Malleable Musings

May 7, 2010

Goodluck Jonathan

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brendan @ 6:16 pm

It’s been a bit of a bizarre week.  From Tuesday to Thursday I was in meetings with some Greek colleagues, supposedly talking about the future. Given the current uncertainty in Greece such future-gazing was obviously very, very difficult.

We spent quite a bit of time talking about the upcoming UK election that happened yesterday. I explained the first past the post system and that I thought that the UK may be about to experience some uncertain times – given the likelihood of a hung parliament. The one thing they couldn’t understand why the election wasn’t taking place at the weekend and yesterday morning they were amazed to hear that I had voted at a few minutes past seven.

That evening, after my visitors had returned back to a Athens, I took a romantic stroll back to the polling station with my wife so that she could vote.  Sometime just after 9.30pm she voted and raised the turnout for that polling station to a whopping 50%, apparently the ward finished the night at 56% whilst the constituency finished only a little higher at 59.4%.

Later that night I heard about the voting irregularities that were happening elsewhere in the country and was reminded about the furore around hanging chads in the US Presidential Race of 2000 .  The (Wednesday?) morning that the story of the Florida debacle was breaking I was sat in Asaba, Delta State “the Big Heart” of Nigeria. I was meant to be providing some feedback to the State Governor on the initial scoping I had done for a project but instead along with all of the members of the Delta State Government I was sat in a sleek black leather chair glued to CNN cheering Al Gore on.   I distinctly remember the room breaking down in laughter when the now seemingly disgraced Governor, James Ibori, said something like, “Maybe we should have sent our electoral commission.  You’d never get this happening in Nigeria!”

Then today I had lunch with staff from the Nigerian PTDF and a current Nigerian PhD student who told me that he heard that this UK election was being observed by a Commonwealth team that included Nigerians from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).  Crazy eh!

(In other news, I flicked back through some of my notes from my times in Nigeria last night and I realised that I’ve actually met their new President who was sworn in yesterday.  It was near the start of 2000 when I was working on another project, the best description of which is probably given by Dr Sese, for the Bayelsa State-owned Niger Delta University.  I remember the State Governor, who came to a similar end to Mr Ibori, slightly better than Goodluck Jonathan, the then Deputy State Governor.  In fact, most of my memories of my short time in Yenegoa relate to crazy motorbike rides on potholed roads in endless rain, queues of people that stretched on for miles, and the most flea bitten run down hotel it has ever been my pleasure to stay in. A dark damp room with a broken window and fan, no curtains, no running water and permanent electrical cuts.  It was all made bearable by the incredible warmth and drive of the staff I was working with, especially Prof. Buseri, the newly appointed VC.)


August 11, 2009

Cruising round the Caribbean

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brendan @ 12:04 pm

I managed to achieve quite a bit at work last week. I’m particularly excited about finally being able to use Plone and discovering the university image library.

My knowledge and understanding of what my new job is also grew quite a bit.   I don’t know what I might pick up this week as I’m off visiting two of the partners that we work with.

It’s not been the easiest of itineraries to put together and Co-op travel weren’t that much use.  I wish I’d thought about using TripIt much earlier.

Hertz Car Rental Miami

Hertz Car Rental Miami

International travel, always sounds really glamorous but this illusion is always a long way from reality. It’s usually a case of being absolutely shattered, missing loved ones and lots of waiting around (I’m wrote the majority of this post from the Hertz car hire office in Miami while my traveling companion was queuing to pick up a car). Interspersed within this there are usually too many meetings which can’t be written up there and then and need great amounts of follow-up.

I’ll post some photos from my travels over the next two weeks on this page as I take them.

August 2, 2009

Facebook Courses

Filed under: Facebook, Uncategorized — Brendan @ 10:44 pm

On the surface my new job has very little to with social networks however it’s been an interesting week in terms of social networks and web 2.0 tools.

I attended a really interesting presentation by Ross Parry on Tuesday in which he talked mainly about using common web 2.0 stuff instead of Blackboard. He’s a really engaging presenter!

Then having seen some of the stuff from #IWMW2009 (the link is Mike Nolan’s atom feeds) I found something about the top UK HE Twitter accounts. I found it funny that an account I started had ended up top (at least in the initial post – see Friendfeed for my reaction and for this Facebook post that I found from one of my old colleagues).

On Friday I ended up in a discussion about amplification that I would never had been invited to, if I hadn’t been involved in social media.

I was also asked on Friday to do a guest post on how HE/FE use social media to engage with prospects, current students and alumni. I was asked if I could come up with something thought provoking or even a bit controversial to get a discussion going.

Social networks, and especially the behemoth that is Facebook, are important advertising and communication platforms. I read a tweet sometime earlier in the week – sorry can’t remember who from – that suggested that Facebook might eventually replace Admissions pages and LinkedIn will replace Alumni pages on institutional websites. Whilst I’m doubtful that this will happen. They will probably remain as critically important tools in the work that I do – even though social media forms no part of my job description.

Therefore, in the end I thought it was best to point the person who asked me to guest post at a few other people whose blogs I read. Although I’m now having second thoughts and think it’s important to write something around how crucial it is to appoint the right staff and then trust and support them well when wanting to engaging with social networks.

The reason for this is the self-reflection that I did on Saturday when Tony Hirst tweeted about COURSE PROFILES – A Facebook Application for Open University Students and Alumni.

I was thinking about something like this for quite some time when I was in my last job. My intention was to produce something very, very similar to both the Course Profiles and the My OU Story application that Tony talks about in his Google doc.

For me, this idea was a no brainer. Just look at this Facebook Page or the comments/discussions in the student-created student group on Facebook and you can see why applications like this are so important.

Unfortunately I never got around to implementing an application like Course Profiles properly. Although I did manage to create an application, uolcourses, that would add a badge with some self-declared text on to the user’s profile, that was all it did and I was miles away from releasing something into the wild.

I can’t remember what it was that eventually stopped me, or even when it happened. I’m sure it was probably that I hit a snag in a piece of code, and couldn’t find a way to get it working. If today you were to look at the application I created it simply returns some debugging data.

I remember approaching some of my more technically minded colleagues about incorporating a course unit list but I couldn’t persuade the techies (or rather their managers) of the importance of developing Facebook applications.

So the only resource I was able to push in to this was my own time, late at night outside of working hours, using my limited technical skills.

I’m really pleased to see that Tony and his colleagues at the OU were able to provide a mutual platform of support to each other to enable an application like Course Profiles to be produced and I can’t wait to see the new applications they are working on.

However one thing I don’t understand is why they aren’t linking the Course Profiles page from their main Fan page.

BTW: if anyone reading this thinks that they have a thought-provoking guest post in them about how HE is using social media to engage prospects, current students and alumni please let me know and I’ll pass on your details.

July 18, 2009

Facebook and bagpipes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brendan @ 8:52 am

It’s been a funny old week, the highlight of which was my dad’s retirement party on Tuesday night.

He was a deputy head of a primary school just outside of Sheffield and has had a full time teaching career that has spanned 40 odd years. Unfortunately it was rotten driving weather so I didn’t get up the motorway early enough for all of the do at his school.

It was a really amazing night, even if I was surrounded by teachers. There were some great stories about how approaches to teaching have changed over the years. My favourite quote of the night was that to survive an Ofstead inspection you just have to “act like a gerbil on speed”.

However, the best part of the night though was going back to my mum and dad’s house and the conversations that ensued there. Chris, one of my dad’s oldest friends was staying over. Chris got sucked in to technology whilst he was teaching in the early 80’s and he and my dad wrote software for the old BBC model B for a while. I loved the stories that they were telling and I especially loved hearing about what Chris had been up to in the fifteen (or is it twenty plus) years since I’d last seen him.

Chris was always in to music (bagpipes in particular) and I remember when I was very young he showed me things like computer controlled synths, and automatic transcription software. These days he runs the North West England Bagpipe Web.

At one point my dad apologised and said that he had to go off and write a few thank you notes on Facebook. Interestingly my dad going off to write his thank you notes sparked another conversation as to how Chris was using Facebook these days. He cited the example of dropping a mention of a chanter for sale, or a kilt he’d finished making within a status update and being inundated with responses. There’s nothing particularly new in this I’ve heard similar stories a hundred times but what was interesting to me is that Facebook seems to be the only such social networking tool that both my dad and Chris use!

This should come as no surprise as looking at the numbers Facebook dominates networking sites in the same way that Google currently dominates search and the demographic is supposedly shifting upwards (make sure you read the comments).

However what’s interesting to me is that as I now only really use Facebook to keep my mum and dad, who joined FB before I did, updated easily (sharing photos of the kids etc).

I just never got in to Facebook other than for the occasional game of Risk and managing a fan page. A couple of years ago I was excited with the idea of making my own FB app for a few weeks, but just didn’t find the time, and moved on to something else. I do still think Facebook is still an excellent advertising platform, but as a social network it’s just not where I want to invest my time and energy.

Unfortunately as far as the mass market is concerned I wonder if we shouldn’t just admit defeat? The sheer weight of numbers on Facebook and the way they are copying/adapting make me think that it’s going to be a herculean task to move a network.

June 27, 2009

The bend of the world

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brendan @ 11:20 pm

Becky (my wiife) was over in Ireland this weekend so I took the opportunity to go to my parents this weekend. It’s a short drive of an hour and a half up the M1 to their little town. A town which is probably going to go in to decline after the closure of the only real industry – Corus announced the closure of the steelworks and the loss of 800 jobs last week.

Stocksbridge Steelworks

It’s a place filled with memories for me – I worked there over the summer when I was a student.

I spotted this poster on the side of the Salvation Army building. It’s funny to see how they are using social networking sites in an offline world.

Poster outside the Salvation Army Hall

My youngest always manages to fall asleep on the drive which leaves my oldest son bored on his own in the back of the car.

We often have some interesting chats when this happens. Yesterday for example we had a little change that tickled me. It went:

Son: “When I grow up I want to go to the edge of the world.”

Me; “Does the world have edges?”

Son: “No. Ok I want to go to the end of the world.”

Me: “What shape is the world?”

Son: “It’s round like a ball.”

Me: “Does a ball have an end?”

Son: “No.”

There was a short silence and then he said, “All right I want to go to the bend of the world.”

May 27, 2009

UoL Marketing Training Part 2

Filed under: Trad marketing methods, Uncategorized — Tags: — Brendan @ 10:41 pm

Phew – glad I don’t run courses every day. I really had forgotten how tricky it was. I think it went OK in the end and apparently from the feedback forms (which I haven’t seen) there’s pretty good evidence of learning and people getting a lot out of the course.

The slideshares are linked below and the YouTube videos we showed were:

Education 3.0

A dramatic shift in Marketing Reality

The role of customer service in a downturn

We also showed an advert for Magnet kitchens (and we should have showed one from Chicago Town in relation to the Pizza Game).

Thinking about if I were to run this course again, I think we’d need to think about the following:

  • It was too rushed – we should have it in 3 day course, but I understand that people struggle to turn up for even two days.
  • There were some specific issues related to the business game, in terms of timing and introduction (and I think there are a few places where the in game instructions aren’t all that clear).
  • We need to be more prepared – in terms of understanding the audience and knowing the material and knowing what everyone actually knew (I wonder if we covered some things that the audience already knew too slowly, especially on Day 1)

I think the amount of content would probably have been OK if we were delivering to one sectors, but the audience was drawn from fairly dissimilar university / public sector backgrounds. It took most of the first day for my co-host and I to get a bit of an understanding of our audience and the challenges that they faced and even by the end of the course I don’t think we had a full understanding. This meant we weren’t really sure what the most important points to get across were.  At the very least if this module is run again it’s worth getting the students to fill in a mini profile/questionnaire before the

On day 2, my co-host and I were still discussing what order to talk about different areas fifteen minutes before we were due to start – it really was a case of just in time delivery, especially when the printer does it’s usual trick of jamming because you’re in a hurry.  On the downside this meant that we didn’t know the slides as well as we should have, or who was going to say what.  There’s certainly a couple of mistakes in the slides/handouts because I was rushing, however I wonder how much they showed?

May 26, 2009

UoL Marketing Training Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Brendan @ 9:16 pm

Today was the first day of the CMI marketing planning course that I’m co-delivering. It was a difficult start for several reasons:

1. A late start, with a few people turning up a little late and knowing how full the day was.
2. Not knowing who everyone is / what understanding they have
3. Not being properly prepared – I last ran courses like this some 8 years ago and had forgotten how much preparation needs to go in to teaching and leading groups. I don’t think this was helped by Katherine, my co-presenter, and I having just 10 minutes to discuss the day immediately before we were due to start (after the slides had been fixed and the handouts printed).

On the positive side the business case game seemed to work well.

What was interesting for me was that one of the key gripes was not having enough time at the start of the game to analyse the information that was presented. There was quite a bit of good positive feedback about how this could be improved for future groups. However I’m left wondering whether the suggestions that should be implemented. The reason is that situational analysis is often pressured and difficult and it’s often easy to miss or misinterpret something.

One thing I wish was that I’d taken better notes of what happened in the game as I’m sure that there’s more that I can apply tomorrow in part 2 than I can actually remember.

Taking of memory the other thing I wish I’d remembered is my laptop charger. I realised that I left it on my desk at work as I was getting off the train and the battery light was flashing critical at me.