UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for May, 2014

Higher Education Web Survey

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 May 2014

TerminalFour’s Long-standing Support for IWMW

Terminal Four survey formFor several years TerminalFour has been a sponsor of IWMW, the annual Institutional Web Management Workshop. This year is no different. As described on TerminalFour’s Web site:

TERMINALFOUR is once again a sponsor of one of the UK’s premier events for institutional web management teams – IWMW. The event takes place at Northumbria University on the 16-18th of July 2014.

IWMW has grown into a unique forum to share best practice, hear about new developments and discuss their relevance with peers. The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Rebooting the Web’. The conference will explore what ‘reboot’ means for web teams. 

Higher Education Web Survey

In return for the financial support for the event I am happy to highlight TerminalFour’s current Higher Education Web Survey. As described by Laura Murphy, Head of Client Relations and Support:

If you work in a web, content, marketing, communications or senior management position in higher education I would be delighted if you could please take 5 minutes to complete our Higher Education Web Survey. You will be automatically entered into a draw to win €/$/£100 Amazon voucher for your troubles and will be among the first to receive a detailed report of the findings of this survey.  We’d also appreciate if you would share the survey – http://surveysandforms.com/e517uy93-67ufh69

If you are a customer of TerminalFour I am sure they would welcome the opportunity to chat with you at the IWMW 2014 event.


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Guest Post: Building Cost-effective, Flexible and Scalable Education Resources using Google Cloud Platform

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 May 2014

IWMW 2014, the 18th annual Institutional Web Management Workshop takes place in Newcastle on 16-18 July. The workshop fee is only £350, which includes 2 nights accommodation.In a series of guest blog posts speakers at the forthcoming IWMW 2014 event have been providing an introduction to their talks in order to stimulate interest in their ideas and solicit feedback and comments prior to the event – an example of ‘flipped lectures‘ which can provide opportunities for more considered reflections on new ideas provided at a conference.

In today’s guest post Sharif Salah, Senior Systems Engineer at the University of Portsmouth introduces his talk on “Building cost-effective, flexible and scalable education resources using Google Cloud Platform”.

Sharif will give his plenary talk on the second day of the IWMW 2014 event, from 09.00-09.45 on Thursday 17 July 2014.


Building cost-effective, flexible and scalable education resources using Google Cloud Platform

This will be my first time attending the IWMW event, and I’m grateful to fellow speaker Martin Hawksey who highly recommended the event to me. I’m excited and fortunate to be both attending and speaking this year. I first met Martin in 2012 at the annual European Google Apps for Education user group meeting #GEUG12 where we were also both speaking. At that time I had been working with Google Apps for a little over three years and there was a sense that the Higher Education community was growing relatively comfortable with the principles and concepts behind Software as a Service (SaaS).

In fact my colleagues and I at the University of Portsmouth had begun to explore the use of other types of cloud technology to extend the capabilities offered by the Google Apps services. For example, we built a largely cloud-based student portal primarily using Google Sites and then used Google App Engine to provide bespoke functionality such as the delivery of assessment results, that was highly specific to an education context and wasn’t readily available as part of Google Apps. In 2012 Google App Engine was often described as a Platform as a Service (PaaS) that allowed developers to deploy application level code without having to worry about the burden of looking after the underlying infrastructure. Today Google App Engine is part of a growing collection of tightly integrated services that make us Google Cloud Platform and include additional services for storage, compute and data analysis.

I’ve continued to build on my knowledge of Google Cloud Platform and earlier this year it led to Google awarding me entry into the Google Developer Experts (GDE) program for 2014. A large part of our activities as GDEs relates to both community engagement and public speaking, and I spend a lot of my time volunteering help with colleagues from both the education and business communities make the most of their introduction to the cloud.

One big shift I’ve observed in recent months within the cloud community is that the model I describe above with clear demarcation between SaaS, PaaS and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) layers is hindering the way that we build and architect our IT services in HE and other large enterprise environments. All too often I find that developers try to shoehorn their requirements into one model or another. However it’s often the case that one layer of the cloud model doesn’t provide enough flexibility, at other times it comes at the cost of too high a management overhead. Google Cloud Platform is helping to define a new way of working across cloud boundaries and this in itself presents us with new challenges as we try to learn to use the new tools effectively. One big theme of my talk will be to share my experience of working across these layers in the process of building hybrid cloud solutions.

Perhaps more importantly for this audience I also look forward to the opportunity to share some of the work we have undertaken at the University of Portsmouth to build new services for our students that might not have previously been possible or practical prior to the availability of cloud services. Over the past year we’ve experimented with the use of Chromebooks for exams, Google Compute Engine to deliver Linux resources for teaching and research as well as the operational use of Cloud Storage for the delivery of content as part of student-facing services. Higher Education is a unique environment that brings with it challenges and opportunities that often don’t apply to the world of business and this is particularly true of cloud services.


Biographical details

Sharif SalahSharif Salah has worked with Google technologies since early 2009 when he began a role as a Google Apps technical lead in Higher Education. Along the way this has given him the good fortune to be involved in evangelising extensively and affecting change and progress on the adoption and integration of Google Apps, Cloud Storage and App Engine both internationally and locally. More recently he has become immersed in and advocate on Google Cloud Platform, open source software as well as mobile app development and strategy.

Sharif is a frequent public speaker and spends time working with both education and startups on making the most of their move to the cloud. He is a Google Developer Expert for 2014 and a Google Qualified Developer for Google Cloud Platform.

Contact details:


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Accessibility for E-learning: What We Can do Today and in the Future

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 May 2014

The Cetis 2014 Conference: Building the Digital Institution

The theme for the Cetis 2014 conference is “Building the Digital Institution“. As described in the conference abstract:

Each year the Cetis conference provides a unique opportunity for developers, learning technologists, lectures and policy makers to come together to discuss recent innovations in the domain of education technology. This year’s conference focuses on the digital institution and explores how technology innovation can support and develop every aspect of university and college life, for teachers and learners, researchers and developers, service directors and senior managers.

The conference will open with a keynote talk from Phil Richards, the Jisc Chief Innovation Officer. The closing talk will be given by Audrey Watters, a Technology Journalist. If you’d like to hear more about Audrey’s talk a 60 second interview ahead of #cetis14 has been published on the Cetis blog.

Parallel Session: Building an Accessible Digital Institution

Abstract for the accessibility session at Cetis conference. Full details at http://www.cetis.ac.uk/2014-cetis-conference/building-accessible-digital-institution/ Although the two plenary talks will provide a shared context for participants at the conference the most important aspect of Cetis conferences has always been the parallel workshop sessions.

One important aspect to consider when looking to build the digital institution is to ensure that the digital institution is an accessible institution.

In the early days of the development of Web-based learning environments the Web accessibility content guidelines (WCAG) developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) were felt to provide a framework for the creation of universally accessible Web resources and services.

However we now know that the development of accessible Web services is more complex than simply following a set of guidelines. As summarised in the abstract of a paper on “A challenge to web accessibility metrics and guidelines: putting people and processes first

This paper argues that web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource but is determined by complex political, social and other contextual factors, as well as technical aspects which are the focus of WAI standardisation activities. It can therefore be inappropriate to develop legislation or focus on metrics only associated with properties of the resource.

But if institutions need to look before WCAG guidelines, what should they be doing? In the parallel session on Building an Accessible Digital Institution myself and Andy Heath will try to provide answers to this question.

In the first half of the half-day session we will review the limitations of the WCAG approach and describe how the BS 8878 standard, with its focus on policies and processes, seeks to address these limitations. We will explore how BS 8878 can be used in the context of e-learning.

In the second half of the session we will look at new developments, models and ways of thinking about accessibility.

We will welcome brief case studies from participants at the session who may be working in this area.  Please get in touch if you would like to contribute.

Note that registration details for the Cetis conference are available on the Cetis web site.


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Guest Post: Wake Up and Face the Digital Reality

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 20 May 2014

IWMW 2014, the 18th annual Institutional Web Management Workshop takes place in Newcastle on 16-18 July. The workshop fee is only £350, which includes 2 nights accommodation.In the first guest post provided by a plenary speaker at the IWMW 2014 event Hiten Vaghmaria, Head of Digital Development at the University of Westminster, asked “Planning work: How can technology help the Workload Allocation process?“.

In today’s guest post Paul Boag, co-founder of the digital agency Headscape and regular speaker at IWMW events, urges those working in institutional Web management teams to “Wake Up and Face the Digital Reality“. Paul will give a plenary talk on “Digital Adaptation: Time to Untie Your Hands” on the opening day of the IWMW 2014 event, from 15.45-16.30 on Wednesday 16 July 2014.


Wake up and face the digital reality

IWMW 2014 programme

The opening day at IWMW 2014 provides talks from experienced speakers from the commercial sector including one from Paul Boag.

It’s time for us to face an uncomfortable reality — the way we are approaching digital is not working. I am not talking about how our institutions are approaching digital, although there are problems with that. I am talking about how we approach it as digital specialists. We are failing our organisations and feeling frustrated in our jobs.

We see so much potential. But if we continue to follow our present path, we will not fulfil our potential.

Our digital vision won’t succeed

We all share a similar vision for the future of digital and education. A day when students have a joined up, integrated digital experience. From their first encounter with a university until they are a well established alumni.

We talk of augmented reality apps to help freshers find their way around campus. E-learning environments that widen the reach of the university. Student portals that save users time and the institution money. Unfortunately, this vision is never going to happen if we continue working the way we are.

At the moment every step is a battle. We fight management, get resources, navigate committees, deal with politics and resist scope creep. By the time we succeed in putting one part of our vision in place it has become out of date. We complete one redesign just in time to start the next.

We need to adopt a different approach.

Our tactics have failed

Many of us have resigned ourselves to “the reality of university life”. We work the best we can within the system, making small incremental changes. We hope that one day, somebody with authority will realise how broken the system is.

We hope that maybe this will be the last redesign of the site, with management realising the need for ongoing evolution. That this time governance will be just as important as a new visual appearance.

We spend our days addressing symptoms. We struggle to stop yet another pointless mobile app or unnecessary microsite. We endeavour to set standards and bring order. But never do we address the fundamental problem. We never try and fix our organisations.

After all is beyond our pay grade. That has to come from the executive. But how are they going to know what needs doing? How are they going to even recognise the problem? They are not digital experts.

We fear moving beyond addressing symptoms because it means sticking our heads above the parapet. It means risking stepping on somebody else’s shoes. Most of all it means venturing into areas that we are not experts in.

But here is the thing — nobody is an expert in this kind of digital transformation. It’s new and scary but sooner or later things will have to change.

What it does offer is a unique opportunity that we must grasp.

The opportunity of digital transformation

Digital transformation has crept up the agenda of both public and private organisations. From the British Government to Starbucks, organisations are restructuring for the digital age. These high profile digital projects provides us with a unique opportunity to do more than treat the symptoms.

Now is the time to show management the barriers that prevent your institution adapting to digital. No more working within the constraints imposed on you. Challenge the operating procedures of the past and become agents for change.

Digital transformation projects in well known organisations gives us a precedent. But, we still need to present an attractive vision that gets the executive on board.

Forming an attractive vision for change

As digital professionals we are often bad at communicating the need for change. We talk about user requirements, frustration with organisational structures and the need for speed. But the truth is management don’t care about things like that. They don’t care because they cannot see the connections to things that matter to them.

If we want to see change happen in our institutions we need to speak in terms management care about. We need to help them make the connections. We can do this by focusing on three areas:

  1. Opportunities that will benefit the institution.
  2. Threats that could disrupt the status quo.
  3. Possible cost savings.

Let’s look at each in turn.

Highlight opportunities

Management are always looking for new opportunities. In the case of senior management that is opportunities that benefit the whole institution.

For example, don’t waste your breadth talking about the need to make your website mobile friendly. Instead talk about how a mobile friendly website will help attract overseas students from Asia. These students are valuable to the institution and rely on mobile devices. Use data to backup these claims and you have a compelling case.

Middle management are a bit trickier. They don’t care so much about the bigger picture. Instead they are more focused on their own position and influence.

Moaning about their blinkered vision does not help. Recognise they are in a vulnerable position and work hard to present arguments that make their lives easier.

Take for example forming a digital transformation team. This often involves consolidating staff from other departments. Soften the blow by suggesting secondment rather than a permanent move. You might even suggest this is only for a limited time. Anything to prevent managers feeling that you are stealing their staff. They will interpret this as an attempt to undermine their position.

Try suggesting to management that they want somebody on the digital transformation team. This will ensure they have somebody representing their ideas on the ‘inside’.

Use threats

Another powerful weapon in your arsenal is fear. Large institutions are reluctant to embrace new opportunities. They don’t see a need to change what has worked so well in the past. But if you can prove that past tactics will no longer work they will respond to this threat.

Spend time talking about the threats to the higher education sector. Competition from educational startups, shifts in student expectations, changes in student behaviour. The list could go on.

Reference sectors that have been decimated because they were too slow to act when change came. Talk about how the music industry had a clear sign that things were changing when Napster arrived, but how they failed to act. Apple stepped in with iTunes and HMV and Tower Records went out of business. Also reference stories like Kodak, Blockbusters and many newspapers. There are no shortage of stories that show the cost of failing to adapt.

The key here is demonstrating that not acting will lead to disaster. Change is coming anyway. Those who fail to adapt will become extinct.

Focus on cost savings

Finally, talk about cost savings. Money talks, even in a large institution like a university. At the moment most universities are inefficient in the way they manage digital assets. Each part of the organisation is doing its own thing. If you can show how a single approach to digital can save money it will get the executives attention.

I recently helped a higher education institution put together a case for digital transformation. As part of that I met with a member of senior management to explain why this needed to happen. We covered a lot of ground, but one simple argument won the day. We calculated that to redesign all school websites using the current approach would take seven years. If we implemented a transformation plan that figure would be closer to seven months. We could achieve this by restructuring how things worked. There were no extra costs. This simple argument of more results for the same money was enough to tip the balance.

Talking the language of management will get their attention. But, highlighting threats, opportunities and even cost savings is not enough. You must also present a clear plan for change.

Providing a clear vision

Let’s imagine for a moment that you have persuaded management that change needs to happen. That the way you currently work is failing and they give you free reign to change. What would you do?

Often we moan about the current state of affairs, but lack a clear vision of how we want things to be. We focus too much on fixing the immediate problems with our process, rather than looking at the bigger picture.

Lets take a moment to consider what our roadmap for change might look like. The first step is to form a digital transformation team.

Form a digital transformation team

Most public institutions have expertise scattered across the organisation. They have web developers, IT specialists, content creators, photographers. Often they have all the skills they need, but they are not working together.

Step one is to bring these people together into a digital transformation team. Notice the name I have chosen. There are two parts to it:

  1. Digital: The implication is that this is more than the web. You cannot consider social media, the web, email or mobile apps in isolation. They are apart of one whole.
  2. Transformation: This is not a service team. It doesn’t exist to serve other departments. Its mandate is to change working practices across the institution.

This team should not support the ongoing maintenance of existing digital assets. If things are going to change, updates and fixes cannot distract them. Too many web teams spend the majority of their time providing support for the existing site. Form a separate support team for that job and put new development projects on hold.

Once the digital transformation team is in place, start looking at customer requirements.

Map customer journeys

Any digital transformation project has to start with the user. For too long institutions approach to digital looked inwards. They focused on what it was they wanted to say. This led to a proliferation of content. Many institutional websites run into hundreds of thousands of pages.

One of the best ways to break this thinking is to focus on user needs. This provides an opportunity to rebuild digital assets from scratch. No more porting content from the old site to the new.

Mapping the customer journey identifies user goals when interacting with an institution. They outline the various touch points users use to achieve those goals.

Some argue that as an institution they already have a good idea how users behave. But, behaviour has changed since the arrival of digital. It is important to step back and understand exactly how things have changed.

Customer journeys help show that much of your website’s content is not required. They also help identify organisational problems. For example, they show how many departments prospective students have to deal with. Unfortunately these departments rarely present the same message. Customer journeys shows that to serve the needs of students you may have to make organisational changes.

With a clear idea of who your customers are and what they want to achieve it is time to move onto the prototype stage.

Build a prototype

When the Government Digital Service (GDS) began its digital transformation project it started small. It took a handful of people and built a prototype site. This site only encompassed the first few levels. It then deep linked into existing content on other government sites. This became known as alpha.gov.uk and we can learn much from this approach.

First, it allowed the government digital team to bypass the normal sign off process. Because they were only creating a prototype they didn’t need to get approval for every part. Some higher education institutions have adopted this approach with dramatic results. One institution even achieved design sign-off in less than two week!

Second, it allowed them to show other stakeholders what the future might look like in a much more tangible way than a written report. When people could see the possibilities in a working site they were much more inclined to listen.

Finally, building a prototype allowed the team to gather real data about user behaviour. This helped them to build a compelling case to support their new approach. It was no longer about opinion but rather hard numbers.

Form a digital framework

Digital transformation projects should lead to the creation of a digital framework.

This digital framework consists of guides, policies and processes needed to support the new way of working. They outline what needs doing and methods for achieving those goals.

Although this framework will vary between organisations, typical elements might include:

  • Key performance indicators.
  • User personas.
  • Top tasks.
  • Design pattern library.
  • Content style guide.
  • Accessibility policy.
  • Business objectives.
  • Content management policy.
  • Responsibility assignment matrix.
  • Analytics dashboards.
  • Working processes.
  • Service standards.

This framework is like the GDS service manual. It provides the institution with a pattern for working on digital projects. The digital transformation team should use this pattern. But other internal teams and even third parties should also work within this framework.

In short the digital framework helps educate colleagues about best practice.

Educate and disband

The primary role of the digital transformation team is to bring about organisational change. This will only happen through a programme of education.

What must not happen is for the digital transformation team to become yet another silo in the organisation. It needs to engage with colleagues across the organisation at every level. The aim should be to help them better understand the role of digital.

The best analogy for this role is that of Chief Electricity Officer in the 1900s. The arrival of electricity was changing business, but most organisations were unsure how to use it. Their solution was to appoint Chief Electricity Officers to help them make the transition.

Today the idea of a Chief Electricity Officer seems absurd. Electricity is ubiquitous and none of us would be able to do our jobs without it. Yet, at the time they needed somebody to show them the way. Somebody to help them make that transition. We don’t have Chief Electricity Officers today because they did their job in the 1900s.

In the same way, the job of a digital transformation team is to make the use of digital ubiquitous across the organisation. Their ultimate aim is to become redundant, with digital embedded in the DNA of their institution.

Maintaining this aim is essential. One day we will no longer need digital transformation teams. Transformation is a finite process.

This goal is important for two reasons. First it makes it clear that the aim is to empower others to use digital, not manage it in a single team. Second, it helps reduce the political backlash associated with the creation of a new team. Some middle management will feel threatened by having their team members and areas of authority taken away. Knowing it will not be forever maybe of some reassurance.

How long we will need digital transformation teams will depend. But, if one day they are not disbanded then they have failed. Failed to change their institution’s mindset from thinking of digital as a bolt on to digital being ubiquitous.


About the author

Paul BoagPaul Boag has been working with the web since 1994. He is now co-founder of the digital agency Headscape, where he works closely with clients to establish their web strategy.

Paul is a prolific writer having written Digital AdaptationWebsite Owners ManualClient Centric Web Design and numerous articles for publications such as .net magazineSmashing Magazine and theeconsultancy.com.

Paul also speaks extensively on various aspects of web design both atconferences across the world and on his award winning web design podcast boagworld.

Posted in Guest-post | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

The Plenary Talk as an Opportunity for Hands-on Activities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 May 2014

Traditional Lecture must DIE!

10 reasons to ditch lecturesThe “Traditional Lecture must DIE” argued Phil Root in a (err) TEDx lecture in September 2012. In the video he cited research which suggested that students learning is more effective when active engagement techniques are provided (5 minutes into the video).

Last Thursday an article in the Guardian’s Higher Education Network gave “Ten reasons we should ditch university lectures“.

Currently there have been 367 comments made to this article. If you have an interest in the relevance of lectures in teaching you may wish to contribute to the discussions. However my interest is in the effectiveness of plenary talks at conferences. A question I’d like to address is “Can we make use of interactive techniques in large-scale lecture theatres?” including conferences used for professional development.

The Plenary Talk as an Opportunity for Hands-on Activities

At the UKSG 2013 conference I recall a plenary talk by Laurel Haak on ORCID: Connecting research and researchers. As flagged at the very start of the video recording of the talk Laurel invited those who had a mobile computer with them to register for an ORCID ID during the talk. “Here is the challenge to you” Laurel said 2 minutes 50 second into her talk “Anyone who has a computer and you don’t already have an ORCID identifier please take about 30 seconds to register for one“.

I have used this approach myself when talking about researcher IDs. Last week I spoke at the CILIP Wales 2014 conference and used this approach again, but this time to encourage participants to sign up for a Wikipedia account.

I was pleased that during the talk one delegate announced:

Inspired by to create Wikipedia account!!

I had announced that the talk would provide an opportunity for a CPD activity – I was pleased to be able to see evidence that this activity was successfully completed by at least one conference delegate.

Further Approaches for Encouraging Take-up of Wikipedia

Storify summary of cilipw14 twets about Wikipedia talkIn the opening talk at the conference, John Griffith, the Minister for Culture and Sport in the Welsh Government told the audience of the importance of the importance of gathering evidence of the ways in which librarians are engaging with their communities. He also encouraged Welsh librarians to “Make yourself heard!

Although I had planned the Wikipedia user registration activity, the inspirational opening talk made me wonder how I could adapt my presentation to relate to such political considerations. The theme of the CILIP Wales 2014 conference was “Making a difference: libraries and their communities“. In my presentation I argued that librarians who supported their users in use of Wikipedia, which included creating and updating Wikipedia articles would be a way of engaging with communities in an effective way in light of the popularity of Wikipedia. A show of hands confirmed that Wikipedia was not only popular with the users: the vast majority of the audience made use of Wikipedia with only one (brave!) lady admitting that she had never visited Wikipedia.

Gathering Evidence of Take-up of Wikipedia

But how might we gather evidence of use of Wikipedia by librarians, which might be used as evidence of how librarians are engaging in a rapidly changing information environment? In my presentation I suggested that after spending about 60 seconds in creating a Wikipedia account the next step should be to create a Wikipedia profile page and I gave examples of a simple profile and a slightly more advanced profile which might provide inspiration for a profile page for new Wikipedia editors.

Since the majority of the audience were librarians working in Wales I showed the Wikipedians in Wales page and highlighted two examples of profile pages: one in which the user is willing to share their interests and one in which the user chooses to remains anonymous. I noticed that the Wikipedians in Wales page currently contains 136 entries. Looking at the history of this page it seems that the version of the page in July 2005 also contained 136 entries. It seems that embedding the relevant [category] tag in user profile pages hasn’t taken off. If the hundred of so who were present on the first day of the CILIP Wales conference were to sign up for a Wikipedia account, create a user profile and include the following line in their profile

[[Category:Wikipedians in Wales]]

we would have significant evidence of take-up in Wikipedia in Wales.

Furthermore the Wikipedian librarians page currently contains 267 entries. If you are a librarian and have a Wikipedia account, why wouldn’t you add the following to your user profile:

[[Category:Wikipedian librarians]]

Reflections

I have created a Storify archive of tweets related to my presentation as this enables me to reflect on comments made. I particularly welcomed the comment:

absolutely agree with , if so many are using , it can’t be dismissed by info professionals, realise & engage

Audience at IWMW 2013I have given a number of Wikipedia sessions for those who wish to know more about editing Wikipedia. However such sessions are likely to attract only those who are already convinced of the value of Wikipedia. Of more importance, I feel, is being able to persuade sceptics or those who have not previously considered getting a Wikipedia account and updating Wikipedia articles or the reasons why updating Wikipedia articles is of particular relevance to information professionals and then to convert that moment of inspiration into actions: investing sixty seconds in creating a Wikipedia account and even spending a few more minutes in creating a user profile.

Traditional lectures won’t die, I feel. Especially as in today’s networked environment they can provide opportunities for the audience to be active during the lecture. And, of course, you don’t need mobile devices, Twitter and a WiFi network in order to interact with large audiences. As can be seen from the accompanying image taken at the IWMW 2013 event, you can engage with your audience in more traditional ways!


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Top Wikipedia Tips for Librarians: Why You Should Contribute and How You Can Support Your Users

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 May 2014

Making a Difference: Libraries and their Communities

On Thursday 15 May I am giving an invited talk at the CILIP Cymru Wales Library and Information Conference 2014. The theme of this year’s conference is “Making a difference: libraries and their communities“. My contribution to this theme is entitled “Editing Wikipedia: Why You Should and How You Can Support Your Users“. In the talk I’ll be explaining why librarians and information professionals, whether working in academic or public libraries, should have a good understanding of Wikipedia and be able to support their users not only in consuming Wikipedia content but also in creating and updating Wikipedia content.

Top Tips for Librarians on Editing Wikipedia: Why You Should and How You Can Support Your Users

The top Wikipedia tips for librariansIn the talk I’ll be giving my top ten tips for librarians who wish to use Wikipedia to support their community. These are summarized below.

1: Understand why Wikipedia is important to librarians

In a talk entitled Wikipedia in the library – the elephant in the (reading) room? presented at the LILAC 2014 conference Nancy Graham and Andrew Gray pointed out a perceived problem: “The kids these days are reading too many encyclopedias“. However rather than regarding the popularity of Wikipedia as a problem librarians should welcome the opportunity this “perfect teaching moment” can provide. We can help students how to tell the good from the bad; how to think critically about online material and how they can engage with the means of production.

We should also be prepared to question what librarians and academic mean when they say “don’t”. The Wikimedia UK’s Expert Outreach page provides some example of the benefits of use of Wikipedia in education. For example in the Wikimedia UK Annual Review 2012-13 [PDF] Cameron Neylon, Public Library of Science, argued that:

If you’re serious about ensuring public engagement in your research then you need to make damn sure your work can be incorporated into Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the most important engagement channel for your research.

and in an article entitled “21st-century Scholarship and Wikipedia” published in the Ariadne ejournal Amber Thomas, a former JISC Programme Manager, described how:

Wikipedia is an illustration of the way that academic work needs to change to benefit from a more educated public, a more networked world, in an age of information abundance. 21st-century scholars should be working with it, not against it.

In light of the popularity of Wikipedia with the user community, it is suggested that librarians should gain an understanding of the value it can provide.

2: Understand how Wikipedia is being used in education

The Eduwiki (UK) 2013 conference was held in Cardiff on 1-2 December 2013. The event, the second EduWiki conference held in the UK, included case studies on use of Wikipedia in higher education and the schools sector. Two of the presentations were of particular relevance to librarians:

  1. Nancy Graham and Lisa Anderson outlined work at the University of Birmingham on Safe use of Wikipedia in the transition from school to University.
  2. Humphrey Southall’s talk on Introducing Students to Independent Research Through Editing Wikipedia Articles on English Villages described how “Each student on a large first year human geography course at the University of Portsmouth is assigned a different Wikipedia stub article, unedited for at least a year, about an English village. They are required to extend it “to provide a rounded description of the place and … an account of its historical development””.

In brief, librarians should seek to gain an understanding of the approaches being take to use of Wikipedia within the education sector. The

3: Gain a better understanding of the Wikipedia service

Librarians would be expected to understand advanced how search interfaces work in order to be able to support their user community. Similarly librarians should gain an understanding of the development of Wikipedia articles which can be seen from use of the View History option. The Talk page may also provide useful summary of discussions about the evolution and scope of Wikipedia articles.

4: Be willing to update Wikipedia articles

The entry for Ely in the Wikipedia article on Libraries in Cardiff states that:

Ely Library is due to undergo development Mid 2014, with plans to move into the Jasmine Centre on Cowbridge Road.

At some point during 2014 this will need updating. In addition to changes to the date this sentence doesn’t read very well – wouldn’t “Ely Library is due to undergo development by mid 2014” be an improvement? If you are a librarian or information professional should you take responsibilities for updating incorrect information and improving its readability, especially if such updates could be done in seconds?

5: Create a Wikipedia account

You can make updates to Wikipedia articles without having a Wikipedia account. But having an account and signing in when making updates has several advantages: as well as keeping a record of your contributions you need to be signed in in order to create new articles, join in discussions and have customised preferences.

6: Create a Wikipedia profile

lawsonstu rofileAlthough you do not need to create a profile page, such pages can be used to provide a summary of your interests and your involvement with Wikipedia. Creating a user profile can also provide an opportunity to learn Wikimedia markup language.

A good approach to creating your user profile is to browse existing user profiles and make use of the markup of one’s which appeal to you. For example Msnancygraham’s profile is a good example of a simple profile whereas Lawsonstu’s profile contains more advanced markup features, as illustrated.

7: Be ethical

When showing others how to use Wikipedia it’s not a good idea to encourage them to vandalise a page in order to demonstrate how quickly such updates are removed – remember that Wikipedia volunteers may have to remove such vandalism.

8: Be prepared for your contributions to be changed (but be willing to get involved in discussions on Talk page)

The fact that anyone can edit Wikipedia articles has been regarded as a weakness of the service but it is now increasingly being acknowledged as a strength. However you should be aware that updates that you make may be removed or new articles deleted. If you are thinking about making significant changes to an article it would be advisable to use the article’s Talk page to state your intentions.

9: Understand the Wikipedia principles

The reason that updates are removed or new articles deleted is likely to be due to a failure to observe the five fundamental principles by which the Wikimedia community operates. Wikipedia:

  1. is an encyclopedia
  2. is written from a neutral point of view
  3. is free content that anyone can edit / use/ modify / share
  4. editors should respect each other
  5. does not have any firm rules

In particular note that original research should not be published in Wikipedia articles. All research must come from published sources such as peer-reviewed journals and books; University-level textbooks; magazines, journals and books published by respected publishing houses; mainstream newspapers; etc. Also note that content should be provided from a neutral point of view:

  • If your viewpoint is in the majority, then it should be easy to substantiate it with reference to commonly accepted reference texts;
  • If your viewpoint is held by a significant minority, then it should be easy to name prominent adherents;
  • If your viewpoint is held by an extremely small minority, then — whether it’s true or not, whether you can prove it or not — it doesn’t belong in Wikipedia, except perhaps in some ancillary article.

10: Support others (and feel free to reuse existing materials)

Librarians will be well-positioned to support their users in making effective use of Wikipedia. This is particularly appropriate for the CILIP Wales conference in light of this year’s theme: “Making a difference: libraries and their communities“. As might be expected, the Wikipedia community is very supportive of openness and sharing so there is no need to design your training courses from scratch.

11: Don’t forget Wicipedia!

This post has provided ten tips for librarians wishing to support use of Wikipedia. Since the talk I will be giving will take place at the CILIP Wales conference I felt it would be appropriate to provide an additional top for Welsh librarians or librarians working in Wales: Don’t forget Wicipedia!

Slideshow

Note that the slides to be used in the presentation are available on Slideshare and embedded below:

Beyond the Presentation

Each year the Cetis conference provides an opportunity for developers, learning technologists, lectures and policy makers to come together to discuss recent innovations in the domain of education technology. This year’s conference, Cetis 2014, has the theme “Building the Digital Institution: Technological Innovation in Universities and Colleges“. In one of the parallel sessions myself and my colleague Simon Grant will be facilitating a half-day session on Open Knowledge: Wikipedia and Beyond. As described in the abstract:

Wikipedia is great resource for open education, but what challenges need to be faced to make it into an even more valuable educational resource? It remains the most significant encyclopaedic reference based in user generated content which seeks to develop an “open commons” based on consensus approaches and use of Wikipedia’s “Five pillars” principles which includes content being provided from a neutral point of view.

Participants with no experience of Wikipedia editing will be invited to create a Wikipedia user profile, and to understand the basics of creating and editing Wikipedia content. Experienced Wikipedia editors will have the option of sharing a lightning talk on what they consider to be its most significant challenges.

The session will go beyond the basic of editing Wikipedia articles and provide an opportunity for participants to address:

challenges include[ing] a skewed demographic of editors, and a culture that can too easily descend into edit wars, and conflict between “inclusionists” and “deletionists”. Can we envisage changes to make Wikipedia better, or that could seed a better alternative? Could aspiring editors be required to learn and prove their understanding of the governance principles before being allowed to edit? Can consensus process be trained? And would different approaches such as those taken by GitHub, the P2P Foundation, etc. help to improve the culture?

If you’ve an interest in going beyond the basics you may wish to consider attending the Cetis 2014 conference. Note that the online registration form is open for bookings.


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Learning About Learning Analytics: Launch of the LACE Project Webinar Series

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 May 2014

The Value of Webinars for Professional Development

Last month in a post on “Video is now a ‘must have’ in Higher Education – but what are the implications for accessibility?” I cited a State of Video in Education 2014 report which described how “video has a significantly positive impact on all aspects of the student lifecycle, from attracting and retaining students to enhancing learning, boosting learning outcomes and building stronger alumni relations“.

In addition to its value in supporting student learning and recruitment video can now be used to provide professional development opportunities for academics and researchers. As described in a Jisc guide on Using videoconferencing and collaboration technology to reduce travel and carbon emissionsthe right technology can be a usable alternative to physical travel benefitting administrative, academic and research purposes“.

The Webinar definition provided by Webopedia explains “Short for Web-based seminar, it is a presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar that is transmitted over the Web using video conferencing software”. The article does not mention that the term ‘webinar’ is not popular in many circles as it feels somewhat contrived. However the use of networked technologies to enhance presentations, lectures, workshops and seminars should be appreciated by academics and researchers, especially those who are comfortable in making use of IT.

LACE Webinar on Learning Analytics and Learning Analytics Interoperability

LACE Project Youtube Channel

The EU-funded LACE project (Learning Analytics Community Exchange) is bringing together key European players in the field of learning analytics (LA) and educational data mining (EDM) in order to support the development of communities of practice and share emerging best practice.

The LACE project will be providing a number of face-to-face events including a half-day workshop session on Developing a Learning Analytics Strategy for a HEI at the CETIS 2014 conference.Such face-to-face events will be complemented by a webinar series which will be launched next week, on Tuesday 13 May 2014 starting at 13.00 BST.

If you are new to learning analytics interoperability a video recording of a short talk given by Adam Cooper, Cetis is available on the LACE YouTube channel.

Next week’s webinar, Big Picture of Learning Analytics Interoperability – LACE webinar, will explore the big picture for learning analytics interoperability and will ask questions such as “What are the main dimension of this domain?” and “Where do we find the low- hanging fruit?

Your Thoughts on Webinars

The LACE Webinar will make use of Google Hangouts on Air  which provides live streaming, storage of recordings on YouTube and management of audience interactions.

We welcome feedback on the technical environment we’ll be using as well as non-technical aspects of use of this technology.

If you’ve used Google Hangouts on Air previously, has the experience been useful or have you encountered difficulties? If you have not used Google Hangouts on Air what are the reasons for this? If may be that there have been no events of relevance to you, but if there are other barriers I’d like to hear about them.

Feedback can be provided as comments to this post. Alternatively feel free to use the online survey.

 

 

 

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Guest Post: Planning work: How can technology help the Workload Allocation process?

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 8 May 2014

This year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, IWMW 2014, takes place at the University of Northumbria. In light of funding changes this year’s event is ore closely aligned with institutional challenges. In today’s guest blog post Hiten Vaghmaria, Head of Digital Development at the University of Westminster, summarises a problem which all heads of departments will face: how they will allocate teaching, research and administration work to their staff though use of a model known as the Workload Allocation Model (WAM). Hiten will describe the approaches being taken at the University of Westminster at the IWMW 2014 event and will welcome feedback on these approaches. To start the discussion he invites those with an interest in this area to share details of the approaches you use within your institution.


Planning work: How can technology help the Workload Allocation process?

Talk by Hiten Vaghmaria at IWMW 2014Each year, heads of academic departments at universities across the country plan how they will allocate teaching, research and administration work to their staff, following a model known as the Workload Allocation Model (WAM). This crucial planning and resource allocation exercise is at the heart of running a successful teaching programme, and ensures that the institution can meet its strategic objectives, yet many universities run the process from basic spreadsheets. In the age of readily available web-based productivity services, are we doing enough to help our institutions plan their work?

There are many different ways of running the WAM, with one institution’s model invariably being different (albeit similar) to the next. The National Academic Workload Management Conference was held on this very subject in December 2013, where leaders from several Universities met to discuss the differences between their models. Whilst the focus for this conference was the model itself, there was some discussion around the mechanisms for collecting the information, and it’s clear that this will soon be a pressing issue for IT departments – if it isn’t already.

At the University of Westminster we’ve moved, within an unexpectedly short timescale, from a variety of different spreadsheets designed separately by each department, to one combined spreadsheet, to a prototype web-based system which is fully supported by the in-house team. It hasn’t been the smoothest of journeys but it has been a fascinating and challenging learning experience which has uncovered a host of issues, related to both technology and people, and we’re confident that a support network for those going through this process (or about to) would be enormously helpful.

As a first step, I’ll be hosting a discussion session on Friday 18th July at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, IWMW 2014, to discuss the ways in which institutions currently collect their WAM information, and ask how they might do so more efficiently. We’ll showcase some existing solutions and talk about how the process could be improved using the technology available to us as Web Managers and developers. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the following questions:

  • How does your University run the WAM?
    • What tools are used in this process?
    • What support is offered by IT?
    • What are the main concerns raised by Heads of Departments?
    • How could this process be made more efficient?
  • What other processes does this link up with (e.g. Timetabling, Module Costs, Transparent Approach to Costing (TrAC))?
  • Does it allocate work based on real hours, or use some form of proxy unit?

About the Author

Hiten VaghmariaHiten Vaghmaria is Head of Digital Development at the University of Westminster, where he leads a team responsible for the operation and development of web-based services for students and staff. Previously, Hiten has worked as a Service and Product Manager for the University of Edinburgh and the BBC.


About IWMW 2014

IWMW 2014, the 18th Institutional Web Management Workshop, will be held at Northumbria University on 16-18 July 2014. Details of the event programme are available. The three-day event costs £350 which includes 2 nights’ accommodation. Use the online booking form to book your place.

 

 

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Guest Post: Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 6 May 2014

In a recent post on “Preparing Our Users for Digital Life Beyond the Institution” I highlighted the need to ensure that academics had a digital identity which was not constrained to their current host institution. Earlier today Jonathon O’Donnell, a researcher at RMIT, Melbourne, Australia published a blog post entitled “Allow me to introduce myself” on The Research Whisperer blog in which he gives his thoughts on digital identity. This post is being republished on the UK Web Focus blog in order to encourage feedback on this important subject.


Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself

My university, like many others, is racing to embrace an open future. We are putting stuff into our repository as fast as we can. Each item has a unique identifier, like an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) or a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), so that we know exactly which book or paper we are talking about.

We are also encouraging staff to share their research data, where they can. We are working with the Australian National Data Service (ANDS), through their Cite My Data service, to make sure that these data sets also have Digital Object Identifiers.

Excitingly, these identifiers will link the papers, chapters, artworks, and (insert your favourite research output here) with the data sets. How cool is that? When I write my groundbreaking libretto, drawing on my amazing new data set, everybody will know exactly which dataset was used in exactly which libretto.

And everybody will know exactly which ‘me’ did it, because I’ll have included my ORCID ID, Scopus Author ID, Google Scholar ID, or my (insert your favourite researcher ID scheme here).

Everyone will know, that is, except for my university. My university will just have to guess.

Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Jonathan O’Donnell. I’m not this Jonathan O’Donnell (although it would be really cool to work on the Arctic for the US National Parks Service). I’m certainly not this J. O’Donnell (I wish! He writes beautifully about digital humanities).

You might know me by my ORCID ID (0000-0001-5435-235X), or by my Scopus Author ID (23005925700), or even my Google scholar ID (3pvY_LgAAAAJ). If you know who that is, then you know who I am. Categorically. Unambiguously. Forever.

These three identifiers are examples of unique identifiers provided for free to academics. Admittedly, it is probably unlikely that you use identifiers like these day to day:

Hi, 3pvY_LgAAAAJ. How are you?

Not bad, thanks, nla.party-626227. Have you seen 0000-0001-5875-8744 around?

We don’t talk like that. Computers do. They do it so that we can disambiguate scholars of the same name. These sorts of identifiers are vital if you have variations to your name or change your name, lose your job, or move to a different institution (or country) or move between academic and #altac careers. I’m only a tiny researcher, so they are really important to me.

They are so important that I’m going to wait right here while you go and sign up for one right now. Go on – I’ll wait.

I don’t know what it is like at your university, but where I work, we don’t actually know who we are. We know what we publish, and we proudly tell the world about it. We know what data we collect, and are increasingly keen to share it with the world. But we don’t have a clue who we are. Or, to be more exact, my university doesn’t know who I am.

Unless you work at my university, you probably don’t know me as RMIT employee number 24323. That’s what my university knows me as. That’s all they know me as. They don’t know me as any of those other identifiers. At the moment, there is no easy way to link my external identifier (ORCID, Scopus, or Google Scholar) to my internal identifier, my employee number (e-number).

So, I’m having an identity crisis. My external identity is blossoming. It is becoming more and more intertwined as computers pick up these identifiers and I build cross-links between them. Meanwhile, my RMIT identity, the identity that pays my wage, is stagnant. External me is reaching out while internal me is stuck forever in its feeble e-number – limited, lost, dead. Go towards the light, e-number! Go towards the light.

It will take considerable work for my university to see the light. They will need to:

  • Decide that they should adopt an external identifier for all research-active staff.
  • Decide what identifier they should adopt.
  • Explicitly link that identifier to the internal identifier, preferably through our Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) server or similar technology.

Making policy is hard. On the face of it, this one should be a no-brainer. By linking internal employee numbers to an external identifier, my university would gain significant advantages:

  • We would encourage all our researchers to adopt an external identifier, which would be a good thing.
  • This would improve the profile of our researchers, in the same way that open repositories improve the visibility of papers and other outputs.
  • It would make it easier for our researchers to measure their performance using alt-metrics.
  • Most importantly for the organisation: it should make the collection of research statistics much easier. Given that we spend an enormous amount of staff time doing this now, that is a clear cost saving for the university.

If it is so smart to do this, why haven’t we done it already? Perhaps we are shy. I don’t think so.

Is it because we are allergic to things that we don’t control? It can’t be that either because we have championed external identifiers for a long time. I remember contacting my university library (probably 20 years ago) to ask for my first International Standard Book Number. I was so excited! In those days, the university library used to be the custodian of blocks of ISBNs and distribute them to staff upon request.

This is what I think it is: we’re allergic to these new technologies that we don’t control, blind to services outside the walls. Also, it is a bit hard to link to different external services, and to keep those links working over time. And it should be noted that identifiers like this are only relevant for staff who may be contributors to research, so they are not a universal solution. They won’t cover all staff. However, they will cover all staff with an academic output, which would be a lot better than the current situation.

Besides that, there needs to be a fight an evaluation of corporate solutions (à la Elsevier and Google) versus open solutions (à la ORCID), and whether the business case is worth the effort. For the record, I think that it is absolutely worth the effort, and that open beats corporate every time.

However it happens, I think linking to an external identifier is inevitable. When it happens, the triangle will be complete. When I write my groundbreaking libretto, which is built upon my wonderful data set, everybody will be happy.

  • People will know exactly what data I have drawn upon.
  • They will know exactly which research output I have created.
  • And they will know exactly who I am.

Everyone will know, including my employer. I will be able to stand up and be counted.


About Jonathan O’Donnell
Jonathan O'DonnellJonathan O’Donnell helps people get funding for their research. To be specific, he helps the people in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. He loves his job. One day a week he does his own research into privacy, identity and transactions on the Internet. He likes that day, too, even when it makes his brain hurt.


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Ensuring Discoverability of OA Articles in Hybrid Journals

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 May 2014

My talk at NASIG 2014

Consultancy Work

When I was offered the job as Innovation Advocate at Cetis with the agreement of the director I decided to work part-time so that I would have some flexibility for consultancy work.

I have just completed the first significant consultancy work, which was to give a presentation  on “Hybrid journals: Ensuring systematic and standard discoverability of the latest Open Access articles on behalf of the JEMO project at the NASIG 2014 conference.

The NASIG 2014 Conference

NASIG is an “[American] organization that promotes communication and sharing of ideas among all members of the serials information chain“. NASIG 2014, the 29th annual conference, which had the theme “Taking Stock and Taming New Frontiers“, took place in Fort Worth, Texas on 1-4 May 2014 and attracted about 360 delegates.

I gave my talk on Friday 2 May from 1.10-2.10.  In this post I will give a brief summary of the talk and the preceding talk which also addressed the issue of the discoverability (and management) of open access articles.

The Challenges of Finding Open Access Articles in Hybrid Journals

Articulating the Problem

Chris Bulock and Nathan Hosburgh gave a talk on “OA in the library collection: The challenges of identifying and managing open access resources” in a session which preceded my talk. Their slides are available on Slideshare and I have embedded them in this blog post. Their talk was based on a survey which sought to investigate current practices in the management of open access resources; identify the challenges librarians face and areas for improvement.

Hybrid OA is a nightmareI was particularly interested to note the comment they received in response to their survey that “Hybrid OA is a nightmare“.

They went on to summarise the responses they received to the question “What would make the management of OA resources easier?” The suggestion:

Harry Potter, the Elder wand and the help of Dobby – the free elf

brought a smile to the faces of audience. But this also provided me with an opportunity to use Harry Potter as a metaphor for describing the solution which has been developed by the JEMO project team to the nightmare problem of open access articles in hybrid journals.

Providing a Lightweight Solution

NASIG tweetsThe slides I used in my presentation are available on Slideshare and embedded at the bottom of this post. I will not attempt to summarise the entire presentation. Rather I will summarise the proposed solution in a single sentence: “The JEMO team propose a solution based on providing Creative Commons licence information for Open Access articles which is made available in RSS feeds for hybrid journals”.

I was able to give a live demonstration of the JournalTOCs service which has provided a proof-of-concept of the value of this approach.

It should be noted that the slides provide screenshots of the steps used in discovering an open access article included in a hybrid journal.

After the presentation I captured the tweets made during that talk in a Storify summary, as illustrated.

Conclusions

I was pleased to carry out this work on behalf of the JEMO team and to renew contact with Roddy MacLeod. My attendance at the conference also provided an opportunity to hear more about developments in the Web archiving world in a particularly  interesting plenary talk on “From a System of Journals to a Web of Objects” given by Herbert Van de Sompel. I also found  Richard Wallis’s talk on The Power of Sharing Linked Data: Giving the Web What It Wants providing a useful update on Linked Data developments in the library world.


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