Sakai – worth another look

I spent part of last week at the EuroSakai Conference in Amsterdam. I haven’t really had any involvement with Sakai, and to be honest, I’ve tended to think of it as a something slightly peripheral (probably due to its low update in the UK) and dominated by the US – a sort of “it happens over there” kind of thing. However the community driven development approach it is taking is of interest, and over the past year we at CETIS have been making a concerted effort to engage more with the Sakai community and try and build more links to relevant JISC funded activity e.g. the current DVLE programme.

Ian Dolphin’s opening keynote gave a really useful overview of the history of Sakai, their vision of ‘plugability’ and ease of integration of tools and services. The community continues to grow with over 330 known adopters, 71 foundation members, and 20+ commercial affiliates. (As an aside one of the more intriguing aspects of cultural diversity was the presentation from St Petersburg State University talking about their use of Sakai and how they are now working with private Islamic schools across Russia in developing their curriculum delivery).

My main interest in the conference was to try and find out more about developments with their Open Academic Environment (OAE) which I know involves integration of widgets and explore potential links particularly around the JISC DVLE programme. I also wanted to get some more clarity around the differences/links/integrations between the OAE and the original CLE (Collaboration and Learning Environment).

The OAE works seems to be developing apace, and it was heartening to see (and hear about) their development process which is very much user led. The project is creating and using what they call “design lenses” to guide developments. Each lens corresponds to a particular aspect of teaching and learning. The over-arching lens is conceived as a mindmap (see screen shot below) and there is a high level of alignment with work of the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery Programmes and the challenges, processes and technologies structure of the Design Studio.

Sakai Learning Capabilities Design Lenses

Sakai Learning Capabilities Design Lenses

The demos I saw from the project group and in particular from the team at NYU, it would appear that the OAE is a usable and flexible environment. There is also an online demo by Lucy Appert, NYU available here. Some highlights of the system were the use of widgets; tagging of content, increased levels of openness from private to shared to public; more integration with the usual suspects of external sites; integrated licencing and more.

In terms of widgets we have had some interactions over the past couple of years with developers from the University of Cambridge through our early widget working group meeting. Although not taking the W3C/Apache wookie route, they were able to do some basic interoperability and repackaging to make them run in a wookie server so it might be worth the team looking at the growing number of widgets available from that community and re- purposing them.

The OAE group are working towards creating templates and again, I can see lots of links to the Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes, and also to the wider context of learning design and the range of stakeholders who came to the Design Bash later in the week in Oxford. We have a wealth of case-studies and resources around staff and student engagement at a range of levels across the curriculum design process which I’m sure could be of mutual benefit. The work Robyn Hill (University of Wyoming) has been doing around templates also highlighted commonalities around the issues of shared understandings of terminology, context specific use etc, etc, which again all came up during Design Bash.

The CLE is also developing with the latest version due for release in Spring 2012. Chuck Severance gave an update on developments, which have also taken a very user centric design process. Unsurprisingly given Chuck’s involvement in both communities, one of the major updates to the CLE will be the integration of the new IMS CC specification (which will incorporate basic LTI). Chuck sees this as being a (or perhaps the) “game changer” for Sakai. Despite appreciating the benefits of LTI, I’m somewhat skeptical about that in the UK context. However, if there is a rush of LTI producers and consumers of the coming 18 months then it could indeed give Sakai an edge over other systems.

The OAE and CLE were talked about as being complementary, but the community is obviously in a hybrid phase at the moment until there is a complete integration. So for people thinking about adoption, they will probably need to have clear timeline of integration and release of features to their community. The OAE looks very pretty and I can see it appealing to academics – however you will need quite a bit of dedicated technical support to use it. NYU are still just piloting its use in selected courses/schools.

As I mentioned earlier, Sakai doesn’t have a huge uptake in the UK but I was able to get more of an overview of the UK scene during the “Towards a common European Sakai Fishing Policy” session presented by Adam Marshall (Oxford University) and Patrick Lynch (University of Hull). Now Oxford isn’t your typical HEI however Sakai does seem to work for them. Their transition from their previous system (Boddington – hands up if you remember that one!) seems to have gone remarkably smoothly. Customization is crucial to Oxford and Sakai has afforded them the level of flexibility they require. Hull on the other hand is more representative of a typical HEI and both Adam and Patrick are keen to expand the UK user base to include more “normal” institutions. Currently the users in the UK and Ireland are Newcastle, Lancaster, Daresbury, Hull, Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and Limmerick, with Newcastle and Bath using it more as a research environment than a teaching and learning one. A UKissN (UK and Ireland Support Network) has been formed, more information is available from their blog and over the coming months they hope to produce more case studies etc of implementation to encourage interest.

One phrase that did keep cropping up in various conversations over the course of the conference was “you don’t fired for choosing moodle”. I’m not sure that is the main reason for the increased migration stats we’ve seen in the UK over the past couple of years, however there is an underlying truth in there. By the same token I can’t see anyone getting fired for having another look at Sakai. So I would encourage you to go the the UKissN site, explore what’s happening and start asking questions.

Obviously I haven’t been able to cover everything in the conference in this post, but as ever, I was tweeting away during the conference, and I’ve collated my tweets including lots of links here to give another view of the conference.


Summer round up from the institutional DVLE projects

Summer generally provides a bit of time for reflection and gathering of thoughts. It also marks the start of the final phase of the current JISC Distributed Virtual Learning Environments (DVLE) programme. For the five institutionally based projects, this summer has provided a short break before some major implementations and evaluations get underway in the new semester. This post summarizes some of the developments and future plans as outlined by the projects in their recent interim reports.

To give a bit more context the original call for funding for the institutional projects specifically asked for bids that would:

” . . .review their virtual learning environment and related systems to establish to what extent they meet the current and projected needs of the wide range of users in the institution and beyond, and implement technical work to widen the range of functionality the VLE can provide in an interoperable way.”

Which would lead to a set of deliverables including:

“• Enhancing the flexibility of VLEs to meet new and developing user requirements and to permit future expansion and changes.
• Demonstration of a range of architecture models for composing institutionally delivered learning environments.
• Guidance on, and models for, expanding VLE functionality and delivering it in different ways to meet institutional needs.
• An increased number of high-quality sharable widgets and applications made available to common web platforms in UK institutions, and an easier process of deploying them.”

So what progress is being made?

ceLTIc, University of Edinburgh
Progress continues with deployment of LTI connectors across a range of platforms including BB, Pepplepad, Elgg. You can get more of a feel for what the project has achieved so far from their recent presentation at our IMS LTI and LIS in Action Webinar. The project are now entering their evaluation phase which aims to “explore the impact of the implementation of LTI connectors with a VLE and four applications: Elgg, WebPA, PebblePad and Learning Objects in a number of higher education institutions from the perspective of:
tutor; developer; e-learning support; administrator.” More information about the evaluation methodology can be found on the project blog.

DEVELOP, University of Reading
The DEVELOP (Developing and Enhancing Virtual Learning Environments and E-Learning Options) team at Reading have primarily been exploring the extension of their BlackBoard VLE to allow greater pedagogic flexibility and their portfolio provision so that it can be used for teaching and assessment purposes. Scoping documents for their widget development (Tagging and recommender, portfolio, ASSET Video, content) are available from the project blog. At the moment, the widgets are all at various stages of development and user testing. The user evaluation and testing are part of the rapid prototyping approach the team are using (you can read more about the technical evaluation part of this process in this post. These evaluations will form the basis for a set of case studies around the effectiveness of each of the widgets. The case studies will be based on the templates created at Reading as part of another project JISC funded project, OULDI, which is part of the Curriculum Design Programme. The team have also been working closely with their key internal technical stakeholders to ensure sustainability of developments. The University of Bedfordshire is also testing the video widget.

The DOULS (Distributed Open University Learning Systems) team have continued with key user engagement processes to scope, define and specify the set of Google gadgets they are going to develop: Assessment Helper; Forum Recommender; Forums; OU Buddy; Study Planner. Draft gadget functionality specs for each one is available the project blog. The team have also documented their process and have produced a number of useful guidelines relating to usability and accessibility in terms of testing gadgets and overall management of accessibility within a VLE. These are openly available from the blog. The team are continuing to learn the “ins and outs” of working with the Google Apps for Education API for widescale adoption. Again the team are sharing some of their “visions” for potential Google App/Moodle integration and thoughts around potential uses/extensions for the Google start page on the blog. There will be more code releases in September, when they will also start their evaluation. Their interim report is also available for download from the blog.

SLEP, University of Southampton
The SLEP (Southampton Learning Environment Prototype) project is part of a wider institutional wide initiative at Southampton to restructure both its research and teaching and learning environments. As you’d expect from Southampton, open and linked data are central to their approach and the team have used a “co-design” process “made up of a large- scale student survey, smaller focus groups and one-on-one interviews) has revealed a preference for a small number of key services in our initial launch (including email and timetabling).” This process has also surfaced the importance of groups and communities, and the team’s prototype interface design highlights these and makes “ them the lens through which students and staff access all of the data and services of the institution”. The project is now coming out of “stealth” mode with their first round of apps being released in September accompanied by a large scale (c. 1,000 students) user evaluation of their new user interface. More detail on their overall approach and the co-design methodology is outlined in this paper presented at the PLE conference earlier this summer.

The W2C team continue to make good progress with what they often refer as their “megamash up”. The team have made steady progress developing web services including: PC Availability; Fee Status (RSS); WebCT Areas & Announcements (RSS); Library Reading Lists (RSS) & Podcasts (RSS); Integrating Talis Aspire and Equella. Providing this information in a mobile friendly way has had a dramatic impact on the number of hits these services are now getting. The team have been closely monitoring the usage of these services and shared how they collect the data and some of their insights in this post. The team have also been involved in a study of student use of mobile devices with a number of other institutions. Preliminary findings from the on the MMU part of the study are available in this post .

The team have prioritised the development of web services for mobile devices and have been working with oMbiel’s campusM mobile phone product. This has allowed them to rapidly deploy their web-services and create a user feedback loop. The team have also undertaken work in developing open source widgets for their Moodle installation which I’ll refer to later in this post. The W2C project, again is part of a wider institutional change process around provision of teaching and learning and the team have been very pro-active in sharing their “core- plus” model with the rest of the programme and the wider community.

The CETIS Distributed Learning Environments briefing paper was a key starting point for the programme, and particularly for the institutional strand, JISC wanted to find out the key institutional infrastructure issues are surrounding more flexible creation distribution of apps/gadgets/widgets and how data can be shared and re-used effectively.

Again going back to the funding call: “ The following technical approaches are of particular interest:
• Widget platforms external to the VLE displaying content from a range of sources including the VLE.
• Plug-ins to the VLE or other institutional web platform demonstrating the use of open educational standards such as IMS LTI (learning tools interoperability).
• The VLE providing some of its data and functionality as widgets/and or plug-ins to be consumed in other environments.
• Enabling access to particular research equipment in VLEs via widgets.
• Identity and access management approaches, such as OAuth.
• Approaches which illustrate innovative creation, use and consumption of data sets (including linked data ) sets across multiple platforms.”

Security has been and continues to be a key concern for projects (as highlighted in this post from Mark Stubbs after the programme start up meeting last September). Accessibility is also a concern, and it’s probably fair to say that the DOULS and others at the OU have had to spend more time than they probably first envisaged ensuring that their Google apps provision met required accessibility guidelines.

However there have been some quick wins for example W2C have been able to accelerate their mobile app deployment using an external partner which freed up the team’s time to work on developing web-services. We are also beginning to get a far greater understanding of student mobile device ownership and indeed from all the user engagement across the projects a greater understanding of the key data/services which staff and students actually want and use regularly.

In terms of standards/ specifications we have a stalwart supporter of the IMS LTI approach from Stephen Vickers at the ceLTIC project who clearly thinks the IMS way is a win, win, win scenario. There is still some resistance to implementing LTI in other projects – partly due to their unfinished status. Reading are keeping a watching brief on developments and are concentrating on developing widgets they know will work in their VLE. Whereas Southampton prefer to work with more conventional, non education specific web service approaches. However the recent announcement from IMS that they are now merging the development of full and basic LTI into one specification may start to convince more potential adopters. Once again the security question raises its head. Whilst there seems to be more convergence across the IMS, Open Social and Wookie development communities around the use of services such as OAuth, and the development of data handling process which sh/could start to allay common concerns around security of sensitive data such as assessment information etc. However, there is still probably a need for quite a dramatic culture shift within institutional provision and access before OAuth is widely adopted across the sector.

The programme has also afforded the opportunity for projects to explore the W3C Apache Wookie (Incubating) approach to the building and deployment of widgets. Our widget bash provided hand on opportunities for developers to get started building (and repurposing their own apps) wookie widgets. Despite the (relative) ease of building widgets, there has been some articulation surrounding concerns around the institutional deployment of a wookie widget server see this post from the W2C project. There continues to be an appetite for a stable sandbox/test server that projects could experiment with. This has been discussed before through our widget working group (pre-cursor to the DVLE programme) and it is something we at CETIS do recognise. Unfortunately we aren’t in a position to guarantee stability of any such service, and so we have being advocating a community based solution (perhaps augmented with a bit of funding from JISC). This is bound to be something we return to at the end of the programme once the projects have completed their reviews of their approaches and we can get a more informed view from across the programme.

There is also the question of where widgets/apps/gadgets should be accessed from after the projects finish. Should the code be available only via project websites? Do we need think about developing education app store (again this brings up similar issues as the wookie test server). One potential interim measure we are starting to investigate is the use of the JISC Design Studio which is primarily being used to share outputs from the Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes, but there are plans to use it to share other programme outputs too.

In the final stage of the funding cycle, the projects will be reflecting more on their infrastructure and how they relate to the models outlined in the CETIS DLE briefing paper. Both DEVELOP and W2C are seeing alignment with Model 2 “plug-ins to existing VLEs”.

screen shot of DLE Model 2

screen shot of DLE Model 2

W2C have begun to articulate their model in a some more detail in this post.

Over the coming months as evaluations begin in earnest, it will be interesting to see any convergences of approaches/models start to appear, and to explore what kind of affordances the projects distributed learning environments have to offer over traditional approaches.

More information about the projects and the programme support activities can be found on the CETIS wiki. There is also a public netvibes page with feeds from all the project blogs.

The timeline below also gives another view of programme activity through aggregated tweets using the programme hashtag #jiscdvle and with an RSS feed from the related Learning Platforms topic page on the CETIS website.

“Win, win, win” Are we really there with IMS LTI and LIS?

“Win, win, win” is the mantra from Stephen Vickers (ceLTIc Project, University of Edinburgh) is going to be taking to the Blackboard conference next week. During yesterday’s webinar “IMS LTI and LIS in Action”, Stephen gave an overview of the integrations the ceLTIc project have been able to achieve using basic LTI. And it does seem that we might actually be at a turning point for both basic (and hopefully full LTI) with most of the major VLE vendors now implementing it, and projects such as ceLTIc and EILE (University of Kent), who also presented their work using LTI with Moodle, being able to show real examples of a number of service integrations including blogs, reading lists and streaming servers.

However the biggest battle for uptake and adoption is probably the hardest one – the move from general awareness raising to actually widespread and commonplace use. And, as Stephen pointed out this isn’t just an question of making developers more aware of, but teachers too. So they are the ones asking the question of their VLE teams “do you support LTI” with the knowledge that they can integrate or “mix and match” a lot more “web stuff” into their VLE if the answer is yes. The IT departments should also have the confidence that taking this approach will mean that they can bring more services into their VLE, offer more flexibility to academic staff and not have to worry about a major system upgrade every time they want to add another service.

However these things can take time, and even in the JISC DVLE programme it’s only the ceLTIc project who are actually using LTI. The other projects have noted interest, but as is so often the case, it’s just not quite a priority at the moment, possibly because a number of the projects are dealing with more administrative and non VLE services. Also as the CETIS DLE briefing paper outlined there are a number of potential models for learning environment integration – LTI isn’t the only game in town. On the plus side with more major players now actively involved we might just be on the cusp of seeing some significant advances over the coming year.

The session also included an update from Linda Feng (Oracle) on recent developments with the IMS LIS specification. Again it was encouraging to hear that the working group have been trying to make the spec as usable and flexible as possible. Linda explained how the IMS working group have been developing a set of profiles to allow greater flexibility for implementers and more importantly the profiles will be available, tested and ready before the spec is finalised. Taking this more iterative approach has already allowed the working group to already sort out some element naming gotchas.

Linda also gave a quick walkthrough of a demo of some work Oracle and Blackboard having been doing with SIS data and will be presenting at next week’s BB Conference (an annotated version of the demo is available online). Phil Nicolls (Psydev) then demo’d some bulk data imports from the a cloud service into Moodle.

So all in all a very interesting session with lots of real examples of standards being used in real situations. The recording is available for viewing by following this link.

Approaching The Learning Stack case study

Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen a number of presentations by various colleagues from the Univeristat Oberta de Catalunya about the development of their learning technology provision. And last September I was privileged to join with other international colleagues for their OpenEd Tech summit.

Eva de Lera (Senior Strategist at UOC) has just sent me a copy of a case study they have produced for Gartner (Case Study: Approaching the Learning Stack: The Third Generation LMS at Univeristat Oberta de Catalunya). The report gives an overview of how and why UOC have moved from a traditional monolithic VLE to their current “learning stack”, which is based on a SOA approach. NB you do have to register to access the report.

The key findings and recommendations are salient and resonate with many of the findings that are starting to come through for example the JISC Curriculum Design programme and many (if not all) of the JISC programmes which we at CETIS support. The findings and recommendations focus on the need for development of community collaboration which UOC has fostered. Both in terms of the internal staff/student community and in terms of the community driven nature of open source sofware development. Taking this approach has ensured that their infrastructure is flexible enough to incorporate new services whilst still maintaining tried and trusted ones and allowed them the flexibility to implement a range of relevant standards and web 2 technologies. The report also highlights the need to accept failure when supporting innovation – and importantly the need to document and share any failures. It is often too easy to forget that many (if not most of) the best innovation comes from the lessons learned from the experience of failure.

If we want to build flexible, effective systems (both in terms of user experience and cost) then we need to ensure that we have foster an culture which supports open innovation. I certainly feel that that is one thing which JISC has enabled the UK HE and FE sectors to do, and long may it continue.

Widget Bash – what a difference two days make

“I got more more done here in a day than I would have in three or four days in the office”. Just one of the comments during the wrap up session at our widget bash (#cetiswb).

And judging from other comments from the other delegates, having two days to work on developing “stuff” is one of the best ways to get actually move past the “oh, that’s interesting, I might have a play with that one day” stage to actually getting something up and running.

The widget bash was the latest in our series of “bash” events, which began many years ago with code bashes (back in the early days of IMS CP) and have evolved to cover learning design with our design bashes. This event was an opportunity to share, explore and extend practice around the use of widgets/apps/gadgets and to allow delegates to work with the Apache Wookie (Incubating) widget server which deploys widgets built to the W3C widget specification.

We started with a number of short presentations starting with presentations from most of the projects in the current JISC funded DVLE programme. Starting with the rapid innovation projects, Jen Fuller and Alex Walker gave an overview of their Examview plugin, then Stephen Green from the WIDE project, University of Teeside explained the user centred design approach they took to developing widgets. (More information on all of the rapid innovation projects is available here). We then moved to the institutionally focused projects staring with Mark Stubbs from the W2C project who took us through their “mega-mash up” plans. The DOULS project was next with Jason Platts sharing their mainly google based approached. Stephen Vickers from the ceLTIc project then outlined the work they have been doing around tools integration using the IMS LTI specification. We also had a remote presentation around LTI implementation from the EILE project. Rounding up the DVLE presentations, Karsten Lundqvist from the Develop project shared the work they have been doing primarily around building an embed video BB building block. Mark Johnson (University of Bolton) then shared some very exciting developments coming from the iTEC project where smartboard vendors have implemented wookie and have widget functionality embedded in their toolset allow teachers to literally drag and drop collaborative activities onto their smartboards at any point during a lesson. Our final presentation came from Alexander Mikroyannidis on the ROLE project which is exploring the use of widgets and developing a widget store.

After lunch we moved from “presentation” to doing “mode”. Ross Gardler took everyone through a basic widget building tutorial, despite dodgy wifi connections and issues of downloading the correct version on Ant, most people seemed to be able to complete the basic “hello world” tutorial. We then split into two groups, with Ross continuing the tutorials and moving creating geo- location widgets and Scott Wilson working with some of the more experienced widget builders in what almost become a trouble shooting surgery. However his demo of repackaging a pac-mac game as W3C widget did prove very popular.

The sun shone again on day two and with delegates more familiar with wookie and how to build widgets, and potential applications for their own contexts, the serious bashing began.

One of the great things about working with open source projects such as Apache Wookie (Incubating), is the community sharing of code and problem solving We had a couple of really nice examples of this in action, starting with the MMU drop in pc-location widget. The team had managed to work out some IE issues that the wookie team were struggling with (see their blog post), and inspired by the geo-location templates Ross showed on day 1, managed to develop their widget to include geo-location data. Now if users access the service from a geo-location aware device it will return a list of free computers nearest to their real-time location. The team were able to successfully test this on ipad, galaxy tab, iphone and android phone. For non-location aware devices the service returns an alphabetical list. You can try it out here.

Sam Rowley and colleagues from Staffordshire university decided to work on some DOM and jQuery and issues. Whilst downloading the wookie software they noticed a couple of bugs, so they fixed them and submitted a patch to the Wookie community.

Other interesting developments emerged from discussions around ways of getting data out of VLEs. The team from Strathclyde realised that by using the properties settings in wookie they could pass a lot of information fairly easily from Moodle to a widget. On day two they converted a Moodle reading list block to a wookie widget with an enhanced interface allowing users to specify parameters (such as course code etc). The team have promised to tidy up the code and submit to both the wookie and moodle communitys. Inspired by this Stephen Vickers is going to have a look at developing a powerlink for webCT/BB with similar functionality.

On a more pedagogical focus some of the members of the Coeducate project worked on developing a widget version of the the 8LEM inspired Hybrid Learning Model from the University of Ulster. By the end of the second day they were well on the way to developing a drag and drop sequencer and were also exploring multiuser collaboration opportunities through the google wave api functionality which wookie has adopted.

Overall there seemed to be a really sense of accomplishment from delegates who managed to do a huge amount despite having to fight with very temperamental wifi connections. Having two experts on hand proved really useful to delegates as they were able to ask the “stupid” and more often than not, not so stupid questions. Having the event run over two days also seemed to be very popular as it allowed delegates to actually move from the thinking about doing something to actually doing it. It also highlighted the positive side of contributing to an open-source community and hopeful the Apache Wookie community will continue to see the benefit of increased users from the UK education sector. We also hope to run another similar event later in the year, so if you have any ideas or would like to contribute please let me know.

For another view of the event, I’ve also created a storify version of selected tweets from the event.

IMS Global Learning Consortium announces release of Common Cartridge v1.1

IMS has announced the final release of Common Cartridge v1.1.

According to the press release: “The Common Cartridge standard provides a means for interoperability, reusability, and customization of digital learning content, assessments, collaborative discussion forums, and a diverse set of learning applications. The standard offers both end-users and vendors the possibility of greater choice in both content and platforms. This latest version of Common Cartridge includes support for Basic Learning Tools Interoperability which provides a standard way of integrating rich learning applications or premium content with platforms such as Learning Management Systems, portals, or other systems.”

The standard is available for download from the IMS website.

Subverting and integrating at cetis10

“Subverting and integration corporate systems for educational purposes” was the title of the session I facilitated at the CETIS 2010 conference earlier this week.

There’s some blurb on the website about the session, but my underlying thinking around the session was to bring together people to discuss the many ways that institutions have to not just subvert and integrate corporate systems to fit educational needs, but also, and perhaps more importantly how to subvert and integrate users and data to meet a range of needs and stakeholders. My primary thoughts around this stemmed very much from the JISC Curriculum Design programme where we have seen a range of solutions from completely corporate (e.g IBM, SunBanner) to more ad-hoc integrations of a range of systems including Sharepoint. Almost half of the Design projects are using Sharepoint to some extent. At the same time the work in the JISC DVLE programme is looking much more at integration of systems and not providing flexibility to add-in to VLEs etc without having to install major upgrades.

To give a range of scenarios I had four speakers give an overview of their institutional landscape – Hugh Davies, University of Southampton; Jim Everett, University of Strathclyde; Sam Rowley, Staffordshire University and Mark Stubbs, MMU.

Although all quite different, there were some key consensus points. It’s not the data collection and storage that is the issue – it would seem that most institutions actually do have most of the data they need. The key issue is the sharing of the data in ways that are useful to others. The benchmarking process that the curriculum design projects undertook has been instrumental in highlighting the lack of communication between key stakeholders, and the at times unnecessary duplication of effort which takes place. Each speaker highlighted that creating models and opportunities for discussion around underlying infrastructure has provides means for subversion and integration which go much deeper than the technology itself.

As Hugh Davies highlighted, for Southampton is has allowed them to have a debate about the wider educational experience the institution wants to provide – how can the infrastructure support and encourage digital literacies for example? The are also challenging some long held assumptions around openness of data. In Southampton they are now going to make all data open unless there is a very good reason not to. Which is the direct opposite of the current situation where you have to have a good reason to make data open.

Jim Everett described the usefulness of having a being able to produce a process model of the key information decision points in the course approval process. Although not an easy task it has now allowed the team to have structured discussions around possible innovations as they can see the whole process. Jim also observed how creating the model highlighted the lack of contact between the people involved. The real interoperability issues lie between human communications not system ones. They are now proposing a data management system to facilitate workflows, and provide access to the data to all stakeholders as and when they need it. Jim also advocated strongly the using of BPMN.

Sam Rowley took us on an entertaining “ramble” through the the experiences of the Staffordshire development team in recent years. They are now trying to take a more coherent EA based view of their overall system requirements. Like many institutions Staffs has a number of data silos which have been wired together on a pretty ad-hoc basis as and when needed. In terms of business intelligence, there key system is actually a lady called Sheila, and to quote Sam “if Sheila doesn’t know it, then it’s not worth knowing” ( oh how I wish that were true in my life :-) ). By taking an EA approach Sam also hopes to help alleviate the tension between innovation and operation between his small team using agile development processes and the wider more traditional corporate IT services. Having a larger EA based model should help to reduce some of the tensions between potential lock-in to larger systems and more flexible solutions.

Mark Stubbs highlighted how the work of the Curriculum Design projects has help to surface the lack of a some key institutional infrastructure around course information and approval processes. Currently MMU is restructuring the whole of its first year provision for rollout in September 2011. Mark’s team are involved in both the Curriculum Design and DVLE programmes but these projects are part of this much larger, radical change within the institution. Mark used a really nice analogy of Japanese willow pattern as a way to describe understanding the islands and bridges that need to be integrated.

Willow pattern islands and bridges in institutional systems

Willow pattern islands and bridges in institutional systems

Echoing Jim’s point about communication Mark also highlighted the need to sell change to people and to carry stakeholders with you on the journey and involve them in all stages of the process. By introducing a new front end to their sharepoint installation the team increased pressure on their corporate systems to provide feeds to other information sources. Student feedback clearly indicated the types of things students wanted e.g. timetabling and assessment information. In terms of subversion, by producing a new model form (linking to new curriculum database) they have introduced commonality across the institution. Each module will have 5 (and only 5) learning outcomes, which need to be linked to an assessment strategy. There can be no vagueness when filling in the form.

After the presentations we broke into groups with the task of describing a “fantasy curriculum management system”. Links to video clips of the feedback from each group is available here. Again a lot of consensus was coming through from the groups – particularly around views to information for different stakeholders such as students, staff etc and the need for data to be able to be re-used in a variety of ways.

Copies of the presentations and podscasts of each of the speakers presentations are available on the session webpage.

Webinar on (IMS) Simple Outcomes available online

Chuck Severance joined us this afternoon to give an update on developments with simple outcomes and LTI.

Simple Outcomes is currently to quote Chuck an “IMS experiment”. It’s not a formal specification, but is part of more lite touch, open development approach that Chuck has been pioneering within IMS. Taking this approach it is possible to develop more robust code, get early vendor buy-in and adoption and (hopefully) speed up the formal specification process. Chuck gave us a demo of grades being passed between Sakai, Wimba and Moodle. A recent demo at Educase included a number of other vendors. A recording of the presentation is available online by following this link and lasts approximately an hour.

Snapshots of standards and technologies in use in the DVLE programme

The JISC DVLE programme is well underway now, and as part of our support role for the programme we have been discussing with the projects, the different approaches, technologies and standards they are hoping to use. A record of the discussions is stored in our PROD project database. We find these discussions a really useful way for us to get a clear idea of what projects are actually doing – as opposed to what they say they are going to do in a project plan.

PROD is also growing into a substantial record of the technological approaches from a growing number of JISC programmes, almost a collective memory if you like. Over the past few months my colleague David Sherlock has been developing some easier ways to get information out of PROD and provide some visualisations of the data we are recording, you can read more in his blog. So, in relation to the DVLE programme here are a couple of snapshot views of the data we’ve been recording.

Firstly a wordle of the standards and technologies. Quite interesting surface overview, but doesn’t give much detailed information.

DVLE standards and technologies wordle

DVLE standards and technologies wordle

A mindmap showing each project entry, you can click through to moved down from project name to standards/technologies and then comments. I think this provides a useful, digestible summary of the programme. We’d like to develop this more to include links to project home pages, date stamps for comments etc.

And yes, we will be creating a wookie mindmap widget but it was just quicker to use this existing google one for proof of concept.

A manyeyes view of the numbers of each standard/technology. This allows us to show the numbers of projects using each standard/technology. I think this could be increasingly useful to use across programmes to allow us to start building richer pictures of emerging trends.

We will be developing more of these visualisations over the coming months so watch this space and you can of course view the complete entries directly in PROD.</p