Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

Busy Bee

A busy week this week, the first week of teaching, then something comes at you from the side!

We’ve just discovered that it’s Open Day at the university on Friday/Saturday.  I can’t do Friday as I’m teaching, but have stepped in to cover all day Saturday .  If we’re in the marquee it’s a cold experience (note to self, make sure I’ve got my flask of coffee ready).

It makes for a six-day week, which isn’t really what’s needed at the start of the teaching season, but it’s the start of the Open Day season for all UK Universities, so it has to be around then.

Meanwhile, I’ve exchanged the usual opening ‘hello’s’ with my fellow creative writing student on the new course.  Teaching officially starts Saturday, I’m as prepared as I can be, and as my OU tutoring comes to an end for a year, I’ve got the best chance I’ll have of participating and completing the course successfully… though it is my twenty-seventh Open University course and with only one withdrawal in fourteen years, I do have a fair track record!


Sky+ remote record

I dislike much of what Sky do – I dislike the near-monopoly they have on cricket (one of only three sports that I watch with interest, the others being tennis and formula one racing).

I also dislike that I have ‘old’ technology Sky+ box, which won’t allow me to use their Sky Anytime function.  This automatically downloads a selection of programmes to your PVR (or Sky+ box as we know it better), sor later viewing.  However, because I was an ‘early adopter’ my hard disc isn’t large enough to use this functionality.

But, one thing I do like is their Remote Record option.  As has been mentioned I’ve not been home much recently.  But I know when I do get time for a quiet night in front of the tv (ha!) I’ll have a range of programmes recorded which I’ll like.  For Remote Record, you simply log onto the Sky website and view the tv guide (easier said than done, there’s more advertising there than in an episode of the Simpsons).  Once you’ve found a tv prog you want to record, you can simply select ‘Remote Record’.  The Sky web site knows your viewing card number, and sends a ‘record’ signal through to the Sky+ box.

So whilst I’m away from home, I can record James May’s Big Idea.

Seems like Remote Record’s a pretty big idea to me.

Live blog

I’m blogging ‘live’ from the Accenture offices in Milton Keynes, a tutor debrief for the e-business course which I’ve been tutoring for the last six months.

We’re looking at feedback from students, tutors and athe academic staff on a block by block basis.. given that some of these blocks were studied in May, it’s dragging back some memories for us.

Still, it comes as a relatively ‘light relief’ considering the last couple of days.  Induction went well, though as aways there were unexpected incidents and things didn’t always go entirely to plan.

My talk on ‘essentials’ and plagiarism seemed to get the balance right between humour, informing them, and frightening them about the penalties for teaching.  I’ve converted the presentation to a movie, and uploaded it onto YouTube – see below (note – the timer seems to ‘jump’ – a feature of YouTube, the video will play.

Having survived last week, it’s now looking forward to teaching next semester.  Planning for teaching seven modules was never going to be easy, but it’s been even more of a struggle than I remember in the past.  I’m sure there will be some JITT (just in time teaching) over the next couple of weeks.

But tonight it’s party party party time in Luton – the city (well town) that never sleeps.


The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

A long day yesterday, including over three hours in my car going to and from work and Harborne.  Half an hour was spent within 100 yards of the university car park, Fresher’s Fayre chaos was worse than usual.  I think it’s time I tried letting the train take the strain again.  The time of the year where I head back in the dark, and leave home in the dark appears to have come earlier this year than I can remember it.  Can’t wait until the clocks change (remember, Spring back, Fall forward), or is it the other way round?

Today is the big induction day.  Originally I was ‘simply’ giving a talk on the Essentials website which I had a hand in developing a few years back.  But I’ve now got to step into the briefly vacated ITMB shoes and take them through the day (and tomorrow, for returning students).

So for the second time this year I’m suited and booted (well, tied anyhow).  It’s a little nerve-wracking being thrown into this sort of thing, especially as last year’s induction was very stressful, but I’ll do my best.

I have a couple of things to look forward to, continuing the ‘outsourcing my life‘ theme, I should return home to find my garden looking less like an overgrown jungle and more like an english country cottage garden – or something like that.

And I’ve finally managed to order a Wii fit for delivery tomorrow, just in time for me not to be there for the weekend.  Still, it’s got to be better for me than Lego star Wars, I can see why people can become a little obsessed about playing games.

“And how do you feel about that?” – “Conflicted?”

(A reference to an episode of The Simpsons, for those who don’t recognise the quote it’s a discussion between Reverend Lovejoy and Lindsay Neagle.)

BTW – there are a lot of links here, feel free to ignore as many as you want.

The Royal Institute Christmas Lectures are a national institution.  I don’t know anyone who actually watches all of them (I have Sky+ recorded them the last couple of years, but never quite get round to watching them for some reason, though I do dip in).

Through this blog entry I was redirected here, where it’s been announced that the Microsoft Research ‘team’ are providing the five 2008 lectures.

(un)Fortunately the series is sold out – which is great news on one hand, though I would have loved to have gone sporting an Apple t-shirt and tried to sit on the front row…. maybe I would have been told to cover up as this poor guy was when trying to board a plane with a Transformers t-shirt on.

So, I’ve pledged to watch each lecture on Five, and blog about each one.  I’m interested to see how ‘fair’ the talks are, the titles do sound intruiging –

  1. Breaking the speed limit
  2. Chips with everything
  3. The ghost in the machine
  4. Untangling the web
  5. Digital intelligence

You’ll be pleased to know that I resisted the urge to add a witty and pithy comment to the end of each title – maybe I’ll save that for later.

My mojo is back!

It seems that all I needed was a week (or a bit less) away from my blog to leave me refereshed, and ready to post again.  The great thing (for me anyhow) is that I appear to have gained critical mass, and even without posting anything new, this will be the best month ever for hits, with 3,600 as per today.

I have to admit that much of this is fired by the various posts regarding the Elonex OneT, where a large number of people have added comments, both good and bad about the small, cheap computer.  However, I know personally that there are still people awaiting their delivery.

I’m glad that I spent the money on my Wii, Lego Star Wars and Mario Kart have taken up far too much of my time recently, and my Sky+ box is full to burting with unwatched tv (mostly Family Guy I have to admit).

Work-wise, it’s the usual mad moodle dash before the start of teaching.  Moodle is very intuitive and robust, but some operations can be ‘fiddly’, though given that it’s completely web based, it’s still much more usable than many web-based systems which I have worked with (and I include Facebook in this rant, a less intuitive HCI I’ve not seen in many a year).

One thing which I’ve had to do recently is create project titles for the MSc students who will be returning on Friday, and will need to start their dissertation.  It’s easy for me to come up with the title of their dissertation, but they then have to spend 600 hours working on this, not envious.

During my interregnum, I’ve been thinking of posts which I should make soon – I’m providing the list below partly to job my own memory, but also as a ‘teaser’ posting.

  • Why shop staff at Maplin are better than staff at PC World
  • Mind Maps v Spray Diagrams
  • Moodle quirks in Firefox (*never* store passwords on moodle)
  • Tracking packages online

Look at that, not a single posting about Apple!  See, I’m not a complete fanboy!

Writer’s block

For the first time since I started writing this blog, I have writer’s block.  It’s possible that because so much of my energies are being expended on other things that I don’t really have much to say here at the moment.

I’m sure it will pass, and normal service will be resumed soon.  Meanwhile, here’s some light music.

Fresher’s Flu

For the first couple of years that I was teaching, I used to get a lousy cold/flu around the end of September.  It was only after talking to colleagues that this was confirmed as being ‘Fresher’s Flu’ and frequently occurs when hundreds of students including international students come back together and start breathing over each other.

Normally this is just inconvenient.  I remember one seminar session where the students themselves suggested that I go home because I ‘looked like death’.  The then Head of Department took me to one side when I was back at work (I think a couple of weeks later – I was pretty crock), and reminded me that I had a duty of care not to infect other staff and students.

But this year is different.  I’ve got a good friend in hospital, and we have to be even more obsessed about hygeine and germs transmission than usual.  When I visit I now have to wear plastic aprons, and use the ubiquitous hand rubs wherever I can.

Being realistic, I may need to take some time off visiting, as the risk of transmission is too great.  This is a real shame, but can’t be helped.  Luckily with text messaging, mobile broadband modems and even phone calls we can still keep in touch, but it’s not the same.

This aside, it’s good to see the students starting back.  International students are around now, all tightly clutching their ‘bags for life’ provided by student services.  Next week the main cohort of students arrive.  In an ideal world I would have been simply doing my talk on plagiarism and the essential guide, as I’m no longer course director of the ITMB scheme.  But I know I’ll end up doing more than this due to unforseen circumstances.

Let’s hope that everyone I know who is receiving treatment in hospital, recovering in hospital, or has recently been discharged from hospital is soon back to their usual selves, not least of which because I look bloody daft in a plastic apron!

Where did the weekend go?

I made a set to and managed to finish marking all the outstanding OU assignments yesterday, and they’ve been duly sent back to the students.  Most were very well presented, which always helps.  Whilst it’s not essential, it’s nice to see a steady increase in the marks that a student received throughout a course.

I did also manage to clear five huge bin bags of rubbish from out of my built in bedroom wardrobe.  There’s still a lot in there, including two tents, chairs and associated camping paraphernalia which I’ve not really got anywhere else to put, but at least I can see the floor in there.

I’ve mentioned my O2, and iPhone frustrations in the past, but I thought I would try a diffierent tactic.  I called them today and asked to switch to their ‘simplicity’ tariff.  This is a sim-only scheme, with no long tie-in, I can cancel with just 30 days notice.  They’ve also got a great deal at the moment, so have ‘signed up’ for 600 minutes, 1000 texts and unlimited web browsing all for just £20 a month.  This really strikes me as a bargain, and makes it harder for me to think about the iPhone for £35 a month, 18 month contract, plus a £99 charge for the phone!

Today is moodle focused, getting everything together.  I’ve revamped a talk about giving presentations, and embedded some clips from my own PG Cert training.  It’s a shame that to post a video here on WordPress I need to upload it to YouTube or another video service – I know it’s done for the right reasons of security etc. but it’s still a pain not to be able to embed mpeg or wmv here.

The rest of the week is looking steady – exam boards, student tutorials and sorting out some timetable clashes, but all of it is manageable.  I know this is the calm before the storm, but I feel better prepared for this year than I have for a long time.  (Note to self, remember this when I wake up at 3am in a cold sweat).

Last round of OU marking

I’m about to start my last stint of OU assignment marking for at least a year, and who knows after that.  I’ve gone through the same process pretty well unchanged for the last eight years for on average five assignments a year for around 25 students – wow that’s a round 1000 assignments marked!

The first stage is to always print of the TMA question, and the model answers/marking scheme.  Sometimes they correlate closely, sometimes they don’t.  I then create my own pro-forma feedback and marking sheet.  In the past I used to append this as a separate document, but the OU has carried out a lot of  some research and found that students prefer to have all the information in one place.  This is the stage I’m at at the moment – tomorrow morning I download the assignments and start marking them in strict order of submission date/time – this seems the fairest to me, and means that if I do want to send a half completed set back, then those that sent theirs in first get it marked first.

I aim to turn around the assignments the weekend after they are submitted.  Sometimes this simply isn’t possible, and if I’ve given an assignment extension then I am unlikely to turn it around as quick.  The automated eTMA system makes this much easier than the old return envelopes, and whilst sometimes I miss  the portability of pen and paper, on-screen marking is quicker.. and I can’t think of a better screen to be staring at than my 20″ iMac.