UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

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Life After Cetis: the Launch of the UK Web Focus Consultancy

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 May 2015

Looking Back

Brian Kelly image (Nov 2011)

Brian Kelly is now an independent consultant after 19 years working at UKOLN and then Cetis.

Friday was my final day working at Cetis – my contract has now finished. I’m now in the process of updating my LinkedIn profile and many of the other social networking services I use – and I’m sure my colleagues who are in a similar situation will be doing likewise.

I’m treating this latest development in my professional career in a positive fashion. I’m looking forward to building on a period of 19 years of working for two organisations, UKOLN and Cetis, which had responsibilities for working across the UK’s higher and further education communities and a reputation which extended beyond the UK for developing various aspects of the online environment which are now of tremendous importance in supporting teaching and learning and research activities.

In July 2013 I provided a series of Reflections on 16 Years at UKOLN and, on my final day at UKOLN, outlined plans for the future: Life After UKOLN: Looking For New Opportunities. In this post I will reflect on my work at Cetis over the past 2 years and the work of my Cetis colleagues and conclude by looking forward to the future, both as a consultant and in my family life.

Reflections on Work at Cetis

I started work at Cetis as the Innovation Advocate on 23 October 2013 – and have enjoyed my time working as a remote worker. In many respects my work as Innovation Advocate built on 16+ years of work as UK Web Focus at UKOLN. In a series of posts on Reflections on 16 years at UKOLN I concluded with a post which described how “the formulation of policies and developments to operational practices should be based on a culture of openness” – and fittingly my first talk after starting work at Cetis was to give a webinar on “Open Educational Practices (OEP): What They Mean For Me and How I Use Them”.

The past 16 months has also provided opportunities for me to engage with one particular aspect of openness and open practices: the potential of Wikipedia and other Wikimedia services in educational, cultural and research areas. During my time at Cetis I have facilitated Wikipedia workshops at the SpotOn 2013 conference and at the LILAC 2014 information literacy conference, given talks on the relevance of Wikipedia for librarians at CILIP Scotland and CILIP Wales conferences and gave a talk on “Wikipedia, Wikimedia UK and Higher Education: Developments in the UK” at the EduWiki Serbia conference.

I was also able to continue my work in promoting practices for enhancing access to web resources for people with disabilities. After many years developing and refining a holistic approach to web accessibility, my recent work has focussed on reviewing this work, with talks on Accessibility is Primarily about People and Processes, Not Digital Resources! at the OZeWAI 2013 conference, Accessibility, Inclusivity and MOOCs: What Can BS 8878 Offer? at an ILSIG Webinar and a talk on Web accessibility is not (primarily) about conformance with web accessibility standards presented  in Second Life at the IDRAC 2014 conference.

The main focus of my work over the past year has been supporting the EU-funded LACE (Learning Analytics Community Exchange) project, for which I was the work package leader for the user engagement and dissemination work package. As described in a post on Sharing Project Practices: the LACE Compendium the initial deliverable I had main responsibility for was the LACE Compendium, the project handbook which documents the policies and practices the team are taking in supporting the user engagement and dissemination aspects of the project. Fittingly this document is available with a Creative Commons licence, which reflects organisational and personal beliefs in the importance of open practices.

Working With Cetis Colleagues

During my time I got to know a number of Cetis staff quite well and, in particular, I co-authored papers with Paul Hollins on “A Contextual Framework For Standards” and, more recently, a paper on “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow” which covered the joint Cetis/UKOLN on the Jisc Observatory. In addition a joint paper with Scott Wilson covered “Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access“.

Over the past year and a half I have enjoyed working with Adam CooperChristina Smart and David Sherlock on the LACE project and with Phil Barker on Cetis communications work. I have admired Lorna Campbell‘s commitment to open education and Wilbert Kraan‘s in-depth knowledge of metadata and open standards. And although I’ve not worked closely with Li Yuan or Simon Grant I have valued their contributions to discussions on Cetis mailing lists and admire the quality of their publications and research activities.

Life After Cetis

IWMW 2015

The free time I now have means that I will be able to focus on plans for this year’s IWMW (Institutional Web Management Workshop) event. IWMW 2015, the 19th in the series,  will take place at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk on 27-29th July.  Once again we have a great programme of talks and workshop sessions aimed at people in higher educational institutions with responsibilities for providing large scale web and digital services. Note that bookings are now open!

Consultancy and Related Work

I will be looking for opportunities for consultancy and similar work through my UK Web Focus Limited consultancy which I have set up with my wife Nicola. My interests are in making use of my areas of expertise to support those working primarily in higher and further education but also the wider public sector. This might include project work but I also have an interest in smaller scale activities including training, speaking, etc. I will also be looking fo opportunities for working with my former Cetis colleagues.

Particular areas of interest include:

In addition to these consultancy areas I am also intending to carry out a limited amount of pro bono work, such as the talk on use of Cloud services I will be giving next month for the U3A in Bath. I will also be open to invitations to speak at conferences, such as the invitation I received last year to talk at the 12th SAOIM (Southern African Online Information Meeting) conference held in Pretoria, South Africa.

To support the work I am in the process of migrating the UK Web Focus blog to a new domain at The new web site will evolve over time; in addition to providing access to  blog posts dating back to 2006 I intend to ensure that other resources I have created are main available on the new web site.

Beyond Work

The Royal Princess (photo from Wikipedia entry)

The Royal Princess (photo from Wikipedia entry)

I should conclude  by mentioning that I won’t be looking for consultancy work in the short term as, on Thursday, I’m going on a cruise around the British Isles on the Royal Princess – my wife (who is now also my business partner) are regarding this as a belated honeymoon (we got married last August but just had a brief visit to Sidmouth Folk Festival) as well as opportunity to recharge our batteries.

The cruise will be an adventure. Although I’ve travelled a lot – to over 50 countries, depending on the complexities of counting countries – I’m not been on a cruise before (my trip on two Hurtigruten ships a few years ago doesn’t really count as a cruise).  I’m looking forward to lots of reading, maybe getting into the habit of going to the gym and, shock, not accessing the Internet – the prices are extortionate on-board – although Ill probably post some tweets and Facebook status updates when I spend time on land in Guernsey, Cobh, Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Kirkwall, Invergordon, Edinburgh and Le Havre.

Wish me luck!

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Identifying and Preparing for Technological Developments

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 Feb 2015

THE Article on Technology Trends for 2015

Times Higher Education: technology trends for 2015An article published yesterday in the THE (Times Higher Education)  summarised the 6 key trends accelerating technology adoption in higher education in 2015.

As can be seen from the accompanying screenshot the THE has published similar articles in the past; in February 2014 they published two related articles:

These lists of trends accelerating adoption of technologies and challenges impeding adoption of technologies have been taken from the NMC Horizon series of reports with yesterday’s article summarising the trends described in the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition. In brief these trends are:

  1. Advancing cultures of change and innovation: long-term trend based on the observations that “many thought leaders have long believed that universities can play a major role in the growth of national economies” and “research universities [being] generally perceived as incubators for new discoveries and innovations that directly impact their local communities and even the global landscape“.
  2. Increasing cross-institution collaboration: long-term trend which is based on the observation that “collective action among universities is growing in importance for the future of higher education“.
  3. Growing focus on measuring learning: mid-term trend focussing on “gathering and analysing large amounts of detail about individual student interactions in online learning activities, with a view to personalising their “learning experience” or measuring performance“.
  4. Proliferation of open educational resources: mid-term trend based on the observation that “open educational resources (teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others) have momentum behind them“.
  5. Increasing use of blended learning: short-term trend which acknowledges that “blended learning, whereby teaching utilises a mixture of online and in-person methods, has been around for some time, but recent developments are “upping the ante”“.
  6. Redesigning learning spaces: short-term trend which, for example, address how “more universities are helping to facilitate “emerging models of education” such as the flipped classroom, whereby content is delivered online and lecturers use contact time to discuss and explain rather than to disseminate knowledge“.

So how we know what the future holds for higher education!

Identifying and Preparing for Technological Developments

The publication of the THE article was quite timely as tomorrow I am facilitating a session on “Identifying and Preparing for Technological Developments” at a JIBS meeting entitled “Technology will not defeat us: offering a good service in difficult times“.

The session is based on my initial work on the Jisc Observatory (led by UKOLN and Cetis) which was summarised in a paper on “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow“, participation last year with the expert panel which advised on the NMC Horizon report for Academic Libraries and workshop sessions on predicting technological developments which I gave at ELAG 2014, SAOIM 2014 and ILI 2013 conferences.

In the session I will make use of the Delphi process used by the NMC Horizon team in the production of their reports, together with illustrating a number of other techniques which may be useful in identifying technology trends and responding to such trends. The key point I’ll be making is that organisations should incorporate such approaches to support their long-term planning. I hope the approaches I’ll describe will be of interest and, as the resources are available with a Creative Commons CC-BY licence, that the methodology can be easily adopted by others.

The slides I’m using at the event are available on Slideshare and embedded below.

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Seminar on “Preparing Our Users For Digital Life Beyond The Institution”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11 Feb 2015

Later today I am giving a seminar on “Preparing Our Users For Digital Life Beyond The Institution” for the iSchool at Northumbria University. As described on the iSchool web site:

For nearly 70 years we [the Information Sciences department at Northumbria University which is a member of the iSchools Organisation] have been working closely with employers and professionals to develop and deliver programmes that respond to changing needs and technologies, and draw upon experience and expertise across the University.

Our programmes, research and staff activities span a range of applications from Information and Knowledge Management, Librarianship, and Records Management, through to Communication Management, Public Relations, and Engagement. 

Across this spectrum, we maintain strong links with professional bodies and employers, and our graduates have been very successful in finding employment in commercial and public organisations, at home and abroad.

In light of the department’s long-standing interests in bridging the gap between academia and other employers this seems to provide an ideal opportunity to revisit an area of interest which I first raised at the LILAC 2013 conference in  a talk on When Staff and Researchers Leave Their Host Institution and was followed by a poster presentation a year later at LILAC 2014 (see the accompanying image).

In the talk I will argue that the traditional approaches taken to IT provision and support for staff and researchers is increasingly inappropriate: the institutional IT environment (such as the institutional repository and the institutional email account) can provide a siloed environment when staff and researchers leave their current host institution. This can be a significant barrier if they wish to continue to make use of their content, services and communities to further their professional career  in a different institution, as a consultant or, say, citizen scientist.

Although content ownership and licence conditions may have placed barriers in the past, the moves towards open content, open source software and Cloud services which are hosted beyond the institution are nowadays providing a more flexible environment, which should enable staff and researchers to continue their professional activities more easily when they leave their current institution. It is important to remember that everyone will someday leave their current institution and so, I would argue, all institutions should ensure they have policies and procedures for when this happens.

In the talk I will invite feedback on a possible policy:

The University seeks to ensure that staff and students are able to be productive and effective in their work and study at the university and are able to continue to exploit their skills, knowledge and content when they leave provide this does not conflict with licence conditions, etc.

How will this policy be achieved? During induction staff and students are advised on how to maximise long-term access to content and services. Prior to leaving staff and students will be able to access support on how to migrate their content, communities and access from institutional services.

I appreciate that such a policy may be in conflict with institutions which seek to ensure ownership and control of content created by members of the institution. However as HEFCE pointed out in a news items published in July 2012Universities in the UK contributed £3.3 billion to the economy in 2010-11 through services to business, including commercialisation of new knowledge, delivery of professional training, consultancy and services“. Minimising the barriers to reuse of content, tools and services which academics helped to develop and are familiar with should ensure that they continue to contribute to the economy (if financial aspects are your main interest) and to research and learning (if you place an emphasis on these aspects of academia).

Reasons forlack of formal training/support?In a survey carried out in spring 2014 Jenny Evans and myself found that the majority of the respondents case felt that it was not the responsibility of the Library to provide formal training in use of Cloud services for staff and researchers who are about to leave the institution is not the responsibility: as can be seen from the histogram this, rather than lack of expertise or resources, is the most significant reason.

But if this isn’t the responsibility of librarians, then who should have responsibility? I’d be interested in your thoughts. I’d also like to hear if things have changed since I first started writing about this back in 2013.

Note that the slides for the talk are available on Slideshare and embedded below.

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Sharing Information, Misinformation and Untruths

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 Dec 2014

Recent Mainstream Examples of Misinformation and Untruths

It’s good to share. And we now have a global infrastructure in place which facilitates sharing and encourages discussions on the information which has been shared.

But as well as sharing information the infrastructure (such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+) can also be used to share misinformation and untruths – and it’s not always easy to differentiate between the different types of information. This is especially the case if we would like to belief the misinformation.

This struck me over the weekend when I came across three examples of misinformation and untruths which were being widely shared across my stream on Facebook and Twitter.

On Friday and Saturday I came across a number of Facebook status from people I am connected to who posted links to stories about how ‘Black Friday’ originated with the slave trade.

Coalition of resistanceI also came across a number of links to a post published by the Coalition of Resistance: Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay organisation which provided visual evidence that MPs will turn up on large numbers for votes on MPs expenses and pay but won’t attend parliament for votes on the war in Afghanistan, the sex abuse inquiry, knife crime prevention, drug laws, the impact of welfare reforms on the sick and disabled and similar issues.

The outrage which this series of images generated can be seen from the large number of Facebook ‘likes’ (28,615 to date), shares (67,721 to date) and comments.

In this case the Spectator, a right-of-centre publication, published an article entitled “The menace of memes: how pictures can paint a thousand lies” pointed out misinformation:

When debates go on for several hours, MPs often pop in and out as they have other business going on at the same time. They may be in a select committee, meeting constituents, taking part in a Westminster Hall debate, running an all-party parliamentary group meeting, briefing journalists, plotting a rebellion with colleagues or working in their office 

and untruths:

The bottom image claims to be from 11 July 2013. There was no debate on pay that day, which was a Thursday. There are often fewer MPs in the House on a Thursday. So this image is from the wrong day. I’ve combed the PA images archive and, surprise, surprise, it’s not from a debate about pay in 2013. It’s from Prime Minister’s Questions on 5 September 2012.

associated with this post and associated discussions.

In the case of the origins of the term ‘Black Friday’ the Snopes service provides evidence that the claim that “The term “Black Friday” originated with the practice of selling off slaves on the day after Thanksgiving is false.

Examples of Misinformation and Untruths About Online Services

The two examples given above were not only popular across my networks but also more widely. However two further examples are of more direct relevance to those with professional interests in online services.

Flickr is about to sell your photosThree days ago the Dazed Digital blog published an article entitled “Flickr is about to sell off your Creative Commons photos” which had a sub-heading providing a warning to Flickr users: “And no, you won’t see a single penny from it“.

I’m come across similar misleading posts about the terms and conditions of popular online services in the past. Back in April 2012 in a post entitled “Have You Got Your Free Google Drive, Skydrive & Dropbox Accounts?” I pointed out, in response to suggestions that Google owned everything uploaded to the newly released Google Drive service, the terms and conditions which state:

“You retain ownership of any intellectual property that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours”?

In the case of Flickr, according to a c|net articleit turns out the Web giant is selling prints of photos some photographers intended to give away for free, according to a report Monday by the Wall Street Journal“. But it seems that this will only happen for photographs which have been shared with a licence which permits commercial reuse, such as a Creative Commons CC-BY licence.  If Flickr users do not want others to make money from their photographs they simply need to provide a Non-Commercial (NC) licence. In this the original blog post was not being untruthful in saying “And no, you won’t see a single penny from it” but was being misleading in hinting that Flickr was implementing new terms and conditions.

Facebook copyright memeThe final example which I came across over the weekend is the Facebook copyright meme. In this case the misspellings (“the Berner Convention“) and poorly-written text (“Facebook is now an open capital entity“) provide clues that this text is meaningless and a Gawker article gives further details on why “That Facebook Copyright Thing Is Meaningless and You Should Stop Sharing It“.

Popular Memes

I suspect that few people in my network have been misled by the racist Britain First organisation (I do not intend to raise its visibility further by providing a link, but it seems that it currently has 590,762 ‘likes’).

But what about other memes such as “If You’re Not Paying for It; You’re the Product“? In some respects this isn’t saying anything new: I don’t pay to watch ITV and am happy to accept that ITV sells advertisers eyeballs for advertisements, with programmes as the filler between the ads.  But I didn’t pay to go to university. Was I, back in the 1970s, a product of the establishment? And should I welcome the fact that today’s generation of students are not products but consumers?!

Memes can help to disseminate useful information as well as misinformation and untruths. But it’s not always easy to differentiate between them!

View Twitter conversations and metrics using: [Topsy] – []


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Making Effective Use of Google Docs (and Who Will Support Researchers?)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 Nov 2014

Looking to Make Google Docs a Richer Authoring Environment

Google Docs: table of contents addon

The Table of Contents add-on for Google Docs

These days I find myself making extensive use of Google Docs. This is the tool of choice for the LACE project I am involved in. Although Google Docs doesn’t have the power of MS Word it does provide access control capabilities which are important for project work with partners working at different institutions across Europe.

As a long-standing user of MS Word (since its days which it competed with WordPerfect on MS DOS!)  I have become accustomed to its functionality and user interface. As I described in a post which summarised the collaborative authoring approach myself and my co-authors used in writing a “Paper Accepted for #W4A2012 Conference” I have made use of MS Word and Microsoft’s Onedrive (then called Skydrive) so that we could edit the document using our preferred authoring tool. Since our paper was hosted in the Cloud we could edit a single copy and avoided the problem of authors editing multiple copies of a paper. However although the approach worked for a small group of authors who were happy to use MS Word, it is not necessarily the best approach when there are a more diverse group of contributors.

In my current environment we used a shared Google Drive folder and I typically create project documents using Google Docs and receive contributions and comments from project partners. Some of the documents, which are intended for use by the project team, will continue to be hosted on Google Drive. However other documents. which are intended for submission to the European Commission, will migrate to an MS Word environment using the project’s template for submission of deliverables.

I have recently started to explore ways to enhance the Google Docs environment for producing documents. Sometime ago I installed the Google Docs Table of Contents add-on which, as shown, provides a document outliner which can be useful, especially for longer documents, in depicting the document structure.

What Do I Do Need to Do More in Google Docs?

It seems that at some point I also installed the Gliffy Diagrams add-on, which can be used to “create professional looking diagrams and flowcharts in Google Docs“.  As I often include diagrams in documents I produce using  MS Word I have felt the need for such functionality, but I haven’t got around to using this tool on a regular basis. This may be because I use Google Docs as the initial authoring environment but produce the final version in MS Word and use MS Word tools for embedding images and producing the polished final version.

Google Docs add-onsBut what more do I need to make greater use of Google Docs, I wonder?

As described in a TechCrunch article published in March 2014 “Google Launches Add-On Store For Google Docs“.  The article explains how on 11 March 2014:

Google announced the launch of its add-on store for Google Docs’ spreadsheet and word processor apps. The store, which resembles the Chrome Web Store in its design, currently features about 50 add-ons, with more coming in the near future.

According to Google, the idea here is to provide users with new tools that will give them access to more features — especially features that aren’t currently available through Google’s own products.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has experiences in use of these add-ons for Google Docs. Are there any power users who are using Google Docs in sophisticated ways and are making use of add-ons to enhance the functionality of the service?

Beyond the Tools – Managing Google Docs

As a long-standing user of MS Word I can remember when using a word processor was a solo experience. However nowadays tools such as Google Docs are designed to provide collaborative authoring environments. Such tools also provide collaborative commenting and viewing capabilities, with the ability to manage access to document, co-authors, commenters or viewers.

There will therefore be a need to understand best practices for managing access to Google Docs. This will go beyond the use of folders and file naming conventions: there will be a need to make use of scaleable approaches which will enable  authors to be able to manage large numbers of documents shared with  potentially a wide range of contributors and viewers. Giving world write access to documents is one way of managing access, but this approach does have risks! Note that there will also be a need to manage access when collaborators leave projects or change their host institution.

Supporting Researchers

Earlier today Dave Flanders alerted  me to the Research Bazaar Conference (#ResBaz) which aims to “kick-start a training programme in Australia assuring the next generation of researchers are equipped with the digital skills and tools to make their research better“. The event is described as:

an academic training conference (i.e. think of this event as a giant Genius Bar at an Apple store), where research students and early career researchers can come to acquire the digital skills (e.g. computer programming, data analysis, etc.) that underpin modern research

I suspect there will be a lot of sharing of open source tools at the event. But I wonder if making effective use of mainstream tools such as Google Docs will be covered? And if such issues aren’t addressed at events such as #RezBaz, who will take responsibility for training of postgraduate students?

View Twitter conversations and metrics using: [Topsy] – []

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Evidence Submitted to the House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 Nov 2014

The House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills

House of Lords Select CommitteThe House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills is seeking answers to the question “how should the UK join up ‘fragmented’ digital skills teaching?

Last month, on Tuesday 14 October 2014, the House of Lords’ Digital Skills Committee quizzed Karen Price OBE, Chief Executive, e-skills UK, Maggie Philbin, UK Digital Skills Taskforce & CEO TeenTech and Rachel Neaman, CEO, Go ON UK about digital skills teaching in the UK. If you missed the live video stream of the meeting  a recording of the meeting is available on the UK Parliament’s web site.

In addition to the oral evidence which has been presented to the Select Committee a significant number of written submissions have also been made, with a total of approximately 125 contributions included in the Oral and written evidence report, a substantial PDF document containing no fewer than 763 pages!

About the Select Committee on Digital Skills

The Select Committee on Digital Skills was announced in the chamber of the House of Lords on Monday 9 June 2014. The Select Committee will consider information and communications technology, competitiveness and skills in the UK. It is expected that the committee will submit its recommendations and publish its report by 5 March 2015.

The Digital Skills Committee published its call for evidence on 11 June. The deadline for submitting written evidence was 5 September 2014.

In addition to the call for written evidence the Select Committee held a number of meeting which sought answers to questions from various sectors:

  •  On Tuesday 22 July the Select Committee asked Google, Microsoft and some of the UK’s leading technology specialists  about the UK’s readiness for technologies of the future.
  • On Tuesday 29 July the Committee heard from campaigners for digital start-ups, the voice of SMEs in the UK and the country’s tech sector and asked them whether rapidly changing technology trends are creating barriers for businesses, whether businesses’ tech skills are falling behind, how the UK’s infrastructure can be improved, and whether the end result of these challenges is damaging to the UK economy.
  • On Monday 1 September the Committee heard from the British Chambers of Commerce, Direct Line, McKinsey & Company, BT, Boston Consulting Group and Virgin Media. Questions that the Committee put to the witnesses included How can UK businesses prepare for the future?; What skills do future workers need for the UK to be globally competitive?; Does the UK have a competitive infrastructure to support a knowledge-driven economy?; How is the change in technology affecting this infrastructure?; How does the UK compare to other countries? and How important is faster Internet speed for businesses and their development?
  • The following day, Tuesday 2 September, the Committee held further evidence sessions, where they heard from the BBC, Ofcom and lifelong learning experts, among others. In these sessions they concentrated on the issues of: boosting levels of digital and media literacy; digital careers; and lifelong learning.
  • On 3 September  the Committee went on a tour of the offices of Guardian Media Group and Google Campus in London. The purpose of the visit was for Committee Members to see both how digital technologies are being produced at Google Campus and to learn about how Guardian Media Group is using digital technology to innovate and grow its global footprint.
  • Finally, as mentioned above, on Tuesday 14 October the Committee asked ‘how should the UK join up ‘fragmented’ digital skills teaching?’ and quizzed witnesses on several aspects of skills delivery, from preparing the workforce, to identifying skills gaps, to reducing inequality between the digitally skilled and the unskilled.

The Oral and Written Evidence Report

As mentioned above the Oral and Written Evidence Report is a substantial PDF document containing 763 pages. I’ve not attempted to read the report. However I have a number of observations after skimming through the list of contributors and reading the evidence provided by organisations I have some knowledge of.

CILIP Response

I was pleased to see that CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, had responded to eight of the fifteen questions in the call for evidence. CILIP pointed out that “Increased mobility within the workforce means the ability to telecommute is more attainable than ever“. CILIP also highlighted two areas which were of particular importance to their organisation:  information which “needs managing well and the skills and expertise of information managers need acknowledging as they will be an essential component to future success in a knowledge driven economy” and information literacy, defined as “knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner“. The CILIP response then went on for 9 pages to provide more detailed responses to points raised by the Select Committee.

Wikimedia UK Response

Wikimedia UK provided 7 pages of evidence. Their submission concluded:

There is an expectation that the fostering of digital skills in the 21st Century will take place in an ‘always on’ open environment. For the potential of such developments to come to fruition, legislative change around the opening of cultural heritage, and innovation around education design both need support. ‘Open’ practices are not simply about copyright reform and open licensing of public materials; they embody the kinds of literacies – informational and digital – required in the digital environment, and as such deserve consideration as important ‘digital skills’.

Other Responses from the Higher Education Sector

Searching the table of contents for submissions from the higher education sector I found:

  • Association for Learning Technology (ALT), on pages 36-39.
  • Bath Spa University on pages 70-71.
  • The Open University (OU) on pages 292-801.

Although there may have been additional submissions from individuals who work in the higher education sector, the limited numbers of responses from higher educational institutions and affiliated organisations seems disappointing, especially in light of the larger numbers of responses from commercial organisations including:

  • Barclays Bank on pages 49-52.
  • British Sky Broadcasting (Sky) on pages 137-143.
  • BT on pages 160-171.
  • Channel 4 on pages 176-179.
  • EE on pages 295-301.
  • Google, Microsoft and UK Forum for Computing Education on pages 364-380.
  • Microsoft, Google and UK Forum for Computing Education on pages 532-534.
  • Samsung Electronics UK on pages 660-676.
  • Virgin Media  on pages 777-786.

There are many other submissions which I have not listed from a variety of sectors. However I find it surprising that a Select Committee which is looking for answers to the question “how should the UK join up ‘fragmented’ digital skills teaching?” seems to have such limited input from the higher education sector. Should we be concerned? Or is the answer to be provided by companies such as Google, Microsoft, Sky and Barclays Bank?!

View Twitter conversations and metrics using: [Topsy] – []



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Launch of the NMC Horizon Report 2014 Library Edition

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 Aug 2014

The NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition

The NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition was launched earlier today at the IFLA 2014 conference.

NMC horizon report 2014: LibrariesAs described on the NMC Horizon web site:

The NMC Horizon Project charts the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning, and research, creative inquiry. Launched in 2002, it epitomizes the mission of the NMC to help educators and thought leaders across the world build upon the innovation happening at their institutions by providing them with expert research and analysis. 

I was pleased to have been invited to have been invited to have been invited to participate in the NMC Horizon Project Library Expert Panel, one of only three invited experts from the UK. My colleagues at Cetis have previously been involved in NMC Horizon Report Regional Analyses on the Technology Outlook: UK Tertiary Education 2011-2016. My contribution to this volume, the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Library Edition, is based on my recent work in predicting technological developments which was described in a paper by myself and Paul Hollins in a paper on “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow” presented at the Umbrella 2013 conference together with workshop sessions on this subject this year at two library conferences this year: SAOIM (Southern African Online Information Meeting) 2014 and ELAG (European Libraries Automation Group) 2014.

About the Report

The report examines key trends, significant challenges and emerging technologies for their potential impact on academic and research libraries worldwide. panel. Over the course of three months in spring 2014, the 2014 Horizon Project Library Expert Panel came to a consensus about the topics that would appear in the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Library Edition.

The report summarises the trends which are accelerating technology adoption in academic and research libraries; the challenges impeding technology adoption in academic and research libraries and important technological developments for academic and research libraries. As shown in the accompanying image the expert panel identified 18 topics very likely to impact technology planning and decision-making: six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in educational technology.

The important technological developments highlighted in the report, especially, in the short term, electronic publishing and mobile apps and, in the medium term, bibliometrics and citation technologies and open content, will probably be familiar to most readers of this blog. Similarly the key trends driving adoption of technologies (an increasing focus on research data management (RDM) for publications and prioritization of mobile content and delivery in the short term; the evolving nature of the scholarly record and the increasing accessibility of research content in the medium term and the continual progress in technology, standards, and infrastructure and the rise of new forms of multidisciplinary research in the longer term) are topics which are widely discussed on library mailing lists and at events for academic librarians.

However it is the challenges which are impeding technology adoption in academic and research libraries which I found of particular interest. Identifying technological developments and associated trends which may drive adoption of technologies is less threatening than the identification of the challenges which are impeding adoption of the technologies within libraries. I found the way in which such challenges had been categorised particularly interesting: solvable challenges which we understand and know how to solve; difficult challenges which we understand but for which solutions are elusive and wicked challenges which are complex to even define, much less address.

What Next?

Understanding the Key Questions in Your Organisational Context

I recommend that those who work in academic libraries and have responsibilities for policy-making or implementing new technologies should read this report. But it should be recognised that reading the report will lead to further questions rather than simply providing answers. Some questions to be considered include: ‘Are the technological developments highlighted in the report relevant to my library in my particular institutional context?’ and ‘Do the trends driving technology adoption which have been identified by an expert panel from 16 countries reflect the trends relevant in my country?’ And, of particular relevance for specific institutions, ‘What are the key challenges our library will face in the short-term, medium-term and long-term which will impede the adoption of relevant technologies?’.

Once these questions have ben re-formulated from an institutional context there will then be a need to answer the question: What should we do next?

ILI 2014 programme: Track AA particular strength of the methodology used by the NMC Horizon team in producing their report is in assembling a team of experts from a variety of backgrounds who can help ensure that a broad range of interests and experiences are used to inform the discussions which inform the production of the final report.

Conferences, especially international conferences, provide another mechanism for hearing about different approaches being taken across the library sector to addressing particular drivers and challenges in order to exploit technological developments.

ILI 2014: Hearing About Other Technology Developments

The ILI 2014 conference takes place in London on 21-22nd October 2014. This conference, for which I’m a member of the advisory committee, will provide an opportunity to hear about technology-related trends in libraries.

As illustrated, the opening day of the conference explores new blueprints for libraries, with track A on New Blueprints for Libraries beginning with a session on Tomorrow’s world today – trends in library services and followed by a session on Redesigning library services.

ILI 2014 programme: Track BAt the same time I will be facilitating the opening session for track B on Technology Innovation and Impact. Following my summary of the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition there will be a session on ‘Real-world tech’ which will cover examples of use of 3D printers and augmented reality in a library context followed by a session on ‘Driving change with technology partners’.

The theme for ILI 2014 is “Positive Change: Creating Real Impact“. The conference web site explains how attendance at the conference can help librarians to:

  • UNDERSTAND the changes you can make to ensure your communities thrive
  • LEARN about emerging models and roles that meet the changing demands of end-users
  • HEAR how libraries – and librarians – must change to be future ready
  • TAKE HOME new skills and ideas for transformative new services to impact positively on your organisation

If you’re attending the conference and have an interest in technological developments, the drivers which can help accelerate the take-up of such developments and the barriers to their deployment feel free to either leave a comment on this blog or get in touch and I’ll try to address comments I receive during the session. Of course even if you’re not attending the conference I’d welcome your thoughts on the report.

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Earlier Today I Got Married!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 Aug 2014

wedding: brian and nicola kellyEarlier today I got married at the Bath Register Office :-). Nicola McNee is now Nicola Kelly

I use this blog for posts primarily related to my work activities but as today is a very special day I feel I can break this rule. However there are aspects of our relationship which overlap with my work interests. If anyone questions the value of Twitter I am now able to say that I met my wife on Twitter :-). This was on the 29th April 2009 when I gave a talk at CILIP HQ on “The Social Web and the Information Professional: Risks and Opportunities“. Phil Bradley had invited me to take part in a discussion on whether CILIP should encourage librarians and information professionals to make use of social media. A certain school librarian with the Twitter ID @nicolamcnee took part on the Twitter discussions on the day. Dave Patten (@daveyp) had created an archive of the #cilip2 tweets and from the archive I found her first tweet:

I’m getting excited about #cilip2 this afternoon. Hope the twittering is good

and her first tweet to me:

@briankelly Go brian we’re right behind you..literally on the wall I believe during the open session #cilip2

Nicola was one of the main event Twitterers for the #CILIP2 event. According to my Twitter archive it seems that it was about 6 weeks later when we went for a drink (not, however, an intimate tête-à-tête but rather a meeting with geeks from UKOLN and Eduserv at the Raven pub:

@NicolaMcNee There was recent discussion about how museums might circumvent council barriers. Let’s plan the revolution down The Raven!

Although we met up from time to time after that it wasn’t until October 2010 when we first started going out. And it was at a geeks event when we first got together! We had agreed to run a session on “Sixty Minutes To Save Libraries”: Gathering Evidence to Demonstrate Library Services’ Impact and Value at the Mashed Library 2010 event. We met at The Raven on the Saturday night; talk part in the various events on the Saturday and, in the evening, went for a drink in the Coeur de Lion, Bath’s smallest pub. “Shall we ‘go out’?” I asked in the pub. Nicola said “yes” but was probably surprised by my follow-up question: “Can we official start going out tomorrow?” My reason was that the following day it would be 1 November, a date which would be easier for me to remember on subsequent anniversaries. I was clearly thinking for the long term.

We discovered that we not only had shared interests in use of online technologies but also in folk music, rapper sword dancing, real ale and real pubs – I’ve already mentioned he Raven and The Coeur de Lion, but in addition we also used to watch live music at The Bell on Monday and Wednesday nights and spend Friday night’s in our favourite pub, The Star.

And now we’re married :-) We’ll shortly we heading off to the south coast and will be popping into to Sidmouth Folk Festival where we’ll having a party on Wednesday lunch with the Newcastle Kingsmen and other friends and family. If you’re around feel free to come along. Myself and the missus would love to see you.

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Life, A Year After Redundancy and Leaving UKOLN

Posted by Brian Kelly on 31 Jul 2014

Looking Back

A year ago today was my final day at UKOLN after the cessation of Jisc funding led to large-scale redundancies. During my final week I posted a series of posts on my Reflections on 16 years at UKOLN. In my final post on Life After UKOLN: Looking For New Opportunities I explained how I was looking for new opportunities to continue working in the higher education sector. A year on it is now timely to review my activities over the past year.

A Summer Break

My home officeThe redundancy provided an opportunity for a 3 month break. After a few weeks off and a holiday in the north east (North Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland) I took the opportunity to refresh my professional skills which including participating (and completing!) a MOOC: the Hyperlinked Library MOOC.

During the summer break I carried out some consultancy work and applied for a job at the ODI. But the biggest development was the building work to my house, which included installing network points in most of the rooms and converting one of the bedrooms to my office. As I described in a post on Marieke Guy’s Ramblings of a Remote Worker blog I was all set up to be a home worker.

Innovation Advocate at Cetis

I had decided that I was looking for a job which would allow me to continue to work in higher education and would build on my strengths, interests, areas of expertise and the professional connections I had, but would also provide some flexibility to pursue other interests. I was therefore pleased to be offered the post of Innovation Advocate at Cetis, working four days a week.

I have now been in post for nine months and have enjoyed my new role. My man areas of work have been:

Open practices: I have continued to seek to work in an open fashion, in particular using this blog and Twitter to share my thoughts, ideas and opinions. I also facilitated a webinar on “Open Educational Practices (OEP): What They Mean For Me and How I Use Them” which addressed moves towards openness and the implications for open educational practices.

Promoting use of Wikipedia in education: A year ago I became a member of WMUK (WikiMedia UK). I have promoted use of Wikipedia as an open educational practice. My work has included talks on “Wikipedia, Wikimedia UK and Higher Education: Developments in the UK” at the Wikimedia Serbia Eduwiki conference; a workshop session on “Getting to Grips with Wikipedia: a Practical Session” at the LILAC 2014 conference; an invited plenary talk on “Editing Wikipedia: Why You Should and How You Can Support Your Users” at the CILIP Wales 2014 conference and a workshop session on “Open Knowledge: Wikipedia and Beyond” at the Cetis 2014 conference. In addition I was a co-author of a feature article on “Wikipedia and Information Literacy” which was published in CILIP Update.

Information literacy and life-long learning: I presented a poster on “Preparing our Users for Digital Life Beyond the Institution” at the LILAC 2014 conference.

Use of emerging standards: Together with Cetis colleagues I have contributed to reports on developments to standards for the Jisc and have been the editor and lead author on a landscape report on standards also for the Jisc.

Learning analytics: I am leading the outreach and user engagement work for the EU-funded LACE (Learning Analytics Community Exchange) project.

Web accessibility: I am continuing my long-established work in Web accessibility, which includes raising the visibility of BS 8878. I gave an invited online talk which argued that “Accessibility is Primarily about People and Processes, Not Digital Resources!” at the OZeWAI 2013 conference; gave a talk on “Accessibility, Inclusivity and MOOCs: What Can BS 8878 Offer?” for an ILSIG Webinar on ‘MOOCs and Inclusive Practice’ abnd faciliated a workshop on “Building an Accessible Digital Institution” at the Cetis 2014 conference.

Social media for researchers: This year has been unusual in that I have not written any peer-reviewed papers or invited conference papers – this is the first time since 1997 that I have failed to do this (although I still have a few months to remedy this!). However I have continued to promote ways in which social media can be used by researchers, including giving the final plenary talk on “Open Practices for Researchers” at the University of Bolton;s Research and Innovation Conference 2014 together with talks on “How Social Media Can Enhance Your Research Activities” at the IRISS Research Unbound conference and “Using Social Media to Enhance Your Research Activities” at the annual DAAD conference for young academics from Germany working at UK Universities. Interestingly when I updated my talk for the Research and Innovation Conference 2014 at the University of Bolton I found that not only have I continued to have the largest number of downloads of any researcher at the University of Bath but my former colleagues Alex Ball, Ann Chapman and Emma Tonkin are also listed in the top ten researchers having the largest number of downloads. Despite three of us having left UKOLN a year ago, we are still finding that our research and project outputs are very visible!

Preparing for the future: I was particularly pleased to be able to continue to develop joint work which UKOLN and Cetis had been involved with in the past. This work, which was initially carried out as part of the Jisc Observatory, was summarised by myself and Paul Hollins, the Cetis director, in a paper on “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow“. Institutions continue to have an interest in methodologies for identifying and making plans for technological trends. I have further developed the methodologies, which was helped by my involvement this year with the forthcoming NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Library Edition (the final report is scheduled for publication on 16 August). I have facilitated workshop sessions based on the methodologies at the SAOIM 2014 and ELAG 2014 conferences, which were aimed at those working in the library sector, and at Brighton University for those working in a merged Library/ IT service department.

IWMW 2014: I have heard the IWMW event and the Ariadne ejournal described as “UKOLN’s crown jewels”. I was pleased to see a new issue of Ariadne published earlier this year. And last month we held IWMW 2014, the 18th in the annual Institutional Web Management Workshop series.

What Of The Future?

It has been a busy year. But what of the future? I feel that we will continue to see uncertainty across the higher education sector, with ongoing political and sectoral discussions about the nature of funding. Closer to home it seems that the announcement on the Jisc blog that “we are changing the current host grant agreements as of 31 December 2014” conceals further redundancies in the Jisc world which the closure of the RSCs and advisory services will entail. Although the Jisc future may continue to be uncertain we do know that Jisc are now focussing their work on a small number of areas which are agreed with the Jisc co-design partners (RLUK, RUGIT, SCONUL and UCISA). In addition Jisc are now a ‘solutions provider’ rather than a funder so that the solutions which they develop will subsequently be sold back to the sector. [Note this is my understanding of the new approaches which Jisc are taking, based on the opening plenary talk given by Phil Richards at the Ceis 2014 conference. However I’d welcome comments if I’ve misinterpreted what was said.]

In this changing environment I feel that there will continue to be opportunities for organisations such as Cetis to work with institutions and other players in the sector since I think we can predict that higher educational institutions will continue to exists for a number of years. The Cetis web site lists a number of areas in which we provide consultancy. We should probably extend this list to include additional areas in which we can support and advise institutions. I hope to continue my work with Cetis. In the short term, I’ll be away on holiday next week but feel free to get in touch if there are areas of interest to your institution which I might be able to address.

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What I Noticed For The First Time In The Past 24 Hours

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 Feb 2014

Techniques for Predicting Future Trends and Their Implications

Back in October Tony Hirst and I co-facilitated a day-long workshop session on Future Technologies and Their Applications. Mechanisms for predicting future developments and being receptive to the possibilities and implications of technological and societal developments has been a long-standing area of interest to me.

Back in 2007 in a post entitled The History Of The Web Backwards I was inspired by the “History of the World Backwards” comedy series on Radio 4 programme to describe the demise of the web from the data of the blog post to its extinction on the early 1990s. The aim of that approach was to provide different insights into technological developments. Two years later in a post on Forecasting Trends Backwards I described a YouTube video entitled Romancing Your Soul Absolutely Brilliant! which provided another take on time travel: it began with a young woman’s dismal view of the implications of technological developments which concluded “And all of this will come true unless we choose to reverse it“. The talk was then reversed to provide an optimistic view of developments. If you’ve not seen it before I’d recommend spending 1 minute 44 seconds to watch it (there have been over 201,000 views since the video was uploaded in October 2009).

In our Future Technologies workshop Tony Hirst introduced me to a new technique for helping to spot technological developments and reflect on their implications. As Tony described in a post which asked “What did you notice for the first time today?” this question “can be important for trend spotting – it may signify that something is becoming mainstream that you hadn’t appreciated before“.

Tony went on to give some examples of how he uses this approach:

I’ve started trying to capture the first time I spot tech in the wild with a photo, such as this one of an Amazon locker in a Co-Op in Cambridge, or a noticing from the first time I saw video screens on the Underground.

In a post in which I gave my thoughts on this technique I posed the question slightly differently: What Have You Noticed Recently? and went on to comment on developments I’d observed in recent months (e.g. badges for gaming activities; evidence of use of mobile devices in bed; WiFi on buses and making payments using a mobile phone).

Providing examples of technological developments you have observed today is more challenging – especially if you noticed the developments at 8pm! This was when I was struck by something I had not come across before, so I’ll keep to the spirit of Tony’s methodology but tweak it by commenting on “What I Noticed For The First Time In The Past 24 Hours“.

What I Noticed For The First Time In The Past 24 Hours


The Cinime app

The Cinime app allows you to interact with the cinema screen display

Last night I went to the Odeon Cinema in Bath. The advertisements included one which encouraged viewers to download the Cinime app (available on the iPhone and Android market places). I installed the app on my Galaxy Note phone and started to use it during a number of further advertisements which were shown on the screen.  Unfortunately as I had to download the app over a slow 3G network I wasn’t able to play the computer games during which you could interact with the display on the cinema screen. However I was able to hold my phone up to the screen and receive further information about a trailer which was displayed.

Wondering How It’s Done?

On my way home I speculated on how the app might work. I had stated that I was in an Odeon cinema when I launch the app so it had some contextual information about me. But did it know which cinema? If not, how would it relate my responses to the quiz displayed on the screen? Perhaps there are only a fixed number of quizzes?

However the quizzes were quite simple. I was more interested in how taking a photo of a trailer shown on the cinema screen would provide information about the film. Was there some clever pattern recognition (there didn’t appear to be any QR code or equivalent code visible on the screen)? Or perhaps, I thought, the app might be processing the audio; after all apps such as Shazam and Soundcloud are able to recognise popular music.

How Was It Done?

An article in The Next Web gives some hints as to how the app works:

Cinime uses audio watermarking and image recognition technology to enable users to unlock brand and film-related content on their phones. During the interactive quiz, cinemagoers are invited to answer a series of questions displayed on the silver screen, questions that are tailored to different audiences and movies. If they get two or more questions correct, they can redeem a PlayStation-sponsored prize after the movie or during their next visit.

So both audio watermarking and image recognition are used, but more detailed information is not provided. Interestingly as a Google search for “how does cinime” is automatically expanded to how does cinime app work” suggests I’m not the first to ask this question.

A Change in the Culture in Cinemas?

As I held my phone up to the screen and took a picture of the screen (as illustrated) I felt somewhat self-conscious. Previously adverts had asked cinema goers to switch off their mobile devices, with adverts highlighting how embarrassing it could be if a phone went off while a film was being shown. But now cinema goers are being encouraged (indeed bribed, with prizes being offered for those who complete the quizzes) to use their mobile phones.

How Could Such Approaches Be Used In Other Contexts?

However rather than wondering how the app works or the implications of the culture change, my main interest was in how such an approach could be used in an educational or cultural contexts. That won’t be an issue I’ll address in this post, although I’d welcome suggestions.

A Portfolio of Techniques

This post has been primarily about how the question “What have you noticed for the first time in the past 24 hours?” or “What have you noticed for the first time recently?” can be a useful tool in future-planning workshops.

Lat year at the CETIS 2013 conference I took part in a session on the “Future of CETIS” in which Paul Hollins made use of the Delphi process to “identify emerging trends and the future technology landscape in education and predict as a group what technologies will have most impact on the short, medium and longer term in Higher Education in order to prepare institutions for the challenging future which awaits them“.

CETIS have also been involved in the EU-funded TELMap project which looked at emerging technologies and practices in educational technology which collected perception of timeline, potential impact, feasibility and desirability in respect of developments that are not currently mainstream.

I, together with my Cetis colleagues, will continue to explore ways of engaging with our communities in seeking to predict innovative developments and plan for their implications. The resources used for the workshop on Future Technologies and Their Applications are freely available under a Creative Commons licence. I intend to make further use of the “What have you noticed for the first time recently?” technique in future workshops, alongside use of the Delphi process which Paul Hollins and I described in a paper on “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow“.

But in addition I’d welcome suggestions on other approaches which can help in providing new ways in predicting and planning for innovation. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments. I also invite comments on things you may have noticed for the first time recently – with bonus points if you noticed them today! You could even share your observations on Twitter using the #whatInoticed tag.

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Starting A New Job!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 Oct 2013

Cetis home pageI’m really pleased to announce that I’ve got a new job. As announced on the Cetis Web site today I started work at Cetis as an Innovation Advocate (great job title!)

I’m looking forward to working at Cetis. I’ve worked closely with Cetis over the years. Looking at my list of events it seems that I ran workshop sessions or spoke at Cetis conferences in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013 and was the organiser of a joint UKOLN/CETIS/UCISA workshop on “Initiatives & Innovation: Managing Disruptive Technologies“. I’ve also written papers with current or former Cetis staff including ones on “Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access” (with Scott Wilson), “Twitter Archiving Using Twapper Keeper: Technical And Policy Challenges” (with Martin Hawksey) and “A Contextual Framework For Standards“, “A Standards Framework For Digital Library Programmes” and “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow” (with Paul Hollins).

My new role will enable me to build on our previous collaborations and my interests and expertise in areas including standards, accessibility, social media and open practices. In addition I hope that the extensive professional networks I have developed with provide useful in supporting and developing Cetis’s range of activities.

I will be working, as home worker, for four days a week. I’ll be looking forward to renewing my contacts with Jisc as well as making new contacts at Bolton University and across the e-learning community. I will also be looking for additional partnership and funding opportunities – so please get in touch (although I’ve still to finalise my preferred email address).

Since I was made redundant on 31 July I have spent my time improving the house and garden and, in particular, have converted one of the bedrooms into an office. The building work on the house included installation of network points in more of the rooms, so I will have a suitable working environment (although today’s induction at Bolton University will include a session on health and safety, so I will be interested to see if that includes issues of relevance for home workers) . I have also spent time over the summer on a number of professional development activities and some freelance work which has included participation in the Hyperlinked Libraries MOOC, the LinkedUp project booksprint, and facilitation of a day’s workshop on Future Technologies at the ILI 2013 conference. However today my new role as Innovation Advocate, Cetis, University of Bolton begins. I’m looking forward to it!

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Providing Online Access Through Advertising

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 Sep 2013

Last week I attended the openMIC no. 17 event on My Mobile Start-up. The day-long event was held at the Innovation Centre in Bath. It was described as being “all about how to turn those mobile apps, communities and platforms into mobile businesses“. The morning consisted of a series of presentations from providers of the following mobile applications: Hailocab, Yakatak, Samba Mobile, PixelPin and Bardowl .

The presentations were all very interesting, in particular the one form the taxi driver who described the development of Hailocab based on the ideas of three London-based taxi-drivers  which has led to the development of an app for hailing taxis which can be used in 15 cities across Europe, North America and Asia. I was motivated to download the app on  my Android phone in case I need to call a taxi when I’m in London.

The other presentation which was of particular interest to me described Samba Mobile which “allows their users to access mobile data networks through Dongles and Tablet SIM cards for free by viewing targeted video adverts from top brands“. During the presentation Ben Atherton, founder of the company, described the value of advertising but how its main drawback is the failure of conventional advertising to provide adverts which are of direct relevance to the viewer. Ben feels that Samba Mobile service, which enables users to select their areas of interest, will be well-positioned to benefit from such interests in targetted advertising. The company provides free 3G network access for users who watch adverts from subject areas they have chosen.

Samba mobileI decided to invest £5 on a Samba Mobile SIM which I’ve installed in a tablet which I have previously only used online when I’ve had WiFi access. On 8 and 11 September I viewed a few of the video adverts and, as shown, I’ve now earned over 41 Mb of network access.

Coincidentally yesterday I came across a deal advertised on Hot UK Deals for a OVIVO Mobile free monthly allowance increased again up to 150mins/200txts/500MB data for one off payment of £15.00 . The Hot UK Deals Web site describes how:

OVIVO Mobile are a great little firm offering free SIM only contracts in return for a couple of seconds of adverts when you connect to the internet over GPRS. They run over the Vodafone network and they have just increased their monthly free package to 150mins, 200 texts and now 500MB data so it is certainly a viable package for a low to medium user. All you have to do is buy the SIM card for £15 and the rest is free! 

Free data for watching a fee adverts? What’s not to like about this? The Hot UK Deals Web site allows users to vote on offers which are felt to be good value. A negative temperature indicates that the community feel that the deal is poor value, whereas deals which have a rating over 100o are felt to be ‘hot’. This deal has a temperature of 2373o and so is ‘scorching’.

But although this community may value the deal, the people I tend to deal with do not like network services which are supported by advertising. “If You’re Not Paying for It; You’re the Product” is the mantra and those who are prepared to put their money where their mouth is will install ad-blocking tools, pay for services such as (described as a “Developer-friendly Twitter alternative [which] hit 100,000 registered users, 9 months after launch“), use open source alternatives such as or Diaspora. Except that people didn’t use these services to any significant extent and they now seem to have faded away.

Are we seeing further signals of the decline of free services which do not have a sustainable business model and a growth in overt forms of advertising to fund services? After all, ITV was launched in 1955 and has a well-established track record which demonstrates that advertising had fund large organisations. Perhaps Samba Mobile is correct in suggesting that personalised ads may become important. What’s that? I’ve just received an alert telling me that Timothy Taylor’s Landlord is this week’s guest beer at my local. That’s my favourite beer – I’m off!

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Lest We Forget: The UKOLN (and CETIS) Diaspora

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 Aug 2013

Supporting CETIS Colleagues Formerly at the University of Strathclyde

A few days ago Lorna Campbell published a post in which she described how “The Cetis Memorandum of Understanding has been terminated and all Cetis staff at the university have been made redundant“. Sheila MacNeill posted a similar story in which she described how “my contract (like my colleagues Lorna and Martin) is terminating on Wednesday 31 July“.

As Sheila described “this has nothing to do with the change of funding between Jisc and Cetis, and that Cetis is going to be continuing after 31 July“. But although CETIS, which is primarily based at Bolton University, seem to have been successful in attracting new funding to replace the lost Jisc core funding, Lorna, Sheila and Martin Hawksey have suffered from the decision at the University of Strathclyde to “no longer continue its relationship with Cetis“.

I’ve known Lorna. Sheila and Martin for many years and have always been impressed by the quality of their work and the strong emphasis they place on community engagement and dissemination. I was therefore happy to provide testimonials on the LinkedIn profiles for Lorna Campbell, Sheila MacNeill and Martin Hawksey. But what of my former colleagues from UKOLN?

Supporting the UKOLN Diaspora

UKOLN DiasporaWikipedia defines diaspora as “a scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area“.  From the list of former UKOLN staff it seems there have been no fewer than 76 former members of staff, with just five people remaining (and only two working fulltime).

But how will people find former UKOLN employees? Since the UKOLN Web site was set up in the early days of the Web before AltaVista became a popular search engine!)  and has a large amount of content related to management of digital information, the UKOLN Web site has a lot of ‘Google juice’. This may mean that it will be difficult to find information about former UKOLN employees.

In order to ensure that potential new employers or business partners are able to find information about former members of staff the UKOLN Diaspora site has been set up. I

This provides a brief profile page for former UKOLN staff who have chosen to provide their information. The aim will be that a search for, say, “Rosemary Russell UKOLN” or “Natasha Bishop UKOLN” will find their up-to-date information on the UKOLN Diaspora site, rather than the work they were doing at UKOLN ten years ago!

Although aimed initially at staff who have been made redundant, the site will be extended shortly to enable everyone who used to work at UKOLN to provide information on their work at UKOLN, together with their current professional activities and interests.

In addition to widening the scope of the Web site I am currently in discussions with a designer in order to provide a more appealing user interface, which will provide the flexibility needed as the site grows.

If you have worked at UKOLN and would like to provide content on the Web site please get in touch.

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Life After UKOLN: Looking For New Opportunities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 Jul 2013

Tomorrow is my last day at UKOLN. I’ve enjoyed my time working at the University and living in Bath. In fact I enjoy living in Bath so much that I’ve decided that I won’t be looking to move away for a full-time job elsewhere. However I will be looking for new opportunities, such as consultancy work or perhaps short-term work elsewhere.

A couple of months ago I noticed that the Open Knowledge Foundation were inviting applicants who wished to apply for jobs to submit a brief video clip summarising reasons why they may be suitable for a job in the organisation. Since I felt that we are likely to see an increase in new approaches to interviewing I organised a session on “Creating a Multimedia CV or Project Summary” at the IWMW 2013 event. The session facilitators were Kirsty and Rich Pitkin who have organised a lot of amplified events for UKOLN and JISC in recent years.

Kirsty and Rich also created a video clip for me in which I summarise the new opportunities I am looking for in 60 seconds. The video clip is available on the Vimeo service and embedded below.

If you feel my skills, expertise and passion can be of use to you, please get in touch.

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Reflections on 16 years at UKOLN (part 5)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 Jul 2013

Overview of This Week’s Posts

This week I’ve been posting my reflections on working at UKOLN over the past 16 years. In the first post I described my early involvement with the Web, dating back to December 1992 and how the approaches I took to promoting take-up of the Web across the sector informed my job as UK Web Focus after I started at UKOLN in 1996.

The second post summarised my outreach activities, and this was followed by a post which reviewed my research activities. Yesterday I summarised my work with UKOLN’s core funders and used the work with standards to illustrate the important role which JISC had in adopted a hands-off approach, leaving the work activities to experts across the community.

Evidence-based Policies and Openness

In today’s post, the final one in the series, I’ll reflect on recent work – gathering evidence in order to inform policy and practice – and how the interpretation of the evidence and the formulation of policies and developments to operational practices should be based on a culture of openness.

My interest in this area dates back to 1997 following a successful bid to BLRIC to develop and use monitoring software to analyse trends in use of the Web across the UK’s higher education and library sectors. In 2001 a paper on “Automated Benchmarking Of Local Government Web Sites” was presented at the EuroWeb 2001 conference which described the work of the WebWatch project.

More recently UKOLN and CETIS were involved with the JISC in providing the JISC Observatory. As described in a paper entitled “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow” :

The JISC Observatory provides horizon-scanning of technological developments which may be of relevant for the UK’s higher and further education sectors. The JISC Observatory team has developed systematic processes for the scanning, sense-making and synthesis activities for the work. This paper summarises the JISC Observatory work and related activities carried out by the authors. The paper outlines how the processes can be applied in a local context to ensure that institutions are able to gather evidence in a systematic way and understand and address the limitations of evidence-gathering processes. The paper describes use of open processes for interpreting the evidence and suggests possible implications of the horizon-scanning activities for policy-making and informing operational practices. The paper concludes by encouraging take-up of open approaches in gathering and interpretation of evidence used to inform policy-making in an institutional context.

A series of posts have been published on this blog which have sought to gather evidence of use of various Web technologies across the sector in order to detect trends and encourage discussion on the implication of such trends.

University of Bristol confirm use of Google AppsA few days ago I came across evidence of what may perhaps become a significant trend. It seems that the University of Bristol has recently announced a decision to provide Google Apps. Via a tweet they confirmed that this service will be available for both staff and students.

Other Russell Group universities also  use Google Apps for Education. Back in May 2009 Chris Sexton, IT Services director at the University of Sheffield in a post entitled ”You can be a victim of your own success” summarised local reaction to the decision to provide Google Mail for students at the University of Sheffield:

Formally announced the Google mail for students option last night by sending an email to all staff and students. Replies are split almost 50/50. From students saying this is great news, and from staff saying why can’t we have it!

In addition to these institutions I also understand that the universities and colleges at Cambridge, York, Loughborough, De Montfort , London Metropolitan, Leeds Metropolitan, Queen Mary College, Sheffield Hallam, Westminster,  Brunel, Portsmouth, Keele, Bath Spa, Lincoln, Aston, Ravensbourne, Birbeck, Oxford Brookes, SOAS and the Open University all provide Google Apps for Edu. Note that additional information may be found using a Google search for “google apps


We seem to be seeing the start of what could be a significant trend. And if we were to gather information on institutional use of Microsoft’s Office 365 service it would appear that core office functionality is being migrated to the Cloud. In January 2010 a post entitled Save £1million and Move to the Cloud? summarised experiences at the University of Westminster:

When the University of Westminster asked students what campus email system they wanted, 90% requested Google Apps, which lets colleges and universities provide customized versions of Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and other services on their school domain

And yet in a recent discussion I heard two IT developers state strongly that “Google own your data if you use Google Apps“. I had to point out the Google terms and conditions which state:

Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Google services and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate.

There are clearly many issues which need to be addressed if institutions are considering moving key services to the Cloud: reliability, security, performance, privacy, trust, copyright and other legal issues. But such discussions should, I feel, be carried out in an open and objective manner, which can help ensure that erroneous beliefs can be identified.

If brief, the evidence shows that institutions are migrating office functionality to Google (and perhaps Microsoft). The question may no longer be “Should we move to the Cloud?” but “Can we afford to run such services in-house?”  I’d welcome your thoughts on this. I’d also welcome further evidence to inform the discussions – I appreciate that not all institutions I have listed are necessarily using Google Apps for all members of the institution.

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Reflections on 16 years at UKOLN (part 4)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 25 Jul 2013

Working With Funders

During my time at UKOLN there have been several core funders including BLRIC (British Library Research and Innovation Centre), LIC (Library and Information Commission) , Re:source, the MLA (Museums Libraries and Archives Council) and the JISC. Having joint funding has meant that UKOLN was able to engage with not only the higher and further education sectors but also the wider library community together with, following government reorganisations, the cultural heritage sector.

In recent posts I summarised my involvement in speaking at and organising events and writing a large number of peer-reviewed papers. This work was carried out primarily through UKOLN’s core funding. The work typically sought to address the needs of our communities through the involvement with people working directly within the sector. Such ‘customer’-focussed approaches helped, I feel, to ensure the work was relevant to the sector.

My work which was more directly involved with JISC’s needs began with work in developing documents on open standards of relevance to JISC’s digital library programmes, beginning initially with the eLib programme and followed by the DNER and the JISC Information Environment. This work led to related work for the cultural heritage sector, in particular  providing advice on standards for the NOF (New Opportunities Fund) Digitise programme.

In addition to such core-funded work I was also involved in project-funded activities including the JISC-funded QA Focus and JISC PoWR projects, the BLRIC-funded WebWatch project and the EU-funded Exploit Interactive and Cultivate Interactive ejournals. I was also involved in a number of initiatives driven by JISC such as the eFramework but, as described in Andy Powell’s post “e-Framework – time to stop polishing guys!” the time and effort expended by this international partnership failed to have any significant impact and the eFramework Web site seems to be no longer available although a copy is available in the Internet Archive.

Working With Standards

One area which was of particular interest to both of UKOLN’s core funders was the selection of open standards for use in development programmes which they funded. My initial work in this area involved contributing to a document of the open standards relevant for the eLib programme.  This subsequently led to similar documents being developed for the JISC Information Environment and the NOF-digitise programme.

At that time the funders wanted a list of the open standards which should be mandated for use in their development programmes. However JISC recognised that they did not have a compliance regime in force to address failures of projects to implement the mandated standards. In 2001 JISC announced a call for “the provision of a JISC/DNER national focus for digitisation and quality assurance in the UK“. The document described how the successful bidder would have responsibilities for:

Ensuring adherence of projects to relevant parts of DNER standards and guidelines and reporting on problems in their implementation; incorporating feedback and recommending updates to the guidelines for the community as appropriate

I submitted a successful bid for this work in conjunction with ILRT, University of Bristol. After the first year ILRT withdrew and were replaced by AHDS.  Myself, my colleague Marieke Guy and our colleagues at AHDS developed a quality assurance framework. As described in the final report:

The aim of the QA Focus project was to develop a quality assurance (QA) methodology which would help to ensure that projects funded by JISC digital library programmes were functional, widely accessible and interoperable; to provide support materials to accompany the QA framework and to help to embed the QA methodology in projects’ working practices.

The QA framework is a lightweight framework, based on the provision of technical policies together with systematic procedures for measuring compliance with the policies. The QA Framework is described in a number of the QA Focus briefing documents and the rational for the framework has formed the basis of a number of peer-reviewed papers.

This lightweight framework was described in a briefing document. In brief rather than mandating open standards which must be used across all of JISC’s activities, the framework recommended that projects should document their own policies on open standards (and related areas) and the procedures to ensure that the policies were being implemented. JISC programme managers would have flexibility in prescribing specific open standards if this was felt to be appropriate (for example, a programme designed to investigate the value of the OAI-PMH protocol for harvesting repositories could legitimately mandate use of OAI-PMH, and perhaps even a specific version ).

This approach meant that JISC could request that project reports should be provided in MS Word or PDF formats – both of which were proprietary formats at the time (although they are now both open standards). It also provided the flexibility in avoiding mandating open standards prematurely (e.g. insisting on use of SMIL rather than the proprietary Flash format) or mandating open standards when design patterns may have been more appropriate (e.g. mandating the Web Services standards such as SOAP when RESTful design practices have, in many cases, proved to be more relevant).

Standards paperThis work was carried out over a period of time. In 2003 an initial paper on “Ideology Or Pragmatism? Open Standards And Cultural Heritage Web Sites” by myself and my colleague Marieke Guy, Alastair Dunning (AHDS – the now defunct Arts and Humanities Data Service) and Lawrie Phipps (TechDis) described how:

… despite the widespread acceptance of the importance of open standards, in practice many organisations fail to implement open standards in their provision of access to digital resources. It clearly becomes difficult to mandate use of open standards if it is well-known that compliance is seldom enforced. Rather than abandoning open standards or imposing a stricter regime for ensuring compliance, this paper argues that there is a need to adopt a culture which is supportive of use of open standards but provides flexibility to cater for the difficulties in achieving this.

The next paper published two years later on “A Standards Framework For Digital Library Programmes” by myself and my UKOLN colleagues Rosemary Russell and Pete Johnston, Paul Hollins (CETIS) and Alastair Dunning and Lawrie Phipps:

describes a layered approach to selection and use of open standards which is being developed for digital library development work within the UK. This approach reflects the diversity of the technical environment, the service provider’s environment, the user requirements and maturity of standards by separating contextual aspects; technical and non-technical policies; the selection of appropriate solutions and the compliance layer. To place the layered approach in a working context, case studies are provided of the types of environments in which the standards framework could be implemented, from an established standards-based service, to a new service in the process of selecting and implementing metadata standards. These examples serve to illustrate the need for such frameworks.

Further papers on “A Contextual Framework For Standards” (by myself, Alastair Dunning, Paul Hollins, Lawrie Phipps and Sebastian Rahtz [OSS Watch])  and “Addressing The Limitations Of Open Standards” (by myself, Marieke Guy and Alastair Dunning) and “Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access” (by myself, Scott Wilson [CETIS] and Randy Metcalfe [OSS Watch]) subsequently developed these ideas and explored how they could be app;lied in a variety of contexts.


Looking at this work it strikes me the value of the expertise provided by colleagues across the sector. The papers I have listed which described the approaches and ensured that the ideas had been subject to peer review work were written by staff at UKOLN (4 individuals), CETIS (1 individual), OSS Watch (2 individuals), TechDis (1 individual and the now-defunct AHDS (2 individuals). JISC programme managers provided value project management support for the initial QA Focus work and gave early feedback on the ideas but did not have intellectual input into the ideas.

In light of the evidence given in this blog post I am somewhat concerned with the new logo which appeared on the redesigned Jisc Web site: “We are the UK’s expert on digital technologies for education and research“. Really? What is the evidence for that assertion? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say “We are successful in designing development programmes and providing project management expertise  to these programmes“? And equally important “We are successful in encouraging the experts in the higher education sector to work together for the benefit of the wider community“. I would be the first to give thanks to the JISC for organising events which enabled me to meet the co-authors I’ve listed above and encouraged such joint working. But “We are the experts”! Who coined that statement, I wonder?

JISC logo

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Reflections on 16 Years at UKOLN (part 3)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 Jul 2013


google scholar summary of my ciationsIn yesterday’s post I outlined the importance of participation and organisation of events in my role as UK Web Focus at UKOLN. Such activities had been a continuation of my early work in promoting use of the Web, although at a much more intense level. However my research activities was something relatively new as I had published only a handful of peer-reviewed papers before starting at UKOLN in October 1996.

Early Years

A year or so after I arrived at UKOLN I was asked to contribute to a special issue of the Journal of Documentation which included several papers from colleagues at UKOLN. In addition to my paper on “The Evolution Of Web Protocols” following feedback from reviewers I was asked to edit a paper on “How is my web community developing? Monitoring trends in web service provision“.

Staff Development for UKOLN Colleagues, Project Partner and Others

From those beginnings I developed an interest in writing peer-reviewed papers. In the early years I tended to primarily write short papers which were presented as posters at international WWW conferences. However by 2003 my involvement in the JISC-funded QA Focus project led to three papers being accepted for the EUNIS 2003, ichim03 and IADIS 2003 conferences. The ichim03 paper was co-authored with Alastair Dunning (AHDS), Marieke Guy (UKOLN) and Lawrie Phipps (TechDis); the EUNIS 2003 paper with Marieke Guy and Hamish James (AHDS) and the IADIS 2003 paper with Andrew Williamson and Alan Dawson, two researchers from Strathclyde University following a discussion about the work in a pub in Glasgow!

By this time I realised that the value of project work was more likely to be appreciated if papers about the work had been accepted at high-profile conferences. In addition being able to list peer-reviewed papers on one’s CV was valuable for my colleagues at UKOLN, project partners and fellow researchers. I therefore tried to ensure that peer-reviewed papers were written with colleagues for future project work. This approach provded particularly beneficial for my papers on Web accessibility.

The Web Accessibility Series of Peer-reviewed Papers

My most significant work was the publication in 2004 of a paper on “Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility” in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. This paper arose from discussions with Simon Ball of TechDis on 18 June 2003, shortly before we co-facilitated a workshop at Bedford College. “I don’t think the WCAG guidelines work” I said to Simon. “Funnily enough, we’ve reached the same conclusion, especially in the context of e-learning” Simon replied (although I have, of course, paraphrased our conversation.

The following year myself, Lawrie Phipps (then of TechDis) and Elaine Swift, a colleague from the E-learning Unit at the University of Bath, published our first paper in a series which developed and then refined a user-centred approach to addressing Web accessibility. As illustrated above, according to Google Scholar Citations the initial paper has been widely cited.  In 2008 in a paper on “Reflections on the Development of a Holistic Approach to Web Accessibility” we summarised the development of our approaches. Our most recent work in this areas was published in an article entitled “Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to Be Contextually Sensitive” in the Ariadne ejournal. Along the journey the work which was initiated by myself, Lawrie Phipps and Elaine Swift was supported by a large number of co-authors from accessibility researchers and practitioners. In order of their contributions these were Lawrie Phipps (4 papers), Elaine Swift (1 paper), David Sloan (6 papers), Professor Helen Petrie (3 papers), Fraser Hamilton (2 papers), Caro Howell (1 paper), Ann Chapman (1 paper) Andy Heath (2 papers), Professor Steven Brown (2 papers), Jane Seale (2 papers), Lauke (2 papers), Simon Ball (2 papers), Liddy Nevile (4 papers), Sotis Fanou (2 papers), EA Draffan (1 paper), Stuart Smith (1 paper) Ruth Ellison (1 paper), Lisa Herrod (1 paper), Sarah Lewthwaite (2 papers) and Martyn Cooper (1 paper).

Quality and Impact

The papers I have referred to include a mixture of peer-reviewed papers presented at conferences or published in journals, as well as short papers presented as posters, invited papers at international conferences or papers which were accepted based on peer-reviews of the abstracts.

Author download count in Opus

The papers therefore may be of variable quality, especially in the case of papers from my early years at UKOLN. However evidence of the quality of two of the papers, “Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World” and “Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility” can be seen from the awards they won: the first paper won the John M Slatin award for Best Communications Paper at the W4A 2010 conference and the second won the Best Research Paper Award at ALT-C 2005.

As well as these awards the paper on “Contextual web accessibility – maximizing the benefit of accessibility guidelines” is the most cited paper from the W4A conference series according to Microsoft Academic Search with the paper on “Accessibility 2.0: people, policies and processes” being in fifth place.

As well as these awards, my papers appear to have been widely-read – or at least downloaded! As can be seen if you look at the usage statistics for Opus, the University of Bath repository it seems that I have had the largest number of downloads of my papers – indeed twice as many as the person in second place –my colleague Alex Ball. Many research-led institutions are likely to be interested in the tools and techniques which can be used to enhance the visibility of research papers, in the expectation that such increased visibility may lead to additional citations by other researchers, adoption of the ideas by policy-makers and practitioners and exposure of the ideas to the mass media.

The approaches I have used to enhance the visibility of my research publications have been described in part in a paper which asked “Can LinkedIn and Enhance Access to Open Repositories?“. In the paper myself and Jenny Delasalle proposed the merit of a pro-active approach to inbound links to one’s papers (which also should provide benefits to other papers hosted in the repository). In addition I facilitated a half-day hands-on workshop session on “Managing Your Research Profile” at an Information Science Pathway’s event held at the University of Edinburgh. This workshop is one I will be looking to run in the future once my consultancy starts so please get in touch if you would like me to facilitate a workshop along these lines at your institution or for your event.

Reflecting on 360 Pages of Research Papers!

Table of contents for my papersOver the past few months whilst preparing the UKOLN Web site for preservation I ensured that my research paper included by ORCID ID, 0000-0001-5875-8744, to claim my authorship and the authorship of my co-authors). I have already summarized the reasons Why I’m Now Embedding ORCID Metadata in PDFs but in addition I realized that I had an opportunity to aggregate my papers into a single document. To my surprise I found that the document containing all of my papers came to 360 pages!

This document is not being made publicly available. However it does occur to me that this might provide an interesting resource of one’s research papers for which subsequent analysis may provide interesting insights. For example “What would a word cloud of the papers look like?” or “Has the writing style changed over time?” I’d welcome other suggestions for analyses of a personal archive of papers.

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Reflections on 16 Years at UKOLN (part 2)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 Jul 2013


In yesterday’s blog post I described my early involvement with the Web, prior to joining UKOLN in October 1996. My interests in supporting early adopters, sharing emerging best practices, working at a national level (beyond my host institution) and sharing such best practices across the sector at events and in paper and online publications has underpinned my work at UKOLN over the past 16 years.

Participation at Events

According to the list of the presentations I’ve given during my time at UKOLN I have given a total of 429 talks, with a peak of 44 talks in 2006, when there was much interest across the sector in Web 2.0.

Presentations given in UK from 1996-2013Since I have sought to make use of emerging Web standards and services as well as talk about them, for several years I have provided a geo-located summary of my talks in RSS format which enables the locations to be depicted in services such as Google Maps. The accompanying image shows the locations of talks across the UK.

Zooming out from the locations in the UK illustrates how I have supported UKOLN in achieving a strategic goal in ensuring that “The global visibility of UK digital initiatives is increased“.

Presentations given globally from 1996-2013

  • My talks outside the UK have included:
  • Peer-reviewed papers presented at conferences in the US, Canada,  Italy, Holland, Australia and Japan.
  • Invited papers presented in Norway, Sweden, Greece Spain, Russia, Singapore, and Taiwan.
  • Workshops facilitated in Italy and Belgium.

It may be worrying if I were to analyse the environmental costs of such travel (and since the locations of my talks have been geo-located it might be an interesting exercise to estimate the carbon costs of such travel). However I should add that one invited presentation in a conference given in Australia was based on a pre-recorded video of a talk I had given in London!

Organising Events

Although it is pleasing to have received so many invitations to talk at events, I often prefer having the opportunity to facilitate interactive workshop sessions, as such approaches can be more effective in enhancing learning and ensuring that new approaches become embedded in working practices.

I have particularly enjoyed organising technology-transfer  workshops in Belgium, Italy and Holland. But in the UK my most significant achievement has been the establishment of the Institution Web Management Workshop (IWMW) series. I established this in 1997 and the most recent event, IWMW 2013, was held in the University of Bath a month ago. The event has provided an opportunity for those with responsibilities for managing large-scale institutional Web services to share best practices and keep up-to-date with emerging technological developments as well as being prepared to address the implications of legal and economic changes.

During the IWMW 2013 event I was pleased to hear how important the event is felt to be across the sector and the encouragement I received from  many of the participants for exploring new business models which will enable the event to continue next year. Once my work at UKOLN is over on 31 July I will be developing a business plan for continuation of the event. In the meantime I’d welcome ideas for the sustainability of the event. Feel free to get in touch.

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Reflections on 16 Years at UKOLN (part 1)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 Jul 2013

My Final Full Week at UKOLN

This is my final complete week at UKOLN. As I described in a post entitled “My Redundancy Letter Arrived Today” the cessation of Jisc’s core funding means that myself and the majority of my colleagues will be made redundant on 31 July. It occurred to me that it would be appropriate for me to publish a series of post which give my reflections on my time at UKOLN.

How Did I Get Here?

I first arrived at UKOLN one hot July day in 1996 when I came for the interview for the post on UK Web Focus. I remember it was hot as I (foolishly) decided to walk up the hill to the University as it didn’t look too far on the map. If you’ve visited Bath University you’ll know that although it isn’t too far from the town centre, the university is located at the top of a steep hill. I would not recommend walking up the hill to a University on a hot day when you are wearing a suit! But the reason I came to Bath for an interview for the post of UK Web Focus was due to my role in setting up the first institutional Web service at the University of Leeds. As I described in a post entitled “It Was 20 Years Ago Today” the service was launched in January 1993 after a group of researchers organised a demonstration of various Internet technologies such as (I think) Gopher, Veronica, WAIS, Archie and the Viola WWW Hypermedia Browser. Although at the time there was growing interest in the higher education sector in use of Gopher to provide a Campus-Wide Information Service (CWIS) as soon as I saw the Viola application I felt that the future should be based on Web technologies. In retrospect that does not seem to be a particularly difficult conclusions to reach but it took another few years before the Web became accepted as the essential technology for delivering information services. At the time I was worried that Leeds University may have chosen the Betamax on Internet technologies – technical superior to its main rival but in danger of being marginalised by the simplicity of Gopher. During 1993 and 1994 I therefore gave a number of presentations across the sector highlighting the benefits of the Web and why it should be used rather than Gopher (or Guide or Microcosm, two British hypermedia systems which at the time had strong support in the universities of Kent and Southampton). In a handbook entitled “Running A WWW Service” I described how:

Brian has given presentations about WWW at the universities of Aberdeen, Bangor, Bradford, Kent, Oxford, Sussex and Manchester Metropolitan University. He gave a poster presentation at the first WWW ’94 conference in Geneva and gave a paper on Becoming An Information Provider on the World-Wide Web at the INET 94 / JENC 5 conference in Prague in June 1994. He ran a WWW Tutorial at the Network Service Conference in London in November 1994.

Part of personal archive of 1990s web stuffThe seminar I gave at Oxford University left an impression. A few weeks after I gave the seminar I spoke to a librarian from Oxford University. After telling her about my recent trip there she responded “You’re the person who caused all the fuss!” It seems that my talk had been given shortly after a committee had decided that the University’s home-grown CWIS service was to be replaced by Gopher. My demonstration of the Web led to an influx of academics, researchers and support staff to the Oxford University Computer Services department the following day wanting a Web browser installed on their systems or, in the case of the more perceptive users, wanting to set up a departmental Web server. I understand that the policy decision did not last very long! Looking at my personal archive from the early-to-mid 1990s it seems that I facilitated a workshop session on “Collaboration Across the World Wide Web” at a UCISA UCSG (Universities and Colleges Software Group)  workshop held at the University of Bradford on 4-5 January 1995. The event was particularly notable as one of the keynote speakers was Lorcan Dempsey, the director of UKOLN who gave a talk on “Towards More Sustainable and Effective Resource Discovery“. This, I believe, was the first time I met Lorcan who subsequently put in a successful bid to JISC to host a UK Web Focus post, the post I took up in October 1996.

Looking Back

Looking back at my involvement with the Web prior to starting work at UKOLN, what lessons did I learn and what approaches did I use during my 16 years at UKOLN? I think I would highlight the following points:

  • Committees and similar decision-making bodies bodies can make wrong decisions!
  • The technical strengths of technologies don’t necessarily mean the technology will become embedded – there is a need to pro-actively engage with early adopters and those who may be willing to become early mainstream adopters.
  • The importance of having a high public profile.
  • Working with national bodies can be an effective way of enhancing the take-up of innovative technologies.
  • Keeping an archive of one’s professional activities can help in understanding the past and seeing its relevance.

In tomorrow’s post I will describe how these approaches were applied during my time at UKOLN.

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Janet Agreement With Microsoft Boosts Cloud Access For UK Universities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 May 2013

Back in January 2010 in a post entitled “Save £1million and Move to the Cloud?” I reported on an announcement that the University of Westminster have saved £1 million by migrating to Google Apps:

As a result, 25,000 students and staff at the University of Westminster now use Google Apps Education Edition — saving the university £1 million in the process“.

I suggested that if the UK HE sector were to follow this approach this might result in significant savings across the sector. I did acknowledge that there were risks, but these can be addressed, especially if there was centralised coordinated activities to address legal and technical issues. I made my views on whether such a move was desirable:

In an opinion piece entitled “The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for higher education” published in yesterday’s issue of the Times Higher Education University of Bath vice-chancellor Glynis Breakwell argued that “universities should stop assuming that everybody has to do a bit of everything“. We need to stop assuming that we need to host commodity services such as email, I feel.

 Yesterday it appeared that such coordinated activities have taken place. As summarised in a tweet from @janetcloud:

Over 18m students and staff to benefit from faster, more secure cloud-computing following agreement between ourselves and Microsoft…

janet cloud videoA news item on the Jisc Web site entitled Over 18 million students and staff to benefit from faster, more secure cloud-computing described how:

More than 18 million students, staff and researchers at institutions across the UK could start to benefit from a faster and more secure connection when using their institution’s cloud-based IT services, thanks to a new peering arrangement being signed today between Microsoft and Janet, the UK’s research and education network.

This new agreement enables improved access to infrastructure and application services such as websites, virtual learning environments and research projects.

and went on to explain how:

The alliance agreement also means any UK education institution can benefit from standard terms and conditions on Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity software suite Office 365, negotiated by Janet.

The press release has been picked up by publication such as Computer Weekly (“Microsoft and Janet deal brings cloud to millions of academics“), TechWeek Europe (“Microsoft Plugs Azure Cloud Data Centre Into Janet Network“), Public Technology (“Janet connects with Microsoft’s Windows Azure Cloud platform“) and Cloud Pro (“Windows Azure to power Janet education cloud“) . These initial articles are based on the press release, with little additional commentary. It will be interesting to see how this news is received more widely.

From my perspective I welcome this announcement. I am particularly please the Janet are negotiating licence arrangements on behalf of the sector. As explained in an FAQ on Cloud Services for Education Agreements:

We have managed to negotiate exclusive amendments to Microsoft’s legal documents for Office 365, and carry out due diligence on Google Apps (currently ongoing) and Office 365 for the sector as a whole. One of the universities included in the test group estimates this work could save each institution up to £20,000 so it has a significant value.

A concern I would have is that the agreement would result in a Microsoft monoculture across the sector. I would also like to see a central deal provided for institutional access to Google Apps. In addition I would welcome such sector-wide deals being negotiated for other popular Cloud services, such as Dropbox. I am aware that some institutions are wary of such services, and use data protection issues or the fact that “the data is hosted in the US” as reasons why such services are not provided within the institution. Having a trusted and well-respected organisation such as Janet to address such issues in negotiations with the service providers can be beneficial to users across the sector.

And, of course, the fact that institutions need to pay a nominal institutional fee of £500 per year may address the concerns of those who argue “If You’re Not Paying for It; You’re the Product“. But perhaps that’s too much to expect! More seriously, I’d welcome comments on whether this deal is to be welcomed or not. If you’re rather not leave a comment a poll is available below.

Note that a 46 second summary of the announcement is available on Slideshare and is embedded below.

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The Home Worker’s IT (and other) Support is in the Cloud

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 May 2013

“I Need Some Help”

Twitter-discssion about home networkingOn Friday I asked for advice on home networking. I am having some work carried out on my house, which has included converting a bedroom into an office. I currently use Powerline Ethernet to provide network access to my main PC, but realised that with other networked devices (including a wide screen TV and Blu Ray player, both of which have Ethernet ports in addition to desktop computers) I should really be thinking about including cabling to ensure that adequate and reliable bandwidth is available across my home.

In response I came across a discussion about the merits of Powerline networking (plugging a device into a mains socket) and a variety of useful links, including advice on techniques for installing such cabling.

My colleague Marieke Guy highlighted the importance of reliable home networking in a tweet in which she commented:

We have crappy cables & telephone lines all set up wrong. BB [broadband] constantly goes. Have someone coming round on Monday to rewire!

Marieke followed up the comment by herself asking for advice from her Twitter network:

Can anyone recommend any good UK suppliers of promotional materials for conferences etc. Quick turnaround & good value for money imp.

The query relates to Marieke’s new role as project co-ordinator with the Open Knowledge Foundation in which, as she described in a post on Redundancies and Pastures New, she will be working on their LinkedUp project supporting the adoption of open data by educational organisations and institutions.

The Home Worker’s IT (and other) Support is in the Cloud!

For both myself and Marieke we have been seeking for advice from our networks. For both of us the main network we will use for such questions will be Twitter, but we may also use other online networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Marieke Guy's tweet about onference-stuffThese online networks will be particularly important for myself and Marieke after we are made redundant on 31 July and are forced to leave the comfort zone of UKOLN and the University of Bath. Previously advice on networks and other technical issues would have been asked of our IT support staff, and questions about conference schwagg would have been the responsibility of our events team. But in just over two months we will no longer have access to such expertise within our host organisation – as we will no longer have a host organisation!

For both of us the online networks we have cultivated should prove valuable when we start work as self-employed consultants. Marieke already has several year’s experience of how her Ramblings of a Remote Worker blog has proved valuable in obtaining advice on home working, including use of a variety of Cloud services. The need to be able to make productive and effective use of online tools when there is no it-support email address available will be important for both of use after 31 July. Indeed as Marieke tweeted in Friday as part of the discussion about the importance of a reliable home network:

New job requires constant access as *everything* is stored in the cloud.

The advice received on home networking and sources of conference materials illustrates the importance of being part of a thriving online network, especially for those of us who will be moving from working within an institution to working from home. For us, the face-to-face connections we have with our colleagues and the informal networks we have with people we meet over coffee or at lunchtime will have less importance and the links with our online communities will grow in importance and value.

Growing Your Network

I touched on such issues when I gave a seminar for UKOLN colleagues back in December 2012. The talk, entitled Managing Your Digital Profile, highlighted the importance of professional networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter. However the slides, which are available on Slideshare) didn’t really suggest ways in which one could grow one’s professional community. In this post I’ll therefore provide six tips on use of Twitter:

  • Ensure that your Twitter biography summarises your main interests and has a link to further information.
  • Follow relevant hashtags and follow people who are posting tweets which are relevant to you.
  • Favourite (i.e. bookmark) tweets, as that action can be visible to the Tweeter who may chose to follow you if your Twitter biography and recent tweets are of interest.
  • If you are giving a talk at a conference, include your Twitter ID on your title slide. People are more likely to tweet this ID than, say, your email address. This will enable others to easily find out more about you.
  • If you can help others by sending them a tweet, do so. Spending time in writing 140 characters to provide advice or support to others will demonstrate that you are willing to help others. People will be more likely to help you if they see this.
  • Show your personality and not just your work interests. If you enjoyed Eurovision on Saturday night, you missed an opportunity to join in the conversation.

Who knows, the person who has added you to your Twitter network, perhaps because they too, liked Ireland’s Eurovision song, might be the person who can give you the advice you need on home working, conference schwagg or whatever advice it is you are seeking.

I should add that Marieke has written a blog post on What’s with the Wiring? in which she summarised the discussion about home networking from her perspective.

View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy] | View Twitter statistics from: [TweetReach] – []

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#altmetrics, My Redundancy Post and the 1-9-90 Rule

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 May 2013

Measuring Impact in the Digital Environment

Blog statistics for last week in April 2013How do you assess the impact of digital content which has been published? This is a question which is very relevant in the higher education sector, where indications of success often cannot be reduced to financial indicators. It is a question which is particularly relevant to researchers who have an interest in understanding the ways in which social media can be used to maximise the impact of research papers and scholarly publications. This was a topic which was addressed recently at the UKSG 2013 conference. At the conference Mike Taylor gave a presentation on “altmetrics and the Publisher” in which he admitted the lack of consensus on the value of such approaches:

  • they’re great for measuring impact in [the] diverse scholarly ecosystem
  • Altmetrics are cheap gimmickry that encourage gaming the system, ie dishonesty.

A second talk entitled “altmetrics: What Are They Good For?” was given at the session by Peter Paul Groth. In his trip report Paul commented thatmy main point was that altmetrics is at a stage where it can be advantageously used by scholars, projects and institutions not to rank but instead tell a story about their research“.

But there was also an awareness of the need to develop a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of altmetrics. We can see the importance of such metrics not only for researchers, but also for organisations which make extensive use of online technologies, through the example of W3C, the organisation responsible for the development of Web standards. In their recent weekly news digest they provided the following statistics:

Notably this week :

– over 900 stories about W3C on Twitter in 7 days.
– over 3000 mentions of W3C in 7 days.
– With 59840 Twitter followers, net increase of 521 followers in the past week.
– 19 posts that posted between Apr 14 – Apr 21 got 29.9K (+17.3%) clicks and reached 69.1K (+0.7%) connections. 

In light of my long-standing interest in metrics I felt it would be useful to explore metrics for blog posts and tweets.

Metrics For My Redundancy Blog Post

An Opportunity to Gather Evidence

Last Wednesday I noticed that on the day the “My Redundancy Letter Arrived Today” blog post was published my blog had received over 3,000 views (more than double the previous most popular daily visits). I realised that this provided an opportunity to explore one aspect of altmetrics: the impact of a blog post on a topic related to one’s professional activities. Since the post was published a week ago today this gives me an opportunity to collate the evidence using a variety of services and develop a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of such tools.

Importance of Metrics for Funders

blog post footerIn the past we have been asked to provide metrics related to the services we’ve provided to our funders. I recently updated the footer for blog posts, which previously included icons which facilitated ‘frictionless sharing’ to include a number of links to services which provide evidence of the extent of such sharing (although, as pointed by by Alun Hughes, who chaired the review of UKOLN and CETIS, the work of the review group was subsequently overtaken by internal changes within Jisc and the review was not concluded).

The Potential Audience for the Blog Post: TweetReach

In order to estimate the potential audience for the blog post I used the TweetReach tool to obtain estimates of the numbers of Twitter users who may have seen a tweet with a link to the blog post.

Ttweetreach report on 1 May 2013As can be seen the estimated reach at 08.30 today was 77,669, based on 50 of an estimated 145 tweets.

TweetReach also provided statistics on the size of the Twitter communities of those who have tweeted links. As can be seen had between 1,000 and 10,000 followers, followed by a significant group with between 10,000 and 100,000 followers.

TweetReach provides an indication of the total reach, with this potential reach being significant due to the numbers of Twitter users with large numbers of followers who included a link to the blog post in their tweets.

But, of course, many of the tweets will not have been seen – most experienced Twitter users will nowadays regard Twitter as a stream of information to be dipped into, and not as information which should always be processed.

The Tweeters and Retweeters: Topsy

The Topsy tool provides a greater focus on Twitter users who tweet and retweet links to the blog post (although I should add that such information is also provided by TweetReach).

Topsy report for 1 May 2013From Topsy it seems that there have been 142 tweets which include links to the blog post.

As well as this headline figure, as illustrated, Topsy also provides a graph of mentions of the post over the past thirty days, as well as an archive of the tweets which contain the link.

Statistics for the Shortened URL:

Finally I should mentioned the statistics which are provided by the URL shortening service I use in Twitter:

By appending a + to a URL you can get usage figures (by default for the past hour, but the information is also available for an extended period of time).

Looking at the statistics for (and selecting the global option) I find that there have been 1,090 clicks on the ‘bitmark’.

The service also provides location information: over a third are from the UK; 12% from the US and since the majority (39%) are unknown this gives a long tail of other countries form which people have followed the link.


This blog post has summarised findings from a number of Twitter analytic services which may be of interest to others who have a need to provide evidence which may help to understand the ‘impact’ of a digital resource.

However, as I have described in a post on Paradata for Online Surveys, I feel that it is important to document the survey methodology and to be open about implied assumptions as well as documenting potential pitfalls for others who may wish to replicate the findings or apply the methodology for themselves in their own context.

Blog Usage Statistics

The first potential pitfall to be aware of is that the blog usage statistics relate to the entire blog, and will include visits during the week to any of the 1,199 posts which have been published previously. The following table therefore gives the number of visits to the Redundancy blog post as well as the number of visits to the blog’s home page during the week (when the post was shown at the top of the page).

Total nos. of blog views, 24-30 April 7,442
Nos. of views of individual post, 24-30 April 5,621
Nos. of views of blog home pages, 24-30 April    765
Total nos. of views of Redundancy post, 24-30 April 6,386

It therefore appears that there have been 6,386 views of the posts during the past week, with 1,056 views of other posts on the blog.

Referrer Statistics

Blog post referrer traffic for week prior to 1 May 2013 How did people arrive at the blog ? Looking at the referrer traffic for the past 7 days for the entire blog we can see that Twitter and Facebook were responsible for delivering most traffic, and that these two social media service were roughly comparable.

However we need to remember that referrer traffic is only provided when a Web link is followed. If visitors arrive by following a link in an email message or dedicated Twitter client, no referrer information is provided. Aggregating the referrer views it seems that 2,043 came from an identifiable Web site, with 5,399 views of all posts during the week coming either from a non-Web source or, possibly, by an anonymous Web source (e.g. a user who visits sites using an anonymising tool).

A summary of the top three ways in which people viewed content on this Web site during the past week is summarised below.

Twitter Web site    555
Facebook Web site    508
Potential Non-Web traffic 2,043

Seemingly clear indication of the social Web in delivering traffic for, admittedly, a post with human interest. Such findings will not necessarily apply in other areas, but it seems to me that such small scale indications might be useful in identifying ‘weak signals’ which would be worth investigating further in other areas.

Does the 1-9-90 Rule Apply?

As described in Wikipedia:

In Internet culture, the 1% rule or the 90–9–1 principle (sometimes also presented as 89:10:1 ratio)[1] reflects a hypothesis that more people will lurk in a virtual community than will participate. This term is often used to refer to participation inequality in the context of the Internet.

Does this apply in the context of engagement with blog posts, I wondered? In this context I used the following definitions:

  • Lurker: someone who only reads a post.
  • Contributor: someone who facilitates engagement with others by lightweight ‘frictionless’ sharing, such as a tweet, a RT, a vote on the blog post, a Facebook like or a Google +1.
  • Creator: someone who create new content by submitting a blog comment or commenting on Facebook.

The findings are summarised below.

Role Activity Numbers  Percentage
‘Lurkers’ View blog post    6,386 96%
‘Contributors’ Tweet about post       142 2.3%
Vote on blog post         11
‘Creators’ Comment blog comments         68 1.5%
Comment on Facebook post         32
Total    6,639

One observation I would make is that the tweets about the post are only included if they continued a link to the post. Since subsequent discussions were not included, due to the difficulties in finding such tweets, it seems that the Contributors count is understated. It therefore appears that the 1-9-90 rule may not be too far out in this case.

I’ll be the first to admit that the distinction between a contributor and a creator are somewhat arbitrary: someone who spend time in composing a relevant tweet in 140 characters (such as “A poignant, perceptive and yet defiantly uplifting post from @briankelly“) is clearly being creative. However posting a tweet will normally be a frictionless activity carried out in one’s current application environment, unlike posting a comment which is likely to involve following a link, clicking a button and filling in authentication details before creating the content. I’m therefore happy to propose this approach as a possible approach for monitoring the extent of engagement with digital content. Might this be an approach which others may be interested in helping to develop and refine?

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Posted in Evidence, General | 9 Comments »

My Redundancy Letter Arrived Today

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 Apr 2013

The Official Letter Arrived Today

Redundancy letterI have just been given my redundancy letter – I was the first of many to receive a redundancy letter on what will be a very busy two days for the University of Bath’s HR department. After over 16 years at UKOLN (I started on 30 October 1996) my redundancy letter informs me that I will be leaving on 31 July 2013.

This is clearly a sad moment for myself and my colleagues at UKOLN. The decision to cease the core funding for UKOLN (and CETIS) – which was made in October 2012 but not unofficially announced until December – has had severe implications for us. At the start of 2013 there were 26 people employed in UKOLN but after 31 July, based on current funding estimates for the next financial year, there is likely to be funding for just 3.7 FTEs (although, due to people working part-time, there should be more individuals still based at UKOLN.

The definition of ‘decimate’ is: “to destroy a great number or proportion of [Example]: The population was decimated by a plague.” With cuts of the extent given above it would not be an exaggeration to say “UKOLN has been decimated by cuts” :-(

Sadly, it seems that there is a growing tendency in the sector to refuse to acknowledge bad news. Stephen Downes highlighted this just before Christmas:

Two vaguely worded announcements appeared today on the UKOLN and CETIS websites. As cited by Brian Kelly, “In response to the Wilson review of Jisc, the organisation has confirmed that it will only provide core funding to the UKOLN Innovation Support Centre, up to July 2013 but not beyond.” Same deal for CETIS. (Note that I changed Kelly’s headline, contrary to my usual practice, because the phrase “looking ahead” seems to deliberately obfuscate the content of the messages.)

There’s a danger in making bad news invisible that the value which the organisation has been provided in the past is ignored. It was pleased to See how Stephen (an acknowledged elearning expert from North America) concluded his post be describing how:

I know it’s another country and all that, but let me be clear that to my mind UKOLN and CETIS have been two of the most important organizations in the world of online learning, period, and that should their funding be discontinued it would be a significant loss to the field.

This contrasted starkly with the view from Jisc in response to a question about redundancies:

This is about reshaping our approach to deliver for our customers, organising what we need to do and then populating it with people who can do it reasonably well. I expect the vast majority of the roles and the posts that we need in the new organisation to be perfectly capable of being discharged by people who are in the existing Jisc, and we are not in the business of disenfranchising the existing Jiscers, that’s not the purpose.

This feeling that we are being airbrushed from Jisc’s history was compounded recently when significant UKOLN intellectual work was labelled as being produced by Jisc in an article in a national journal.

The Change Curve

Change cycleShock, Anger

Yesterday myself and a number of my colleagues attended a half-day Change Management workshop. We were presented with a Change Curve, which is illustrated. Many of us identified with the emotions listed in the diagram, and I’m conscious that this post may well reflect the shape of the curve.

The anger is compounded by the significant role that JISC has had over an extended period. The Wilson Review (PDF format) noted such successes: ‘There is no comparable body within the UK, and internationally its reputation is outstanding as a strategic leader and partner.’

Such successes have been based, I feel, on JISC’s willingness to embrace open practices in its approaches to helping to develop and embed innovative practices across the sector. But such open practices are now vanishing, as the Jisc comms department is now controlling messages from the organisation as part of the process of “reshaping our approach to deliver for our customers“. Expect to see good news on Jisc communications channels!

The anger myself and colleagues feel is compounded when we look at how CETIS, our fellow JISC Innovation Support centre has responded to the loss of its core funding. I was aware that a group of CETIS staff had been given responsibility to look at new funding streams and at the recent CETIS conference Paul Hollins, CETIS Director summarised the various proposals for new funding which have been submitted. It looks at though the future for CETIS is much more secure than ours. Although the decision to seek additional funding in the area of informatics appears to have provided an additional year’s funding, this is only for a tiny proportion of staff and it is still unclear as to whether such a small department with limited funding is sustainable (especially when one considers that the director will probably continue on the same salary, despite the organisation downsizing from a peak of over 30 people to 4.7 FTEs. A goal of transforming UKOLN from a organisation with its roots in the Library world to a research informatics organisation may have been successful, but this was clearly a phyrric victory.

Acceptance .. and a Better Future?

But rather than looking back, myself and my colleagues who received redundancy letters today, need to look forward. This will not be along the lines of the official announcement:

While the Innovation Support Centre will cease operating after July 2013, UKOLN will continue and as the organisation enters a new phase, it is a time to reflect on what we’ve achieved.

but the future for the large numbers of colleagues who, from 1 August, will be facing an uncertain future, with bills to pay, families to support and mortgages and other loans which will need paying.

Fortunately many UKOLN staff do have expertise, skills and connections which will continue to be needed (back in December when I carried out the calculation there was about 240 years of staff expertise based on our time in UKOLN!). We have been providing training and support for staff and will continue to do this over the next three months. In a post on Importance of Social Media for Finding New Opportunities I summarised a session I facilitated in December on ways in which social media can be valuable in developing new contacts, strengthening existing relationships and helping to discuss new opportunities. I suspect there will be a number of further sessions along these lines in which we can help each other in moving towards the ‘better future’.

But over the next three months there will be still be work to be done. I am in the process of preparing content hosted on UKOLN Web sites so that is is ready for archiving. I should add that, in light of my concerns that UKOLN’s value to the sector over a period of over 30 years will be marginalised, ignored or appropriated by others, I am working with colleagues to ensure that their involvement across a wide range of activities is acknowledged and that significant intellectual content is not lost. This process involved ensuring that my colleagues deposit copies of their papers, articles, project reports, etc. in Opus, the University of Bath’s institutional repository (and, at the time of writing, there appear to be 424 items in the repository). In addition I have also suggested that authors embed their ORCID ID within papers, which might be particularly important for project reports if the author details are not clear.

But in addition since the large majority of UKOLN staff will be leaving, we will be exploring ways in which our expertise can continue to be harnessed, perhaps through consultancy work. Don’t write us off, yet!

For now, I think I may be allowed to conclude on a rather emotional day by summarising the Change Curve with the words used by Father Jack “Arse, feck, drink, women“. Anyone fancy joining me in the pub tonight? Then maybe be could go clubbing.

Note: A Storify archive of the tweets related to this story is now available.

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Posted in General, UKOLN | 80 Comments »

Spotting Tomorrow’s Key Technologies

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 Apr 2013

UKSG talk by Brian KellyYesterday I gave a talk on “Spotting Tomorrow’s Key Technologies” at the UKSG annual conference (#uksglive) held in the Bournemouth International Centre. The talk was based on a paper on “What Next for Libraries? Making Sense of the Future“. But in addition I highlighted the dangers that processes for identifying early signals of disruptive technologies could be undermine by vested interests who may have an interest in promoting the continuation of current approaches and technologies. This concern was highlighted by a recent post entitled “Gartner May Be Too Scared To Say It, But the PC Is Dead” which described how:

Gartner has finally come out and said it: The PC market is dying.

Except it hasn’t said that, quite. But it is, and saying so is really important.

and went on to add:

Gartner, however, can’t bring itself to say the PC market is shrinking toward irrelevance. Instead, it describes the PC market as “transitional,” in much the same way companies firing large swathes of their workforces insist that employees have been “downsized.” If Gartner was a brokerage firm, its analyst would have placed a “hold” rating on the PC market, with all the wishy-washy implications that word connotes.

The reason for such evasiveness was:

to protect the lucrative relationship that Gartner has with its clients. If Gartner declares an industry dead, why should a company like Dell spend thousands of dollars a pop for a report that says so?

 The talk was based on the work of the JISC Observatory which has been provided by UKOLN and CETIS. The JISC Observatory was not provided by JISC itself in order to provide some distance from existing services and development programmes. However in light of the cessation of core funding for UKOLN and CETIS (together with other JISC-funded bodies such as OSS Watch and the JISC Monitoring Unit) there do seem to be dangers that JISC (or Jisc as it is now known) will lose its ability to focus on the rapidly changing technological infrastructure, preferring to focus, instead, on the delivery of existing services. In light of such concerns in the talk I gave yesterday (and which will be repeated later today) I argued that there was a need for organisations themselves to have mechanisms in place for detecting signals which may indicate changes which institutions will need to prepare for, as well as sense-making processes to interpret the signals and their implications.

As I was invited to write an article about the talk after giving the presentation yesterday, there does seem to be interest across the sector in the approaches I described :-)

The slides for the talk are available on Slideshare and embedded below:

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Who’s The Fool Now?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 Apr 2013

April fool, Guardian, 1 April 1996On 1 April 1996 I ran a workshop session on HTML authoring at a UCISA User Service conference held at Aberdeen University.

I remember buying the Guardian on the opening day of the conference and noticed the headline on the front cover: “Royal web war feared as Queen sets up site in cyberspace“. I decided to use this as an example of how the Web had gone beyond its roots in academia and was not clearly mainstream.

However I quickly discovered that I’d been taken in by an April Fool joke. If I’d have read beyond the plausible-sounding opening paragraphs I might have realised it was a joke:

However, friends of Princess Diana are setting up a web site in what looks like an effort to start a “web war”. Jo-Jo Williams, self-styled “Prince of the Net Surfers,” said: “Princess Di will be queen in our cyberspace and Charles will feel as though he has fallen into a black hole.”

A battle taking place between Princess Diane and Prince Charles – how preposterous!

In reality according to the British Monarchy’s Web site ” The Queen launched the British Monarchy’s official website in 1997. In 2007 the official British Monarchy YouTube channel was unveiled, swiftly followed by a Royal Twitter site (2009), Flickr page (2010) and Facebook page (also 2010)“. However it was in November 1995 when Diana admitted adultery in TV interview so the speculation that we would see a domestic squabble taking place in cyberspace was perhaps plausible.

In a recent paper on “What Next for Libraries? Making Sense of the Future” I described a methodology for helping to predict technology trends. I might have included use of jokes which highlighted technological advances which were felt to be absurd to a mainstream audience. Today, for example, we have seen an advertisement for a new product called Guardian Goggles:

But today, ending months of speculation and rumour, this newspaper announces a groundbreaking development in the modern history of the media: a pair of web-connected “augmented reality” spectacles that will beam its journalism directly into the wearer’s visual field, enabling users to see the world through the Guardian’s eyes at all times.

guardian front cover on 1 April 2013However today my Twitter stream gives me a view of the UK’s political environment through the filter of my Twitter stream, including various stories featured on the Guardian’s front cover.

Meanwhile this morning I came across a tweet from the Times Higher Education about a story which again may come true in the near future:

Major innovation: Social media (Twitter, Facebook) to be included in World University Rankings:

The article began by sounding very plausible:

Data from social media, including You Tube viewing figures, Twitter follower counts and accumulated “likes” on Facebook will be developed into a new reputational indicator for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, it was confirmed today.

The magazine said the move is designed to reflect the growing influence the internet has on a university’s reputational standing, and to recognize the key role social networking has in reflecting student opinion and influencing their study choices.

Phil S Batty, editor of Times Higher Education’s rankings, said: “We are living in a fast-moving information age, when a university’s reputational standing around the world is heavily influenced by its presence and its activities on the internet. It is time that global rankings reflected this reality. Social media is one of the most effective ways of capturing student views on institutions, and measuring an institution’s popularity.”

But needed to signal that it was an April Fool joke in a very clumsy fashion, citing Itzah Jaok:

Ivor Binhad, head of thinking, search engine optimisation and office services at the web marketing consultancy Itzah Jaok, based in Dalston, London, said: “Universities are just so 12th century, man, with their ivory towers and all those dusty books and old people sitting around. It is time for them to saddle up and straddle the information bridle path, whatever brand hurdles they may encounter on the way. I confidently predict that the Internet’s time has come, so bring your e-stirrups.

The Queen’s Web site was set up a year after the Guardian’s April Fool story appeared on the font cover. I wonder how long it will take before the World University Rankings includes online ranking scores?

Posted in General | 1 Comment »

When Staff and Researchers Leave Their Host Institution

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 Mar 2013

What happens when staff and researchers are planning to leave their host institution? In light of the “UKOLN – Looking Ahead” announcement this is a subject which is currently preoccupying myself and many of my colleagues.

As Martin Hamilton pointed out in his post on A Tale of Two Jiscs: Reflections on CETIS13, FutureLearn and the JISC Diaspora “In many cases, JISC was farsighted enough to forsee requirements in the research and education sector that have subsequently turned into significant businesses in themselves“. But Martin then went on to describe how those benefits are about to be lost: “we are entering a new era, necessitated by funding reductions, changing student demographics and frankly an unwillingness to see “R&D” type activities (of which a large proportion can be expected to fail) facilitated through top sliced central funding“. For myself and many of my colleagues we are having to respond to the scenario depicted by Martin:”Behind the scenes, a lot of people who have been working for JISC on its various centres and services have been having meetings with their local HR departments about redundancy and redeployment“.

But what should you do if you wish to continue to make use of the skills and expertise you have developed over the years but new full-time posts appear to be in short supply? I suspect the changes in Jisc will provide new consultancy opportunities, with their current preoccupation in telling good news stories without addressing any of the underlying complexities or tensions leaving a void which can be filled by those who have a more realistic understanding of the complexities of exploiting IT to support institutional requirements.

The preparation for a new career will mean the loss of an IT infrastructure and the accompanying support which many of us will have grown accustomed to. But how can provide help and advice in the preparation for a move away from an institutional environment? One might expect the Library to provide support, especially for institutions which have a commitment to information literacy, which is defined asthe ability to find, use, evaluate and communicate information” and is “an essential skill in this digital age and era of life-long learning“. But as I will be describing next week at the LILAC 2013 conference this is not necessarily the case, with the role of librarians perhaps being to promote use of institutional rather than Cloud services. But since we will all, at some point, leave our host institution, this is not really providing staff and researchers with the life-long skills needed to thrive beyond an institutional context.

Surely it is timely for a change in focus, especially if the gloomy predictions are correct and we continue to see reductions in staffing levels in higher education institutions?

I’d welcome your thoughts and comments – especially if you have experience of leaving your host institution and continuing to work, perhaps as a consultant. My slides are available on Slideshare and embedded below:

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“Advertising and branding matter more than ever”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 Feb 2013

THE leader article“Advertising and branding matter more than everannounced the leader article in a recent issue of the Times Higher Education (7 February 2013).

The article described how:

This week we report on a 22 per cent rise in the sums spent by universities on direct marketing to students in 2011-12, with many planning to increase this further.

and went on to draw comparisons between the changing funding environment in the UK’s higher education sector and the US higher education marketplace:

According to a recent estimate reported by Reuters, the for-profit University of Phoenix, whose owner Apollo Group also controls BPP University College in the UK, was at one point spending nearly $400,000 (£254,000) a day on online adverts targeted at students.

In the UK:

There is little doubt that as far as universities in England are concerned, marketing to and competition for students are now far more pressing concerns than they once were. … The vice-chancellor of one Russell Group university confided that his institution had simply not anticipated the rapid impact of the government’s reforms, and had almost expected “business as usual” – a mistake he would not be making again.

In some quarters, some comments would be regarded with misgivings, since it would appear that scarce resources are being diverted from provision of front-line services. However I myself feel that marketing is important. In the context of research, for example we are seeing how social media services can enable researchers themselves to being their research papers to the attention of their peers, and engage in discussions about the ideas provided in the papers. Melissa Terras’s post on The verdict: is blogging or tweeting about research papers worth it? provided concrete advice for researchers based on her experiences:

If you want people to find and read your research, build up a digital presence in your discipline, and use it to promote your work when you have something interesting to share.

But although social media services enable researchers to promote their work with an authentic voice and engage in open discussions with their peers and other interested parties, there are dangers that traditional marketing departments who have a product (the institution) to promote will misuse social media services, in which there may be expectations of authenticity, openness, transparency, engagement and speed of response which may not be the case with traditional marketing channels.

In addition to such concerns I think we should be worried that the financial pressures on the sector will lead to a loss of openness and transparency and the sharing of practices which has characterised working in a public sector environment in which discussions of best practices for developing innovative approaches to teaching and learning and research have helped to develop better understanding and inform the deployment of new practices.

Innovation is defined in Wikipedia as “the development of new values through solutions that meet new needs, inarticulate needs, or old customer and market needs in value adding new ways“. As part of our work with the JISC Observatory we have sought to identify ‘weak signals’ which can help to identify early indications of developments which can be beneficial to the sector. In occurs to me, however, that there is also a need to identify signals which may suggest developments which may meet meet needs which we may question the value of. Is the need for institutions to give a positive portrayal of their activities to be welcomed, if this means that activities which could be improved cease to be discussed? Are we seeing any ‘anti-patterns’ in which marketing activities are hindering approaches to openness?

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Reflections on the Inside-Out Library on National Libraries Day (#nld13)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 Feb 2013

Lorcan Dempsey's slidesToday is National Libraries Day – a “culmination of a week’s worth of celebrations in school, college, university, workplace and public libraries across the UK“. This morning I woke up to steady stream of tweets using the #nld13 hashtag from the people I follow on Twitter, typified by this one which I spotted at about 08.30:

I #lovelibraries because they welcomed me as a child, educated me as a teenager and sustain me as an adult. #NLD13

Since it is National Libraries Day it was appropriate to see see a tweet which referenced a recent talk by Lorcan Dempsey, former UKOLN Director. In a recent talk presented at the Bobcatsss 2013 conference in Ankara last month Lorcan Dempsey revisited the concept of the Inside Out Library. Lorcan described how this was an idea he has spoken about previously, and cited his presentations on “The Inside Out Library: Libraries in the Age of Amazoogle” (MS PowerPoint format) presented at the 34th LIBER Conference in July 2005 and “The Library and the Network: Flattening the Library and Turning It Inside Out” (MS PowerPoint format) presented at the ACCESS 2005 Conference in October 2005.

In the slides Lorcan provided the following quotation from Seán O’Faoláin written in 1994:

 People should think not so much of the books that have gone into the National Library but rather of the books that have come out of it. A library, after all, feeds the people that go in there. 

A little research showed that Lorcan used this in a paper on Library places and digital information spaces: reflections on emerging network services in Alexandria, 11(1), 1999 – and a preprint of the paper is available on the UKOLN Web site.

Although it is 19 years since Seán O’Faoláin made this observation, Lorcan’s thoughts on the importance of revisiting not so much the resources in the library (which were physical objects in the 1990s) but on the ways in which the needs of library users are being addressed is particularly true in today’s political, economic and technical environment.

It is now several years since the “Library 2.0” term was coined but I do wonder the extent to which Library 2.0 which have been adopted in libraries are restricted to syndication technologies, such as RSS, and the notion as “the Web as the platform” is being lost, as libraries seek to replicate functionality at a local level and fail to gain the benefits of scale which working at a global level could provide.

To updated Seán O’Faoláin quotation for National Libraries day in 2013, should we not be saying:

 People should think not so much of the technologies that have gone into the Library but rather of the global technologies that come out of it. A library, after all, feeds the people that go in there. 

I should add that I appreciate that for public libraries in particular there will be a need to ensure that appropriate physical resources are provided. But aren’t things different in academic libraries?

Lorcan’s slides are available on Slideshare and embedded below:

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UK University Home Pages: (Remember) The Way We Were

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 Feb 2013

The Way We Were

University of Bath home page: 1997Back in July 1997 UKOLN held the first IWMW (Institutional Web Management Workshop) event. The event aimed to share examples of best practices and innovation for those involved in providing institutional Web services.

D0 you remember what your institution’s home page looked like in 1997? Back in 2002 we set up a service which provides a rolling display of University home pages. We subsequently used the same tool to provide a rolling display of University home pages taken from the Internet Archive.

It is therefore possible to see how University home pages looked before the first IWMW event took place and to compare this with how the pages look today.

How We Are Today

The following rolling displays show how Web sites look today:

Note that if links are broken this indicates that the URL of the original Web page no longer exists. It is interesting to note the high profile that was given to the provision to institutional Web gateways ten years ago; nowadays institutional Web sites are more likely, I suspect, tow ish visitors to stay on the Web sites with links to interesting resources elsewhere being minimised.

I should also add that historical displays which show the evolution of the home page are available for the following institutions:

Looking Forward to the Future

IWMW 2013 home pageThe theme of the IWMW 2013 event is “What Next?“. We are currently inviting submissions for talks and workshop sessions which will be of interest to those involved in the provision of institutional Web services. Participants will be interested in looking to the future and to hear about approaches to the management of large-scale institutional Web services which are applicable in today’s environment.

It seems to me that it would be useful to look into the lessons which can be learnt from the history of institutional Web development when making plans for the future. I hope the resources mentioned above will be useful for those who wish to travel back in time and see how Web sites have evolved over the past 17 years.

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Evolving Rules of Grammar

Posted by Brian Kelly on 31 Jan 2013

Is “Why every researcher should sign up for their ORCID ID” Grammatically Incorrect?

Tweets saying "every researcher should claim their ORCID ID"Yesterday a post of mine entitled “Why every researcher should sign up for their ORCID ID” was republished on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog. The announcement made by @lseimpactblog was subsequently widely retweeted, as illustrated.

It was subsequently pointed out the sentence contained a grammatical error: “every researcher” is singular and therefore shouldn’t be followed by a plural form of the pronoun: “their ORCID ID“. Coincidentally yesterday I came across as tweet which linked to the announcement that “The [University of Washington] Daily adopts gender-neutral pronoun“. I responded to the tweet questioning whether this was a wise decision:

Univ of WA adopts gender neutral pronouns – they as singular pronoun: Surely a thumbs down?

In response it seems that several people were in agreement with the decision taken at the University of Washington that “The Daily will join the efforts of these organizations by implementing gender-neutral language, using “they” as a singular pronoun when applicable“. I received several responses shortly after publishing my tweet:

  • It was good enough for Jane Austen! :)
  • Meh. It’s been around since at least 1595 – better than ubiquitous ‘he’, generally less clumsy than ‘he/she’, so why not?
  • I use ‘they’ as a gender neutral pronoun. Better than s/he surely?
  • why? I can live with it for the sake of less gendered conversations (and have been doing it for years anyway)

However one person made the point that:

  • I really HATE the use of “they” as a singular pronoun!

I would agree with the view that “Why every researcher should sign up for his/her ORCID ID” is ugly. I also feel that “Why every researcher should sign up for his ORCID ID” is sexist and “Why every researcher should sign up for her ORCID ID” seeks to make a political point which, although I might be sympathetic towards, will distract from the purpose of the sentence.

In light of the comments and subsequent discussion on Twitter this morning I now realise that I agree that this construct is now acceptable. However as a comment made on the English StackExchange forum put it:

It’s not ungrammatical per se on the basis of analysis of actual usage using reasonable linguistic methods. But use it at your own risk of being criticized by the self-righteous but misinformed.

The question seems to no longer a question of one’s understanding correct and incorrect language use but one’s willingness to potentially alienate the “self-righteous but misinformed“. And note that before anyone suggests that there is no such things as incorrect language use I’ll highlight a tweet I saw this morning which provided an ironical perspective on language misuse:

Somewhere, someone who writes “should of” instead of “should have” gets paid more than me.

The particular example discussed in this post clearly has ‘political’ connotations as one form which was popular in the past makes 50% of the population invisible (it was interesting to observe, y the way, that 4 of the 5 initial responses were from women). It would be possible to sidestep such controversy by restructuring the sentence e.g. “Why all researcher should sign up for an ORCID ID” or “Why all researchers should sign up for their ORCID ID“. But what about the more general question regarding changing rules of grammar?

“Data Is” or “Data Are”?

"Data is" or "Data are" discussionAs recorded in a Storify summary of the subsequent Twitter discussion, last year a reviewer of a paper which asked “Can Linkedin and Enhance Access to Open Repositories?” commented that:

the word ‘data’ is still a plural noun, no matter how many times people may erroneously use it in the singular

Myself and my co-author Jenny Delasalle disagreed and the paper was published containing the sentence:

As described by Delasalle [8] the data for was obtained by entering the institution’s name in the search box; the number of entries were then displayed

But what if reviewers or editors insist that text must conform with specific house rules in order for a submitted article to be published? Should one’s approach to writing and grammar be based on one’s own views on what is appropriate or on what may be appropriate for the readers? And if that latter, whose opinions should one prioritise: the editors and reviewers or general readers?

It seems to me that it can be helpful to gauge opinion on such matters. I have therefore set up two surveys to solicit views on whether the following grammatical constructs are felt to be appropriate in scholarly works: “Anyone who loves the English language should have a copy of this book in their bookcase” and (b) “The data was obtained from an online survey“.

I invite responses to the survey and comments on this topic.

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Signals from Institutions: The University of Edinburgh’s Strategic Goals, Targets and KPIs

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 Jan 2013

The University of Edinburgh Strategic Plan 2012-2016

As described in a paper on What Next for Libraries? Making Sense of the Future the JISC Observatory “provides horizon-scanning of technological developments which may be of relevance to the UK’s higher and further education sectors“. The paper, available in MS Word and PDF formats, describes the systematic processes for the scanning, sense-making and synthesis activities to support this work. The paper focuses on the processes for observing technical developments. However there is also a need to observe signals of institutional interests in IT developments, especially in light of the recent announcement of Jisc’s objective to “address a number of specific priorities for universities and colleges through the development of resources, tools and supported infrastructure“.

Edinburgh University's strategic goals

Strategic plans published by institutions can provide a valuable starting point to help identifying areas of institutional interests. For example, Lorcan Dempsey recently drew attention to the strategic goals which have been identified by the University of Edinburgh:

mm.. U Edinburgh strategy targets include improving citation score in the THE World Uni Rankings. gasp/strategic…

The document, The University of Edinburgh Strategic Plan 2012-2016, (which is available in PDF format) is interesting not so much for the way it identifies strategic goals and the key enablers who will be needed to ensure the goals are attained, but the list of specific KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and the associated targets.

Of particular interest is the strategic goal of excellence in research for which the KPI is listed as “Russell Group market share of research income (spend)“. The corresponding targets are:

  • Increase our average number of PhD students per member of academic staff to at least 2.5
  • Increase our score (relative to the highest scoring institution) for the citations-based measure in the THE World University Rankings to at least 94/100

The strategic goal of excellence in innovation states that the KPIs are “Knowledge exchange metrics: number of disclosures, patents, licences and new company formation“. The targets for this goal are:

  • Achieve at least 200 public policy impacts per annum
  • Increase our economic impact, measured by GVA, by at least 8%

The Importance of Metrics

It is interesting to see how the University of Edinburgh has clearly targets which are based on measurable criteria: “Increase our average number of PhD students per member of academic staff to at least 2.5“; Increase our score … for the citations-based measure in the THE World university rankings to at least 94/100“; “Achieve at least 200 public policy impacts per annum“; “Increase our economic impact, measured by GVA, by at least 8%“; “Increase the proportion of our building condition at grades A and B on a year-on-year basis, aiming for at least 90% by 2020“; “Increase our total income per staff FTE year-on-year, aiming for an increase of at least 10% in real terms“; “Increase the level of overall satisfaction expressed in responses to the NSS, PTES and PRES student surveys to at least 88%“; “Increase the number of our students who have achieved the Edinburgh Award to at least 500“; “Create at least 800 new opportunities for our students to gain an international experience as part of their Edinburgh degree“; “Increase our headcount of non-EU international students by at least 2,000“; “Increase our research grant income from EU and other overseas sources so that we enter the Russell Group upper quartile“; “Increase our number of masters students on programmes established through our Global Academies by at least 500“; “reduce absolute CO2 emissions by 29% by 2020, against a 2007 baseline (interim target of 20% savings by 2015)” andIncrease our number of PhD students on programmes jointly awarded with international partners by at least 50%” (emphasis added).

The importance of metrics in the context of learning is being addressed by CETIS, with the CETIS Analytics Series being announced by Sheila MacNeill on 23 November 2012 with a follow-up post the next week addressing Legal, Risk and Ethical Aspects of Analytics in Education, The following week Sheila provided a broader perspective in a post on Analytics for Understanding Research, with the series of posts concluding with one on Institutional Readiness for Analytics – practice and policy.

Prior to CETI’s work in this area the importance of metrics had been identified by the JISC in 2010 when they asked UKOLN to facilitate the Evidence, Impact, Metrics activity. A series of reports on this work were published just over a year ago. As described in the document on Why the Need for this Work?:

There is a need for publicly-funded organisations, such as higher education institutions, to provide evidence of the value of the services they provide. Such accountability has always been required, but at a time of economic concerns the need to gather, analyse and publicise evidence of such value is even more pressing.

Unlike commercial organisations it is not normally possible to make use of financial evidence (e.g. profits, turnover, etc) in public sector organisations. There is therefore a need to develop other approaches which can support evidence-based accounts of the value of our services.

A series of three workshops were held between November 2010 and July 2011. It was interesting to reflect on how, at the initial workshop, there was a feeling that an emphasis metrics could be counter-productive in failing to appreciate the complexities of the work being carried out in the higher education sector. However the feedback from the second workshop included an awareness of the need for “More strategic consideration of gathering evidence) both for our own purposes and those of projects we work with/evaluate)“. The work concluded by highlighting the importance of metric-based approaches for projects:

Which should I bother with metrics?
Metrics can provide quantitative evidence of the value of aspects of project work. Metrics which indicate the success of a project can be useful in promoting the value of the work. Metrics can also be useful in helping to identify failures and limitations which may help to inform decisions on continued work in the area addressed by the metrics.

What are the benefits for funders?
In addition to providing supporting evidence of the benefits of successful projects funders can also benefit by obtaining quantitative evidence from a range of projects which can be used to help identify emerging patterns of usage.

What are the benefits for projects?
Metrics can inform project development work by helping to identify deviations from expected behaviours of usage patterns and inform decision-making processes.

What are the risks in using metrics?
Metrics only give a partial understand and need to be interpreted careful. Metrics could lead to the publication of league tables, with risks that projects seek to maximise their metrics rather than treating metrics as a proxy indicator of value.

It will be interesting to see if other institutions emulate the University of Edinburgh in stating specific targets for their institutional strategic plans – and how pressures on staff within the institutions to achieve the targets affects operational practices.

Is anyone aware of other institutions which are taking similar approaches?

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