The annual HEWIT and WHELF colloquium for IT and Library staff was held last week in Gregynog. Here’s a few brief thoughts sparked by some of the sessions I attended from Wednesday to Friday (the presentations are online and there were other Cardiff people about – in case you want to ask about sessions I don’t mention).
Open Educational Resources
There were some sessions which covered the concept of open resources for education. Some open resource systems are aimed at providing content for lecturers to reuse (e.g. Jorum, Information Literacy Resource Bank) and some aimed at delivering content directly to students (e.g. any MOOC you care to look at).
There are a number of issues with the adoption of open resources, one of the most mentioned on the Lecturer side is “if the materials are freely available will I still have a job?” If you take a look from the student side for a moment you’ll find the answer to the lecturers question is “yes” because students need people to teach them. With students having to pay for their university education they will want more than a bunch of stuff to read (be it online or on paper) they’ll want contact time with knowledgeable people who can guide them through the information and help them in their understanding.
A university is not a content delivery platform its an environment where the people are important, not only in terms of contact hours between students and staff but also in terms of the community of students who support each other in learning and do all the other things a community of students does.
Andrew Cormack (who some Cardiff people may remember) presented on the Bring Your Own Device concept. His quick summary:
- Its not new.
- Its not technically difficult.
- Its not scary.
People have been using their own devices for work for a long time, its just that now they bring the devices with them.
One idea that stuck with me from Andrew’s talk was the BT idea of training lunches. These were set up to teach people things that would be useful at home, for example “How to do e-banking securely”, which cover concepts that are also useful at work.
Not the person-to-person type, of which there was a useful amount, but of the computer-to-computer type.
There were networking related presentations around Eduroam, Janet,networking in student halls and the Superfast Cymru project.
The basic message is that a fast and reliable network is a fundamental requirement for any educational institution, business or home.
The scale of the Janet network is staggering; their backbone is simply too fast to be able to monitor all the traffic going across it (good news for the privacy fans out there), even so they monitor the data so as to resolve issues and predict where problems may arise. Doing a basic analysis of 1 in 50 packets that passes through the network results in 600GB of data per day. Every 30 minutes the network sends data to 4 million unique IP addresses. Almost 50% of the incidents that the security team deal with are the results of malware somewhere on the network.
Janet’s network is big and fast but has a limited number sites that are connected. The Superfast Cymru project, sponsored by the Welsh Assembly Government, is aiming to connect 95% of Welsh homes to high speed (24Mb/s or more) broadband. Our presenter was pleased to hear that various technical staff in the audience had already got connections and were very impressed by the speed and stability of the network.
Cardiff Metropolitan reported on their network in halls of residence. The staff running the project reported that they’d completed the work under time and under budget. That really shouldn’t be something to note but it did come as a surprise to their management and, I suspect, it would in most organisations where the norm is for projects to take longer and cost more than people expected.
HDD vs SDD
Finally, for any of you who want to know how to make a computer work faster, we had a presentation on running PCs with Solid State Disks (SSD) instead of Hard Disk Drives (HDD).
Cardiff Met had decided to see whether the £50 (or so) cost of putting an SSD into a computer would be worth the investment in terms of the improvement in speed it delivers. Their conclusion was a resounding yes; an SSD is the most cost effective performance upgrade you can make.
An end-of-life, 4 or 5 year old, Core 2 Duo PC with an SSD outperformed a brand new Quad Core i5 PC with an HDD on a number of tests which look at the kind of performance that matters – i.e. how fast does the machine do the basic things people need? Those basic things being:
- Go from off to on. I.e. From powered off through boot up to the point where someone can login.
- Go from logged off to logged on. I.e. from the point where someone types their login details to the point they can do something useful.
- Start up stuff. I.e. start up a browser, email client, word, Photoshop etc.
In all those tests putting the operating system onto and SSD instead of an HDD massively improves the performance, anywhere from 3 times to 10 times. The performance improvement can add a year or 2 (or even 3) to the useful life of a PC.
The main location this is being rolled out by Cardiff Met is into student PC rooms because the machines don’t need much storage and the SSD upgrade improves performance in exactly the areas that the students will perceive. They are also beginning to add SSDs to staff machines as staff begin to comment on how much faster the student machines seem to be…