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Pedagogy of the Net Generation

Pedagogy of the Net Generation

As we fall headlonginto the digital age, keeping abreast of new technologies is both a driver and a challenge for Liz Gosling, AUT University’s IT services director.

London-born Gosling has been at AUT University since arriving in New Zealand in 2002. She heads a 90-member IT department, who serve 2500 staff and 25,000 students. Gosling likes working for a large organisation with “lots of people, lots of challenges and lots of stuff going on”.

She joined AUT as client services manager, before taking up her current role in an acting capacity in 2004 and then formally in 2006. (AUT is number 11 as the top IT using organisation in New Zealand in this year’s MIS100.)

The move to New Zealand, with husband Mark and one daughter, followed a holiday here in 2000.

Having worked in IT since the early 1980s, including stints in the US and Europe, adapting to New Zealand was no problem.

Employers all over seek the same commitment, credibility and respect, says Gosling. IT departments in New Zealand are like those overseas, except there is more innovation here due to lack of resources with people having to be more creative and smarter — something Gosling sees as a plus.

She began her career on helpdesk support, enjoying how technology could solve business problems. She eventually became office manager, librarian and IT support person at one firm.

But seeing how her formally-qualified male co-workers were paid more, Gosling studied part-time for a BTEC HND in Computer Science at the Polytechnic of Central London (now University of Westminster).

“After that, my career took off and I worked for the European arms of some big American IT firms, including Data General,” she says.

At Data General, Gosling reported to the IT director and decided she would like a similar role, something that became available at AUT some years later.

The director, IT services role focuses on driving organisational change and business improvement, ensuring customer needs are met, leading the IT planning cycle, along with working on the procurement of complex systems and associated contacts. Gosling also chairs the university’s IT steering committee, which provides governance to the processes guiding that decision-making. She also presents at university symposiums to would-be students on her role, IT careers and what the university offers, as well as input in the AUT’s wider canvassing of industry needs which helps plan its courses.

“One of the real challenges of the role is maintaining the right, high level of focus, without becoming divorced from the day-to-day realities. I try to keep in touch with the ‘coalface’ by meeting with everyone regularly — and with 90-plus people in the team, that’s quite time-consuming — and on occasion I go and sit on the service desk and answer the phones,” she says.

Current projects and challenges include information architecture, demands for 24x7 IT services, staffing and workforce planning, and funding, in times when customers ‘rightly’ have raised expectations.

“I tend to view these as routine parts of the job — and approach them by working out what the real issue is, how much need or risk is involved, and then articulating what it means to the business,” she explains.

This is Gosling’s first CIO-type role, but she believes university CIOs operate more in environments of consultation and collaboration than others.

“The role requires persistence and an ability to keep projects moving. Universities like AUT have multiple focuses — the administration of the university requires robust, reliable infrastructure, in much the same way as a corporate, but the teaching and research areas are, by definition, focused on innovation and change, and that requires a different approach. Balancing the two is an ongoing challenge,” she says.

It also means having to listen and knowing who to get into a room to work through issues and plan the way forward.

“My role is less about the technology and more about the business. The characteristics needed for the role are patience, persistence, an ability to really listen, to be able to build relationships and the energy to keep going even when things get tough, a sense of humour and to be able to connect the different pieces of the jigsaw.”

New technology excites Gosling, particularly collaborative and social networking technologies like Bebo, Facebook and You Tube, which could well be used for learning, in line with what is happening at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Like any IT leader, networking matters with Gosling attending forums including the NZ Vice Chancellor’s Standing Committee on IT (the eight university IT directors), NZ Computer Society and Women in Technology. Gosling receives two to three invites a month but the demands of her job means she has to be choosy, so attends just six to eight events a year.

Such gatherings are valuable learning, especially if someone talks about their experiences and admit how they got things wrong. They also benefit the university.

At a recent Lenovo Thinktank conference in Canada, Gosling heard US universities were offering laptops to help recruit students, which led to the AUT’s own laptop scholarship scheme. Developed with Lenovo and Cyclone Computers, the AUT scheme saw 70 postgraduate masters and doctoral students receive their laptops in May. But they had to produce support letters from university teaching staff proving how the laptops would benefit their studies.

Overall, the job makes for a busy 50-hours-plus week for Gosling, who now has two school-age daughters. But she tries to get home at the Auckland west coast by a certain time to be with family, even if it means working when the kids are in bed. Fortunately, she says, AUT is a “progressive employer” and respectful of people having lives outside work.

“Working mums have to be far more organised, and I outsource cleaning,” she says. “I have a part-time nanny, and I do my grocery shopping online. You learn to make the most of every minute you have.”

And when not working — because IT work tends to involve long-term projects — Gosling says she likes “instant gratification” things like cooking and decorating. She is also studying for an MBA.

“You have to balance it!”

Fairfax Business Media

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