VEO Demonstration and Training

Over the past couple of years our Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing has been very busy redeveloping their buildings and kitting them out with all the latest and greatest facilities and technologies, things like an almost exact replica of a hospital ward, complete with Sim People, and high definition cameras and screens in every room. Remember the Immersive Interactive room I wrote about? They’re getting one of those put in as we speak.

Something else they’ve purchased is VEO, a video annotation tool that lets you tag videos either live, using their iPad app, or in a browser for videos recorded on other devices and uploaded to their system. There are two scenarios the Faculty has in mind for this tool, having students use it themselves for their own learning by, for example, analysing each other’s performance at a given task, looking for strengths and areas that need improving, and to assist academics doing OSCEs (objective structured clinical examinations), or even replace the paper forms altogether, if it works well.

VEO is a fairly new tool, a spin-off from a development at Newcastle University, but it is now being used by a number of universities. Being local we benefited from having one of the people who developed the tool on site with us to explain the background, why it was developed, how it can be used and how we can administer it and help academics to make full use of it. It has a lot of potential, and also with it being a local start-up we have a great opportunity to work closely with VEO and contribute to their product development.

Rogō eAssessment Tool Demonstration

A webinar demonstration of The University of Nottingham’s eAssessment solution, Rogō, created in-house and published under the GPL open source license. Rogō was developed in response to their dissatisfaction with commercial quiz tools and has evolved into a mature and comprehensive solution with support for over a dozen question types and different kinds of presentation, including self-assessment, summative and survey.

We were all pretty impressed with Rogō and, pending the outcome of our VLE review, it is something that we will look at again if we find ourselves in need of a separate quiz tool.

Being open source software, anyone who is interested can download Rogō from Nottingham’s dedicated website and install it onto their own LAMP server.

D2L Conference Call

Participated in a conference call with the learning technologies team at one of the few UK institutions using D2L’s Brightspace as their VLE. The video on our call wasn’t working so we didn’t get to see the system in action which was a disappointment, but we did run through a list of pre-prepared questions to assess their experience and gauge their thoughts about the system.

This included their VLE review process which led to the adoption of Brightspace, and subsequent migration from the in-house system they were using previously. Overall, their experience with the platform and it’s evolution has been largely positive, with the biggest criticism being reserved for the somewhat dated user interface. This, however, is due for a major upgrade this coming summer and the new version, Daylight, will bring in a fully responsive design. They were happy to endorse the product and the company to us and are of the opinion that they would stay with D2L if they were facing a review themselves.

Gimme Vive!


The student who hooked me up with some sweet gear last month today allowed me to have a play with his new HTV Vive. Every time I try something new in VR it feels like going to another level – the technology is advancing so quickly and there are so many different ideas and concepts in circulation at the moment. It’s genuinely exciting.

The Vive was simply amazing, and I think it’s because this time I was stood up and able to walk around the room with the headset on. This is thanks to the two base stations (see photo) which are mounted diagonally across from each other at head height and track the exact position of the headset and hand controllers. If you approach the limits of the field a grid is projected to make you aware of the walls which looks a lot like Star Trek’s holodeck, purely a coincidence I’m sure.

I had the opportunity to do some painting with light using Tilt Brush, had a look around – and inside – a number of 3D models which were projected using Sketchfab and a modified version of Chrome, and performed a heart transplant in Surgeon Simulator VR.

SLS Innovation Event 2016

It’s that time of year again, the legendary SLS Innovation Event! And possibly the last one, as a pending University-wide restructure will soon mean the end of SLS in its current form.

This year’s carnival theme led to many bright, fun and exciting stalls and games. On our stall we had the Oculus Rift again, but this time we primarily ran a fairground ride called Cyberspace which features something you can only do in VR, jump off the ride while in motion. We made a game of this, getting people to see who could fly the furthest and winning a sweetie if you beat the current high score. The Rift was complemented by a demonstration of a fun new augmented reality app for iOS and Android called MSQRD, or Masquerade, which does funny things to your face, much like Snapchat’s new filters.

We also used Class Tool’s carnival appropriate random name picker to give away some little prizes and make people aware of the excellent resources on this site. Our balloon pop – with a star prize of a brand new car! – generated some noisy fun and a lot of mess. And finally, when we discovered that someone on the team could juggle, we couldn’t resist having a beat the juggler competition; juggle three balls for longer than Mel the Magnificent and you won a prize.

On the more serious side we were also raising awareness of Open Badges, awarding an attendance badge to anyone who came over to our stall and had a chat with us about how badges could work in their area to incentivise learners.

Obviously our stall was the best, and we were sorely cheated on the ‘Best Stall’ award (again!), but some other good stalls came form the Gateway team who managed to install a cinema, complete with popcorn, the CitySpace team with their sports related activities including a test your strength punchbag, and several teams who demonstrated their innovation by managing to have hook a duck games sans water. I won a duck on one of them, but proudest moment by far was being the only person to score the maximum 300 on an elastic band pinging thing for which I won a balloon bunny.

These events aren’t just to have a fun afternoon, they’re about all of the various scattered teams within SLS coming together to showcase the work they do for the benefit of the rest of us, so that we can work better as a department. It’s also where we celebrate excellence, with two awards given to celebrate personal and team excellence.

Session 9: Coaching at Work, Part 3


Coaching at work day 3 began with a recap of the coaching model and principles as explored over our first two days, and then some reflection on how we had used coaching in our own working environments. The example I gave was a discussion I had with a couple of academics about choosing an appropriate platform to host the participatory arts MOOC which is under development, where I used open coaching style questions to draw out the details of their desired delivery model in order to draw up a basic specification of requirements to work from.

This was followed by what was to be the main focus of the day, how to use coaching within teams. We began with an exercise called ‘Lost at Sea’ which asked us to rank the importance of 15 items for survival in a scenario where we have been cast adrift from a sinking ship. We did this as individuals, then we had to have a team discussion and agree a collective response in a short period of time. Our scores were then compared with what is regarded as the correct answers, as supplied by the US Navy where this exercise originated. My individual score was 61 points out from the Navy’s answers, which wasn’t bad, and the team’s collective score was 52 points out, better. No one person scored better than the team score; a typical outcome for this exercise according to Matt, who said that it was rare for anyone to outperform the group. That was lesson one from this exercise, that a collectively bargained and agreed team response is better than that which any one person can produce.

I think this may have been a little bit of a transformational moment for me, it’s certainly something that has stayed with me from this day, and one of the things from the course that I suspect is going to stay with me throughout my career. Writing this post retrospectively, I can already see that when there have been decisions which had to be made for the team as a whole I have tried to get the team to arrive at a consensus position instead of proposing what I think as the starting point for the discussion, for example when we agreed on a new rota for working the dreaded ITS call logging system.

Lesson two came out of what Matt was doing sneakily as we were having our discussion and coming to the team response – scoring us all against a rubric of communication styles. We all resorted to a very similar response pattern, with ‘Giving Information’ by far the most common method of communication. This was followed by ‘Shutting Out’, being used around half as much, then ‘Testing Understanding’, ‘Seeking Information’, ‘Bringing In’ and ‘Disagreeing’ with just a few ticks each. None of us used ‘Supporting’, ‘Summarising’, ‘Building’ or ‘Defend / Attack’. Again, very typical behaviour according to Matt, and which demonstrates that it is non-coaching styles of communication that we relapse to very easily under just a little pressure. The take-away from this is that using coaching styles of communication takes effort, it is something that you have to actively turn on.

Lesson three is to ask the obvious. None of us, at any point, asked if anyone in the group had any sailing or other pertinent experience. Again Matt said that was typical.

Out of interest, the US Navy’s accepted solution is based on their experience of successful rescues in shipwreck situations, which typically happen in the first 36 hours. Therefore prioritisation of items should be based on the possibility of imminent rescue, followed by short to medium term survival, and finally items that can be used for movement or navigation.

This exercise was followed by a discussion of some feedback models which can be enhanced with coaching techniques to help develop the person who are giving feedback to. First was the AID model – Action, Impact and Development – and then the STAR model which is depicted on this post. The STAR model – Situation / Task, Action, Result, Alternative Action, Alternative Result – is similar to the AID model but adds in an alternative course of action which you could propose to show how this could lead to an alternative, and better, result. Finally there was the SARAH model which shows how feedback is typically received – Shock, Anger, Rationalisation, Acceptance and Help. It is in the final two stages, but especially so in Help, where coaching techniques can be used to help develop the individual in question. A general rule we were given in relation to delivering feedback was to make sure it always relates to the task and to the performance of the task, it should never be personal.

The Half Way Point


It’s the half way point in the Leading from the Middle course, and as part of a research project being conducted by two of the course tutors I was asked if I would create a visual depiction of what it means to be a middle manager now that I am half way in – a repeat of an exercise we were tasked with during the third session on context and culture. The first was a group exercise, but this time the artwork is all mine, for which I offer my humblest apologies.

I’m sure my artwork needs no interpretation, but I’ll give you one anyway. I have tried to call back to the scenes, images and ideas of the first image, so you can see the setting of rolling hills and wild countryside has been repeated, and on the far left is the palm tree and little island paradise from the first image, representing that we have now well and truly left it behind on our journey to success! There is, however, one person left alone floating in a pool of their own contentment, as there always seems to be someone who just doesn’t want to leave their comfort zone and join in the adventure.

That’s me in the middle, armed with a sword and shield of confidence, leading my team who are now on a coach as I’ve found the coaching sessions of the course to be particularly enlightening. The sun represents the course itself and the team who are teaching us, casting their rays of illuminating knowledge upon us. We venture forth to face the big scary dragon of external pressures on the university. If you’re reading something into this like the dragon being a metaphor for the horrid Tory government and their insane drive to marketisation, well… that’s just your interpretation!

Some Pretty Sweet Gear


Had a meeting this morning with an academic in our Faculty of Arts, Design and Media to discuss the viability of taking a 3D model gallery he has developed of various artworks, and converting it to display on the Oculus Rift. Not sure what will come of that, but I have his Unreal files now and am doing some R&D to assess how difficult it will be. After the meeting, however, I was able to meet up with one of his brightest students who is creating various artworks using 3D scanners, modelling, printers, Kinect and in various virtual reality systems, and they were kind enough to let me have some hands-on time with their Samsung Galaxy Gear VR.

I was impressed, very impressed. Impressed to the point of seriously considering the jump to Android just so I could get one for myself. It’s light, comfortable, standalone and works perfectly. The Oculus Rift by comparison, and it is only a DK2 I have, is heavier and the amount of cables it requires to hook up to a computer and its external head tracking sensor is something which always annoys me whenever I have to take it away from my desk. I’ve also found the software to be problematic, with many apps just not running, not running as they should or running for a little while before crashing for no apparent reason. With the Gear VR in contrast, everything runs off your phone which slots into the front. I had a go of quite a few apps and games and everything worked exactly as it should. There is a touch sensitive D-Pad and action buttons on one side of the headset for control which I liked, and I found the experience and resolution of the two systems to be broadly comparable. Even though a comparison of technical specs will tell you that the Gear VR is higher resolution than the DK2, it’s still a little disappointing as you can see every pixel due to how close the screen is to your eyes; in a 4K world it’s like going back to VGA. Adjusting the focus on the Gear VR is a lot simpler thanks to a control wheel on the front of the device, rather than screws on each side.

Photo cheekily stolen from Samsung’s website, where you can get more information.

Session 8: Understanding Finance

This was a half day optional session which I unfortunately missed due to illness, but I was able to study the materials and presentation after the event to get something from it. As a non-budget holder it was a session I was particularly looking forward to so it’s a shame I missed out.

The first part was devoted to how budgets are set and monitored at the university, including how they are divided up between faculties, services and departments, and the difference between controllable and non-controllable costs. Controllable costs were listed as staffing levels, contracts and income, purchase of materials and use of equipment, and the remainder of the session concentrated on this area as it is where budget managers have control. Non-controllable costs were given as overheads, rent, insurance and depreciation.

The second part of the session was about how to effectively manage a budget and how to make savings using the three E’s – Economy (cheaper suppliers, having the right staff), Efficiency (doing work faster, streamlining processes, using new technology) and Effectiveness (assessing the service provided, how customer’s needs are met, what new services we can offer).

There was a lot of emphasis placed on the need for budget managers to monitor their actual spent and make sure it stays within budget so as not to add any undue stress on any other parts of the university and to increase future investment. The advice given on how to do this was to pay attention to the daily details and find small savings which add up, and to use the resources available in the Finance and HR departments who can provide support by means of their knowledge of the systems, legislation and the big picture of the university’s whole budget.

Finally there was a discussion of the new finance and HR IT systems which are going to be implemented over the next two years and how those will help by giving budget managers direct access to live data and the ability to update it themselves, streamlining current processes and an efficiency saving in itself.