Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Digitalisation of learning will have a greater impact than the new Higher Education and Research bill

Debate about the new Higher Education and Research Bill continues along predictably fraught lines.  On one side are the free marketeers who see deregulated competition as the main tool for invigoration and improvement. 'The student is clearly a customer', they assert. On the other side are the public good folks who see institutional autonomy as the way to preserve diversity and richness. 'The student is clearly a student', they retort.
Both see the University as a route to fulfilment for our young people and we all want more of the value that this brings. We want more learning. Every student wants to be the best they can be. And what's good for them is good for our society too. The two sides differ only in the way they would like Joe Johnson to catalyse this with his new bill.
I wonder how much the bill can or will support this fundamental joint intention. It will certainly be disruptive for civil servants and University administrators. We can and should debate the structure and processes of our system. However, what we cannot stop and what we ignore at our peril is the inevitable march of digitalisation. This is having a greater, more immediate and far reaching impact than any procedural tweaks to the way the money flows.
So what do we need to create a fertile context in which the student can learn in cyberspace? Three ingredients must be there:
  • Encouragement of curiosity - an environment that encourages questioning, exploration and challenge. 
  • Powerfully aspirational examples - the personal stories and role models of excellence that provide a glimpse of what can be. 
  • Opportunity and accessibility - access to massive online communities of learning, inspirational teachers, rich media resources, signposted pathways and challenges to overcome.
This is all possible, Joe. What should we be doing to make it happen?

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Innovators live between the cracks

Have the large monolithic organisations in which most of us work had their day? Is blindness the inevitable consequence of too much history,  certainty and success.  I think so.

We all have blind spots.  Some of us work hard to see past them.  Science and data can help.  As a physicist I remember the huge effort needed to believe in quantum mechanics when this ran counter to my lived experience.  The first step was to let go of everything I had previously learned about the way objects behave in the world - a deep knowledge that I'd acquired from my first breathing moments.  It was deep knowledge and had served me well but it turned out to be wrong!

In the same way, organisations have blind spots.  They too have deep knowledge which stops them being open minded and emotionally ready to accept other truths and other ways of doing things.  They can't let go.  They can't see themselves from an 'outside in' perspective.  They can't innovate. 

This makes me wonder if the innovators of this world are going to run to the open spaces - the cracks between organisations.  Here there are no ingrained patterns of behaviour to overcome.  There are no revenue streams to be protected and new ideas can flourish. (Necessity is the mother of invention as they say.) Perhaps it's easier to see things from an 'outside in' perspective in when you live outside yourself between the cracks. 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Think of the CEO!

He's the leader of a great organisation but people tell him he's got to digitalize his business.  What does this even mean? 

Things still seem OK.  He understands his customer and the market.  He knows and loves his products.   He's run a tight ship and kept his shareholders and auditors happy for years.  Assets are assets and make him feel invincible.  The view from the top floor is still impressive!

But there are signs of change.  Tiny businesses are popping up from no where.  They are breaking the rules.  They don't have 'assets'.  They don't own buildings, or SAP systems or have a huge workforce.  They move like lightening. They make crazy mistakes and bounce back. They seem to employ kids and people who do things for free. They are more about 'art and feelings' than 'science and processes'. 

And our poor CEO is feeling uncomfortable.  He doesn't get tech or the way young people use it.  He's too busy to play with this stuff himself.  He's too scared to invite youth to join the board but he wonders if 30 years of experience and wisdom counts for much these days.

How vulnerable must this feel? For his organisation to change,  he must change too but he doesn't know how.  It's easier, so much easier, to deny the evidence, surround himself with people just like himself and keep turning the handle on the same tried and tested processes.  There is still money coming in and no one will blame him for missing this particular revolution…yet!   

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The digital tipping point is about to hit Higher Education!

We in Higher Education are woefully ill-prepared for the disruption that lies ahead. We've seen other industries in tumult.  Our researchers have published papers about the 'Digital Future' as it pertains to them. Yet our own world remains a bastion.

I see four tipping forces coming together.  As these strike with simultaneous impact, the University as we know it may have to change rather fast.

  1. Tech 
The technology now works! A limitless cloud of stuff and apps really is available from any device, anywhere, any time.  Innovations are coming faster than ever.   

  1. Pedagogy
We now understand how learners learn online.  The best MOOCs have shown that it really is possible to educate at scale - for peers to help each other towards mastery - for online relationships to be real and meaningful.

  1. Culture
Bright young people are increasingly resentful of the debt associated with their 'boarding school degree'.  They want more choice and flexibility as they move on and up. They advise others - their younger siblings - to seek different routes to career fulfillment.     

  1. Regulation
The HE bill is opening up the UK market to new entrants - new suppliers of degrees.  And employers will want value from the big new Apprenticeship Levy they now have to pay.  Will they start bringing in the talent through this different door?

We had better hold on tight! 

Sunday, 24 July 2016

A digital strategy for Nottingham!

We've made it! IT Strategy Board has approved our strategy. It's been 18 months in the oven but is all the better for the slow cook.

The vision will be unsurprising for generation Z. Indeed they may be surprised this needs saying at all - so immersed are they already in the digital world.

But it does need saying, because funding this is going to take a radical shift of investment from the physical to the digital. There are some XXL items here. Once we've delivered our immediate priorities - Project Transform , the Research Information System, the move to Office 365 and our Smarter Computing Programme we'll be ready for the next big thing. Where should our focus turn next?

'e-strategy' has become 'digital strategy' but that's not all that's changed in 16 years!

So it's 16 years since I joined the University of Warwick to write it's 'e-strategy'.  The new century had started and the age of the internet was upon us.  What did this mean for Universities? 
I recently found a dusty old copy of that e-strategy.  Reading something you wrote 16 years ago can be uncomfortable - such naiveté!  We missed some things that now seem obvious (there's no mention of WiFi) but we made some good guesses too:
  • Ubiquitous mobile devices
  • Any time anywhere learning
  • Tools for rich collaboration
  • Video streaming and On demand multimedia content 
  • Student portal
  • Digital library
  • Dynamic web presence
  • High performance computing and large data - (not 'big' data!)
And we certainly have seen huge evolutionary change in all of these areas.
Now of course, we have a 'Digital Strategy' but this is more than a name change.  It predicts much deeper change.  It responds to the 'why's not just the 'how's of University life. 
The real disruption - the big revolution - is still ahead and my life in Higher Education could be about to get even more interesting!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A working culture worth striving for!

As part of our IS Renew Programme we've been consciously creating the kind of IT service we want to be - capable, reliable, trusted, agile.  We've designed our target operating model. We've eaten the manuals - TOGAF, ITIL, PRINCE2... We've recruited the talent and built the 'know how'.  

At the same time, we've been consciously creating the culture. The right working culture doesn't happen by accident. This is where our Pathfinder programme came in.  It gave us a collective approach and language for coaching each other, facing fears and doing it anyway.  It gave us the foundations for a new culture in which every individual brings the best of themselves to work. We aim for a richly collaborative environment in which ideas grow and people excel.     

I was reminded of this when I read this article about a young tech company called Slack. If you want to know the culture we're striving for in Information Services, here it is..