Second Verse Same as the First

I recently attended a digital futures event which had been organised in the style of an unconference. This meant the focus was on attendees discussing issues that concerned them. After the keynote staff were asked about issues they would like to discuss and a lot of their responses linked to the work of Enable.

  • Perception of effort/ processes/ ‘tick boxing’
  • Concern about ability to be agile
  • Requirement for faster adoption to change
  • Lack of clear messages across institution
  • Concern about lose of subject specific adoption
  • Too much control of systems and not enough control on information
  • Culture
  • Perception of limited change management

All this could be considered a bit depressing, Enable started over two years ago and although it has achieved a number of small successes (Document Management, External Examiners, TransAPEL) this event is a clear message to all in the institution that there are still issues with the way the university is working. This message is something that Enable has passed up to senior management but has yet to hear back about what is being done. The Enable project recognises a number of developments that are occurring, however the communication with these developments has been either limited or through unofficial channels. This is due to the nature of the culture at the university and could also be linked to the perception of the project and the level of staff involved in the project.  It has been recognised by most people in the university that it is now in a prime position to change as it takes its first steps towards a new future and new university strategy. However will we be strong enough to make the big steps needed? Will we have the courage to do what staff are expecting of us?

The event also demonstrated that staff are not always aware of opportunities to engage with the  institution, and its projects. Even worse, that projects don’t always try to engage with their stakeholders, or recognise the right stakeholders for a project. For example a technology was introduced to staff with what appeared to be limited engagement, from the presentations given a number of questions were raised by staff during the lunch, during informal conversation. These questions focused on who had asked for the technology? What where their requirements? Was there any engagement with surveys such as the student mobile technologies/ faculty feedback? It was a shame these questions hadn’t been raised in the session itself. I wonder why, did I lead the discussions during lunch? Did staff feel more comfortable discussing issues with someone who wasn’t close to the projects? I’m not sure and I don’t think there is an easy way of capturing it. The survey I am doing for Enable (http://bit.ly/mgp1wy) will at least help identify how staff feel at different levels about engaging in projects within the institution, and whether they feel informed about these developments, not just at Staffordshire University but in other educational institutions.

In one session I attended focused on digital literacy it was a matter of debate as to whether there should be an embedding of technology into particular subjects. I found it a concern when two particular issues were raised – one was how do we know what technical skills an employer wants outside those that are subject specific (as the university has been discussing and raising the concept of Employer engagement I should have thought the answer fairly obvious), and some staff felt that their subjects should be exempt from digital literacy – although how that could be justified for one of the subjects discussed I’m not sure as I could certainly see a clear link between that subject (which shall remain nameless for fear of identifying the innocent!). Other discussions within that session where around whether we are forcing staff/students to use an internal tool when they would rather use an external one? Are we engaging in an exercise in futility which will soon require the university to hold equivalent software for all tools internally? Who should be guiding the decision on technologies here, and what is the message from senior management about the direction we should be going?

I found the informal discussions particularly useful, as they reinforced to me that our Enable message to senior management is the right one. There is a perception that we have been too  busy making small changes to processes and systems and that the time hasn’t been taken to clearly assess where we are, where we want to be and what needs to be done in the future to make us prepared for our next step. There is a recognised need by staff that the institution needs to take a breath, and get a complete view of its business & its supporting information, systems and processes. Staff need to feel engaged in this work and a great start has been taken by the new Vice Chancellor in encouraging staff to contact his office with feedback on the strategy. Certainly, from his blog, it is noted that a number of staff took him up on this offer (as did I on behalf of the project team through my manager, and directly through the online form we were given). What will be interesting to see is the feedback we get from the process – will he contact us directly to address our concerns? Or will it become another perceived ‘black hole’ where actions are taken but no feedback given?

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Understanding Data

This has a become a big thing for our project, how are changes managed to the core student data and how are those changes communicated to staff who use that data? I had a conversation with a member of lecturing staff who noted that TheSIS (The Student Information System) had gone through some recent changes, and were unsure as to why those changes had taken place, and that the  changes had caused some new issues with data that they put into the system. Usually these “issues” with data are sorted at a local level and may not reach faculty meetings. So how many people hit the same thing? How often do problems arise? What problems are they? In an informal discussion it is easy to pull out some issues, including handling APEL decisions after exam boards have met (in this example TheSIS gives the learner an “R” grade – meaning re-sit!). We have been talking about a flexible and responsive curriculum but now we also need to think about flexible and responsive data sources.

Programme office

This is a big question for me, and the project, at the moment as its part of the next stage of the project. We have helped with the development of a strategy for the university around Curriculum Design and Development but how is that managed? How do we keep it up to date and what is the cost benefits to making all the recommended changes?

We have spoken to over 15 different initiatives in the university, plus senior management, discovered over 9 general CDD issues that overlap the initiatives and have suggested that they get addressed, but other than acknowleging that they are issues what depth of analysis do we need to do as a project to understand their impact to the University? Should this be done now or once agreed by Executive / Senior management that they are issues we need to investigate. How much time would need to be invested in this? Lots of questions on this going through my head and on top of that is how we engage in the piloting of project outputs and getting the rather informal initiatives to provide final reports that can then be used to build future recommendations? I will be covering this thought more in the main blog soon. I am also wondering if we are doing enough on expectations.

On the plus side we have a day with the cluster coming up next week so that we can discuss things like the base line report and using modeling, after that we have a SMWG meeting and in a few weeks time it will be the programme meeting so a lot of getting together and chatting about thoughts on the project.

Thoughts Please

I am testing polls out here, I am interested in those of you out there involved in the Award development process. Please take a moment to answer my quiz!

Paperwork a go go

I have a telephone conversation with Tony (our critical friend) today about the level of input that appears to be going into the official documentation for JISC. This has become a bit of a bug bear for us as each submission seems to be leading to more suggestions, and guidelines on some documentation is somewhat limited before submission – so expecting further work on existing documentation in the future. It does seem that the level of advice is the same for those with project management experience and those without, and everything needs to be explicitely stated more than at any point in the past.