Jisc case studies wiki Case studies / Course Data - St George's, University of London
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Course Data - St George's, University of London

Funded by the: Jisc e-Learning programme.

Lead Institution: St George's, University of London.

Project Duration: January 2012 - March 2013

Key Words: Course Data

 

Case study tags: course data, process improvement, course information, stakeholder engagement, change management, st george's - university of london

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

St Georges University of London Poster

Project Summary

The Course Data Management project at St George’s, University of London (SGUL) has investigated methods to collate, maintain, share and publish our course programme information, and will deliver a standard data feed. This feed is called XCRI-CAP. Its purpose is to enable information about courses and other kinds of learning opportunity to be shared efficiently between the computerised information systems used by learning providers and organisations collecting, aggregating and publishing information about courses. Currently St George’s course data is managed by a number of departments and individuals. There is a lack of uniform process in collating, maintaining, sharing and publishing this data. The Course Data Management addressed this issue to introduce improvements and efficiencies into processes.

 

It was discovered through the lifecycle of this project that a major organisational change would not be completed in the timescales we had. Initially it was underestimated just how much resource and change of practice for academic staff as well as the recruitment team this would require. A common goal of improving collecting, aggregating and publishing of the course information was always apparent but many of the people involved in the project had rarely or never met before the project began. Bringing these disparate groups together was in itself very helpful. A small change in timetabling of information creation has also had significant positive effect. St George’s will now have information written for the prospectus and website at the time of validation. As a small specialist institution St George’s does not create a high volume of new courses however this change of process will have obvious benefits and can be credited to the project.

 

The project delivers as a minimum a shared database of course data, a system generated XCRI-CAP feed with a COOL URI of course provision, and changes to processes and procedures. We have worked with partner institutions and with the Jisc Course Data Management community to share approaches, test the software to support XCRI-CAP feeds and support the proof-of-concept aggregator and discovery service.

 

This shared database will be rolled out across the institution. The establishment of the use of this resource will work as a catalyst to further improve internal processes. The work around these processes was instigated by the Course Data Management project but the intention is that further work will be continued after the project. On a longer term basis this will be one of the major benefits of the project.

 

What did we learn?

The Jisc course data project has led to closer working with our partners in our Joint Faculty. In particular the Joint Faculty has agreed to adopt the XCRI-CAP standard in the development of their NHS short course portal. This approach is initially intended to work with the Joint Faculty’s CPPD information but could possibly be widened to other CPPD providers. This may allow for a useful transferable course information aggregation. We will retain some of their CPPD data in the future and have discussed further development of the project to import this information…the timing of the Jisc project and the joint Faculty’s move to Sharepoint technology prevented further initial joint working.

 

Internal stakeholder engagement was achieved through the project management meeting structure, two workshop events and the staff newsletter articles. Work with our Secretariat department and Planning Office around the course in validation process provided useful responses within the project team. The outcome was awareness of the course in validation process as the origin of data and a review of all current data processes.

 

The first Project Manager Martha Holland left St George’s on maternity leave in June. The new Project Manager Oliver Hannan started in early July on a part time basis. This decision was taken because of Oliver Hannan’s experience working with course data in his capacity as Web Content Editor. His experience working across departments in gathering and editing course content that is then published to SGUL’s external site, and to provide a staff development opportunity were the main reasons for his selection. There was a natural lag in between the previous manager leaving and the new manager getting up to speed with the whole project all that was involved and all the stakeholders. The new project manager’s time was split two days a week on Jisc and three days working on his substantive post as Web Content Editor. This split did result in an increased workload as the projects did not always neatly divide up. The lessons learned were that increased planning around known busy periods for the project manager’s two roles did reduce the workload but we could not mitigate for ad hoc or urgent work.  Our evaluation of technology solutions considered the following options:

 

Current system – We carried out a scoping exercise with our current content management system, Plone. It was decided that this was not suitable for the following reasons:

 

  • Plone is deemed an unsuitable solution as the database is difficult to interrogate.
  • Plone is built in Python programming language. Whilst St George’s does have Python programmers in house we choose to build our database in PHP so our code is standardised and it would be easier to recruit developers.

 

SITS – We identified what course data is already stored in SITS and whether all the information could be housed in SITS. It was decided that SITS was not suitable for St George’s. This was because SITS is a modular system. We did not have the required modules for a system that could support the requirements of the Jisc project. The costs of these modules were too prohibitive for us.

 

Creating a new database - Proof of concept work using PHP scripting language and MySQL database has been carried out on a local host machine using open source components and Apache to serve out the request and create an xml feed. This was deemed a robust solution.

 

Partner working

SGUL has multiple partners: our Joint Faculty with Kingston University, INTO University Partnerships and the University of Nicosia.

 

A decision was taken to not include the joint Faculty’s CPPD courses because of conflicting deadlines around their Sharepoint project and NHS portal requirements. The timelines for this project were shorter than the Jisc project so unfortunately this option was rejected.

 

We are working with the Faculty but focussing on the courses we award. CPPD courses could be included in the future and the Faculty are using XCRI-CAP to design their own database to facilitate future integration. This option has been discussed with the Faculty and remains a desired outcome.

 

INTO and Nicosia will be included in our feed as URLs to their websites. Their relationships with SGUL are quite different and it has been decided that URLs will be sufficient at this stage. INTO data could be included in our feed at a later date. Our relationship with Nicosia means that they will always manage their own data separately.

 

Immediate Impact

St George’s will now have information written for the prospectus and website at the time of validation. As a smaller institution St George’s do not create a high volume of new courses however this small change of process will have obvious benefits and can be credited to the project.

 

The Jisc course data project has led to closer working with our partners in the Joint Faculty. CPPD courses were not included in our feed because of conflicting timescales. This was disappointing but the project allowed good joint working and opened up communications regarding future work.

 

The regular project meetings allowed members to communicate objectively about the issues surrounding collating, maintaining, sharing and publishing course programme information. Previously the project team members rarely had the chance to discuss the way their work interacted. The meetings fostered greater awareness of the importance of this data, and allocation of increased authority to the recruitment team to manage this data in future, have been beneficial outcomes. The workshop events were a good way for attendees to vent their frustrations initially but then consider the issues constructively and work towards one goal. The project was quickly identified by those in attendance as a positive step in the right direction to more joined-up working with our course data.

 

The wider community at St George’s benefitted from increased communication, evaluation of internal processes to create and edit web and prospectus data, consideration of our current web technology and its scalability and evaluation of our resources to address projects of this scale. The evidence that we have achieved these benefits:

 

  • process maps and workshops that have been completed
  • comments from attendees, project team members and academics
  • we evaluated the technology required for the project in workpackage 2
  • lessons were learned in term of planning around known busy periods for the project manager’s two roles and the requirements to develop the database. This will contribute to evaluation of further project associated with this one.

 

Internal stakeholder engagement was achieved in various ways. The project management meeting structure, workshop events and the staff newsletter articles raised awareness of the project and allowed the opportunity for dialogue about it. Agreement around need for the project was a constant in discussions and feedback. Less clear was a single solution to our issues around internal process, audited access to data and its scheduling. Stakeholder engagement at this stage meant these issues were highlighted as complex problems that the institutions was attempting to address.

 

The project team and wider community at St George’s quickly realised that the project’s IT element was a smaller consideration in comparison to level of change required at institutional level.

 

Future Impact

It is hoped this project will ultimately impact on SGUL’s prospective students. Given the various uses for the external data the XCRI-CAP feed can offer the central aim would be to improve information for prospective students allowing them to make informed decisions about their futures.

 

This project will have impact upon the working of various groups within St George’s:

 

Registry departments made up of Admissions, Recruitment and Course Administration –

increased team work on the collation of data and the timescales involved. Recruitment and admissions calendar should now be more synchronised. The shared repository of the database will act as an authoritative source in its own right.

Communications –

as a team but in particular the web content editor’s role will require some input to further interface of the feed with the website and the publishing of finalised courses web content.

Course Directors –

this group will be impacted in terms of the use of the database as a definitive source.

Secretariat department and Planning Office –

The creation of fresh course data has been recognised as a major function of this department and accordingly the project has tapped into this source.

Our partners (more so in the future) joint Faculty with Kingston University, INTO University Partnerships and the University of Nicosia.

 

Future developments for the project include possible integration of Joint Faculty CPPD module information, enhancement of the website, consideration of language versions for international partners, integration of additional fields such as FAQs.

 

Conclusions

Data requirements

General conclusions

The complexities of our data requirements were underestimated. Whilst St George’s is a small specialist institution it has numerous partners with complex relationships. The CPD data was intended a part of the project’s remit and it was disappointing to lose this element of the project because of conflicting timescales. The international partners of INTO University Partnerships and the University of Nicosia will be included in our XCRI-CAP feed; however, there will require further work to document joint processes between the organisations. Our identification of named data owners at individual field level has not been achieved however it is uncertain whether this was appropriate or required. Further work to focus on roles of data owners rather than individual people would also be beneficial.

 

Conclusions relevant to the wider community

We underestimated how much time would be required to assess our data requirements causing the timeline of the project to slip within the final stages. More time could have been allocated to the determining “who owns what”, the required format and the range of internal and external uses for the data. From the content published on the Jisc project blogs (http://www.netvibes.com/jiscinfonet#JISC_Course_Data) the underestimate was noted as wider theme across the Jisc community. The blogs as a resource were useful in this instance to allow objective consideration of our project slippage.

 

Conclusions relevant to Jisc

The data requirements for St George’s were far less than many other organisations. We are a smaller university with fewer courses than many and a low frequency of courses being brought through the course in approval process to delivery. Despite this we struggled with the data requirements aspect of the project because of a change in key staff, complex partner relationships and conflicting projects. Some of these aspects were foreseen (complex partner relationships), but others could not have been predicted (conflicting projects). It may be useful for Jisc to note that institutional size had little bearing on constraints and issues faced.

 

Technology requirements

The relatively small size of St George’s made the prospect of developing our own database in house a feasible option. This may not have been possible for larger institutions. St George’s could support this development due to a having a member of staff with strong PHP/MySQL skills. This offered a flexible solution that could evolve with the project. This is was a major advantage that St George’s enjoyed. The evaluation of various technical solutions had to take into account the future of St George’s communications in terms of our website and prospectus. A re-design of our website is being considered and scoped at present. This meant the legacy of the Jisc project had to be closely considered. Any CMS changes and integration of the Jisc project are vital and will required extra development work.

 

Process mapping

Our processes for the collection of data were reviewed and documented, including the course approval process, the production of joint faculty course advertising material, and the SGUL website and prospectus. Our readiness for XCRI-CAP implementation was evaluated using the scales of characteristics and work was carried out looking at the five main process models and whether SGUL fits in to one of these models, and what design changes need to be made to our current processes to implement XCRI-CAP. One change that we have a positive impact across the organisation very small to our validation procedure. This will now trigger the creation of prospectus and web content at this stage.

 

Our process mapping was difficult to implement but was definitely a worthwhile exercise. Examination of internal process definitely offered insight to the way we currently work and what we could do to improve that. Simple Visio maps were useful but structured workshops offered a good way to open the dialogue between departments and individuals in a way they had not had previously.

 

As stated previously internal process evaluation was extremely useful despite the fact St George’s failed to reach a single unified process. If Jisc could assist or encourage similar work across the HE sector tangible benefits could be achieved.

 

Recommendations

Project management structure was a learning curve for both project managers. There were times when a more rigorous project management framework could have been beneficial, for instance in the recent final stages. Attendance at meetings and input to the project did drop off prior to Christmas. Conversely a looser project management structure may have been more useful in earlier stages of the project with fewer meetings reducing administration and enabling greater action. The general recommendation would be that the project management structure should be moulded to the institution.

 

Communication of the project goal to as many stakeholders as resources allow from the early stages would be a recommendation to the wider community. From St George’s perspective almost all departments and individuals involved welcomed the project... For most their involvement with the project meant and increased workload. Resources were pooled and set aside for this work but generally it amounted to additional work. This caused some friction during busy period such as UCAS deadlines and recruitment fairs. Increased communication about the project was the only way to reduce friction. As a lesson learned SGUL could have deployed more staff to the project, and back-filled their existing roles. It became apparent through the progress of the project that institutional change was by far the most difficult thing to achieve, if at all possible. If anything St George’s was too ambitious in this respect. Our recommendations to Jisc would be that managing expectations early were an important part of this project. St George’s could only officially devote a project manager to part time working on the project. This was realised as being too small a resource for an institution wide change however many other worthwhile outputs have been realised.

 

Further details: email and contact names etc

Project Director - Sophie Bowen, Secretary and Academic Registrar

Project Manager Oliver Hannan, Web Content Editor

Contact email ohannan@sgul.ac.uk

Project URL: http://www.sgul.ac.uk/xcri/