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CitySpace Switchoff Party

September 11, 2011 1 comment

After 8 years of service to the University, CitySpace has been switched off.  This event was commemorated with the collection of obituary entries on this blog from staff and students and a small party.

Susannah Quinsee and David Rhind 2004CitySpace, formerly known as City Online Learning, used the operating system WebCT Vista and was first used on courses at City University London in September 2003.  The E-Learning Unit (ELU) comprising of two instructional designers, an office manager, a systems administrator and director was put together to work in collaboration with staff across the institution to implement the system.  Obituary comments reflect on working with the system and the team over the years.  Many tell tales of frustrations and hours devoted to making CitySpace work while wrestling with the clunky interface.  However, this is also the story of transforming teaching and learning at City University London, creating user communities across the institution, and leading the way with learning technology across the sector.

E-Learning Unit Launch January 2004 including Susannah Quinsee and Brendan Casey

 Neal Sumner, David Rhind and Anise Bullimore 2004Staff and students were invited to the CitySpace Switchoff Party on 1st September.  Representatives from across the schools and central services attended to eat, drink, reminisce and say goodbye.  We admired the youth of the ELU team as evident in photos from the early years.  The guest of honour, Brendan Casey, now Director of Academic Services at the University of Birmingham who oversaw the initial purchase and implementation of Cityspace, gave a short speech.  He then symbolically switched off CitySpace using the professionally made (ahem) switch. Brendan Casey, Director of Academic Services at Birmingham University switching off CitySpace

After a successful first year of implementation, Moodle will now become the University’s sole online learning environment.

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CitySpace Obituary: Dilip Parmar

August 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Dilip Parmer is Learning Support Officer at Cass Business School

They say you never forget your first love and I shall never forget my first e-learning ‘experience’ which happened to be Cityspace. Like a fumbling teenager, I unclipped the gradebook and uncovered a whole new world of weighted gradings and datatypes. I was in heaven. We didn’t want to rush things but Cityspace was amenable. Quizzes were a joy to create and Assignments were no big hassle. My first e-learning love and the experiences I had with it has stood me well in dealing with the new fangled offerings I have come across since. My new squeeze Moodle is appreciative of all that I learnt and experienced with Cityspace my first love. There are some things Cityspace can do that Moodle my current squeeze cannot. In moments of passion, my first love Cityspace would send me a pop-up announcement entirely unannounced but very welcome in that moment; Moodle is content with blocks…the romance has gone. With a tear to my eye, I remember my first love fondly…

CitySpace Obituary

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Member of staff, School of Informatics

Memories and conversations I have had: in Haiku form and other dialogue snippets. Crashed on sign-in Java update? Again? What the…? Can’t use back button Patch ruins tools Call BlackBoard. Am then told: “You are teaching wrong” Staff whine constantly As if I am responsible for this travesty  “I could make a better platform in a day” Why don’t you then? I would love to see it “I’m not doing it for free! [chortles]” Oh well, back to square one, then  “Why don’t simply hack the code–surely you can get in and change it and deliver the long list of improvements I’ve emailed you over the last term.”  Unfortunately we can’t do that… “[Interrupting] Why not?” Because that would be insane. And you are playing fast and loose with the word ‘improvements’. And doing so would be in breach of our IT contract–not to mention University policy. “…why are you putting up obstacles? Sheesh”

CitySpace Obituary: Monika Eady

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Monika Eady is Computer Services Manager at City Law School (CLS)

I have been involved with CitySpace (WebCT) throughout. Before it was introduced I used to upload student materials on the website every Friday afternoon. Initially I continued to do so with the new tool, but over the years the academic staff got the hang of it and were able to do it themselves. Enrolling staff and students used to be a nightmare with the clunky way it operated. The automatic enrolment never quite worked 100% and at the beginning of every academic year I had to battle on behalf of CLS students so they eventually got to see the modules they needed for their studies. The LDC always had funds for catering and often bribed us to attend user meetings with a hearty breakfast. Some of them were good meetings.

CitySpace Obituary

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Here are a couple of  CitySpace memories that we have received from students.

Student, School of Community and Health Sciences

After 2 years of use, it pains me to know CitySpace will be switched off. CitySpace without you I would have been lost. You got me through lectures and exams and it’s a shame you won’t be there to see me through my final year at uni. I will miss you.

Student, Cass Business School

Nice to use but it looked a bit outdated. I think that something more technologically advanced should be adopted.

 

CitySpace Obituary: Matthew Eanor

August 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Matthew Eanor, former member of staff, Learning Development Centre

Ah, CitySpace – such fond memories I have of you. I remember how much of my time you ate up as I tried to fit our esoteric undergrad and postgrad programme structures into your inflexible module system. I remember the annual processions of students we had to lead to IT support because you refused to recognise their user names and passwords. I remember how much you used to tease us every year by leading us to think that you had successfully backed up and archived modules, only to inexplicably fail to reinstate them when needed, no matter how much we pleaded. You were touted as robust – you had probably more servers to run on than the rest of the university put together – but all we saw was one node after another in the cluster topple like (expensive) digital dominoes. I remember how I tried to make you more likeable by writing programmes to help with those jobs you found too difficult to do quickly. I know you struggled with things like creating more than one student account at a time or running reports that didn’t timeout. I remember being baffled as to why your Web Services were so strangely incomplete – you had APIs for the mailbox, calendar, and file system, yet inexplicably none for the more useful discussion boards – and you were never able to tell me why. I remember how I tried to help you play nicely with the other systems like SITS and WebSphere but you always sulked and never shared your data. I have often wondered why you never settled in the way we had hoped but I think now I have realised what the problem was. You just didn’t like us and wanted us to know it.

Cityspace obituary: Susannah Quinsee

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

There are so many memories of Cityspace and the early days, so here are my top ten “highlights” – some of them I have tried to bury in the depths of my memory but alas they have all come flooding back….

1. As part of the installation City had a week of consultancy with some of the American branch of WebCT over for a week to guide us through the installation. After a good start with about seven or eight senior managers attending, by the second day there was just me and Brendan Casey slogging through endless sessions on change management.  And trying to explain how “busy” our colleagues were that they couldn’t attend.  I learnt a lot that week about  how to conduct a business dinner and make small talk for days on end….

2. Running training sessions over two days on how to use the system in a very very hot computer room in the library with their US trainer.  Ah the hope. And the dreams for all those “great” new tools in the system. Walking out of the room thinking you knew how to use it then trying to build a module the next day and realising you knew nothing!

3. Then trying to work out how on earth to design the Learning Context Hierarchy – I don’t think I ever really understood it – and making an executive decision that we would just do it and not run the structure through various committees and in all likelihood no-one would ever understand it!

4. Our developer, Matt, coming into my office at about 5.15pm on a Friday evening when term started the following Monday, to tell me that only about 1,000 of the 12,000 user accounts would upload to the system and it had just failed and he didn’t know why. And has the look of horror spread over my face and my stomach dropped, he smiled and said “ha, just kidding, they are all in”.  I’ve never resorted to physical violence in the office but that was a close one 😉

5. Trying to work out what to call it, rather than WebCT (in case we ever changed systems or the company changed – now that was a premonition…) and standing in my old flat in Hackney on the phone making a decision to call it City Online Learning – yes that explains that rather rubbish title that could never be abbreviated as French colleagues told me it was rather rude in French.  That title only lasted a year before the rebrand to CitySpace, also a City real estate company

6. The endless hours spent in ersatz hotel meeting rooms with various WebCT executives telling me that they really did care about our problems, “feel our pain” and they would sort them out then and there – which to be fair worked, it always amazed me how when we complained at conferences about problems suddenly they would be fixed that very day 🙂

7. Receiving a very large oversized t-shirt at one WebCT conference and fearing when I was pregnant that this would be the only thing that fitted when I gave birth but concern that then I would have to name my child CitySpace or Vista

8. The system always going down when I was out of the office. Without fail.  And having to deal with irate staff and students remotely.  My favourite outage was due to a “Colonel Panic” which I can never say without thinking of Colonel Mustard – sorry Information Services colleagues

9. Being part of a wider community, all struggling with similar issues, but all full of hope that each new release would provide the answers to their problems and working together as part of the European Vista Users Group and also Worldwide User Group to share problems and solutions

10. The belief that it would work.  This sounds a bit sentimental but looking back to the summer of 2003 and the implementation I realise that I did not believe that it would not work. There was no alternative. I was completely single-minded about it. Not only did I believe 100% that we would install the whole thing but there was also no question in my mind that we would not implement it with all student information integrated from SITS, that we would take a regular feed from SITS, and that we would have such a robust system in the first year that we would be able to run online examinations on it for 400+ students by Christmas.  And it worked. Yes it was flaky, clunky and difficult at times but we made it work.  And that would not have happened without all the hard work, and shared belief, from the staff in IS at the time – particularly the Unix team (Andy and Hilda), and Russ on the DB side, and all the staff from the original E-Learning Services team – Anise, Gilly, Matt and Neal, Steve from Informatics, Brendan and Kevin for leading on the implementation by getting the funding and trusting us to implement it in our way, those staff at WebCT who really did try to help us and work with us, and those early adopters who still bear the scares – Jason, Jo, Jonathan, Isabelle, Evelyn and many others who persevered with the system over the last 8 years.  We had big ambitions in 2003 and the fact that we held onto those despite setbacks meant that we are now where we are today. CitySpace may have had its problems but I have learnt so much from its implementation and working with it.  So although there is my relief about seeing it go, it is tinged with a little sadness. Although if I ever have to talk about Learning Context Hierarchies again it will be too soon.

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