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.
Attended a one hour training session as the university is currently rolling out Skype for Business across the campus. It’s good, it’s fine; it looks like a combination of Skype, which I like, and the old Microsoft Communicator, which I liked. Possibly the most useful things about it are under the hood, the ability to support up to 250 simultaneous participants which is a significant improvement on regular Skype, and Outlook integration, though Communicator had that. I like that people don’t need Skype or Skype for Business to participate in a call thanks to a web based version.
I was there largely to see if it could replace our VLE’s collaboration tool, ClassLive Pro, which is a rebranded old version of Blackboard Collaborate, reliant on Java and a complete pain to get working because Pearson won’t update to newer versions, and I think it probably can. The core functionality is all there, it just needs testing in a real world situation which a tame academic is going to do for us and feedback.
Freshly rolled out, our HR’s new online appraisee training module that I created for them in Storyline. We’re developing a good relationship with HR and more work of this kind is on the cards. Storyline is also picking up throughout the university, though Faculties are tending to purchase their own copies for one or two interested people to do the development themselves. The next big one I should be working on after we get through the new semester busy period is for HIV awareness.
HR and SLS, which uses a slightly modified approach, have recently revised the university’s appraisal scheme and documentation to try and make it more guided and to encourage reflection in the appraisee. This workshop was to discuss those changes and share best practice across the service.
Also covered in detail were your own responsibilities as a manager for ensuring that the process was a success, from logistics such as room booking and setting aside adequate time for both yourself and the people you are appraising, to how to guide the discussion by asking effective questions and how to identify suitable objectives for the coming year which map into departmental and service level objectives. The discussion we had around effective questioning was particularly useful, as it neatly ties in with the work I have been doing on the Leading from the Middle course, particularly the sessions on coaching.
It’s finished! The now legendary University of Sunderland Anti-Bribery Act 2010 Online Training module was finally, finally approved by all interested parties yesterday (finally), and the link has gone out to the first batch of people who need to complete it.
I have been working on this off and on for almost as long as I’ve been at Sunderland. The original scoping meeting happened in July 2014 with a due date of September. Delays and competing priorities in our very busy Legal, Governance and Business Assurance department meant that deadlines slipped, many times.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. My skills with Storyline have improved considerably over the past couple of years, and this is by far the richest content item I have created, including a very professional voiceover on every slide and, in the most recent enhancement, a PDF certificate generated on the fly upon successful completion of the quiz.
A quick webinar / conference call with a ThingLink representative in the US to explain the benefits of verified account status, a new service they are offering for educational institutions. Obtaining this status is free and results in the creation of a single institutional group which can be easily controlled and administered. Students and other tutors are added to the group by means of an invitation code which automatically gives them the additional features of an educational account, though of course anyone can get this if they have a .ac or .edu email address.
I have a small concern that it could be a bit of a double-edged sword. With centralisation of control comes a possible issue with students seeing it as a University controlled space like the VLE, whereas I think it would be better if they saw it as something for themselves and which they had ownership over.
The big benefit that I can see is in terms of driving adoption. Once we have gone down this route, and we did decide to go for it, ThingLink will move into the realms of an officially sanctioned and supported tool, one we will be actively publicising and pushing in the new year.
The second part of my clearing training covered the actual clearing process itself and included a full overview of the fees situation and all of the various scholarship schemes available from the University, which totals £10 million. Also covered was information about living costs and the loans and grants available from the Student Loans Company. The training then moved on to cover how to enter new applicants in SITS and how this links to UCAS, phone numbers and contacts in other departments who will be on hand for assistance, and what students need to do after being offered a place, most importantly to update their UCAS track with their clearing choice.
Clearing begins on Thursday but I am only down to cover one shift next Tuesday at the moment.
It’s that time of year again, clearing will be upon us soon, and this time I’ve volunteered to do some shifts covering live chats. LiveLeader was installed on our website earlier on in the year and has proven very popular and, with high demand anticipated when clearing starts, a call went out for extra bodies to help provide cover. The software itself doesn’t have a lot to it, it’s very similar to what I was using for chat support at Northumbria. The actual training on clearing procedures will be next week.
Our second series of Technology Bytes has just completed. This time, with the benefit of more time to plan and a longer semester, we ran twelve sessions from February to July at roughly fortnightly intervals. The programme of sessions were as follows:
- Student Engagement in SunSpace
- Engaging Distance Learning Students
- Collaborative Learning Material Development and Deployment
- Online Assignment Submission, Marking and Feedback
- Using Self-Reflection to Improve Student Engagement and Outcomes
- Increase Student Collaboration Using Discussion Tools
- Improve Feedback for Students by Using Audio and Video
- Use Video to Enrich Your Learning Materials
- Smart Use of SMART Boards in Your Lectures
- Death by PowerPoint? How to Keep Your Students Awake in Lectures
- Teaching and Learning on the Move
- Preparing Your SunSpace Sites for 2015/16
The big difference from last time round was a change in focus from ‘the tool’ to some problem we could help resolve. This worked better and is more apparent for some than others. I found writing succinct titles with this goal in mind difficult, but it was better achieved in the accompanying descriptions and in our advertisements. Another change was the explicit focus on one thing only per session, though again I tried to theme this around pedagogy or some problem we could help with rather than a specific system.
In spite of these changes attendance remained poorer than I would like and around half way through I modified our advertisements to make people aware that they could also use these sessions to ask us about any related matters. A barrier we face, and one that is difficult to resolve, is that our academics are quite tightly time constrained through the use of a workload planning system that doesn’t allow a lot of free time to attend extraneous activities. Nevertheless there were particularly popular sessions – ‘Death by PowerPoint’ had to be run twice. (One of the sessions I taught, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with it!) Finally, on the back of Technology Bytes, we delivered a number of sessions down at London Campus which were very well received.
Feedback has been very positive overall and outweighs, I think, the relatively poor attendance. As I keep having to remind the team, even sessions that run with only one person can have a huge impact as they propagate what they have learned to their students and colleagues. Informally, I have had many people tell me that the team is now more visible and they are more aware of the work we do thanks in part to these sessions. For all of these reasons I would very much like to keep them going next year, though with changes. One idea I am working on with Academic Development is joint drop-in surgeries, not just the two of us but also including other services such as the Library.
After our regular conference call with Pearson the team had an informal training session from a member of their Enterprise Reporting team. This came out of a problem I had a couple of weeks ago when I ran a simple report to list all units and items within a given module space and only got four results from a course which had six units and a couple of dozen items. We discovered that the items that were returned were the gradable items, even though the option to select only gradable items was not selected. So the question was why it wasn’t working as expected and returning all results. I don’t have a detailed explanation, but I did learn that there is what I would describe as a ‘quirk’ with Enterprise Reporting that means it only likes reports that include a measurement of some kind. Adding ‘Activity Minutes’ to my problem report resolved the issue.
We got some other good things out of the training too. A greater understanding of how nodes work and how they relate to courses and students, and with that a realisation that we cannot rely on these to get reports on what we want, which is which faculty or department a student belongs to, but we do now have a plan to use one of the extended user property fields as a custom field that will serve this purpose for us. And finally we got a data dictionary which will be extremely useful.