Cris Bloomfield's Professional Blog

UK-based IT Professional working in the Higher Education Sector

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Browser Trends

Some recent trends have prompted the Learning Technologies Team to consider what web browsers are being used on mobile and computer devices here at Durham University to access our Blackboard VLE. The analytics extract below shows some of our user demographics since the start of term (3rd October). It’s interesting to see the breakdown of the top 10.  For infrequent analytics users remember that the numbers don’t represent numbers of users but hits by device.

browser usage stats

The interesting thing from these stats is that although over 66% of the device we see on the wireless network are Apple devices, by far the most popular is chrome on windows with 24%. Apple’s flagship browser Safari is close behind it, with our Blackboard users choosing to learn via their Mac with 21%. An additional 15% come from direct access via iOS. These are users choosing to access Blackboard via their browser rather than in the student app. A perhaps surprising figure is the number of users choosing Chrome  as their Apple Mac browser at 12%.

The takeaway for the team is that this makes Safari a far more important browser to our users than had been imagined.  Consequently we might want to think about this when we consider our testing and feature rollout in the future, along with more emphasis in our guidance and support.  It will be curious to see how this breakdown changes in the next few months and again after Christmas when lots of the students come back with shiny new kit.

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MoCOW in Black*

*other colours available.

In mid November I delivered a presentation to the IT Space Managers Group conference at Dundee University on our current work with MoCOWs. I’ve blogged about these before so if you want the background you can read more in earlier posts.


The presentation focused on the development of a teaching space equipped with MoCOW units which followed discussions within the University Learning Resources Management Group (sub-group of Education Committee), where it was agreed to create a pilot innovative flexible learning space as part of refurbishment during Summer 2015.

The pilot was outlined as best suited to a 20 capacity flat floor seminar room with flexible furniture and AV equipment. Following internal discussion we identified the School of Education as an ideal partner for adoption and a way forwards was agreed with Head of Department.

Durham University is long-established provider of initial teacher education and has been training teachers since the 1830s. It provides three full-time programmes leading to qualified teacher status (QTS):

  • Three year BA (Hons) degree in primary education with QTS
  • One-year primary PGCE
  • One-year secondary PGCE

It’s also a department with a good track record of research in the use of technology to support learning. Research interests include:

  • Effective use of information and communications technology (ICT).
  • Digital technologies for learning in schools.
  • Understanding how children’s thinking and reasoning develops.
  • How teachers can be supported in developing the quality of teaching and learning in their classrooms.

The design phase for the work led to a decision to create a default room position configured for group work and following a primary education theme to tie in a colour scheme based on Red, Green, Blue, Yellow colours with coordinated furniture and finishing. In the end we opted for TopTec Plectrum Tables and Ikon Chairs. The room was ready for the start of teaching in October 2015.


The end result is a teaching space where as one of the academics using it said “nothing has been taken away and [we] have added value” and capability to enhance student teaching and learning. The true extent of the possibilities are something that the academic department are coming to terms with and we are excited to see how they develop this potential in the coming months and use the technology and innovative software including Xest which we think is another UK first.

In addition to the five MoCOWs in the pilot seminar room we introduced a further five units in black finish across campus to support a variety of small learning and meeting spaces and the feedback has all been extremely positive, particularly noted was the mobility and collaborative functionality of the devices which has transformed the use of some spaces. Three of the MoCOWs are available as resources in Microsoft Exchange and can be reserved for use to support staff users in their events.


Work is now underway to consider how we might further expand our herd of 12 MoCOWs to further support the ambitions and requirements in the next academic year.

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The OneNote Advantage

Based on recent observations over the academic year to date, I am now convinced that the use of Microsoft OneNote is transforming the way in which the University learns, advances knowledge and manages more effectively. For years our students and staff have used a range of tools to make notes relating to taught classes, research activities and management meetings and decisions. I’m including myself in this. In the last two years I’ve used six different software platforms to keep work related notes with varying degrees of success and regularity.

After a brief campaign to raise awareness of our existing institutional OneNote capability, what we are now seeing now is a step change in adoption. OneNote offers a tool that allows the notes belonging to an individual to be logically organized, tagged with meta data and classified using taxonomies, accessed across a range of desktop and mobile devices, integrated into our Microsoft based IT estate and securely backed up. The feedback from students and academic staff is compelling – in back to back comparison with other note taking software, OneNote is emerging as a go to solution and is being openly recommended through peer group interactions.

Don’t just take my word for it, have a look at this back to back comparison with one of the mainstay systems in use in many Universities, Evernote, by Catherine Pope. For a view on the comparison with one of Apple’s native Apps (Notes), Jason Cipriani over at Macworld has this covered.

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Transitions into HE Project

One of the themes that Durham University is currently exploring is that of Transitions. Specifically that within Higher Education (HE) a number of transitions occur across the student lifecycle. One of these transitions that has attracted focus is the entry into University. There is a perception in some quarters that there is something of a cliff facing students arriving at University and that there is great value and reward in taking steps to address this view.

Colleagues from across the University have recently completed a project focused on this Transition into HE. The objective of the project was to “develop an innovative e-learning course to support all incoming first years before they start at Durham University. The course is designed to help students develop study skills and to successfully make the transition into higher education”.

The aims of the project were:

  • To develop an online course for incoming undergraduates. This ran through September and focused on the skills required to make the transition into higher education. It was developed in partnership with current students, to allow us to identify the areas which students struggle with and develop innovative engaging solutions at the appropriate level.
  • To exploit existing distance learning tools such as DUO (Blackboard Learn), video streaming and web-conferencing to create an online community of learners prior to their arrival at Durham.
  • To evaluate the impact of these web-based resource upon students’ learning.
  • To disseminate this work both within the University and at a national level.

Malcolm Murray, the University e-Learning Manager, from my Education Team  was a key member of the project and has produced this excellent video detailing the findings.

The project was funded from the Enhancing the Student Learning Experience (ESLE) Awards which is an internal fund to support innovative practice. The project team drew on  staff from  the Foundation Centre, The Careers, Employability and Enterprise Centre and the Learning Technologies Team (namely, Drs Sam Nolan, Eleanor Loughlin, Malcolm Murray & Elaine Tan). The project proposal was highly praised by the ESLE  panel and was fully funded.

The course ran for a 4 week period prior to the start of academic year and introduced students to four key study skills, based around:

  1. Preparing for Academic Study
  2. Introducing Independent Learning
  3. Digital Literacy and Managing Information
  4. Preparing to Arrive At Durham

Short videos were produced to target specific skills and needs and these were delivered as an online Course through the University’s Blackboard Learn online learning environment. This incorporated the students into the community of learners by introducing them to the core learning platform and supported their transition into Higher Education at Durham.


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Usage Stats Revisited

Last year I wrote about our usage stats so it seemed timely to do a follow up post as the figures were made available earlier this week. As a re-cap Durham University runs Get Connected surgeries for students during the start of term and the stats collected from the surgeries as well as from Bradford Campus Manager (BCM) are used to compile some stats that we track.


  • 36,748 student devices connected to the network safe and authenticated, protecting the integrity of the network and giving visibility of which devices the students are using and who owns these devices.
  • This number is an increase of 2,757 devices since April and an increase of 2,972 since October 2014 reflecting the work that was done throughout the last academic year in completing the wireless roll-out.
  • 35% of everything connected to the student network is an iPhone and in total Apple products make up 63%.
  • There were 905 visits to the 3 Get Online surgeries over the three week period which means CIS dealt with 2.5% of all devices joined to the student network which is in line with previous October stats.
  • There was no demand for the new Get Online surgery location that was offered this year. This was piloted in an attempt to improve our service offering and get closer to our customers and this should not discourage us to look for different possible locations in future.
  • The established surgery in the Bill Bryson Library and Queen’s Campus Library remained popular.

Number of devices

We now have 36,748 machines safe and authenticated on BCM,

This is up 8% on April 2015

This is down 3% on January 2015 (our current peak of 37,857 devices)

This is 8% up on October 2014

Device Trends

Apple devices: Up 4%

59% (October 2014) vs 63% (October 2015)

Windows devices: Down 3.3%

22% (October 2014) vs 18.7% (October 2015)

Android devices:  Down 1%

18% (October 2014) vs 17% (October 2015)

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Swivl Testing

Over the last 12 months there has been some investigation into lecture capture at Durham University. I have recently completed leading a review of the implementation of Planet eStream within our Business School. We also use Panopto in Medicine (which is a linked programme with Newcastle University) and some of our academics also record podcasts and in some cases videos which are made available via our Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Having Kaltura as an integrated component of the VLE, we are currently running a project to extend utilisation of video to support teaching and learning. This has been around principles of platform consolidation and has allowed us to mitigate a risks around the former and aged Windows Media Streaming Server architecture. The big question facing the University is around extending lecture capture. Given the trends in the sector around this technology stack (see below), it might be that we already have the solution we need, we just need to decide which deployed solution represents the best fit to our requirements.

If any lecture capture offering is going to be inclusive and to provide equity of provision to all student cohorts, then a solution will be needed for those subjects where much of the delivery is still dependent on the use of traditional wall-mounted writing surfaces like Whiteboards and Blackboards. Despite the provision of visualisers and interactive whiteboards in many spaces there are challenges around promoting the use of the tech and moving to writing surfaces tha can be recorded digitally.

We’re not alone in this predicament and talking to colleagues across the sector. Whiteboards and blackboards are still core delivery tools for some academics, but our Learning Technology Team are working to develop departmental e-Learning champions to encourage academic peer-based spread of good practice and alternatives for content delivery, including iPads and other methods such as flipped models.

One of the case studies I looked at was the excellent work of Stuart Phillipson at The University of Manchester. As Stuart points out “traditional writing surfaces can be illegible if you are more than a few meters away from them and people aren’t going to stop using them any time soon“. Manchester have been experimenting with a potential solution to this using a standard Sony PTZ camera and have made it into an autonomous tracking camera.

The first installation at Manchester was pretty successful. They deliberately chose a room which is large, very dark, with old equipment and a 50ft Blackboard. Stuart and the team figured that if they could get the system to work there, then well-lit theatres would be easier by comparison. They were surprised by how well target identification worked given how difficult the lighting conditions were.

A technology I looked at that might deliver the same effect was the Swivl camera platform (with thanks to a trial through the UK supplier, TechInvasion). We were interested in the lanyard tracking and how well this worked for some of the Durham spaces, particularly those equipped with blackboards. There are other tracking software solutions out there and it would be interesting to see how these other systems compare. The results of the tests shown in the video below:

The testing raised lots of other questions and lessons learned (e.g. the need to have the camera more zoomed in to the board). This was partly the point – we spent a good half an hour talking about this again this week in our team meeting!

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MoCoW Update

Following a recent post on the SCHOMS website about our work to establish a Durham MoCoW Herd, I thought it was worth an update and an opportunity to post some answers to some questions we’ve received.


The MoCoWS are fairly portable across campus and cope with rough surfaces such as cobbles. Both the QUT and the Durham campus have areas of these so it was one of the questions I raised with Gordon Howell. Like QUT, we also have a need occasionally to move these between campus areas (the Durham city campus has a satellite called the Queen’s Campus, based in Stockton-on-Tees 25 miles to the South East) and up to some of our building situated on the steep hills around Durham City.

In fact since we brought them into service the MoCoWs have been all over campus from our Disability Support office to the Libraries in both Campuses and used in both teaching and to support events. This has raised awareness of the technology and allowed people to gethands on with the equipment. The MoCoWs fit through door ways and into lifts without drama and are stable to move around on campus due to the six-wheeled base configuration.

In these instances, we disassemble the MoCoW body from the base and spine section. This is a case of loosening 4 nuts and then unplugging some leads and takes about 10 minutes. Moving a MoCoW in this way is a two-person job. We need to do this because our University van (currently a small Daihatsu) isn’t big enough to hold one complete. At QUT when a large number of MoCoWs is moved (e.g. for a conference or exhibition event) a tail-lift equipped van is used and we are able to hire these as needed.


The design is purposefully modular so that we can change components with off the shelf parts from suppliers (e.g. sprung castor wheels) or to accommodate different setups in future e.g. larger size or 3D screens. We’ve already identified 6 signifcant revisions to the initial design that will be incorporated into the next production run. We’ve just commissioned these through our local fabricator.