Jisc case studies wiki Case studies / Course Data - Teesside University
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Course Data - Teesside University

Funded by the: Jisc e-Learning programme. Lead Institution: Teesside 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, teesside university

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


Teesside University

Project Summary

The project was entitled Course Data: Making the most of course information and ran from January 2012 to March 2013, although support for one of the project outputs, the course data feed, would continue beyond the life of this particular project.


The final report describes the work undertaken to deliver Teesside University’s Course Data feed and the changes to process and software needed to support the production of the data feed.


As the project impacted on a number of functional areas owned by a number of different teams, a cross departmental Project Team was formed which included members from Marketing and Student Recruitment, Student Records and Information, Quality Unit and ICT Systems.  The project was governed by a Project Board consisting of senior managers from the contributing departments and chaired by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Student Experience.


The project had a number of key objectives aimed at facilitating change in the way course data is collected, updated, maintained and simplifying the way that information is published.  By implementing these changes, the project has been able to contribute to a number of key University strategic objectives... 


Where possible, the project was to utilise existing technologies, including infrastructure and software, as well as leveraging current staff skills.  In order to help improve the overall quality of data, the project delivered new software systems and made changes to existing systems.


The project delivered the Course Data feed, but more importantly it has facilitated the wider adoption of one of the key sources of course data information used to store and maintain Programme Specification information.  This wider adoption was demonstrated though the commitment from Schools to complete the transfer from paper based specifications to a central repository.


In order to evaluate project progress, the Self Assessment Framework, completed at the start of the project will be reviewed at end of the project....  Ongoing feedback will be sought from the project's key stakeholders, references to which can be found throughout this report.


The Jisc projects related to publishing Course Data have initiated discussion among project team members and colleagues throughout the University.  These discussions have included how the University can make further use of the Course Data feed in other alternative media in any future projects.

In support of the Jisc Programme, the project outcome provides course information in a machine readable format in order for it to be consumed internally and externally.  This information will be used by the University to publish course information, specifically including those non-UCAS advertised courses.


The course information would also be made available to external aggregators.  It is hoped that this will make information easier to find for students and though external applications, allowing them to compare courses and make a more informed choice, a goal of this Jisc call.


At the start of the project, Course data was held in multiple systems and linking of information between those systems was partial in some cases and non-existent in others.  This project would deliver a more complete linking of related course information.


Additionally, one of the key sources of course data held incomplete data.  A number of reasons existed for the information being incomplete, including poor adoption of the system and a lack of functionality in some areas.  It was hoped that this project would facilitate further adoption of the system, enabling more complete and quality information to be made available.


The project successfully completed the linking of all contributing systems.  The next goal was to achieve more complete, quality information uploaded to contributing systems.  Through firm commitments from Schools, this goal is being worked towards.  The Quality Unit worked with colleagues in each School to facilitate the adoption of the system, including providing support and training as required.  The funding allowed Schools to resource the task of collecting, entering and checking the data into the Programme Catalogue system.


It has been important to advance the state of the art in order for the Institution know where its course data resides and what processes act on it.  Through knowing this information, it is then possible to examine those processes and whether improvements can be made, for example consolidation of data into a single repository, and so satisfy the strategic aims for the project…  The aims of the project have remained largely the same and have been delivered with a varying degree of success.


  1. Simplified way of delivering key course information
  2. Facilitate a systemic change in the way in which data is collected, updated and maintained
  3. Link the three contributing course data sources
  4. Deliver access to course level information for potential enquirers
  5. Contributing to University strategic objectives
    1. improved marketing to contribute to student recruitment
    2. high quality published information to enhance the applicant student experience
    3. fulfil external assessment requirements and support public accountability
    4. Streamline business processes, contributing to the University efficiency programme.
  6. Progress areas identified in the XCRI-CAP Self Assessment Framework


What could have been improved?  What lessons have been learned?

Issues faced by the project:

A number of challenges /issues for the project arose.  During the Source Data Analysis phase, a key resource from SR&I was reallocated due to changes in Institutional priorities.  This meant that this activity needed to be put on hold whilst alternative resource was found and allocated.  Whilst this did mean a delay of a number of weeks, the Project Team decided to bring forward other elements of the project in order to keep momentum. 


It was decided that testing of the Jisc XCRI-CAP validator would begin as soon as possible.  As there was no data feed available at this time, an example data set was manually created.  This exercise was designed to prove the technology and allow the project developers to familiarise themselves with the technology.  Once this exercise was complete, the developments of the Programme Catalogue changes were brought forward.


The replacement resource allocated to undertake the Source Data analysis and subsequent XCRI-CAP data mapping was only available for a limited time on a week by week basis.  The effect of this was mitigated as far as possible by work progressing on the Programme Catalogue, but it did mean that the mapping exercise was completed much later than expected.


During the testing phase of the Course Data Feed validation, problems were encountered due to the validator timing out when presented with the feed.  In order to progress the validation, the developers of the validator released a desktop version, which was then used to validate the data feed output.


Changes in allocated resource late in the project delayed the production of the course data feed, but commitment to the project meant that all project deliverables will be met.


Immediate Impact

Outcomes and Impact:

The stage 1 outcomes include:


  • Establish, implement and deliver interoperability between the current University systems which will facilitate the delivery of XCRI-CAP and COOL URL


Through delivery of the Course Data XML feed this has been satisfied.  This has allowed the publication of an electronic prospectus in a standard format.  It is hoped that this will, in the long term, be used for publication to other media both internal and external to the Institution.  Where possible, the Course Data feed has included all available course information.  By making this information available to external aggregators, prospective student users of the aggregator services will easily be able to compare like for like courses and so make a more informed choice.


  • Deliver organisational changes to the way in which the University systems are supported, organised, managed and improve visibility i.e., the Course Specification database linked to the module catalogue and the Course Information Database for the website 


Further adoption of the Programme Catalogue system has partly satisfied this requirement.  By widening the adoption of the Programme Catalogue throughout all Schools, we have begun to centralise the collection of information.  Through the Programme Catalogue, we have been able to standardise the production of the Programme Catalogue and help improve the quality of information through review.  Further developments, both software and process, are expected in this area.


  • Use XCRI-CAP to organise and deliver a common interface which will allow the simultaneous input and update of key information


Limited progress has been made on this deliverable as focus of the project was aimed at locating the course information and reviewing and improving process around the gathering that information.  Moving towards a single consolidated repository will be noted as a recommendation for future projects.


  • Establish a permanent cross university ‘technical’ team to assess the IT development needs of the wider university.


Whilst a Project Team was established for the life of this project, Institutional priorities mean that the team is unlikely to exist beyond the life of the project.  A new project team will established for any future iteration of Course Data related projects.  However, establishment of the current cross university team has further demonstrated how such a team may be assembled and operate.  The Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Student Experience will continue to chair future project to provide continuity of oversight.


  • Undertake training for key staff regarding local content management


This deliverable was satisfied by the Quality Manager for Approval, Review and Collaborative Provision.  A training guide was developed and a number of training workshops were facilitated for local content managers.  This enabled a consistent approach to information collection to be adopted, which will contribute to the overall quality of the information collected.  Consistent and quality information in means that the information presented to prospective students is of a good quality.


  • Publish a ‘systems update’ calendar to the wider University for the annual update of course information


No progress has been made on this deliverable although it has initiated a number of institution wide discussions in this area.


  • Through Academic Registry (Quality) team, link approval and validation information to identified data sets to ensure the tracking and audit of course information at an early stage


Whilst this deliverable has not been met within the scope of this project, in future iterations of the Programme Catalogue we want to start the process off by generating the PDPC form within the Programme Catalogue.


The Deputy Director for Quality and Standards said “The updated Programme Catalogue aims to provide a secure centrally managed repository for the generation, approval and on-going management of programme specifications and details. The previous system was that individual schools managed their own versions and then forwarded them to a central department for uploading to the University web site. The main issue with this was poor version control and occasional lack of compliance with the requirement to forward approved specifications for uploading centrally resulting in potential inaccurate information being made available.  


When fully embedded it is envisaged that elements of the programme catalogue information will be made available on the University web site  meeting the requirements for the publication of accurate wider public information.   
HEIs are required to ensure that all information it provides is accurate and up to date and the programme catalogue provides a means by which this can be assured. Once the approved programme title proposal details are entered into the system these are then fixed so that they can’t be edited without further committee approval. This controls the use of the agreed programme title and approved parameters of the programme. The previous process allowed for the free form entry of text that frequently resulted in accurate details being provided. The use of drop-down boxes ensures that appropriate text is included. For example, modules are selected from the approved list in SITS. This ensures that the modules included are entered into SITS and that accurate information is given regarding titles and module codes, data which was frequently inaccurate in the previous system.
The version control within the system also ensures that the correct approved version is easily identifiable, whereas previously, it was not uncommon for out of date versions to then be used as the basis for future edits rather than the current one.

Once fully embedded, the programme catalogue is designed to allow for common elements to be copied across programme automatically, reducing staff workload.”



Conclusions and Recommendations

Overall, the project has had a positive impact on the way the Institution collects and maintains course data.  The project has enabled disparate sources of data and processes acting on that data to be identified and in some cases improved.  The adoption of process changes, implementation of new systems and the introduction of additional quality checks will all contribute to improvements to the overall quality of course data.


As a result of this project there will be a number of outstanding actions and recommendations for future projects that will need to be considered.  These include changes to supporting software, consolidation of the collection and maintenance of course data, extending the publication of the course data using different media.


As with most projects, any future projects will be subject to Institutional priorities and whether they help satisfy any strategic goals.


Further details: email and contact names etc

Project Director     Pat White

Project Manager   Michael Gettings

Contact email       Pat.White@tees.ac.uk

Project Blog:        http://extra.tees.ac.uk/xcri-cap/blog/default.aspx