Computing Services

The department behind IT services at the University of Bath

Tagged: Conference

CIS and tell


📥  Computing Services

ICYMI acronyms and initialisms are everywhere. Yes, I'm inviting comments to help me learn a few more that I could have included - and why not! Sharing knowledge and information is a critical part of our community.

This is my first blog post at the University of Bath: I started in January 2017 and I've been to 3 conferences/events already, so I need to catch up with blogging my notes if I'm to be allowed out to any future events. The first event was cryptically entitled CISG-UCISA-HESA-SLC and was my first opportunity to be involved with the Corporate Information Systems Group (CISG), which is a sub-group of Universities and Colleges Information Services Association (UCISA). Speakers included the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the Student Loans Company (SLC). They also included the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) although I'm not sure why they didn't make it onto the event title; perhaps CISG-UCISA-HESA-SLC-ICO-UCAS just didn't trip off the tongue quite so easily...

Andy Youell (HESA) is always an entertaining speaker and despite having heard him give this talk before, it was still delightful to learn about "The Changing Information Landscape". Andy reminded us that the Higher Education (HE) sector has been doing data collections since 1965 (through UCCA at the time) and there are now over 500 HE data collections across 90 organisations. The Data Landscape Steering Group has been set up to ensure collective governance for these collections, to seek a better way, more efficient and joined up. There's also the potential for HESA to become the statutory data collection body for HE with a duty to reduce burden on the sector - more about that in the later Data Futures talk (keep reading). There is a twin agenda - standardisation and rationalisation - and a standard is a 'specification that is adopted'. The data landscape requires the development of a common language, through HECoS and the widening adoption of a Unique Learner Number (ULN) for students. The changing landscape also encompasses emerging data capabilities: did you know that an Excel worksheet has 17 billion cells - and that 88% of workbooks have errors (Panko, 2008)? Andy closed his talk with a call to action, referring to the HEDIIP research on Data Capability (2015) which identified a maturity model comprising 5 levels: chaotic, reactive, stable, proactive and predictive.

Sam Stokell and Graeme Lindsay (SLC) informed us of Current and Future Developments at the Student Loans Company. As of 20 Oct 2016, they had received 1.45m full-time (FT) undergraduate (UG) applications and processed 1.37m of these. Additionally they had received 81,000 post-graduate (PG) loan applications, processing payments for 56,000, with a total of £4.2bn in maintenance & tuition fees being administered through the company. Astonishing! They provided updates on a number of policy changes coming in 2017/18 and encouraged HEIs to provide course information in a timely manner (at the time, 50% had been collected).

Victoria Cetinkaya (ICO) presented an informative (and only slightly scary) talk titled "Information Rights in a Changing Landscape". The Information Commissioner's Office is an independent organisation whose remit is to uphold information rights and they have a new Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham. The ICO is often asked to consider cases arising from the challenges of Freedom of Information (FOI): the duty to document versus transparency in outsourcing (report due to Parliament in 2017). They also respond to incidents resulting from cyber security attacks, analysing trends such as exfiltration, DDoS, system misconfiguration and other cyber incidents. She also reminded us of the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will be in force 25 May 2018 (despite Brexit) and applies to universities as Data Controllers. Anonymisation and pseudonomysation of data are good options, and GDPR will cover 'special categories' such as genetic and biometric data. It encompasses the existing 8 Data Protection principles and adds Accountability. Further guidance on GDPR is on the ICO website at: Organisations will need implement technical measures to comply and demonstrate compliance; universities may need to appoint a dedicated Data Protection Officer. There will be a requirement to report a data breach within 72 hours of detection, and maximum fines will increase from £500,000 to €20,000,000. Individuals will have 8 new rights: to be informed; to have access; to rectification; to erasure (the right to be forgotten); to restrict processing; to data portability; to object; rights related to automated decision making & profiling. Consent will only be considered relevant if people have a genuine choice.

Fatuma Mahad (UCAS) took us on a journey "From Clearing House to Digital Ecosystem", where she reminded us that UCAS is the world's only national centralised organisation processing applications to HE. They receive 800,000 applications each year, have 6,000 regional centres and cover 388 universities & colleges, and 1,200 schools. Their peak processing times include A-level results day where the website receives 5.5m pageviews and 239 logins/sec on Track (where applicants go to review and update their choices). In 2014, UCAS focused on a journey to adopt cloud technologies, outsourcing their work to Infosys while retaining in-house development. In 2015, their orientation was around a broader learner journey with enterprise-wide adoption of Agile methodology and thinking. This focused on value flow, quality, releasing products early and often, and organised around 5 Rs (review, refine, resize, reprioritise, regular cadence). This programme resulted in ~40% reduction of their on-premise technology footprint along with an investment in data science capability. In 2016, their theme was Digital Acceleration, focusing on SOA, ESB, IAM, CRM (Salesforce), mobile and cloud first. They instilled a digital workplace using Microsoft Office365 and SharePoint, with a 2020 technology strategy that is 'evolutionary, not revolutionary'. Looking forward, UCAS will focus on collection and search tools, application management and operational reporting for peer benchmarking. Their roadmap includes: iterative, continuous improvement after go-live; beta services for users to try out; and managing the results embargo to promote a 'zero-breach culture' (more on this in a later post from UCISA17).

Rob Phillpotts (HESA) closed the day with an update on "HESA Data Futures", which aims to make data better - while noting that "there will be pain before we get better data...." This programme involves more frequent data collection and aligned to business process, more timely with better data - in year and with a new data model (yay!) HESA will act as a data hub with a new, more agile system, with the potential to connect to existing data for time series reporting. The aim of this is to transform the 2019/20 student data collection, which requires a new software platform - Rob's looking for volunteers to help with the resource challenge of this work. Collection design v2 was out at the time and v3 out by end January 2017. The programme is working with alpha/beta groups and software suppliers. Data will be submitted in segments not a single file (S0-S6).


2017/18 will involve alpha pilots from 12 HE providers (HEPs) UK wide, looking at pilot concepts and prototypes. 2018/19 will be beta pilots of 500-100 HEPs self-selected and end-to-end testing. 2019/20 will be live for institution including changes to student records software (e.g. Tribal SITS - 'Samis' at UoB) and a data submission 'crunch point' moving to much better data from there on. Rob urged us to speak to our Registrars to give feedback on the programme.

All in all, it was a super day: I met many new people and afterwards 'linked-up' so as many as I could - it's the only way I remember people these days (via LinkedIn). Let me know if you have any questions about the talks - I'm happy to meet up over tea/coffee or just a stroll around campus!


Digifest 2017

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📥  Computing Services, IT Literacy

This week I went to the Digifest conference which is run annually by Jisc. This year it was held in the ICC in Birmingham and theme for the conference was “the power of digital” and the potential of transforming the student experience particularly with regard to learning and teaching.

There were a number of talks I was interested in so, as I wasn’t able to clone myself (maybe look at that for next year’s theme, Jisc?), I had to choose wisely. Talks were wide-ranging and included available and future technology , best practices and case studies. A very interesting mix indeed.

The conference opened with a plenary which had members of the Jisc team talking about what was to come. It was very inspirational and made me look forward to the next two days.

I won’t go in to every session I attended as this will end up as an inordinately long blog post but I will probably follow up with further posts as I consider how it would be relevant to us here in Bath.

A quieter part of the day in Digifest 2017

A quieter part of the day in Digifest 2017

Building digital capabilities within your organisation

There were three teams from different universities talking about how to build digital capabilities and their approaches to this. It turns out that there is a lot of good work going on out there surrounding this and a common theme was the use of the Jisc Digital Capabilities Discovery Tool as a base to work on. In fact, this seemed to be a common theme throughout the conference.

Ross Anderson from the University of Hull talked mainly about staff engagement. One thing I found really fascinating was the gamification of learning and how it fitted in to their blended learning approach – having teams compete with each other to get to the next digital level. He also talked about having student and staff Elearning champions and peer training sessions in each department so that different groups of learners could get on board. I also thought that having a set of blended learning standards could ensure the consistency and quality of the material.

The University of Brighton looked at having a two lists of competencies – core (essential for everyone) and further (role-specific) which was an interesting approach. They also used strong visual resources to promote the digital literacies framework.

Nottingham Trent University went further to talk about how training could be taken one stage further – not just teaching people how to use a product such as Outlook but how they can use it in their particular role (such as managing your inbox). This is one thing that I think I will definitely be looking at taking forward.

Digital Capability Model

Digital Capability Model

Staff digital skills capabilities

Deborah Kellsey Millar, Digital and IT Director for Salford City College talked about using a step by step model towards organisational digital capability and the use of the discovery tool to achieve this. She also explained about their use of the Learning Wheel to model digital pedagogy and the introduction of the DigiPals service. This is where learners and Educational Technologists can provide tricks and tips for people who use digital resources in their learning in a friendly and approachable way using a web site and social media. I believe that having these accessible and readily available resources in a variety of formats increases uptake and buy in from a wide variety of providers.

Next, implementation of by Steve Rowett from UCL. They embedded packages within courses by using playlists which provided some context for the topics that academic staff taught. It also meant that students could learn what they want, when they want. They have had a big uptake from both staff and students for this but he said that marketing in the right way, at the right time is key and to get a marketing plan together before you even think about launching it to maximum effect.

Students’ expectations and experiences of digital technology

For me, this was one of the most relevant talks as one of the biggest issues I face being in charge of IT communications and training is student engagement and communications reach. There were students from different institutions talking about what worked for their organisation.

The University of Northampton surveyed their students and one of the most important things that came out of that was access to devices and WiFi. I think this is probably important to a majority of institutions as more and more students bring their own devices. They also asked students to complete the statement “When digital technology is used on my course…”. Apparently, it gave some interesting answers and they will be providing further detail on this soon.

Epping Forest College said that they engaged more when they linked in to other general events such as Safer Internet Day. I think that collating a list of events such as these would help with planning communications and improve reach. They also had students who were Digital Voice Experts and they were given specific training in topics such as video production as an incentive. They would also have access to a social media account to tweet to other students on behalf of the college which meant it was more relevant and students didn’t feel like they were being talked down to. Zac, one of the students who was responsible for the social media aspect, managed to get Epping to number one in the Edurank league table for social media. Something we could definitely work on.

The University of Stirling made use of “Happy or Not” consoles which you may have seen in airports and train stations where students could press the relevant “face” depending on how they found the digital learning spaces on campus. This was used in a business case to get these refurbished. They also had “WiFi wizards” - students who were able to help others with WiFi issues and report any common issues to the Service Desk.

Augmented and virtual reality

Now the exciting bit! During the conference, there were a number of organisations who showcased the latest products they had on offer. Personally, I found the most exciting products on show were:

  • HoloLens made by Microsoft - This is a pair of glasses that uses augmented reality. They were demonstrating anatomy and it was really weird having a transparent “person” standing in front of you with organs that you could “tap” on to find out more and walk around the “person” as if they were actually standing there. I think this could be really useful in applications such as mechanical engineering research where you would not need to build expensive physical models to see how they would look and interact but build it “virtually” instead. In fact, we have one of these available to loan, so let us know if you wish to utilise it!Hololens demonstration
  •  Samsung Gear VR – they demonstrated this using a lab safety scenario where you could walk around a lab and interact with items there and find out how to keep the environment in a lab safe such as storing chemicals and wearing protective clothing. This is a good idea as you can ensure students are aware of lab safety before they even step into a physical lab.

Dundee and Angus College gave a very good presentation on the work they have been doing in creating a Learning Lab where they provided a space for staff and students to drop in and have hands on experience of the different technologies out there including VR headsets, 3D printers and augmented reality.

Closing plenary

Lauren Seger Weinstein, chief data officer at TFL gave the closing talk on how they were using data to improve the efficiency and customer experience of the public transport network in London. She talked about creating trust whilst giving an excellent customer experience with innovation whilst providing excellent value for money. They are very data rich and provide a lot of open data for use by academic institutions. This could really be useful for researchers looking at transport issues across the city.

One initiative they have implemented is to let customers know the busiest times in their underground stations. This means that if you are an occasional user of a particular station and you are flexible with your travel times, you could travel at a quieter time for a more enjoyable experience. They gathered data from the number of devices connecting to their WiFi service together with the footfall through the automatic gates to produce this information. I think this is possibly something we could be using in our Library and other PC spaces so that students know when the best times are to access a PC.


Final thoughts

All things considered, it was a very enjoyable and informative event. It was useful to hear from other institutions, particularly with regard to the initiatives they have carried out and how it was received. If you do get a chance to go, I would thoroughly recommend it and if you did miss this year’s conference, then you can find slides from some of the talks on the Digifest website. And you never know, you could also win one of their competitions - I can't wait to try it out...

Bean Boozled game

5th Annual HPC Symposium - Abstract Submission Now Open

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📥  High Performance Computing (HPC), Research

Abstract submission for the 5th Annual Bath University HPC Symposium on Thursday 9th June is now open [please note that the day (Tuesday) in the earlier announcement was a typo!].

We would like to invite submissions for talks and poster presentations on all aspects of HPC-orientated research, including:

  • HPC driven research in all disciplines
  • Code parallelisation and algorithm development
  • Experiences with tools/libraries and the scalability of computational codes
  • Experiences with accelerator hardware (e.g. GPUs and Xeon Phis)

We would like this year to highlight the HPC research being done by postgraduates, so there will be a dedicated session for students presenting posters to give a five-minute flash presentation to introduce themselves and their work. A prize of an iPod Nano will be awarded for the best student flash/poster presentation.

Contributed talks will be scheduled for 15 minutes (12 mins + 3 mins questions).
There will also be a prize of an iPad Mini for the best overall contribution to the symposium.


LaTeX and Word templates are available from the symposium website at:

Please send your submissions to, remembering to rename files with your username (e.g. “abstract_jms70.doc”).

The deadline for abstract submission is Friday 13th May, and presenting authors will be notified the following week.

Also, we would like to remind those who haven’t registered yet to do so. Registration is free (including refreshments) and is now open at:

and will close on Friday 27th May.

More information, including an up-to-date schedule, can be found on the symposium website.

We look forward to receiving your submissions.

Best wishes,
Jonathan and Steven