Thursday, 29 April 2010

Article in "Greenwich Line" [University of Greenwich's staff newspaper] March 2010

“Computer says no…”

How the university is pulling its systems into the new decade and why staff are being asked to help

Any staff involved in the creation and administration of new courses at Greenwich will have had a “Computer says no” moment. Want to start the programme in January? Computer says no. Want to offer a single course by itself? Computer says no. Want to stop a student who has paid a year’s fees in June being asked to pay again in September? Computer says…

The refrain is from a sketch in BBC’s Little Britain where, irrespective of the task, IT presents a hurdle. Dr Claire Eustance has been recruited to project manage the modernisation of the systems which support curriculum development. She says: “Today the demand is for flexible learning, which means being able to offer choices, from intensive short courses to part-time and distance learning. But our systems were designed for the traditional model of three-year programmes starting in September.”

It’s not just IT systems like Banner that throw up problems. Dr Stuart Ashenden, Director of Academic Planning at Medway, is looking at the implications of keeping campuses open at weekends as demand for intensive training courses grows. “At the moment there is no catering provision, for instance, if we are here at the weekend. All sorts of services currently close down at 5pm on Friday.”

General administrative systems have got left behind too. Academics, when taking new courses to be validated by internal and external authorities, find their work is duplicated at each stage. Different versions of the same document lead to confusion. “Paperwork which probably made sense years ago now seems unnecessary. We need to create new systems which allow proper work flow management,” Claire says.

The scope of the project

The project, called UG-Flex, short for ‘University of Greenwich Flexible Learning Project’, runs for three years until July 2012. The project team is based in Information & Library Services and is concentrating on the areas it can affect, namely information systems. Claire says lots of wider issues are being raised, for example the tendency for departments to work in silos, or finding that things can get done based on who you know rather than need, and that these are being recorded. “We are passing them on to other managers and projects,” she says, “sometimes with recommendations. But we need to focus on the areas where we can make a difference.”

How you can get involved

Claire wants to hear from any member of staff who has a stake in making these systems work. “What we don’t want is for people to feel at the end of the project that burdensome new procedures are being imposed on them. Let’s get it right, and then the impact will be of a burden being lifted. The result of UG-Flex could be inspiring and transformational.”

Staff can get involved by attending a workshop – go to the website below for details – or contacting Claire on x8918,

Lots of information is available on the project website including a blog and twitter feed:

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Analysis as a tool to avoid decisions

A slide from a presentation by Salford on change management.  It makes you realise that you are not alone!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

UG-Flex at the AUA Conference 2010

Two members of the UG-Flex Project Team attended their first AUA Conference this week.

Highlights were few and far between (Lows: no show of Lord Robert Winston as key note, taxi drivers and the rain – Highs: great curry and a few potentially useful contacts). Still, we agree that there were some sessions that were interesting/informative/useful.

I found Michelle Morgan’s session on “Supporting student transition” extremely thought-provoking. She suggested approaching the student lifecycle through a series of phases - Pre-arrival; Orientation; Induction; Reinduction & Outduction and this made complete sense to me. She also offered a wealth of experience and advice that I’ll make sure I share with colleagues in the Education Development Team at Greenwich. In response to my question, Michelle was emphatic that her model applied to students whatever their mode of study or background. Reflecting on this I am inclined to think that careful thought is needed about the content and format of information given to different students. As Michelle herself said, there is a balance to be struck between meeting students’ needs and avoiding overloading them with information.

I’m still reeling slightly from reaction to the paper I gave with Duncan at the same conference on “the role of administrators in revealing and enhancing curriculum design processes”.

The aim of the paper was to describe why UG-Flex believes it is necessary to capture and act on the expertise of administrators alongside academic staff to reveal and enhance systems and business processes in order to deliver a more agile and diverse curriculum, how we set about doing this and the benefits/challenges/impact so far.

Among our 40+ audience (much more than we expected!) a diverse range of views emerged ranging from “curriculum design is nothing to do with me and I don’t want it to be” to “yes we’re involved but in a clearly structured manner as defined by clear processes and procedures that don’t need to be reviewed” (yeah, right!) and a few more who felt “yes, it is absolutely right for administrators to have a view on and be involved in curriculum design processes and this is why....”

Reflecting on what was a bit of bruising experience, I think what is so interesting and personally unexpected was the extent to which so many in the audience – administrators in HEIs - didn’t recognise UG-Flex’s definition of curriculum design as a process that needs to take in account the complex set of dimensions concerning both the learning students will achieve (i.e. pedagogical issues) and how that learning will be facilitated/supported/structured/delivered/funded. Of course we’re not alone in this definition and I’d be interested to hear from others in the JISC CDD programme on whether this is something that needs to be addressed by JISC / others?

If I do this again – I did half mention going back to an AUA conference in a few years to share the outcomes and outputs of the UG-Flex – I would definitely do a better paper and I’d put much more thought into my definition of “administrators” – I was over simplistic (and I say this as someone with an academic background who is now essentially an administrator...) Also I’ll never ever underestimate the complexities of the “them and us” mentality and how this manifests itself in our HEIs.

Claire Eustance, UG-Flex Project Manager

Greenwich CAMEL meeting 24-25 March 2010

Greenwich played host to colleagues from our JISC CDD 'Cluster B' at the fourth CAMEL meeting on the 24 -25 March.

In two lines:

Strengths: Honesty, Candour, Supportiveness, Greenwich & views, Thames Clipper, Old Brewery, Trafalgar Tavern, Peter Findlay, M&S biscuits, visit from Harriet.

Limited Confidence: Wireless access, coffee, lunch, weather.

In more detail then......
We had a packed programme, however because our cluster has bonded so well as a group it felt right to wade in straight away. Short project updates from T-SPARC, PALET, CourseTools and PREDICT were followed by a longer “pants down” session dwelling on the challenges and issues faced by the UG-Flex project. Personally I found being able to offload in confidence incredibly cathartic so thank CAMELLERS (is that right?) for your input and feedback.

Amyas lead the next session that looked at the scope for developing a generic process template and I think we made a good start. It feels like a big ask to develop a template / model that can cope with the diversity of practice and processes across different institutions. This said, it makes total sense to share resources and knowledge so I remain hopeful and positive.

Evaluation is proving to be a tricky area for our cluster and the final session of day one didn’t disappoint! I found the most useful element of the discussion was the consensus view that it is ok that each project has and continues to develop an approach to evaluation that they find most useful / beneficial, rather than trying to restrict themselves to a particular line/direction.

Day two started with a session on dissemination activities, facilitated by Pam. We went a long way towards identifying the content of the cluster’s forthcoming paper at the SEDA conference in May. The discussion was also a timely opportunity to reflect on how our CAMEL works as a community of practice and why it works well.

For the final session we welcomed Peter Findlay, Assistant Director at QAA for HE who had been commissioned by JISC to speak informally to our cluster. Peter had been notified in advance that as a cluster we were particularly interested in his views on:
- the attitudes QAA audit teams might be expected to take towards re-modelled/new procedures and processes for programme approval & review;
- where he thought the "limits of acceptability" might be placed in relation to institutions reviewing mechanisms for approval and review;
- what QAA practices might look like in one, two, three, five years time, taking into account potential reviews likely to course specifications, institutional audits as well as the impact of Higher Ambitions framework?

It was an incredibly informative and affirming session. Peter explained the current QAA approach to audit in an accessible way. Given the sour taste left at Greenwich by last year’s QAA audit, I was encouraged to hear that QAA embraces innovation and I have also been pondering since on Peter’s comment that QAA audit is actually about peer review.

I got further insight into the tendency of institutions (noted in our CAMEL discussion) to react defensively to the QAA later that day during a subsequent session Peter conducted with some of my senior Greenwich colleagues. The atmosphere was rather more reserved and Peter’s comments on the QAA’s future direction and audit approaches were noted with a mixture of interest and wariness. (Ouch!)

All in all a useful and busy CAMEL! Roll on our visit to Birmingham.