Strategic Management

In this session, the speaker basically outlined a wide range of tools/approaches to aid strategic management. It was pretty packed, and my notes got pretty sketchy in places. I’ve tried to put my comments in Italics.

The speaker started by outlining six areas to cover:

How are your markets segmented?
Sources of Competitive advantage (either as IT service, or as University)
[ This was discussed in a breakout session]
Portfolio analysis
Stakeholder analysis
Product market matrices

But before looking at that, the speaker took an overview of strategic managment – looking at three main factors:

  • Vision
  • Strategic Intent
  • Mission

These were summarised as follows (quoting of paraphrasing):

Vision – your picture of a future state for the enterprise; a mental image of a possible and desirable future that is realistic, credible, and attractive

Mission – a sense of mission is an emotional response to questions to do with what people are doing, why they are doing them, what they are proud of, what they are enthusiastic about, what they believe in
Mission statements ought to capture this emotional response (though often they do not)

Strategic Intent – Is the leveraging of an enterprise’s internal resources, capabilities, and core competencies to accomplish what may at first appear to be unattainable goals in the competitive environment
e.g. Canon’s successful challenge to Xerox in the p/c industry

Knowing the environment of the ‘business’ is crucial – often our knowledge is much more limited than it should be. It is easy to make stupid decisions out  of ignorance

So now onto some tools which can help us think about strategic management

PEST analysis
Political changes
Economic changes
Social/Cultural changes
Technological changes

The speaker identified what he saw as 4 key trends in the business environment (4 Ds, to compete with the 4 Ps of Marketing). These are Disaggregation, Differentiation, Disintermediation and Dematerialisation.

Some examples might be:

Disaggregation (or Globalization)

  • of products (e.g. Coca Cola)
  • production processes – global supply chains
  • of research and development e.g. s/w developed in Seattle, chip design in California, plastics technology in London etc
  • of corporations (any examples yet?)

A question for the HE sector – are universities aggregated or disaggregated?

Differentiation (really micro-segmentation)

  • Designer beers
  • proliferating range of cars
  • different types of holiday (Club med to Saga)
  • number of lines of goods in supermarkets and DIY stores

In education – PG vs UG needs – ‘tailor made courses’?
Don’t think about ‘students’ as a homogenous body. PG taught/PG Research/Overseas students/resident students

Examples of possible segments in HE:
National level

Segment of services offered:
Commodity (offered everywhere)
Scarce/regulated (e.g. Nursing, pharmacology, …) – offered elsewhere, but regulated and supplying to a specific market
Niche (e.g. Peace studies)


  • Intermediaries, such as insurance brokers, travel agents, and retailers are being strongly affected by IT developments
  • direct banking and insurance, airline call centers, e-commerce and the rise of .com firms


  • Knowledge is increasingly more important than materials in the value of what we produce and consumer – e.g. the capital value of MS is less than 5% of its share value.
  • An increasing proposition of the value of a product is in the service rather than the physical object

I don’t entirely buy all this. Surely the growth of the Internet has increased mediated services? Examples might be Last Minute, Direct Line, Expedia, etc. The micro-segmentation definitely chimes with me though.

The speaker then went onto outline ‘Ways of Doing Strategic Management’

Porter’s 5 forces model:
This is a device to analyze the competitive forces in an ‘industry’ and on an enterprise
It is meant to create a better understanding of why an ‘industry’ may be a good one to be in (or not)
It should also identify possible strategic moves for the enterprise to position itself better

The 5 forces are:

  • Potential Entrants (new organizations doing the same thing)
  • Suppliers
  • Customers (still the Government really, not individual students)
  • Substitutes (different offering but consumers switch due to change in taste/attitude)
  • Competitive Rivalry

The speakers analysis was that HE suffers from strong Customer’s, high level of Competitive Rivalry, with reasonable level of potential entrants (other universities offering the same courses).

I was a bit puzzled that the speaker seemed to move between talking about ‘Government’ and ‘Students’ as customers, depending on what he felt held up his argument best. I can see that we have two sets of customers, but I wasn’t convinced by the ‘mix and match’ approach. I suspect that this complicates the interaction considerably

Power of customers is high if:
Customer is price sensitive, as when:

  • cost of product is high relative to total costs
  • it is hard to differentiate products
  • customers are facing stiff competition for their products

And/or has Bargaining power, as when:

  • size and concentration of customers is high relative to suppliers
  • customers have low switching costs
  • customers are well-informed
  • customers have the ability to integrate backwards

Power of suppliers is high if:
This is where my typing couldn’t keep up I’m afraid… perhaps the slides are available at the UCISA website

Threat of entry is increased if:

  • Few economies of scale
  • Not a strong learning curve effect (for every doubling of cumulative experience, costs should drop by 20-30 percent) – but it doesn’t get easier to turn out good students
  • Low capital requirements for entry
  • Difficult to differentiate the product
  • Easy access to distribution channels
  • No legislation preventing entry
  • Little retaliation

Industry Rivalry is high if:

  • Many players, none dominant
  • Diversity of competitors
  • Market is in slow growth
  • Fixed costs are high
  • Extra capacity comes in large increments
  • Low differentiation of competing products
  • High exit barriers

Threat of substitutes is high if:

  • Customer propensity to substitute is high

Again – I couldn’t keep up

So the question is, can we adopt a strategy which reduces these forces. We can approach this in the following ways:

  • Analysis of Strategic Capability
  • Analyzing your Distinctive Capabilities
  • Distinctive Capabilities
  • Routines
  • Relationships
  • Reputation
  • Strategic Resources

Routines (core competencies)
Much of what is done at work is based on tacit (hidden) skills shared by groups of workers, managers, or directors.
These routines may be unique to a particular enterprise and a major source of competitive advantage
e.g. the pattern of play of a particular football team that has trained and played together over a long time.

The ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ is a very widespread problem within and between enterprises. Long term high-trust relationships reduce the prisoner’s dilemma and are another source of competitive advantage.

Strategic Resources
Certain resources may be hard for competitors to acquire – e.g. particular location, expensive and specialized equipment proprietary knowledge
These may give competitive advantage.

Strengths and weaknesses should be analyzed

Critical Success Factors (CSFs)

CSFs are areas of business activity in which a company must excel in order to out-perform the competition, e.g.

  • customer service and support
  • product performance and quality
  • costs and efficiency
  • innovation, technical/market leadership
  • management and control

Questions for us are what are our (RHUL’s and/or Information Services’) CSFs?

What follows is an attempt to capture as much as I could of the rest of the presentation. It is all in very sketchy note form.
Looking at further tools to help analysis, the speaker outlined how looking at Relative Market Share (your market share, divided by that of your biggest competitor), and Market Growth Rate (which varies depending on where you are in the product development cycle), can help you understand what kind of product you have, and how it can be exploited.

You can see the diagram in the slides, but effectively he argued that where you have a large market share, and a mature product, you have a ‘cash cow’ – a product which will generate income. One point he made about this is that you shouldn’t plough the income generated back into your cash cow (which should continue to do fine without any extra investment), but rather into products which either have a small market share, or are early in their development cycle (so that they too can become ‘cash cows’).

What you want to avoid are products where you have a small market share, with a mature product (due to the difficulties of growing market share in a mature market)

Jumping to another area, the speaker touched upon the concept of ‘stakeholders’ – which he defined as "Those who depend on the organization to fulfill their own goals and on whom, in turn, the organization depends."

So far, so standard. What I found more interesting was his division of stakeholders into several groups (depending on their level of interest and their power).

He listed the following groups, which reflect how you need to treat them:

Minimal Effort (low interest, little power)
Keep informed (high interest, little power)
Keep satisfied (low interest, more power)
Key players (high interest, more power)

You can probably start to see a pattern here – almost every tool outlined involved two variable interacting to form 4 ‘types’. These obviously must be simplifications of the real world – so the question is, are they helpful in practice? In the example above, it is far more likely that the majority of stakeholders fall into some middle section (some power over some part of the project, some interest in the result)

Anyway, onto another concept:

The ‘Cultural web’ of an organization. Interestingly (given my comments above), this seemed to me to be an attempt to recognise ‘real world’ factors. It considers the fact that culture can have a huge impact on strategy (e.g. can completely skew a SWOT analysis)

The ‘cultural web’ consists of:

  • Symbols
  • Stories
  • Rituals and routines
  • Control systems
  • Organizational structures
  • Power structures

This is about the existing evironment which leads to the "we’ve always done it that way", and "but that’s X’s job" attitude. You probably can’t overcome these factors completely (not quickly anyway), but there are probably things that can help. Bringing in new staff, or external consultants is definitely one way (the former probably more effective in terms of changing culture, but maybe not always possible). However, there may be other ways of doing this. For example, what about having a ‘heretical’ forum, where the unthinkable can be thought? There are some examples of this in the IT Industry.

Towards the end of the ‘masterclass’, the speaker moved onto Development Strategies.

Apparently Michael Porter said that you have to develop strategy based on cost or on differentiation. i.e. either make your product at low cost, or be different enough that people are prepared to spend more.

However, the speaker suggested that perhaps you could in fact, aim at both of these – operate at a low cost with a highly differentiated product (e.g. Tesco,  Benetton, Toyota, Morrisons)

This seems questionable to me. I’m not quite sure how the speaker thought Morrisons or Tesco differentiated themselves from other supermarkets (Morrisions seems to me to be in the ‘cheap and cheerful’ model, Tesco and Sainsbury’s I see as occupying exactly the same market).

However, again, the idea seems like an oversimplification. I guess that Stella Artois is the most obvious example of a product differentiating itself on the basis of being expensive (which is a strategy based on both cost and differentiation). The intention (I guess) is to exploit a natural instinct on the part of the consumer (if it costs a lot, it must be good).

Finally, there is a question about whether this works in UK HE? Here the criteria for decisions are definitely a lot more complex (the school you went to, your expected grades, various league tables, subject areas etc). Also, the criteria will be different depending on which type of course you are applying for (postgraduates are more likely to be interested in the actual staff at the instution, whereas undergraduates are more likely to be interested in the night life)

One of the most important questions is how you decide where to invest – that is, which direction should you go. Once again, a handy four-way tool comes to the rescue, this one is Product vs Market.

Present Product and Present Market = go for market penetration
Present Product and New Market = try to extend the market
New Product and Present Market = go for Product development
New Product and New Market = Diversification

Diversification is more difficult than it seems. It is easy to spot opportunities, but not necessarily to take advantage of them.

So – how do we move forward? Again, the speaker outlined severla alternative methods: Internal development, acquisitions, joint development

Presumably RHUL wants to do this by Internal development?

In summing up, the speaker said that Strategic Management is a process. We have to recognise both deliberate and emergent strategies. That is to say, there is what you plan to do, and what really happens!

Strategic Management Discussions

Based on some of the tools outlined in the Strategic Management presentation (see next post), we discussed both RHUL and Information services. I’ve tried to get down some aspects of our discussion before I forget:

RHUL has strategic resources in that it is small and with this comes agility. It is relatively easy for us to make (and unmake!) decisions. We have a challenge to grow without losing this resource.

Our location and building are also strategic resources (although location may be a mixed blessing)

We need to make the most of our relationships (prisoner’s dilemma applies) and routines (tacit or hidden skills should be recognised)

Looking at Information Services, we can see many possibilities that outsourcing would be seen as an alternative (so ‘threat of entry’ combined with customer power). However, we may be able to control this to our benefit (look at ‘outsourcing’ of library stock to ULL, BL etc.)

Also – who are our customers – we have both students and the ‘college’ as a whole. The students are probably not strong customers (they don’t tend to complain, and they don’t have a lot of power – for the moment). The ‘college’ is a strong customer – they have power over IS)

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Strategic Management Discussions

Based on some of the tools outlined in the Strategic Management presentation (see next post), we discussed both RHUL and Information services. I’ve tried to get down some aspects of our discussion before I forget:

RHUL has strategic resources in that it is small and with this comes agility. It is relatively easy for us to make (and unmake!) decisions. We have a challenge to grow without losing this resource.

Our location and building are also strategic resources (although location may be a mixed blessing)

We need to make the most of our relationships (prisoner’s dilemma applies) and routines (tacit or hidden skills should be recognised)

Looking at Information Services, we can see many possibilities that outsourcing would be seen as an alternative (so ‘threat of entry’ combined with customer power). However, we may be able to control this to our benefit (look at ‘outsourcing’ of library stock to ULL, BL etc.)

Also – who are our customers – we have both students and the ‘college’ as a whole. The students are probably not strong customers (they don’t tend to complain, and they don’t have a lot of power – for the moment). The ‘college’ is a strong customer – they have power over IS)

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One stop shop for Student Services

University of Manchester have recently created a new Student Services Centre which is intended as a ‘one-stop shop’ for supporting students in their interactions with the university.

The project was intended to focus specifically on the customer needs, and re-examined all the business processes involved in supporting these needs.

The SSC does:

Fee collection
Issue of swipe cards
Student loans
Hardship loans/funds
Examinations: timtabling orinstaion results
PG thesis dissertation administration
Academic transcripts
Degree certificates
Graduation ceremonies

Services not provided:
Academic advice
Student health
Disability support

The ‘counter’ and ‘back office’ services are split, with face to face enquiries and email being dealt with at the counter, and phone enquiries plus office duties in the ‘back office’. The staff all wear uniforms (can’t imagine this at RHUL)

Also invested in a CRM system to support the SSC. The CRM solution was built on the Oracle CRM suite.

Finally, they have also introduced a student portal which gives access to the following services:
Self assessment for awards
Request personal documents (e.g. Council Tax exemption forms, Confirmaton of attendance, Veririfaction of registration and course, and Transcripts)
View course units (can check their registration details)
Track progress (track thesis/dissertation submission)

I like the idea of requesting the documents, although I’m not sure why they send them by post rather than providing a pdf that can be printed off immediately – I guess they may need a university stamp or signature. These requests get put into the CRM, and is dealt with by the SSC staff. This is perhaps where we would have more problems at RHUL?

The Portal also allows the students to track the progress of the request through the CRM (and also track other things like thesis submission)

The most popular services are “Change Personal Details’, ‘Confirmation of Attendance’ and Council Tax exemption forms. Also interesting that there is very little use at weekends, and Monday seems to be the busiest day (although not by much).

How mobility enables adaptive education

Speaker: David Levine (HP Ltd)
Title: Putting students first: How mobility enables adaptive education

About 15 minutes into this talk, so far we’ve heard about ‘adaptability’ and ‘agility’ – which seem like platitudes to me. Of course we need to be able to adapt quickly to changing demands/technology, but this is self-evident isn’t it?

So – from an agility point of view, we need to
Look at simplifying the business process architecture
Adopt one single enterprise-class architecture
Standardize across all departments

OK – so no argument with the first one, as long as it doesn’t impact on what we want to acheive (perhaps sometimes things need to complicated?)

The second and third parts are both easier said than done. I think these are easy to assert, but we need to look at exactly what is needed. Perhaps flexibility at a dept level sometimes works in our favour. It also shows a complete disregard for how users actually work. If you force them to use a centralised system which doesn’t do what they want, you disenfranchise them, and they’ll probably find a ‘local’ workaround anyway – never underestimate your users.

In the last few minutes of the talk, at last we’ve reached some mention of mobility. Unfortunately not very many insights here.

Stability in a changing world: IT Service Management

Speaker: Aidan Lawes (from the IT Service Management Forum)

There are real issues with the role of IT in business organisations. IT is generally seen by business as a ‘consumer’ of resource (time/money), and not always seen as giving value.

Perhaps IT services need to concentrate much more on the services they offer, not the technology they use. Also perhaps need to break down walls within their organisation, rather than perpetuate existing ‘silos’ with PC support separate from Network support etc.

IT Service management is about managing the complete lifecycle from inital idea through to decommissioning of obsolete solutions.

The speaker suggested that the following aspects are key:


ITIL is a set documentation concentrating on (Quality) Processes. This has been used to develop a standard BS15000.

People need Knowledge, Attitude, Skills and Experience. There are ITIL based qualifications in this area. Ongoing competence is supported by the Institute of IT Service Management with a CPD scheme.

Also working with SFIA (Skills Framework in the Information Age) to embed IT Service Management skills into the SFIA qualifications.

Tools need to support the types of practice described by ITIL

Partners – looking for BS15000 certification and ITIL based practice.

Thinking service:
Things going wrong

Information services are a vital and core part of the business
We need to think end-to-end service
Service management isn’t optional
Quality process-driven approaches and professional staff really deliver value
ITL/BS15000 provide a sold framework for developing an apporapriate solution
The business can/will reap the benefits and see ROI for IT

Supporting distributed IT Support Staff

This is my first attempt at blogging a conference, and I’m not sure how successful it is. Yesterday I basically took notes, and transcribed slides into the blog. Is this useful? I’m not convinced. So today I’ll try to condense and add commentary a bit more. What I really need is a way of annotating an existing set of slides online.

Having your IT support staff distributed across a variety of locations presents several challenges to university IT support. The speaker (Steve Gough, University of Reading) briefly described the issues, and then looked in more detail at different solutions being used in the sector.

Just about any university has distributed support staff, since it is extremely common for departments to have local IT support of some description. It seems that communication with these distributed staff is key. The methods used to do this include:

Web pages
Mailing lists and news groups
Lunchtime seminars
Annual Conference
Hands-on trainig sessions

At RHUL we certainly have a mailing list, but I’m not really aware of the other methods being used. Perhaps we should look at the material produced by Oxford?

Loughborough have created the position of ‘Faculty IT Coordinator’ to bring the distributed support staff into the central support unit.

Alternative approaches to this problem are:

Super-users in departments (suspect this model is used in parts of RHUL)
Techlink scheme at University of Cambridge

The speaker has just suggested that there are issues with us (as central IT support) talking about communicating with the distributed staff. This really has to be a two way communication. It has just struck me that this is exactly the kind of situation that e-learning type tools apply to. We could easily create a ‘course’ which allowed. Perhaps we should add this to our desirable tools list for our pilot portal?

Mobility, schmobility

This session was run by Toshiba, relating to the issues surrounding the use of mobile computing.

A quick summary on where we are:

Student Support
Varied tradition, but most don’t support laptop users
Some have contracted for support (e.g. Middlesex, Warwick)
Some have encouraged laptop use without support provision
Good planning minimises problems (e.g. Edinburgh and Bristol)

Experience shows that the expected problems do arise, but these are not new problems (viruses, abuse of privileges)

Student Laptop Management
Access to the network: wired/wireless/dial-up/internet?
Configuring laptops for network access
Charging, storage and security

Toshiba now offer a secure storage unit which allows students to leave laptops to charge while they get lunch etc. This is coin operated. Definitely like this idea – where can we get one?

Then two brave souls stood up to outline their own solutions to some of these issues – I’m paraphrasing them here:

University of Sussex have now got a ‘self registration’ scheme for wireless connectivity, using a VLAN and Firewall. The main challenges they faced were:

Providing documentation
Helping people to read the documentation
wireless connection kit (held at user support desk)
problems with peer-to-peer file sharing application and some personal firewalls

Security is dealt with in the following way:
Self registration
Private network behind firewall
MAC address authentication on firewall
User authentication to web proxy
Restricted applications/ports

University of Stirling
Students want access from study bedrooms, labs and wireless zones using their equipment

Enable students authenticated access to University network from a virus free PC. Problem compounded as students have divers range of equipment and IT skills

VPN plus antivirus software

Solution – first pass
Student installs approved antivirus software
Student sets up VPN under Windows 98, Millennium, Windows 2000 & XP (Home/Pro)
We prodcued written documents describing process

However – students fail to or can’t folllow instructions and come to Information Centre for individual help
This is very time consuming an obviously not scalable
No guarantee that antivirus software is installed

So – wrote software which did the following:
Ensure Symantec antivirus is running on host PC and offers to install when not
Requests username
Sets up appropriate VPN (on/off campus)
Optionally set up desktop link to student’s home folder and adds the printer driver for central print system

This resulted in many more students using campus network
Hugely reduced problems at Information Centre (helpdesk) – and in general only ‘odd’ PCs cause the software problems (static IPs, firewalls, network bridges)
Minimal intervention on student PC

The necessary software is installed from a CD, which can be borrowed from the library.

Interesting to see that both had the same issues (students can’t/won’t read/understand documentation). This doesn’t exactly suprise me. Anyway, they solved this in different ways – employ more people to help students, write software to do it for them. The second seems like the better solution to me (although there are support issues here – what seems suprising is that MS aren’t providing better software/functions for this in Windows I guess).

Anyway, I’m not convinced that either of these is the ideal solution (I really want to sit down, switch on my laptop, and be online) – but perhaps we have a way to go before we get to this kind of solution (not just for Universities, but for the whole ‘wireless’ access issue.

Protecting our Customers

2nd talk of the conference is about Information Security.

Information Security is starting to be taken a lot more seriously in HE. We have seen threats increase (e.g. Code Red, Blaster), and we are now seeing more pressure to manage the risks. The speakers (Mike Roch
, University of Reading and Andrew Cormack, UKERNA) suggest that there is a need for a ‘toolkit’ for Information security.

One possible framework for this is BS7799. However, this standard has not been widely adopted for accrediation purposes, but it may still be useful as a toolkit. There is now an updated version of the standard (ISO/IEC17799:2000), which is more descriptive and has more support from the governing bodies.

So – what is in BS7799-2:2002?

Information Security Policy
Organisational Security
Asset classification and control
Personnel security
Physical and environmental Policy
Communications and operations management
Access control
System development and maintenance
Business continuity management
Legal compliance

However, there are some things missing that perhaps is relevant to HE, which generally relate to the flexibility our users expect (attaching their own equipment to the institutional network, use of the network for social use, etc.)

It took a while to get round to it, but these are the speakers recommendations as to what policy documents are required:

  • Information Security
  • Operations
  • Business continutity plan
  • Staff/student
  • Compliance
  • Information handling
  • Network management
  • System design
  • System management
  • Software management
  • User management
  • Acceptable use

There may also be a need for

  • Outsourcing
  • Mobile computing
  • Teleworking
  • Cryptography
  • Wireless networking

This all seem very well, and some of these policies we already have, but some suggestions seem completely impractical. It’s all very well having a policy saying ‘if you encrypt information, it must be retrievable’ but pretty much impossible to enforce.

Overall I’m thinking – oh god, not more policies. I do see the point, but lets get this done as easily, and painlessly as possible.


I’m at the UCISA conference for the next 3 days. The first talk is on ‘m’-learning – where the m stands for mobile.

The speaker (Mike Sharples, University of Birmingham) argued that the profile of mobile technology matched up incredibly well with the current profile of Learning.

Learning has changed over the last 10 years to become:

Learner centred

Mike argued that Mobile technology is also personalised and ubiquitous. However, it seemed to me that actually ‘connectivity’ is actually key here – and indeed the speaker referred extensively to wireless technology.

Mike summarised recent surveys showing that laptop ownership is increasing amongst students [31% (Leeds), 43% (Birmingham), 73% (LSE)], and also referred to the Dearing report statement that ‘We expect that by 2005/06 all students will be required to have access to their own portable computer.’

He also highlighted the fact that mobile phone ownership is incredibly high [96% (Dundee)], and referred to PDA ownership. However, for me this isn’t really the issue – it’s what they use them for. The line between a PDA and a mobile is now pretty slim (my Palm is really a glorified Calendar – which I could probably do on my phone, or even my iPod)

Anyway, the speaker went onto suggest that there were the following consequences:

  • The need for a shift from universtiy provided PCs to students with personal laptops
  • Students demanding to connect laptops, and other devices , to the university network
  • Demand for wireless connectivity
  • Divide between students with and without wireless laptops
  • Students with multimedia phones, PDA, tablets, etc.

Interestingly universities may already have wireless networks running. Birmingham found that there were many wireless networks running across the campus, but many were insecure, and no overarching plan.

At Birmingham they have used the following solutions in place:

Access points – 20 HP/Lucent WavePoint/AP2000
Wireless Standard: 802.11b with Wireless Distribution Systems (i.e. relays)
Authentication: MAC address via RADIUS server
Firewall: IPTables with NAT
Client registration via web-based forms
Rollout by Info Services across campus (wireless network physically separate from the other University network)
Guide produced by MS and University

I wonder if the technical solutions (MAC Address based authentication, IPTables and Client registration) are scalable?

In some cases they ‘beam’ in wirless access rather than having internal access points (e.g. Library)

So – what is the impact on teaching and learning? Birmingham have run a couple of interesting sounding projects…

Student Learning Organiser
Configured iPAQs (with wireless) to contain essential tools for learning/organisation (rather than business presumably?).
Students could also add their own software (including MP3 players/tracks, Chinese/English dictionary, VoIP and Video using a ‘netmeeting’ type application to keep in touch with family)

Usability issues – battery life, data loss, extra thing to carry
No best single tool. Found that Timetable was the most popular application (just), followed by Web browser and Instant messaging, and then Email.

This I find disappointing. Using it to track your timetable seems prosaic – and not really much better than a piece of paper. Although timetables can change a few times, over the year I would think that they would be pretty static. What I guess I really wanted to see was something that showed the pervasiveness of the technology really added value.

Content was ‘suprisingly’ (the speakers word, not mine) important – e.g. Viewing powerpoint slides for upcoming lectures (although all science students)

Wireless access found to be really important – in fact once the wireless access was done they felt (in the words of the speaker) ‘crippled’.

Tablet computers for student learning
3 groups of 6 students
Personal and shared learning:
Multimedia logbook
Groupwork and E-mentorying
Lecture support
Learning Management

The early results (after c. 3 months) are:

  • Student population already well connected, including wireless homes (this is Birmingham btw)
  • Some students reluctant to take part (seemed suprising for electronic engineering students)
  • The originally cautious students have become some of the most daring in their use (multimedia log books)
  • Informal note taking and communication are key
  • Shared workspaces (useing SharePoint server)
  • Keyboard is a ‘must have’ – they need a laptop plus, not a laptop minus!

A third project was described, which seemed to be much more of a mish-mash, using different examples of learning outside the classroom. Examples included a partnership with the Uffizi gallery, and also a botanical gardens. In the second example, staff at the gardens could transmit images from the garden back to the classroom by wireless LAN or WAN.

Overall the speaker concluded that we faced the following challenges in HE:

  • From computer service provision to support for students’ own devices
  • Managing student expectations
  • New learning spaces – which can exploit these new technologies and methods
  • Assessing effectiveness