What College leaders need is a Gaga Strategy

Lady Gaga as a child

Lady Gaga as a child

Dining amongst some of those who support the traditional dinner of the Network of Black and Asian Professionals network as part of the AOC Conference last night reassured me. So, I doubt that the creative leadership talk by Professor Jaime Anderson on the first day of the conference will change many of them. Though, it could change a few and I would love to see how applying a “followship strategy”, rather than a leadership one, possible via a Youtube, twitter or a blog that has over five million followers, pans out.

But let’s face it. The Gaga Strategy as he advocated could be just the approach needed to reveal the way out of the funding conundrum the sector faces – a robbing Peter to pay Paul scenario reflected in the predictions of AoC Chief Executive Martin Deol, BBC Newsreader Emily Maitlis and BBC Radio 5’s Chief Political Correspondent John Pienaar when they addressed the packed auditorium just before the political party reps came on stage.

As Martin Doel said to FE News, he saw little difference amongst the political parties because the headlines are much of the same and we will all be keen to see the details of their pledges in the next six months before the general election.

Being humans, principals will wonder what the heck Professor Jamie’s message was. Yes it was clear that the ease of access to technology and how anyone has been able to broadcast themselves since the emergence of Youtube was central to his message.

Yes, the education sector can and should capitalise on that. There was some sort of reverence to “meaningful intimacy” allowed by technologies such as twitter that has seen Lady Gaga and the likes of Justin Bieber create a group of followers that could win elections.

The irony is that his call to engage with generation-y in the FE and Skills sector immediately hit the barrier of diminished resources. While private schools charge higher fees for the 16 plus cohort, the FE and Skills sector has seen funding for this cohort dwindle. Principals have also been feeling the difficulty in recruiting and keeping good English and Maths teachers since the government handshake to attract these teachers to schools.

But perhaps Professor Jamie’s 4Es of the Gaga Strategy might provide the blue sky thinking the sector needs.

e1 Excellence
e2 Empathy
e3 Exclusivity
e4 Engagement

Those who weren’t there might want me to spell out those Es. Well, anyone who can workout what the Gaga Strategy is will do so without trouble. So I’ll leave it to you. A tip, though: it does require blue sky thinking about blue sky thinking… and maybe we will find the answer to inject funds in the sector while reducing the deficit.

Since I live for technology in education, a well devised and deployed Gaga Strategy will see unpredictable levels of sector engagement with students that will make them all want to follow, rather than attend, education, skills training and research.

RSCL8trs alligator, Jisc in a while crocodile

Graciano de Santana Soares, Jisc RSC London Manager

Graciano de Santana Soares, Jisc RSC London Regional Manager

This is the end, my friend

#RSCl8trs – on 4th December – will mark the departure of the Jisc RSC London from ULCC, our host institution for over 14 years. It will be an opportunity to re-live memories of the sector’s highlights and engagement with us.

In good RSC London fashion we will share your images, videos, or testimonials of our past activities online and at our offices when we will be saying goodbye to the past and welcome the future in whatever shape it comes.

There are many ways you can contribute, and you can start now, sharing one memory a day:

For many supporters and users of the Jisc RSCs across the UK, 2015 will bring important changes to the way they access their services and the way Jisc interacts with them. In fact those changes are well under way.

December 2014 will mark the end of the Jisc Regional Support Centres, at least in the current form, and the beginning of Jisc in the regions.  Although the new model is still being finalised, Jisc will bring the RSCs and services such as TechDis, Legal, InfoNet and Netskills in-house and restructure them.

With regards to the regional representation, there will be a reduction from 12 to six Jisc regions. Namely, Jisc North, Jisc Wales, Jisc London, and the combined regions of Jisc South and East; Jisc South West and Midlands; and Jisc Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Some of these regional amalgamations do present a challenge of accessibility, but Jisc will design systems that will make accessing Jisc support and expertise seamless whatever the location of a provider.

Though my focus for this piece is the end of the RSCs, I wanted to praise the way Jisc has undertaken the task of bringing together such disparate and successful groups of services that have given Jisc international recognition and the nationwide status of leading experts in technology in education.

I find it hard to imagine a future in which Jisc may fail to deliver on its vision of making the UK the most advanced nation in the world for technology in education and research.

Over the years I have seen a number of agencies come and go. Becta being the one with the greatest impact on agents driving the uptake of technology in education. Becta’s demise soon after the 2010 elections epitomised the then new government’s drive to reduce public spending and devolve decision making to schools. Jisc CEO Martyn Harrow’s report highlighting the savings achieved through a shared service such as Jisc should not be underestimated. Nor the danger of the scams that schools, colleges and universities can be exposed to when procuring IT, when the impartial support the RSCs were known for will no longer be available. The future of technology in the post-compulsory education has never been in better hands.

I grew up watching Ayrton Senna and his wondrous driving. As I write, Lewis Hamilton is a third place away from becoming world champion again. Nigel Mansell has said that the championship is his to lose. The future of technology for the UK envisaged by Jisc is the funders’ to lose.

But why should I be saying all this when the RSCs are coming to and end and I’ll be moving on? I guess that it is because as Regional Manager for the Jisc RSC London, I saw my team and colleagues across the regions strive to deliver to providers’ needs and wants.

We have sat in on providers’ strategy boards, held their hands when meeting with suppliers, reviewed their deployment of technology, sat in on interview panels to attract their best staff to lead on technology, mentored newly-appointed members of staff in colleges to expedite their understanding of the use of technology in the sector… the list goes on. Our drive was to help providers grow their use of technology and help the sector improve. How we achieved those aims took a myriad of shapes and forms due to the creativity of our team. Our targeted regional forums, popup events and our very own e-factor conferences are a few examples.

Providers have reported how quickly they have been able to align themselves to the changing technology-related demands of different governments. We saw the anxiety caused by the SFA’s 10% online request. Through the RSCs many senior leaders have come to understand the importance of embracing technology.

Having been through the process of change instigated by the Wilson Review from inside Jisc, I know that in a while, Jisc will be offering a lot more than the RSCs and the services combined, not necessarily in quantity, but in quality.

As Martyn said, “the digital future will be bigger than the digital past” and Jisc is getting ready for it. We at the RSC London believe that much of the digital future will be achieved thanks to the seeds we have planted in our 14 years of operation. My personal vision is that there should not be a single place where learners are studying in the UK where they cannot access the technology and online resources they need to succeed, be it a university or a community centre. I truly believe that Jisc has everything it takes to achieve that vision.

On 4th December 2014

Join us online:

Graciano de Santana Soares
Regional Manager, JISC RSC London


accessbilityA packed webinar on VLEs and ESOL. One of the reasons I personally was keen on this theme was the hours spent trying to get learners to remember their college passwords and then trying to do an ‘interesting’ activity. By the time I had managed to get around to everyone and got them to re-enter their password for the third time it was already the end of a rubbish lesson. But I still think of the ‘ideal’ VLE as a place were learners (and staff) have the chance to interact and learn creatively. What I have picked up from talking to curriculum and e-learning staff is that a consistent institutional and curriculum team approach, as well as meticulous planning, is needed. Technologically facilitated delivery can offers great benefits, such as accessibility and flexibility, but there does need to be a lot of attention to detail.

That brings me to Sally Betts’ presentation about ‘ VLEs for all’, an ETF funded project to develop the accessibility of Moodle for all learners. Here there was that attention to detail and some strategies that would have been really useful for me as I struggled with my classes. Keeping in mind some of the points that people mentioned in the pre-activity; Sally talked about ideas such as communicating with IT support to override the automatic password creation and then developing a class plan for setting up passwords that are individual yet have some common prompts that the teacher can use to remind all learners. Sally also mentioned creating groups by using the group function in Moodle for differentiated learning. Also mentioned was Poodll, an audio and video-recording tool specifically created for language learning, though you will need to get your technical support on board with this as it is a Moodle plug-in.Infact, one of the initial questions we asked on the webinar was how supported people felt with their technology, if they had someone to turn to in a moment of technological need and it was very nice to see that the majority did feel supported; certainly communication and co-operation with technology support is vital. Lastly, we ourselves can also bring external tools in and embed them into Moodle such as Padlets but also, Xerte learning objects (all mentioned before in a previous ESOL webinar click here). Another major concern that  people expressed in the pre-activity was how clunky and unattractive the design of their Moodle was, so to help with this we heard about Xtlearn; a great visual way of putting resources onto Moodle and another good tip is using Moodle’s picture grid format for easier navigation. To find out more here is a Xtlearn collection from Sally with a summary of the useful tips she suggested: VLES for all.

Next, for those of us who do not have access to Moodle or want to try something else, Diana Tremayne told us about her use of Edmodo. There has been a lot of clamouring for a presentation on Edmodo as people have heard how easy it is to use. Indeed, the overall impression is that Edmodo’s friendly interface is great for both tutors and learners, particularly at lower levels. A bit like Facebook, it is a free web based tool and one of its winning point is that you do not need an email to sign up, which is often a barrier for some ESOL learners. Furthermore, it is easy to post onto and it has lots of assessment tools such as polls for instant feedback and quiz functions, which seem easier to set up compared to Moodle. There is also the option to use Open Badges (Click here for our December session where we talked about Open Badges) and also a great place for teachers themselves to share resources and ideas. Edmodo is available as a mobile app as well! Though someone did point out that even if it is such a great tool some institutions are not too keen about using external learning platforms; the line between ‘institutional’ and the outside world is blurred and concerns are raised about who is in control of what. However, maybe using something like Edmodo could be a strategic way to get lower level learners comfortable with the concept of on-line learning before slowly transitioning them onto Moodle and its higher functionality. Again highlighting the importance of communication as it is a question of balancing the risks that would need to be discussed across the organisation. Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos has some good tips about setting up Edmodo.

It is good to know what else is out there and to prove that Moodle is not the only major VLE in town we got some input from Richard Calderdale about the state of the art latest generation VLE called Canvas, which does look impressive. I had heard about Canvas in a presentation from a South African school with SEN learners and how effective it was, particularly in terms of accessibility. Richard used screen share for a quick tour and it certainly looks very smooth with a clear layout; again familiar functionalities are there like setting up groups, quizzes and so forth. In addition there are other features such as an integrated video function that has great potential to be used as a ‘language lab’, it also has a conferencing tool with whiteboard. It would certainly be great to be able to experience Canvas within an ESOL context.

Finally, the last presentation was from Colin who told us about a start-up project at Strathclyde University called Micro-phonics; an ESOL pronunciation tool that can be integrated into Moodle. Pronunciation seems to be one of those things that newer teachers often do not feel very confident teaching. Yet even if someone does use the right grammar and a lot of vocabulary but does not use any sentence stress, for instance, it can really affect communication and comprehension. This web based tool has been created to help teachers and learners with this and to increase the effectiveness of ESOL teaching overall as it uses video, animation and images to blend individual elements of speech together to teach letter-sounds as well as handwriting. There are various functionalities including one for learners to record themselves and it also has loads of lesson plans and quizzes, all with a word database dictionary. You can find out more or if you want to get involved with the University of Glasgow research then do contact Colin@micro-phonics.com.

This was a quick overview that in no way covers it all so if you do want to hear more then click here for recording and presentations of this webinar (and past webinars)  available until December.

Next webinar will be on the 14th November ESOL in the community

Commissioning a new website for your organisation

screens on different size devices

Does your website work well on different devices?

At the Jisc Regional Support Centre London, we often get asked to advise education providers on website procurement. Specifying, tendering and procuring a website is a task that does not come up too often and so can seem quite daunting at first.

Here we suggest, based upon our own and others experience, some points to bear in mind if you are tasked with procuring a website for your organisation.

Getting started

Set up a project team with complementary skills and knowledge
Consider two key questions:-
What you want the website to do? (purpose)
Who is the website for? (audiences)

To get a feel for the task ahead look at other sites, identifying what you feel works and what wouldn’t work for you.

Internal consultation

If your organisation does not have web design/development skills in-house then you will need to undertake a procurement process for the work, with a web development company/designer to create the site for you. Before doing this it is essential that you consult with colleagues across the organisation to clarify what functionality the website will need, what it will look like and where the content for the site will come from. Different people across the organisation will have different needs and expectations for the site. Ideally you will also consult with some potential users of the site to see what they need/expect.

Characteristics of a good website

  • Accessibility – Your new website should be designed to allow people with different needs full access to the site’s content and features. For more information see http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/techdis/resources/web-accessibility
  • Usability – Making your website easy to use benefits everyone
  • Easily updateable content – the site may be developed externally but the content will be managed internally. This means the content management system (CMS) should also be easy to use.
  • The site should work well on phones and tablets as well as larger screens
  • It should integrate well with social media so that it provides a two-way communication channel rather than an online brochure
  • The site should integrate with your other teaching and business systems

Selecting a partner

You could approach this task in a similar way to recruitment of staff:

  • draw up a specification of what you want the website to do (person specification);
  • create a selection checklist (selection criteria);
  • put the specification out to tender (advertise);
  • shortlist the respondents and invite them in to present their offer to you (interview).
  • select a preferred option.

The selection criteria might include things like:-

  • the status of the company producing the site, its size, how long has it been around, financial stability
  • who will actually develop the site? Is there a named project lead?
  • is there a list of other sites that the company has delivered that could be used for customer references
  • do they have previous experience of working in your sector?

When selecting a web development company be clear about what they will do and what you need to do. It is after all a partnership.

Maintaining your site over time

You will also need to have a person(s) to administer the site over time. A static website is no longer an option these days. Many organisations use Twitter, blogs and other forms of social media to engage with their customers/users. This requires daily input.

To explore further

Here are some tips gathered from the team responsible for the Jisc website redesign project http://www.jisc.ac.uk/inform/inform3/TopTips.html#.U2kPElfRZSk  with an emphasis on designing for usability through user testing

And these are the design principles followed by the Jisc team: http://jiscdigicomms.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2012/10/03/design-principles-for-the-new-jisc-site/
Of course, you do not have to follow these, you could develop your own.

Lastly, if you are from a Jisc supported post 16 UK learning provider and would like to explore this topic more fully contact your local Jisc Regional Support Centre http://www.jiscrsc.ac.uk/#

Good luck with your website project

Jisc RSC Data Forum – Update

 The Jisc RSC Data Forum sees data as a strategic asset: your chance to get involved – and also use the template data strategy below

Jisc RSC London runs a data forum. The purpose of the data forum is to explore how to make better use of data in order to become more agile and adaptable organisations. We explore how to manage data strategically across the college to reduce costs, improve services, enhance and improve teaching and learning. The data forum is a platform for staff from Jisc supported (government fundeOverview of information structured) post 16 learning providers to come together to share ideas, experience and good practice.

Invitation to managers working in post 16 learning providers

To support the work of the Data Forum we have set up a Jiscmail list called www.jiscmail.ac.uk/DATA-FORUM This list will continue the collaboration and networking of the face to face meetings with online discussion.

The big idea is – Data is a strategic asset – so the Forum’s remit is:

  1. concerned with all data within the organisation and even external data/issues/sources
  2. open to all post 16 supported provider staff – not just MIS staff
  3. strategic rather than ‘hands on’
  4. seeking ways for providers to get better at managing data
  5. seeking out good practice in the management of data
  6. enabling a strategic approach to the management of data
  7. helping organisations become ‘agile’ by streamlining their business processes, using technology to maximise teaching resources and gaining a much richer picture of what is going on and what is likely to go on in their organisations through fuller exploitation of data
  8. exploring current hot topics within the field of data management – some current examples  include:-
  • big data – http://onforb.es/1a8yGI7
  • enterprise architecture – http://bit.ly/1mXhlGR
  • business intelligence – http://bit.ly/1ejc2z9
  • systems integration (enabling your systems to exchange data)
  • cloud sourcing (hosting systems offsite)
  • enterprise service bus (ability to link internal systems to external data sources dynamically)

If you would like to join the Jiscmail group please contact Martin Sepion m.sepion@rsc-london.ac.uk or Gordon Millner Gordon.millner@rsc-em.ac.uk

Data Strategy Template

At our last Data Forum meeting it was suggested we produce a College Data Strategy Template for use by post 16 learning providers. We would like to crowdsource this initiative and so would be very happy for your feedback/amendments. Here is a previous post on strategy writing to give you some ideas. https://jiscrsclondon.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/practical-tips-for-writing-a-strategy/ If you are a UK government funded post 16 education provider and would like to review how effectively your organisation currently uses technology or are thinking of writing a strategy and would like some external advice – contact your local Jisc Regional Support Centre http://www.jiscrsc.ac.uk/# where help is at hand.Data to information

Event report and presentations from the last Data Forum Meeting

On 20th March 2014 we held a data forum meeting here at University of London. The meeting was attended by 20 colleges. You can see a summary of the topics discussed and access the presentations via the following link http://moodle.rsc-london.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=146 If you have topics you would like covered in future Data Forum meetings please get back to me.

Here is a previous blog post on the Data Forum entitled Data: The Nervous System of the Organisation http://bit.ly/N6yMoW This post shows the data related topics of interest as identified by a poll of college managers.



Data: The Nervous System of the Organisation

With the advent of agile organisations, big data and becoming more responsive to customer need, using and understanding data is more important than ever. 

These days colleges have pretty sophisticated systems to manage their libraries, HR, teaching and learning, customer relations, VLE, registry, website, etc. The key question is how the organisation can make use of the data flowing through these systems to better understand the college and the world around them to improve services. What are the key issues facing data managers in education seeking to meet these challenges?

Jisc Regional Support Centre London decided to find out: 

Graph of IS staff survey showing key topics 2014

Key topics for IS college staff – 2014

Jisc RSC London carried out a survey with selected Information Services staff in colleges to find out what are their key topics in 2014.
Following these results RSC London has organised an event to explore ‘strategically managing data’ and ‘reporting and dashboards’. The event will take place 20th March at Senate House and will consist of a facilitated discussion to explore current best practice among participating colleges.
If you would like to take part please contact Martin Sepion m.sepion@rsc-london.ac.uk  
The original list of topics was:
1.       Systems integration – share ideas about how best to achieve manageable systems integration e.g. data is only entered once
2.       MI Team performance – following on from self-assessment theme from last year – how do you show the rest of the college how good you are – could we add metrics? An SLA? Could we
          add external/peer assessment?
3.       Developing a plan for managing data strategically across the organisation – MIS as an enabler of a more agile organisation
4.       Building and managing an MIS team – what skills do you need to run a successful MIS team? What team structure works? We could look at JD’s and person specs and interview  
          questions and staff appraisal and training
5.       Cost effective systems – what are the best systems for the money – developing, procuring, replacing and implementing systems
6.       Reporting and dashboards – what is current best practice?
7.       Modelling and planning – how to provide the ‘crystal ball’ for SMT
8.       Presenting a paper to SMT – how to get support for your project or plan