Bridging the tool development gap

A post this morning on the WebPA discussion list raised an issue that I’ve long felt has a negative impact on the uptake of JISC project outputs: how to support the use of tools produced by JISC projects in an institutional environment that is not interested in supporting them.

WebPA is a great project success story, being adopted by a number of institutions and winning a Bronze Award at the 2008 IMS Learning Impact awards.  It provides an innovative approach to peer assessment evaluation, allowing individual marks for each participant in a piece of group work.  The system generated a lot of interest when they presented at a CETIS event last year.

The poster has identified WebPA as a possible tool to support his teaching, but says:

Unfortunately there is little if any chance of the application ever being hosted on my University servers, I won’t even waste my time trying to get this on their radar […] I should say that while I am not completely IT illiterate I am not going to install the application myself since this is well beyond my personal skill level.

This highlights what I feel is a gap in the project lifecycle: bridging the support gap between the production of useable tools and enabling those outputs to be used in real educational contexts.  Although some lecturers have a high level of technical confidence and competence, this absolutely cannot be expected for the vast majority, and there seems to be a lack of support for those who are keen to use these innovative tools but lack the confidence or expertise to do so.  How do we encourage institutions to be willing to broaden their horizons and support those lecturers who wish to use what they feel are the best tools for their teaching practice?  The poster references commercial companies which host open source systems such as Moodle, but what about newer systems that lack the wide uptake that make providing support and hosting services commercially attractive?

So who should be responsible for supporting projects after the end of their formal funding period, and supporting lecturers and institutions in using these tools?  We’ve addressed this issue before in relation to supporting emerging developer communities in an open source model, but what about tools that are ready for use in actual teaching practice?

Capital Programme dissemination workshop announced

The three JISC Capital Programme projects working on assessment will be hosting a dissemination workshop at the University of Cambridge the day before the joint CETIS Assessment and Educational Content SIGs meeting at the same venue.  The workshop will feature demonstrations of the tools, discussion on future directions for the programme and explore ways of building an open source development community to support it.

In the morning, participants will have a chance to see the tools demonstrated and the role of web services in delivering an end-to-end assessment process. The afternoon session will split into two tracks.  Track I, Building an Open Source Community to support QTI-based tools, will have a technical focus, incorporating discussion on implementation issues and introducing participants to the projects’ open source development support.  Track II, Innovation and Interoperability in Assessment, will look at some of the issues around assessment and evaluation software within the community together with more innovative and imaginative uses of QTI.

The projects on display will be of considerable interest.  Offering the first implementations of IMS Question and Test Interoperability v2.1 freely available to the community, they provide functionality to support assessment from authoring to delivery.  AQuRate, based at Kingston University, supports item authoring, with one particularly notable feature being its attractive and friendly user interface.  Minibix, based at the University of Cambridge, provides item banking functionality suitable for both high stakes private item banks for summative assessment and low stakes item banks for resource sharing and formative assessment.  The trio is completed by AsDel, based at the University of Southampton, which provides a range of small web-based tools for test delivery, test validation, test management and basic test construction.

As with the SIG meeting, registration is free and open to all.