Medial Version 5 Preview

Caught up with the recording of Medial’s preview of version 5 of their product from November on YouTube. It will bring improvements to the quality of video playback, which now defaults to the highest your internet connection and device can handle, and the player has switched to HTML5 by default, though Flash remains available to support the live streaming function and for users stuck on older devices.

A new feature is the ability to watch videos at 2x speed, a feature Rob was skeptical about but which people do want and will find useful. Teachers and admins now get more detailed stats on what people have been watching, the ability to set chapters to private or public, improvements to the live streaming and screen recording functions, and integration with Canvas. Live streaming is also now available to all users, not just system admins anymore, and can be done via an app for iOS and Android.

VR Market Report and Rift CV1

Sketchfab today released the results of a survey giving an indication of the virtual reality market. It was no surprise to me to see the HTC Vive leading the way across the board, it is the standout device of the current generation.

Some caveats of course. The headline says the data is from their user base of 700,000, but read the text next to the little asterisk and you’ll see it’s actually a survey of only 1,000. Still not a bad sample size, but the users of Sketchfab are creative types using Macs and PCs which skews the results. The PlayStation VR, for example, makes an appearance on a few charts with some low level usage, but I would expect that there are a lot of console gamers not using Sketchfab which means that a portion of the VR market is missing from their report.

I had the chance to use a friend’s Oculus Rift CV1 over the Christmas break, the successor to the DK2 and the final retail version of the Rift. I had high hopes but was sorely disappointed! The quality of the HMD is an improvement, much more refined, but it also felt so much heavier, the whole time I was wearing it I felt like my head was being pulled down. It wasn’t pleasant and I couldn’t wear it for long. I tried three different games with very mixed results, Eve Valkyrie working best, and Project Cars the worst. No amount of jiggling and fiddling with the headset or settings was able to make the game anything other than an unplayable blur for me. A sharp contrast to Driveclub on the PlayStation VR.

Managing Redeployment

Following the university’s restructure of support staff, a number of people are now in a redeployment position and all managers were asked to attend this HR training session on how to help those staff fit into their new roles. This was principally about the procedures to be followed and paperwork required during a six week trial period beginning in January, but also covered how to set reasonable objectives and on how best to provide feedback.

Session 15: Health and Safety

velociraptor

The second half day optional module on the Leading from the Middle programme and the final session. Rather than a straight up session on health and safety itself, the focus was on our responsibilities as leaders in ensuring a culture of workplace safety and our responsibilities and obligations under law, specifically as pertains to the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974.

The session was divided into five units of work. The first unit was on the roles and responsibilities of line mangers in ensuring that the university’s commitment to health and safety is fully cascaded to all staff, and the need for us to lead by example in embedding this culture throughout all of the university’s activity. Leading on from this, the second unit covered the university’s policies and procedures relating to health and safety and what responsibilities we each have for ensuring that the university environment is safe for all. For myself, this includes leading on risk assessments for my team, monitoring the office environment, and resolving any potential hazards as they are discovered or arise.

Unit 3 went into the detail of how to assess and control risk. For a practical exercise in this we were presented with a scenario, a picture of a large kitchen area that you would see in, for example, a hotel, and were asked to identify all of the potential hazards, e.g. open flames, hot surfaces, sharp corners, water near electrical outlets, etc. There was something about the image, perhaps the angle, that reminded me of the scene in Jurassic Park where the velociraptors got into the kitchen in pursuit of the kids. We were then introduced to the university’s risk assessment matrix which scores the risk of an activity by assessing the likelihood of an accident occurring against the severity of the potential injury on a scale of 1 to 25. I had to concede that though rampaging velociraptors are highly unlikely, there is a good chance of fatality in such a scenario, therefore warranting a score of 5 on our matrix. According to our guidelines, with such a low score no corrective action needs to be taken to lower the risk, but the activity should continue to be monitored.

Unit 4 covered how to investigate accidents and incidents. First we were introduced to two conceptual models on how accidents happen. The Swiss Cheese Model posits that when an accident happens it is because of a series of holes in barriers and safeguards which align, and the Domino Theory which depicts an accident as a cascade of events. We then discussed how to investigate an incident in order to uncover both the direct and root causes, and the university’s obligations under RIDDOR, the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations.

Finally, unit 5 covered how health and safety performance is measured at the university. This includes both proactive methods such as audits and inspections which are informed by our policies and procedures, and reactive activities such as recording accidents and near misses.

When to Refer – Safeguarding and Prevent

Training on the university’s policies and procedures on how and when to refer staff and students to the various support services which are available, e.g. when people are affected by issues such as bullying, discrimination, disability, health problems, etc. Bundled into this was the university’s obligations with regards to the government’s Prevent Agenda on radicalisation which applies to all far right groups – in the North East the principle group of concern is the EDL. Included in our discussion was how the process of radicalisation typically works, how to spot the signs of potential radicalisation, and most importantly want to do about it, which for myself, and indeed most staff, is simply to refer to the relevant Safeguarding and Prevent Officer for the service.

Bootcamp Nightmare

Remember back in the days when Bootcamp was a fantastic utility that just worked and made installing Windows on a Mac easier than on a PC? Those days seem to be long gone.

Part of the problem seems to be the need to use a bootable USB flash drive now that we’re in the post physical media age. Today, trying to install either Windows 7 or Windows 10 on a 2013 MacBook Air running Sierra has been a complete nightmare. No matter what I tried, different ISOs for different versions of Windows on different USB drives by different brands, the Mac simply failed to recognise the drive as bootable.

In the end I was only able to get it working by abandoning Bootcamp and using Microsoft’s own utility on a machine already running Windows, the not terribly well named Windows USB/DVD Download Tool, to create the bootable USB drive from the ISO.

Then I had a new problem. Those bootable USB drives are always left with a hidden 200 MB protected partition which is ignored on Macs, so you don’t know it’s a problem, but on Windows that first 200 meg partition is all that is seen. No matter how you reformat the drive, on Windows or Mac, that partition is not removed and the drive remains pretty damn useless. I first discovered this problem a few months ago the hard way, after the last time I installed Windows on something. Removing the hidden partition to restore your flash drive to full functionality is another massive headache, but I have found this method that works on Windows.

Session 14: Leading Equality and Diversity

snakes_and_ladders

The penultimate session of the course began with a fairly cringe-worthy ice-breaker exercise in which we were tasked with matching some very diverse faces with names and occupations. Knowing the nature of the session we were naturally at pains not to apply stereotypes, placing us in a situation of double and triple guessing ourselves, rendering the exercise somewhat moot. Thankfully it didn’t take too long before we moved on.

The session was delivered by a guest academic who has spent their career researching gender equality and she gave us a brief history of her work which includes a chapter in the forthcoming Re-reading Spare Rib. Recommended further reading included When Giants Learn To Dance and A Tale of O – A story on Diversity.

We then discussed the problems of stereotyping and how gendered language can disadvantage women in business. For example, describing leaders as ‘self-confident, assertive and inspirational’ is problematic as these attributes do not match gender stereotypes of women as ‘nice, friendly and sensitive’, but do match male stereotypes such as ‘dominant, assertive and forceful’, with the potential result being lowered evaluations of women as leaders.

This led on to a discussion of bias, the inclination towards or prejudices for or against something, both explicit and unconscious. This isn’t necessarily negative as it allows our brains to make quick decisions based on prior knowledge and experience, but it is important to be aware that we have them. An example of research in this area was provided that showed racial discrimination in the interview selection process by submitting identical CVs with different names on them, those with a ‘white sounding name’ were almost a third more likely to be selected for interview.

Some advice was given on how to mitigate the effects of organisational bias, including first of all being aware of one’s own and organisational biases, sifting CVs blindly looking at content only, being careful with the use of gendered language in adverts and descriptions, and using aggregate scoring in selection. We also covered equality and diversity legislation, including the nine protected characteristics.

A task we were given to assess our own biases was to take one or two Implicit Association Tests. I took two tests which is both cases showed that I had a moderate bias towards one particular side. In the ‘Countries’ test, for example, it was revealed that I had a slight preference towards the UK over the US. I’m not quite sure how valuable this exercise was. This outcome struck me as unexpected and logical, given that I have lived in the UK all of my life and was therefore able to more quickly recognise those statements and things which pertained to the UK than the US.

Finally, in the latter half of the afternoon we were split into two teams and pitted against each other to design a game of some kind that would teach colleagues something about equality and diversity. My team came up with ‘Career Ladders and Snakes in the Grass’, a variant of snakes and ladders but with different rules for men and women. If you draw the male card you get a head start, draw the female card and you can only roll a maximum of four, both rules designed to show how much harder women have to work to get ahead. There were a couple of special themed squares on the board. The Glass Ceiling square towards the top of the board which, if you land on while playing the female card you get stuck on until you roll a six to break through the ceiling, and the Dark Knight square, the full meaning of which I couldn’t possibly explain here as it is a little bit of black humour relating to something that has been happening here at Sunderland as part of the review of staff.

We played each other’s games and I’ve had my own team play ‘Career Ladders and Snakes in the Grass’ and, interestingly, in both cases the person who drew the female card won! Also in both cases the female card was drawn by men who were very annoyed when the rules were explained to them on the grounds that it was unfair, which of course was exactly the desired reaction. The other team’s game was a variant of Trivial Pursuit with the questions relating to equality and diversity issues. We won. Our game was declared the best and most fun. Not that I’m competitive at all.

Google Cardboard and Playstation VR

Finally got my hands on a Google Cardboard VR headset today. Ironically the cheapest and most common VR system is the one that has eluded me until today. Perhaps it’s because I’ve came at this backwards and tried the least advanced system last, the one that’s supposed to be a cheap, quick and easy demonstration of the technology to get people’s interest, that I was unimpressed. It simply isn’t immersive. Having to hold the headset to your head with one hand and all the ambient light that seeps in through the sides spoils the desired illusion. I tried a few apps and games, including what I thought the Cardboard would be good for, 360 degree videos, but they all disappointed. When having to move your head around to follow things there was noticeable lag which comes in part from the need to hold the headset on and the low processing power of mobile phones. I tried different apps with both an iPhone 6S and a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.

I also got to play with a Playstation VR a few weeks ago thanks to a colleague. That was a different story. It’s big, it’s heavy, but also comfortable once it’s on. On dark screens light does seep in from the bright lights used for motion tracking, but once you’re in a game it’s completely immersive and the relatively low resolution compared to the Rift and the Vive is nullified. Set-up is a breeze which is exactly what you would want from a console driven system and everything just works.

This is the one. Undoubtedly if I were going to buy a VR system for personal use it would be the PlayStation VR. For non-gaming uses, quality and an even more completely immersive experience it would be the HTC Vive, but that’s over twice the price of the PlayStation VR and needs a gaming PC costing around £1,000, rather than a PlayStation 4 costing around £250, and which I already have.

Session 13: Leading Change and Transition

phases_of_transition

The morning session for today was given over to a discussion on the related concepts of change and transition, and importantly the difference between them, and was heavily contextualised to address the university’s cross institutional review of support staff which is now reaching its conclusion.

We began by considering the drivers for change in the HE context, consistently returning to what we felt was the one huge macro factor acting on the education sector nationally and internationally, and for a number of decades now, namely the process of the implementation of a neoliberal philosophy, and the shift away from viewing education as a public good that benefits the whole of society. This has driven competition between HEIs to attract students, especially in the last few years as the UK has undergone a demographic dip in the number of eighteen year olds while the government has simultaneously cracked down on international student recruitment. This led us to consider how the university has responded to these changes. With students now being the direct source of the majority of university income, one response has been to try and find ways of providing students with a good return on their investment in their education. We have also found new ways of expanding the market, by taking over an institution in Hong Kong for example, and by reviewing our estate portfolio to find efficiencies, and implementing the cross institutional review which was aimed at streamlining the support staff structure.

In this context we were introduced to the work of William Bridges, specifically Managing Transitions. Bridges distinguishes between change and transition by defining change as something that is situational, e.g. getting a new manager or moving to a new office, and transition as a psychological process that people have to go through as they are dealing with change. This, he argues, is something that cannot be rushed, that people have to go through at their own pace, and that the role of a leader is to help them manage this process and guide them with positivity and sensitivity.

He defined three phases of transition, ending or letting go, the neutral zone, and new beginnings. It is the neutral zone and the uncertainty that comes with it that he argues is the most difficult time for people. Part of the reason for this is that there is a temptation for people to either want to cling to the old ways of working, or else move on to a new situation too quickly, not giving them enough time to explore options and possibilities, both of which can cause a change initiative to fail.

This led on to the work of John Kotter who published research in 1996 showing that 70% of change initiatives ended in failure, a figure which has not been shown to have significantly declined in later studies. He suggests that one way to improve this is by involving staff in the story surrounding the change, as it has been shown that people are more committed to something when they have chosen it or at least have had some input.

Something I really liked from Kotter’s article, which was provided as a handout, was the section on role modelling which talked about self-serving bias and how this can be found in leaders who rate themselves as better agents of change than they actually are. The anecdote about Kevin Sharer attempting to get past this by asking his employees ‘What should I do differently?’ stuck a cord with me and is something I may try using with my team to inform my own feedback and for use in the assessment of this course.

The afternoon was given over to the computer based EduChallenge Simulator which was designed to give us experience of implementing a major change in an HE context. The simulator placed us in the position of a change agent at the fictional Humfield University, our purpose to persuade the Dean of the Graduate School of Management to implement the new AcadQual system for improving academic quality which has been adopted by the rest of the university. The simulator gives you six months, 120 days, in which to complete this task.

This was an interesting exercise with a lot of potential. It was good to experience the other side of a change implementation, but it was hampered by the extremely dated software. The main problem being around the way language has changed since the software was written, over a decade ago from what I found in my probing. Activities like ‘Electronic Mail’ don’t work at all as you would expect. Instead, to send a message out to all staff you have to use a ‘Memorandum’. Then there is the obscure and bizarre, the ‘The Sandwich Meeting’ and the ‘One-Legged Interview’ for example. There is descriptive text which is meant to describe what these are, but we found that it was rarely helpful, and only in carrying out an action, using up precious days, did you actually learn what it did. This made the exercise clunky and annoying; it felt very unfair. This is a shame as I can see the value in the activity, it just needs to be updated to make it more intuitive and useful again.