Tag: this used to be my playground

next slide please

Playground. Linda Gillard (c) University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ECA Collection

You’ll remember that we have been working on equality, diversity  and inclusion (EDI) issues in ISG for some time.

Directors have now agreed that this work should continue. Which is full credit to many ISG colleagues who have been involved and given their time to supporting this work and organising events. I was very lucky to have a student intern (Dominique) working with me over several years and now to have an Equality and Data officer (Lilinaz)  for the next two years. This has given us the resource and time to really engage with our research. We have carried out 2 E&D surveys in ISG. One in 2015 and one in 2019. Both surveys led directly to recommendations for action.

You can read a report of the 2019 survey findings:

EDI ISGReport Summary Report 2020

Recommendations for EDI development in ISG for the next 2-5 years are drawn from staff feedback gathered from workshop participants, research literature and from interpretations of data gathered from ISG staff.

Here are some of the things we aim to do:

Quick top ten:

  1. Continue PlayFair Steps EDI initiatives which address the interpersonal aspects of intergroup relations, tacking issues of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination.
  2. Combine data informed decision-making with qualitative and social science informed research to ensure that we make the best decisions for ISG.
  3. Seek and listen to the opinions and experiences of the minority groups in our organisation such as black and ethnic minority colleagues to better understand their experiences which may be hidden by statistical analysis grouping of data.
  4. Collect and analyse the data relating to EDI practices in ISG so we can track differences in career progression, pay, and promotions.
  5. Understand and address the gender and race pay gaps in ISG where they exist.
  6. Address the inequality that women and ethnic minority colleagues in ISG are more likely to be in low-paid, part-time and fixed-term roles.
  7. Proactively attempt to attract and retain a staff to reflect the diversity of the university. If that is not possible, we should at least aim to reflect the demographics of the region in which we live.
  8. Identify, support and reward the c40 staff who are developing as leaders in EDI, reflecting the value of this area of leadership in the organisation.
  9. Continue to engage directly with communities to show commitment to improving the lot of historically disadvantaged groups. Whether that be ‘women in tech’, disabled people or other minority groups.
  10. Monitor EDI impact of all our post-COVID19 recovery work with the knowledge that economic recovery is unlikely to be evenly spread.
Longer list:

EDI development

  • Market and promote sessions to encourage those who would not normally attend. Each session should clearly explain why it is taking place and what the benefits of attending are.
  • Provide context for EDI practices in addition to providing a snapshot of ISG as a workplace that can be presented to staff members. It serves to fill in a knowledge gap for staff members in why attending EDI sessions are recommended.
  • Help staff to connect the importance of having a good understanding of EDI to their roles and success as leaders and team managers.
  • Help staff to connect the importance of having a good understanding of EDI to their roles and success as service providers.
  • Develop case studies of teams, projects or services where ISG seems to benefit from ‘diversity advantage’.

Develop Networks

  • Do further research into the value of identity group networks and ‘allies’ in ISG.

Make time to attend

  • Managers should ensure that they make it possible for colleagues to attend EDI sessions.

Attend to Recruitment

  • Collect data on student employees, as anecdotal evidence suggests a more diverse group of students take up these positions, increasing the diversity within ISG. Knowing more about this demographic could inform hiring practices and the future of student employment within ISG (e.g. designing permanent roles that would follow internships).

Develop teams and leadership

  • Ensure that the growing group of ISG staff in the 16-24 age group are supported to develop, and that all managers are aware of the EDI issues inherent in cross-generational team working.
  • Encourage sharing of practice between directorates to address how staff participation in EDI activities can be supported and encouraged by managers.

Playful and PlayFair

Lovely illustrations for our playful engagement website by the LTW Interactive Content Team


One of our innovation projects over several years was to develop a Playful Engagement Strategy for ISG and to test some playful approaches. We know our Information Services Group (ISG) staff are innovative and creative, and they have developed a variety of fun, creative, and engaging ways to provide and deliver our technologies and services.

We want to ensure that this continues and that ISG fosters an environment, and culture, where innovation, playful learning, and creative engagement are embedded in our practices. This is in line with the University’s aim to offer an educational experience that is inspiring, challenging, and transformational.

To this end, we have established playful engagement themes, strategy and goals.

Our goals are to:

  • Facilitate the development of playful innovators, researchers, and creators
  • Promote creative, playful, and innovative use of technologies and tools in ISG services
  • Utilise our world-class libraries and collections in innovative and engaging ways to enrich our services
  • Support a healthy work life balance, and a positive, engaging and inclusive work environment
Lovely illustrations for our playful engagement website by the LTW Interactive Content Team

Our 6 themes are:

  1. Digital technologies
  2. Libraries museums, galleries and collections
  3. Communities of practice
  4. Reflection, development and innovation
  5. Exploration and innovation
  6. Work–life balance

I am very pleased that Charlie has been able to spend the time to really think about what playful engagement could mean for a large IT and libraries service.  Her work draws upon a whole raft of  team, game, maker, challenge and enjoyment activities which all combine to make working here much more fun than it might otherwise be.

She and I will be presenting about this at the UCISA leadership conference in Edinburgh.

Read more about it: https://thinking.is.ed.ac.uk/playful-engagement/

ready to play

Playful cover of BITS magazine Spring 2017 http://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/about/edinburgh-bits

Playful learning is all the rage amongst the ladies of my acquaintance. How playful can you be today?  this week?  Is it time for a wee sit down now? Yes. You deserve it. (1)

The upcoming (28th June, Edinburgh) elearning@ed confernce believes the play’s the thing.

The theme for this year is “Playful Learning” and the programme is looking great, including a whole bunch of playful breakouts and interactive sessions.

‘The conference has a fantastic line-up, including a number of talks and presentations from educators across the University who are incorporating playfulness into practice; from teaching with Dungeons and Dragons, digital game based learning in China, virtual reality in education, to playful approaches to learning to code.

Breakout sessions will also be happening throughout the day. We’ll have some of the tools and technologies from the UCreate Studio available for you play with and try out on the day, plus some of the great DIY Film School gear from LTW.  There’ll be Minecraft in Education, Gamifying Wikipedia, and an opportunity to try out some of the award winning 23 Things for Digital Knowledge.’

The ( July 12)  Playful Learning Conference in Manchester 2 weeks later does too.

‘Playful Learning is pitched at the intersection of learning and play for adults. Playful in approach and outlook, yet underpinned by robust research and working practices, we provided a space where teachers, researchers and students could play, learn and think together. A space to meet other playful people and be inspired by talks, workshops, activities and events. Based in the heart of Manchester, we also explore some of the city’s playful spaces with evening activities continuing the fun and conversations after the formal programme ends.’

My contribution to all this is to encourage playful and gaming aproaches to as much of our enagagement activity as we can. Partly because of all this good learning  theory. Partly because it makes it all much more fun to do. Partly because after 20 years of explaining this stuff it stops me from sticking my head in the oven.

The Playful learning Conference includes a presentation from the iSG teams on our playful approaches:

‘The University of Edinburgh’s(UoE) Information Services Group (ISG) has developed a Playful Engagement strategy, utilising playfulness to create interest, boost attendance, and encourage interaction with its services and activities. We target appropriate workplace learning opportunities which support our strategic priorities in developing digital skills, engaging with open educational practices, promoting diverse role models and using our collections in innovative way.’

If only you knew how much fun it is working in central IT at a university, you’d all be doing it.

sad loss of an open VLE pioneer

Photograph of lillies taken by me in my house. No rights reserved by me.
Photograph of lillies taken by me in my house. No rights reserved by me.

I am sad to hear that Professor Andrew (Aggie) Booth has died. Aggie was a VLE pioneer. His work influenced mine and that of many colleagues. This news, coming as it does so soon after the recent loss of Sebastian Rahtz reminds me how much we owe to the original thinking of these clever, quirky, open practitioners.

Aggie Booth was one of the first, maybe THE first ‘Professor of e-learning’.  If you have not heard of him, or perhaps have forgotten, here’s my story of Bodington at Leeds and Oxford:

Bodington was originally developed at University of Leeds by Jon Maber and Aggie in 1995. It was subsequently released as open source*.  Oxford was the first HEI outside of Leeds to offer it as an institutional VLE . The University of the Highlands and Islands also used Bodington.

Bodington was a VLE ahead of its time**. This history of online learning  lists the first scaled deployment of Bodington in 1997, the same year WebCT 1.0 was released and Blackboard was founded. A year later Martin Dougiamas began preliminary work on Moodle.  I joined the learning technology team at Leeds in 2002. The Sakai project began in 2004.

The design of Bodington was based around a metaphor of space, people and place. It was originally  developed as the ‘Nathan Bodington Building’. University of Leeds campus is full of buildings named for people. Sir Nathan Bodington was the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Leeds having been Principal and Professor of Greek at the Yorkshire College since 1883.  Jon and Aggie imagined that students would find/navigate to their materials and classes in ‘rooms’ on ‘floors’ in the virtual environment just as they did in the physical.  Similar to the design of later virtual worlds such as SecondLife.  When a proliferation of virtual buildings  emerged at Leeds the virtual environment was renamed as Bodington Common.

For the open sourcing of software to be effective it is necessary to build a sufficiently large and vibrant community so that the product can become self-sustaining and progressively develop to include new ideas. Oxford was an early adopter of Bodington and was a keen supporter of a wide range of developments including various marketing exercises and attracting external funding for innovations; however, whilst the system was adopted by a wide range of institutions, the number of those prepared to commit development effort never reached a sustainable level.

The teams met in Oxford in 2005 to  discuss development of Bodington in collaboration with Sakai. When Leeds University opted in 2006 to select a proprietary system for their next VLE, Oxford was left as the sole large-scale developer of Bodington and this situation was untenable. It was at this point that Oxford decided to seek an alternative platform (with a bigger and better community) and chose Sakai, deploying it as WebLearn in  2008.  By this time I had moved from Leeds to join Oxford.

Many good things came out of working with Bodington and Sakai, the Oxford developers and gained vast experience in open source software and community development. Oxford ran Bodington and Sakai in parallel for four years, Bodington become read-only in Sept 2012.

Personally, I enjoyed teaching using Bodington very much and there are pedagogical tools in there I still miss.



*On 3 October 2006 Bodington released version 2.8.0 on SourceForge. This brought good will with it from those in the open source community who may have felt Bodington had been trading on the open source moniker unfairly in the past.( OSSwatch)

** This became important when Blackboard much later filed their patent in the US for various VLE features which were on record as having been part of the Bodington functionality.

all in the name of Lovelace

Picture taken by me. Copyright on LEGO Ada belongs to Stewart Cromar.

Ada Lovelace Day at University of Edinburgh was a great success this year. The LTW, USD and L&UC teams outdid themselves. We had a lifesize Lego Ada in the Main Library, and the complete Ada and Baggage Lego set in Hugh Robson Building.  We taught students and colleagues how to code music, edit wikipedia, build lego rasperry-pi cases, add metadata, colour-in and celebrate women in tech, all in the name of Lovelace.

Votes for Lego Women
Stewart Cromar’s on going campaign to get his Ada lego set on to the shelves of stores worldwide was embraced by #adalovelaceday enthusiasts.  LEGO Ada has now passed the 4.5K vote mark and is currently the #1 project on the Ideas homepage.

Open educational resources
In celebration of Ada and just because it’s a good thing to do we released several open educational resources for you to enjoy. These include the instructions for our workshops, how to make your own raspberry pi case and a super on-trend grown-up colouring in sheet designed by Jackie Aim.

Picture taken by me. Copyright on LEGO Ada belongs to Stewart Cromar

Social Media Reaction
Our Ada Lovelace Day website took over a 1K page views in the week, with the OER content being particularly popular. In addition to the many tweets from participants using the #ALD15eduni hashtag we had several official Tweets and RTs from both Raspberry Pi and Sonic Pi and messages of support from similar events at other universities.

On Tour

Stewart and I will both be giving papers in Oxford in December as part of the Ada Lovelace bicentennial celebrations hosted by the Bodleian and Somerville College.

PlayFair Steps for equality action

By claireknights [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The Playfair Steps, Edinburgh. By claireknights [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Information Services has more than 600 staff. Earlier this year more than 300 of them replied to a gender equality survey. The results of this survey are providing a starting place for the IS senior management to promote equality in the workplace and implement proactive plans for change.  We are recruiting an intern to help us. This internship coincides with an exciting time for Information Services as we make plans to move to a new building and find new ways of working.

Opportunity and strategic alignment

Following our gender equality survey, within the context of the University’s commitment to Athena Swan, and in line with a broader approach to change management in IS, we have an opportunity now to make some innovative moves to address equality and diversity issues for our staff.

Key messages

One of the key messages arising from our staff survey was that ‘equality involves everyone’. This indicates that our success will depend on ensuring that our plans target all groups and include a range of positive actions, in addition to those specifically designed for women.


Alongside the work we must do in HR and with directors and managers around policies and process, we will establish an innovative programme of staff workplace activities * and L&D opportunities focused on a general concept of ‘fair play’ called ‘The PlayFair Steps’**.

Next Steps

  • To begin making our planned equality action areas into a SMART plan for 3 years.
  • To recruit (using CIO innovation funds) a Phd intern to work with us for the first year to monitor progress against targets in these change areas.
  • To establish a staff group to lead, shape and bring new ideas.

Proposed Equality Actions Areas for next 3years


  • Deliver a communications plan to advertise, update and raise awareness of relevant university HR policies where they exist.
  • Deliver a communications plan of concerted positive comms around ADR, L&D, mentoring, professional networks for career development.
  • Dispel myths of inequality of access to opportunity by making visible stats which reflect the real uptake of staff development, training, conference attendance and rewards and recognition payments across ISG.
  • Offer staff development sessions on ‘how to get promoted’.
  • Review how ‘good citizen’ activities contribute to promotion criteria, reward and recognition.
  • Do follow up surveys (from the University) on race, faith and disability.


  • Ensure fair and transparent recruitment, promotion and policy-making processes.
  • Ensure everyone involved in recruitment (JD, panels etc) has been on diversity and bias training. Showcase and share examples of JDs with gender-neutral language and positive action.
  • More visible positive action to recruit to under-represented groups/areas including use of social media to advertise opportunities using appropriate hashtags and fora. e.g #womenintech.

Work –life balance

  • Enhancement of family-friendly policies and improved communication of these.
  • Ensure colleagues have an equal chance of a healthy work-life balance by not holding meetings outside core hours.
  • Encourage work/social activities which are family friendly.
  • Ensure colleagues have an equal chance of a healthy work-life balance by reducing management email sent outside core hours except re tier1 service incidents.
  • Designate a separate (bookable) quiet room with a nice view for prayer, meditation, escape from sensory overload, breastfeeding and expressing.

Supporting gender equality more broadly

  • Offer visible equality role models of both genders by ensuring that invited speakers, presentations, vendor presentations reflect a gender mix.
  • Offer visible equality role models of both genders by working with conference organisers to reduce the number of single sex panels at conferences or events.
  • Ensure that we have diversity in our decision-making groups.
  • Provide opportunities for career development and networking through visible support/involvement/hosting of organisation events e.g Ada Lovelace Day.
  • Offer visible equality role models by naming computer systems, servers, rooms etc after relevant famous women.
  • Display more art by diverse (and women) artists.
  • Ensure that systems which hold personal data offer a choice of gender neutral honorifics e.g Mx
  • Build systems and applications which pass the Bechdel test for software.
  • Promote to staff and students digital initiatives for gender equality in tech areas e.g coding and gaming.
  • Engage with research in emerging areas around gender and the internet to inform the development of services to support staff and students’ safety online


* Similar to our ‘healthy working lives’ initiatives.

** As well as including the word ‘fair’ and ‘play’, the Playfair Steps are a well-known set of steps in Edinburgh which take you easily from the old (town) to the new (town) . Additionally, the engineer William Playfair invented infographics- bar charts and pie charts -and much of our gender equality business is done using these.

visitors and residents

Unique creation by Sophie of Kellogg. Commercial use by negotiation.
Unique creation by Sophie of Kellogg. Commercial use by negotiation.

Last night I dined at Kellogg again. Now that I am a visiting fellow rather than a resident one I was pleased to be invited to be guest Chamberlaine for the evening.

It was Scholars evening, so we celebrated the many generous gifts of donors to the College, some of whom are alumni, and others who just believe that the work of the College and the work of these individual students is worth supporting. I had lovely company at dinner sitting with social policy champion Amanda and Heather, Desmond Tutu Scholar and Wikipedia researcher.

I chose the importance of voting as the theme for my after dinner speech. We had a number of guests from Somerville College so I was able to make reference to Mary Somerville’s campaigns for women’s suffrage as well as the recent MCR elections, the Scottish independence referendum and the imminent general election.

I was also able to remind the current University of Oxford students that until 1950 as a graduate of that ( and this) university you would actually have had 2 votes in a UK general election. One for the area of the country where you reside, one for the university constituency.

The university constituencies, Oxford, Cambridge, University of London, the ancient Scottish universities and Queens Belfast all sent elected MPs to Westminster.

This was a wheeze started by the Scots and imported to England following the union of the crowns. It went on for a very long time. Several Cromwells, Pitt the Younger, Lord Palmerston, Francis Bacon, Issac Newton, Robert Peel and Ramsay MacDonald benefitted from the arrangement. Needless to say, it did nothing for the town and gown relations in any of the cities and was all ended by the Representation of the Peoples Act in 1948.

In preparing the speech I made use of a very handy OER from University of Cambridge: ‘Dons in the House’.


free as in freedom

Playground. Linda Gillard (c) University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ECA Collection

I spent some of last week playing in  the trade exhibition and ‘Start-up alley‘ at Educause conference.

For a technology conference which has its keynotes in a main hall for several thousand people, the Educause presentations were charmingly retro and hardly technology-enhanced at all.

Clay Christiansen (62) spoke about distruptive innovation using slides featuring  small type, clip art, serif fonts, copyright assertions and some oddly watermarked images. He modelled the Harvard experience in front of an audience of 4000. He asked us to pray for Harvard Business School. Which we did.

Later on, national treasure Doris Kearns Goodwin (71) lectured for an hour reading rapidly from a pre-written paper accompanied by no visual aids. The audience hung on her every word. More proof, were it needed, that learning technology is grounded in the liberal arts.

I went sessions and presentations about the recent  shifts in the open source open communities: Apereo, Kauli and Unizin. There was a lot of talk about freedom and control.

I was surprised how many people wanted to discuss the recent Scottish referendum. More talk of freedom and control.