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Course Data - Leicester College

Funded by the: Jisc e-Learning programme.

Lead Institution: Leicester College.

Learner Provider Type: Further Education

Project Duration: January 2012 - March 2013

Key Words: Course Data

Case study tags: course data, process improvement, kis,course information, leicester college

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

 

 

 

Leicester College

 

Project Summary

The Course Data Project at Leicester College has looked at various aspects of the flow of course information within the College, from initial planning to marketing on the college website. Leicester College is one of the largest in the UK with more than 26,900 learners studying with us on a wide range of courses, from many backgrounds and with different ambitions and aspirations.

 

We are committed to enriching the lives of all members of the community and to creating new opportunities for them. This is reflected in our mission statement: “To deliver a wide range of high quality learning experiences to support the diverse communities we serve and the personal, social and economic development of individuals and enterprises.”

 

The end goal of this project was to create an efficient and effective course creation process which allowed for consistent and high-quality information to be advertised to the wider community. The project was funded by Jisc to support the increasing demand for course data in the UK education system. The recent Government whitepaper ‘Students at the Heart of the System[1] identifies a demand for easier-to-find, more accurate comparative course data, in order to enable informed choice. The XCRI standard has been developed over a number of years to meet this demand and this programme has allowed for an increase in uptake within Higher Education institutes, as well as allowing organisations to streamline business processes in regards to the flow of course data within.

 

The objectives of this project are broken down as follows:

  • Review internal readiness for adopting XCRI-CAP of the organisation using the self-assessment framework
  • Review internal processes for the flow of course information through the organisation
  • Produce a version of an XCRI-CAP feed embedded on a COOL URI
  • Implement, in conjunction with this project, processes for the KIS initiative.

 

Overall the project has been a success, though there have been challenges along the way. Our main focus was to review our processes and learn how we could support our curriculum departments to ensure that we were marketing the ‘correct’ courses, whilst ensuring that the quality of the information was of the highest standard. To help facilitate this we recruited a temporary post to support staff in this process. We found this post to be integral in being the central point of contact for staff, as well being key in looking at the processes and the quality of data.

 

In addition this we have revamped our internal course marketing database to help meet the needs of curriculum departments in order to allow for efficient collection of marketing information as well as giving staff a sense of ownership for their own course marketing information. We have learnt important lessons which we will be sharing with the wider community; these include:

 

  • Ensuring sufficient resources are planned from the start and contingencies are put in place for staff leaving the project
  • Ensuring that the goals and benefits of the project are communicated to all relevant parties within the college and that communication channels are kept open throughout the stages of the project. This ensures buy-in from the key stakeholders.

 

What did we learn?

It is fair to say this project has been challenging at times, but we have learnt a lot about internal processes and perceptions whilst completing it. To give a better idea of what we have learnt we have broken down it in to the following high-level sections.

 

Project team:

With any project of this calibre it is important to a have a well-structured project team that can lead on all aspects of the project. From the onset we created a project team with key stakeholders including those from MIS and Marketing.   It was difficult, at times, to dedicate the required staff resources due to a range of commitments. Coupled with this, we lost key staff including the Project Manager which meant other staff members had to take over the role. The loss of the Web and Intranet Developer towards the end of the project caused disruption to the technical implementation of XCRI and changes to our website, as the new staff member had to be informed of the project’s aims in a short space of time.

 

If we had to run this project again we would ensure that everything was documented thoroughly from the onset, as well as ensuring that contingency plans were put in place in the event of staff leaving. Though this can be difficult to do it is worth considering as the risks of staff departures, as some may carry greater risks than others. 

 

As part of the project plan we recruited a support officer to help Curriculum staff. Even though this worked well we realised towards the end of the project that it would have been more effective to (also) have a dedicated project manager resource to manage all aspects of the project. Had circumstances allowed it would have been advantageous to dedicate more staff resources from the project’s onset.

 

Communication

Communication within any project is paramount and we thought carefully about how we wanted to communicate the project aims and outcomes throughout the college. From its inception cross-college management knew about the project and what we wanted to accomplish; upon reflection we did not market the benefits of the end goal as effectively as we could have. Though we did not fully communicate to most curriculum staff members (eg, lecturers) the background of Jisc and the XCRI project, we ensured, through internal communications and the work of our Course Database Officer, that staff members on all relevant levels appreciated the importance of good quality marketing information. When the project is complete we will strongly communicate the benefits of what we have done and why the changes made are so important to the college (and educational information sharing in general).

 

Internal processes and evaluation techniques

With hindsight we could have used more recognised techniques, such as enterprise architecture, to assist with project implementation. We did use aspects of different industry-standard processes and procedures, but these were not always implemented in as structured a way as we would have liked. We used an iterative software development technique, for example, to redevelop our course marketing system, and to an extent this worked as the product evolved as we discovered better ways to help staff use the system. We ran the project loosely to a standard project management methodology, PRINCE2, with a project team and regular meetings and updates. This helped the different work packages, though we soon realised that certain aspects would take longer than anticipated. This is where more robust planning would have been advantageous. Where staff that have been introduced as a resource it is vital to ensure that they are booked in to spend the necessary time on that element of the project.

 

Technical

This is one aspect where deadlines lapsed primarily in place of other priorities within the college, and a lapse in understanding between us and the software suppliers. We would advise future projects to ensure that they have robust design documents, as well as giving a clear brief of what they want the system to look like. This can be difficult and there are methods, such as the iterative design methodology, which can help the stages of the development,  

 

One of our goals within this project was to revamp our outdated course marketing system, as primarily as we saw this as a stumbling block for curriculum staff in updating it with good information on a regular basis. We had received general feedback from staff on its usability and functionality. Taking this on board, we set about scoping out changes which we then conveyed to the software supplier. 

 

There was constant flow of communication between us and the supplier via emails and telephone calls which resulted in miscommunication and misunderstandings of what was required. This prolonged the process and delayed the release of the course marketing system. In order to mitigate this in the future we would advise that development take place on-site where possible, to help the developers work with the end-users directly, as questions can be easily answered without the need for going through lengthy processes. It is also important to decide from the onset a process for change management, as scope creep can always lengthen the time taken to release to a live environment.

 

Immediate Impact

Better quality of information

The improvement in data quality has enabled us to confidently market our course information to a wider audience. As an institution better quality information means that we have now focused on the end-user and can confidently offer advice and guidance, and publish information on our courses. - End-users will now receive more accurate and detailed information about their courses. - Information output eg, course leaflets, internet feed. The quality of our output is greatly improved, from information shared to spelling, grammar and punctuation. Stakeholders can see the positive impact of this eg, Customer Service Centre noticing fewer inaccuracies in course information

 

XCRI feed

Our course information will reach a wider audience via aggregators.- Prospective learners will be able to compare our courses with those of other institutions more easily.  More courses being marketed - The project has encouraged us to clean up our database, enabling us to market the correct courses. It quickly became clear to us that whilst many curriculum team members believed that their courses were being marketed via our database, they were not reaching external channels. We have looked carefully at all of the courses that we market to ensure that end-users are learning about our available courses. - More courses are made available to the wider community -  Number of courses advertised has increased - Lecturers are happy that the correct courses are being marketed and information centres.

 

Standardisation of certain fields eg, course titles

Staff will find it easier to search for courses when there are standard search parameters. -  Prospective learners can search the website/course guides more easily.- Course titles standardised on website etc - Staff are supportive of this change due to its positive impact.


Centralised support and training

Having a support officer in post offers staff a point of contact and consistent training opportunities for the course database - If staff fill in the course database better it will have a positive impact on the course information we produce and therefore the wider community -  Training and support material - Staff are happier to fill in and query the course database when they know who to contact about issues.

 

Better, more standard processes/Course Marketing Policy

Staff have a standard process to guide them in the process of course marketing. - Documents are produced in a more standard, timely manner, meaning that correct information is reaching prospective learners more efficiently. -  Draft of Course Marketing Policy, with the Course Database Policy as an addendum -  Stakeholders can recognise the importance of marketing their courses correctly, and will understand the necessity of adhering to deadlines.

 

Future Impact

Our course data project will hopefully make a number of future impacts for both us and prospective learners. We track the opinions of our learners via market research at the moment, and will continue this when the feed goes live. We will also naturally be tracking learner numbers and will ask our learners, and prospective learners, what information they would like to receive about each course, in order to ensure that our XCRI feed is giving learners the data they need. If there are any issues with the XCRI, or if we have positive feedback, we will feed back to Jisc and liaise with our project institutions.

 

If staff at the college find it easier to share accurate and timely course information, it is expected (and has already been seen) that the quality of the information that we produce will be better, from course guides to directory feeds. Our Customer Service Centre staff will also be able to help callers with more accurate data that covers their areas of enquiry.

 

Our course database redevelopment will have a positive impact on our internal staff, as they will find the system of sharing course information easier to follow, and they will be clearer on our policies and procedures.

 

Our software developers may also benefit from the project, as we are happy with the redevelopment and can recommend their services to other project institutions, now and in the future.

 

Conclusions

The project so far has been a success. We will shortly have a working XCRI feed and our next step for the future is to liaise with our aggregators and support the wider use of the standard in Higher and Further Education.

                                      

Aside from the XCRI feed our institution has clearer goals relating to course marketing. The quality of the data supplied has been drastically improved; not only has all old information been checked and annotated where appropriate, but new information has been added in correct formats and in accordance with the college’s editorial style guide. Cross-college staff is more aware of course marketing procedures thanks to internal communications, but we aim to improve this with more global communications. Curriculum buy-in to course marketing has improved, but we would also like to improve this area further with global communications and more end-user market research, so that internal staff can see the positive impact of good quality information. We also hope to promote the use of our course database as software designed to suit the needs of both the end-users and the data inputters.

 

We found communications with other institutions very valuable throughout the process; the meeting at Aston University* in January was particularly helpful,  and in the future we would recommend more similar conferences.

 

We would also note to other institutions that staff resourcing is worth serious consideration at the beginning of the project: do you have the resources to cover leaving/absent members of staff? If you hire staff for the project, is the post at the correct level?

 

Though we know that we have further work to do on the project, and will not cease monitoring our course marketing, we are extremely happy at the positive outcomes of our course data project and would like to thank Jisc for their support.

 

Recommendations

Though hiring a member of staff to support Curriculum was valuable, with hindsight it would have been more constructive to give that member of staff more responsibility, including signing off changes and amendments to the software. Though we could not have foreseen staff departures, staff resourcing proved to impact on the rate of work produced, particularly as staff allocated to the project had unexpected projects to work on, such as 24+ Advanced Learning Loans, KIS and HEAR. We would recommend that other institutions employ a member of staff solely (or largely) to work on the course data project.

 

In connection with this, it may be helpful for Jisc and participating institutions to anticipate other projects or staff redeployment, and to understand that initial deadlines may not always be met for this reason. 

 

Another recommendation we would make to other institutions would be to encourage and embrace more global communication about the project, so that everyone in the institution is aware of changes being made, and more importantly why they are being made. Though curriculum staff at our college, particularly at a higher level, were aware of the project, some lecturers, trainer/assessors and support staff were not fully aware of the project, and did not always therefore embrace the changes that we made.

 

We hope that, as a college, our participation in the Course Data Project will encourage other Further Education Colleges to use an XCRI feed, which will in turn promote the use of the feed and help it to become an industry standard.”

 

 

 

 

Further details: email and contact names etc

Project Manager: Huzefa Adamali

hadamali@leicestercollege.ac.uk

 

 

 * See Course Data Show and Tell Event - 29th January 2013
 


[1] ‘Students at the Heart of the System’, Department for Business Innovation and Skills, June 2011