Computing Services

The department behind IT services at the University of Bath

Tagged: technology

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

Attending the world's biggest technology conference in Amsterdam


📥  Audio Visual Unit (AV), Computing Services

Me with Kevin McLoughlin (Royal Soc of Medicine); Keith Wilks (University of South Wales); Ben Pain (Royal College of Physicians) – before embarking on the conference.

Me with Kevin McLoughlin (Royal Soc of Medicine); Keith Wilks (University of South Wales); Ben Pain (Royal College of Physicians) – before embarking on the conference.

This year’s ISE is a wrap. It is the place to go for Professional AV and Systems Integration. It provides a unique showcase for technology solutions. This year, there were around one thousand two hundred exhibitors in the expo in fourteen halls, training opportunities, and conference presentations. If we are honest, it’s very bright (lots of display screens that are very shiny), quite loud (in terms of chatter and equipment) and goes on for miles. I managed to cover thirty eight kilometres across three days in the pursuit of technology and solutions!

I’ve worked in a University for more than twenty years, and I’m keenly aware that the way we integrate technology, especially in the teaching spaces, helps to facilitate not only teaching and learning practices, but also the student’s experience of it. I’m old enough to remember pushing some of the AV resources around campus (yes I was one of those guys!). Thankfully, the days of shared slide projectors, video players, overhead projectors, film projectors and even epidiascopes are long gone.

The modern technologies showcased at ISE represent a world of difference in a relatively short period of time. In terms of an analogy, it’s now the nuclear age compared to the steam engine – almost anything is possible if you want to do it. Although, we do remember that technology is not the reason for most of today's innovative teaching, it’s the foundation stone that most are built upon. Technology is, for the most part, the enabling tool.

ISE this year was a melting pot of both technology and systemic approaches; and it was noticeable that educational technology is at the fore of activities for many manufacturers – and it is a trend that continues to grow.

This year, more than seventy universities sent representatives to this four day conference and show in the Netherlands. We all attended for the same purpose. We all look to gain an advantage by understanding the technological developments coming along; which we can then bring back to the University. It inspires us to innovate our environment and systems.

From speaking to our counterparts, it seems like we are at an exciting time in terms of technology development in a technology rich world – although the pace of change can feel startling at times for some.

The conference for us included some presentations from some equipment manufacturers

The conference included some presentations from some equipment manufacturers:

KRAMER – Interactive Technologies
CRESTRON – Video Distribution over the Network
REVOLABS – Video Conferencing
TRIPLEPLAY – Digital Signage
SENNHEISER – Radio Microphones

Within those sessions, it’s also useful to look some of the senior management of the manufacturers in the eye and ask the awkward questions – such as ‘why won’t you standardise on a particular video transmission protocol?’ You don’t necessarily get an answer, but they know you’re paying attention.

The theme of the conference this year was not focussed on a particular technology, but on a set of conditions. They obviously have technology behind them, but are not a single technology to enable it.

They were:

  • the use of technology to enable sharing of content (display sharing)
  • integrating systems to allow for reuse (digital signage and wayfinding)
  • scheduling spaces
  • collaboration
  • immersive technology

It’s interesting to note that there hasn’t really been a huge ‘leap’ in teaching technology for many years – just the quality of the audio or video has improved.

One of the processes at the front of our minds is, of course, TEF. As many of the measurable outcomes for TEF have a technology underpinning (the ‘learning environment’ and ‘teaching quality’), it’s important for us to know where we can go with what we can provide.

It seems that many companies understand that the education market has changed, and continues to move. Many have realigned their product range, or the way they operate, to reach out into the education sector. In the case of some of the manufacturers that we already use, they have actually designed products to suit our needs directly. Which goes to show that the efforts we put in at this conference pay dividends in enabling better support much further down the line.

So we are targeting our investments in the campus not only to support the staff, but also to meet the needs of our technology aware students. We are designing, and building, on campus, a set of technologies in each teaching space that will allow us to guarantee a set of functionality for 5 years from the point we build it. The inspiration is fed from two directions – the feedback from staff and students  - and from this conference. AV systems aren’t really a luxury anymore, we really need to have them to facilitate the modern teaching space. We’re trying to build a set of systems that widen the ability to do things in the teaching spaces, not restrict them.

There were also some technologies that we very hyped a few years ago that were conspicuous by their apparent absence. Things such as passive 3d (where you need the glasses) were very prominent a few years back, but have all but disappeared from view. Glasses free 3D replaced it almost immediately. However, the technology is still fairly crude.

It’s interesting to note that as resolutions get bigger (there were many stands with 8K displays), then we already outstrip the ability of the human eye to make any sense of the level of detail anyway (the human eye is around 2K even in the sharpest of eyes!). One quirk is that with all the extra detail and information the human brain gives you a perception of depth of field. It may all become an academic exercise anyway.

That being said, I didn’t see a ‘Classroom of the Future’ at ISE. I don’t think anyone is that brave! What I did see though is some outstanding solutions, technology and ideas for how we may continue to improve in future. These will all transition into the campus at some point in the next year or two (or more!), as we get the chance to improve the systems we already have.

If anyone would like to see it, I have produced a report on some of the highlights of ISE for this year (from an AV in teaching perspective), and I have a large assortment of collected contact details and information from most of the manufacturers on show.

Rest assured that we don’t sit still for very long. We’ve already got the refurbishment of 3E, 6E and 1WN in the pipeline for later this year – and East Building to follow along behind that! Some of the things I’ve seen are already making their way into plans, and three of the manufacturers are visiting the campus this week!


Audio Visual upgrade

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📥  Computing Services

This year sees the start of the centrally funded GTA Rolling Refurbishment Programme. In conjunction with the Estates Department, AV are running a large project to upgrade and replace the teaching technology in 8W over the coming summer. This will mean an update to the existing technology, which will include conversion from analogue to digital images, a move to full HD, new interfaces to be able to plug laptops in, and a standardised lectern across the level 2 rooms. We are also intending to build in some ability for the rooms to be able to expand at a future date to participate in processes such as lecture capture.

The Estates part of the project will mean redecoration of the rooms – including carpeting and paintwork, and some furniture.

The full extent of the programme will be agreed in the near future, but it is the first year of an intended 10 year programme of refreshment and rebuilding.