Countdown to the JISC CETIS conference 2012

There are only 36 days left until our biggest event of the year, our annual conference. This year’s event, titled The Future Just Happened? Technology Innovation in Universities and Colleges, will be held again at the National College for School Leadership in Nottingham and promises to be a fascinating couple of days.

The conference title is inspired by Michael Lewis’s 2001 book, Next: The Future Just Happened, which predicted the massive impact that technology and the internet would have on every aspect of our lives. Ten years on many of his predictions have become a reality. Meanwhile 2012 will be a year of unprecedented change in the way that higher education in the UK is funded. For the first time students (especially in England) will be funding their own way through university taking out loans of up to £27,000 for a three year degree. This marketization of higher education will certainly have a profound effect on the HE landscape over the next few years; an interesting backdrop then for this year’s conference.

The keynotes for the conference will reflect on these themes of technology innovation and institutional change. Ian Hughes Metaverse Evangelist, TV presenter and Director of Feeding Edge Ltd opens the conference by looking towards the technologies emerging in the next few years. This year’s conference is immediately preceded by the IMS quarterly meeting and Rob Abel, IMS Chief Executive Officer will consider the role that interoperability standards play in technology development. In closing the conference Mark Stubbs Head of Learning and Research Technologies Manchester Metropolitan University, will respond to a challenge from the 2007 CETIS conference to deliver better information systems to support learning and teaching in 2012 by describing the new MMU core+ virtual learning environment which has been rolled out to 35,000 users.

As well as the keynotes a CETIS staff are running ten parallel sessions over the two days. Two sessions (a codebash on day 1 and demonstration session on day2) will focus on the Question and Test Interoperability 2.1 specification which is nearing final release. Student retention is becoming increasingly important for institutions and a session on using data to improve student retention will be a popular choice. The Thwarted or Embedded session will attempt to determine the key factors which determine whether technology is adopted by organisations. JISC has is now working in partnership with the ROLE project to develop an educational app store, and there is a session on day 1 to help define requirements, use cases and contribution to this work. The Learning Registry session will report on another new initiative from the US which will investigate how social activity around online educational content can be captured and fed back to users, creators and publishers.

Looking to the future the Emerging Reality session on day two will imagine what new learning organisations might emerge as funding conditions change. The idea of open badges emerged as a hot topic in 2011, and there will be a parallel session to discuss whether it is an approach that could work in education. Analytics is also becoming more important as we struggle to get a grip on how learners behave online, the Social Network Analysis will look at some of the latest tools and techniques. And if none of the above appeals there is (back by popular demand) an open mic session where delegates have 10 minutes to hold forth on a subject close to their hearts.

A packed programme then, and if this hasn’t yet whetted your appetite maybe a browse through reports from our previous conferences will.

Register for JISC CETIS Conference 2012 in Nottingham, United Kingdom  on Eventbrite

Business Adopts Archi Modelling Tool

Many technologies and tools in use in universities and colleges are not developed for educational settings. In the classroom particularly teachers have become skilled at applying new technologies such as Twitter to educational tasks. But technology also plays a crucial role behind the scenes in any educational organisation in supporting and managing learning, and like classroom tools these technologies are not always developed with education in mind. So it is refreshing to find an example of an application developed for UK Higher and Further education being adopted by the commercial sector.

Archi is an open source ArchiMate modelling tool developed as part of JISC’s Flexible Service Delivery programme to help educational institutions take their first steps in enterprise architecture modelling. ArchiMate is a modelling language hosted by the Open Group who describe it as “a common language for describing the construction and operation of business processes, organizational structures, information flows, IT systems, and technical infrastructure”. Archi enforces all the rules of ArchiMate so that the only relationships that can be established are those allowed by the language.

Since the release of version 1.0 in June 2010 Archi has built up a large user base and now gets in excess of 1000 downloads per month. Of course universities and colleges are not the only organisations that need a better understanding of their internal business processes, we spoke to Phil Beauvoir, Archi developer at JISC CETIS, about the tool and why it has a growing number of users in the commercial world.

Christina Smart (CS): Can you start by giving us a bit of background about Archi and why was it developed?

Phil Beauvoir (PB): In summer of 2009 Adam Cooper asked whether I was interested in developing an ArchiMate modelling tool. Some of the original JISC Flexible Service Delivery projects had started to look at their institutional enterprise architectures, and wanted to start modelling. Some projects had invested in proprietary tools, such as BiZZdesign’s Architect, and it was felt that it would be a good idea to provide an open source alternative. Alex Hawker (the FSD Programme manager) decided to invest six months of funding to develop a proof of concept tool to model using the ArchiMate language. The tool would be aimed at the beginner, be open source, cross-platform and would have limited functionality. I started development on Archi in earnest in January 2010 and by April had the first alpha version 0.7 ready. Version 1.0 was released in June 2010, it grew from there.

CS: How would you describe Archi?
PB: The web site describes Archi as: “A free, open source, cross platform, desktop application that allows you to create and draw models using the ArchiMate language”. Users who can’t afford proprietary software, would use standard drawing tools such as Omnigraffle or Visio for modelling. Archi is positioned somewhere between those drawing tools and a tool like BiZZdesign’s Architect. It doesn’t have all the functionality and enterprise features of the BiZZdesign tool, but it has more than just plain drawing tools. Archi also has hints and helps and user assistance technology built into it, so when you’re drawing elements there are certain ArchiMate rules about which connections you can make, if you try to make a connection that’s not allowed you get an explanation why not. So for the beginner it is a great way to start understanding ArchiMate. We keep the explanations simple because we aim to make things easier for those users who beginners in ArchiMate. As the main developer I try to keep Archi simple, because there’s always a danger that you can keep adding on features and that would make it unusable. I try to steer a course between usability and features.

Archi screenshot

Archi screenshot

Another aspect of Archi is the way it supports the modelling conversation. Modelling is not done in isolation; it’s about capturing a conversation between key stakeholders in an organisation. Archi allows you to sketch a model and take notes in a Sketch View before you add the ArchiMate enterprise modelling rules. A lot of people use the Sketch View. It enables a capture of a conversation, the “soft modelling” stage before undertaking “hard modelling”.

CS: How many people are using it within the Flexible Service Delivery programme?
PB: I’m not sure, I know the King’s College, Staffordshire and Liverpool John Moores projects were using it. Some of the FSD projects tended to use both Architect and Archi. If they already had one licence for BiZZdesign Architect they would carry on using it for their main architect, whereas other “satellite” users in the institution would use Archi.

CS: Archi has a growing number of users outside education, who are they and how did they discover Archi?
PB: Well the first version was released in June 2010, and people in the FSD programme were using it. Then in July 2010 I got an email from a large Fortune 500 insurance company in the US, saying they really liked the tool and would consider sponsoring Archi if we implemented a new feature. I implemented the feature anyway and we’ve built up the relationship with them since then. I know that this company has in the region of 100 enterprise architects and they’ve rolled Archi out as their standard enterprise architecture modelling tool.

I am also aware of other commercial companies using it, but how did they discover it? Well I think it’s been viral. A lot of businesses spend a lot of money advertising and pushing products, but the alternate strategy is pull, when customers come to you. Archi is of the pull variety, because there is a need out there, we haven’t had to do very much marketing, people seem to have found Archi on their own. Also the TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework) developed by the Open Group is becoming very popular and I guess Archi is useful for people adopting TOGAF.

In 2010 BiZZdesign were I think concerned about Archi being a competitor in the modelling tool space. However now they’re even considering offering training days on Archi, because Archi has become the de facto free enterprise modelling tool. Archi will never be a competitor to BiZZdesign’s Architect, they have lots of developers and there’s only me working on Archi, it would be nuts to try to compete. So we will focus on the aspects of Archi that make it unique, the learning aspects, the focus on beginners and the ease of use, and clearly forge out a path between the two sets of tools.

Many people will start with Archi and then upgrade to BiZZdesign’s Architect, so we’re working on that upgrade path now.

CS: Why do you think it is so popular with business users?
PB: I’m end-user driven, for me Archi is about the experience of the end users, ensuring that the experience is first class and that it “just works”. It’s popular with business users firstly because it’s free, secondly because it works on all platforms, thirdly because it’s aimed at those making their first steps with ArchiMate.

CS: What is the immediate future for Archi?
PB: We’re seeking sponsorship deals and other models of sustainability because obviously JISC can’t go on supporting it forever. One of the models of sustainability is to get Archi adopted by something like the Eclipse Foundation. But you have to be careful that development continues in those foundations, because there is a risk of it becoming a software graveyard, if you don’t have the committers who are prepared to give their time. There is a vendor who has expressed an interest in collaborating with us to make sure that Archi has a future.

Lots of software companies now have service business models, so you provide the tool for free but charge for providing services on top of the free tool. The Archi tool will always be free, anyone could package it up and sell it. I know they’re doing that in China because I’ve had emails from people doing it, they’ve translated it and are selling it and that’s ok because that’s what the licence model allows.

In terms of development we’re adding on some new functionality. A new concept of a Business Model Canvas is becoming popular, where you sketch out your new business models. The canvas is essentially a nine box grid which you add various key partners, stakeholders etc to. We’re adding a canvas construction kit to Archi, so people can design their own canvas for new business models. The canvas construction kit is aimed at the high level discussions that people have when they start modelling their organisations.

CS: You’ve developed a number of successful applications for the education sector over the years, including, Colloquia, Reload and ReCourse, how do you feel the long term future for Archi compares with those?
PB: Colloquia was the first tool I developed back in 1998, and I don’t really think it’s used anymore. But really Colloquia was more a proof of concept to demonstrate that you could create a learning environment around the conversational model, which supported learning in a different way from the VLEs that were emerging at the time. Its longevity has been as a forerunner to social networking and to the concept of the Personal Learning Environment.

Reload was a set of tools for doing content packaging and SCORM. They’re not meant for teachers, but they’re still being used.

The ReCourse Learning Design tool developed for a very niche audience of those people developing scripted learning designs.

I think the long term future for Archi is better than those, partly because there’s a very large active community using it, and partly because it can be used by all enterprises and isn’t just a specific tool for the education sector. I think Archi has an exciting future.

User feedback
Phil has received some very positive feedback about Archi via email from JISC projects as well as those working in the commercial world.

JISC projects
“The feeling I get from Archi is that it’s helping me to create shapes, link and position them rather than jumping around dictating how I can work with it. And the models look much nicer too… I think Archi will allow people to investigate EA modelling cost free to see whether it works for them, something that’s not possible at the moment.”

“So why is Archi significant? It is an open source tool funded by JISC based on the ArchiMate language that achieves enough of the potential of a tool like BiZZdesign Architect to make it a good choice for relatively small enterprises, like the University of Bolton to develop their modelling capacity without a significant software outlay.” [15] Stephen Powell from the Co-educate project (JISC Curriculum Design Programme).

Commercial
“I’m new to EA world, but Archi 1.1 makes me fill like at home! So easy to use and so exciting…”

“Version 1.3 looks great! We are rolling Archi out to all our architects next week. The ones who have tried it so far all love it.”

Find Out More
If this interview has whetted your appetite, more information about Archi, and the newly released version 2.0 is available at http://archi.cetis.ac.uk. For those in the north, there will be an opportunity to see Archi demonstrated at the forthcoming 2nd ArchiMate Modelling Bash being held in St Andrews on the 1st and 2nd November.

Innovating e-Learning 2011: Learning in transition

The JISC e-learning team is once again running an online conference in November. Sarah Knight has forwarded some details of the event, and as ever it looks like there’s a packed programme:

The sixth JISC online conference takes place this year on 22-25 November 2011, with pre-conference activities running from 15 November.

The conference is relevant to a wide range of delegates from further and higher education. Register now to explore through live presentations and asynchronous debates some of the latest thinking about the benefits and challenges of enhancing learning and teaching with technology.

The title of the 2011 conference, Learning in transition, reflects the challenges institutions and practitioners are facing in the fast-changing landscape of post-16 education, including preparing students for employment. Sessions are organised under two themes, each with its own keynote presenter:

* Learning landscapes explores the potential in technology to forge cross-sector collaboration through which further and higher education institutions, learners and employers can work together to shape a more forward-looking curriculum

* Navigating pathways opens up some of the challenges involved in learning and teaching in a digital age and discusses potential technology-enhanced solutions

New this year

The conference this year has a distinctly participatory feel with even more live events. You can take part in a number of ways:

* Register at www.jisc.ac.uk/elpconference11

· Contribute to the pre-conference activity week. Innovations this year include a Pecha Kucha session. To take part, email geoffm@directlearn.co.uk.

· Try out new tools and techniques throughout the pre-conference week

* Share your reflections as the conference unfolds in a designated Thinking Space
* Participate in live Elluminate® debates
* Be inspired to contribute to James Clay’s blog, Letters from the Edge
* Follow the conference on Twitter @ jiscel2011
* Contribute your views on Twitter using #jiscel11

The fee for Innovating e-Learning 2011 remains unchanged at £50. Don’t wait – book now for the best value-for-money conference of its kind!

Social and Multimedia – the Guardian Way

It was a rare treat to spend last Thursday at the Guardian offices on an “Insight to journalism” course run by the Guardian Education Centre, and hear firsthand how they are using social and multimedia.

During a busy day we heard from a range of journalists, reporters, correspondents, producers and editors about the internal workings of the Guardian and how it is increasingly using social and multimedia. Margaret Holborn, Head of Guardian News and Media Education Centre, introduced the day with an overview of the paper’s history and constitution. Since moving to the new offices at King’s Place the Guardian now takes an integrated approach to its journalism with joint teams producing the printed paper and the web site, she said.

Next, Nell Boase Managing Editor with responsibility for the web site outlined some of the daily challenges of running the web presence and discussed some of the ways in which reader generated content was used on the site. The issue of payment for reader submitted photos came up in discussion, and Nell said that if the photo made front page news the reader would be paid at normal space rates.

Laurence Topham, Video Producer, introduced the art of making videos for the site and showed a film he’d made of a Tea Party meeting in Nevada. Interestingly, the Guardian is training journalists to be able to produce their own videos while on location. We picked up some interesting tips, like always use an external microphone. Later in the day we also got to do some of our own video editing (with iMovie) using footage from a project the paper is running in Katine Uganda.

Guardian.co.uk is an increasingly complex set of web sites, and Celine Bijleveld, Network Production Editor described how the sites cater for three types of users, those looking for a single story, those looking for the general news that day, and those that want both specialist news and breadth. With over 200 requests from editors each day for front page space, the web team need to balance the content of the front page, updating it continually. A number of different layouts are available including “special” and “nuclear” when a story, like the 2010 general election, is the most important news of the day.

Community Co-ordinators Laura Oliver (News) and Hannah Freeman (Culture) described how the Guardian is working with the community using social media tools like twitter and facebook. These tools offer speed and reach particularly during breaking news events, like the unrest in Egypt, but are also challenging in terms of verifying the facts. The team are using tools like AudioBoo to capture sound recordings of events as they happen. Hannah described how culture – film, books and arts – has a slightly different and dedicated audience who follow the interviews and features on the site. A new children’s books section of the site, where books are reviewed by children, represents a new venture in terms of reader generated content. This mutualism, building up the relationship the Guardian has with its readers in a number of ways, is a key strategy for the paper.

Podcasts have been produced at the Guardian since 2006, and Science Correspondent Alok Jha described how they were using podcasting in increasingly creative ways. Through the Science Weekly podcast Alok and his team aim to explain science in an understandable way, often interviewing famous scientists when they are in town. Not being a radio show meant that the Guardian podcasts could be less strict about content and style, he said.

A highlight for me was Guardian news reporter Adam Gabbatt describing live blogging from the recent student protests over tuition fee rises. He told how he creates minute by minute commentary by getting information from a number of sources including reporters on the scene, tweets from people in the crowd, and some audio and video. A video uploaded by reader had become a front page news story when the Metropolitan Police denied that mounted officers had charged the crowd, and the video showed otherwise, he said. The Guardian will run 2-3 live blogs per day.

John Stuttle, Systems editor gave a 10 minute tutorial on setting up a blog site on WordPress, and how to include images and embed video. John gave us lots of tips and advice on getting a blog started.

Looking to the future Tom Happold, Head of Multimedia said that multimedia at the Guardian would continue to be driven by what new technologies become available in the next 10 years. But with falling sales in newspapers the need to make money would become increasingly important he said. The Guardian would continue to focus on what it does well, journalism, and there was a training programme in place for staff to improve their video and audio production skills, he said.

At the end of the day David Marsh Production Editor judged the headline competition. We’d been asked to write two headlines on the death of Elizabeth Taylor, one for the paper and one for the web. Going through the entries, David shared some wisdom on what makes a good headline for each medium, where space was limited for print, but could be more creative especially if linked to a photo, compared with the web where the subject is vital to pull in readers via search engines, but there is often more space for longer headline. (I was ridiculously pleased to come third).

Finally Laurence returned to show us his brilliant Katine video, produced with some of the footage we had played with. Even the professionals need to get feedback on what they produce, and he had reordered the clips in response to feedback from his colleagues, he said.

A fascinating and thought provoking day I would definitely recommend, thanks to Margaret and the team.

CETIS sessions at JISC conference

Registration for this year’s JISC Conference on the 14th and 15th of March in Liverpool is now open. This year JISC CETIS is running two sessions. Wilbert Kraan and Phil Beauvoir will be Introducing Archi in a demonstration session on the evening of the 14th. Wilbert and Phil will introduce the Archi modelling tool and describe how it can be used to help understand organisational enterprise architecture.

On the 15th Paul Hollins and Wilbert Kraan are hosting a one hour symposium on The benefits of open standards. This session builds our briefing paper Assessing the Business Case for Standards highlighting the key roles standards can play in institutional IT strategies. There will be presentations from Patrick O’Reilly from the University of Bolton on the standards underpinning a move from WebCT to Moodle, and Gary Wills from the University of Southampton on developing assessment systems based on QTI.

We will also be running an exhibition standard with colleagues from the other Innovation Support Centres, UKOLN and OSS Watch, the theme will be supporting innovation. The JISC conference is a great networking opportunity so we hope to catch up with many colleagues there.

Cloud Culture report published

Last week Counterpoint, the British Council think tank, published the “Cloud Culture, the future of global cultural relations” pamphlet by Charles Leadbeater. In it Charles charts the cultural impact that the web has had in the last 15 years and looks ahead to how cloud computing will influence cultural developments over the coming decades.

“We have the potential to make available more culture and ideas in more forms to more people than ever: a digitally enabled, cultural cornucopia…..

…Yet this possibility, a vastly enhanced global space for cultural expression, is threatened by intransigent vested interests, hungry new monopolists and governments intent on reasserting control over the unruly web.”

Charles outlines the following threats to a truly open cloud:

* Censorship and the Power of Government
* Copyright:Old Media Seeks Protection from the Storm
* Cloud Capitalists
* Unequal Access to the Cloud

A thought provoking report and well worth reading.

Ten years of Technology

This week Bobbie Johnson at the Guardian is blogging about the technology developments in each of the last ten years of the noughties. Today he’s up to 2002, with the rise and rise of Google and the rise and fall of Napster.

Similarly the BBC are looking back over the noughties and this morning I caught on radio 4 Defining the decade which today focussed on Google and the impact of the internet (the other two themes being climate change and terrorism).

Anyone fancy doing a post on the last ten years of technology in education?

Barriers to Innovation

As a JISC Innovation Support Centre we often discuss the conditions needed to foster innovation, at local as well as national levels. So I was interested to come across this Futurelab literature review on Overcoming the Barriers to Educational Innovation by Kieron Kirkland and Dan Sutch.

Although the report focusses on innovation in schools, there is a lot that is directly applicable to universities and colleges. The authors group barriers into the following key themes:

“1. Innovation
2. Informal and social support structures
3. Formal environment
4. Risk aversion
5. Leadership
6. Shared vision
7. Change management”

I was particularly interested on the findings in the risk aversion theme:

“Core findings under risk-taking include:

* Innovation inherently engages in some degree of risk which can make individuals reluctant to innovate.

* Iterative change management cycles can mitigate some fears which impede innovation, such as fear of failure.

* To overcome risk aversion there needs to be motivation to innovate – this can be internal motivations, such as teachers wishing to improve the learning experience for pupils, or external motivations, such as pressure from above.

* Management style is core to supporting risk-taking behaviours, through encouragement and creating a sense of permission to engage in appropriate risktaking. This can be applied on a local level or on a wider national level.

* Institutional level practices have an important role in mitigating risk-taking, e.g. running pilot programmes and sound evaluation procedures.

* National level funding has a significant impact of risktaking behaviour.”

The last point is particularly relevant to the work of JISC emphasises “taking the risks that institutions would not normally take themselves” (JISC Draft Strategy 2010-2012).

However you could argue that it is actually individual projects who are taking the “risks”, and they will be under pressure both internally (from their management who endorsed their project) and externally (from JISC) to succeed.

The JISC Draft Strategy 2010-2012 outlines a framework for managing risk at a national level, perhaps projects too need more guidance on managing risk in their projects.

Bid Advice for Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants

Writing a project proposal is a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process, so how do you maximise your chances of success?

In previous articles I’ve gathered some of the many JISC resources with advice and tips of success.

The current JISC call for Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants is accompanied by a review of the first two calls by Dr Neil Witt at the University of Plymouth. The success rate for the calls is alarmingly low, in Call 1 just 2 out of 82 proposals were funded and in Call 2 only 2 out of 85. So what has been going wrong ?

Dr Witt analysed the collated marks for the bids and found that the vast majoirty were “out of scope”. The criteria for being out of scope are listed below along side the number of bids that failed to compily in brackets.

1. The proposal must not duplicate existing JISC funded work. (Call1: 32%, Call2: 35%)
2. The proposal must not be part of the core institutional remit. (7%, 12%)
3. The proposal must not include the development or purchase
of learning material/learning content. (20%, 21%)
4. The proposal should not include the further development of an existing tool (10%, 6%)
5. The proposal should not include software and equipment purchase (13%, 13%)
6. The proposal must have the support of the lead institution and any partners. (18%, 3%)
7. The proposal must not be a direct resubmission of a previous bid to a JISC funded programme (4%, 2%)
8. Over length (this is an additional issue that will make a proposal Out of Scope)
(6%, 0%)

In the current call the JISC have adapted their documentation to address areas of weakness identified by Dr Witt. Proposers clearly need to set aside significant amounts of time to read the appropriate criteria and ensure that they meet them, so institutional managers clearly need to make space for staff to write bids. My concern is that while academic staff in universities are expected to bid for funding as part of their job, this is not always the case for support staff or staff in further education colleges.

The JISC executive are well aware of these problems and reviews like these as well as bid writing workshops can really help staff write successful proposals.

Can Twitter survive the hype cycle?

An article by BBC’s Maggie Shiels charts the rise and rise of Twitter, but wonders about the viability of the service – which has yet to make any money.

I’m a fan of Twitter (working in a distributed organisation it keeps me in touch with what my colleagues are up to) and Maggie usefully traces the development of the service from humble beginnings to endorsement by Oprah Winfrey.

But questions about how companies like Twitter become profitable remain. And in this new age of “economic austerity” it seems likely that companies won’t have the luxury of such extended profit free beginnings.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8015777.stm