Friday, 25 June 2010

Cool opportunities

My fellow blogger, Minh, gave me some useful feedback on the blog I wrote for The Bottom Line last week, and asked,
How do you end up getting these cool publication opportunities?
I guess I'm lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and you make your own luck to be there by talking to the right people. I'd been on a media training course that I'd found out about through a routine circular email that went round the OU Business School. Later I'd discussed the experience with Les Budd, who usually does The Bottom Line blogs, and it went on from there.

They are cool opportunities, aren't they? Visiting the BBC, and watching a programme being recorded, listening to the experiences of people who do business is more interesting than getting some erudite paper into a learned journal that no-one reads, but that looks good on your CV, and gets you academic jobs because it'll improve the university research ratings.

Unfortunately, I haven't published anything erudite and learned and I don't know what sort of job I'll be doing when I finish my dissertation.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

OU teaching awards

I've just attended the Open University Teaching Awards ceremony, where they award the nominated best tutors (associate lecturers) and others of this year. Its atmosphere is as good as at a degree ceremony, but more intimate as there were only around a score of awards. We have around 8000 tutors.

The vice chancellor, Martin Bean, was cheerfully presenting the awards, announced by Josie Taylor, professor of learning technologies. He always looks round to see who's in the audience, and welcomed one of the deans, Chris Earl, from the maths, computing and technology faculty, but our OUBS dean wasn't there. I think the VC is trying to encourage the deans to attend such events.

One incident amused us. Two FELS tutors came on the stage. Now FELS is the faculty that deals with foreign languages, so you can understand that it would have tutors in Europe, and that languages are taught using Elluminate and other e-learning technologies. One of these tutors took the opportunity to speak to the audience, explaining that this was the first time she'd met her colleagues face-to-face, despite working together since 2004, and could someone in the higher echelons please arrange for the ALs to get together more often.

Higher echelons! She's standing right next to the top echelon of the university ladder.

Martin Bean looked right, left, up, down and behind the curtain. (See him on Berrill Stadium if you're internal staff). At this point, Josie Taylor gently ushered the tutor off the stage, commenting,
"If you don't ask, you don't get!"
Yet, a few moments later, another tutor arrives on stage for her award, and also announces she wants to say something. She's a science tutor, and explains that in her faculty the ALs do get to meet, in fact had met only a couple of weeks ago, and that the FELS ALS need to ask for such a meeting and Martin Bean takes this chance to add,
"Ask your dean."

Friday, 18 June 2010


This week has been a distraction from writing my research findings, but I shall spend the weekend marking computing assignments that my students sent in a week ago.

A colleague has just facebooked that she's submitted her thesis today! I like that posting.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Video blog

The other day's drafting problem was because I was writing just a few words, enough to say in one minute, on a topic that would come up in this week's BBC business programme, The Bottom Line. I knew what two topics were required, one of which I know lots about and one I know very little about. Of course, when you know a lot, then you get stuck as to how to cut it down. And I got stuck.
"Thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis"
was the brief. The best idea is to write the conclusion, then go back, and the drafts on the floor were variations of thesis and anti-thesis. The second topic was easier (but also my thanks to a PG colleague who's writing her PhD on it), and then I learned them by heart. That's easy enough. The difficult bit is saying them to camera, in Broadcasting House, not here on campus, but in a darkened room, with lights in your eyes, surrounded by real professionals.

The professionals are so professional. For example, Evan Davis also had to speak to camera, but unlike me, he hadn't prepared a script. While I was speaking, he thought about the topics and what his guests had just said, then he said his piece, starting with a great metaphor, the sort where you go, "why didn't I think of that!"

To see, hear or read the blogs, go to the web site here.

So watch the Bottom Line on World News at the weekend, or listen to it here on BBC Radio 4 on Friday. Great guests, great presenter, great programme.

Monday, 14 June 2010


"Drafting problems?"
enquires my colleague eying the half dozen scraps of paper littered round my chair. Yes, I have drafting problems. Why is it when you want to write something short in a short time, you can’t get the best words? I keep finding useless words like, “stuff”, “people” and “communication” come to mind, so I get phrases like “people do stuff” and “people do communication” not words with content. And it’s content I want. So another sheet hits the floor.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

BBC Broadcasting House

"One, two, three, four .. eleven!"
"Don't count them!"
Eleven people were in a tiny editing room full of screens, editing equipment, script notes and head phones for just one radio programme. But this programme, The Bottom Line, is edited for four news channels, not just for Radio 4. The Bottom Line also goes out to
  • World Service radio
  • World News TV
  • News Channel TV
Although located in a radio studio, it is also broadcast on TV. So the eleven people were involved in editing the programme for four different versions. This meant that for example the editor for the World News had the presenter reword a question about "high-street banks", a commonly understood term in the UK to "physical banks" (as opposed to electronic banking interfaces).

The host and presenter was Stephanie Flanders, standing in for Evan Davis, who is hard to follow because he is so experienced and well known. Not surprisingly, SF looked nervous at the start of the recording, as she introduced her guests, stumbling slightly over the unfamiliar names. On the retakes she was word perfect. In tone and body language, she gave the impression of knowing what she wanted to ask her guests. From the editing room, the editors prompted her with supplementary questions that arose from the conversation, not the script. She brought in the extra questions so fluently that no-one watching or listening would know about the prompts in her ear. Yet self critically she murmured afterwards that it would have been better if she'd had more to say.

After the main recording, they recorded one minute video blogs, one from SF and one from the Open University Business School representative, Leslie Budd, who also writes a blog for the programme. This is because the OU works with the BBC on The Bottom Line, as you can see from their shared web site. The OU has provided funds for programme equipment, and in the radio studio I could see that equipment allowing the cameras to move smoothly around thus allowing the TV production as well as radio.

This is a great programme with three really interesting guests in a interesting discussion about mining, banking and music, going out on
  • BBC Radio 4 tomorrow evening
  • World Service radio
  • World News TV on Saturday and Sunday
  • News Channel TV on on Saturday and Sunday
Why was I there? Because next week, Les is on holiday and I volunteered to write the blog for him, then discovered they do the video blog too, so Les took me to see the layout, what happens, who creates, produces, and edits it. That's a lot of people:
  • three guests and their minders
  • one presenter
  • three or four camera crew
  • producer
  • OU Broadcast and Learning executive
  • and the eleven editors.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


After supervision, I seem to have found a new ball to roll. By the end of last week, I was getting stuck, apart from a short moment when I realised that my theoretical framework could act as a paradigm for good practice and if components or connection on it are missing, then I have a tool to analyse how to improve engagement.

I wrote that idea up in a hurry, illustrating it with some of my case studies and gave my supervisors 24 hours to read it before our meeting. I'd already given them two other papers and then rolled to a stop.

Supervisors' response is positive because it may be a way to compare across cases instead of using tables, (which I'd tried and weren't working).

Future weeks' work then will be to rewrite all five cases studies:
  • do they show mutuality of engagement of interactive problem solving?
  • do they show a meta-capability to produce engagement?
  • what was complex about each project?
  • identify the value that grew from solving complexity and knotty problems
  • write about the value for each case
  • identify what the key issues were that needed to be resolved, if they were resolved and how engagement helped the extent to which they were resolved.
I feel like my supervisors have given me a kick, and like a ball I'm slowly rolling again. May be this mess of thoughts will gain speed.

Monday, 7 June 2010


Our Vice Chancellor, Martin Bean, has just delivered a lecture on leadership in the Open University, this despite hosting David Cameron only an hour before.

He started by saying that people need an informal space to learn and mentioned having informal breakfasts for an hour before formal meetings with senior managers. He believes that leaders need to adapt to a situation and an organisation's values not impose own personal values.

What should a leadership team look like?
  • shared vision
  • clarity of purpose
  • willingness to confront tough challenge
  • inspiring leaders
  • decisive
  • excellent communication
  • dedicated to the success of the university
  • living the values of the university
I asked him how you get these various 'tribes' in the university to have a shared clarity of purpose. He referred to having a mission statement, to the original OU mission statement of openness to people, places, methods and ideas, that a mission should be like the North Star, somewhere to point at, broad, not focused, something that followed from the start of the statement "we exist to...".

May be. I like that mission statement because it is to me what the OU is about, but Martin Bean also touched on the innovation of the competition. that innovation was what the OU had thirty years ago and somehow we're now stultifying. I hope he knows how we're going to get going again, because the OU is one of the best things about Britain. In fact, that's a quote that Bean brought up from Peter Florence who twittered:
"OU is up there with NHS, the Beatles and Shakespeare."
Yes, the OU is as great as them, but unfortunately half the Beatles are dead, so is Shakespeare and there are some as says the NHS is on its way out. So may the OU survive to fulfil its mission.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Value in eye of stakeholder

"Prioritization of stakeholder value needs to have a higher profile in IT"
was the starting point of this BCS software practice advancement specialist group last week, with speaker, Lindsey Brodie, who is researching this for her PhD at Middlesex.

Lindsey Brodie says that you need a method that allows people to talk about value, so that you can then identify which business modules stakeholders want to prioritise. She's assessed various prioritization methods, in particular Tom Gilb's impact estimation method, which uses quantified data and has found it better captures stakeholder viewpoints and value.

It sounds useful, though peripheral to my research. My interviewees have commented on the need to get stakeholders to prioritise their IS wants against their business aims. My research is about how you get your stakeholders together to talk. Lindsey's research assumes that you've got them together, can list what they're talking about and asks how you can best measure and prioritise.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Life after PhD

Cloudworks is showing a conference or a seminar this morning that features ex-PhD students and what they're doing, how they moved on, and what in their PhD helped them to get work afterwards.

See voices of experience.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Counting words

On the Master in Research (MRes) I used to take around three weeks to write each assignment. If I assume I can now write 5000 words in four weeks, and I need to write a PhD dissertation of around 80,000 words, then I need over a year to write it. If I make it longer, and the maximum length is 100,000 then I need another four months.

  • write quicker
  • use everything I've already written
or I'll be struggling to get it in by my registration cut-off date of 31st September 2011.