Friday, 28 November 2014

Students needed for focus groups

What has been your experience of using University systems for the processes like pre- registration, fee payment or module choice? Are you satisfied about the way the assessment and examination feedback is delivered? We would like to know your opinions about the usability of student systems and your ideas about their improvements. By 'student systems' we mean not only electronic systems but also online and paper-based ones. We are therefore running Student Focus Groups where you will have the opportunity to tell us what is working, what is frustrating in relation to using student systems, as well as to raise any issues or make recommendations. Sign up for your relevant group using the links below - there will be snacks and drinks available at the focus group sessions.
Project Contact: Anna Piotrowska, Student Systems Project Assistant Intern.
The session for International Postgraduates will take place on Friday 28th November in the Information Commons, Room 1.26, 11-12pm. Register to take part.
The focus group for International Undergraduates will take place in the Information Commons on Friday 28th November in the Information Commons, Room 1.26, 12-1pm. Register to take part.
The UK/EU Undergraduate Year 1 focus group will be run on Wednesday 3rd December 2014 in the Arts Tower, LT07, 2-3pm. Register to take part.
The session for UK/EU Undergraduate Continuing (2nd/3rd/4th year) Students will take place on Wednesday 3rd December 2014 in the Arts Tower, LT07, 3-4pm. Register to take part.
The Focus Group for UK/EU Postgraduate Taught Year 1 Students will be held on Thursday 4th December 2014 in Jessop West SR07, 11-12pm. Register to take part.
Link to the website:

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Reciprocal wireless access with STH

We have been working with colleagues in Sheffield Teaching Hospitals (STH) to deploy a reciprocal access arrangement with our wireless networks.

In short, they will advertise eduroam on their access points and we'll advertise STH-Green (their network) on ours.

Users with appropriate credentials should then be able to access wireless from each others locations in a seamless fashion.

Support for services is retained by users' host organisations, so University users should contact the CICS Helpdesk with eduroam issues wherever they may be, and vice-versa with STH staff.

Eduroam has been live on the STH network for a few weeks; we'll be making STH-Green live on Monday (01/12).

We are in the process of starting the install of University access points in the remaining areas of the FMDH that haven't yet got those and hopefully that will be completed in the new year.

In the meantime some University users on the periphery of the STH wireless network may experience intermittent access to eduroam. This should hopefully be resolved as and when our access points are installed.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Meet our new firewall: it's anything but traditional

By Mike Greenwood
Data Network Manager

On Tuesday 18th November, we'll be switching over to a new Next Generation Firewall (NGFW) for the University. The firewall controls the network communications between the University and the Internet. It helps to keep the University safe by  preventing unauthorised Internet users from gaining access to our IT systems. Moving to a Next Generation firewall will give us new and enhanced capabilities compared to what you might call a traditional firewall.

Traditional firewalls primarily base their forwarding and blocking decisions on protocol and port number characteristics. For example, TCP port 80 for web browsing and UDP port 53 for DNS. With the explosion of web applications and services, traditional firewalls see the vast majority of network traffic simply as web browsing. They are unable to differentiate any further. This lack of visibility into network traffic can be exploited by attackers, who tunnel malware communications over well-known, commonly permitted protocols.

At this point, a Next Generation Firewall comes into its own.  An NGFW performs Deep Packet Inspection, and makes decisions based on criteria such as URLs and web page content. It can spot the differences between large file downloads, video streaming and interactions with mission critical resources such as finance systems.

The new firewall will also give us greatly increased protection against attacks. Much like anti-virus, the NGFW receives updates for signatures of attack traffic. The updates are maintained  24/7 allowing quick response to threats. By knowing what normal web traffic looks like, and what malicious web traffic looks like it can keep us protected.

For the Go-Live date of 18/11/2014, we've worked closely with their suppliers to make the system as similar in operation to our current traditional firewall as possible. Over 2000 separate access rules have been migrated into the new system. The aim is to minimise the impact on the University at the point of switch over.  This does mean that some desirable “out of the box” security features are actually turned off for initial use. Once the new NGFW is up and running, we will then begin to enable the new security features over the following days and weeks.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

24/7 Telephone Helpdesk

On Thursday 13th November CiCS will be introducing the 24/7 telephone Helpdesk. The way we work has changed dramatically since the Helpdesk was set up in 1997 and there is a growing expectation from both students and staff for 24/7 services and support.

We have signed up to the out of hours IT help desk support service (NorMAN) hosted at Northumbria. From the 13th November, CiCS will staff the Helpdesk between 8am in the morning until 5pm at night: from 5pm NorMAN will take over. NorMAN will also cover weekends and public holidays, which has not been possible before. We have provided them with access to supportworks so that they can log calls in supportworks in the same way as we do. We have also given them access to our knowledgebase articles, especially the most common queries. NorMAN will have access to our incident contacts lists and will take over the function that the Control Room is responsible for at the moment so that it will be NorMAN who will contact senior CiCS staff when there is a problem with IT services.

Any calls not resolved by NorMAN will be taken back by the CiCS Helpdesk at 8am to be chased up. We will be providing feedback to NorMAN on a daily basis and in return they will provide us with a daily report containing every query received.

CiCS is committed to providing excellent customer service and help and support at all hours of the day. The introduction of NorMAN will recognise that students no longer work regular hours and it is important to provide help and support that works with them to provide services that suit them and their schedules. From tomorrow, students and staff will have the help they need 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and every day of the year. 

CiCS is committed to providing excellent customer service and help and support at all hours of the day. The introduction of this service will recognise that students no longer work regular hours and it is important to provide a service that works with them to provide services when they need them.

Monday, 10 November 2014

New retractable seating for the Drama Studio

The Drama Studio has continued with its refurbishment programme with new motorised retractable seating installed in September. 

The previous seating had worn incredibly well over the years as it had been in use since the middle of the 1980s, although the seats still have life in them as they have been donated to a company called Slung Low. Slung Low is a company that makes adventures for audiences outside of conventional theatre spaces. It is based in Leeds and its Artistic Director is Alan Lane, a Sheffield Alumnus. 

The new seating is in darker red velvet, slightly wider and a lot more comfortable. The retractable seating creates a multipurpose space with tiered seating so audiences can see the stage more clearly, comfort is improved and as the seats are completely retractable the stalls capacity can be maximised whatever the event. The company who installed the new seating are Hussey Seatway. Eighty matching chairs have also been purchased for the Auditorium. 

Refurbishments will continue over the next few months with new carpets being fitted and redecoration of the foyer and auditorium.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Creating better learning spaces

by RenĂ© Meijer

 The Information Commons has long been a recognised success for the University. The reason for this I believe is twofold: firstly, it truly integrates services and departments into a single transparent facility; secondly a user centric design approach was (and is) taken to every aspect of the facility.

When the design for learning facilities in the Diamond started about 2 years ago, it was obvious that we wanted to take that same approach again. 

Work on the design of ‘The IC in the Diamond’ is progressing well, and we now have some trial furniture in the Flexispace on level 4 in the IC for staff and students to try to provide feedback. 

The process of designing the Diamond has also provided an opportunity to rethink learning spaces a bit more widely. Rather than replicate the success of the IC in a single new building, we should perhaps be looking to disseminate it across the campus. All our learning and teaching spaces are complex environments that bring together services and facilities from many departments. Improving the design and integration of those spaces is likely to be a good way to enhance all of them. 

So this is where we are now. I have taken a step back from the management of the Information Commons, and have temporarily taken up the role of ‘Learning Architect’. The idea behind this secondment is to bring together the departments that create and support our spaces, and work with students and academics to make sure the spaces are designed in the best way to suit their requirements. While some of the ideas on how to best do this are still very much in development, a few things are already on their way: 
  • One of the interns from the IC intern scheme is working on engaging with students on their learning spaces. So far we’ve had almost 1000 respondents to our survey and more then 100 people signed up for the workshops that will run early November. 
  • We’re working on an integral overview of all learning spaces (libraries, IT labs, departmental facilities). This will be published so that students can easily find a suitable space. The overview will also help us prioritise future developments of learning spaces. 
  • We’ve started a Strategic review of teaching spaces. Sessions with academic staff have started, helping us to better understand how they teach, and how our current spaces work for them. 
  • In semester 2 we will be opening a Teaching Lab, probably in the Hicks building. This will be a space where we (support staff and academics) can experiment with technology, furniture and other elements of the classroom. This will be an opportunity to make better informed choice when we design these spaces, and also a way to deliver training and share practice. 

Most importantly though, this is really about communication, so if you have a suggestion, a concern, or anything else you might want to contribute or discuss, please do get in touch! Email:

Monday, 3 November 2014

Drive without limits: Unlimited Google storage for all

Google Drive for Education is now on for everyone with a University of Sheffield Google account. Announced late Septemeber, Drive for Education gives each of us unlimited (yes, UNLIMITED) Google storage. So, you no longer have to worry about hitting that 30GB limit when sharing non-Google files like photos and word documents. In fact you can now store files of up to 1TB. 

As before the space is split between your Google Drive, GMail and Google+ Photos. Here's how it's counted:

Google Drive
All non-Google file types use your storage. Anything that you create with Docs, Sheets or Slides won’t use up any of your storage.

Attachments sent and received in Gmail, as well as your email messages use your storage.

Google+ Photos
Photos bigger than 2048x2048 pixels use your storage. Everything smaller than that is free.

To check how much storage you are using (not that you need to): go into Drive and in the bottom left corner, hover over GBs used information e.g. 7GB used. 

Here is Google's announcement: Going back to our roots: Google Apps in higher education