What is happening in the schools sector

There is a great deal of aspiration within this sector.


Politically there has been a sense that the Labour government has spent many years talking about significant change through technology but now has limited time to deliver it.


One must not forget the principal driver for this sector……….. the re-enforcement of ‘personalisation’: understanding each individual child’s needs so that education can be ‘bespokely’ tailored within a safe and secure environment.


Systems that join up data from children services, probation services and other agencies that engage with families are being developed. If linked up through the Unique Learner Number with details of educational attainment, then comprehensive data to support teaching and learning and Information and Guidance will be available to both the professionals within the classroom and the support staff within Connexions or the local authority. The 14-19 prospectus agenda that will attempt to link up a child’s aspirations and goals with educational opportunities using a UCAS style application system will complement these initiatives.


Within HE one often neglects the experience of individual staff and especially the students in exploiting technology to support teaching and learning. Electronic whiteboards are common within school and FE classrooms. It is not now uncommon to find schools and colleges that have installed a whiteboard in virtually every classroom. Teachers are adept through their communities to find appropriate content and innovative use of proprietary (generally Microsoft) supplied tools to engage their classes by using this technology.

Commercial content is commonly available within schools. The elearning credits system gave schools free materials. Initially a good deal for suppliers, the best are recognising that once they have to compete for future school resources they will have to raise their game with both individuality and assured interoperability. The suppliers’ trade organisation Besa, is recognising this through its renewed interest in standards and particularly ‘common cartridge’.


It was apparent from Becta’s recent Harnessing Technology conference that a child’s ability to use technology to support their education has to be recognised. Children are adept at using the internet, communications tools and social software, The challenge is not to try and institutionalise these tools but to provide facilitation mechanisms to point children in appropriate (and safe) directions that enhance both their studies and knowledge of progression opportunities. Connexions are already piloting such systems to get students to share their knowledge from work experience of employers and careers.


(Institutionalising the tools for teaching and learning? A big debate is needed).


Becta are hedging their bets with much work being performed on delivering Learning Platforms for every secondary school through the Building Schools for the Future programme alongside the recognition of the power that most children have in their mobile phones and computers to support their education.


The Diplomas for 14-19 year olds will be the first qualification that needs the Unique Learner Number. The first students will register for this qualification next September by which Minerva, the tool that aggregates the necessary achievement components from different awarding bodies will have to be ready.


So, what are we seeing from this part of our educational community: standardisation of enterprise data (XML based data models are rife…don’t forget the IT requirements to support the government’s target culture or schools); the development of SOA based solutions to facilitate user driven enterprise systems; innovative bottom up use of technology (and increasingly Web 2.0 tools) to support teaching and learning and information and guidance; online assessments for an increasing number of qualifications; online marking and quality assurance (Edexcel scanned in 11 million scripts for online marking last summer); more innovative online content and the adoption(ish) of common cartridge; pragmatic use of metadata and vocabularies for content (focussed on IPR); an increasing recognition that eportfolios are no more than the results of aggregated content (and another enterprise system)……..


Most importantly the school’s sector possesses millions of users (teachers and students) who now (and increasingly will) have the confidence and knowledge of computer based tools and systems to develop exciting new pedagogic approaches to teaching and learning.


In the introduction, I mentioned the urgency on behalf of the government for action and implementation on its personalisation agenda. Many of these IT based initiatives in support of this goal could fail. The government has not a good reputation for IT projects (and data security) but many will succeed and, fail or succeed, many will require support from the academic learning technology community.


Over to you JISC.


Clive Church, 29th November 2007





Clive 1st June 2007

It has been some times since I ‘blogged’

Since I last ‘put fingers to keyboard’ I have been boring folk with my view that over the last year the ‘centre of gravity’ of learning technology standards developments have moved to the schools and FE sectors from HE. Driven by the e-Strategy and other governemnt schools based agendas such as ‘Every Child Matters’, Becta, MIAP and others have been obliged to deliver solutions. to strictly imposed deadlines. The focus so far has been in two areas: joining social service systems up with school administration systems and learning platforms for schools. Both have required standards based developments: the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) underpinned by the adoption of a Unique learner Number (ULN) has been adopted for the former and Becta has produced specifications (all around standards and extendability) that suppliers of learning platforms have to satisfy. Additionally, the Qualification and Curriculum Authority, in order to meet the requirements of the new vocational Specilaised Diploma will have to produce data standards by the Autumn for course details and qualification achievements.

Obviously such developments will have an impact for the JISC communities. Firstly, there will be a concentration  of minds around where standards are really needed (rather than ‘could be useful’) and there will be a requirement for JISC to focus on those areas of detail which could impede national projects if not attended to. Solutions to the problems of Identity Management and the scalability of SOA implementations are just two that need urgent attention.

So to survive , JISC has to be sufficiently engaged in influencing and engaging with learning technology based solutions in the schools and tertiary sector in order to anticpate those areas that need the efforts and expertise of our community?

So what have I been doing for my one day per week in addition to boring my colleagues at mangement meetings with the above?

Well I have been supportng Peter with ePortfolio develovepment (around assessment) and with the help of Nottingham University finding out about Lifelong Learning Networks, 

Full Agenda for Friday’s Enterprise SIG Meeting

The next meeting of the JISC CETIS Enterprise SIG will be held this Friday (20th April 2007). The meeting is being hosted at the University of Nottingham by Sandra Kingston. We have a busy agenda, with a variety of updates, project presentations and interesting topics for discussion.

Register at: http://jisc.cetis.org.uk/events/register.php?id=36

Agenda: http://wiki.cetis.org.uk/Enterprise_Meeting_16_Agenda

And the agenda is also here:



10.45 – 11.00 Vashti Zarach, JISC CETIS Enterprise SIG Coordinator
Introduction & Results from a JISC Systems Integration Survey

11.00 – 11.15 Scott Wilson, JISC CETIS / XCRI Support Project
Update on XCRI and the XCRI CAP (Course Advertising Profile) Mini Projects

11.15 – 11.45 Adam Cooper, JISC CETIS
Work in Progress in IMS: Enterprise Services v2.0 / Tools Interoperability v2.0

11.45 – 12.00 Teabreak


12.00 – 12.30 Sandra Kingston, Centre for International ePortfolio Development, University of Nottingham
ADoM & DELIA: two new e-admissions projects

12.30 – 1.00 Garfield Southall, University of Chester
The SOLVS Project (Supporting Ongoing Learning in Vocational Settings)

1.00 – 2.00 Lunch


2.00 – 2.30 Simon Grant, JISC CETIS Portfolio SIG
Identity: Personal, Learner, Institutional, etc

2.30 – 2.45
Discussion time: Identity

2.45 – 3.15 Chris Kew, CETIS
The Tencompetence Project and the Personal Competence Manager

3.15 – 3.45 Roger Clark, Greater Manchester Strategic Alliance (ioNW2)
Adding A Competency Dimension into XCRI

3.45 – 4.00 End / Teas and Coffees

XCRI Mini Projects Start Up Meeting on Friday

This Friday (30th March 2007), we are holding a start-up meeting for the 6 new XCRI Mini Projects. Six projects have been funded: BoXCRIP (based at Bolton), MOVE-XCRI (led by the MOVE Lifelong Learning network), OCCAM (Open University), OXCRI (Oxford University), StaffsXCRI (Staffordshire University) and XCRI@MMU (Manchester Metropolitan University). The mini projects will run for 6 months, and are implementing XCRI CAP, the Course Advertising Profile for XCRI (the eXchanging Course Information schema).

The projects will be supported by the XCRI Support Team, consisting of Mark Stubbs, Scott Wilson, Ben Ryan and Vashti Zarach, with website assistance from Mark Power and Sam Easterby-Smith. The Support Project is scheduled to run for 2 years, and has been extremely busy since beginning this March. So far we have held a Support Team start up meeting, attended by GMSA (the Greater Manchester Strategic Alliance), responded to lots of enquiries and interest about XCRI, dashed around the country meeting people (that’s mostly Mark Stubbs who urgently needs cloning!), worked on a validator (Ben Ryan) and aggregator (Scott Wilson), brainstormed user scenarios and began to set up the new XCRI website (Scott, Vashti, Mark Power and Sam), and planned an XCRI meeting for mini projects and general interested parties (mostly Vashti with help from all). Looks like we may have a busy year ahead!

The XCRI meeting, which is being hosted in Oxford by Sebastian Rahtz of Oxford University Computing Services, is being well attended. We have 28 people coming, including the Support Project Team, Sarah Davies from JISC, 14 project staff members, and 9 other people generally interested in being updated on XCRI.

A copy of the day’s agenda is below:

10.30am – 11.00am Teas and coffees

11.00am – 11.20am Intro to the Day: Vashti Zarach
What to expect from the day / Update on XCRI meetings, etc

11.20am – 11.40am XCRI Update: Mark Stubbs
Brief history of XCRI / Developments with XCRI / Interest from UK learning organizations, etc

11.40am – 12.00noon JISC Requirements: Sarah Davies
What JISC requires from the projects

12noon – 1.00pm Project Presentations: 6 Mini Projects
10 mins presentation time for each project

1.00pm – 2.00pm Lunch

2.00pm – 2.20pm XCRI Validator: Ben Ryan

2.20pm – 2.45pm XCRI Aggregator: Scott Wilson
Demo of the aggregator

2.45pm – 3.00pm Teas and coffees

3.00pm – 3.15pm XCRI.org: Scott Wilson and Vashti Zarach
Demo of the new website

3.15pm – 3.45pm XCRI Website discussion
Opportunity for the projects to discuss what they want from the website

2007 JISC Conference: great BBC 2.0 keynote, shame about the mushrooms

Yesterday I went to the annual JISC Conference in Birmingham. We arrived in time for the first keynote speech from David Eastwood, Chief Exec of HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England). As I am currently involved with the XCRI (eXchanging Course Information) support project, which is supporting take-up of a schema for standardising the format and exchange of information about courses, I was pleased to hear the keynote speech finish by emphasizing the need to “create greater convergence”, develop a “shared service agenda” and link up things which institutions are doing separately.

In the morning, I went to Bill Olivier’s session on services oriented architectures and the eFramework. Bill delivered a very interesting presentation at breakneck speed, and I managed to get notes taken by typing very fast! I found his 3 definitions of the eFramework useful: 1. It’s a JISC Programme, 2. It’s an international programme, 3. It’s a website and knowledge base. 

One area the eFramework are focusing on is helping practitioners map out their domains, with Bill defining a domain as “a recognisable area of work or activity”, i.e. not necessarily something technical, just a way of outlining what people do. The domain modelling enables the discovery of issues which are common across institutions, with the idea being that projects with cross institutional benefits can be a priority for funding. Again, I thought this tied in nicely to the work XCRI is doing, plus many other projects I know of, such as the e-admissions domain mapping which MMU and Nottingham are undertaking.

 Lunch was the worst part of the day. As a non mushroom eating vegetarian, and a very hungry one by lunchtime, I was disappointed to see both veggie options contained mushrooms. I ended up with a plate of potato salad and wild rice, not very nourishing. It’s a very grand venue, but the food isn’t wonderful…Oh, and I couldn’t get the wifi to work!

After lunch I went to the Enabling Lifelong Learning session run by Sarah Davies. All the speakers were good, but I was most interested in the presentation given by the first speaker, Bill Pollard from Cheadle and Marple College, who discussed how they had dealt with the issue of a particular course where students never seemed to apply to carry on to university. They discovered that this was due to students being unable to find suitable courses for their interests and needs. They got the students to search on Flock for courses which suited their needs, and then, this is the crucial bit, got them to save courses they liked on del.icio.us us with appropriate tags of their choice, so that the students could share interesting courses with each other. They added a course code to the tags, to narrow down the tagged entries to ones chosen within the college. The outcome of all this searching, tagging and sharing, was that all bar one student applied to university this year, and this from a course where previously almost no one was applying. I thought this was great use of social software.

 The final keynote, entitled BBC 2.0, was given by Tom Loosemore from the BBC. Tom outlined 15 principles of web design, illustrated by examples from (mostly) BBC websites. I found this talk really fascinating, partly because I studied a bit about information design on my Information management course in Brighton some years back; partly because I run an events website for my local area and am interested in principles of good website design; and partly because I love the BBC websites, and it was really interesting to hear all about some of the rationale behind them.

So, in summary, a good and informative day, please can we have no mushrooms next year, and I really must find a pink, scarlet or electric blue suit, there were so many black suits there!