Tools and Equipment to support digital practice - IT issues

The university has undergone an incredible amount of change over the past two years in terms of digital tools and environment, including the new website/portals and the new VLE. Many new VLE tools have been introduced, the change from Blackboard to Moodle having the largest impact. Early surveys and feedback from students indicated a desire to have all their core course related material delivered through one VLE portal that worked, DIAL had no projects which engaged with the VLE developments as the UAL have done extensive work before and during the transition. Although DIAL have been involved in related activities as consultants see Delivery of technical resource information online and Digital literacy CPD and a practical pathway into OEP. Because of past and current inadequacies with UALs digital provision staff have avoid using UALs in-house IT systems opting for DIY environments, the previous VLE (Blackboard) was so unpopular, staff started to create their own bespoke VLE spaces outside the UAL IT domain.

Awareness and support

Early in the project, DIAL supported and presented at staff training events which helped staff explore digital processes and tools see: Learning Studio Event at LCF (7/2/12). The DIAL project supported the development and created the online The Learning Studio (LS) group to help cluster and share all the LS activity and resources happening across the six colleges. The LS is intended as a space where staff can learn together, growing into a collaborative learning community, based on their own professional practice. DIAL are also interested in how the LS team share ideas and approaches about how colleges could go about organising their own LS events and try and identify some staff from each college to try and encourage college ownership of the LS events, especially in CCW.

Survey

Which UAL Online Services do you use? This was one of the questions we asked in the DIAL Online Survey (http://tinyurl.com/dialsurvey). Summary of survey results here.

The two main UAL digital tools DIAL used were part of the new UAL VLE portfolio, these were the universities Wordpress blogging service, an embedded simple blogging platform for the project reporting and week to week management and communication.

And our second primary tool was an online ‘open practice’ community site http://process.arts.ac.uk , an open source Drupal content management system. Lots of the DIAL project approaches have addressed online and open learning in one way or another; all projects have posted open educational resources OERs, many for the first time. The online reflective practice project was the first group to use the site for their project, see the 60 plus videos uploaded mostly by students/staff for the CLTAD Teaching Development Projects.

The DIAL Baseline report reveled (and was a common feedback throughout the project) “Students and graduates would like a space to communicate together a social space similar to Facebook but not like LinkedIn, somewhere in-between. Graduates have a lot of information and sound advice they could easily and willingly communicate to current students given the right forum/platform….. Students would like more information and guidance in developing their own personal unique web environments, they like to use institutional and social tools but they would also like to be able to develop their own websites personal websites, they would like this integrated into the study as preparation for professional practice.” Feedback notes from Enterprise week workshop – http://dial.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2011/11/18/feedback-notes-from-enterprise-week-session-%E2%80%98sharing-knowledge-improve-and-develop-professional-identities%E2%80%99/

What is the right platform, many tools are being used, university tools and commercial tools, the university has a long way to go to keep up to date with the pace of technologic developments   

Staff Digital Equipment BYOD

Many of the DIAL projects to date have identified a clear need for having the right equipment for the job? DIAL have been helping to identify these new tools and processes but DIAL cannot provide all this equipment to everyone, this has be a problem that is solved by UAL, locally and sustainably, can UAL support this?

“If I want to engage students with online environments it is embarrassing not to have the necessary equipment” (This is a typical example of staff response to the problem of staff using, creating or engaging with online environments and rich media content)

From a DIAL perspective we’re interested in the general problem of staff not having the correct tools for the job in order to use digital in practice. Having access to a PC in a separate office or bring in your own device for essential work related practice is not suitable arrangement for staff who are working in studios with students and who need to interface and interact with software applications and online as part of their practice. We’d like to explore theses challenges so we build a picture of where we are and where were going by talking with courses, colleges and looking at the progress of UALs Desktop Strategy 2011/12 – 2015/16 and how this impacts.

Everywhere you look students seem to be engaging with mobile devices and laptops, well for all those students luckily enough to own one that is, This is a great blog which reinforces this point) and this Information Graphic shows how: Assessing Digital Literacy Levels of Pre-Degree Students can draw out this information as well.  There we’re very few members of staff involved in DIAL projects with university laptops/mobile devices and those that did have were either engaged in digital projects or senior staff so can have this equipment bought for them without question. Many staff have little option, other than to use their own personal equipment, laptops for work, If a member of staff really required a laptop for studio/workshop leaning and teaching then UAL should supply this equipment. Read more.

DIAL has examples of supporting staff who DIAL wanted to work with but couldn’t because of the lack of equipment, DIAL helped these staff prepare and present a use case argument/case study to their colleges to request they buy the equipment they need, as opposed to buying the equipment for them, which would be an unsustainable solution to the problem. See this post by the tutor who worked on the POI project (who got a new laptop from the course) and this project Using iPads in Technical Workshops, who got 6 iPads from the college.

Course website and outward facing course identity

UAL hosting and server Issues and constraints: The DIAL team have first hand experience of UAL constraints having developed course and college web projects in-house before and had a trusted relationship and experience of working with all relevant key UAL staff. It’s widely acknowledged across UAL that the primary constraint for web innovation at UAL is lack of IT server access and support.

Why an institutional server? An in-house server provides a safe and stable ‘affiliated institutional space’, which supports early stakeholder confidence and longer-term participation and contribution. Previous in-house projects working with institutionally supported IT services have encountered problems setting up internally funded server spaces, the primary problem is the amount of time it takes to agree server provision. Most staff buy server space outside the university and using commercial platforms, these are unsustainable and hard to maintain in the long term and an unnecessary financial and technical burden for courses to adopt.

Please see the No Name project at CSM as a good example of need for an outward facing course identity:

“The Centre for Performance needs an outward facing web site.  It is intended to be a ‘must have’ bookmark on all students’ computers and they would frequently look in and some would be able to contribute to the site.  Where there are resources available to watch or download, links to other sites, a blog spot, examples of current research by external practitioners and students, an App and Tech spot, a place to exchange skills. It will need to host a Wiki type area for the Lexicon that is currently being developed and other pages for resources and current practice and debate”. Read more.

IT problems:

Those lucky enough to have in-house server space have to then navigated further constraints and problem with time it takes for sites to go live or having the correct set-ups or having a reliable network support e.g. IT support, server access, security, slowness and firewalls etc.

We have heard many people say it can take 15 to 20 minutes or more to login to the UAL clone computers; this can take 20 minutes out of a workshop event or class or in some cases cancels classes. When logged in the computers can be DEADLY slow! Some software does not work with the UAL clone or remote updates can even interrupt study:

“So frustrating! I was working on my edit when this interruption happened..I have to get my work done, as I have a deadline next week, on the MA Fine art course. Its really held me up and i’m not sure if i will get it done now.I just do not understand why they don’t do these updates at the weekend, or in the evening or over christmas?! Our course on the MA is only a 1 year course so I am really mindful of the fact that time is very crucial. I’d really like IT to respond to this promptly, we really cant have this happening next term when we start to have really major deadlines. Its not good enough”. Baseline comment Ellen Angus MA Fine Art

We also have seen more IT/network savvy staff and students at UAL willing to come forward and challenge the UAL IT jargon and set ups: 

“Perhaps this is the reason why there are network problems such as delays of login in and slow internet access? Could it be due to using illegal DNS names (causing timeouts while trying to lookup ip addresses or reverse DNS names) and routing that is sent round in circles rather then directly to external router. This is a traceroute from the machines in the university (in particular Wimbledon), it seems quite odd?” Student baseline comment

DIAL fed these comments and more back to Graham Eastwood IT Strategy Consultant, and consultation process, DIAL requested the basics be addressed before anything else. E.g. academic and technical Requirements for the next 18 months including

-       Some discussion or review on current staff and student desk top environments which address the basic issues of, current inadequacies with:

  • Slow login and operating corporate clone system
  • Corporate clone improvements needed (bug fixes and how the clone or IT intervention can reduce/damage the PC or device performance)
  • Too many restrictions and over security
  • More administration rights for staff (ownership of systems) 
  • Computers need to be fit for service for art and design purpose (including staff desktops e.g. all having web cams, faster processers, mobile tech etc.)

-       Server issues, make easier to access and request server space 

-       Sandbox environments for individuals and groups.

-       Better service and support for projects, and departments providing online services.

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