Archive for April, 2013

Blackberry and the future

April 30, 2013

This piece about what BlackBerry’s CEO might or might not have said is interesting, both from a disruptive innovation viewpoint (my take is that BlackBerry is still searching around for a new product, and a business model, that will be as distinctive as its traditional offerings, and that despite heavy advertising its most recent products are likely to be perceived as ‘just another touch-screen phone) and for the discussion below the line, which ranges from reflections on the authenticity of the quote, to thoughts about the future of the sector (including a comparison with Digital Equipment in the 1970s, who didn’t think that personal computers would continue to be important)


Dell and the future

April 30, 2013

For some time I’ve been wondering what the future might hold for Dell computers, given that their business has always been based around a world where the personal computer is a key repository for the sort of documents and data that are now increasingly being held in the cloud.  This was brought into focus earlier this year by Dell’s transition from being a public to a private company.  This piece from the Economist is an interesting reflection on Dell’s future, not least for the anecdote with which it opens.

Centralised or not?

April 29, 2013

Many of my students will have worked through the example of Ocado as a case study in e-business.  There are lots of issues around it, but one of the key issues is to contrast Ocado, which has a fundamental business model based initially around a single fulfillment centre in Hatfield, not far north of London, with the business model adopted by Tesco for internet shopping, which was fundamentally highly decentralised and used local shops as distribution centres.  The aim is not to present one approach as intrinsically superior to the other, although it’s surprising how often some students do defend a preference for one or another as though it’s a religious belief.  Rather, it’s to show that this sort of decision does affect the type of strategy that an Internet supermarket should pursue.  And also that each of these supermarkets chose their strategy in response to a particular set of conditions.

Of course students often point out that the Ocado model isn’t quite as centralised as it looks.  For a start there is now a second major distribution centre in the midlands.  But also the centralised system depends on a hub and spoke approach.  One of the smaller depots that acts as a spoke is in Byfleet in Surrey.  Those with knowledge of the area will recognise this as the sort of affluent, reasonably well-populated territory that Ocado sets out to serve, and those with inclinations towards systems thinking may recognise this as where Stafford Beer lived.

Ocado is also interesting because of the (at times rather fraught) relationship with Waitrose.  But it’s significant that perhaps the partnership with Ocado paved the way for Waitrose own-brand goods to be sold through a variety of outlets.  This move to sell Waitrose products on Eurostar services between London and the continent provides another outlet for their brand, along with the rather entertaining idea that a French or Belgian visitor to Britain could dine on a Waitrose Croque Monsieur on the way.

Where I stayed in Nottingham

April 29, 2013

The ABS conference entailed spending just one night in Nottingham, at the City’s Hilton Hotel, which is a grand red-brick Edwardian building.  Conrad Hilton would have barely left school when it was built, and the business that he started didn’t expand outside the USA until after the second world war, so it clearly wasn’t built as a Hilton…

In fact a clue to its history is from the Victoria shopping centre immediately to the north.  This occupies the site of the former Nottingham Victoria rail station, on the former Great Central Railway opened around 1900 and closed during the 1960s.  Transport historians seem divided on whether the Great Central was a well-engineered but undervalued railway which benefited from knowledge accumulated by the other steam-age lines, or whether it was just an expensive vanity project which duplicated capacity that was already provided elsewhere.  But the Hilton, as it now is, was originally the station hotel: this old postcard image from wikipedia has it clearly visible beyond the station itself

More blogging from the ABS conference

April 29, 2013

This isn’t live blogging any more, because I’ve been back since last Wednesday afternoon, but still worth catching up on.

There were two very engaging talks in the flexible learning stream starting first thing on the Wednesday morning:well done not just to the presenters but to the attendees who made the effort to come along and to engage in some really useful discussion.  One was by Chris Jones from Aston, who had been working with lecture capture (or Aston Replay to use their catchy name for their system) and in fact touched on two things that interest me right now: the benefits of lecture capture and the challenges associated with revision in economics for first year students.  Chris was interested in measuring whether there was any discernible advantage in terms of students who viewed lecture capture attaining higher marks.  He had lots of quantitative findings, but the one that sticks in my mind is that students who viewed (or listened to) lecture capture recordings did better than others on essay assignments, but not necessarily on multiple choice questions.  Which is interesting because of the questions that it raises: it’s possible, after all, that there’s no causal relationship at all, but that students whose learning approaches and preferred strategies are such that they are inclined to use lecture capture recordings are also the ones who tend to be better at writing essays.

Immediately afterwards there was a talk by Will Green from Leicester about blogging.  This was in the context of business and management students undertaking placements in industry, and particularly linked to the idea of generating critical thinking skills.  Students do gain a huge amount from spending time in the workplace during tehir courses, but it was great to see a discussion and some thought of how this could be enhanced with some useful reflective writing about their experiences.

The conference setting in Nottingham

April 24, 2013

ImageImageAs I mentioned in the first post about the ABS learning and teaching conference, the venue is a conference centre built around two separate original buildings of different ages.  The contemporary architects have done an excellent job of giving the spaces a light, airy feel.  To reinforce the centre’s 21st century environmentally friendly credentials, the recently constructed addition has a green roof.

The 1950s component (the Newton building) is intriguing.  It’s grade II listed, and the listing text refers to modernism, but it owes more to the monumental public buildings put up in the 1930s.  No surprise, then, to find that T Cecil Howitt, the local architect responsible, had been responsible for many municipal buildings in the period leading up to world war 2


Great quote from the ABS teaching and learning conference

April 24, 2013

This from David Hitchcock of the University of Westminster in a panel discussion ‘flexibility for one person is unstructuredness for another’ – particularly relevant for my role in the conference because I was chairing a stream on flexible learning

Liveblogging from the Association of Business Schools learning and teaching conference

April 24, 2013

After a little time away from blogging (too many other things happening) the annual learning and teaching conference run by the Association of Business Schools is a good opportunity to get back into it.  This year we’re in Nottingham, in a rather attractive conference centre created by Nottingham Trent University from a combination of grand Victorian and even grander 1950s buildings.

Rebecca Taylor, who is dean of business and law at the Open University, is today’s keynote speaker and has interestng ideas about personal learning, and about the connection between informal and informal learning.  Particularly striking is her take on openlearn as a forum for informal learning, given that this attracts huge numbers of learners (unlike most university resources there are materials on the web which attract up to a billion page views) and the view that this is a way of increasing the ‘reach’ of the open university and making ever greater numbers of people aware of its work.

She’s just been asked about MOOCs (I told you that this was liveblogging) and suggested that MOOCs would offer participants an additional type of informal learning experience, but one which could be part of a journey towards more formal learning.  Given the amount of thought that’s being given to the business model underlying MOOCs. and the Open University’s involvement in FutureLearn, this is food for thought