Bye bye Amber!

She’s probably going to kill me for writing this but what the hell….Amber is leaving JISC at the end of the week and I can’t let her go without a send off! I’ve known Amber professionally for more years than it would be polite to mention and to be honest I can’t actually remember where she was working when I first met her, though I think it was pre-Becta. I do remember being really pleased when she joined JISC because she had a reputation for Knowing Her Stuff and for really understanding technology from a teaching and learning perspective.

I’ve collaborated with Amber on a number of JISC programmes and for the last three years we’ve worked together with CETIS colleagues Phil Barker, R. John Robertson and Martin Hawksey to provide advice and guidance on digital infrastructure to support the JISC HEA Open Educational Resource Programmes. It’s been an immensely rewarding experience. Although the UK OER Programmes are not “about” digital infrastructure development per se, they have fostered some really innovative technical developments such as the OER Visualisation Project, the CETIS OER Technical Mini Projects, the JLeRN Experiment and the OER Rapid Innovation Programme, all of which, to a greater or lesser degree, are a result of Amber’s vision and willingness to take risks.

Over the last three years Amber has also become an influential voice in the global open education debate. One of the things I have always admired about her contribution to discussions is that she has an enviable ability to ask the right questions, to synthesise complex and often conflicting issues, and represent a wide range of views without ever loosing sight of her own perspective. Some of the posts she has written for the JISC Digital Infrastructure Team blog have been important markers in the development of the UK OER Programmes.

Above and beyond her undoubted technical expertise, I don’t think it’s too far fetched to say that Amber has been a really positive role model for other women working in a domain where female colleagues are still rather under-represented. She is immensely patient and understanding, and I personally feel that I have benefitted enormously from her support and encouragement. She’s also really quite silly and is immensely good fun to work with.

The last project Amber, Phil, Martin and I worked on was a booksprint earlier this autumn. The aim of the booksprint was to synthesise the technical outputs of all three years of the UK OER Programmes and to write a book in three days. It was Amber’s idea of course and I have to confess that I really wasn’t convinced we were up to the task. I’m delighted to admit that I was proved wrong. With patient input from booksprint facilitator Adam Hyde we did manage to write our book, or most of it at least, and we actually had great fun while we were at it!

Amber Thomas*

Amber Thomas*

So now Amber is off to the University of Warwick where, among other people, she’ll be working with the lovely Jenny Delasalle who some of you might remember as Phil’s predecessor as CETIS Metadata SIG coordinator. I’m sure we’ll all miss working so closely with Amber but I have the feeling that we haven’t seen the back of her yet! So good luck with the new job Amber and I hope we can look forward to working together again at some stage in the not too distant future.

Now I had better go and finish writing the conclusion of our book, otherwise Amber really will kill me ;)

* Picture of Amber gratuitously pinched from Brian Kelly’s Metrics and Social Web Services Workshop report at

* ETA Brian has very kindly let me know that the picture above was taken by Kirsty Pitkin, @eventamplifier, or possibly by Mr@eventamplifier! Who ever took it, it’s lovely :)

The great UKOER tag debate

After three years of innovation focused on the sustainable release of open educational resources, the JISC HEA UK OER Programme is drawing to a close and yesterday Martin and I went along to the final programme meeting in London. Phil wasn’t able to attend the meeting and instead posted the following e-mail to the oer-discuss mailing list:

Hello all, I can’t be in London today, so I’m kind of joining the end of programme discussion from afar. The last three years have been great. At one of the early planning meetings someone (Andy Powell, I think) said that one measure of whether the programme was successful could be the widespread recognition of UKOER / OER as an idea within UK F&HE and the existence of a community around it. I’m pretty sure that has happened, not just because of UKOER but we were there and helped. So well done all of us :)

But what now? The programme has always aimed at sustainable release of resources, change of culture and practice, not just a short burst of activity leading to a one-off dumping of resources. What will happen over the next few years by way of sustained release and which practices are sustainable? Also, of course, from a CETIS point of view, what technologies can help?

Happy diwali, keep the OER light shining.

Phil’s mail prompted Nick Sheppard to ask the apparently innocent question:

Possibly a silly question…but I should stop tagging new resources ukoer?!

This seemingly innocuous enquiry prompted the kind of mailing list explosion normally only seen on Friday afternoon, and it wasn’t long before the discussion had it’s own twitter tag: #oergate. I haven’t counted the number of replies but if the thread has reached double figures it wouldn’t surprise me. If you’re feeling brave, you can read the whole thread here.

Some colleagues were all in favour of continuing to use the ukoer tag, arguing that it now represents an active community which is powerful evidence to the sustainability of the funded programmes’ legacy. Others argued that continued use of the tag would muddy the waters for collection managers and make it difficult to identify resources produced through the funded phase of the programme.

Amber has now managed to capture the discussion in an excellent blog post UKOER: What’s in a tag?*. Although there is no conclusive consensus as to how to answer Nick’s original question, one thing that this discussion has clearly demonstrated is that there does appear to be a lively and active community that has grown up around the funded programmes and the ukoer tag, and that definitely has to be a good thing!

*Amber’s blog post was written with input from Sarah Currier (Jorum), David Kernohan (JISC), Martin Hawksey (CETIS), Lorna Campbell (CETIS), Jackie Carter (Jorum).

ETA It now appears that the #oergate debate borked JISCmail! It seems that the list exceeded posting limits or some such, and no further comments were posted to the list after 15.10 on Wednesday afternoon. I’m delighted to say that I got the last word in ;)