Cityspace obituary: Susannah Quinsee

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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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