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Course Data - Harper Adams University

Funded by the: Jisc e-Learning programme.

Lead Institution: Harper Adams University.

Learner Provider Type: Higher Education

Project Duration: January 2012 - March 2013

Key Words: Course Data


Case study tags: course data, process improvement, course information, stakeholder engagement, harper adams university

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


Project Summary

Short courses at Harper Adams are advertised through a range of media and there has been no formal process for collation, structure, approval and generation of the content for these materials, resulting in poor consistency and varying quality, and significant reworking of material in its transfer from medium to medium. The project provides a valuable framework for gaining content consistency, and a platform for a common repository from which content can be drawn from a variety of media and for syndication to a variety of outlets.  The process of building this provided valuable insight for staff in ways of working beyond departmental or project silos. The project was an early adoption of the Sharepoint platform for the university and provided a clear demonstration of its value for rapid application development and agile development methods.


What did we learn?

The project was a good opportunity to demonstrate to the wider university community several different techniques in action.


Syndication of content through the publication and consumption of data feeds.

Producing a proof-of-concept based on real data which has clear and immediate value to its originators has helped them realise the value of content syndication. The users readily suggested third party services and other potential internal university consumers of this service, and have since been pro-active in seeking discussions to achieve this.


The Agile approach to software development

A high level of stakeholder engagement was achieved by inclusion in the process at the end of each development sprint.  Users and stakeholders were encouraged to review and sign-off (or revise and re-align) components at the end of each sprint, and to determine the scope and priorities for work in the next sprint.  In each case the development team were able to provide a series of deliverables each with evident business benefit. 


The approach also allowed the team to leverage an opportunity for “over-delivery”.  As the core functionality was achieved quite early in the series of sprints, time and budget allowed for the addition exploratory build of the Short-URL service and the QR code service, at the suggestion of the stakeholders.  This was clear evidence of stakeholders learning during the course of the build process, reflecting on wider implications and opportunities, and being able to interact during the process and influence the scope of the eventual deliverables without undue impact on achievement of key milestones.


The project provided opportunity to demonstrate to the broader development and infrastructure teams the eventual value of building modular services which are available to other enterprise applications.  There had been a past history of legacy projects constructed in silos.  The engagement of an additional external developer for the project brought in new skills and new perspective, questioning some of the past silo-ed approaches and encouraging a more enterprise-aware approach.


Immediate Impact

The Agile approach to software development

The Agile approach has clearly had value both for the stakeholders (as evidenced by further requests to work in this way), and for the developers (as evidenced by the broader team subsequently continuing to operate this way on several other development projects). 


This has continued forward in a separate project (involving the development of an Online Results Publication service, on the Microsoft Azure platform), in which there has, as a result of this approach, been excellent stakeholder engagement and buy-in (from some stakeholders who had previously been notoriously challenging to engage with), and which has rapidly achieved some effective early deliverables.

Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)

Co-incident with the period of the project, a departmental re-structure was undertaken, from which has emerged a more cohesive Enterprise Solutions Team, the developers in which now have a common understanding of broader Enterprise Architecture and a vision to adopt project strategies which encourage the adoption of SOA and the build of what will eventually amount to an Enterprise Service Bus.

This approach has reached the attention of the university Executive, and been adopted into the roadmap for onward IS/IT development and investment.

Information Environment

The project was one of a series of developments creating exemplary applications founded separately within the Sharepoint environment.  This is co-incident with a recognised need for a rebuild of the university intranet, agnostic of individual applications and information silos.


The project, in conjunction with other parallel projects, has demonstrated the value of establishing a clear corporate data model, identifying clear processes, establishing process ownership, identifying and establishing single sources of truth for information assets.


These aspirations are now embodied in the onward IS/IT strategy, and have been embraced in role adjustments arising through a contemporary departmental restructure.  The ethos demonstrated and propagated through this project has been influential in achieving this change.


Though a number of seminars and “lightning talks”, demonstrating this particular use of the Sharepoint platform as a platform supporting rapid application development, the project team are aware of several instances in the wider HE and FE community where this example has contributed to their serious consideration of this platform for similar developments.



Also co-incident with the period of the project, a departmental drive for adoption of ITIL was underway, as a framework to support good service delivery.  Inherent within ITIL is an expectation for the production and maintenance of documentation. The modular approach to build, in which separate services were established, available to other applications under development and control by other teams, proved a useful opportunity to cement good practices in such documentation, especially in that such documentation must be comprehensible to other parties.


Process governance

The project established awareness of the need for process ownership and governance, and was instrumental in raising this issue for broader attention as a part of institutional strategy.


Future Impact

There are clear opportunities now recognised for extensibility and scalability of this approach, broadening out into managing the core information for Module Descriptors appropriate to Undergraduate and taught Postgraduate courses. 


The University is due for Quality Assurance Agency review in 2016-17, and the ability to readily draw upon versioned and consistent module documentation from a web-based source is firmly on the implementation roadmap as a precursor to this event. 


The University is also currently participating in a Leadership Foundation for Higher Education scheme, “Changing the Learning Landscape”, for which gaining broader visibility of the Assessment and Feedback landscape across entire courses and pathways is valuable.  


There are further clear gains also recognised in ensuring that Freedom of Information demands in this area are also responded to in a timely way with streamlined overhead.


There are clear parities recognisable in the structure of both short-course descriptors and in the more formal undergraduate/postgraduate module descriptors, even though these are rendered in different media and accessed in different locations.  The capability to maintain the full dataset of course offerings in what amounts to a dynamically queriable database, has clear benefits both in terms of rendering the information consistently and clearly, and in terms of reporting.


It is clearly feasible to render the undergraduate/postgraduate module descriptors in a more user-friendly, accessible way through a VLE “plug-in”, and from the same underlying Sharepoint database, provide a reporting interface for external examiners, QAA assessors, module leaders, and so forth. 


This will also enable exposure of this data to dash-boarding tools to improve visualisation of the patterns of assessment modes across course paths, and more readily identify assessment bottlenecks and potential overloads as module delivery patterns change in time.



The project has demonstrated clear value in adopting an Agile methodology to the build, in terms of achieving stakeholder engagement, making optimal use of development resource, and achieving efficient and effective delivery of a product well aligned to its purpose.


The value of identifying discrete services for development as part of a broader Service Oriented Architecture is highlighted, as an enabler of more effective future development through broader awareness of Enterprise Architecture. 


The project recognises clear potential benefits for syndication, and confirms that this may be difficult for third parties to recognise until there are good proofs-of-concept available for demonstration, as a lever for encouraging broader adoption.  This project, as an integral part of the wider Jisc programme, may help to establish this broader vision.



Whilst the XCRI-CAP schema forms an effective structure for capture and representation of course profile information, the current release offers little guidance for the use of controlled vocabularies in some of its areas of classification.  Whilst this does not present a problem at local level, when XCRI-CAP data is aggregated, lack of consistency across the aggregated data remains a challenge to searching and filtering across these larger data sets. The adoption or incorporation of vocabulary standards would thus be a useful future enhancement.


To gain further credibility for adoption of XCRI-CAP aggregations, data providers would be well advised to consider utilising short, persistent URLs as references to course information pages and to other course resources.


Further details: email and contact names etc

Project Director - Abigail Hind

Project Manager - Roger Greenhalgh -


Project web url -