For the last 14 years, almost to the day, I’ve worked at Netskills, helping people understand how to use technology in education. On Monday, I start a new job helping Newcastle University make our research open access. This post is part announcement mixed with a bit of reminiscence before I move on and start to think (and blog) about new things.
For context, circumstances beyond our control mean that Netskills will soon cease to exist as a separate service, with some of our “functions” moving to a new Jisc customer services unit. There were opportunities for people who wanted to be part of that, but I felt it was time to move on. I was lucky that a job I really wanted came up and that I got it. I wish the same good luck to colleagues who are still seeking work.
Becoming an Internet Trainer
On my son’s birth certificate, my occupation is somewhat depressingly stated as “Internet Trainer.” I had to try to explain what that was to the registrar before he’d sign the certificate and years later, to my incredulous son, “You train people to use the Internet?”
Odd as that seems now, when I started at Netskills at the end of 1999 the Internet and the web were still quite novel. We even ran a course called “The Internet: what’s all the fuss about?” which tried to explain everything about the entire Internet so that academics could consider if it could ever be useful for work. I’m not sure we convinced all of them that it could be, perhaps with good reason.
Since then, I’ve run hundreds of workshops for thousands of people. At first, these we’re mainly about systems, with our manuals explaining what buttons to press to make them work. However, as web became more prominent and the systems built on it required less technical skills, the focus quickly changed to how to integrate emerging technologies into academic practice. To be honest, that is far more interesting and worthwhile. It was very rewarding to see people leave our courses realising that technology can help them when many arrive fearing it will do the opposite.
How we provide training has changed radically too. From the traditional IT training events with rows of computers into which people silently type code, to digital storytelling story circles where sceptical academics end up willingly share personal stories, often through tears. From seemingly endless train journeys from one end of the country to the other, to running online workshops from my desk for people I will never meet, who could be anywhere in the world.
I hope this doesn’t read as being too self-indulgent. I resisted sharing the ‘amusing’ anecdotes and the more sentimental stuff about the people and moments that I will remember fondly. You know who you are and you know the stories.
As for Netskills as a service, I do want to say that I’m proud of what we have achieved and the small part I’ve played in it. I think we made a genuine difference to how people working in education use technology during a time of some very significant changes. I always felt we were a bridge between the research and innovation supported by Jisc and the practitioners who would benefit most from knowing how best to make use of it. I hope that this is a function will persist beyond these changes. Knowing that some of the people I’ve worked with over the years will be part of the new Jisc structures gives me hope that it will.
While I will only actually be moving about 500m across campus to the University library, what I do there will be very different.
I will be an advocate for open access to research and provide the support to back that up. The timing couldn’t be better/worse given the new HEFCE policy for the next REF and how this has rightfully given open access high billing on the research agenda.
Technology has had a key role in enabling open access and I’m sure what I’ve learned at Netskills about technology and about behavioural change will stand me in good stead. I’m excited to be working more closely with research again and to be focussing on something I believe is important and I can make a positive difference to. I hope to blog about that here, though I’m sure there will still be posts about technology when I just can’t help myself.
Photo credit: Me. Will this DIY tattoo ever come off? 😉