Students Staff
University of Essex

December 12, 2017

Digital Deep Dive: the first plunge

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex ONeill @ 1:30 pm

Anti-clockwise from top: Simon Kemp, Niki Kearns, Emma Wisher, Ai Gooch, Marty, Jacobs, Alex O’Neill

This term a group of Professional Services staff from IT Services, the Library and the Technology-Enhanced Learning team embarked on a project with the School of Law to explore how digital tools and skills could make a difference to student engagement. Instead of taking a “solution first” approach and suggesting particular programs or practices that the School could implement, we chose to adopt a “Human-Centred Design” methodology (see video below), immersing ourselves in the day-to-day experiences of staff and students.

What is Human-centered Design? from on Vimeo. You can learn more about human-centred design and join’s online learning community at

The decision to take this approach arose from work done last year via the Digital Skills Delivery Stakeholder Group (or DSDSG) to try to map digital skills support across the University. What emerged from this was a realisation of how disparate provision is, and in some cases how little awareness there is of the full offer to students, with particular challenges around how to capture what individual schools and departments provide. We wanted to try to pull together a more coherent picture of what could be offered, but also of what was needed by staff and students. A partnership between some of the key support providers, working closely with one department in particular, would offer us the chance to get in-depth knowledge and to formulate a joined-up response.

The School of Law had already been in touch with the TEL team due to challenges arising from the growth in student numbers and upcoming changes to the process of becoming a solicitor. They agreed to work with us more generally on our “digital deep dive”, and after some initial discussions with a group from the School, we formulated our initial design challenge together: “How might we increase student engagement with teaching material and assessment feedback?”.

Inspiration, ideation and implementation

There are 3 phases of the HCD process: inspiration, ideation and implementation. In the inspiration phase, the idea is to immerse yourself in the world of the people you’re designing for to get a real sense of their needs. We therefore carried out a series of interviews with academic staff and students to discover their experience of teaching materials and assessment feedback. We also carried out observations of a lecture and a tutorial.

Moving into the ideation phase, the project team then shared insights from the interviews and observations to develop our sense of specific needs and to begin to identify opportunities where digital approaches might help. The next step is to check back in with the group from Law and to put forward ideas for prototyping. Prototyping possible solutions will help us gauge whether our ideas actually work for Law, before attempting to implement something on a wider scale.

The overall plan is to use our findings across the University to make improvements to the digital advice we provide. Our HCD work this term has been a bit of an experiment and we’ve discovered both good and bad things about the approach: it requires a lot more time than originally anticipated, but has also been incredibly useful in making us aware of how important local issues are (for example the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam for Law). It has also been fascinating to see what assumptions we all make about how other students and staff work and how different that can be to reality.

Our longer-term aim is still to be decided, but we would like to to do more work with individual departments to produce tailored digital solutions that are truly fit for purpose.

Watch this space…

December 5, 2017

Using encryption to keep your data safe

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — sgswaine @ 11:55 am
Keeping data safe

Keeping data safe

Information and cyber security has been a hot topic for several years, and is becoming increasingly relevant as we all move towards a daily life dominated by technology.  Important documents, sensitive research data, financial and purchasing transactions and even private photos are data meant to be kept private – not for the whole world.

Some websites have taken steps to ensure confidentiality by using end-to-end encryption.  Secure webpages begin with https:// and display a padlock net to the URL. So how can you help protect your data?

The UK Data Archive has over 50 years of experience  in handling data and we offer guidance, support and training to anyone who wants to process, store, transmit and share sensitive data. In other words, you are in good hands, so let’s walk you through the basics…

What is Encryption?

Encryption modifies (encodes) digital information using a mathematical formula (algorithm) and a key (password), in such a way that only parties who have the correct key can view the information.  The situation is similar to locking the door to your house – to get into the locked house you need to use the correct key or resort to breaking in. You can encrypt individual files, folders or even entire disks (including USB disks).

Why use Encryption?

Encryption is essential for safeguarding personal and sensitive digital data.  It also helps to demonstrate compliance with the Data Protection Act and upcoming GDPR. Some types of encryption provide greater protection than others, the type and level of encryption used should correspond to the sensitivity of the data being protected eg a personal interview with a participant would be more sensitive than anonymised microdata. As a general rule, more bits equals stronger encryption ie 256-bit encryption is stronger than 128-bit encryption. The encryption key (ie the password strength) is also critical as strong encryption is rendered useless by a key. In addition to securing data, encryption can also be used to verify a sender’s identity and the integrity of the data.

What Encryption software to use?

You should choose your encryption software based on your device, operating system and the sensitivity of the information being protected. Below are some commonly used encryption software:

  • BitLocker – standard on selected editions of Windows; for the encryption of disk volumes and USB devices
  • FileVault2 – standard on Apple Macs; for full disc encryption
  • VeraCrypt – multi-platform encryption software (Windows, Mac and Linux); for full disk and container encryption
  • PGP – Encryption using PGP is very strong and requires a public/private key pair.  The recipient’s public PGP key is used to encrypt files and only the recipients the private key and passphrase can decrypt them.
  • Axcrypt – open source file-level encryption for Windows

The UKDA also have video tutorials on how to use a variety of encryption software programmes to reinforce our training sessions. These are available on our You Tube channel:

What is Ransomware?

Encryption is not always used for good.  A subset of malware called ransomware is used to encrypt user data without permission.  The user then has to pay the attacker to regain access to the data. Earlier this year ‘WannaCry’ ransomware recently brought the NHS to its knees.

Want to learn more?

In collaboration with the Research and Enterprise Office and the Library Services, the UK Data Archive is hosting several training sessions at the beginning of January as together we are launching NEwComERs (Network for Early Career Essex Researchers). These sessions are aimed at Early Career Researchers and PhD students and are designed to help researchers in the various stages of their research – from funding to data curation and publication. You can find out more and get an overview of the whole programme by visiting the NEwComERs website. To book on to any of our courses, please follow the links below (new users will need to register with Proficio before you can book on a course).