Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Ches Lincoln

One of the Open University's true online learning pioneers, Ches Lincoln, sadly died on Christmas Eve.

Ches was a brilliant, cheery, kind, caring, deeply enthusiastic technophile who had the core integrity and values of the OU woven into the very fabric of her DNA.

Whether as a technology tutor or one of the key architects of the technical infrastructure that dragged the OU into the internet age, through the vehicle of a course known as 'T171: You, your computer and the Net', she put her heart and soul into the people and systems that crossed her path.

John Naughton, another of the key brigands behind T171, often describes T171 as a "success disaster". It was the first entirely online undergraduate course in the world and pulled in 900 students for the pilot in 1999 and 13500 for the full launch the following year. In an institution in those days used to 3 to 5 year development cycles, we had to build the technical infrastructure from scratch in 9 months with the organisational equivalent of string and glue and a tiny team. We recruited and trained over 500 associate lecturers to tutor online when there were only a handful of people in the country who had ever done online teaching. And the whole experience, though successful in student recruitment and operational terms, nearly killed the university because of the vast structural changes that had to be accommodated in such a short space of time. (The 100-hour weeks were not exactly conducive to my own good health at the time either, though I've cut that to 60 since and Ches's sudden and all too early demise is making me reconsider seriously dropping to the 37 the OU computer says I do...).

So T171 remade but nearly broke the OU at the turn of the century.Yet without Ches, John, Martin Weller, Andy Reilly, Ernie Taylor and a small number of others it could never have come to fruition.

No matter how complex or difficult a problem was thrown her way, technical or personal, Ches never turned down a request for help from students, friends or colleagues. She always had time for people and displayed a level of care, understanding and compassion that was immeasurable in this world of short attention spans, tick box metrics and generally insane behaviour on the part of large organisations.

Ches you will be sadly missed.


Unknown said...

I remember the first time I met Ches, in the old EMERG lab - scared the life out of me...;-) And then came to be perhaps the best friend I had at the OU - and out of it, after she retired. She also influenced how I think about social uses of technology more than anyone else I know (which is not to say we always agreed! Indeed, it was often fun in discussion when we didn't;-)

I think perhaps I will start working more to my hours too, and spend the excess time in the garden, trying to draw on the many ideas she shared with me about garden design...

And I need to cook more - the Magiwhisk she gave me is still the best and most frequently used gadget/piece of technology I have...

Ray Corrigan said...

Hard to think of Ches being scary though she had her moments. :-)

She certainly had a clearer grasp of the craft of the pragmatic and positive use of technology in education and society more generally than most pretenders to the tech guru throne.

Unknown said...

I never met Ches, but was very much aware of her role in t171, which shaped my own life & OU career. Sad news.