Managing Relationships across the pond

It may sound like something for Kermit the frog, but no, I am talking about ‘Relationship Management’ and how the work here in the UK has been picked up in the USA.

I recently starting working on the JISC Relationship Management programme, which is genuinely a really interesting look at how institutions deal with the people they interact with. Relationship management is becoming increasingly important in the tertiary education sector as institutions try to meet the challenges of funding cuts and increased student and community expectations. Employers and other external customers may have the potential to help the sector navigate through these difficult times, however good customer relationship management is necessary to maintain and develop such relationships.

Sharon Perry, my colleague also working on CETIS support of the JISC programme, was in touch with Elliot Felix of BrightSpot in New York about service design in HE. His focus is more on using service design to design/improve educational spaces, however he has written a briefing paper on 7 things You Should Know About Service Design and mentions Derby’s work which they did as part of the programme.

They got together through Twitter, which is how he picked up the Service Design in HE Briefing Paper that the University of Derby produced for CETIS as well as their project work. He’s just in the process of writing a paper for the Journal of Learning Spaces and also mentions Derby’s work there.

He was interested in the design of learning spaces (he’s aware of JISC projects in this area) and also the Relationship Management Programme as a whole, and Sharon gave him further info, for example the link to the SLRM case studies on the JISC website. It is really promising to hear that the work here is of relevance and interest in other countries and it will be interesting to explore such links further and see what we can learn from across the pond also.

Service Design event

We are running an event on Service Design on Thursday 17th November in Birmingham (Conference Aston venue). This event is open to anyone interested in using service design to improve the student experience in HE and FE. It will focus on the mid to latter stages, i.e. blueprinting and implementation/trialling of improvements.

Places are limited, if you would like to attend please book online at

A draft agenda is below. Please note that the exact timings and session details are still to be confirmed.
10:00-10:30 Coffee and Registration
10:30-10:35 Welcome – Sharon Perry, JISC CETIS
10:30-11:00 Introduction – Lauren Currie, Snook
11:00-12:30 Practical Session: Blueprinting – Lauren Currie, Snook
12:30-13:15 Lunch
13:15-14:45 Practical Session: Implementation/Trialling of Improvements – Lauren Currie, Snook
14:45-15:00 Tea
15:00-15:45 tbc – Lauren Currie, Snook
15:45-16:00 Roundup of the Day – Sharon Perry, JISC CETIS

The meeting is free to attend and lunch will be provided. All the links to location etc can be found at

A brief overview of XCRI, about to have a new boost

A call has gone out today for institutions to bid for funding to further enhance the sectors’ knowledge and application of open processes by implementing a standard format for describing course data, which is at the heart of many learning providers organisational processes. This represents a massive wide scale investment; the initial work (Stage 1) will be identifying institutional readiness for opening up Course Data processes, and a number of projects will then be selected for funding to to go on to implementation of the proposed work (Stage 2)

The work is to be funded by the JISC, and builds on the sterling work to date by the eXchanging Course Related Information (also known as XCRI) initiative, the new UK eProspectus standard. In short it is a way of describing learning content and information and saving the rekeying of this information into numerous systems.

As the call documentation notes
“JISC have made it easier for prospective students to decide which course to study by creating an internationally recognised data standard for course information, known as XCRI-CAP which is conformant with the new European standard for Advertising Learning Opportunities. This will make transferring and advertising information about courses between institutions and organisations more efficient and effective”

I can recall attending some of the CETIS Enterprise SIG meetings and members of that suggesting an offshoot meeting looking at the practicalities of sharing course information – ideally with other institutions and agencies such as UCAS, but even internally this was no mean feat. I went along to the start up meeting of this group of brave bods in 2005 and remember thinking “this sounds massive, but they think it is do-able.” Led by champions such as Mark Stubbs and Alan Paull, and backed by the efforts of CETIS, mainly through Scott Wilson, the work kicked off after receiving funding from JISC to trial the idea. They ‘mapped the terrain’ which the work should cover and produced the Lord of the Rings inspired map below
Map showing the areas that XCRI covers
All images are taken from slides held in the excellent resources on the XCRI support site

Large leaps have been taken since the early days, with many institutional roll outs and success stories. As Scott Wilson writes in his blog, “An extended period of beta testing and specification development is now drawing to an end: what comes next is adoption, use, and adaptation. Part of this is HEFCE’s investment of around £4m in course management across the sector which should see large numbers of courses being advertised in XCRI-CAP format.”

But it will only be proven truly successful when it achieves a wider roll out, which the JISC have acknowledged and agreed to back in this new call. In light of this, my CETIS colleague David Sherlock and I took a look at XCRI and offer the following introduction to the area.

What is XCRI?

At a glance

  • What is it? – XCRI is a standard format for describing course data
  • Who is it for? – Learning Providers- that is any College or University that has courses and wants to share information about them. Other organisations have also found it useful.
  • What it is not – An off-the-shelf software package. There is investment in implementation, but it returns much added value.
  • XCRI is a standard for course advertising data. The term stands for eXchanging Course Related Information. It is a specification designed for Universities and Colleges that allows the various generic aspects of a course description (i.e those that are used in the curriculum documentation and for marketing purposes) to be made publicly available so they can be transferred easily between information systems. The starting point for use has been a subset of this information, the XCRI-CAP (Course Advertising Profile) which is a simple list of fields.

    Open Process
    XCRI is an open process; with community-driven input that is supported by the Joint Information Systems Committee of the UK Higher and Further Education funding councils to ensure its future development.

    Why use XCRI?
    If a college, university or training provider has courses and wants to let people know about them then XCRI can help. Once course data is available in XCRI format then aggregation systems can easily collate the information, which can then be used to share course related information between systems in organisations with other sources. Potential students can then use this information to select courses.

    Diagram showing 'what XCRI does'

    XCRI in use
    Many people, who hear the term often perceive it to be a vastly complex, costly, time consuming effort to implement. However, those that have undertaken some XCRI work have been surprised how quick and easy it was and how it has opened up much of their information, reducing duplication and bottlenecks in workflows and processes.
    There is an XCRI community with across various sectors to tap into, case studies of implementation and a user and developer resources to access and receive advice on how to implement the specification. There is a documented history of development as the table below illustrates (click on image to enlarge):
    Table showing the history of XCRI development
    History of XCRI progress

    There are many benefits unlocked by making course information available in XCRI format including:


    The XCRI format is being adopted by an increasing number of course aggregators, pushing out information via RSS etc into aggregators (which pull information together from various sources). If course data is not in the correct format then the information may not be collected by aggregation systems and the organisation could be missing out on potential learners. Some aggregators of XCRI feeds include:
    • UCAS
    • The 14-19 Prospectus
    • National Learning Directory

    Increase Efficiency

    There are potential internal benefits and business process improvements to be made throughout an organisation by using a single standardised format for course advertising data. XCRI will help with improved quality assurance and consistent information, XCRI can interface with internal approaches for course approval and validation and there will be less data input and margin for error for both the Learning Provider and aggregating systems.

    Let learners make better comparisons

    By using this standard approach, learning providers are making sure that their course profile is consistent with other learning providers. This information can be then be included in a wider range of course information sources that aggregate it and learners will be able to use these to make informed decisions about which courses suits their needs.

    The Future

    There is current ongoing work entitled Metadata for Learning Opportunities (MLO) with an aim to unify XCRI and European equivalent approaches. The MLO will be very similar and almost retrospectively fit with the XCRI approach. This means that there should be little duplication of effort and any work implementing XCRI now and the oranisation will be at the Learning Provider will be at the forefront of current developments.

    It is important to emphasise the open nature of development, the XCRI community want to build from the basic XCRI CAP profile to include more information to allow sharing of more course related information. Contributions to this work (even from outwith the funded projects) are also welcome, as a broad range of input is beneficial. The new JISC call addresses key areas of work identified by the community and potential users; the deadline for receipt of Letters of Commitment in response to this call is 12:00 noon UK time on Wednesday 7 September 2011. There will be a briefing event for further information on Tuesday 19th July, see the JISC Page for further information.

    Definitions & Further Information
    An explicit set of requirements to be satisfied by a material, product, or service.

    A standard is an agreed, repeatable way of doing something

    Interoperability is the capability of a product or system to interact and function with others without any access or implementation restrictions

    Further Information

    Knowledge Base:
    Briefing papers and slides from over the years:

    Digital Literacies on the horizon

    I’ve just had a quick read of the Developing Digital Literacies briefing paper that accompanies the upcoming JISC funding call on the subject. Driven by government initiatives, in particular the “’Networked Nation’ manifesto in July 2010, with an aim of getting every working person in the UK online by 2015” the call is planned to meet the JISC vision for digital literacies which includes:
    Digitally literate graduates;
    Researchers, research students and their supervisors;
    Learning and teaching professionals;
    Digitally literate organisation.

    JISC broadly defines digital literacy as “those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society.”

    The briefing paper is very thorough and references a vast amount of work that has already been done. It is by no means a new area starting from scratch, although it has been discussed with many different terms, including IT literacy, social inclusion etc. It looks like a really interesting area of work and one that could genuinely shape the future of education provision and the impact that this has upon the wider society. If we get this right, we may even crack the ‘digital divide’, but it has to be approached carefully and with empathy and caution; some do have a genuine dislike/fear/apathy/distrust/lack of desire to be ‘upskilled’ in IT capabilities, and to wade in with a big stick will not help that. It needs to be understood and recognised. That said, I am not suggesting a ‘pandering to luddites’ approach, and those less keen need to be persuaded of the benefits of the wonderful world of technology. It should be a really interesting programme and best of luck to those that work on it, I look forward to seeing how it progresses.

    Technologies and standards used across the JISC Lifelong Learning and Workforce development (LLLWFD) programme

    I recently collated the information we have on all the projects working on the JISC Lifelong Learning and Workforce development (LLLWFD) programme in advance of their last programme meeting at the end of Jan (the programme ends March 2011.) I was looking at:
    * Technologies used across the programme
    * Standards used across the programme
    * Capturing this information in our ‘PROD’ database which we use in all our current JISC Programme Support activities

    What is PROD?
    PROD is a “directory and monitoring tool for JISC funded projects. It lets you search for and quickly gather information about any of the projects in the system” and as part of our support of various JISC programmes, CETIS staff update it based on information in their reports and conversations with projects.

    All Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development projects are featured there. Rather than reel off a list of technologies and standards which can be unsurprisingly quite dull, I looked at some of the visualisation tools which colleagues have been using. These help people have a quick overview and see any weighting of particular technologies etc.

    A wordle showing a quick snapshot overview of the main technologies in use across the programme:

    Wordle showing the technologies in the LLLWFD programme

    Wordle showing the technologies in the LLLWFD programme

    A mindmap showing all the standards and technologies used by each project, further expansion includes all the comments detailed in PROD (please click on link to access the actual mindmap, below is just an image of the mindmap)

    A bubblegram provides and overview of different tools, where the circles are larger then it highlights that particular technology is used b more than one project.

    Standards and Technologies used in LL Many Eyes

    What this means…
    No major surprises in the use of technologies or standards but a really interesting spread. It also echoes the technologies and standards in use across other programmes that have been reported.
    Overall, it could be said that the programme is not hugely ‘technical’ in application but instead focusses on processes, staff, and employer issues, which are often the key to success rather than the specific technology of choice. Many interesting issues have arisen and challenges which will persist well beyond the programme, such as accreditation of prior learning, competencies, identity and access management. These all have their own particular nuances when viewed from the various perspectives or employer, institution and learner. There is a great deal of synthesis and reflection coming out of the ‘Developing themes’ on the SSBR blog and it will be interesting to see the final reports to gain a deeper insight across the whole programme.

    Beyond the ‘how to’ guides – a search

    Project visits by the SSBR team supporting the JISC Institutional Innovation Programme have flagged up a need for some ‘beyond the how-to’ type of guides. Whilst the guidance about how to use a certain technology are obviously helpful, there is a need for some additional guidance about the wider issues in using particular technologies, for example, looking at embedding the technologies into an institution, good practice pointers, looking at a technology from various perspectives and so on.

    There are myriad technologies being used in the Institutional Innovation Programme, but for starters the ones that were suggested in the recent project visits were Wimba Create, Luminosity and PebblePad. Many projects are investigating these products (and of course out with this programme) so a little asking around for resources and sharing the results can benefit many.

    Wise colleagues have pointed to useful information which is “not about one of these particular tools but might have some ‘transferable’ general suggestions that could be applied to using Wimba – the JISC guide to Elluminate is pretty thorough and definitely more than a basic ‘how to’.”

    Also flagged up was the WebPA project, that have just released some guides to using their system that are the kind of thing that have given this project such longevity way beyond its funding period.

    With specific reference to PebblePad, their website includes 30 case studies and a number of student ‘stories’ from their recent conference. Although many project teams may have already read the JISC Effective practice with e-Portfolios guide, published in 2008, there is some very useful information in there and it could be worth a revisit – hindsight based on knowledge gained in a project can often give it a different slant. The guide covers e-Portfolios from various perspectives, and has a number of links to other work/studies at the end of the guide. The guide includes the quote:
    ‘The picture has often been a complex one, with confusion over what an e-portfolio is. More recently, consensus is gathering, and clarity is being brought to the discussions, as our experience with using e-portfolio tools grows.’ (JISC (2007) e-Portfolios: An overview of JISC activities)

    It could be argued that 3 years on this is still the case, but our experience is still growing and it is projects such as those in the Lifelong Learning & Workforce Development programme that are informing this consensus and taking the work forward. Any guidance produced by projects is a valuable output for the Programme and the wider community. Keep them coming!

    Learning Design – revisited, reinvigorated, resurrected?

    CETIS ran a Learning Design event in Manchester on 20 May.
    The idea behind this event was to provide an update on recent work in the area, but also to elicit feedback and suggestions about where this work could potentially go. The event intentionally focused on IMS Learning Design work (as opposed to the more general “learning design”) which included projects from the JISC Design for Learning Programme and other initiatives taking place in the UK and Europe. To give the whole theme adequate time for participants to really get their teeth into the concepts and rationale behind the latest developments plus invaluable hands-on experience with any relevant tools would probably easily fill a week. Nonetheless, this snapshot of where we are at currently seemed to be received positively, and ideas for future events are already underway (and further suggestions welcome.) Indeed, one “twitter-er” has commented œI have returned from Manchester with my enthusiasm for Learning Design rekindled.

    Presentations at this event included:

    • Professor Oleg Liber, CETIS/ University of Bolton: Origins of IMS Learning Design & the conceptual framework
    • Helen Beetham, JISC Consultant: Overview of the JISC Design for Learning programme, developments & future directions
    • Professor Martin Weller , Open University: Role of LD in “bridging the gap”; overview of Compendium work at OU plus thoughts on a “flickr for learning designs”
    • Mark Barrett-Baxendale, Liverpool Hope University: Using LD with practitioners
    • Dai Griffiths, University of Bolton: TenCompetence background & overview.
    • Phil Beauvoir, University of Bolton: Demonstration of latest developments: Recourse
    • Paul Sharples, University of Bolton: Demonstration of latest developments: widget server

    The day wrapped up with an panel discussion, comments and questions. What was clear was that there is still scope for a lot more discussion and debate of the issues. Interesting questions were posed, such as “what is the role of the teacher?”, “what is the role of the user?”, and comments such as LD seems to be a process, likened to a mortgage application (?! How very dull that would be!)
    The scope of the Learning Design work was questioned – does it need to broaden to encompass other information etc, or should the focus be narrowed to a specific toolset etc? Are we as a community focussing on practice, process or tools? (or all?) The debate is sure to continue…

    Bashing learning designs – emerging issues to share with the experts

    The JISC Design for Learning programme held an unusual event on 23rd October, and took forth the findings (amongst many others) the following day to an invited group of learning and teaching practice experts.

    The first days ˜Design Bash was targeted towards projects within the programme to explore the opportunities for sharing their project outputs, which included many varied learning designs.
    See Sheilas write up of the Design Bash for more information about the activities on the day. The Support Project for the programme is managed by CETIS and their experience of the successful CETIS Codebashes inspired the format of the day (i.e. ˜get them all together in one room and see if the stuff works)

    As you can imagine, there were many common issues emerging, and these were presented along with brief overviews of each project, to the ˜Learning and Teaching Practice Experts Group meeting the following day with the view that they could advise on how to take forward the findings of the programme, ideas for dissemination and wider issues of how to take forward the outputs and outcomes into the e-learning programme. (i.e. where does it all fit, how can we use this work, what shall we fund next?)

    Some of the emerging issues are summarised below (and will be discussed in a separate report.) Several are unsurprising and echoed by many similar initiatives, nonetheless they are worthy of consideration and it could be argued that in order for elearning to be successful many need to be addressed. Other issues are more specific to the world of learning design, yet are similar to debates around sharing and reuse that are familiar eg with Learning Objects (motivation, cultural change, contextualisation etc)

    • Outputs dictated by institution & context
    • How to make various designs etc as findable/ meaningful/ contextualised/ scalable as possible
    • Balance between providing structure and freedom
    • Import and export “ needs to be a 2 way process
    • ˜skeleton Learning Designs may be needed
    • Reflective practitioners, what about the rest?
    • Re-thinking pedagogy?
    • VLE as focus of elearning activity “ constrains institutional support
    • Need tools for learners to drive their learning
    • How technology changes the learner and teacher role within traditional classroom settings
    • How designs are described to enable disaggregation to allow for sharing and repurpose
    • Looking at macro and micro levels of learning design – and all those in between
    • Process is important “ how to capture that?
    • Interoperability, IMS LD, mapping between designs
    • Pedagogic Planners “ need further links with each other and with all projects across the Programme.
    • Programme needs to link in with other learning design initiatives (global)

    The experts provided invaluable reflections and feedback about the projects and the overall programme, and a wider perspective on the needs of the community and how to take the work forward. It was evident that there is a need to find ways of making potential of projects actually convincing to practitioners and institutions. It was suggested that we build on existing and improve it, to clarify where we are going now rather than set off in a perhaps tangential direction. The focus may be to work with practitioners to see how learning design (and learning design tools, approaches etc) fit in with institutional needs and embedding them into practice. JISC are open to ideas and suggestions for future directions and feedback from the day is still being synthesised “ more to come¦