Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Where has my blogging mojo gone?

Quite simply it's been stolen by the same fates that have projected me into management land. John, my manager for five years and a fixture in York's Computing Service for over thirty, retired last month and I'm filling his lived-in shoes until a permanent replacement is found. That leaves me as Acting Head of Web Services at the University of York until Easter at least, in charge of a talented six-strong web infrastructure team handling everything from systems administration (University web servers, Web CMS, Blackboard, ColdFusion, PHP, Oracle, MySQL) and university-wide identity management and provisioning, through to custom application development. Whilst the motivation for this blog - to act as a let out for some of the (hopefully) better ideas I've had in building a utopian vision of the perfectly joined up university web - remains as strong as ever, the freedom to voice my visions consequence-free has arguably vanished, at least for now.

My new acting role has not however robbed me of things to say. There is a plethora of amazing projects happening this year which I'm pleased to have the opportunity to shape and enable others to craft. For a start there's Google Apps. We've dabbled for long enough and York could be on the cusp of unleashing the full giddiness of these services onto its users shortly. Whether this will include revolutionising our moribund email and calendar services remains to be seen, but after years of consideration and due diligence cul-de-sacs and u-turns, there no doubt that this looks tantalisingly close. Then there's the portal. This is another old chestnut that's been chewed on and nibbled at for as long as I've been at York but which is at last being cooked up for real. Early days yet, but I look forward to seeing the first cuts of code that deliver a nicely presented front-door of joined up services to our users soon. Heck, that's all I've ever been interested in doing in this blog certainly. Throw in new collaborative tools (spaces, wikis and blogs - you know the score), digital signage, a home-made digital repository, better integrated timetabling, new e-Assessment tools, a stab - maybe, maybe - at automated lecture recordings finally, and a revitalised information strategy that demands things like Shibboleth, service-oriented architecture and centralised grouping infrastructure, and you can see that this is a pivotal year, in more ways than one.

There's no doubt that much of the work this year is being driven by the economic climate and particularly the Browne report. That "student experience" phrase is everywhere and delivering engaging tools for students is top of everyone's agenda. It strikes me that IT services will have to work very hard to really transform the impression that students have of the University, since so much of this is formed by interactions and experiences that are real, and not virtual. Nevertheless, simple, well-executed improvements can make a big difference, and I'll be working hard to try and filter out what will really make life easier for our students and staff, and deliver what's needed this year.


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