Sustaining Relationship Management – Beyond the Programme work

Thursday last week, 12 July, saw us run the final programme meeting for the JISC Relationship Management programme, which CETIS has provided Support and Synthesis since it began in 2009 .

Representatives from all the current 16 projects, spread across all of the UK met in sunny (honestly!) Manchester to celebrate the work that has been undertaken and to also discuss plans to take the work forward. It was really heartening to see so much good work and genuine enthusiasm for the activities which people have been involved in, and their desire to continue evangelising the benefits even after funding has ended. Project teams have been plugging the benefits to senior management to achieve buy in whilst also maintaining the backing and interest of the ‘coal face’ staff who would perhaps interact with new initiatives and ideas on a more frequent basis.

As always at such events, it was a packed agenda which could have easily spread over 2 or 3 days, after all it is difficult to summarise an 18 month project in five minutes. But the projects managed it.

It went something like this…

For those staying overnight on the Wednesday, we had Dinner in the restaurant followed by a quiz, which was good fun and covered programme questions but also general knowledge and other fun information. It was a good ice breaker for people who hadn’t seen each other for a long time.

The following day started with JISC Programme Managers Myles Danson and Simon Whittemore introducing the event and our aims, and then Myles gave a overview of the journey so far in terms of Relationship Management work, which goes back to fact finding studies funded by JISC back in 2007, many of the findings and recommendations are still pertinent, indeed even more so given the change in climate in the education sector.

We then broke out into two groups, ‘Strand 2: Sharing RM and the student experience’ and ‘Strand 3: Sharing engaging alumni using RM’ in which projects in the two different strands of the programme did a ‘show and tell’ of the work in their project and main findings, obstacles, issues and unexpected outcomes.

We then all gathered back together for an overview of the work of ‘Strand 1: the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Handbook’ and discussion about this and it’s potential.

After lunch, Simon Whittemore led an ‘Evaluation and Impact Panel’ with input from the Critical Friends in the programme. Each Critical Friend gave an excellent summary of the issues raised in their cluster of projects and suggestions for next steps.

Sharon Perry from CETIS then gave a whistle stop tour of the ‘Resources for the future’, providing an overview of all the outputs from the programme plus further details of the synthesis work which will continue over the next few months. These will include the
Just Enough RM resource and a Compendium of good practice, due end of 2012.

You may think it would not be possible to cram even more activity into the day, but we did, and Myles and Simon discussed ideas for JISC to continue work in this area, which is seen as crucial and increasingly important to the HE sector. Delegates were given the tricky challenge of mapping out what pointers/resources they may need on the roadmap to successful Relationship Management. It was no mean feat, but I think many good ideas came out of the activity, and ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’ was the ethos; but that was exactly the point (in my opinion). The essence of the activity, indeed the nub of the issues coming out of the programme are the questions;

If you had your time again on this:
• what would you find useful?, and at what point?;
• what pitfalls can be avoided?, how can you speed up the blockages?…
• what advice would you give to others embarking on this journey?”

As any JISC programme as it finishes needs to make sure lessons are learned for future projects. Surely that is what it is all about.

Service Design is the future!

It is true to say that we are lucky enough at times to be able to work on something that really is interesting, and that for me is true of the world of ‘service design’. I encountered this area as part of my work supporting the JISC Relationship Management programme, and can honestly say that it has genuinely piqued my interest. I only wish I had more time to learn more about it and ‘do’ service design in earnest.

It is a relatively new area, especially for education. Service design can help institutions to examine their processes from a student-centred point of view, and then by making improvements where required, it may be possible to:

• Improve student retention;
• Improve administrative processes;
• Provide a competitive edge;
• Reduce risks;
• Identify student needs, expectations and feelings.

Some people working on the projects in the programme have been so bitten by the bug that they report to have found their calling after many years, and are following the route to becoming specialists in it where possible.

I may sound evangelical about it all, but I do believe that to be successful, institutions would do well to at least nod to the basic concepts of the approach. Empathy is the key. For want of a better comparison, it is about customer service (and I know, many in education, particularly Higher Education, hate the concept of viewing students as customers.) But if we take the basic nuggets, then it boils down to putting yourself in the shoes of those that you are catering for, and it would be useful to adopt an ‘undercover boss’ approach and actually be in the thick of it and see it from the real perspective. We think we know what our students want but often we are wrong, or at best slightly off the mark. So many companies get customer service wrong, and we always remember those that get it right. And vote with our feet. It is the same for education.

I was pleased to discover that there are even jobs for ‘Service Designers’ but of course these are in large corporations, not the education sector. But maybe one day?

More about Service Design:
The CETIS Service Design briefing paper is averaging about 3500 downloads per year and is a useful starting point.

The CETIS wiki has a section on Service Design Resources. The latest addition to this is a Service Design toolkit website offering a toolkit as an introduction to the methodology of service design, in particular for the design of public services. Includes some useful (free) downloads to use when adopting the service design approach.

There is also a section on service design in the ‘Just Enough’ resource that we are developing which includes findings from the current projects and the synthesis from the last programme.

The wikipedia service design entry is also of use.

Overview of the work in the JISC Relationship Management Programme

We thought it would be useful to provide a brief overview and update of the work taking place in the current Phase of the JISC Relationship Management Programme, as the projects are nearing completion so naturally have many interesting findings. The Programme runs from March 2011 to August 2012 and consists of three strands:

Strand 1: Good practice in CRM handbook
– a comprehensive online handbook of good practice in CRM processes in HE and FE, which will integrate, refine, and enhance the SAF (Self Analysis Framework, which was developed as part of Phase 1 of the Relationship Management Programme).
Strand 2: Student retention, progression and non-completion
– the student focussed projects in Phase 1 focussed on the earlier stages of the student lifecycle. This strand (8 projects) takes in the pastoral stages and uses a ‘service design’ approach to help inform the development of projects to help students at risk of non-completion.
Strand 3: Alumni engagement
– Again using service design, these seven projects focus on the final stage of the student lifecycle and are exploring innovative ways of engaging alumni.

The projects are detailed further below with brief summaries. The usual final reporting information will be produced but what will also be helpful is the availability of short videos to be hosted on YouTube; these will summarise the main work of each project and the main issues and developments which occurred. They will be available later in the year (likely to be September 2012). They will be available on the JISC BCE (Business and Community Engagement) YouTube channel. We already have a mini-presence there from the last RM Programme.

Good practice in CRM handbook
This Handbook is being developed by one joint project between Huddersfield University and the University of Teesside as part of the Programme. The draft version of the Online Handbook in CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Good Practice is now available; you can take a look at the draft version.

The project team are also on the look-out for more case studies, so if you feel you are an exemplar of good practice in BCE (Business and Community Engagement) CRM or if you have any comments, please get in touch with the team at crm@hud.ac.uk
You can also follow their project blog

Student Progression, Retention and Non-completion
These eight projects have been using service design techniques to try and improve the student experience at the mid-points of the student lifecycle (Teaching and Learning, Pastoral Care, and Employability). They have been focussing on several areas:
• Using data analytics (“traffic lighting”) to identify students who may be at risk of failing (Loughborough University, Roehampton University, University of Derby, University of Southampton)
• Improving resources for support, such as mental health resources and streamlining placement processes (North Glasgow College, University of Nottingham, University of Sheffield)
• Using smartcards to deliver bursaries (University of East London).

Alumni Engagement
These seven projects have been using service design techniques to try and improve the student experience at the alumni stage of the student lifecycle. They have been focussing on several areas:
• Using social media to encourage alumni to engage with each other (University of Hertfordshire, University of Surrey)
• Establishing mentoring schemes where alumni mentor undergraduates (Aston University, Brunel University, University of Glasgow)
• Supporting the transition to work and encouraging lifelong professional development (Cardiff Metropolitan University, University of Kent).

These projects were all funded as part of Phase 2 of the JISC Relationship Management Programme , which ran from March 2011 to July 2012. Further information is available from the JISC CETIS RM Programme support website
JISC CETIS are running the Support and Synthesis project for the Programme and much more information will be coming out later in the year, including web resources and guidance materials.

Managing Relationships across the pond

It may sound like something for Kermit the frog, but no, I am talking about ‘Relationship Management’ and how the work here in the UK has been picked up in the USA.

I recently starting working on the JISC Relationship Management programme, which is genuinely a really interesting look at how institutions deal with the people they interact with. Relationship management is becoming increasingly important in the tertiary education sector as institutions try to meet the challenges of funding cuts and increased student and community expectations. Employers and other external customers may have the potential to help the sector navigate through these difficult times, however good customer relationship management is necessary to maintain and develop such relationships.

Sharon Perry, my colleague also working on CETIS support of the JISC programme, was in touch with Elliot Felix of BrightSpot in New York about service design in HE. His focus is more on using service design to design/improve educational spaces, however he has written a briefing paper on 7 things You Should Know About Service Design and mentions Derby’s work which they did as part of the programme.

They got together through Twitter, which is how he picked up the Service Design in HE Briefing Paper that the University of Derby produced for CETIS as well as their project work. He’s just in the process of writing a paper for the Journal of Learning Spaces and also mentions Derby’s work there.

He was interested in the design of learning spaces (he’s aware of JISC projects in this area) and also the Relationship Management Programme as a whole, and Sharon gave him further info, for example the link to the SLRM case studies on the JISC website. It is really promising to hear that the work here is of relevance and interest in other countries and it will be interesting to explore such links further and see what we can learn from across the pond also.

Service Design event

We are running an event on Service Design on Thursday 17th November in Birmingham (Conference Aston venue). This event is open to anyone interested in using service design to improve the student experience in HE and FE. It will focus on the mid to latter stages, i.e. blueprinting and implementation/trialling of improvements.

Places are limited, if you would like to attend please book online at http://jisc.cetis.ac.uk/events/register.php?id=288

A draft agenda is below. Please note that the exact timings and session details are still to be confirmed.
10:00-10:30 Coffee and Registration
10:30-10:35 Welcome – Sharon Perry, JISC CETIS
10:30-11:00 Introduction – Lauren Currie, Snook
11:00-12:30 Practical Session: Blueprinting – Lauren Currie, Snook
12:30-13:15 Lunch
13:15-14:45 Practical Session: Implementation/Trialling of Improvements – Lauren Currie, Snook
14:45-15:00 Tea
15:00-15:45 tbc – Lauren Currie, Snook
15:45-16:00 Roundup of the Day – Sharon Perry, JISC CETIS

The meeting is free to attend and lunch will be provided. All the links to location etc can be found at
http://wiki.cetis.ac.uk/Using_Service_Design_in_HE_and_FE

What’s in a Word(le)? Lifelong Learning and Work Based Learner experiences…

Overview of the work completed in the JISC Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development Programme

I’ve recently come to the end of working with the team supporting the JISC Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development Programme (LLLWFD) which ran from 1 March 2009 to 31 March 2011 and funded 13 projects.

I was involved in this work as part of our programme support of JISC activities, and the main support was provided by the Support Synthesis and Benefits Realisation (SSBR) team, who have been busily collating and digesting all the outputs and findings from the programme. I had the opportunity to provide feedback on draft final reports from the various projects in the programme, which surfaced the issues uncovered in the period of activity. There will be much more coming out of the programme in the next few months (and when it does I will announce it).

Several of the projects continued their work in the guise of a Benefits Realisation (BR) project, which basically applies the findings of the initial work and sees if they apply in another, perhaps wider setting or institution.

For anyone interested in work based learning, I would encourage you to have a look at these projects and their findings. I’ve provided summaries and links below; the project summaries are derived from the Final Reports from each project, and I have included a focus on the technologies and standards used.

Main focus

Lifelong Learning summaries wordle

Lifelong Learning summaries wordle


The wordle above is made up from all the project summaries and I think nicely highlights aspects of the programme, with it’s main focus obviously being Lifelong Learning and Work Based Learning, but with some diverse concerns investigated.

Lifelong Learning Technologies wordle

Lifelong Learning Technologies wordle

The technologies wordle above shows the technologies and standards used across the Programme. The Programme was not hugely technical in that it did not develop a great deal of new software or applications, but that was never the intention. It is in the deployment and effective use of existing technologies that a richer picture has emerged. The Programme work resulted in many interesting uses of technologies and successful integration of these with work based learners, in addition to exposing common issues that can occur in such initiatives and are more widely applicable, both to other institutions and also for campus based learners.

Many projects set out with an initial hypothesis which more often than not was proven. But it is often the journey that project staff and students go along that is the real outcome, and that can be quite difficult to capture. Also pertinent to future work are the things that didn’t go well, or not quite as expected, as is often the case through nobody’s fault. Economic climate, change in personnel, sod’s law; all have an impact. It is really useful (and interesting from my point of view when reading through the reports) to have an honest account of ‘what didn’t work’ – and these are often the pitfalls that others can try to avoid if they know about them.

Work based learners are indeed a group of learners that often require a rethink from the traditional norm. But it is a growing market, and one that we need to be geared up for. Naturally, projects set out to correct a genuine need or concern, and some have implemented their developments into standard practice, which is the desired effect as nobody like to see a worthy project run as a pilot and then end.

Findings

The main issues coming out of the Programme from a technologies stance can be summarised as:

1) Identity management – including employer access to institutional systems & different levels of access
2) Course information – needs to be held in a consistent format to allow interoperability (with XCRI being the suggested way forward)
3) Learner Access to information at a time when it suits them (in line with lifelong learning principles)

The project information below also links to a PROD page. PROD is a CETIS directory and monitoring tool for JISC funded projects. It lets you search for and quickly gather information about any of the projects in the system. It is used by CETIS to update our information about current and past projects that we support, with the comments on there being largely from a technologies slant. It is a development area in permanent beta stage but it may be of interest to look at the CETIS PROD page listing all the LLLWFD projects

Project Summaries

Each summary below includes:
Project Acronym & Longname, Lead Institution, Project website, Project Summary (derived from Final Report) Standards & Technologies, PROD entry for Project (CETIS)

CCLiP
Culture Campus Liverpool Portal, University of Liverpool
http://cclip.jiscinvolve.org/
The project aimed to offer an enhanced and expanded service of information about CPD provision from HE and local cultural organisations to the creative/cultural industries – the Liverpool Culture Campus Portal, involving a large number of partners. The project started out with a challenging set of objectives, the main achievement being the development of a portal for the cultural sector to display CPD offerings which can accept automatic feeds which are XCRI-CAP compliant. Lessons have been learned throughout this process about the business process developments to achieve this, together with the necessary developments in technological systems and organising of information.
Technologies & Standards: XCRI
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/CCliP

Co-genT
Co-generative Toolkit, University of Gloucestershire
Project website: http://resources.glos.ac.uk/tli/lets/projects/cogent/index.cfm
The project created an online resource that supports the development of co- generated higher education courses by universities and employers; using language and terminology which is familiar to employers – and the employees who would be acting as learners – whilst also satisfying the quality assurance requirements of higher education institutions.
The Toolkit produced contains four separate elements: Vocabulary Builder; Outcome Builder; Task Builder and Design Builder. These elements combined support the development of courses and allow learners to provide evidence to demonstrate that they have met the learning requirements of the course.
The Toolkit developed was far more flexible than was originally conceived and can be adapted for use with other higher education process, such as: accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL); employer- based training accreditation (EBTA); quality assurance processes (e.g. validation); and general staff development (e.g. the creation of appropriate intended learning outcomes) The tool integrates with PebblePad.
Technologies & Standards: PebblePad, LEAP2A, ELLI, WSRP, IMS Enterprise, HR-XML
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/cogent

CPD Eng
Personalised systems supporting IPD and CPD within a professional framework, University of Hull
Project website: http://www.hull.ac.uk/cpd-eng/
This project aimed to integrate systems that support personalised initial/qualifying professional development (IPD) and continuing professional development (CPD), applicable to professional competency frameworks and enabling work-based learners to control and share their digital artefacts.
A Moodle plugin (MyShowcase) plug-in was created and piloted in HE and also FE institutions, with interest from various other sectors. It allows users to integrate learning evidence from a range of online sources to showcase for CPD, career planning, and lifelong-learning. Users can bring together Web 2.0 feeds and a range of other digital content to create rich evidence streams of their online content.
Technologies & Standards: LEAP2A, ePortfolio, XCRI, PebblePad, Sakai, Moodle, Skype, MyShowcase
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/CPD-Eng

ePP SME
An e-Portfolio based Pedagogy for SMEs, University of Wolverhampton
Project website:http://www.wlv.ac.uk/ePPSME
The ePPSME project provided the HE sector with reusable models and resources for an e-portfolio based pedagogy to address the needs of SME based learners. The project adopted a participative action research approach through a series of design workshops and consecutive pilot study units to develop the use of an e-portfolio tool as a virtual learning environment and personal learning space to introduce and develop the learners’ reflective practice around targeted learning content.
Initial study units in the pilot subjects were based around a web-folio structure using three types of blog-based engagement: individual activity responses, group collaborative discussions, personal critical reflections. This approach ensures ease of use by utilising typical IT skills required for activities such as web-browsing and simple word-processing to avoid deterring learners who lack confidence in their IT competencies.
Technologies & Standards: PebblePad
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/ane-portfo

HELLO
Higher Education Lifelong Learning Opportunities, Leicester College
Project website: http://hello.lec.ac.uk/
The project aimed to tackle three important development issues:
a loss across the whole college of 65% of students’ social space, thus creating the need to provide an alternative in the form of a ‘virtual social space’. Also identified was a need to provide bespoke e-learning training opportunities for teachers and to actively engage with known pockets of inactivity with regard to e-learning across the college. Thirdly, to address a need expressed in Focus Groups to establish a ‘Higher Education (HE) identity’ among staff and students within an institution that is predominantly devoted to the delivery of Further Education (FE).
With a view to achieving these aims, two major developments were undertaken:
The use of a Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to build a Higher Education Student Community Site. This innovation was of particular success with the part-time learners who were now able to carry out ‘keeping warm’ and formative assessment activities week to week, and to use the common room area for peer learning activities.
The adoption of Mahara, an open source e-portfolio tool to enable learners to build their own personal profiles, form groups and take ownership of their own space.
Technologies & Standards: Moodle, Mahara
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/hello

i-WoBLE
Interactive Work-based Learning Environments, University of Westminster
Project website: https://sites.google.com/a/staff.westminster.ac.uk/iwoble/
The project exploited the institutional virtual learning environment (VLE, Blackboard) to establish simple models for the development of communities of support and guidance and to manage and administer the programmes; with a significant amount of administration being moved from paper based to online processes. In order to include employers within the institutional intranet and VLE the university’s identity management process was re-engineered to allow selective access to online systems.
Technologies & Standards: Blackboard, Netware, Elgg, Student blogs, Video
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/interactiv

MUSKET
Middlesex University Skills and Education Planning Tool, Middlesex University
Project website: http://www.musket.mdx.ac.uk/
The project aimed to support employer engagement and workforce planning requirements by providing a tool intended to provide an integrated view of curriculum provision, both in employer based and higher education sectors of UK. This tool allows end users to import documents containing course descriptions from professional providers, employer specific training and HE, and provide a semantic similarity between the documents.
The work also investigated defining types of course information required to support employer-led learner route planning and the potential for exchange of this information (using a specification for the eXchange of Course-Related Information or ‘XCRI’) between various providers.
Technologies & Standards: XCRI-CAP, UML, Semantic Web, Jena2, OWL, Java API
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/middlesexu

PineAPPLe
Partnership INvEstigations into Accredited Prior/Previous Learning, University of Plymouth
Project website: http://www.pineappleproject.org.uk/
This project developed a web-based tool to support staff through the management of an APEL claim. A desk study, staff survey, piloting and numerous formal and informal meetings led to the creation of the PINEAPPLE core builder which can be used to design and deliver an online APEL process for any institution. The project also produced a range of support materials that can be adapted for use in other contexts.
Technologies & Standards: AJAX, Javascript
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/partnershi

SAMSON
Shared Architecture for eMployer, Student and Organisational Networking, University of Nottingham
Project website: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/eportfolio/samson/
Improved the effectiveness of postgraduate student placements as a means of HE engaging with new employers supported by technology, including web services.
Validated the technology developed with not one but two different eportfolio systems and demonstrated the savings that can be achieved through shared services, developing lightweight applications and integrations of existing applications or services.
Technologies & standards: XCRI, LEAP2A, OPUS, uPortal, Desire2Learn, iWebfolio, SAML, Shibboleth, OWL, RDF, BPEL, HR- XML, ZXID
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/sharedarch

SMART
Supporting Mentors and Resource Transformation, Buckinghamshire New University
Project website: http://bucks.ac.uk/employees/employee_services/fdlc/smart_project.aspx
The SMART project was designed to support mentors to overcome some of the difficulties they face in assisting work-based students who are severely ‘time-pressured’, by providing a specifically designed, accessible and supporting interface for inexperienced users of technology. Further aims were to develop the mentor’s role and improve learner engagement while promoting inclusion and collaboration. The research included reference to a selection of ‘Use Case’ scenarios. These involved the interface of mentors with technological modalities for enhancing provision delivery as used within two challenging work-based education programmes currently offered. SMART incorporated various advanced technologies (Podcasts, Vodcasts, Blogs, Game environments, On-line tasks) in an innovative learning environment and assessed the impact on mentor engagement and mentor use of technology-enhanced Learning.
Technologies & standards: Blackboard, WebEx
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/smart

TELFWD
Technology Enhanced Learning for Workforce Development, University of Wales Institute
Project website: http://www.uwic.ac.uk/ltdu/telp.htm
The project aimed to identify sustainable models for technology-supported delivery of workforce development provision, and associated strategy and policy implications via developmental activity undertaken in different contexts. Two different work-based learning processes, Learning in Work, and Learning through Work were identified, as were transferable models of technology-supported delivery. Case studied were created to capture the experience of work based learners and use of technologies. Several good practice and additional ‘how to’ guides were created covering technologies such as Adobe Connect, Adobe Presenter, Luminosity, PebblePad, Wimba Create, Wikis and Blogs. A Work-Based Learning Mentoring Handbook was also developed alongside repositories with other useful resources. The e-portfolios were developed using the Blackboard Campus Pack plug-in XPO-XL.
The solutions developed are embedded in the participating programme areas and the process of stimulating additional impact through wider adoption is in progress.
Technologies & standards: Blackboard, PebblePad, XCRI, Adobe Connect, Video conferencing, Adobe Presenter, Luminosity, Wimba Create, Wikis and Blogs
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/telwfd

TELSTAR
Technology Enabled Learning Support for Training and Accreditation Recognition, University of Central Lancashire
Project website: http://www.uclan.ac.uk/schools/lbs/about/facilities_resources/telstar.php
The Project has developed technology enabled resources and tools to support work-based learning, working closely with employers and learning providers to develop a learning framework that allows learners to gain accreditation of both certificated and experiential prior learning (APEL and APCL). The underlying framework and support processes can act as a template for other schools and industry sectors. The project used PebblePad software with work-based learners, with PebblePad Webfolios to support the APEL process and negotiated learning at module level. A level/credit estimator tool assists with admissions and a mapping tool to match employer courses to credit/level has also been developed. A web-based portal for work-based learning provides information and guidance on work-based learning for employers, employees and academics. Customisable Open Educational Resources have been created and released through the JORUM repository and project repository. Course materials created are all SCORM compliant and packaged using Wimba Create (formerly Course Genie) with mini lectures created using Adobe Presenter.
Technologies & standards: LEAP2A, Pebblepad, Adobe Presenter, Wimba Create, SCORM, JORUM
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/telstar

WELL
Workforce Engagement in Lifelong Learning, University of Bradford
Project website: http://www.brad.ac.uk/escalate/current-activities/jiscwell/
The WELL project designed, piloted, and evaluated a model for work-based learning (WBL) module/unit delivery and assessment which integrates technologies to support personalised learning whilst satisfying University accreditation and progression requirements. The model aims to aid sustainability of WBL courses, supporting continuous improvement by revealing key barriers and enablers in a programme’s learning and teaching process.
The team’s ‘Benefits Realisation’ project extends the WELL model by providing a model for HE providers to assess their maturity in embedding Work Based Learning programmes. Working at institutional, faculty and programme levels it includes a range of maturity criteria, level statements and indicators for assessing WBL maturity.
Technologies & standards: Elluminate, Pebblepad, Develop Me, Bradton, Blackboard
Prod entry: http://prod.cetis.ac.uk/projects/well

List of projects (JISC page)

A brief overview of XCRI, about to have a new boost

A call has gone out today for institutions to bid for funding to further enhance the sectors’ knowledge and application of open processes by implementing a standard format for describing course data, which is at the heart of many learning providers organisational processes. This represents a massive wide scale investment; the initial work (Stage 1) will be identifying institutional readiness for opening up Course Data processes, and a number of projects will then be selected for funding to to go on to implementation of the proposed work (Stage 2)

The work is to be funded by the JISC, and builds on the sterling work to date by the eXchanging Course Related Information (also known as XCRI) initiative, the new UK eProspectus standard. In short it is a way of describing learning content and information and saving the rekeying of this information into numerous systems.

As the call documentation notes
“JISC have made it easier for prospective students to decide which course to study by creating an internationally recognised data standard for course information, known as XCRI-CAP which is conformant with the new European standard for Advertising Learning Opportunities. This will make transferring and advertising information about courses between institutions and organisations more efficient and effective”

Background
I can recall attending some of the CETIS Enterprise SIG meetings and members of that suggesting an offshoot meeting looking at the practicalities of sharing course information – ideally with other institutions and agencies such as UCAS, but even internally this was no mean feat. I went along to the start up meeting of this group of brave bods in 2005 and remember thinking “this sounds massive, but they think it is do-able.” Led by champions such as Mark Stubbs and Alan Paull, and backed by the efforts of CETIS, mainly through Scott Wilson, the work kicked off after receiving funding from JISC to trial the idea. They ‘mapped the terrain’ which the work should cover and produced the Lord of the Rings inspired map below
Map showing the areas that XCRI covers
All images are taken from slides held in the excellent resources on the XCRI support site

Large leaps have been taken since the early days, with many institutional roll outs and success stories. As Scott Wilson writes in his blog, “An extended period of beta testing and specification development is now drawing to an end: what comes next is adoption, use, and adaptation. Part of this is HEFCE’s investment of around £4m in course management across the sector which should see large numbers of courses being advertised in XCRI-CAP format.”

But it will only be proven truly successful when it achieves a wider roll out, which the JISC have acknowledged and agreed to back in this new call. In light of this, my CETIS colleague David Sherlock and I took a look at XCRI and offer the following introduction to the area.

What is XCRI?

At a glance

  • What is it? – XCRI is a standard format for describing course data
  • Who is it for? – Learning Providers- that is any College or University that has courses and wants to share information about them. Other organisations have also found it useful.
  • What it is not – An off-the-shelf software package. There is investment in implementation, but it returns much added value.
  • XCRI is a standard for course advertising data. The term stands for eXchanging Course Related Information. It is a specification designed for Universities and Colleges that allows the various generic aspects of a course description (i.e those that are used in the curriculum documentation and for marketing purposes) to be made publicly available so they can be transferred easily between information systems. The starting point for use has been a subset of this information, the XCRI-CAP (Course Advertising Profile) which is a simple list of fields.

    Open Process
    XCRI is an open process; with community-driven input that is supported by the Joint Information Systems Committee of the UK Higher and Further Education funding councils to ensure its future development.

    Why use XCRI?
    If a college, university or training provider has courses and wants to let people know about them then XCRI can help. Once course data is available in XCRI format then aggregation systems can easily collate the information, which can then be used to share course related information between systems in organisations with other sources. Potential students can then use this information to select courses.

    Diagram showing 'what XCRI does'

    XCRI in use
    Many people, who hear the term often perceive it to be a vastly complex, costly, time consuming effort to implement. However, those that have undertaken some XCRI work have been surprised how quick and easy it was and how it has opened up much of their information, reducing duplication and bottlenecks in workflows and processes.
    There is an XCRI community with across various sectors to tap into, case studies of implementation and a user and developer resources to access and receive advice on how to implement the specification. There is a documented history of development as the table below illustrates (click on image to enlarge):
    Table showing the history of XCRI development
    History of XCRI progress

    Benefits
    There are many benefits unlocked by making course information available in XCRI format including:

    Visibility

    The XCRI format is being adopted by an increasing number of course aggregators, pushing out information via RSS etc into aggregators (which pull information together from various sources). If course data is not in the correct format then the information may not be collected by aggregation systems and the organisation could be missing out on potential learners. Some aggregators of XCRI feeds include:
    • UCAS
    • The 14-19 Prospectus
    • National Learning Directory

    Increase Efficiency

    There are potential internal benefits and business process improvements to be made throughout an organisation by using a single standardised format for course advertising data. XCRI will help with improved quality assurance and consistent information, XCRI can interface with internal approaches for course approval and validation and there will be less data input and margin for error for both the Learning Provider and aggregating systems.

    Let learners make better comparisons

    By using this standard approach, learning providers are making sure that their course profile is consistent with other learning providers. This information can be then be included in a wider range of course information sources that aggregate it and learners will be able to use these to make informed decisions about which courses suits their needs.

    The Future

    There is current ongoing work entitled Metadata for Learning Opportunities (MLO) with an aim to unify XCRI and European equivalent approaches. The MLO will be very similar and almost retrospectively fit with the XCRI approach. This means that there should be little duplication of effort and any work implementing XCRI now and the oranisation will be at the Learning Provider will be at the forefront of current developments.

    It is important to emphasise the open nature of development, the XCRI community want to build from the basic XCRI CAP profile to include more information to allow sharing of more course related information. Contributions to this work (even from outwith the funded projects) are also welcome, as a broad range of input is beneficial. The new JISC call addresses key areas of work identified by the community and potential users; the deadline for receipt of Letters of Commitment in response to this call is 12:00 noon UK time on Wednesday 7 September 2011. There will be a briefing event for further information on Tuesday 19th July, see the JISC Page for further information.

    Definitions & Further Information
    Specification:
    An explicit set of requirements to be satisfied by a material, product, or service. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/specification

    A standard is an agreed, repeatable way of doing something
    http://www.bsigroup.com/en/Standards-and-Publications/About-standards/What-is-a-standard/

    Interoperability is the capability of a product or system to interact and function with others without any access or implementation restrictions http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/interoperability

    Further Information
    XCRI:
    http://www.xcri.org/

    Knowledge Base:
    http://www.xcri.co.uk
    Briefing papers and slides from over the years:
    http://www.xcri.co.uk/briefing-papers-on-xcri.html

    Digital Literacies on the horizon

    I’ve just had a quick read of the Developing Digital Literacies briefing paper that accompanies the upcoming JISC funding call on the subject. Driven by government initiatives, in particular the “’Networked Nation’ manifesto in July 2010, with an aim of getting every working person in the UK online by 2015” the call is planned to meet the JISC vision for digital literacies which includes:
    Digitally literate graduates;
    Researchers, research students and their supervisors;
    Learning and teaching professionals;
    Digitally literate organisation.

    JISC broadly defines digital literacy as “those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society.”

    The briefing paper is very thorough and references a vast amount of work that has already been done. It is by no means a new area starting from scratch, although it has been discussed with many different terms, including IT literacy, social inclusion etc. It looks like a really interesting area of work and one that could genuinely shape the future of education provision and the impact that this has upon the wider society. If we get this right, we may even crack the ‘digital divide’, but it has to be approached carefully and with empathy and caution; some do have a genuine dislike/fear/apathy/distrust/lack of desire to be ‘upskilled’ in IT capabilities, and to wade in with a big stick will not help that. It needs to be understood and recognised. That said, I am not suggesting a ‘pandering to luddites’ approach, and those less keen need to be persuaded of the benefits of the wonderful world of technology. It should be a really interesting programme and best of luck to those that work on it, I look forward to seeing how it progresses.

    Technologies and standards used across the JISC Lifelong Learning and Workforce development (LLLWFD) programme

    I recently collated the information we have on all the projects working on the JISC Lifelong Learning and Workforce development (LLLWFD) programme in advance of their last programme meeting at the end of Jan (the programme ends March 2011.) I was looking at:
    * Technologies used across the programme
    * Standards used across the programme
    * Capturing this information in our ‘PROD’ database which we use in all our current JISC Programme Support activities

    What is PROD?
    PROD is a “directory and monitoring tool for JISC funded projects. It lets you search for and quickly gather information about any of the projects in the system” and as part of our support of various JISC programmes, CETIS staff update it based on information in their reports and conversations with projects.

    All Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development projects are featured there. Rather than reel off a list of technologies and standards which can be unsurprisingly quite dull, I looked at some of the visualisation tools which colleagues have been using. These help people have a quick overview and see any weighting of particular technologies etc.

    Wordle
    A wordle showing a quick snapshot overview of the main technologies in use across the programme:

    Wordle showing the technologies in the LLLWFD programme

    Wordle showing the technologies in the LLLWFD programme

    Mindmap
    A mindmap showing all the standards and technologies used by each project, further expansion includes all the comments detailed in PROD (please click on link to access the actual mindmap, below is just an image of the mindmap)
    lllmindmap1

    Bubblegram
    A bubblegram provides and overview of different tools, where the circles are larger then it highlights that particular technology is used b more than one project.

    Standards and Technologies used in LL Many Eyes

    What this means…
    No major surprises in the use of technologies or standards but a really interesting spread. It also echoes the technologies and standards in use across other programmes that have been reported.
    Overall, it could be said that the programme is not hugely ‘technical’ in application but instead focusses on processes, staff, and employer issues, which are often the key to success rather than the specific technology of choice. Many interesting issues have arisen and challenges which will persist well beyond the programme, such as accreditation of prior learning, competencies, identity and access management. These all have their own particular nuances when viewed from the various perspectives or employer, institution and learner. There is a great deal of synthesis and reflection coming out of the ‘Developing themes’ on the SSBR blog and it will be interesting to see the final reports to gain a deeper insight across the whole programme.

    A festival; no wellies but lots of good discussions

    Last week saw the glamorously titled ‘Festival of Assemblies’ but unlike Glastonbury and the like, we didn’t need to don wellies (shame as I would love an excuse to get these ‘wedge wellies’ which I saw on Dragon’s Den, often a useful programme to watch to pick up tips for immersing into the JISC world, in the best possible sense)

    The Festival of Assemblies brought together projects from the JISC Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development programme (LLLWFD) and was very efficiently organised by the Support Synthesis and Benefits Realisation project for the programme.

    Activities included parallel sessions of collaborative Assembly sessions led by LLLWFD – Phase 3 and Benefits Realisation or ‘BR’ projects, which basically take forward the work of the projects in the programme and see if the lessons learnt/tools developed can apply in other institutions or organiational contexts.

    I chose to attend the TELSTAR & PINEAPPLE: Development of APL systems session which included information about the projects and their findings to date followed by some very interesting discussions and anecdotal evidence from various institutions about the actual application of accreditation of prior learning (APL) and the sheer bureaucracy in some quarters which has led students to scrap the idea and just follow the ‘normal’ route. Concerns over parity were raised in particular about the detail and focus on APL processes when compared to traditional learning/ non APL route. An interesting analogy to this was made re the introduction of VLEs and online learning aspects within universities, often any course with an ‘e-learning’ aspect would have to go through a whole separate validation process, maybe with much more scrutiny that face to face teaching. That seems to have settled down, or just become the norm and people know which boxes to tick now, so perhaps the APL teething niggles may turn out to be the same? Nonetheless, with the much discussed ‘current climate’, raise in fees etc, APL will be a key focus and one we have to get right. Potential learners will become savvy (and rightly so) about choices, duration of courses, accreditation and qualification and institutions need to be ready for that and make the whole process as painless as possible for everyone. It looks promising that such projects in the programme will come up with some important lessons for the sector and tips to take forward.