Following a very long period of involvement in the development and delivery of C&IT, Anne Mumford has recently become Head of JISC ASSIST. From her base in Computing Services at Loughborough University she has the responsibility of supporting and encouraging "those charged with a C&IT; strategic brief in UK HE institutions" so that they "meet the objectives of their information strategies." This covers assistance with the delivery of C&IT on campus, the preparation of briefing papers for senior management, the impact of JISC services within subject areas, training and awareness and the development of JISC's communication channels with the academic community.
Out of this vast area, she is sharply focussed on the use of C&IT as a support for the delivery of teaching and learning. From this, she has developed an intriguing slant on the nature of organisational change in academic support services. This is reflected in her work for JISC on management patterns in computing and AV services. Commenting on the uncertainty surrounding management models and structures, she says "There is no such thing as a standard institution. No single model exists." In Anne's view the connection between the computing service and audio visual and media services will become an increasingly important factor: "The sector has focussed on library/computing convergence. This has benefited the development of strategy for the delivery of online resources and services. Most institutions now have closer links than existed five years ago, but no less important is the need to strengthen links with av and media services. The traditional skills in those services will be increasingly important as we move to support distance and flexible learning. I have always held this view and the results of my survey suggest that an increasing number of institutions are recognising this important link as skills are needed to support the development of learning technology resources. The discrete skills of computing, av and media services can be harnessed in the implementation of teaching and learning strategies. It's interesting to note that this seems to be of low importance in many discussions on the development of information strategies on campus, yet the production and delivery of image based resources and the associated design skills needed are already there. The politics of library and computing convergence are certainly very different."
JISC ASSIST is currently working on a series of case studies around the theme of lecture room services in the computer age. They are investigating the management issues, skills, staff development matters and a range of complications arising from these areas. This is clearly going to have a positive effect on how services are delivered, but I asked Anne how she felt some of the practical reservations of librarians could be overcome, particularly the suggestion that user requirements on the ground were far more basic. Her reply was : "Use reflects the mix of courses and the institutional character, which will cover a wide spectrum. It will also depend on the institutional strategy surrounding the support of distance and flexible learning. There is also a great potential for the use of visualisation tools to support data analysis, and these are very much underused, for example in the social sciences where some case studies are being developed through JISC and ESRC funding. The use of virtual laboratories to replace or enhance the laboratory experiment and field work is only beginning to be shown to have advantages in supporting increasing student numbers. The use of virtual design studies is yet another very important example of the use of computers."
I suggested that another problem in bringing together the various parties was the idea that somehow IT had been deliberately mystified. She said "I don't honestly know of a computing service that does not wholeheartedly support standardisation. It is often the case that incompatibility and complexity is user-induced, in that people will insist on continuing to use their own old favourites, and so resist the idea of standardisation. Things like Site License deals and CHEST have helped, but you could say the problem can be at the other end."
Some of the recurring themes of our conversation were training, awareness and people skills, and in trying to sum up JISC's achievement, Anne came back to these matters: "JISC has facilitated an exchange of knowledge and experience within and across institutions. The various groups have had to learn to understand each other much better. Institutions have had to look at how teaching is delivered, and in many cases this has led to various forms of collaboration. I'm not certain we've been that good yet at developing effective information strategies. Many institutions have computing strategies, and I don't think I would recognise them as information strategies, but we are beginning to grapple with ideas about information flows and the underlying resource needs."
The discussion drew to a close with an assessment of the strength of JISC's contribution to the development of services: "Much of the work of JISC and JISC ASSIST is to do with facilitating effective partnerships. I think JISC is much more aware that it needs to concern itself with the human aspects, with staff development issues, with getting people to feel comfortable with the technology and with using it. JISC ASSIST is a response to this, and it is supporting HE in the UK by developing a facilitator role."