[This piece originally appeared in EDUCAUSE Review in June 2015]
Thursday, May 14: London
|Figure 1. Bloomberg terminal at London City Airport|
Today I was in London for a meeting of our horizon-scan group. Later in 2015 and into 2016 we plan to publish a series of reports covering tech trends and new technologies, looking at what Jisc could do to help accelerate (or ameliorate) their impact. Today's was one of a series of meetings to discuss topics to cover and compare notes on progress. Our first horizon-scan report will explore how we can achieve the potential of cloud computing in research and education. We've already had some useful input from Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, and conducted a sector-wide survey to help establish where our sector is with cloud. The early draft looks promising, and we'll soon have a version ready to share with a few critical friends for feedback.
After our meeting finished I flew up to Edinburgh - my first trip from London City Airport. The airport's target demographic was instantly clear from the ubiquitous Bloomberg terminals and giant screens showing stock tickers (figure 1), and I felt a little out of place.
On arrival I took my first trip on the Edinburgh trams (figure 2), which opened for business around a year ago. I generally travel within the UK by train, but London to Edinburgh is a journey of around four and a half hours, against an hour and a quarter by plane. I stayed in a budget hotel just off Princes Street, incongruously right above the Edinburgh Apple Store. It had some quite impressive decor and views for an inexpensive hotel (figure 3).
|Figure 2. Aboard the Edinburgh tram|
|Figure 3. Home away from home|
Friday, May 15: Edinburgh
I co-chair something called the Project Directors Group (PDG), which brings together the heads of scientific computing from the UK's national e-infrastructure projects and services. This includes representatives from the Francis Crick Institute, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), GridPP (the UK's Tier 1 and 2 sites for the Large Hadron Collider), STFC DiRAC (high-performance computing for particle physics and cosmology), and other major initiatives. We are trying to establish core common technical standards and procedures so that researchers can more readily collaborate across disciplines, share facilities, and avoid reinventing the wheel wherever possible. This should make it easier for new initiatives, such as the recently announced Alan Turing Institute, to get off the ground.
The PDG is busy right now with a number of activities, including work to explore public and hybrid cloud for research, and our annual inventory of high-performance computing and big data facilities and expertise - the National e-Infrastructure (NeI) Survey. The 2014 NeI Survey report informed the Research Councils UK (RCUK) national e-Infrastructure Roadmap. I'm delighted to be presenting the results of the 2015 NeI Survey at a joint UK/US HPC workshop later this summer, organized by the UK's High Performance Computing Special Internet Group (HPC-SIG) and the US Coalition for Academic Scientific Computing (CASC).
Our workshop today at the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC) specifically targeted the potential transferability of a piece of software that EPCC had developed to manage accounting, reporting, and usage monitoring for the UK's national supercomputer facilities. In an ideal world this would be a "middleware" service that facilities and projects could simply pick up and reuse. Despite many unanswered questions, we saw promising signs from successful reuse of the EPCC software with STFC's Hartree Centre and DiRAC service.
After the workshop I flew back to my home in Loughborough, Leicestershire for the weekend. It provides a convenient base to work from, practically in the dead center of England and close to major road and rail links. It's also just a short drive from Nottingham East Midlands Airport, which has a good range of national and international flights.
Monday May 18: Working from Home
Today I worked from home, catching up and preparing for an internal presentation on potential applications of wearable technologies the following day. I find it invaluable to work from home a day or two a week, as this gives me the time and space to work through ideas undisturbed. It's also great to spend time with my kids, particularly walking, scooting, and cycling with them to and from school.
|Figure 4. My daughter's vision of the (Minecraft-based) school of the future|
We need to recognise that we now inhabit a world where you can go off and learn all about a subject from open online educational resources (OERs), including material from world-leading institutions like MIT, Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge. Missing until recently, though, was the ability to be assessed on this self-paced, self-directed learning. With developments such as the UK's FutureLearn partnering with Pearson to assess tests, I think we will start to see that potential alternative education model.
Tuesday, May 19: London
Today I travelled into London to attend our quarterly Digital Futures (R&D) team meeting. We tend to alternate these meetings between Bristol and London, as most of our staff report to one of these two offices. London works very well for me - it's a short bike ride to the train station, then I can generally catch a fast train and do the 113 mile journey in around 75 minutes. In US terms this is comparable to travelling from San Francisco to Monterey. The journey time will drop as the line is electrified over the next couple of years; sadly, there is no Hyperloop on the cards for the UK as yet.
It's increasingly common to have Wi-Fi in trains, buses, and even the Edinburgh trams, and soon it will be free on most public transport. I remember bringing my laptop on the train years ago and feeling like a total nerd; it's fascinating to see how completely this has reversed - anyone not staring at a screen now stands out. We also generally have power outlets on intercity trains, although never enough for all the gadgets. Figures 5 and 6 show lifelogging of my travel.
|Figure 5. Lifelogging the cycle ride to Loughborough train station|
|Figure 6. Lifelogging the train journey to London|
|Figure 7. Google wearable tech|
Wednesday, May 20: London
|Figure 8. London St Pancras Station|
|Figure 9. Cafe in Covent Garden market|
Next I met with a venture capitalist and an edtech accelerator based in London. We have been talking to a number of VCs, accelerators, and incubators about how best to take new ideas forward and turn them into products and services. This multifaceted problem includes standards (core Application Programming Interfaces, micro services, and data formats), procedural aspects (e.g. procurement), and also finding ways for institutions to trial new services and solutions that Jisc could potentially underwrite.
Thursday, May 21: London
|Figure 10. The Innovate UK "Class of 2015"|
All of the successful projects were on hand at a celebratory gathering today to present short explanations of their work (figure 10), with a number of product demos available for visitors to experience (figures 11 and 12). As one might expect with an edtech event, there was a lively conversation both online and offline, of which I captured the highlights using Storify. I also took the opportunity to use Periscope for the first time to stream the product pitches to my followers online - it was interesting to see from Twitter Analytics that my tweets from the event were viewed nearly 9,000 times, which is a lot for a comparatively niche subject area.
|Figure 11. Maker Club and Seeper Innovate UK exhibits|
|Figure 12. Anarkik3D Innovate UK exhibit|
Every year Jisc holds a Summer of Student Innovation competition, which offers further education, higher education (FE and HE), and work-based-learning students the chance to create solutions that could change the education landscape forever. Students submit their ideas for improving the student experience and changing the education landscape. EDUCAUSE Review readers may have come across some of our "graduates" who have achieved international success, such as Call for Participants.
Friday, May 22: Working from Home
|Figure 13. Mars holiday poster courtesy of SpaceX (public domain)|
For me this joining up between public and private is absolutely crucial to our work at Jisc. It is vital that researchers and educators maintain good links to the industries that would employ our students, or build products based on our ideas and inventions. I hope this diary has given you a glimpse of how we are working with these diverse communities to accelerate innovation, and I would be delighted to discuss this further with EDUCAUSE Review readers. Let's go back to Elon Musk for one last observation: It's particularly telling for me that Musk has chosen to freely share a vast bank of patentable ideas and inventions across his activities in the space, energy, and transport sectors. In years to come I think we may come to regard this legitimization of sharing as his greatest legacy. It's time to see what we can do when we all come together around grand challenges like the race for Mars.