Friday, 14 December 2007

And a not so great Christmas present..

It was announced last week that the Flexible Learning Centre (the unit I work in at the University of South Australia) is being restructured. (The official memo says "a formal Managing Change process has been initiated").

Being the last University entity left at the old Underdale campus, it was expected that we would get moved to somewhere else eventually (which will probably be part of this process).

Our unit has been through these kinds of things a number of times before, but this is the first time that it has directly affected the team I've been involved with - Online Services.

Online Services is a relatively small team of developers, designers and A/V professionals and we've been responsible for creating the Uni's online teaching and learning platform - "UniSAnet". Whereas many other institutions just went out and bought an off the shelf LMS like Blackboard or WebCT (now the same company), we made the decision early on that we wanted to integrate with other existing systems (student information, courses, Active Directory etc) and the only practical way to do that was to build our own.

The great thing about our team (and I think we've achieved a bit of a reputation for this) is that we can create solutions relatively quickly, in an "agile" kind of way (lots of iterations). What might otherwise take months, we can often achieve in days or weeks.

Our team is regularly looking at new technologies and techniques. For example we're trying to incorporate things like MVP, NHibernate, TDD, CI to help improve both our productivity and the quality of the solutions we produce. Most of our team attend the monthly SQL User Group meetings in the city, and more recently our Tuesday lunchtimes have been spent watching dnrTV screencasts together. There's a genuine interest (encouraged by our managers) in professional development which I really appreciate.

The University also has an IT unit - ISTS, which looks after the systems and network infrastructure of the organisation, as well as manage things like staff and student portals, the corporate web server and various other "big systems". I've collaborated with the ISTS on a number of projects in the past and I think it's fair to characterise their development process as following the waterfall model. ISTS do look after critical systems, so quite reasonably they tend to be pretty conservative in their approach to implementing new things and making changes.

Don't get me wrong - I know lots of people in ISTS, and I'm even going to their Christmas party today (they always do a really good job so I'm looking forward to that!), so I'm not intending to be negative about them. It's just that we don't work on the same kinds of things and we don't work in the same kind of way. If we were to be made part of ISTS (which could be an interpretation of this item from an email sent out today- "UniSAnet and appropriate support functions relocating to ISTS") I don't think is likely that we could continue to provide the services in both the time and fashion that we do now.

So the timing isn't the best that this whole process is happening over the Christmas break. I'm trying not to be cynical, and that just maybe once this has all finished we will end up something better than what we have now, but only time will tell.

So for me:

  • Best case - Online Services continues, most likely in the CBD, and we can continue to develop compelling resources and tools for enabling and enhancing great learning and teaching.
  • Worst case - Time to tidy up my resume.
  • Middle case - ?

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