiles presentation: the need to nurture and support innovation across universities, and between apparently disparate departments.

RSC Wales would like to thank Clive Buckley for the opportunity to take part in this event.

Merging and migrating email systems

In Wales then we’ve experienced more than our fair share of mergers between education providers.  In variably one of the initial projects that IT services has to complete is the merger of email systems.  As mergers are usually happening at a fast pace, then there are often tight timescales for the organisations e-mail addresses to change to a new format, reflecting the organisations new entity (domain name).

There are many solutions to this problem; However, the one thing that isn’t usually available is the staffing and time required to find solutions, or to build a new directory service around the new entity, as well as to migrate dependant services, end-users and devices to that new directory.  Whilst this is often the end game, it needs a longer-term approach, maybe two or three years..

Interim solutions are often required to enable the organisation to appear as one entity, whilst maintaining multiple legacy systems behind the scenes.  This allows for longer planning time for the end game above, it should minimise disruption to end users and allow for a relatively rapid deployment.

With that in mind then a few years ago I worked with a pair of FE colleges(s) who were merging and put together an interim solution that we could deploy.  That solution was in place for approximately one year following the merger, and was also used in transitioning to the new directory and e-mail service, which reflected the new entity name. So there is also scope to use this to migrate email systems.

Back in the summer I got the opportunity to try re-deploying the solution, which appears to have gone remarkably smoothly. As a result I’m releasing my code into the wild! It’s not elegant or glamourous but it seems to a job quite well.

The following is a bit technical…. so lets start with a diagram of how the potential final system pans out in terms of delivering mail.

The generate-aliases script is written in bash, and uses ldapsearch, grep, awk, and sed to manipulate the output (all the things you might find in a Linux system).  In both scenarios, it was configured to talk to two or more Microsoft Active Directory/Exchange environments (it could be tweaked to talk to others) and to uses the ldap proxyAddresses field to determine potential addresses.  From there it generates the new address list based on the existing mail address.  In-terms of it’s output then it creates a Linux/Unix aliases file.  You could then use any Mail Transfer Agent/Mail Server, that will run on Linux/Unix.

We have used Exim.  The main configuration points for Exim, is to accept mail as a local_domain for and to route mail for the existing domains and to the internal Exchange servers.  To do all this then you will ideally need to have networking/ internal routing between the two organizations (whether direct or over a VPN).

The script deals with duplicates (a problem for anyone merging groups of users) by halting the process and issuing an e-mail alert, these then need to be manually resolved before any further changes can be applied.  That’s the only bit of day-to-day administration and the initial hurdle in getting the system up and running.  One of the key elements to this is communication between the teams managing the different mail systems.

One downside to this script is that it does not populate Active Directory in anyway, so the lack of an e-mail list in the Global Address Book can be a problem for users.  However, it should be possible to engineer an import / export with Active Directory using csvde import or just publish the aliases list internally.

Also ahead of going live, then you will also need to add the new e-mail domain to all users on both AD systems and resolve those initial duplicates.  You will also need to add as an Accepted Domain / Internal relay domain, and when ready to go-live set this as the users Primary address/sender address.

One distinct advantage this script has over other solutions is that it also generates a definitive e-mail list which if your mail filtering solution does any form of recipient verification for the next hop, then it will cut down on the potential for Collateral Spam by ensuring that e-mail is accepted or rejected at the front of house mail server (not accepting and issuing a bounce later which can create Collateral Spam).

Anyway, I hope this is useful to anyone else who might be merging e-mail systems or even in migrating from one email system to another.  Feel free to comment/discuss below or contact me.

Bring Your Own Device: Are We There Yet?

It was a privilege to take part in the debate at the NIACE Annual Conference in London earlier this week. Having lost the debate, I have been reflecting on what was said, what might have been said, and what the common ground between ourselves which might be explored should be.

Joe Nicholls and I proposed the motion “This house believes that the move towards Bring Your Own Device will discriminate against many potential learners”. We set out an argument based around the technical difficulties and skills shortages which we believe are certain to emerge in a BYOD scenario. I picked these up in relation to four imagined typical learners, while Joe focused on some of the difficulties which organisations face in responding. This can lead to learning providers expecting leaners to ‘bring their own skills’. Inevitably (in our view) this leads to some learners being unable to access key materials via their own devices.

Opposing the motion, Bob Harrison and Peter Kilcoyne argued for ‘BYOD Lite’ (as opposed to ‘BYOD Max’) providing a safety net by ensuring that those learners  who might be excluded would be supported properly. As Bob put it, it would be inconceivable (and illegal) not to make fair and equal provision for all learners.  Their key argument was that BYOD had the potential to save public money, and therefore enable a given budget to support all learners better. Buying new devices regularly to distribute to learners is simply not viable. In this they had strong support from the floor (thanks Donald Clark, Alastair Clark and others). Donald’s argument was that ‘Keep Taking the Tablets’   is a way to waste public money, and/or to provide learners with outmoded and second-rate gear.

About half way through the debate I asked the question “Are we there yet?”.  In other words, have we reached a point where we can support learners who bring their own devices effectively? This was never directly answered (IMO), and I would infer the answer is ‘no’. The rates of BYOD usage are generally low, referring mainly to laptops rather than to mobile devices, and most people who have used a VLE on a phone or a tablet will tell you that it is not a great experience. However, there was a great contribution from the audience (I am sorry I don’t know the name). She said essentially “we have made Moodle accessible on mobiles”.  We conceded that all of this is possible, but there are plenty of difficulties along the way and it would be a remarkable achievement for any provider to shift the focus of their support onto BYOD, sustain their other hardware provision, and avoid any discrimination against any learners.

BYOD is a journey, and some providers have already traveled a worthwhile distance along the road.  We need to identify pitfalls along the way, and work out ways to get around them. How? The first step must be to amplify the learners’ voice, as I fear this is currently muted.  This involves keeping a lot of channels open, including those which don’t involve electronic devices at all. We also need to look at working much more closely with organisations which support people with disabilities, who stand to gain most (but are at risk of losing most) from BYOD.  I am hoping that we can all shake hands on that one….

Some relevant links on BYOD issues are collated here: