Friday, November 06, 2009

My research and development plan at UC

So, 1 month in and where am I up to with the National Institute of Sport Studies, The Faculty of Health and the University of Canberra generally?

What's expected

Social media presence. The UCNISS wants to be leading sport studies institution through the use of open and networked research, teaching and learning. An invitation has been given to UCNISS staff then to develop online presence and adopt open and networked practices. To this end I am brought in to advise and develop the capability of staff who are interested in such an approach, and work closely with them to develop critical appreciation and skills in the use of the Internet and social media to achieve this goal.

The website. While 80% of my time is allocated to working with the UCNISS staff, 20% is to address the short comings of the Faculty of Health's web pages. The expectation is that the web pages will be updated and made more usable as soon as possible, and in time for our peak student enrolment season.

What I have done so far

Investigating existing services. For the first few weeks, I investigated the functionality of the services provided by the University of Canberra, and considered how they could be incorporated into the effort to establish online presence for the UCNISS staff. I looked at the following services:
  1. Moodle
  2. UCSpaces
  3. Yammer
  4. The UC Website
  5. The Wordpress install
  6. UC's Wifi provision
  7. I am waiting to see the outcome of a lecture recording facility being considered
I was primarily looking for simple and intuitive two way integration between these services and the established popular media platforms that we would likely use:
  1. Blogger
  2. Twitter
  3. Delicious
  4. Wikipedia, books and versity
  5. Youtube
  6. Slideshare
  7. Ustream
  8. Smartphones

The UC Moodle set up is one of the better setups I have seen. Users have the option to make their courses open access, including deep linking into the course itself from outside the network. Also, I was able to embed several forms of RSS fed media into a Moodle course, delivering a relatively seamless relationship to outside media platforms. Here is an example course I set up to automatically update based on my activities in the social media platforms outside moodle. Recently, I am told, Moodle now has the ability to capture a blog post on Blogger and update the blog instance for that user inside Moodle. Unfortunately the RSS feed coming out of Moodle is difficult to use, the URLs for the courses are not easily memorised, and Google search does not effectively locate pages inside the Moodle course.

UCSpace is run on Confluence, a widely recognised content management system based around the wiki and social networking software. It was set up to offer both an open and closed social networking space for UC staff (and students?) It appears to have received very little support or uptake. I found it too difficult to use and graphically unappealing. I tried to set it so that this blog would automatically update my blog in UCSpace, but I couldn't work it out. I tried to manage the RSS feeds coming out of UCspace, but it proved difficult to find the right feed, and the one I thought was right, appears to not be updating properly. I posted an initial plan for updating the Health website (and copy pasted it to my blog) but recieved little constructive feedback compared to the network I have established outside UCspaces. From what I can tell, UCsMoodle has a better chance of becoming the internal space that UCspace was intended for. To my thinking, both are unnecessarily limiting in that they encourage introverted thinking on the part of UC staff, and so probably facilitates poor understanding of the popular social media platforms.

Yammer is an excellent micro blogging platform, and if I could, I would try and convert all the Twitter users to it. But again my established network is on Twitter and to a smaller degree a UC network is in Yammer. It is possible to feed Tweets into Yammer via the #yam tag, but it is not possible to reply to these tweets from inside Yammer. Observing the UC Yammer network for a month now, I believe that opportunities are missed by not using Twitter, and that Yammer facilitates an introversion again. It is important to strengthen networks inside one's organisation, but I hope to play a role in drawing more of my colleagues out onto Twitter, and so help establish #UC etc as relating to the University of Canberra, and establishing wider networks relating to our UC issues and discussions.

The UC Website
I have been totally bewildered at the difficulty in using the UC Website content management system. Apparently popular in the Australian public service sector, MySourceMatrix, or at least the UC instance of it, is incredibly inefficient to use, often crashing my browser, and requiring several tens of clicks and processes just to complete a simple task like creating or updating a new page. The UC web team have been very helpful however, generously providing their time in getting me confident in the use of the system. It is possible to capture an RSS feed into the site, and I have set up staff profile pages that capture information from their respective blog feeds. It is more difficult than it should be by contemporary CMS standard, but at least their is no official UC policy or procedure preventing such a feature on the website. Given the extreme difficulty in using this system, it is unrealistic to expect academic staff to be able to manage and update pages themselves, rendering the website almost useless for achieving the goal of establishing web presence for UCNISS. Instead, it would be wiser to set up the website to capture activity outside, and to represent a central point for over viewing UCNISS in relation to the Faculty of Health. As for the Faculty pages as a whole, again given the usability issues, there is a risk that I will become the only go-to person for updating the website, but for now it is manageable and complimentary to my learning how to use MySourceMatrix.

The Wordpress install
The domain name was intended for use for UCNISS, but as a colleague recently pointed out, is currently operating and risks confusing the web presence, as do a number of other NISS type organisations. Discussion is being had with the likely result being to adopt UCNISS as the name, and change the domain to Currently there is a Wordpress install on the domain, administered by an employee at UC. It seems that person is very busy and might not be able to assist too much with the development of the site. My first recommendation would be to install Wordpress Multi User, and set the site to capture RSS feeds from the blogs and channels of the staff that make up UCNISS (rather than have them set up accounts on a central site like UCNISS). This approach will lesson the reliance on a UCNISS site administrator, and encourage UCNISS related content to dispurse over the Internet, helping with search engine optimisation, and developing staff skills in the use of a wider array of tools.

UCs Wifi
UC's Wifi is universally disappointing, and has not been properly resourced or developed to keep up with contemporary expectations. I attended an IT forum in which the IT support staff challenged the perceived expectation of Wifi, citing low usage statistics as a justification for not providing an enhanced Wifi service on campus. From this I surmise that it will be a very long road to getting free and open Wifi on campus, and so my colleagues and I are investigating alternatives, including roaming keys and portable wireless hubs to make our wired network open Wifi in lectures, meetings with guests and conferences. The Teaching and Learning Centre at UC in the meantime, continues to lobby IT for better Wifi support.

Lecture recording
The TLC is reviewing a system called echo360 for use as a lecture recorder. My previews of the system gives me cause for concern. The frame rate and image quality appears poor, the recordings centre around a screen recording positioning the actual lecturer and lecture room as a peripheral aspect to the lecture, the multi media recording (the one that includes an image of the lecturer and the room) does not output in a portable format outside Flash. I could be wrong on these points, but regardless - it seems to me to be another instance of using an expensive system when we have free and ready access to popular systems that will do much the same, and position our lecturers in the market so to speak. Some UCNISS staff for example are quite keen to use Youtube, Slideshare and Ustream to record and broadcast their lectures. I have argued that the money allocated to a lecture recording system would be better spent upgrading the Wifi and providing lecturers with smart phones to carry with them and broadcast lectures, interviews and other situational events through the Wifi to services like Ustream.

I have also spent the month using an HTC smart phone with the Android operating system, as well as a Nokia N97 smart phone. The affordability or these phones, along with their functionality could yield interesting uses for staff in UCNISS - such as broadcasting lectures and live events, are integrating their social media webpresence with a mobile device. This might be some way off yet.

This is a diagram for a plan I have been discussing with colleagues for achieving the goal of establishing UCNISS and staff presence on the Internet.

So far I am very encouraged by the enthusiasm and intuitive understanding my colleagues have shown towards this idea. Our conversation is well beyond the basics already and right into the exciting possibilities. 2 staff have lead a charge, having set up blogs and Slideshare accounts each, with one going on to explore Ustream, Youtube, and Twitter. Time does appear to remain an issue for both however, and so far the exploration remains superficial.

My intention is to work closely with these early adopters, and offer as much help for them as they need. I am trusting that that won't turn into me doing the work for them, and that their interest and enthusiasm for how these tools are useful will remain strong and inspired.

My next post will more fully articulate the thinking behind the flows of data, the how's and why's of using a plan like this, and how I am thinking to make this project with UCNISS the topic of a PhD.


Sarah Stewart said...

Succumbing to the allure of a PhD - thought you would in the end :)

Sue Hickton said...

what a great post Leigh. I really enjoyed reading it and the process you are working through.

Fascinating. About bloody time a university had the brains (oh the irony the IRONY)to actually come to the 21st century and start thinking of leveraging what is out there in a sensible, practical, cost-efficient way. Who would have thought?

And a PhD? Easily out of this. On your head. Case study. I look forward to reading this with interest and will be highlighting this post to key players in my university.....although I am not sure what good it will do. As a current student as well as staff member, my fingers and toes are crossed.

Sue aka EvilSue

Anonymous said...

Hi Leigh,

Thanks for your obvservations; you've made a good contribution to the broader discussion that should be had at Executive level. Have you spoken to your VC or DVC, or their people? I always believe that good, positive progress of this nature, needs to be organisation-wide, but it must start with the leadership. Go and speak with the VC or DVC or their staff - that's my 10c (NZ currency only I'm afraid!) worth.

Regards to Sunshine - baby soon?

stevenparker said...

Nice conceptual diagram/ drawing Leigh, useful feedback on confluence.

Keith Lyons said...

What a detailed post, Leigh. I think the PhD will be very exciting. I liked the visualisation of your ideas. Made my afternoon reading such an insightful post.

willie campbell said...

I also liked the visualisation leigh- what application did you use to create that mind map?
I'm looking for something fairly useable that will produce less "solid" and more direct stuff than I currently have access to.

Mike said...

Very nice plan, Leigh, and inspiring. I do understand the difficulties of persuading IT departments that users would be better off switching to free alternatives...

I'm guessing the "application" used to create the mind map was "DrewItMeself 1.0". I like that one too, and it's freeware!

One note: the hashtag #UC is the same as my campus, the University of Canterbury, which will cause problems if we're both trying to recruit a wider audience for Twitter.

Leigh Blackall said...

We own the UC tag I'm afraid. :) and we plan to take it back from California, Chicago, China etc. Race you to it ;)

Anonymous said...

It's a nice blog... website development

simonfj said...

Hi Leigh,

Welcome to the bureaucratic capital of Oz:) You might want to look up the tree and bit and see if UC is connected to aarnet, espcly re the video capture and the other real time services (e.g. streaming) - as it relates to All the (ICT) silos,and they rarely talk (meaningfully = explains the lack of take up.

Something for you to look over.
You might want to have a look over a few other unis down there are try them to consider uh ... collaboration. (NB the mini grants)

Yo ought to meet a Pia Waugh (kate lundy's media gem). You guys would get on like a house on fire; might also be a more interesting path for your talents than being measured by the current .edu institutions.

Everything yu say about the .edu institutions is spot on.Just please don't separate .gov and .edu institutions it just doubles the talk. Let's face it .gov funds .edu so they just talk the talk, but only a few like yu and pia walk the walk.

15 years @ 3 (interrelated) stages huh? We'll see. Gatekeepers change in every generation.

Leigh Blackall said...

Hi Simon thanks for the link, but by the looks of it, the deadline has passed. I'd have my work cut out getting my head around all that though. UC is on AARNET. My lobby for a free and open Wifi on campus has met with conservatism - citing AARNET as a preventative because apparently all content in and out needs to be accounted for! Sounds to me like a potential net neutrality/censorship issue.. other talk has been about a single sign on connection for everyone associated with a university.. many see this is a good thing, personally I recoil at the notion that we can oly think to give access to students and staff, wasting money on ensuring that exclusivity, as if students and staff don't share their access with family and guests when need be anyway. Free and open access is the bottom line, and I can only think of access admin cost savings and marketing gains.. how much would it really cost on a campus like UC? Anyway, there are other ways of achieving such access.. the IT offices at UC are locked doors with paper in the windows.. so the cultural gap may be huge. What can you tell me about AARNET and the grand plans?

PS, Have made contact with Pia.. we met once after I declared teaching was dead back in 2006.. we did seem to get along, yes :) Freaks me out when she suggests to meet at Parliament House!

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