Monday, 16 December 2013

Making The Most of the Space

The University Library at Heriot-Watt is very well used throughout the year and this semester the footfall and occupancy has increased.  Although there are study spaces on all four floors of the library, we have reached the situation where it is often at capacity.  It is a good position to be in i.e. students using the space and resources but it is not so good when students can't find space to work.
So we have a campaign to 'Make the Most of the Space'.
This involves two main strands - firstly, changing the floor zones and noise levels and secondly, monitoring the study spaces for unoccupied spaces with unattended items.  Neither of these are easy to manage but it is essential to do so otherwise we are not optimising the resource that we have.

So the second one first.  Monitoring the study spaces.  We have that very common issue in university libraries when students want to reserve a study space by leaving items on a particular desk then going off to a lecture or for a meal and then returning to the space.  In an ideal world this would be reasonable as it would be convenient to have a 'spot' where you could leave your papers and books and then come and go.  But it is not fair when there are a limited number of spaces and we have had quite a few students complaining that they can't find a space to study.
So we introduced a system whereby we check around the library and make a note of any spaces that have belongings but are unattended, then 20 minutes later, on the second tour round a yellow slip is placed on the table explaining that the study spaces are in high demand and that belongings must be removed in order to enable other students to use the space.  The yellow slip is timed and states that in an hour the belongings will be taken to the service desk for safe keeping.  

After at least an hour, the yellow slipped desks are revisited and a red slip placed on the desk.  It states the time that the table has not been in use i.e. from the first tour to the red slip time which will be at least 1 hour 20 minutes although probably more in practice.  Two members of staff remove the belongings into a marked crate. A slip is filled in detailing all the items that are removed. The crate is marked with the time the items were removed and taken to the Service desk and stored in a secure place.  When students come to collect their items, they sign a receipt for the items.
As you can see there is a lot of time and effort involved in the whole process.  We have been doing this for 2 weeks and we have this week to go.  The process happens 3 times a day - once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening.  We have quite a large team and so it is split between everyone so that people rarely have to do it more than once a week.  
The good thing is that it has been successful - we have addressed the concerns by some students that they can't find a space to study.  We have been in the situation where we have cleared a desk and a student has been hovering waiting to use it.  We have not had any complaints from students who have had their items removed - they have all been perfectly reasonable and accepting of the situation.  It has acted as a deterrent which is difficult but I think most people think it is fair and realise that if they are going to go for more than 1.5 hours then they can't reserve the space.  
It is time consuming, sit's not a particularly popular task and it is possible to see it as being a typical 'library checking up and telling off' thing but it is possible and important to be positive about it. When I have been doing the monitoring I have noticed that it is possible to ask students if they know who is sitting on the next place and if they've been away for long etc. It's not a perfect system and students do realise that we only monitor at certain intervals but that is ok -  we are not doing it to try to catch people out. In an ideal world it would be self policing but in reality it isn't, so we are helping to maintain and manage the space the best we can on behalf of the students.  

(We did liaise with the Student Union and also with Security before implementing the campaign. There is also an aspect of raising awareness of leaving unattended items and the security risk involved in doing so).  

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Managing a Team

Managing a team is challenging.
Managing a first line customer service facility/function/dept is demanding.
Managing change is difficult.
All of these are also rewarding and satisfying when they work well and are successful.
It takes time and effort.
Today it is six months since I started my job as Customer Services Manager - managing a team of 33 who deliver first line Information Services and Library support - through various changes and developments.
We have successful delivered these services but I'm aware that there is still lots more to do before we are the 'perfect' team.
I'm trying to be tactical and use the experience I've got to find solutions.
I'm spending lots of time talking to people - to discuss and understand their views and collaborate and listen.
I'm getting involved - leading by example by doing the things I'm asking others to do.
I'm standing back and looking at the change process to see where I am, others are and the team is.
I'm accepting that there are ups and downs but we will get there.

Found this poster which i might display on my office wall
[Team Manifesto]

Saturday, 30 November 2013

All about people

The last couple of weeks have been all about people - talking, liaising, negotiating, persuading, explaining and reassuring. This tends to happen, in my experience, when there are a variety of things happening - either starting to happen or are recently in place and not quite running smoothly. It takes time, which is time well spent, to ensure that the things happen and don't falter or fizzle out.
So some of the things that have happened that need persuading and cajoling along are:
Opening hours of the library - earlier opening at 8.30am and then 24hr opening.
MFDs and printing and the introduction of cover sheets to try and make the identification and pick up of print jobs easier.
Staff - the continued training of Information Assistants, the integration of telephony staff into the IT Helpdesk team and customer services team. Also recruitment - short listing for interviews of part time library assistants.
Some of the things that are imminent and require negotiation, explaining and reassuring to move forward:
Weeding and stock relegation - time and process
Monitoring of unattended and unoccupied study spaces - process and practicalities.
Zones and noise levels - negotiation, explanation and decisions.
It's essential to get to know people, to work out what they think is important and find the common ground and purpose.
All this against the background of change and managing change and moving things forward.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

100days, over 5months

I have completed more than 5 months in my (new) job at HWU and feel that I've survived it and enjoyed it in equal measures.
The 100days part is that I had an email from Organisational Development (a subset of HR?) last week asking if a member of staff could come and talk to me about my first 100 days at the university.
I agreed (with slight trepidation) and was pleasantly surprised. A very nice OD/HR person came along to my office to chat about what I thought would be useful to include in a Toolkit for Staff for the first 100 days of their employment at the University. They are asking a number of people within the university for input and then anonymising and collating the results.
There were quite a few questions and topics that we discussed but some of the suggestions that I made were:
A physical tour of the University campus and an introduction to a person in each academic school and professional department.
An explanation of the University structure (people /depts). If you've worked in a university before then you've got a rough idea of how it fits together and the difference between 'Schools' and 'Services' but if you haven't it would be confusing. How would you know what Registry is for example?
An opportunity to network / liaise with other staff members at the same level or grade as you but in different departments - academic and professional.
A checklist of the nitty gritty - you need to do this to get a contract and this to get paid and this to log on to the computer and this to access particular information either online or on campus.
One other aspect that I mentioned was that I'm quite pro-active and happy to seek people and places out. I had my own strategies for finding information and setting up meetings. But you do need to keep on asking and not worry about asking numerous times. There's a responsibility on both sides - the new person has to keep asking and the established person has to keep answering.
It will be interesting to see the final Toolkit when it is produced.

IT Helpdesk Customer Services Team

The IT Helpdesk is part of the Customer Services Team in Information Services. So far I have spent quite a bit of my time working on matters to do with the Library Service Desk and the Information Assistants, I now need to concentrate on the IT Helpdesk. The IT Helpdesk is physically located in two different buildings - the IT building and the Library building.  In the IT / Information Services building two staff work full time on the IT Helpdesk and they process telephone and email issues/tickets.  In the Library we have a  IT Helpdesk which deals with enquiries from students as personal visits / face2face.  This is staffed by one person plus the Information Assistants and is situated at one end of the Library service desk.
The challenges are how to manage the two parts of the IT Helpdesk as one service and also how to manage and integrate the IT Helpdesk with the Library Service Desk to make one Customer Service facility and one Customer Service Team.  To add another factor, the switchboard part of the university telephony service is also going to be incorporated into the Customer Services Team and one of the telephonists is going to work on the IT Helpdesk.
There are three areas that I'm working on - firstly to look at ways of working together as one team and and consider how the skills, knowledge and experience can be shared.  Secondly looking at the processes and procedures and how we can document them so we know what we are doing and have a consistent approach. Thirdly how we can record accurately the activity at the different points into one system.
This is against a backdrop of a variety of people with varying levels of experience and expertise.
Today we had a meeting to discuss how we are going to standardize some of our procedures and document them effectively.  Also how we are going to provide training for those within the team and new members of the team as they come on-board.
It's a start and we have had a few discussions to get to here.  I don't want to lose sight, myself, of the bigger picture - that this is a Customer Services Team that has a broad remit and the potential for exciting developments.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

24/7 Library Opening Hours

This week we have started 24/7 opening of the library. Usual opening hours during Semester are 9.00am - 9.45pm Monday to Friday and 10.00am - 8.15pm Saturday and Sunday. During October we increased the opening hours by opening at 8.30am Monday - Friday.
During night time hours, after 9.45pm, the library is staffed by security staff who maintain the learning space. They come on duty at 9.45pm and work until 9.00am.
We have provided training for the security staff which involved explaining about the different areas and the services and facilities that are available for students. Obviously they are trained security personnel and have the back up of the university security staff.
The advantage this year is that we have the self service kiosks which mean that students can borrow and return books at any time.
The library is very busy these days as we are nearly at the end of teaching which means revision time and exams in December.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Staffing - Information Assistants

In recent weeks we have appointed a number of new staff to the Customer Services Team in Information Services. Two of these roles are evening and weekend library assistants and four roles are Information Assistants. The Information Assistants work approximately 10 hours a week each in order to provide IT help and support in the library.
The duties include dealing with IT enquiries at the IS Lib Help-desk, on the library floors and occasionally by phone. The enquiries or issues have to be accurately logged and recorded.
In conjunction with the Helpdesk consultant who is the person who provides a range of IT support and expertise in the library, the Information Assistants provide help with basic
applications and software e.g.Microsoft Office
e.g. setting up wifi /eduroam
The Information Assistants are responsible for monitoring the printers/MFDs - filling them with paper, helping students to use them and troubleshooting faults.
One more traditional library task they do is shelving, tidying and weeding.
An important part of their role is to monitor the library space and its usage. It is important that they provide relevant support for students at the time and place that it is needed.
As with any new roles, there is a testing and reviewing component but so far it is working out alright. The Information Assistants all possess some customer service skills, some IT skills and some experience of working in a library or educational environment. The challenge during these first few weeks is to ensure that balance is correct and that the people have the training they need to carry out the role effectively.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Library - self service kiosks and staff cards

Our Library Self Service system and other new Information Services developments were 'opened' by the University Principal on the 13th September.  It was an opportunity to show off the new services that are available.  As well as the self issue / return book kiosks, there are staff service cards which are like ID cards but can be used for printing via the MFDs and accessing secure buildings. Also there has been changes to the library space to make more room for study spaces.

More information is available in a blog post on the Information Services blog

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Week 1 Semester 1

Week 1 Semester 1 - successfully completed. It has been a very busy week with lots of students and lots of things happening. I like the first week of term because it is new and exciting and it's what you work towards for weeks and months. I was particularly looking forward to it as I have not seen the library or help desk or any part of the University when it is full of students as I only started in my post in June.
The self service book issue and return system worked well - most of the issues we'd had during August have been resolved and its been fairly robust. We need to encourage students to use it and generally raise the profile of the facility, but all in all it's been very positive. The changes to the circulation from the library service desk have also gone smoothly although we now need to look at workflow and what changes need to be made to how processes are carried out.
The footfall, students accessing the library space, has been high but we don't have the exact figures yet from the smart gate software but it will be interesting to compare with previous years. I'm more interested in the 'queue' and looking at ways that we can queue manage and intervene and direct in order to improve the student experience.
The IT Helpdesk has been located in the library for the last two weeks as well as the Library IT Helpdesk and this has worked well. They have offered face to face, phone and email support. There has been high demand for IT help and this has been mainly run of the mill getting started and set up stuff rather than issues. Passwords, accessing emails and setting up wifi are the most common requests. It is interesting that although there are clear instructions on how to do these things on the website, students still want to come along and ask in person. There have been many students wanting to connect to the wifi via phones and tablets and it has been challenging when the phone language settings are not English - one of my greatest achievements this week has been setting up android phones in Spanish.
We have had two new evening and weekend library assistants starting this last week and I've provided some training for them. It's been useful to see all the evening staff as they start their shifts as I'd not had a chance to meet them during the summer vacation.
We interviewed for Information Assistants last Monday and had some suitable applicants that we've offered the roles to. They are going to be starting as soon as possible.
In other news, we spent time evaluating tenders for security firms for our 24/7 opening later in the year.
On Friday a member of library staff was retiring after 16 years and there was a lovely shared lunch and get together.
So far, so good - looking forward to week 2.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Freshers Week

Tomorrow is the first day of Freshers Week. The first day for new students is always exciting when you work in a school, college or university. It's the beginning of a busy year and it's good to get things started.
Tomorrow is the first day of our library self service facility including the self service kiosks - I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes. I think it's as ready as it can be, it's never possible to have everything perfect but we're good to go.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, 1 July 2013

Self service kiosk arrives

Today's exciting event at work was that one of the self service kiosks has arrived. The engineer from Bibliotheca came to do the site visit and look at the entrance exit gates and the book security antennae. Various questions arose about where and how they are powered and dataed.
Then the kiosk was unpacked and set up and we were shown how it worked. It looks great. It's not ready to use yet as we have to configure certain things and try out different features and functions. Also very importantly the book and journal stock has to be RFID tagged.
It's all very interesting and I'm looking forward to it being operational.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Busy weeks - at work and away

The last two weeks have been a mixture of being at work in my new job at Heriot Watt and being at work related events and conferences. I'm hoping to catch up with separate blogs about the events but a quick run down includes:
1. Service Desk Institute Conference at Edgbaston, Birmingham.
2. ALT-S SIG event at Glasgow Caledonian University.
3. ALT-CX Trustees Meeting at Aston Business School
4. Open Scotland Summit at the National Museum of Scotland

During the time that I've been at 'normal' work, I've continued to meet up with as many people as possible who are members of my team or members of the surrounding teams within the Information Services Directorate.
It takes time but it is time well spent. It is very useful to me and helps to build up a picture of how everything works - a bit like mapping the landscape. It shows where people are physically placed and also the interactions between them. It's interesting to hear how people see their role and hopefully shows that I am interested in them and what they do.
As far as my team, the Customer Services Team, are concerned, I've spoken to most of them to find out what they do. I still need people to show me some of the processes and systems but I've got an overview. I don't need to know all the nitty gritty yet and I'm making some assumptions based on what a typical library service desk would do.
The IT helpdesk is part of my remit from July so I've started to liaise and interact with them and get to know how it works.
The surrounding teams basically consist of User Services which are second line services and also include Subject Librarians. It's interesting talking to them and thinking how we are going to refer enquiries.
Resources are another part of the Directorate and this includes acquisitions, cataloging and library systems.
So the next (first) step to developing the team is to give us an identity as the 'Customer Services' team. Also to set up weekly team meetings which will provide a focal point for communication and discussion.
There are a lot of exciting changes happening not least a library self service system which is going to be installed this summer. They are coming to do the site visit on Monday and may bring a test kiosk for us to try out.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Finding my feet - first 7 days of new job

I started my new job as Customer Services Manager, Information Services at Heriot Watt University of 5th June. So far so good - I've enjoyed it and have made some progress or at least found out a bit about the place and the people. 
The first day was taken up to a great extent with an HEA STEM Social Media Workshop (more about that in a separate blog post) which was a useful way of meeting various people but not having to absorb lots of information straight away about everything new. 
My role involves managing the library service desk and the IT helpdesk and the staff involved in these areas - basically everything that is front line / first line - the customer / student interface. The library and IT services at Heriot Watt are converged into the Information Services directorate. I like this set up - I think it is really important that the library is connected to the technology and technical aspects and provision in order to get the support that is needed.  Also vice versa, the customer service of IT helpdesks and IT support can often be improved by collaborating with library service desk staff who are experienced at answering enquiries. 
My line manager has been great - very supportive and informative and I know how difficult it is when you're busy to find time for new staff starting. 
My strategy has been to talk to as many people as possible to find out what they do and what happens in the team / directorate. I started with the library service desk staff and just asked them to tell me anything about what they do and about what happens on a day to day basis or anything that they think would be of interest to me. I explained that I'm looking for an overview to start building up a picture of what it's all about. A lot of the staff have been at the University for a long time and are very experienced. I was pleased to hear that they are quite keen on change but would like to know more about what is planned and more communication - so this is a fairly typical situation. 
From the point of view of the helpdesk, I think this is the same opinion although I'm not unaware that lots of these changes are going to be easier said than done but I'm hopeful. I like finding out how places operate their service desks - it's a bit like a puzzle where all of the pieces are similar at different institutions but are different shapes and sizes in the individual jigsaws. 
The other things I've done are to attend some meetings - there was a meeting about the new self service system that's going to be implemented in the library over the summer - very exciting. 
I attended a session by one of the librarians from HW Borders Campus which was very informative and interesting for me because of the FE aspects. The campus is 'shared' with Borders College and HW supply the library service. 
I went along to an Information Skills Group Meeting which I think is a subset or greater set of the Subject Librarians Group. They were discussing the sessions that they are going to be running next semester for students and staff. They have a wide variety of sessions and these are popular and well attended. They also mentioned induction sessions / library essentials sessions. Although this won't be under my remit, it was good to sit in and listen to what they have planned. 
I've started to explore the campus - I wasn't sure how I would like a campus university as I've always studied at and worked at city centre universities but I quite like it. It's like a village or mini town with everything there. The grounds are beautiful and my office has a window that looks out onto the gardens - so far, very good. 

Saturday, 8 June 2013

My year in the life of Student Information Points

Last week the teaching year and exams finished at the University of Edinburgh and therefore the Student Information Points (SIPs) moved to holiday opening hours. This meant that the SIP at Kings Buildings closed for the summer and the one in the Main Library in George Square changed it's opening hours to 11.00 - 15.00 Monday to Friday.
The other thing that happened was that I left my role as Student Information Points Manager as I am taking up a new role at Heriot Watt University.

This year has been a very interesting and challenging year.
I've enjoyed working at the University of Edinburgh, it is a great university and it is vast - there is no way of understanding how big and diverse it is until you become part of it. Then you realise that it is all encompassing and also devolved. It is also very tolerant and very interesting. I wanted to work in a University and that was the reason for moving from an FE College and it has definitely fulfilled that criteria.
There are some beautiful historic buildings as well as some very quirky and odd buildings. The office for the SIPs is in Buccleuch Place, in an attic flat, with 92 steps to the top and although I'm sure it has done me good I'm not going to miss the climb.

I have gained valuable experience of working in a project - not only working in a project but starting from the very beginning and setting up a service from scratch at the very beginning of a project. It has been interesting and challenging to implement and develop an enquiry service while still planning and deciding which direction it should move in. It's been good to have that opportunity to have a flexible approach and have targets that are not set in stone apart from, of course, delivering an effective service. It's very different, or at least I found it very different, from being embedded in the organisational structure of the institution.
I enjoy and appreciate opportunities to work in a changing environment and manage change - the more situations that you are involved in then the easier it becomes to recognise that a particular tactic or strategy may work. Sometimes it is instinctive but as time goes on you react more efficiently to the situation - or at least I hope I do.

As ever managing staff is the best thing and also the most difficult thing. It was great starting with a team who were all brand new i.e the job roles of everyone were new, no one knew each other and there wasn't any baggage. All of the SIP team are personable, clever and enthusiastic which was great. It takes time to establish a working team and in hindsight I would have spent more time building although perhaps there is no quick way and it has to evolve. It takes time to establish working practices and ways of doing things and prior experience counts.
The job roles evolved differently than the initial job descriptions outlined and I think this is one of the key things about a new project - you have to adapt and change as you go along and fit to the demands of the service. The roles developed into more than an enquiry answering service and became a combination of  customer support, campaigns/resource creating and also research and miniprojects.
Being part of the project team, the Student Experience Project (of which the SIPs are one strand), has been brilliant - everyone has been funny, quirky, clever and mega efficient.

The successes of the Student Information Points have been:
1. Setting up and maintaining a face to face enquiry service for students, staff and visitors at a number of locations.
2. Providing other communication channels and ways of accessing information i.e. webpage, email, text
3. Logging and recording enquiries to inform the development of the service and to provide data about student information
4. Creating resources, paperbased and electronic, to provide information for students based on information collated from existing University information into more accessible and relevant formats. Also new information as and when needed.
5. Outreach activities which involved having a SIP presence at other parts of the University such as Edinburgh College of Art, the School of Education at Moray House, the Vet School at Easter Bush and the halls of residence at Pollock Halls.
6. Campaigns to raise awareness of the information / enquiry service and promoting an 'Ask us Anything' facility.
7. Liaising with staff across the university in central support services and support services in the schools and colleges
8. Involvement in feedback - surveys and focus groups
9. Planning for inductions, freshers week and other events and key dates in the academic year and student life cycle.

There is more, day to day things and strategic things that I've learnt about and experienced, but for now thats it, time to move on.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


Campaigns are one of the initiatives that we've used to raise awareness of the Student Information Points and to advertise to students that we provide information. It has taken a bit of trial and error as it is quite a difficult concept to convey - that is, that the product you have is information about products and services.
We did an Easter Egg campaign where we had a basket of plastic eggs and some contained USB memory sticks and some sweets or chocolate. It was a lucky dip and gave us the opportunity to engage with students and raise the profile of the service.
Then we did a campaign where students could vote for a guide or publication that we would produce - they had to vote using ping pong balls for one of three options.
The winning option was for 10 places for £10 to visit in Edinburgh. This was a very good way of using a visual prompt to engage students and was simple but effective.

The most successful campaign that we've run is the Exam Locations Guide campaign. This was thought up by two of the SIP assistants at the end of last year for the December exams and then developed further and expanded for the May exams.
Exam locations are difficult for students because in a University such as Edinburgh the locations are widespread across the university and indeed the city. They are often in places students don't usually visit as they use the big halls not the usual lecture theatres or teaching rooms. There are quite a few university maps but none highlighting exam halls. So we produced a guide with a colour coded map and included other useful information. We also got various exam related items such as pens, stress balls, relaxation CDs, sweets etc. The guides plus the items were very popular and students appreciated the useful information at a potentially stressful time.

Gearing up for Induction

This is a belated blog post about an event held in April. It was an event for staff at the University of Edinburgh and was held in South Hall, Pollock Halls. It was organised by the Induction Development Planning team who are part of the Student Experience Project. The event was attended by academic staff delivering induction sessions, School/College administrative and support staff organising and delivering events and support for new students, staff from central support services who organise Freshers Week events and support and Students / EUSA.
The event was very well attended and there was a good mix of staff from the different areas. The aim was to share good practice and gain an understanding of what is happening across the University as far as Induction is concerned. It was also an opportunity to learn about the Induction strand of the project which is an important aspect for all those involved in the project in order to raise the profile of the work and collaboration that is taking place.
The keynote speaker was Michelle Morgan who gave an insightful talk about successful University Inductions. It's very illuminating for staff at Edinburgh to see how it is done elsewhere and how important it is to have a co ordinated approach as well as preserving the more individualised approach. rest of the day was split into sessions looking at good induction practice and also the challenges that are involved in enhancing the induction experience.
There is a great deal of good practice across the University and there was a 'Show and Tell' session of current induction practices. These included supporting
Non traditional students in the School of Education who have a variety of access routes and require support throughout their course of study as there may not be others to talk to.
Online Distance Learners of which 99% are part time with other commitments. Induction for them needs to be as early as possible and needs to focus on the technologies that they need to get started.
The School of Law have a variety of Induction events and have a very focused approach with a director of student experience. The students receive a welcome pack, introductory lectures with tea and cake, careers advice from week one, LAW PALs peer support.
Vetinerary Science students receive support around transition as it is very difficult to explain what it is going to be like as an udergraduate. They receive pre arrival support and have a bootcamp of study skills.
The day was very interesting and useful. A short plenary was given by one of the Vice Principals who reinforced that for inductions to be successful students must be at the centre and must thrive. They must do the best they can, understand the system, expand their horizons and leave with skills they can describe.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Looking ahead to Freshers Week and Inductions

Over the last couple of weeks we have started to think about what the Student Information Point service will be offering and participating in during Freshers Week and Induction.  There are no definite plans yet but we are liaising with other parts of the University to make sure that we have a joined up approach or, more realistically, at least know what is happening and how we can ensure that this information reaches students.  The Student Information Points are a strand of the Student Experience Project - another strand is Inductions and there are three Induction Development Planners.  It is great that we are part of the project with them as they work in the same offices and it is easy to collaborate with them.  They have just produced and circulated the draft central induction plan which outlines events and activities which take place centrally i.e. mainly University wide as opposed to at a College or School level .  This means that we can feature the SIP service and any activities that we propose running in the plan and also know what else is going on.
I have been to meetings of the Information Services Freshers Week Working Group so that we can liaise over activities and services that will be offered in the libraries.  The SIP desk in the central area is located in the Main Library so it is important that we know what is going on.  Also so we know how to direct students to the online information that they need and link this to information that we will be promoting and signposting to.
One of the main places that students need to go to during Freshers Week is to Adam House where they can get their University ID card if it has not been sent to their Halls and also to see Finance.  This year we are going to have a presence at Adam House as it is where there is heavy footfall of new students who will be trying to find out about everything and will have enquiries.  There is quite a big space but we have decide how to make best use of it - is it better to have an enquiry desk / information point set up or better to have a more flexible mobile approach and circulate among the crowd?  

Adam House Ground Floor

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Regular meetings day

When I looked back over this blog recently I realised that I had been posting to it since 2009 which seems a long time ago now.  Also that some of the early posts in particular were quick posts about everyday happenings which are quite useful to have a record of to refer back to.  Recently I have posted more lengthy posts about more interesting aspects of managing a service or particular initiatives which others in a similar role might find useful.  However I miss the mundane posts so am going to pick up some of those too.
This week I had a day off on Monday which gave me a longer weekend as I had been to Cambridge.  Yesterday, Tuesday, I spent quite a lot of the day catching up on emails and catching up with the rest of the team.  Then we had the regular supervisors/managers meeting which is myself and the two supervisors and consists of a general chat of what has been happening with the Student Information Points, any meetings or events that have happened or are going to happen and anything that we need to have on the agenda for the team meeting.
The team meeting happens on a Wednesday morning and we open the Student Information Points slightly later to allow for this.  I think team/department meetings are very important and should happen on a regular basis for two main reasons.  Firstly to catch up with what is happening and plan operational stuff for the week ahead - if everyone's there it's easier to circulate the information and get a consensus and saves time.  Secondly, it's a forum and an opportunity for people to raise any issues they have - communication is important but also difficult unless you work at it and create opportunities for it to happen.
Also today I had my fortnightly catch up with my line manager - it's not usually Wednesday, it's usually Friday but gets moved around depending on diaries.  This is my opportunity to let him know what's happening, ask for his advice on some things and ask him to pass up to a higher level some issues that need decisions making.  It's also a chance for him to let me know what's happening at a more strategic level and for us to discuss where and how we want the Student Information Points to develop as part of the Student Experience Project.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Student Focus Groups

I have recently been involved in two sets of Student Focus Groups and have found them to be very interesting and informative.  The first group was one that is part of a number of groups that have been set up and facilitated by the communication strand of our project.  For background information, the Student Information Points that I manage are one strand of the Student Experience Project at the University of Edinburgh.  The other strands are Communication, Pre-arrival and Induction, Online and Innovation, Enhanced Selection, Emergency Response and also Surveys.
As the project has progressed and evolved there has been more collaborative working between the strands and this has been very positive.  It also means, on a practical level, that there is less chance of duplication of work and effort and more sharing of results.
A batch of focus groups was set up and facilitated for undergraduate students in December to ask them about communication at various stages of the student life cycle from application to pre-arrival to induction.  The questions and discussions were based on how the information was communicated to students at the different stages via different channels, methods and media.
The focus groups set that I helped to facilitate was with Postgraduate research students in the College of Science and Engineering.  There was a mixture of Home/RUK/International students and the questions were based around the ones that had been asked of the undergraduates.  The students were asked about the communication methods used by the University/College/School to inform them before they arrived and once they were at the university.  As these were PGR students there was obviously a difference between the amount of general information and methods as there was a greater involvement on a one-to-one basis with their supervisor.  It was interesting that some had been undergraduates too at Edinburgh so they had some prior experience of the institution.  The feedback was in general positive, they have high expectations and are very able so can filter and adapt information for their own purposes.  There is a need as a PGR student at any institution to be self motivated and this was evident from the feedback - you need to be persistent and spend time investigating the information you need.  This is good but obviously it means that any communication by the University/College/School has to be relevant otherwise it is filtered out.  (There is a complication with an institution as large as Edinburgh that you are going to get information from a number of places as you will get whole University information then College i.e. Science and Engineering information then information from your particular School (Faculty).
Two points that surprised me but are pretty obvious really and happen at lots of places are firstly that most students have their University emails automatically forwarded to a gmail account.  Secondly to find some information on the University website, sometimes it is quicker and easier to Google the phrase or key words you want and then follow the results link back to the website.  Simple.
The second group that I have been involved in (mainly as an observer) was one that was set up and facilitated by Registry with an external facilitator.  The format was that there were long sheets of brown paper stuck on the walls around the room in three sections.  1. Enquirer 2. Applicant 3. Student (this might have been a different title) - basically it was to get feedback at different phases of the student life cycle or journey.  In each section there was a series of post it notes at the top of a column with different subjects e.g. website, library, matriculation, scholarships, portal, induction, feedback etc. etc. The students were given green post it notes and pink post it notes and had to go round writing feedback about as many areas as they could (green = good, pink = not good) and stick them in the appropriate columns on the brown paper sheet.
There were about 20 students - a mixture of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, PGT, PGR - international and home.  They were all very engaged with the process and wrote lots of feedback on the post it notes.  They also discussed their opinions informally while moving around the room and also more formally during the round table discussion.
I've been impressed at how useful and informative the focus groups have been.  Student Information Points (SIPs) were added on at the end of both groups and the feedback is that students think they are a good idea, those that have used them have found them very helpful but they need to be more widely publicised.  We have done and are continuing to do a series of campaigns to raise awareness of the SIPs and the services they offer.  This year we will have the weeks leading up to Induction to promote the SIP service and already have started planning for Freshers Week activities and events.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Student Information Points - from start to some success

This is a very belated summary of the Student Information Points (SIPs) from when we began in August until the end of Semester 1 in December.  It has been an interesting, exciting and challenging 5 months - a valuable experience for myself and the rest of the SIP team.
We did a presentation event in November which went well and was a milestone for us as it enabled us to put down a marker at a certain point to say what we had achieved, or at least the progress we had made. The audience for this presentation was a cross section of staff from across the University including support / central services and also academic / schools. I presented a cut down but updated version of this presentation in the first week of this Semester and again it was good to 'mark' our progress.
On a practical level the Student Information Points have been operational on a daily basis since the 10th September which was the first day of Freshers week.  We've offered a face to face service and an online presence including the website and social media sites.  The SIPs have offered an electronic communication service including email and text.  
We have been based at the Main Library in George Square and also in two places at Kings Buildings. We are constantly reviewing our locations especially at Kings Buildings to work out where is the best place for us to offer an accessible and useful information service for students. We've also done some Outreach which is when we have set up a 'mobile SIP desk' in buildings at other campuses of the University.  These include the Edinburgh College of Art, Moray House - School of Education, Easter Bush - the School of Veterinary Studies.  

The SIP team have done an excellent job in collecting and collating information from across the University and as you are probably aware the University of Edinburgh is a vast and diverse place.  This has been one of the crucial factors contributing to the success of the service and means that we can answer any question.  We may not know the answer but the team know a great deal and know how to find it out if need be.
An important part of collecting the information has been liaising with staff across the University in central services and in schools.  This has been interesting and challenging and has included a lot of work by the team and myself at different levels to achieve this. We have liaised with individual staff and also through meetings, committees and groups.  I don't think there is a set formula for building up these relationships,  they are different in each area and some of the schools are very different to each other.  Also as we are part of a bigger project it is different to being part of a department ourselves so this has had advantages and disadvantages.
The logging and recording of enquiries has been valuable as it has given us the data we need to constantly review the service that we offer. It has also enabled us to give feedback about the sort of questions that students are asking and the sort of information that they need communicating to them.  Most of our enquiries have been from students although some have been from visitors, potential students and also from staff. We are looking at ways of collecting the data so that we have more information about the type of enquirer as well as the type of enquiry.   
We have lots of plans for Semester 2.  The Student Support Project, of which we are a strand, is growing so there are opportunities to collaborate with communications and with inductions.  We are developing our web presence and looking at ways we can communicate about our service and also be a communication channel for other services. We're looking at what else  we can offer in order to add 'substance' to the service and provide documentation that students need.  We held a competition for students to design a logo for our posters and materials so we are hoping to use these ideas to update our brand and raise our profile.
Lots to look forward to.