A polarised week

Very good and very awful, at different times. Always interesting.

On Monday met Matt P in The Olde Mitre, Ely Court off Hatton Gardens. Interestingly, Ely Court occupied the site of the Palace of the Bishops of Ely – the origin of all the historical and geographical anomalies in the area – and until recently was under the administration of Cambridgeshire and bore a Cambridgeshire post code. More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isle_of_Ely. We’d been going to take pictures but the light was indifferent so we went there instead – my favourite pub. He’s in the beginning of a new relationship and may move to L.A. to give it his best shot. But first he hopes to persuade his ex-girlfriend and co-home owner to sell her share to him and move out. It won’t be unexpected exactly for her, but she’ll be lucky if she manages to find somewhere to rent which will allow her to take the dog. Plus she’s a student clinical psychologist and dogs cost money and time. Hope everything works out for them – they’re both old friends.

On Tuesday, we noticed that something awful had happened to the VLE – all the discussion forum posts had gone. Mysteriously, just like the last time we had a VLE disaster, the boss had gone on holiday (I mentioned this for a joke over lunch with Computing Services, but they dismayed me by nodding soberly and told me it had happened before. Then we (the front end educational development people) had a major debacle trying to get IT Services to deal with it. The problem is that when the former sysadmin, the talented, committed Moodle enthusiast who had overseen the inception of Moodle here left, that part of his role wasn’t acknowledged by ITS and his successors are rejecting responsibility. So ITS have hired him back as a consultant and developer – but he’s not under a support and maintenance contract and he has a dayjob. Then the server fell over, for no discernable reason, for the second time in a month, leading sysadmin to post a hardware maintenance ticket. He also told us to get our Moodle Partner on the case because they couldn’t do anything about apps problems so (unconvinced but powerless) I posted a ticket. The Moodle Partner – call him Tim – seemed to have forgotten half the details we gave him last time round, and some of the others were obsolete. We embarked on a mind-bogglingly convoluted chain of communication between us, him (only contactable through this ticket system), former sysadmin and current sysadmins. Then Tim started taking the VLE down without giving us time to warn people – this was double bad because we were in the middle of deadlines for uploading summatively assessed work. SG and I diverged about what and how to advise staff, and what to request from Tim. Trouble was, we couldn’t gauge whether it was reasonable to ask Tim to give us an hour’s notice every time he wanted to take the VLE down to experiment with something or whether this would interfere with his problem-solving. I tended to think that anything less than 10 min was alright without notice, but SG disagreed on account of the disruption to strung-out students trying to upload coursework and then get wasted. To cut a long story slightly shorter, Tim managed to set himself up to work offline and we arranged scheduled downtime for Sunday. The worst-case scenario was a revert to our last good back-up – Monday 4 a.m. – but any changes to course areas in the interim would be lost. Our first priority was the Assignments. I searched the logs (our logs are fucked too, displaying numbers in a column for meaningful titles – Tim says that’s the same problem and it points to a corrupted databased association) but Moodle doesn’t make it easy and I had to alter the php to add 7000 records per page and then run a text search for “upgrade assignment”. to see who was using the Assignment tool so that we could advise them to switch to their contingent systems for collecting work. Only about 7 imminently, only one of whom was using Gradebook. So we found them, but we had to be careful with advice – ended up suggesting that they closed the assignment, downloaded the existing submissions and request any outstanding by email. Next we had to figure out whether it was worth getting tutors to Back Up their course areas so that they could Restore the week’s changes to Monday’s version. In the course of experimenting, it emerged that Back Up and Restore are fucked, for the aforementioned reason. And the reason for that reason? The Moodle Partner says moodle.org released 1.7 before it was ready, and the attempt sysadmin made to upgrade to it back in March fucked up everything – a timebomb waiting to go off. All in all it’s been diabolical. And our boss won’t respond to email or calls in the holidays (quite right) so we’ve been on our own again.

On Wednesday I went to see a couple of psychology academics I work with on a soft skills self-assessment project, and it emerged that the Learning and Teaching Head had warned them off it without consulting my department – apparently their work encroaches on Personal Development Planning (no, it complements it). He comes across as unbelievably territorial. I think we’re back on track though – well, I instantiated it in the meeting write-up anyway. I subscribed to Smoke for the aforementioned former sysadmin’s birthday. That evening on the way home I saw a boy – maybe a smallish 12yo – drag an even smaller boy out of the Ideas Store in Whitechapel towards the Sainsbury’s car park, kicking and slapping him. Another woman and I intervened – she pulled the littler boy away, and about that time the security guard arrived and the older kid ran away to a group of older boys hanging round the carpark. I had the red mist so I followed him and began to upbraid him. He screamed at me to fuck off and when I continued he came up close, made to hit me and then stab me with the car key he was holding (how come?). His friends gave him a way out before he did. I’m ashamed of myself. All I needed to do was to tell him that he mustn’t us physical force and if he has a problem with somebody he should resolve it with words. Instead I yelled at him like a harpy. Like a bully.

On Thursday, we were frantic about the VLE until 5.30, then a bunch of us went to the book launch of a minor celebrity psychology academic who specialises in personality. I got so drunk I was nearly sick, and had an unpleasant conversation with the Learning and Teaching head who leaked (deliberately? He was drunk, too) that there is an imminent review of my department, and hinted that he would be taking us over. Deeply unpleasant conversation in which I had to keep my wits about me, but at the same time at least we’re talking freely. I’m not sure that working under him would be any worse than the state we’re in at the moment, but that’s the best I can say. That night I woke still drunk but with grim tidings of the mother of all hangovers at 3 a.m. and had to eat last nights’s pasta out of the pan to stave it off.

On Friday I woke gingerly but the pasta had more or less saved me – though I had to eat a jam doughnut on the way to work (80p from Whitechapel – for pity’s sake, when did a doughnut start costing 80p?). I’d had an invite to a local conference on women’s writing from the Caribbean, and that was a revelation. Nothing like the conferences I’m used to – presentations last ages and involve reading your work aloud. Which I understand, because each work – whether it be crit, poetry or fiction – was itself a crafted piece with chosen words in a deliberate order. Hardly anybody used PowerPoint. Very different from learning technology conferences – a revelation. I understand creolisation better, and also much enlightened about the legacy of Caribbean slavery – for England and for the descendants of the enslaved (almost all Caribbeans of African origin). I also better understand the work that cultural scholars do. There were readings from Grace Nichols, too – I was lucky to go. Then there was more VLE grief and then I decided I didn’t have it in me to go to Greenwich for a drink but came back to the bosom of Barkingside, and here I am, next to Matt watching A Scanner Darkly.

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