UniServe Science News Volume 8 November 1997


From the Director

Ian Johnston
Director, UniServe Science

In my column in the last issue, in order to try to provoke some feedback from our readers, I asked the question "Is anybody out there?" At the same time, we surveyed directly by email our departmental contacts and on-line discussion groups. We didn't get an overwhelming response, but we got some - about 15% of those we asked. To those of you who replied let me say thank you. To those of you who didn't get round to it, please feel free to do so now. We really would like to know what as many people as possible think about what we are doing.

As I've explained before, we need this information to help us get funding to continue past what CUTSD considers to be our use-by date (early next year). So it was gratifying that the vast majority of your responses were supportive. You obviously like the reviews of software packages we commission and publish. It seems you prefer to read a fellow academic's opinion rather than a spiel from the author or publisher. You liked our workshops too, again mainly for the opportunity to get together with others doing much the same kind of teaching.

Our newsletters are managing to get around most of your departments (though clearly not all) and are seen as an easy way to keep up to date with what is happening in the teaching area of your own sciences. You thought our electronic discussion groups were a bit moribund for a while, but seem to be picking up a bit now.

We also had a couple of responses from overseas. Interestingly both found it ironical, that while their leaders are talking about starting up something along the lines of our clearinghouse, our government will no longer support us and we may have to close.

You also pointed out some things we haven't done well - mainly in the area of communication. Firstly we are clearly not reaching everyone teaching sciences in our universities by a long way. (We knew that: we still keep meeting, distressingly regularly, science academics who have never heard of us.) We hope that we've started to remedy that. We've sent out QuicKards so far to 559 physicists and 648 chemists. Those numbers represent, to the very best of our knowledge, all physics and chemistry academics in the country. The rest of you, please hang on. The biochemistry QuicKard is under way, and the biology, psychology and earth sciences ones shouldn't be too far off.

Secondly, we've failed to respond to some of you in the past. There were reasons for this, including the fact that we changed staff early this year, but we'll certainly make every effort to mend that.

There were other interesting items we got from our survey. Considerably fewer of you have visited our website than have read our newsletters. And even fewer have used the searchable database which is on our website. I find that an interesting statistic. It could of course mean that our website isn't particularly good, but I suspect it means that many of you (like me) are not, as yet, great web users. A lot of you commented that you just did not have enough time to use the Web much. That should be borne in mind when we (or anyone else) are thinking about the future of organizations like UniServe Science.

I think this response said it all:

"I would be sorry to see this service disappear, especially when there is increasing pressure to use Computer Assisted Learning due to budget constraints. When and if we get enough money to spend up on computers (and space to put them - or all our students have access to the Web), it will be handy to have the information and expertise at UniServe Science to help decide how to implement CAL."

Anyhow, our funding is still completely uncertain. We'll certainly let you know if it gets any better. In the meantime we intend to carry on exactly as though we will survive. We're already planning our next workshop. See you there.

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UniServe Science News Volume 8 November 1997

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