Digital by default discussions: Amber Thomas

Screenshot_08_09_2013_10_35I’ve known Amber for quite a few years now – we first bumped in to each other while she was at Becta (some meeting about the NLN – a programme that Becta ended in ’05 to put it in perspective) but by then she was already a veteran of JISC. A few years later I spent a year trying not to make too big a mess of her programmes while I acted as her maternity cover at JISC where she had returned in ’06.

At JISC Amber became a regular blogger, doing her thinking in public and contributing hugely to the debate around ‘openness’ in higher education – particularly when it came to topics like open education resources and open access (in fact last weeks ‘victim’ Zak pulled her posts together in to an ebook!).  Always more practical in her opinions than some of our more ‘theoretical’ colleagues I always valued her take of things and was pleased to see her find an exciting new role (closer to home) before the JISC/Jisc implosion really got underway.



Current job:

Service Owner: Academic Technology. IT Services, University of Warwick

Current mobile device (personal & work if different):

Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini (personal). I don’t have a mobile for work.

Current computer (personal & work if different):

Toshiba Portégé Z390 Ultrabook for work, which I have instead of a desktop computer. I also have a personal Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 which isn’t 3G, only wifi, so I think of it more as a portable computer than a mobile device. We have a Toshiba laptop at home too. I’ve never owned an apple device.

One word that best describes how you work:


What is your favourite thing about your job?

The variety! Top of my agenda at the moment are massive open online courses, lecture capture, humanities databases, research data management, and finding the best model for our central virtual learning environment. They each feel very different to deal with: each a unique mix of infrastructure, change models and support approaches. As a result I feel like I switch my headspace several times a day and I love that.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

I think there is an inevitable tension between an IT department providing and promoting their solutions, and a complex knowledge organisation like a University, where many staff need the autonomy to innovate. I feel we need to acknowledge the diversity of technology that people use in their work, and develop a framework for capturing the outputs. For example, we need to promote active content management practices within research to enable flexibility and we need to provide a solid infrastructure for depositing completed artefacts and data. Increasingly we will also want to wrap social media analytics around the whole wonderful messy business. I see an important aspect of my role as advising on practice as much as platforms, but people don’t always expect that from someone in IT Services.

 What’s your access to the internet like at your office?

At my desk I have a wired connection and although we’re on the far edge of campus there’s an okay wifi hotspot in the office. Central campus has some great areas for wifi (and coffee). I am often to be spotted walking between meetings on campus tapping away at my phone.

If you could change one thing about your job what would it be?

I’d love to be given a strong mandate to work with other support services across the University on creating a minimal digital offer for every single course we run. I think academics might worry that would be a step towards bland one-size-fits-all provision, but I think a little more consistency would be a foundation for building much richer, deeper digital provision for learners that reflects the specifics of each discipline.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

My cafetiere. But a special mention is due too to our bluetooth speaker and in-car parrot device: I’m slowly converting to the alternative universe of digital music.

What are you currently reading?

House of Rumour by Jake Arnott. It’s a dense speculative fiction that takes in all sorts of twentieth conspiracies, science fiction and occult. Confusing but intriguing.

What do you listen to while you work (assuming you are able to)?

My favourite music to work to is probably like a time capsule of the era I still kept up with “cool” music: a bit of Air, Badly Drawn Boy and Massive Attack. I think it’s got to be music I know well and don’t need to process the lyrics.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Mirror, signal, manouvre.

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