I started life down south over 20 years ago with the newly named Sussex and Kent Institute – the old school of nursing which was based at Eastbourne DGH. It had 4 sites : EDGH, Ashdown House (Uni of Sussex campus), Pembury Hospital and the Buchanan Hospital, Hastings plus sites at Southlands Hospital, Hellingly and many others now forgotten.
My first job with SKI was to procure computers for all staff. In ‘those days’ computers were vastly expensive so the best option was to lease them. I managed to do a deal so that all staff received either a state-of-the-then-art 486 computer (with an off the shelf price of £1250.00) with a whopping 20MB hard disk and loads of floppy disks or a cheaper 386 computer with a sizeable 10MB hard disk (they were only about £975.00). Memory was via bendy memory sticks which frequently needed replacing and, if lucky, could be ‘doubled’ in size. Software was WordPerfect and Lotus 123 – remember those? Networking, if there was any, was done via Novell.
After a few years SKI decided to join a University and there was a bartering game between the Universities of Sussex and Brighton. Because of the health school links, SKI joined the University of Brighton, although the main site was then at Ashdown House based on the University of Sussex campus – BSMS was certainly not the first school to straddle the A27 – we did it first.
Once we had joined the UoB, movement of IT seemed to be much faster. The first thing that happened was email. No Outlook or anything fancy but a text system called pine – which was loved by many for a long time after Windows became standard. We got networked between all sites – although it was done via phone lines. This meant if you tried to contact Hastings from Brighton on a cold day – it would take quite a while for the messages to go through. Seagulls would have been quicker. We then moved to the faster ISDN method – faster but still equally iffy.
However, networking meant that people could start to share printers. No more saving work and traipsing with the new fangled zip disk to a printer – which also happened to be attached to a computer which also happened to belong to someone! So that poor person was always getting kicked off their computer while someone printed. Not the best job in the world!
Email was great – we felt connected to the University. We didn’t realise that connection also brought about our first experience of spam. Sit down at Hastings Hospital and an email pops up (s-l-o-w-l-y) filling your tiny inbox space with the news that someone had left their car lights on 30 odd miles away in Moulsecoomb. Hmm…times still haven’t changed really!
SKI changed its name again. This time its acronym became INAM – the Institute of Nursing & Midwifery and the bases started to get smaller in number as sites were rationalised. Then came the day of Westlain House @ Falmer. Everyone moved ‘over the road’ from the University of Sussex to the Falmer campus of the UoB. Lorries full of equipment and kit – staff walked. Plus staff from the EDGH moved here too.
I was currently based in an electricity cupboard in Friston House Falmer – long since destroyed – as joint Site Computer Officer. I went away on holiday one year and found my joint-colleague had taken rather sudden retirement and I was the sole CO with responsibility for 4 computer poolrooms, 2 of which were Macs. Alien technology to me then and now. But I soon sorted that out and within a few months all 4 computer pools were turned into PC poolrooms.
Imaging of the PCs involved doing each and every PC one at a time. There was a disk to start you off, but the rest of the installation was manual. So re-imaging 100 or so machines was not an easy task. Along came Computer Officer Assistants. Between us we had to support ALL staff and ALL students on ALL aspects of computing, networking, training, software and anything else. The first COA was called John and managed 3 years. The second was also called John and is still here but he now works in a local team of 3 reflecting the increasing importance and reliance on IT.
The major role of the Computer Officer was training. Hundreds upon hundreds of workshops on Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook – not much else as not much else existed then. Gradually the internet started to gain in interest so workshops on using Netscape, Altavista, Ask Jeeves, Excite and HotBot became popular.
During those years, almost every member of staff must have attended at least one Dr Les workshop – with some becoming groupies.
Then Blackboard arrived. The first University based VLE. At that time, the ‘selling’ of Blackboard was done but another set of acronyms – LTSOs. Academics who became champions of this technology. These Learning Technology Support Officers were tasked with getting all staff off the old University student teaching intranet – called sintranet – and onto a VLE – rebranded locally as studentcentral. studentcentral went through several colourful incarnations (and each incarnation meant a new T shirt). Blue, black, green and the familiar pink. The LTSOs were replaced by yet another acronym – the LTAs – who were actually renamed COs (glossaries can be provided – especially as INAM became SNM!). First there were 4 of us, then 3 , then 2, then back to 4. Now 3 plus the new Fiona – welcome Fiona.
The LTAs were there to convince everyone that the VLE was the way forward. Store everything on Blackboard and your students can access all their learning material anytime, anywhere. Well…..that was the idea. And it worked fine until Blackboard version 9.0 came along. That was a bad year – a very bad year!
But studentcentral rose like a phoenix from the flames of 9.0 to 9.1 and added all sorts of new tools – especially electronic submission. Scrap all the hundreds of Word workshops – they were replaced by thousands of Turnitin workshop sessions. Cue the Dr Les Groupies again plus a new generation who had never been to see me in action before.
Now IT is just ‘there’ – not special, not exciting, not new. Just necessary. Mobile arrived. Twitter, Facebook and social media arrived. Free online software arrived. We still have spam though and I still know about car lights being left on several miles down the road and still don’t care!
Me…my time has arrived too. I’m off to pastures new. No more Turnitin for me – I’m starting a career in canine muscle therapy and massage (here is the advert bit). Bring your dog along to me and I can help fix their achy back and neck. AchyPaw will arrive in 2013. Will I miss Turnitin problems when faced with stroking poorly dogs all day? You do the maths!
Dr Les Ellam. One time long-serving CO – LTA @ Falmer. Soon to be AchyPaw manager.