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Course Data - Coventry University

Funded by the: Jisc e-Learning programme.

Lead Institution: Coventry University.

Learner Provider Type: Higher Education

Project Duration: January 2012 - March 2013

Key Words: Course Data 

Case study tags: course data, process improvement,enterprise architecture (ea), course information, kis, hear coventry university

Note: This is an abridged version of this project's final report.  The full version is available here.

 

Coventry University

Project Summary

Overview

The initial goal of the project was to be able to concisely pull together course related data using the XCRI-CAP standard, so that relevant information could be made available in both a structured and easily accessible manner, with the following hoped for outcomes:

  1. More efficient method for creating course data i.e. automated.
  2. Ensuring a ‘single point of truth’ for data
  3. Standardise the format of related data
  4. Investigate linking to other initiatives such as KIS, HEAR and online course sales

 

As the project progressed it became clear that the organisation should, in fact, be looking at the whole issue of ‘data’ and hence a much larger initiative has been ‘born’ from the initial project i.e. How Coventry University manages all of its key data sets and not just those linked to the course creation process.

 

Methods

In terms of achieving the initial goal the following took place:

  1. Requirements gathering to understand the organisation's needs
  2. A review of all course related data.
  3. Project undertaken via a Prince 2 (lite) approach
  4. The use of student interns to review and participate from a customer perspective and assist with the business analysis.

 

Outcomes

In terms of the original project outcomes the following was achieved:

  1. The development of an automated course data creation process using MS SharePoint and InfoPath
  2. The development of an XML feed
  3. For both 1 & 2 learning curve for staff helping them to learn new skills while also developing existing ones.
  4. Review of the creation and dissemination of KIS data based on the learning and skills achieved from the course data project.
  5. Documented discussions with leading sector supplier of e-commerce solutions (Webpage marketing Education Ltd (WPM)) on automation of online course sales and marketing.
  6. First use of a student intern on an ITS related project

 

As stated the additional outcome was the recognising of the need for the organisation to get to grips with all its key data, and how this may be used more effectively within the University in terms of marketing, student experience, course delivery etc.

 

To this end, as this project comes to its conclusion, the University Vice-Chancellors Group (VCG) have given the preliminary go-ahead to fund a major ‘Big Data’ project at Coventry University starting in the spring 2013.

 

What did we learn?

As we set out on the road to provide an an end to end process of creating course and module data, that could then be used as a source for marketing purposes, our initial evaluation of the process highlighted the discrepancies between the 2 data sets; approximately only 20% of data deemed necessary to market courses was captured at the original point of creation.  From conversations with other Universities on the Jisc programme and speaking to Bolton, who had undertaken this work previously, it was obvious that we weren’t alone with this problem.  The issue was to get those involved in course creation to understand the added value that the extra information brings to the process further down the line.  In addition to this, although difficult to establish, it was also clear that some users were keeping copies of data on their own systems i.e. Hard drive, spreadsheets etc. which meant that there needed to be a change to the culture of this process, but it also highlighted the fact that we should look more closely at the wider issue of data management.

 

[There was]...some early investigation of simple basic student data (Name, Address, DOB) and where this can be stored and potentially amended. From this we deduced that generically we have issues such as:

  • That data was held in numerous applications
  • Data storage could be across a number of fragmented databases.
  • There was no, or very little, governance on the management of data, which was a major issue around:
    • How the data was used
    • How the data was updated
    • Who, potentially had access to the data etc.

 

Historically as an organisation we have been application driven, however we have now recognised the need to be more focused on the underlying data – This has been the main learning point for us from this project.

 

In addition we have also learnt:

  • That already we may consider improving the course creation process as we identified issues from our initial testing activities, particularly based around users feedback on using the new electronic forms. As new skills are identified and learnt we are recognising that redeveloping the forms in asp.net will enhance the user experience further.
  • Going forward there will now be a need to ensure that all similar developments consider the use of mobile technologies. Currently it is estimated that 15% of staff (not including estate and catering support staff) at Coventry use mobile tablet devices on a day to day basis but this is a 60% increase on the previous year.
  • We also noted through the analysis phase (unscientifically and mostly anecdotally)  that there was an apparent correlation between academic staff willing to engage in the process based on time using the old system. Those with little experience of the current process appeared more willing to embrace the new development.  This has been noted on similar previous projects and as such is now routinely identified as ‘a risk’ on similar projects.

 

Immediate Impact

Overall there have been a number of immediate impacts from the project around both the IT department and more specifically Project Management and Business Analysis, these would include:

  • Understanding the concepts of XCRI-CAP and how it may be used within the organisation
  • The ability to develop in-house XML data feeds.
  • Our continuing use of Enterprise Architecture was shown to benefit this project and allowed us to train others in the concept. In addition, for the first time, the term EA has been used by our VC, at a staff road-show, who has advised that she is beginning to see the benefits to the organisation of this ‘tool’.
  • Developing in-house SharePoint skills, that have subsequently been useful in other projects; not necessarily in delivery but in the increased awareness of the capability of the tool.
  • The project has been mostly well received by those who have been previously involved in the manual creation of new courses and modules. This has led to a positive impact on how the ITS, as project leader, is perceived within the organisation especially being seen to assist in ‘lessening the workload’ on academics.
  • As previously stated, this project was impacted by the decision to outsource the University’s web marketing provision after the XCRI project had begun; however, due to the work already undertaken the University already had begun to have an improved understanding of both the type of data that was available and how it could be sourced to maximise it’s visibility.
  • Through both of the projects (above) working alongside one another the university was able to reduce its course related web marketing sites from 30,000 to 1,800 (+/-)
  • In addition the IT department and M & C section now have a closer working relationship and a better understanding of each other’s needs. This is supported by regular scheduled meetings.
  • This project was the first time that the IT department had employed student interns to assist. This proved such a success, mainly from offering a new perspective, that the arrangement has been extended to other projects
  • As previously stated, the biggest single impact was the realisation that as an organisation there is a real need to understand and manage our key data more effectively; hence the VC group have invited a PVC to begin the process of putting together a ‘Big Data’ project within the University that will review and address this issue.
  • As Chair Person for the WPM National User Group, the project PM, was able to advise all members (120 HEI’s) of the work we are doing to review the possibility of using a data feed to populate the online short course module facility that many Universities and colleges use.
  • We are also aware that a number of Universities are using the EA standards developed by Coventry University e.g. University of Exeter reference http://www.exeter.ac.uk/value/casestudies/enterprisearchitecture/activities/

 

Future Impact

There is still some further discussion to be had on areas where it can be identified that this project will be the catalyst for further change; however areas impacted at the moment would include.

  • Data management within the University and understanding this key asset. It is recognised that once a data management structure is put in place then there is the need for this to be supported by linked strategies and governance, this would include reviewing policies on things like outsourcing, ‘best of breed’ implementation etc. once these have been established then the University will be able to apply KPI’s to understand the on-going performance.  There is currently discussion on understanding the full format of such a review and its expected goals.
  • Our greater understanding of how MS SharePoint works in conjunction with InfoPath will allow us to look at current resource intensive paper-based operations, to identify where automation may be implemented to improve performance and reduce resource usage. This can apply to any area on campus and as the University has a desire to identify savings , by analysing the ‘As Is’ and the ‘To Be’ then key improvements can be recorded.
  • Having identified that there was, and to some extent still is, a significant difference in the data required to create a new course or module within the student record system and that required to market the same offering. There have been a number of meetings to review how similar issues can be prevented in the future.

 

Conclusions

Project

General project conclusions include:

  • As always there is a need to have a structured approach to project work to ensure that there is the relevant governance around the expected deliverables. At Coventry we see this more with each project we undertake using the PRINCE 2 lite approach we have adopted; However there is still additional work to be done to ensure that relevant areas fully understand and then take responsibility for the work-packages they are involved with delivering within a project environment. Once this is achieved then all areas working on a project will feel some form of ownership rather than operating under a purely customer/supplier type arrangement.
  • We have seen the benefit of including Student Interns on ITS projects and consequently will do this further in the future.
  • There has to be an expectation at the start of any project that some of the key variables will change, however there is a need to remain focused. This was the case at Coventry with the decision to outsource the marketing website.

 

Business Analysis

  • This project allowed us to develop further our fledgling Business Analysis team where we identified the need for a more structured approach to BA work and hence we have started developing a standard Coventry BA approach. In addition some of the analysis showed key shortcomings in some of our processes i.e. Creation of course marketing website etc, but this also strengthened the need for time to be spent on upfront analysis.
  • From those involved in the project at Coventry, and I believe wider, there is a growing understanding of the importance of Enterprise Architecture as a tool to both be used operationally and strategically, and it is our belief that all educational organisations would benefit from reviewing EA as a possible tool within their business.

 

Jisc

  • Having the Jisc funding allows the university to undertake this type of project work and explore options and possible outcomes that would normally be seen as potentially non-productive.
  • Having a sector wide approach to understanding and resolving a similar issue has many benefits including:
    • Joint solutions
    • Meeting like-minded people
    • Sharing relevant information
  • Consequently we have been working with colleagues from other institutions on this project and have built up relationships that will be developed for future mutual benefit i.e. University of Falmouth will visit Coventry to look at our MS SharePoint set-up and we have had similar discussions with Leeds Trinity.

 

Recommendations

General recommendations

  • The University needs to review in detail the benefits achieved via this project in 6 & 12 months time.
  • Develop further the relationships created within the sector on this project.
  • The work on this project should not be viewed in isolation but be seen as an example of where systems have driven the business instead of data and as a result interoperability is difficult to achieve; to assist this the University must:
    • Create an overall data strategy
    • Have an effective data management policy to support the strategy
    • Review these policies against existing processes and systems
    • Ensure that changes are built into our IT procurement process

 

Recommendations for the wider community

  • ...collaborative working on these type of initiatives benefits all. There is now also discussion on creating a group under UCISA to help progress EA and BA work in the sector. Coventry has been asked to play a role in this process.
  • Having a data standard has numerous benefits and potentially the sector should consider looking at other areas where this might be beneficial i.e. Finance, Student support etc.

 

Recommendations for Jisc

  • In the future Jisc should consider having an ‘identified’ customer in place for similar initiatives as not having one for the XCRI project has, at times, made this project difficult to sell to some stakeholders.

 

Further details: email and contact names etc

Project Director Nathalie Czechowski

Project Manager Ian Anderson

Contact email i.anderson@coventry.ac.uk