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Well hello there.

On my amberatwarwick blog I’ve just announced our team’s new website.

I am itching to get blogging again, but struggling to find time. Lots of worky things on my mind: lecture capture is turning out to be very interesting, I’d love to learn how to work with linked data but I probably don’t have the foundations, I’ve been pondering the nature of learning technologists, prompted by Sheila McNeill’s post, and thinking about what it means to manage a team of learning technologists. Also I need to start christmas shopping. And do some ironing. So I don’t think I’ll be blogging again quite yet or it will all come out in a big unstructured thoughtvomit.

In the meantime, I’ll share some of my favourite online things in case you might like them too:

I notice that google+ circles seems to be picking up again, in my networks at least. I’m tweeting less than I used to, but still love twitter. I’d like to get into reddit but I suspect I would become obsessive about it. I’ve been experimenting with a pinterest board while I daydream about redecorating the lounge.

If only decorating was as easy as in the Sims. Should I tell you my husband made a copy of our house in the sims? Oh yes he did.


How terrifying is that!?



I wasn’t watching Jamie Oliver talking about poor people’s food habits last night, but I spotted some annoyance so I went to find out, and am 100% with Alex Andreou’s piece in the Guardian. I can testify that “poor people’s bread does not go stale, it goes mouldy”. In pursuit of the perfect bread-and-gruyere-topped onion soup, I made several attempts to catch my sliced wrapped loaf at the optimum staleness. I  eventually once bought a bread stick specifically to slice, leave out for the day. This for an allegedly peasant dish.

The point Andreou raises, though, is a serious one. It is all too easy to judge people and find them wanting.

Since becoming a mum I have felt pressure more than ever before to conform to other people’s views of how I should run my life. It adds up to a pretty lengthy list of things about which I feel guilty, inadequate and even neglectful.

The List of Things I am Supposed to Feel Guilty About


The Baby Years

  • I didn’t stick to a feeding/sleeping routine. Sorry, Gina Ford.
  • I dared to look my babies in the eye when I fed them at night. Sorry again, Gina.
  • I used disposable nappies. Because my house at the time didn’t have much radiator/airing space for cloth nappies, and because I worried about keeping up with the washing. And because £80 for a starter kit felt a lot more that the hundreds I eventually drip fed the supermarkets.
  • I didn’t make all my own baby foods. Sorry, Annabel Karmel.
  • I didn’t carry around a tupperware box full of blueberries. Or quartered grapes. Or mango slices. If they were hungry I bought them something. From a shop. A banana if the shop had one.
  • I bought rich tea biscuits instead of the cutesy packaged baby biscuits. Because they were cheaper. And actually healthier, since you raised your eyebrows.
  • I didn’t take them to tumbletots.
  • I didn’t do babysigning.
  • Some days the telly was on for hours. Some days we watched the same episode of Mr Maker twice.
  • I went out with sick on my jumper. Knowingly.
  • I parked in a layby while they slept in the back, and I slept too.
  • I drank coffee and tea during the phase I was breastfeeding.
  • I drank wine.
  • I drank guinness.
  • I breastfed with a glass of wine in my hand.
  • I went back to work at 10 months, for my sanity and my bank balance. Sure, I had choices, but they tipped heavily towards working, particularly because I’m fairly well paid.

Despite all the bad, bad, terrible things listed above, there are things I am proud of. I did breastfeed them both until they were 10 months, I weaned them to be adventurous eaters. I kept them safe, I got complimented on both of my happy, well behaved little boys. Apart from apparently poisoning them with toxins and neglecting their psychological development, I’ve done ok.


Chapter Two: The School Years

I had thought the worst was over, but I see now that it is just beginning. My eldest is 6 and my list is already growing fast.

  • Not dropping him off at school door, because he goes to before-and-after school club and does a 8:30-5:30 day
  • Not having insightful comments to write on his school report.
  • Not baking for the PTA cake sales. I did a tiffin once but suspect the cost:profit ratio only benefited tescos.
  • Not managing to go to the cake sales. I love cake. But I love using my annual leave up for quality time too.
  • Not going to PTA meetings because they clash with other commitments that my husband and I don’t want to sacrifice.
  • Not being able to have my son’s friends back for tea.
  • Not teaching him mindful meditation.
  • Not doing kumon maths.
  • Letting both my boys eat happy meals sometimes.
  • Letting my eldest drink cola sometimes.
  • Letting my eldest play computer games.

You see, not having delicious wholesome family meals around the dining table is the least of my problems. I feel guilty about everything. Everything.
Right now I’m writing this at the boys bedtime and should be doing that. Instead I can hear star wars on the PS2 in the kitchen and my youngest is jumping around, naked apart from socks. It is 7:40pm.

There’s always something I should be doing instead of what I want to do. If I did everything on my to do list, I would not sleep. I could not physically combine full time work and perfect parenting. By that I mean it’s against the laws of space and time.

All the time I am making these day to day terrible decisions, there is a whole barrage of lifestyle experts looking down their noses at me. And I’m middle class: I work, I pay taxes, I’m married, I have two children, two rabbits and two cars. (I’m not sure where the rabbits fit in that description, apart from a 2.4ishness). I live in a nice house on a nice estate, with nice neighbours. My life is good. And yet I am riddled with anxiety that my life is not good enough. Not healthy enough, not cultural enough, not social enough. To top it all, I am overweight. Health, food, size and guilt: don’t get me started. That’s a whole other yet-to-be-written-blogpost about the “how to be a woman” section of the List of Guilt.

And so we are back to the sins of eating chips in front of the tv. How dare they. Whats wrong with carrots and hummus sticks? And why aren’t they watching Film4?

There are too many ways to be judged and found wanting. What’s wrong with just good enough?

My son wrote a message for me this morning. Genuinely, this is not staged.

I heart mum

I heart mum

“I heart mum”. Written in dust. He obviously thinks I’m doing ok.

I had a little spurt of blogging on sunday night,  followed by what I can only describe as a migraine on Monday. Rather odd. I suspect they are linked.

Anyhow, here’s what I wrote in case you subscribe to me here and missed it there:

MOOLDs: MOOCs and Learning Designs

The Academic Politics of Data Visualisation

Academics: bring your own identity

Hopefully I’ll be blogging a bit more again now, minus migraines.





At some point last week my husband Tim downloaded a new game to his phone: Plague.Inc from Ndemic. He loved it, said I might I like it. I liked it. I’ll tell you about it  …

You choose how you’d like to wipe out humanity. At first it’s just bacteria, but as you gain DNA points you get more options.


select plague type

You name your chosen killer disease, pick the part of the world to infect first, and off you go.


infect a country

Gradually you can choose different transmission types – fancy a bird flu? insects? or just airborne? I’ve got the most experience on bacteria so I’ll focus on that. You optimise it for different climates. The trick is to keep the symptoms low key so that the health authorities don’t notice. Then as you infect the world, and they start to notice, you spend your DNA points on building antibiotic resistance and other cunning tactics to avoid them curing you. When you’re ready, you let the symptoms build up into horrible nasty medical conditions and ultimately death. It’s you against humanity. And it is BRILLIANT! And every type of disease needs different tactics and game arcs, so it builds and builds.

The intriguing thing to me is the story behind it. Apparently the creator, James Vaughan, had never made a game before. But he had the idea, got himself £5,000 in cash, an old mac and a couple of programmers working with him (for free, I think), and off they went. He was inspired by pandemic, which I haven’t played. 3 days after launch it was a top download on IoS. The game is now a massive hit on IoS and android markets. He didn’t even spend money on marketing, it spread by recommendation. A viral viral game.

There’s a long interview with him on the Ed Tech Crew website but that was before he’d even released to android. I’d been thinking he must be an epidemiologist or virologist, but I know now he’s a management consultant. And he’s not himself a programmer, he designed the game structure, then he found the people to make it happen: programming (Mario), graphics, sound. In his job “I didn’t really make solid things, I gave advice to other people”: here’s a story of an advisor becoming a maker. It took a long time to find the right people, they worked remotely, without ever having met face to face. As he put it himself, its a “story about globalisation and the power of technology to connect people together“. He used MS Excel to programme it, to tweak the algorithms.

To feed the game’s variables, to give depth to the world’s geography he used an open dataset from the UN from 2011, what a fantastic illustration of the power of open data for a simulation tool. I’ve always loved SimCity, it increased my understanding of town planning and urban regeneration. Imagine SimCity powered by open data, with simulation models by sociologists, criminologists, environmentalists. I’ve heard of serious games and I know about simulations used in education, but Plague.Inc really brings the potential to life, and it is a properly fun, engaging, rewarding, challenging game. Imagine what else could be done. Curiosity plus rich data plus talented people can make amazing things happen, I hope this a sign of more to come.

Only a few weeks ago I was lamenting on this very blog that culturally-speaking, I don’t get out much. Soon after, I spotted something intriguing. The Royal Shakespeare Company was running a special event for bloggers, at the Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon (which as I had blogged, is only 20 minutes drive away, yet I rarely go to the theatre). The offer was to watch the play, for free, then meet some of the cast and crew, and blog about it. Clearly, this was fate calling. I shall go to the ball theatre.

And so it came to pass that on Tuesday 8th January I found myself a guest of the press office, treated to a performance of a Pushkin play, Boris Godunov. I deliberately didn’t do any research beforehand so I found my seat, skimmed the programme for the plot précis, looked at the bios of the actors, and settled back for the lights to go down.

First surprise: the lights didn’t go down. The music came on, performed live in the gallery of the theatre, and the suddenly the stage was filled with drunken 16th century revellers shouting, kissing, drinking, rolling out across the stage and on the walkways through the stalls. Having expected a serious-strokey-beard-russian-play, I had assumed dark, brooding, with occasional bombastic shouting. Clearly I was wrong. It was so bright I had a chance to examine the faces of the audience, who, unlike me, were playing it very cool. The lights later dimmed and the play then settled into a more conventional set up and I relaxed again.

The costumes were lavish, all heavily embroidered cloaks and trousers tucked into boots. The stage design was fairly minimal, though with a careful use of height, depth and distance. The storyline started to lay itself out: the rise and rise of a middle ranking Godunov, played by Lloyd Hutchinson the jealousy of royal nobles, the carefully PR-managed acceptance of the throne of Tsar, and the emerging rumours of Godunov’s backstory as a murderer of the previous Tsar’s brother many years before. In parallel we meet the pretender to the throne, a niave but increasingly confident runaway monk, Grigory, played by Gethin Anthony. The play returned again and again to the crowd scenes, which were unexpectedly funny, often irreverant, chaotic … a key collective character, and in fact the only character that had any real power.

RSC production information includes a Trailer which gives a good flavour of it. You can also read Pushin’s text online for free here thanks to Project Gutenberg. Boris Godunov was written in the mid 1800s but set in 1605, and that is part of the reason for including it in this season: Shakespeare often used historical analogies to make politically sensitive points. As the trailer hints, there are shadows of Stalinist Russia, and towards the end of the play I even spotted a mobile phone in a crowd scene, bringing us bang up to date. My first realisation that there was some playfulness with time was an early scene with the elderly monk in the 1600s writing by the glow of an electric light suspended on a cable. Throughout the performance there were time shifts forward, sometimes in subtle cues sometimes in great leaps.

It was this time travelling that I most wanted to ask the cast and crew about in the post show discussion. The 8 or so bloggers got to meet the 4 main characters and the assistant director to ask questions …

I mentioned my light bulb moment in the monk scene and got a reply from the monk himself, Gethin Anthony.

Some serious fashion bloggers were asking about costume, and I was pleased to hear I wasn’t the only one rather entranced by the boots. Lloyd Hutchinson said that the costumes definitely make a difference to how he acts. There is a point where they put on contemporary suits and shirts, and he said he felt his body language change. Certainly all the actors nodded at the importance of the clothing. I hadn’t known that the company is also running two other productions in parallel, so the difference between the costume, the set, the spoken style must be very important to them being able to switch hats, quite literally, from show to show.

There were some serious questions too, about Russian history, the apparent preference for autocracy over democracy. There was a particularly famous monk wrapped up in the Tsar’s family that escaped reference in this production. I think you know who I’m talking about. Come on RSC, maybe after the final bow? ;-p

But it’s when we talked about ideas of the Russian character that it got most interesting for me. The production had been advised by experts on Russian culture about what characters like Godunov would or wouldn’t do. Lloyd had questioned that all Russian men can’t surely be so smiliar, that there must be regional and personality differences. If the strong controlled style is so primary, “how come Putin cried his eyes out in public?”. I said something that probably came out wrong, that when one high brow theatre elite talks to another, they are exchanging information on the theatrical conventions. Surely, I agree with Lloyd, the real spectrum of personalities is as broad in every culture: the cultural stereotypes are about the most common characteristics or the most highly regarded, they are not, by definition, the totality of self-expression.


So. Did I enjoy Boris Godunov? Very much. Did I like meeting the stars of the show? Very much. What key messages would I take away with me?

  • Costumes matter
  • Timetravelling can be subtly subversive
  • You don’t have to discuss theatre in hushed tones with long words (See how I have resisted showing my knowledge of new historicism in relation to the staging of this play? I’m not a philistine I just try to wear my learning lightly. ahem.)
  • Acting sounds like hard work
  • It is true that actors go to the dirty duck after shows (I was tempted to follow them there and eavesdrop but that would probably have been sinister)
  • Boots tucked into trousers is a good look and you should try it.

Thank you to the RSC for the chance to do this! An evening very well spent, enjoyable and thought-provoking too.

Boris Godunov runs in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until 30 March 2013.  More information:

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Today is my last day at JISC after nearly 7 years.

I have had two chunks of maternity leave during that time so my team are probably a little bored of saying good bye 😉 Not to mention my previous stint about (ahem) 12 years ago (I know, I know, I’m older than I behave). However, today is the real deal.

I have been provided an embarrassment of riches in leaving cards, gifts and kind words. I am never sure how to respond to compliments, so I googled it and the advice is to take it, thank the giver, show your joy.

So …

CETIS folk. Lorna, thank you for this wonderful post. I’m going to re-read it when things get tough, you are very generous. Martin, thank you for the digital flowers. I will continue to pimp your sh1t, because you’re a wizard. And thank you all for the beautiful brooch which will always remind me of our “into the wild” booksprint

Jorum team, thank you for the Visual Storytelling book and the funny card, and Jackie’s kind words. And for generally doing an amazing job. I am so looking forward to the big reveal of the new interfaces! It’s been a real pleasure working with you.

OER Community. Yes, I think we can say community.  I was in the middle of writing this post when David alerted me to this post and this one. I’m not leaving you, just changing role. Fingers crossed I’ll be joining in. But with my JISC hat can I say what a talented bunch of people we have in UK universities? I’d absolutely agree with what Pete (one of the stars) said about the big contributions some people have made, Pete’s list, Pat’s additions and I’d add Sarah Currier and the much missed John R Robertson too. It’s easy to look good with folk like this around.

JISC colleagues, well. Gulp. Where can I start? Thank you for my 3 leaving cards, my wine and nibbles, wagamamas, the canadian pub with the table football hustler (who knew?!), my gorgeous necklace and bracelet, the chocolates, the bristol pub trip and many emails and hugs. Thank you Rachel, thank you Digital Infrastructure Team (I won’t miss the nerf guns but I will miss you), thank you everyone. I could write a whole blog post on the many talents I’ve been lucky to work with. I look forward to our paths crossing again in the new year when do doubt I’ll be knocking on your door asking for money advice.

I’ll stop now before this turns into a who’s who of people-who-amber-likes-working-with.

I’ll leave you with this:

I’m very much looking forward to getting to know people at Warwick University and get my teeth into my new role, I am very lucky to be able to take a warm happy glow with me 🙂

Some news from me …

I’ve been at JISC since 2006, and I am very proud to have worked with colleagues across the sector in supporting practice in repositories, open access, learning materials, IPR and open educational resources. I truly work with some amazing people, inside and outside of JISC.

However, as Nina Simone sang, everything must change, nothing stays the same. It’s time for me to make a change.

I am delighted to announce that I am going to be taking up a new post in December at the University of Warwick. It’s on my home turf: an opportunity came up at the nearest university to where I live, and how lucky am I that it happens to be Warwick?!  Working in IT within the Services Development team, I’ll be service owner for Academic Technology Support. We’ll be a team of seven specialists in e-learning and research technologies working across the university to support academics.  I’m really excited, I can’t wait to get my teeth into it.

If you like the sound of the team: there is a new vacancy for a senior academic technologist (closing date 25th October). If you’re based at Warwick and reading this I’d love to hear from you! I’m @ambrouk on twitter, or contact me through this blog. And if you’re in a similar role at another institution, please get in touch and share your wisdom! 😀

A while ago I blogged about how many people I work with in the field of educational technology that have philosophy-related backgrounds. Recently I found that three women that I’ve worked with have a shared disciplinary background too: Naomi Korn, Lorna Campbell and Alicia Wise all started out as archaeologists.

It was ALT-C week, a big gathering of folk working in the meeting point of technology and education. I couldn’t resist a quick survey.

I asked:

  • what is your disciplinary background? (this was a free text field)
  • how relevant/useful is it to ed tech?

At the time of writing, I’ve have 57 responses and the results are very interesting.

Firstly, disciplinary backgrounds …

I think there might be some interesting trends/patterns there.  I made this word cloud with and used the first graphic it gave me, I haven’t tidied it up.

But more interesting were the responses to the other question. How many of these disciplines would you say are “relevant/useful” to ed tech?

Well … this looks pretty significant to me …

Hmmm!!! What I haven’t yet done is correlate the discipline to the relevance score. But at glance at the responses I would say that there isn’t a strong correlation between background and perceived relevance. So what does that mean? Is there something these disciplinary background have in common that contribute to their relevance? Or is ed tech a field that makes use of lots of disciplinary approaches? Or are people that gravitate towards ed tech people who are good at applying approaches across disciplines. Or? Or? …
The survey is still live at

If anyone is interested in getting the data to do some proper analysis please contact me!

I couldn’t resist this.

I’ve been threatening to write a blog post called Fifty Shades of Open, and I’ve also been dying to play with to make an infographic. So here it is!

50shadesofopen title=

with particular thanks to Peter Reed for getting me to think further about the dimensions of openness stuff, which I started to explore in my post on the sunlight effect.

This is very much thoughts in beta. My main point here is that for me, the pure open, the “open as in heart”, is only one meaning of open. A pure one, but not the only one. In the open education space we are reaching the point that the open source movement reached with the “gratis vs libre” debate. That created the acceptance of a new umbrella name of Free and Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS). The purists cannot control the use of the word open. Some activities promoting themselves as open might actually be a very very very dark shade of grey. Yes, that is “openwashing”. But who polices the use of language around open? It’s not so simply dismissed as a black and white issue, for example, I still think that free is more important than editable. But what does “free” mean in this era of devices, cheap apps and user data business models?

I think ultimately, openness comes in fifty shades of grey.

… and since you ask, yes I have read all three books and I loved them!