Research Essentials

Perspectives on an academic environment: a collaborative blog by Gill Clough & Rebecca Ferguson

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Winning the Guardian WISE awards 2017

November 10th, 2017 · No Comments

Fantastic news which I just had to blog immediately! Anne Adams was in London this evening attending the Guardian Wise Awards for which we had been shortlisted (one of three) and we won! See Anne at the left of the winners.

This is real recognition for all the effort Anne puts in to set up and support her teams! Anne put together the application and encouraged us all to contribute to the video which illustrates our work on Evidence Cafés, game-based learning, teaching tricky topics and working with teachers. We were each tasked with producing no more than 10seconds of video to keep it snappy and to the point. Here are the two 1 minute videos we out together to support the application.

Anne did the second video in a single take! Well, it would have been a single take except that I hadn’t switched my phone on to record the video so I had to get her to do it again, which she did as perfectly as she did the first time. Congratulations Anne!

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Evidence Cafes

November 7th, 2017 · No Comments

I’ve been working for the Centre for Policing Research and Learning for over 18 months now. I have run 10 Evidence Cafes over the first 12 months, and am tasks with running a further 12 over the next 18 months. Each Evidence Café aims to bridge the gap between research and practice, enabling police participants to explore how research might inform their practice, and giving academics access to practice-based insights on the research from practitioners. The exact format of each evidence cafe varies depending on what the research topic is and, to some extent, on the makeup of the attendees. An Evidence Cafe attended by senior officers and staff will run quite differently from one attended by the frontline. So far, we have run Evidence Cafes on a range of topics:

  • Evidence-based practice
  • Collecting first accounts from vulnerable child witnesses
  • Demand management
  • Translating vast amounts of data into information and then knowledge using the Evidence Typology
  • Digital forensics
  • Social media in policing
  • Ethical policing
  • Public leadership and political astuteness.

I’m going to use this blog to publish summaries of the different formats an Evidence Cafe can take, with brief descriptions of cafes of the different types and of the impacts from those cafes. For this first Evidence Cafe post, I am uploading the handy ‘How-To” guide that we have produced. This provides a flavour of what we are trying to achieve and of how to go about it. If you are interested (and ECs have been run in areas other than the police service) please get in touch via the Centre for Policing Research and Learning at OUPC@open.ac.uk.

Evidence Cafe HowTo Guide

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Writing Week – Escape to the Cotswolds

May 11th, 2017 · No Comments

This week, 6 of us have headed off to a Rural Retreats cottage in the cotswolds for a writing retreat. It looks and sounds pretty decadent, but in reality it is seriously productive. Not everyone has been able to stay in the 5 bedroom place for the entire week, but 5 of us have been here continuously since Tuesday and we are storming through the work.

The great thing about coming away is that you are away from all work distractions. No meetings, only email (and you can switch that off), and you have the key colleagues that you want to write with on hand.

working in the conservatory

Working in the conservatory

We are in a huge 5-bedroom house with 2 conservatories, a snug, an office, a dining room and an enormous living room. Each of us can go to a different room to work, or two or more of us can get together to work collaboratively. On Monday there three people who worked here intensively and stayed overnight. Tuesday one it dropped to two, and they were very productive. Tuesday night three of us arrived (and the monday colleague returned) and the two who had been working on Tuesday left. One of the Tuesday colleagues joined us again on Wednesday morning and we have been five working together since then.

On Wednesday two of our team had a very useful meeting with 4 collaborators from Oxford University who spend from 9:30 to 12:30 giving inpact on the work from Monday/Tuesday which has informed our ongoing course material writing. One of the two conservatories has an enormous dining table, so this meeting went on there and no noise spilled out to disturb the rest of us.

Since then we have been working, noses to the grindstone.

Keys to success

So why does this work, and quite importantly, why is this more successful than a recent writing week we held in a local conference centre? The cost of the house is around £1800 for the week, plus food and travel. The cost of the rooms in the conference centre was about the same.

Identify outputs

It is important to have a clear set of outputs in mind before you start. We each have papers that we want to write with each other, each of us leading on a different paper, and we are each working on producing materials for a different week of an 8 week badged open course that is one of the deliverables from the project that has provided the funding for this week. We all came to the week with a clear idea of what we aimed to do and put this in a shared spreadsheet.

The right people

You need the right set of people who need to collaborate with each other. The good thing about getting away from the office is that it allows you to focus on just one thing with no distractions. In the office, you may be writing or working on a course, and you need to have a discussion with a colleague. However they may be fully booked so you have to wait. You get interruptions, they get interruptions. And email is an ever-present time sapper. On a writing retreat, you can produce material very quickly because you can work together fast and effectively. We all check email, but only a couple of times a day – not continuously. Everybody needs to be committed to producing the outputs as well. One disruptive person could, I suspect, ruin things.

Technology

Fast broadband is essential. The broadband here is running at about 13Mbps which is good enough for our purposes. We need to use internet resources and work on collaborative shared documents. The internet goes down periodically, but it is easy to reboot it. You do need at least one person who is comfortable with technology to deal with the inevitable issues. We have had some issues with the software we are using to work collaboratively, and to be honest that is the only thing that has slowed progress.

A big house

It is essential to have a large enough venue that everyone can have some private space in which to work if they need to write alone, or collaborate without disturbing others. The nice thing about a house rather than a hotel or conference venue is the fact that it is quite isolated. We are surrounded by countryside, birds, wildlife, gardens. Relaxing and very conducive to concentration, yet we each have our own room in which to relax.

brainstorming in the garden

Brainstorming in the garden

24 hours available

Because we are away, we can just keep writing. The village is tiny and there are just 2 pubs. We have bought salad and food for light lunches and snacks and we book a table at one of the local pubs, 20 meters away, for dinner each night. We are all happy to eat snack lunches – nobody is wasting writing time preparing big meals. I am waking up really early and can come down and start writing by 7am. Yesterday, we were all working until 7pm – but it was relaxing and fun.

A writing retreat in the cotswolds sounds very decadent. But in fact it is both cost effective and productive. I would definitely recommend it.

 

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‘Me Time’ at the OU H818 ‘The Networked Practitioner’ Online Conference 2017

January 10th, 2017 · No Comments

As an MAODE alumni, I received an email invitation to attend this online conference. I was just about to delete it as I went through my regular morning email triage, but it looked interesting so I followed the link to Cloudworks. I used to use Cloudworks extensively in 2009/2010 but have fallen out of the habit.
H818 Online Conference in Cloudworks
What an interesting conference this looks to be. As an alumni and as an IET staff member, I am entitled to attend so I have registered. Browsing the presentations in Cloudworks, some look really fascinating. I found myself starting to wonder how I could integrate cloudworks and some of the cutting-edge material there into my current role orchestrating Knowledge Exchange through Evidence Cafes for police officers, partners and staff on behalf of the Centre for Policing Research and Learning. There is also an interesting looking presentation by Andy Brooks entitled How can a social network be used to increase dissemination of research. I’ve made a note to be sure to attend that one.

This only took about 15 minutes, but made me realise that of late, I have been far too deeply focused on work and only the work. I’ve stopped serendipitous browsing. I’ve stopped following up links to interesting websites sent by colleagues. I’m spending little time looking outwards and too much time focusing inwards, on getting the job done. Browsing around some of the presentations on Cloudworks did not take very long. It was intellectually stimulating and this will feed back into my current role, so I’m going to make a point of doing this again. In the current climate of cut-backs and excessive workload, it is all too easy to forget that spending some ‘me time’ following your interests. This not only helps keep you up-to-date, but can also really benefit your work by helping you think outside the box, and bring in fresh new ideas.

 

 

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Open Access to our Publications

February 10th, 2016 · No Comments

I get requests for various publications that people have found on ORO (Open Access Database) but sometimes cannot download. In particular, our book, Augmented Education: Sheehy, Ferguson & Clough (2014). I therefore put together a version of the pre-print draft (no index etc) created a website and uploaded it. At least now if somebody asks me for an electronic copy of this or of my PhD, I can just point them to my website from where they can download it.

by Gill

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Apple Watch 2 months down the line

July 24th, 2015 · No Comments

I’ve been using my apple watch for about two and half months so its about time I reflected on what I find it useful for. Like most Apple products, lets face it, like most technology products, each person will find different aspects useful. I know three other people with Apple Watches, one finds the ability to control music on his watch to be invaluable – yet I’ve never used that feature, I think it tried it out once, but it just isn’t useful to me.

I received the watch on Friday and flew out to Spain on Saturday. Just enough time to get a few apps working on the phone. I was quite excited to try out the easy jet app to scan my boarding pass. I tried this at the departure gate, but unfortunately the scanner was designed to slide the boarding card in a kind of slot a few cm deep. My hand and watch wouldn’t fit in this so no luck there, but the staff were very interested in it.

My GPSX app which allow you to record tracks, drop waypoints and all manner of other GPS related things was great fun. It is important to remember that all these apps are actually running on your iPhone, and therefore using up battery. It didn’t cause me any problems, but much has been said about battery life.

On the subject of battery life, I find I’ve generally got 60% or more battery left at the end of the day. I don’t generally talk on the watch for long – though it can be useful to answer a call on the watch instead of missing it whilst scrabbling around at the bottom of my handbag. This does not negate the need to scrabble around at the bottom of my handbag, I just look like even more of a geek as I talk to my wrist whilst doing it.

To be honest, it will take me a while to get used to talking to a caller on my wrist. For starters, everyone can hear the conversation so there’s no privacy. It feels a bit ‘Star Trek’ esque but it is handy to be able to answer a call when you can’t immediately put your hands on your iPhone.

I tried out the apple map directions. It was just awful. Maybe because the phone was in my bag, but the GPS didn’t update quickly enough and the directions were often just plain wrong. The best thing to do was to use the map on the wrist as a map and ignore the directions. They were mad!

The texting functionality is just lovely. You can send cute emoticons and little drawings to your friends. Of course your friends also need to own apple watches. You can also reply to texts quickly on the watch by either tapping on a pre-defined answer (you can define these) or by speaking your message. Siri is becoming so good, there are virtually no mistakes.

By far the most useful feature, for me, are the haptic notifications. I get a discrete little tap whenever a text message or email comes in (on the email addresses I enable for the watch). I can glance at the first line and know immediately if this needs dealing with now, or if it can wait till later. That doesn’t feel like being ‘always online’. It feels like a very useful tool to keep on top of the deluge of electronic communications we are all faced with these days.

So far, I’m a fan.

Oh and of course I bought a spare watch strap. It takes seconds to swap them over and now I can have a watch to match my handbag…….so long as my handbag is salmon pink or lime green 🙂

lIMG_4777.JPG

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The all-new Apple Watch

May 8th, 2015 · No Comments

Ok, I admit it. I sat in bed one morning a few weeks back and pre-ordered the all-singing, all-dancing Apple Watch. The week before I’d received one of the Apple marketing emails suggesting that I book an appointment in store to try one one….so I did. That was an experience. The enthusiastic Apple employee had a wide flat box which he opened with great reverence. Inside was a small selection of Apple watches in different sizes with different straps. I tried on the pinkish leather strap with the very expensive shiny white metal watch. I can’t be bothered to recall all the fancy names – The watches come in grey matt and black matt, these are the cheapest versions although the term ‘cheap’ is relative. Then there are the shiny silver coloured ones with some sort of even harder glass on the face. These are the mid-range. Top of the range are the insanely expensive gold ones. Lets not go there.

Anyway, I attempted to try on the pinkish leather strap 38mm version. I say attempted because this version only comes in a small and, although female, I realised that my bones are just not that small and I couldn’t even fasten the thing up. Shame because it was a beautifully made strap. The employee went into ecstasies about how the leather came from some little artisan leather place (in France I think) where they beat it until it was super soft and enclosed within in some form of man-made super strong material that meant it wouldn’t stretch. For that price I’d have expected it to have been hand beaten on a remote island on the shores of Australia.

I tried on all the other versions that Apple-Chap had, but he didn’t have the sports band ones I was really interested in. I could not leave his precious box, so he called over to another employee who produced a sports band that I tried on. It felt really good, although this one was a large 42mm so really rather too big for me. I wasn’t all that keen on some of the fastening mechanisms of some straps. The Milanese for example, was very comfortable, looked really nice, but fastened by magnets. You simply wrapped it around your wrist and it held like glue. To take it off, you simply picked the end up away from the other part and peeled it off. It struck me that this would be very easy for a thief to do. We’ve all seen magicians who can remove someone’s watch by undoing the strap without them even noticing. I think this strap would be a gift.

I decided to order myself one, after a few days reflection. I am getting increasingly long sighted and my current watch has a tiny face – I can’t really tell the time on it. I can squint and guess or put my glasses on, but in reality I’m wandering around without much awareness of the time. I chose a cool green sports watch. When I confirmed the order, I was dismayed to see a delivery date of June, but hey ho, maybe I’d left it a bit too late.

The big launch date of 24th April loomed near, and to my surprise I got an email notifying me that my watch was on its way. Friends who had ordered watches the same day had no such email.

The day arrived and I worked from home, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my package. Mid afternoon, a delivery arrived of a long thin very heavy parcel. It looked and felt about the size of a piece of car suspension and I couldn’t imagine how this heavy long thin brick-like package could be my watch. I ripped off the paper. To my amazement, there it was. A brand spanking new Apple Watch.

I took photos as I revelled in the experience of opening up a new piece of Apple Gadgetry. It doesn’t disappoint.

by Gill

Box within a box Long thin plastic box IMG_3727 IMG_3728 IMG_3733

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Raspberry Pi #PiBirthday party at Cambridge Computer Labs

March 2nd, 2015 · 1 Comment

I booked a place at this event the moment tickets became available on EventBrite. The are now so popular they sell out really fast. Workshops had only 20 places, and booking opened at 7:30pm on the Thursday. Needless to say, I forgot and all workshop tickets got sold out immediately. I was therefore delighted when @recantha (aka Mike Horne, organiser) emailed to say a few tickets had become available. I emailed right back pleading for one on the GPS Tape Measure workshop and got one.

The big day arrived. Arriving not long after 10, I was surprised and delighted to get given a lovely RPI 2 case as I went in. Thanks to @jarjargeek for this tweeted photo. I was too excited to get to the keynote talk and just popped the case in my pocket.

Screenshot 2015-03-02 13.29.30

I had to scoot off to get to the GPS workshop in time. It was billed as “An exciting workshop for anyone who has done a little Python programming on their Pi and now wants to take it further.” and it truly was great fun.

After a brief introduction to GPS, we typed in a small program that queried a GPS/GLONASS receiver (a powerful one suitable for cars) that was attached to a Pi to get location information. Having entered and checked the code, we dashed outside to see if it worked. However depite having a ‘fix’ my distance display did not increase as I walked. Back to the workshop to double-check the code.

IMG_3280 IMG_3281Such a minor typo! I had used a lowercase letter instead of a capital to refer to a variable with the result that a new variable was created. The increasing distance went into the real variable, while the new variable (still at zero) was displayed on the little LED display. Once sorted, back outside to test it and yippee, it worked.

Just had time to listen to another inspirational talk by David Whale on running STEM clubs, not just high level suggestions but practical tips on making sure you have all your equipment ready and ways to ensure that you don’t spend all your time putting things together and taking them apart.

After this, it was about lunchtime. So after a brief stop at the cafe and its welcome pannini and coffee, it was of to explore the stands and stalls.

So many interesting projects. So much to buy. Needless to say, I had to purchase a RPi II to go in my nifty new case. All the white bits of the case clip on in order to protect the Pi, and off again to allow you to connect things. Really practical

Quite an expensive but really interesting day. Below are a few of the pictures from the day. I loved things like the RPi used to drive a game of space invadors running on a console made out of an old arcade machine. It had been left in the damp so all the insides were rusted to pieces, but the buttons still worked so playing the game had a real feel of the old-style machines, with the little Pi inside controlling it all.

Laura’s wooden artificial intelligence (yes another RPi) was good fun. You put an object on the stand and then spoke to it using the wooden keyboard. She had put all the code she had written in a paper book – a lovely juxtapositioning of old and new, traditional materials and computer technology. Very effective.

And then there was the very loud chair that would read what you had written using sliders that you inserted into lines to make a kind of slate. 3D printers making amazing puzzles, and as I walked around I got the ‘mark of the #PiBirthday’ on my hand and a raffle ticket. I need to check today to see if I won anything 🙂  More RPis perhaps?

So much, the time went all too quickly and we left the venue to those who had bought tickets to the Pi birthday party.

IMG_3285 IMG_3287 IMG_3288 IMG_3289 IMG_3291IMG_0381

 

At home, I have dedicated my entire desk to the Raspberry Pi. That way I won’t have to put it away or worry about leaving cables trailing across the living room floor. My infrared camera project beckons. With the RPi II running 6 times faster (and yes, that is obvious from first boot up) the possibilities are increasing.

IMG_3298

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2nd Annual EU Project Review for JuxtaLearn

November 21st, 2014 · No Comments

Just got back from Luxembourg, having attended the 2nd annual project review for the JuxtaLearn project. One of the things I do during these gruelling meetings is type didactic notes of everything the reviewers say or ask, and also of their final comments. They usually send their recommendations out about three weeks later. Yesterday I typed 7028 words and captured pretty much everything. The review was tough, but fair. The reviewers picked up on absolutely every weak point – any partner who was not fully integrated with the rest, any lack of progress, any over claiming. They did give us a fairly hard time, but their feedback was constructive rather than distuctive and ultimately their recommendations and conclusions will, I feel, make the project better.

It would be nice if this process could be a little less tough – but then sometimes you need to shake things up to get it moving.

As the Project Officer said – it is their responsibility to ensure that our EU contribution (looking at the UK contingent) is well spent. Cameron will be pleased to hear that 🙂

By Gill

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iPhone 6 and IOS 8 – Initial impressions

September 25th, 2014 · 1 Comment

I’ve had the iPhone 6 for a day now, so I’ve not yet explored all its capabilities.

Most impressive:

  • Big screen – easy to see. When you set it up you have the option of having icons and text slightly larger which is brilliant if you are a bit long sighted. Makes it much easier to quickly use the device without scrabbling around for your glasses.
  • Fingerprint security – easy to set up and very, very accurate. A simple touch will now unlock the device, and you can still use the passcode if you want (or have forgotten about the fingertip recognition). I still remember the first IPAQ PDA that had fingerprint security – you could rub your fingertips raw trying to get the thing to unlock.
  • Suggested words (IOS 8 feature) Makes texting and emailing very much faster and predicts accurately what you are likely to put next. Just need to remember to look at it when typing.
  • Design – The gold and white version is just beautiful.
  • Light weight – The device is impressively slim and light. I’ve read about people bending them by putting them in their pocket and sitting down. To be honest, that seems like a strange thing to do with such an expensive device – akin to taking your macbook air and standing on it. There is surely a limit to what these lightweight devices should be expected to withstand. It seems robust enough to me.

Least impressive:

  • Device size – almost exactly the same size as a samsung galaxy, and they’ve even moved the on-off button to the top right side, in the same place as the galaxy. The size is not a problem to me, although I think it might be cumbersome for people with small hands. It fits find in any number of my handbags, but I wouldn’t want to carry it in a pocket as I think it would stick out and probably easily fall out. It is certainly easy to interact with the screen (email, calendar, texting, web browsing, apps etc). I’ve used it to make calls and to be honest, when on a call you don’t really notice the larger size.
    It does seem fairly big. I’m out Morris dancing all weekend with only a bum-bag to hold the essentials so I hope the iPhone 6 fits in the zip pocket and is strong enough to withstand being carried around in that way. I will not be impressed if it bends! None of my other iPhones suffer in a bum bag.
    Watch this space for the results of the iPhone6/Morris Dancing Bum Bag test.

I have barely scratched the surface of the new IOS 8 and iPhone 6 functionality, and will post more once I’ve had longer to use it. So far, I am not disappointed.

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