UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for July 26th, 2013

Reflections on 16 years at UKOLN (part 5)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 July 2013

Overview of This Week’s Posts

This week I’ve been posting my reflections on working at UKOLN over the past 16 years. In the first post I described my early involvement with the Web, dating back to December 1992 and how the approaches I took to promoting take-up of the Web across the sector informed my job as UK Web Focus after I started at UKOLN in 1996.

The second post summarised my outreach activities, and this was followed by a post which reviewed my research activities. Yesterday I summarised my work with UKOLN’s core funders and used the work with standards to illustrate the important role which JISC had in adopted a hands-off approach, leaving the work activities to experts across the community.

Evidence-based Policies and Openness

In today’s post, the final one in the series, I’ll reflect on recent work – gathering evidence in order to inform policy and practice – and how the interpretation of the evidence and the formulation of policies and developments to operational practices should be based on a culture of openness.

My interest in this area dates back to 1997 following a successful bid to BLRIC to develop and use monitoring software to analyse trends in use of the Web across the UK’s higher education and library sectors. In 2001 a paper on “Automated Benchmarking Of Local Government Web Sites” was presented at the EuroWeb 2001 conference which described the work of the WebWatch project.

More recently UKOLN and CETIS were involved with the JISC in providing the JISC Observatory. As described in a paper entitled “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow” :

The JISC Observatory provides horizon-scanning of technological developments which may be of relevant for the UK’s higher and further education sectors. The JISC Observatory team has developed systematic processes for the scanning, sense-making and synthesis activities for the work. This paper summarises the JISC Observatory work and related activities carried out by the authors. The paper outlines how the processes can be applied in a local context to ensure that institutions are able to gather evidence in a systematic way and understand and address the limitations of evidence-gathering processes. The paper describes use of open processes for interpreting the evidence and suggests possible implications of the horizon-scanning activities for policy-making and informing operational practices. The paper concludes by encouraging take-up of open approaches in gathering and interpretation of evidence used to inform policy-making in an institutional context.

A series of posts have been published on this blog which have sought to gather evidence of use of various Web technologies across the sector in order to detect trends and encourage discussion on the implication of such trends.

University of Bristol confirm use of Google AppsA few days ago I came across evidence of what may perhaps become a significant trend. It seems that the University of Bristol has recently announced a decision to provide Google Apps. Via a tweet they confirmed that this service will be available for both staff and students.

Other Russell Group universities also  use Google Apps for Education. Back in May 2009 Chris Sexton, IT Services director at the University of Sheffield in a post entitled ”You can be a victim of your own success” summarised local reaction to the decision to provide Google Mail for students at the University of Sheffield:

Formally announced the Google mail for students option last night by sending an email to all staff and students. Replies are split almost 50/50. From students saying this is great news, and from staff saying why can’t we have it!

In addition to these institutions I also understand that the universities and colleges at Cambridge, York, Loughborough, De Montfort , London Metropolitan, Leeds Metropolitan, Queen Mary College, Sheffield Hallam, Westminster,  Brunel, Portsmouth, Keele, Bath Spa, Lincoln, Aston, Ravensbourne, Birbeck, Oxford Brookes, SOAS and the Open University all provide Google Apps for Edu. Note that additional information may be found using a Google search for “google apps site:ac.uk.

Implications

We seem to be seeing the start of what could be a significant trend. And if we were to gather information on institutional use of Microsoft’s Office 365 service it would appear that core office functionality is being migrated to the Cloud. In January 2010 a post entitled Save £1million and Move to the Cloud? summarised experiences at the University of Westminster:

When the University of Westminster asked students what campus email system they wanted, 90% requested Google Apps, which lets colleges and universities provide customized versions of Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and other services on their school domain

And yet in a recent discussion I heard two IT developers state strongly that “Google own your data if you use Google Apps“. I had to point out the Google terms and conditions which state:

Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Google services and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate.

There are clearly many issues which need to be addressed if institutions are considering moving key services to the Cloud: reliability, security, performance, privacy, trust, copyright and other legal issues. But such discussions should, I feel, be carried out in an open and objective manner, which can help ensure that erroneous beliefs can be identified.

If brief, the evidence shows that institutions are migrating office functionality to Google (and perhaps Microsoft). The question may no longer be “Should we move to the Cloud?” but “Can we afford to run such services in-house?”  I’d welcome your thoughts on this. I’d also welcome further evidence to inform the discussions – I appreciate that not all institutions I have listed are necessarily using Google Apps for all members of the institution.


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