These days are full

I am conscious that it’s been almost a month since I last wrote here but that is largely due to my work on other projects, websites and blogs.  Here’s an overview of some of the work I’m currently involved in. If you’re working on similar projects or want to discuss or collaborate on any of this, do get in touch.

The Learning Lab

I recently wrote a brief summary of the work I’ve been doing under the ‘Learning Lab’ banner, since I started my work as Technology Officer in the Centre for Educational Research and Development. WordPressMU occupied a large chunk of my summer, though I feel I have a good understanding of it now and can relax a little while supporting staff and students who wish to use it. It will soon be moving to the new, permanent home of

One of the unexpected outcomes of working on WordPressMU was the realisation that not only training but a different model of support is key to sustaining and improving the use of blogs and other Web 2.0 tools.  I’m keen to advocate and support the user-to-user support model that most open source and social web services develop rather than the traditional user-to-professional, ‘Help Desk’ model that exists for much of the software provided by the university. Models of user support are not something I’ve taken much of an interest in until recently, but the reality is that I alone am unable to support the growing adoption of WordPressMU at the university and I need to encourage staff and students to help themselves wherever possible.

Having said that, with colleagues in the Library and Research Office, I’m also planning to offer regular staff training sessions on the use of Web 2.0 tools in education and I’m visiting classes to give one hour introductions to WordPress, which is a good opportunity to work with and learn from both students and staff. In addition to this, I’m contributing towards the revision of policy documents which ensure that these new tools are used effectively and appropriately.

Lincoln Academic Commons

This is something I’m developing to promote and support the various initiatives at the university which provide Open Access to our research, teaching and learning. I started working for the university on a JISC-funded project to develop an institutional repository, having been working as an Archivist and Project Manager of a Digital Asset Management system in my previous job. Then, a few months ago, I heard about the difficulties people in the Lincoln Business School were having trying to establish a series of ‘Occasional Working Papers’ (OWPS) using existing portal software provided by the university. At the same time, I was looking at the Open Journal System for publishing Open Access journals, so I suggested that we set up the OWPS using OJS. Seeing what a great piece of software OJS is, I then suggested we use it for NEO, a planned journal of student research which we intend to launch in the Spring. Finally (and this is where it gets really interesting for me), Mike Neary, Dean of Teaching and Learning and Head of the Centre for Educational Research and Development, is advocating a more critical engagement with the debates about the marketisation of higher education through teaching practice. He’s calling this critical engagement, ‘Teaching in Public’, which encompasses the idea of an Academic Commons.

Professor Neary argues the uncertainty over the university’s mission requires the notion of ‘the public’ to be reconceptualized, so as to remake the university as an academic project that confronts the negative consequences of academic capitalism, and the commodification of everyday life. He will present Karl Marx’s concept of the ‘general intellect’ as an idea through which the university might be remade.

I contributed to a book chapter Mike has recently written which elaborates on this in more detail. You can read more about that on a previous blog post.

Access Grid

A project I’ve been leading for some months now is the installation of an Access Grid node at the university. We were fortunate in being approached by the Mental Health Research Network (MHRN) several months ago who offered to fund the installation of an AG node at the university to support their staff who work at the university and provide a facility that is otherwise missing in Lincolnshire. It’s been a really interesting and useful project for me as I learned about how the university undertakes a tendering exercise and I’ve been able to work with colleagues from across the university.  The node should be available to use sometime in January. The Access Grid project is yet another technology-based initiative at the university which further improves our research infrastructure and supports collaboration and the wider exchange of ideas among colleagues worldwide.

Anytime, Anywhere Computing

This is a new project that brings together three, originally separate proposals, that the ICT department and CERD were proposing to take forward. It covers:

  1. ubiquitous wireless networking
  2. so called ‘thin client’ technology as an alternative to desktop PCs and the management of software applications and resources
  3. access via user-owned devices, such as low-cost and increasingly popular ‘netbook’ hardware

We’re just starting to look at how we might offer the same user experience and services on our wireless network as we provide on our wired network. Currently the wireless network only offers Internet access. At the same time, we’re interested in evaluating new virtualisation technologies for the desktop. The ICT department are concluding a server consolidation project which is virtualising much of our server infrastructure. This brings many benefits and allows the ICT department to provide a more flexible service to users.  Our new study will look at whether similar virtualisation technology can bring benefits to desktop users, too. The third part of this project is based on a proposal I made a few months ago to evaluate the user experience and support issues that the new generation of ‘netbooks‘ introduces. Smaller screens, Linux operating systems, an emphasis on web-based applications and the rapid adoption of these low-cost devices often aimed at the education sector, require a better understanding of the impact of this technology and the influence it may have on driving students to use more and more web-based applications.

Are you working on similar initiatives? If so, please leave a comment and share your experiences.

Session 7: Usage

This part of the conference ended with two excellent and very different presentations on measuring the usage and impact of scholarly output.

Tim Brody, from the University of Southampton, discussed his work developing IRStats, a tool to measure the use and impact of open access repositories. IRStats has been developed to answers questions such as, “What is Professor Smith’s most downloaded paper?” and “Who is the most highly downloaded author in Mathematics?” Existing tools such as Google Analytics and AWStats, don’t offer this level of detail, which can be useful for both strategically placing the repository as an important tool in the University and as a service to both individual scholars and departments. IRStats is available for EPrints and I intend to try it in our repository.

The final presentation was by Johan Bollen, from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He took off from where Tim left us and discussed a much larger scale project called MESUR. This project also attempts to measure the impact of scholarly output by analysing metrics from usage data. It differs to the IRStats project in both its methodology and scale, combining the evaluation of usage, citation and bibliographic data. By analysing this data, they’ve produced some fascinating graphs which show the relationships between academic disciplines. This is a project I look forward to learning more about.

As I mentioned, this was the last session in this part of the conference. The next day-and-a-half, I will be attending an EPrints User Group Session, where I hope to learn more about the new version of EPrints, the experience people had of the RAE excercise and repository analytics. There’s also a couple of training and support sessions which will be useful.