Taking action.

Actionable provides tips to academics on how to use technology for teaching and research

So from a teaching perspective, last year was an interesting year – I won another Student Led Teaching award and I am currently short-listed for ‘Most Innovative Teacher in Higher Education’ by the THE …which is nice. 

However it has been pointed out to me that I’m not great at sharing practice so I’ve set up actionable simply to share tips on using technology to save time and enhance teaching (and I’ve been asked to do some tips for research so will do). A new tip will appear every week and every single tip can be put into action immediately. The first four weeks are already up and available. Actionable isn’t intended for navel-gazing or long diatribes about practice – its presented on a take or all leave it basis. It’s also partly to do with my frustrating with a lot of #Edtech conversations at the moment which are so high-level as to worthless to someone wanting to try out something new. There is a place for that, it’s just not at Actionable. 

Enjoy.

Charles

Academic Toolkit: ThinkPad x260

Why I recommend the Thinkpad x260 for academic work.

If, in an alternative dimension, I did product reviews, I’d think they’d look like this. 

There are a lot of general consumer review sites so I will not replicate what they do.  Instead I am going to review my new Lenovo Thinkpad X260 in terms of how it fits an academic life-style and working habits. The ThinkPad range is Lenovo’s business aimed line and not to be confused with their cheaper laptops.

Black is the new black - if you want sleek good looks then you are looking in the wrong place.
Black is the new black – if you want sleek good looks then you are looking in the wrong place.

As a management academic, I tend to live in MS office, Nvivo and also light use of Android Studio and Lightroom. I have a desktop machine at home and this is my portable solution. If you do want to consider this as a sole device, you can get a dock for it so that at home it instantly connects to a monitor, external keyboard etc. 

For academic purposes, I think the key reason you should consider this laptop (and why I picked it over a macbook) are:

* Excellent battery life – I get about 15 hours on medium brightness with the six cell battery. Yes you read that right, 15 hours. This is because the ThinkPad has a swappable external battery and an internal battery. I don’t charge it for two or three days at a time. If I am going away for a weekend break, I don’t bother with the charger at all. For conferences, this means that when out and about, I’m not searching for power or having to carry the extra weight. During term, I can go from class to class with no worries about power. In two years or so if needed, I can simply replace the external battery. 

The battery life is fantastic.
The battery life is fantastic.

* Good keyboard – the keyboard on this device is excellent with a good range of travel. Yes the Macbook is thinner but the trade-off is in the feel of the keyboard. I can type for hours on this beast. I should also point out that due to the design of the x260 if you spill anything on the keyboard, it drains straight through. The keyboard also lights up if you like that sort of thing. 

The keyboard has a lovely feel to it - I can write for hours on it with no problems. 
The keyboard has a lovely feel to it – I can write for hours on it with no problems. 

* Ports – yes,yes I know you can get an adaptor for the Macbook but this thing has three USBs (one you can use to charge other devices – handy at the airport), Ethernet, SD, HDMI, Display port and has a VGA adaptor in the box. VGA is an old standard but you just know that when you rock up to give a talk, the one connection will be a VGA one. My university is slowing moving more and more rooms to HDMI but I think it will be a while until VGA completely dies out in the sector. 

* Fingerprint reader – I initially didn’t think this would be much of a benefit but academics are ‘corridor warriors’ going from meeting to meeting. This is really useful because I open the lid, slide my finger over the reader and away we go. It’s a little thing but on a daily basis is a neat little touch.

* Connectivity – You might not want or need this but I can put a data simcard in this device and use it with no other devices or without wifi. If you are using this on wifi, you can turn it into a hotspot for other devices to connect to.

* Upgradability – I don’t actually plan to do this for the moment but it’s fairly easy for the user to upgrade the RAM, hard-drive etc – something that a lot of thinner laptops have made harder if not impossible…

* Toughness – I throw my laptops around, the Lenovo is designed to meet Milspec – for academic purposes this thing will take a beating (and a glass of wine on the keyboard – see below). People who buy Thinkpads tend to stick to them for that reason.

 

So when considering a new laptop, I’d certainly recommend looking at the Thinkpad – with academic discounts and a few voucher codes I got it for £770 with a three year onsite (they come to me) warranty. I went for a midrange spec but many people could get away with the base spec. Now you might be reacting to the price but find that the reason that people have such terrible experiences with Windows Laptops is that they spend £250 on a consumer grade laptop and wonder why the experience isn’t as good as a £1000 macbook…  

The specification of my device for people who care is:

– Intel Core i5-6200U Processor (3MB Cache, up to 2.80GHz)
– Windows 10 Home 64
– 12.5 FHD IPS (1920 x 1080) Non-Touch
– 8GB DDR4-2133 SODIMM
– Intel HD Graphics 520
– Software TPM & Hardware dTPM
– Keyboard Backlit – English UK
– UltraNav (TrackPoint and ClickPad) with Fingerprint Reader
– Software TPM Enabled
– 720p HD Camera
– 192 GB Solid State Drive, SATA3
– 3 Cell Li-Ion Battery 23.2WH Front
– 6 Cell Li-Ion Battery 72WH Cylindrical Rear
– 45W AC Adapter – UK(3pin)
– Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC(2×2) 8260, Bluetooth Version 4.1
– Integrated Mobile Broadband
– Mini DP/VGA Adapter
– Think 3 Year On-site

 

 

Free research questions about the academy

Given my research schedule is now full-up until 2018 (maybe 2019) – here are some free research questions that I’d love to know the answer to but have no time:

  • Why do sociologists always seem more stressed than management academics? Is it oversupply,  the need to churn out a monograph we don’t suffer from? Something cultural about the field?
  • If on social media, women academics, POC, LGBTQ etc need to put PhD after their name because of various ‘isms’, Does it make any perceptional difference if a white male academic does it or do people just assume you have a PhD anyway? 
  • If I gave student feedback on assessment as a two minute recording, how much more likely are they to engage with it than written feedback?
  • What if we got students to draw their module feedback? 
  • What would happen to the career choices of a full time Academic/Adjunct/Associate Tutor if they were given five hours of pensions guidance? 

Mostly bollocks (Current Research)

How writing ‘mostly bollocks’ on a table lead me to a new research project. 

By and large I don’t believe in passion,not in the workplace at least. At the individual level its problematic but at the organisational level its a disaster for collective action by workers and a key way in which our rights are destroyed and pay and conditions are eroding. 

However I’m not completely immune and although I try to keep work and my passions entirely separate, recently there has been some overlap. I love watches, I just love them – be it an iconic Omega Seamaster Pro, a more little known but amazing Casio Oceanus S100 or a G-Shock MTG.  I am obsessed with watches. I like reading about them, I like handling them and I like trading them with other watch collectors.  

One of my favourites - the Casio Oceanus s100 - solar, atomic time-keeping - my day to day work watch
One of my favourites – the Casio Oceanus s100 – solar, atomic time-keeping – my day to day work watch

A little while ago a student came to be and said that they wanted to do their thesis on counterfeit goods. I said OK and we had a look at some papers together. As we were talking I saw this table:

Summary of Anti-counterfeiting measures from Cesareo and Stottinger (2015)* 
Summary of Anti-counterfeiting measures from Cesareo and Stottinger (2015)* 

We talked about it and the student left. Then A little while later I realised that while we had been talking I’d scribed “mostly bollocks” on the table. Why had I scribed this and in what context has I meant this? 

I then realised that it was related to watches. If you get into watches and you build up a collection at some stage you run up against counterfeits and therefore you have to develop a working knowledge of them and where they come from. So why did I think it was bollocks? 

What if I told you that Seiko watches run into the many thousands of pounds - Here's a Grand Seiko SGBH001
What if I told you that Seiko watches run into the many thousands of pounds – Here’s a Grand Seiko SGBH001

Because like a lot of responses to a problem, the underlying message is one of education – if we inform people about X, they will stop doing Y. Except I already suspected from my hobby this wasn’t actually true and the opposite was occurring. So how do to turn that into a piece of your actual peer reviewed literature? 

So I went away and spend a few months collecting data on the buyers of counterfeit watches, the sellers and also in some ways most interestingly the producers. I ended up with about 10,000 data points which I analysed via Nvivo and this seems to confirm my thinking and also add some other surprisingly things around supply chain and customer service I’d never considered. For example, would you be surprised to know that many watch counterfeiters offer QC pictures to buyers? 

Here comes the dull bit

So my upcoming work in this area critiques current thinking about Counterfeiting Avoidance Measures (CAMS) via the case of the conspicuous counterfeiting of luxury Swiss watches. It uses this case to produce an analysis of consumers not as passive purchasers or subject to deceptive practices, but co-producers of knowledge who are involved in complex interactions with each other and actively engage with counterfeiters. This in turn leads to improvements in the quality of counterfeit goods and simultaneously increase the expertise of others in their community of interest  about how to obtain ‘high quality’ counterfeit goods. It further argues that this interaction and dialogue assists economic intermediaries (‘Trusted Dealers’) in ensuring that their customers receive watches of the standard that they expect and reduce the need to provide after-sales service. Each stage in this process provides its own challenge to CAMS.

It also challenges this underpinning idea that education of consumers or their exposure to expert views in a reference group (information susceptibility) will make them less likely to buy counterfeit goods but rather may helps them to be more selective in obtaining counterfeit goods of higher quality.

* I should point out that the table represents Cesareo and Stottinger’s summary of the extant literature not their actual position which in many ways in similar to mine – especially around what they call Hybrid consumers. 

 

On working with industry – show me the money

So you want industry to give you a bag of cash… common mistakes

So you find yourself as an academic having the opportunity to do some research work with industry and even better they are willing to fund all or some of your work. So you take that bag of cash and run and… 

Nope.

If you are going to be working with industry you need to be exceptionally carefully about what you need to do and why you are doing it. If the project goes well everyone will appear to claim ownership, if the project goes badly then everyone will disappear and you will find yourself in a big puddle of shit without the right shoes for it. 

The following is not an exclusive list but should act as a guide to getting started – also be mindful that academic cultures vary so much that what makes sense in HUM/SS makes no sense to the hard sciences so seek specific discipline specific advice.

Project sponsor

  • You have clearly defined and agreed the scope of the project – If the Project is about X, then you put in sentences to make clear it is about X and specifically excludes Y
  • You have clearly defined the work packages and associated costs – for example if you are doing field research you have clearly defined how many sites you will visited and how much time you will spend on each visit (you also need to budget for travel costs, transcripts)
  • You have clearly indicated to the sponsors the risks involved and quantified the risks and the ways in which you will mitigate these risks
  • You have written into the contract a right to publish (often after they have looked over something) – I’ve lost track of the academics who sign contracts without reading them properly
  • You are clear about who own which bits of IPR
  • You have checked what the liabilities and penalties are – if they think your agreed deliverable is crap – is the University expected to pay for someone else to complete the work?
  • You are aware of the penalties are if you exceed the deadlines – this isn’t like working with other academics who will shrug if you blow your deadlines, if you agree a deadline either hit it or start communicating early that you will miss it
  • You have agreed how many revisions a client can expect – if you don’t put this in, clients can and will try for endless revisions to a product or service and that leads to function creep where they try and get more and more for no more money
  • you have indicated the indicative length of any reports  – don’t say you will “write a report” because that could mean anything

Internally

  • You have checked with the University that they classify this as either contract research OR ‘pure’ research – if you have no idea what I’m talking about, STOP and go and talk to your research office. 
  • Before you agree a price with the client, you have a clear understanding of what your on-costs are (effectively the base charge that occurs everyday regards of what you do). I have see academics agree contracts without doing this and then realise that they are at least £10,000 out on the budget
  • You have run the costs past an internal figure (research office) to check them
  • You have run the contract (often the client’s standard contract) past your legal team
  • You have worked out how must it is costing to buy you out of other duties (teaching) and that is built into the bid
  • You have it agreed in writing that this money will be used for the purposes indicated. Academics find that they bring in money that buys them out of 10 hours of teaching a week and yet mysteriously their teaching load is the same as before.
  • If you are doing contract research, what is your margin (the difference between the cost of doing the research and what you are charging the client)?
  • What is happening to your margin? The centre will want a cut but if you don’t get to retain any of it for your own (legitimate) purposes what is the point? 

Two final tips: 

1) don’t be tempted to under cost the research to get the contract – you will end up working every evening and weekend to complete the project because you have blown past the contract hours and still don’t have a deliverable that the client will accept. you will also then crash all your other research projects because most journals will not threaten to sue you if you don’t submit revisions on time.

2) at the start, it is common for the client to say ‘The Budget is £50,000’ and then just before you sign the contracts either they (or often) someone else will ring you and play hardball and try and get you to reduce the price claiming the price is over the top for the work – its just part of the game. I once spent four hours on the phone and in the end they got £500 off the work. So it’s worthwhile having both the quoted price and an actual price which is the minimum you would do the work for. 

I’m sure there are hundreds of things that I have missed but this will get you started…