Thursday, 31 March 2011

Last offical entry

As this is my last day on the SMART project, so to speak. I wanted to recap on the all the changes that have occurred for me as the researcher and trainer. Presently I am actively involved in demonstrating the SMART resource and as a lecturer in mentorship within the Nursing; I have access to a wide audience of naive mentors (also known as associate mentors whilst in training). The responses that I get from including SMART as a topic within the programme has met with mixed responses. This only confirms one area representative of exactly what was discovered within the projects lifespan.

This was the different levels of technological understanding and how individuals view their relationship with it.

I recently had two chance meeting with early project participant that contributed at the start of the project and this confirmed my overall view that with further development SMART has a place in the future of mentorship development and in enhancing the mentorship role.

‘It was really good, interactive and did exactly what it said on the tin’

‘I was pleasantly surprised, did you really get all this from work-based mentors’

Has the project achieved what it set out to do the answer is ‘YES’. But as with any projects the future and continuation of the resource will be the real test. There are a variety of advantages in extending the use of ‘Mentor Mansion’. My return to my lecturer post, as attached new opportunities, ones within which I can continue to crusade for the development of resources in work-based programmes.

I have been asked to give a talk to post registration Nurses on how technology can enhance health. This is only possible because of my time within the project. Technology has demonstrated the real learning possibilities, having access to so many other JISC projects and time to focus on their contribution to learning has been incredible.

Michael Farquharson

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Update January

Over the past two months , training and engagement has gone really well. However similarities appear as with students, using technology;

· Limited engagement when contact is reduced

· Access issues when contact is reduced

· Associate mentors understand the mansion, but then reduce visits.

· Initial uptake of SMART very good, but continued use poor.

· SMART evaluation questionnaire accessed and reported.

Clear evidence that mansion concept is a positive success, most importantly as an aid to mentoring. Transferable knowledge to other programmes with a common professional code would demonstrate potential of Mentor Mansion.

Another issue is that of control over mentors or associate mentors. The institution cannot impose any ideologies or priorities on a group that, it is neither responsible for or has control over.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Project Update

It is no surprise that constant changes in politics and advances in technology have made education a constant challenge. The role out of ‘SMART’ is at the moment in the midst of political uncertainty. Those involved in workbased learning/programmes, know that these are difficult times. As the researcher for this project, I have both seen and experience some of the changes that have occurred as a result of the current political shifts.

For many of those in the workbased settings, there priorities are now maximising the current workforce. Currently services are exploring alternative ways of implementing change, services having to become more cost effective, efficient and economically viable. Students, who have recently joined programmes that are workbased orientated, will need to take more responsibility for their development within this climate. The project was always aware of student involvement and’ SMART’ wanted/needed to enhance many of the good practice elements of the educational programmes being provided.

To date the evaluation has been slow, but contact with mentors who helped with the development of the project and the support of those supporting students is ongoing. The team is actively encouraging participation, the reviews from those within education is positive. However our evaluation must come from those in the workbased setting. It is clear that for those, for whom the project was development; ‘SMART’ has a saving grace once it can get off the ground. SMART will belong to those working in a workbased setting and will become their community and thus reflect how they see support in the future.

In these difficult challenging times, people will need support, staff skills will still need to be developed and the concept of good practice provides a lifeline for those who may be isolated.

Watch this space!

Michael Farquharson

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

I hope this makes sense

Having participated in, attended workshops and viewed other projects, I seemed to have had an epiphany. This epiphany was that ‘developing systems that empower groups’ was really what we were all about. All projects were seeking to identify more efficient and effective ways to benefit areas, groups with agreed organisations. They all identified their stakeholders and were clear the benefits to service delivery and educational development (not a surprise, what was a surprise was this was happening).

My question, my epiphany was ‘How does SMaRT’ fit into this process?’ we are trying to empower those outside of a system, to place the possibility for change within the hands of the workbased mentors. Through our project links to our internal systems are possible, however what benefits and what changes come from an organisation trying to control an element that is uncontrollable.

Workbased Learners have a “mess mash” of contributors (quote from workshop), all with different agendas, all with different needs. The commonality is that some of them want to mentor students and do this well. Equally research has shown that there are common areas that are shared by all mentors irrespective of workbased activity.

SMaRT’ really wants to empower this group, to give them the responsibility and although clearly any development or change must come with a structure, why because knowledge must be generalised, it must represent those it seeks to represent. Identifying that ‘Control’ and ‘Independence’ are two areas of education that must be addressed and we know that there is always a need for ‘scaffolding’. This has meant that the team has to educate and revisit our own understanding of our role on several occasions. We have ensured that those within our immediate community have been actively involved with the development of ‘SMaRT’

We continue to have new ideas, but there is one thing for sure from small acorns, big oak trees grow and this is the birth of something that could one day, be universal fitted to represent many unrepresented groups and professions.

Mr Jones

What a presentation!,
Maybe we can add the poster so our viewers get the total effect.
I was proud to be a part of SMaRT.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Roll out

The first roll out of the Mentor mansion took place this week (12.10.10). It went very very well with positive feedback and excellent mentor interaction. Demonstrating the system and then allowing the mentors to interact themselves was useful, because firstly I could see how interaction worked and secondly I could view the mentors interaction.

The pilot take up for involvement in the project is slow and for many it maybe because of the newness of semester. However, working with those who are mentoring students has always been a challenge, priorities differ considerably.

A review of the Mansion has been taking part by using contacts (with those who provided data for its construction; interviews; questionnaires). Soon the wide level unveiling of the first floor of the mansion will occur.

Evaluation/Review is of the upmost importance, in terms of our development of this system.

SMART needs confirmation that the end product is purposeful and useful.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Project Launch

The project is moving at a rapid speed now and contact with potential mentors (system users) is being made. Many of the emerging themes that have influenced the development of the project, have also provided insight into how’ the workbased’ sections of education see their role. Literature provides a variety of insight, but the current social, economical and political context of our communities have seen a change in people personal generosity.

As the researcher and an educator who is actively involved with mentorship. I am aware of the change in climate and how established mentors see their roles within the context of personal development and job profile. This insight as well as ‘collected data’ has continued to inform the project and it movement. We are aware of the limitations of any programmes and the need to respond to actual change and differing needs of differing mentors.

Mentor Mansion has tried to encompass, the lively levels of activity within our ‘community’.

The mixed mediums within the SMART project, reflects the changing needs of those working within a workbased environment. In order for the project to demonstrate benefit realisations and transferability, the scaffolding used to create this learning environment has utilised technological knowledge created and tested in technological educational programmes.

The next stage of the role out will include evaluation of some of the mentors that contributed to the development of the Mansion. Those who agreed to be interviewed, they will review the resource, as a tool. Although the content of the mansion is piloted for a specific area, a lot of rich data would be lost, if mentors outside of pilot were not able to review the developed resource.

Whats going on SMART

During the summer a vast amount of work was carried out by the web designers, team members and the researcher. Regular meetings to ensure that the model being developed, reflected our understanding of the resource required and also incorporated the content of the mentors who helped the team focus. The use case models were adapted and debated, so that the structure of the system reflected our now greater understanding of the user’s needs.

Unfortunately many changes have occurred over the life span of the project. Both internally and externally, mentors have moved on and organisational changes have seen possible gaps in service. Organisations have changed their methods of educational delivery and some mentors have relinquished their mentor role within their organisations.

However there are some positives and they have been, the continued support of direct team members. The team is fully aware of the user’s needs and the direction of the resource and its place in knowledge transfer. We continue to exhaust our understanding and challenge the resource itself.

JISC provides a variety of tools to check resources, inclusive learning and their development. Items such as infrastructure; authentication, how do users access our resource and the links to other areas that maybe involved; communication, type of language and fonts; minimising risks; maximising opportunities. There are other review mechanisms both internal and external that we have considered and these are on going features in the development of the project.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Development Update

1 – Researching the required software

At the beginning of the project we researched into flash driven engines. Papervision and Away 3D provide developers with a library of predefined functions to build a 3D environments. Although both of the software libraries provide extensive functions they did not include much helpful recourses and when the graphics were rendered they were not smooth.

It then came to our attention that what we were going to build was more in line with games structure. With this in mind we researched into using a gaming engine. Unity 3D is a tool used to create 3D video games and other interactive content such as a virtual experience. Using Unity 3D meant that we could provide the user with an interactive virtual experience.

2 – Building the room

Unity 3D provides many gaming objects you can add into a specific scene. We added objects such as planes, cubes and spheres to create the mentor mansion structure. To create a realistic environment we also added spot lighting and textures.

3 – Graphic User Interface

Nearly every scene in the project requires the user to click a button. Although users can interactively click within the virtual environment they are also given the options to use a graphic user interface. The global menu consistently sits at the bottom of the screen throughout the user experience. The menu uses associated icons in each scene allowing the user to easily navigate through each room.

4 – Remembering Progress

The system requires the user to move from first to the third room. The user may want to leave mentor mansion after they enter the second room. We needed to create a script that would atomically move the user back to room they left from when they next logged in.

5 – Login/ Password Authentication

Due to the fact that Unity is never executed on the server, always the clients machine. We created a webform that checks the users login and returns the stage of the game they are in. We didn’t connect unity to the database as this would require a wildcard account to the DB, which is a serious security threat. Users are required to enter a users name and password to access the house. Using a database we made a script that stores certain information about the user.

6 – Image of the Mentor Mansion

Saturday, 25 September 2010


With the development and analysing of the workbased mentors data, the SMART project began the development of what is now known as ‘Mentor Mansion’. Project Work has been intensive meetings and discussions have been useful for both learning and developing understanding of systems and technological procedures.

This was a very exciting time for the project and with the appointment of web developers, the project began to come to life. Use Cases were developed using information from data collected and then the team met regularly and changed the use case to reflect our understanding of those using the system. The researcher has kept in contact with some of those who provided information, so that any changes could continue to reflect the projects objectives of supporting workbased mentors.

As the system continued to be developed, it was important to add the essential elements of video from subject experts and the SMART team members. However production time and holidays have seen many difficulties in taking this essential area of the project forward. In fact a series of cancellations has meant that the project is sailing very close to the wind.

In order for the project to both realise and utilise the identified user group, it is now essential the video content is concluded ASAP.

The web designers are now only waiting for the inserts (videos) for conclusion of their area. Semester starts this week and new students and potential mentors and obviously SMART project users will be available. The system (Mentor Mansion) seeks to enrol mentors at the beginning of semester, so that evaluation can be used in time for completion of report etc by the final JISC phase III date.

It is most disconcerting to think that, although video elements of the project were identified very early on and in house approaches were made to secure both time and expertise that the project is in a position now that leaves only limited time.

Michael Farquharson

Use Cases

The 'use case models' formed the main part of the development of the project. Attached are some of the core structures used and adapted over the past 12 weeks and which include some of outcomes from workbased support agents and web designers.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Workbased Learning (WBL)

Workbased learning

The diversity of the WBL programmes and the demographics of ‘the student’ is an important element of any change to programme delivery and indeed mechanisms that support it. Having explored a variety of programmes and having applied the QAA standards for foundation degrees and WBL programmes, a series of questions become apparent;

How can a student change their educational direction?

How can a small company or a one man company develop the necessary skills to take both service and personal development forward?

How can SMART recognise these challenges within the development of its software?

How can education ensure financial viability and meet the needs of its local community?

Buckinghamshire New University work-based learning and short courses strategy provides insight for this, a complete copy of the document is available for viewing.

“WBL programmes are delivered across faculties in various subjects and by all departments. Some courses involve deep liaison with industry and other partners and involve mentoring and placements of individual students. These programmes are mainly within the undergraduate area and require close engagement with students to ensure that meaningful liaison, mentoring and useful employment benefits are achieved. A second type of programme, currently more focused in the area of foundation degrees (FD) and postgraduate degrees (PG) uses a model whereby the student is given work-related assessed tasks which rely upon them engaging with their own employers, organisations, using their experiences, and learning to complete the work. Such programmes rarely involve direct liaison and contact between Bucks academic staff and employers. Both types of programme are valid and have proven to work well in combining employers’, employees’ (students) and Bucks’ efforts in achieving academic success”.

Clearly we can see that any systems must recognise the developing needs that have been identified and confirmed by mentors throughout the research period. Individual mentors have provided a wealth of insight into the supporting evidences that underpins ‘SMART’.

Further investigation within the university uncovered areas of development in WBL and educational development of mentors. A project carried out for south central developed two main objectives;

The need for a generic educational audit tool that could be used to explore the requirements of each Foundation Degree programme (in the Health and Social care sector) within the Faculty.

The development and validation of an educational programme for identified mentors undertaking Foundation Degrees in the Health and Social Care sectors.

Open for Business

Open for Business has been actively involved with ‘foundation degree forward’ fdf

I was lucky enough to meet a representative from fdf. Discussions were energetic and responsive and provide confirmation of initial pathway for consideration. What indeed was this WBL and employer engagement stuff?

Utilising Open for Business’s knowhow ‘SMART’ can be one step ahead in it's developments of technology and identify the changing demographics of WBL and the employer’s changing needs (Longhurst 2009).

Many of potential employers engaged in WBL, were not always committed to the FD programmes. The develop of foundation degree programmes, always included consultation with employers, however the employer could changed, so the employers who were engaged in the initial consultation were not the same for future students. They had not been involved in the development of the programme, so were not considering the same issues. This was important for SMART, if employers changed then the focus of the mentor could change also. This meant the benchmarks were moveable. Meetings and discussions with outside providers of foundation degrees both helped and added focus to the mentorship process.

Open for Business was seeking to ensure suitability of programmes and in so doing, were creating new types of mentors. SMART understood the changing role of the mentor and the development of the technology would represent the findings from this research.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Additional details series 1

Additional details of project and links to other areas within the organisation; As researcher for SMART, it was essential to provide scope for the project and at the same time identify any areas that could provide insight into the project. Equally the project could benefit from acknowledging all the work been undertaken within the institution. As an organisation it was imperative that any new developments reflect the needs of our own developing services. Any information that provides insight into present work ethics of Workbased Learning (WBL) programmes should be transferable throughout both the project and educational pathways.

JISC offers the opportunity to develop technological innovations that enhance both student and practice improvements. Therefore a meeting with ‘Open for Business’ representative helped highlight some areas for consideration and examined the various WBL options that could/should influence the creation of a support mechanism for mentors.
Programme delivery varied throughout the institution and some WBL programmes attracted a different kind of student. Equally there are various considerations within the WBL debate and so a definition was essential to formulate an appropriate position. The Higher Education Academy’s definition (2006, 71) may be an appropriate starting point: ‘Work-based learning can be defined as learning which accredits or extends the workplace skills and abilities of employees.’
Literature Review and the definition of Mentor/Mentorship. This provided a long and voluminous insight into perceptions of role, in fact establishing the notion of mentor and mentorship was arduous. Cultterback (1992) provides a variety of learning opportunities and help in understanding the mentor and the mentorship role. The need for the educational development of a mentor and the importance of this role, on the successful completion of any educational programme, that seeks to empower the student and thus encourage a skilled practitioner.
Caldwell and Carter (1993) argue that while commonalities are evident in accounts of mentoring, Mentoring is a dynamic practice and therefore no one process or model can be used to advocated as appropriate for all situations or contexts. Indeed ` it is clear that there are pitfalls in attempting to adopt or adapt practice from one setting to another’ (Caldwell & Carter, 1993, p. 205).

Wang and Odell (2002) argue that mentor preparation has been a weak link in many mentoring programmes and an ill-conceptualized field of research.

Roberts’ (2000) review of mentoring research across disciplines found that successful mentoring has the following essential attributes: a supportive relationship; a helping process; a teaching–learning process; a reflective process; a career development process; a formalized process; and a role constructed for or by a mentor. Mentoring in the teaching profession has been implemented in different ways in induction programmes across different countries. Indeed other professions have similar concepts and identify criteria that are essential in the promotion of student development and achievement of competencies that make individuals fit for purpose.

I like this notion of fit for purpose, it provides structure, what is it that we want the person to be at the end? How can we educationally help the mentor whilst encouraging and enabling the student (used here to denote the development of the protégée). I know why I say this and it is essential that other members of the project understand this too.

What happens if you are working in a superstore and then decide that you want to change career options? Do you need an employer to make it possible to achieve what may have always been your dream, but that circumstance has not made possible.

SMART so far

What the SMART project research has done is to recognise the good practice of other areas within literature, the university and other JISC profiles. In the development of a mentorship portal, many attributes have been identified. The project leader identified that the system itself should act as a training and educational resource (an excellent ideology), that both endorses and reflects the findings from workbased mentors. By also exploring core elements and taking into consideration the technological philosophies of other JISC projects, SMART can seek to begin to address the phenomena under investigation. To this end a series of additional information details will be adding to this blog, to demonstrate the path undertaken so far.

Michael Farquharson

Thursday, 8 April 2010

SMART update

Over the past week the project has taken on a new speed and we are fast approaching the finishing line.

I think Project involvement is an important issue for the university; I had a lengthy chat with Phillip Wood (Head of Work Based Learning and Short Course Development). This discussion was most enlightening and provided further institutional understanding for workbased learning and the future SMART project developments.

Still the issue of employer engagement creates a diversion and now the question is

Who is this employer?

What does he/she look like?

Do they exist for all work based learning students?

Responsibility for the student’s work based improvement or acknowledgement of employment skills and their development, to whom does this belong?

Project research, teaching and new information continues to provide extensive knowledge in terms of project direction. It would appear that SMART has a vital role to play in the future execution of Foundation Degrees and for some the future of education as we know it.


Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Reflection 31.03.10

Hi everyone this is a reflective account of research so far;

Through my interviews it has become apparent that the phenomena 'mentorship' is very ' very' diverse . The mentors who have agreed to see me so far, all have the qualities that would enhance learning for any student they mentored. In fact it has been a privilege to meet these people, their descriptions of service delivery and student learning is fantastic.

What is fundamental is that they are all graduates of Masters level and above (so far).
It seems that educational ability has a real connection with mentorship, or at the very least the mentor demonstrates a commitment to individual development.

The mentors seem to use their own educational understanding to both engage and assist the student. They have provided clear direction for the project and also have illustrated that it may enable both themselves and the students.

However it is becoming apparent that not all groups (FD) are actively involved with mentorship and if they are, this is not an experience they want to share.

Following contact with one mentor, she said
"I only did it once, for one of my staff, I won't be able to help. I won't be doing it again"
It transpires that this lady works in a team of 8 and only one person has done a Foundation Degree. It is also difficult to ascertain and maybe I am speaking out of turn, why some areas of study (FD) find it more useful to have structured mentor whilst others, do not recognise the need, or their own ability to enhance learning.

I have a variety of views on this , but it's early days and I have few more people to meet.


Wednesday, 17 March 2010


Hi BucksSmart is here a chance for the project team to provide support for the project via blogging and to enable a tracking system that enhances the progress of SMART.Blogging will be useful to monitor individual thoughts, ideas and contributions to the progress. It will also provide a more diverse view of the process and help identify any areas of concern. This is the project teams opportunity to play a more active role in the development of 'SMART' and thus empower the future of mentorship support throughout the University.