Tag Archives: Education

Happy 18th

Lighted Candles on CupcakesOctober 2018 marks my 18 year anniversary working in Higher Education IT (so yes, about the same time since this year’s Freshers were born). It’s been a long ride and things have changed dramatically from technology, personal, and industry perspectives in that time. In this post I’ll be discussing a few of those differences, so gather round and imagine me sat in a rocking chair holding a pipe and talking about the olden times.

October 2000 was a time of change in technology- the perils of the millennium bug were nearly 10 months behind us, Napster had gone legal, the last major release on LaserDisk hit the shelves, Sony released the Playstation 2, and Amazon was best known for selling books online.

I arrived fresh faced to the University department and one of the first tasks in my new role was to order some parts for my new computer. There was little budget for IT and we scraped things together from what was around. If memory serves I ordered a motherboard, memory and AMD K6 processor and coupled this up with an existing beige case, power supply, 14″ CRT monitor, and old hard disk from the recycling pile.

These days we order laptops and desktops from (insert major manufacturer here) and my office desk has a 15″ 8th-Gen-i7 hooked up to a pair of 29″ widescreen displays. As well as the advances in technology this is one of the most apparent signs of the professionalisation (and some might say commercialisation) of IT within Higher Education. There’s less scrabbling to recycle outdated components and squeeze assets for decades and a lot more focus on allowing IT to spend it’s time fixing and improving things.

Behind the scenes the server infrastructure consisted of tower cases on a desk in the corner of my office- a sneaky way for a junior employee to get an office to themselves- there was a small UPS on the floor under the table, and the entire lot ran off a single wall outlet. Windows NT 4 was the platform of choice here, about a year later upgrading to Windows 2000 and Active Directory. Fast forward and we saw the proliferation of rackmount servers and disk arrays in purpose built datacentres. Then there was the arrival of virtualisation, VMware Server and then ESX providing the opportunity to run multiple servers on one piece of tin. These days we’re putting some of these servers “out in the cloud” on the other end of an internet connection, something we wouldn’t have considered 18 years ago.

The network joining all these things together has changed as well. Gone are the days of 10Base2, crimping BNC connectors on cables we’d threaded through the suspended ceilings, and troubleshooting T-pieces and terminators.

View this post on Instagram

CentreCOM 3012SL Hub

A post shared by Chris Bradshaw (@startmenu) on

Today Gigabit ethernet to the desktop is norm, the datacentres run on fibre and 10G copper, and you can sit outside by the campus lake and get a Wifi connection.

As with the network, storage capacity has increased dramatically. On my first day in the office I had a 15 MB quota on my network home drive. In addition to storing all my personal files and settings this also had to hold my POP mailbox which I accessed by Eudora. Jump to 2018 and I’m working at a University where staff get a 1TB OneDrive account and a separate 100GB for their email.

Personally, whilst staying in the HE sector I’ve developed from a “Generic IT Support bod #7” to a more senior role, whilst keeping myself technical. I still retain some of that generalist approach, but my day-to-day work has become much more focused- particularly around virtualisation, servers, and automation.

In conclusion, as with everywhere else technology has definitely moved on dramatically in the past 18 years. Network, Storage, and Compute have all grown incredibly and this has allowed us to do things we wouldn’t have considered back in 2000. As well as that though, I believe the UK Higher Education industry has also changed and it’s IT departments have worked hard to adapt to that. We now take on many more of the processes and technologies you’d expect from our colleagues in more commercial backgrounds in a bid to provide a modern, up-to-date IT environment for the teaching and research activities of Universities in the current era.

As I finish writing this post, someone has just brought in a laptop from 1992 which they’ve just decided is no longer required. Please ignore the text above about how things have changed.

IMG_20181016_124227623

Learning with Minecraft

There’s been a lot of coverage in the press about teaching with Minecraft- Microsoft even releasing an Educational version. So when the kids were set a homework project about “Super Structures” this got me thinking- let’s give Minecraft a go to supplement the project work set by the teacher. The project brief was to produce an informational poster or model on a structure of their choice, in our case The Eiffel Tower and Big Ben (or at least the tower which contains the bell by that name to be pedantic). Suitable amounts of craft paper, lolly sticks, straws, matchsticks and PVA were obtained and they set about construction, but once that was done and the glue was drying they turned to the Xbox One.

image

I’d prepared for this and we sat down and spent some time building Minecraft impressions of our Super Structures. This led to discussions about the materials to use (or at least the colour and texture), how big to make the model, and the shapes of the buildings. For example we before building tall towers we noted that in this case they both have a square base, the Eiffel Tower is made of iron and looks dark grey/black, we need to make the base wide enough in each that we have space to slope in to a point at the top but not so wide that we spend all day piling blocks up to make them tall enough, and so on.

It also led to discussions about the differences between Minecraft and real life. Gravity and other forces aren’t as much of a factor in the Minecraft world, and Augustus Pugin and Charles Barry didn’t have to design their structures to withstand marauding Creepers.

A new superflat world had been set up in advance, using Creative Mode (so players have access to unlimited resources without spending hours digging underground) and with the difficulty set to Peaceful (so that players are not distracted by Zombies crossing Westminster Bridge). To give us a bit of setting a short length of both the Thames and the Seine were included along with some trees from Champ des Mars, although with more time I might have practised some better topiary.

Minecraft Screenshot

Big Ben, The Eiffel Tower, and some trees.

Once finished, flying around the landscape allowed some screenshots of their creations to be taken which could then be printed, cropped, and glued (real old-skool Cut-and-Paste) onto the posters.

I’m not a qualified teacher, and have no idea if this will directly get them “better marks” on their homework, but it definitely sparked some conversation about the design of the structures, their location and history, and the materials used, which is really the point of the exercise. For an hour or so we managed to play in Minecraft whilst getting a bit of extra education relevant to their schoolwork- remember Kids, Learning is Fun!

CloudCred- Gamification of VMware Learning

Recently I’ve been spending some time looking at CloudCredibility, a VMware website which provides some direction for learning about their ecosystem and technology.

Whilst studying for a specific certification it’s easy (easier?) to keep on track and pick off objectives, general technology learning is harder to keep in focus. This is where CloudCred comes in. It provides tasks which earn you badges and points, and points mean prizes- not just a PNG badge, but (if you stick at it) real world physical things as well like clothing, gadgets, and event tickets.

The tasks vary from “read this blog” to “complete this Hands-On Lab” right through to “get this qualification”, and generally the ones’ that will take more time will accrue you more points. There are categories, so if you want to learn about NSX for example you can work through the list relating to that particular product.

Personally, I’ve found this semi-directed learning to be quite useful. It’s a bit more structured that reading random blogs or watching the #vBrownBag or VMworld videos with the most hits, and the offer of a freebie always encourages me to not pick up the game controller and do just one more task instead. The chance to do team events (either with people you know or with the random team you are assigned to as a newbie) encourages this as well. Continue reading