Thursday, 29 April 2010

Article in "Greenwich Line" [University of Greenwich's staff newspaper] March 2010

“Computer says no…”

How the university is pulling its systems into the new decade and why staff are being asked to help

Any staff involved in the creation and administration of new courses at Greenwich will have had a “Computer says no” moment. Want to start the programme in January? Computer says no. Want to offer a single course by itself? Computer says no. Want to stop a student who has paid a year’s fees in June being asked to pay again in September? Computer says…

The refrain is from a sketch in BBC’s Little Britain where, irrespective of the task, IT presents a hurdle. Dr Claire Eustance has been recruited to project manage the modernisation of the systems which support curriculum development. She says: “Today the demand is for flexible learning, which means being able to offer choices, from intensive short courses to part-time and distance learning. But our systems were designed for the traditional model of three-year programmes starting in September.”

It’s not just IT systems like Banner that throw up problems. Dr Stuart Ashenden, Director of Academic Planning at Medway, is looking at the implications of keeping campuses open at weekends as demand for intensive training courses grows. “At the moment there is no catering provision, for instance, if we are here at the weekend. All sorts of services currently close down at 5pm on Friday.”

General administrative systems have got left behind too. Academics, when taking new courses to be validated by internal and external authorities, find their work is duplicated at each stage. Different versions of the same document lead to confusion. “Paperwork which probably made sense years ago now seems unnecessary. We need to create new systems which allow proper work flow management,” Claire says.

The scope of the project

The project, called UG-Flex, short for ‘University of Greenwich Flexible Learning Project’, runs for three years until July 2012. The project team is based in Information & Library Services and is concentrating on the areas it can affect, namely information systems. Claire says lots of wider issues are being raised, for example the tendency for departments to work in silos, or finding that things can get done based on who you know rather than need, and that these are being recorded. “We are passing them on to other managers and projects,” she says, “sometimes with recommendations. But we need to focus on the areas where we can make a difference.”

How you can get involved

Claire wants to hear from any member of staff who has a stake in making these systems work. “What we don’t want is for people to feel at the end of the project that burdensome new procedures are being imposed on them. Let’s get it right, and then the impact will be of a burden being lifted. The result of UG-Flex could be inspiring and transformational.”

Staff can get involved by attending a workshop – go to the website below for details – or contacting Claire on x8918,

Lots of information is available on the project website including a blog and twitter feed:

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