Friday, 27 November 2009

Yet more CETIS 09 - it was that good

An overdue blog post following the excellent CETIS Conference 2009. Highlights of the conference were discussions and contacts made over coffee and demonstrations of the Wookie widget server and Google Wave.

Gold star to whoever decided to have long coffee and lunch breaks. Such breaks are at least as valuable as the more formal sessions. Discussions about our Enterprise Architecture strand of Enable during one such break got me introduced to Alex Hawker, Programme Manager of the JISC Flexible Service Delivery Programme. They have set up a Strategic Technologies Group (STG) as a forum “for members and their institutions to discuss, disseminate and exchange useful practices and good ideas, and do work to advance practical knowledge on major themes that enable progress towards realising a flexible service delivery environment.”

Though we’re using Enterprise Architecture (EA) from a curriculum design rather than a service delivery viewpoint, an awful lot of the issues and problems we face will be common to STG members so I’m looking forward to participating in the group. It’s been encouraging to see that there’s a great deal of EA work being done at the moment. This is a reassuring indicator that an increasingly number of HE institutions have identified it as a valuable approach. It’s also good to know we’re not working in isolation so we can share ideas and solutions. Being part of a community like the STG will provide support for our efforts and will contribute to solving problems across the sector as well as locally.

The Wookie widget server looks as though it will form a core part of our approach to diversifying delivery of information in the future. One of the problems we’ve had in recent years is how to cope with an increasingly large and diverse range of delivery platforms for our information. Writing bespoke widgets for each and every platform imposes a large development overhead on any innovation. Each innovation costs more, takes longer and requires more maintenance.

I believe the solution is to put in place a platform of APIs and/or services to make it quick and easy to hook into useful information when developing widgets and then to use the same widget across many platforms to reduce the amount of development and maintenance needed. The Wookie widget server provides the means to accomplish the latter. You can develop one widget and then run the same widget on many different platforms via Wookie plugins.

Google Wave was also demonstrated and discussed. It has the feel of a technology looking for a problem to solve. Lots of folk agree it has potential but no-one has produced a compelling application of it yet.

You can use a wave for threaded-style discussion which seems a bit more interactive and ‘live’ than existing forums but it’s not mind-blowing. Collaborative live wave/document creation is similar but doesn’t add much value compared Google docs or Office Live. Use as a substitute for a Wiki falls down on the ability to track (and potentially reverse) changes.

I suspect the real value of Wave will be using it behind the scenes via APIs to provide applications with new collaborative capabilities that are impossible or very hard to implement currently. One to keep an eye on.

Monday, 23 November 2009

CETIS for me

I also attended the CETIS Conference with Fleur and Sam. I also went to the session that Fleur did. I was struck by two things: firstly that the processes by which an issue rose to the "top of the heap" in a university was as nebulous in other institutions as is is at Staffordshire, and secondly that US Universities work very differently from UK ones (not really a surprise).

I also attended the session on linked data. I was one of the referred to in the comment "it became clear there was quite a split in the participants and those with senior institutional roles were forming the opinion that we were not talking about anything of immediate relevance to them" in the notes on the CETIS site... I think this was partly due to the constant reference to "potential" and also to the somewhat inpenetrable jargon used by the "enthusiasts". However, by the end I realised that linked data was being was outside of "library world" (eg by Chrysler) and did have elevance to things like course related information...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

CETIS, Modelling and creating life

We have had a busy week, with three of us attending the CETIS Conference in Birmingham. This was a very useful event, mainly for the networking opportunities it gave, but also due to the great opening keynote from Roehampton University on the usefulness of Enterprise Architecture for institutions and the end Keynote from Bill Thompson (@BillT) about the concerns for where England will be with countries overtaking us with their technology backbones. Bill also covered whether we are ready for the big changes that could occur in the future with developments no longer in the realms of sci-fi (microchipped contact lenses, e-ink, next gen communication devices etc).
I participated in the Technology change in education - involving Senior Management at last? discussions on the first day where we covered areas such as who should be setting priorities agendas? How do we manage between the university and the staff cultures? We found out that JISC have a network set up to support those of us engaging in EA so we have great hopes for some useful connections from this group. We found a number of institutions were interested in the work we have already taken in this area, and we found an institution with a programme office which is very nice so we have agreed to talk soon about their experiences. It is clear that as I went through this conference the human element is the most important part of the programme office and supporting the EA at the university, so no pressure there!
These thoughts followed me back to the office as I have continued my research on Programme Management Offices, a big thing is that they can be different things to different people. We are trying to get to grips with what a PMO should be for us and how it can fit within the existing structure of the institution. Just like Frankenstein, we are wary of creating a monster office that tries to do too much at once, we don't want to see it crash through walls, but to be able to suggest and guide the university with incremental changes.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Useful Reading

Well the last few hours have given me some interesting reading thanks to Twitter, in particular @mikehamlyn and @theopengroup. The first article was from the Guardian and talks about "treat students more like customers and become more responsive to the needs of businesses" and about exposing more information to the learners and to businesses "The food-labelling style system to tag each course is designed to give students more information, which has widely been interpreted as preparation for raising tuition fees." This links to Enable, and helps us keep our focus on course information and how it will be used and who the audience is, if the audience is the learner we need to ensure that information is not hidden under a difficult language as discussed in an earlier blog.

The second bit of interesting reading was from Tom Graves' blog, about his experiences at the TOGAF Conference in Hong Kong. This blog entry relates Toms experiences, showing "... the unique Chinese perspective on what has historically been a somewhat Anglo and technology-driven construct". He notes that the first speaker was interesting due to "an almost complete absence of any reference to IT – instead almost all about management and business-architecture" and the balance between Western best practice and national principals, he also notes that speakers talk about the long term, and balance. Both the article and the blog entry are, in my opinion, well worth a read.