Improving the student experience with an improved tutorial selection process

As part of the JISC Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design project, the UG-Flex project at the University of Greenwich undertook set out to “reveal and enhance the University’s curriculum development processes in order to support a more agile and diverse curriculum underpinned by integrated systems.”

As part of on going dialogue about the technical aspects of the project the team shared with us their some of their plans for developing more sophisticated, real time timetabling processes. Although this work is not directly related to the UG-Flex project, this example of choice of systems and their integration demonstrates the positive contribution to be made to the day to day delivery of the University’s curriculum. Clifton Kandler, Web Services Manager explains more in this guest post.

The Problem
Like many university’s at the start of courses (programs), course leaders are faced with the need to separate students in to groups for tutorials, lab sessions and in larger courses lectures. For our Business School which has courses with up to 500 registered this has been a particularly important issue for some time. Having moved on from collating student’s tutorial selections from pieces of paper placed on notice boards, prior to our migration to Moodle the Business School used the group functionality within WebCT to either allocate students to tutorials or enable them to self select a tutorial slot.

The lack of integration between WebCT and our timetable system, Syllabus plus from Scientia however meant that the setting up of these groups within WebCT was a manual process. Once students had been allocated to tutorials or had made a tutorial selection manual intervention was again required to provide this information to our timetable system to enable construction of a personalized timetable for students which is accessed via our Portal (Luminus from Elluician).

These points of manual intervention resulted in errors and delays in providing students with accurate timetable information at the start of courses, frustration on the part of course leaders who could not be sure who should be in their tutorials and consequently delays in organising students in to groups for group assignments for example.

The Opportunities
A clear opportunity existed to improve the experience of students, academics, School administrators and timetabling staff by integrating the systems involved and removing the points of manual intervention.

The decision to migrate to Moodle as our institutional VLE for the start of the 2011/12 academic year also provided an opportunity to develop the environment to meet our specific challenges. This was one of the decisive factors in choosing Moodle. The time table selection block was the first area of development chosen.

The final opportunity came in the form of SunGard’s Infinity Process Platform, this Business Process management tool enabled us with SunGard’s help to model, analyse and execute the work flows and integrations required. This tool is used extensively in the financial services industry and Greenwich is the first to use it in a Higher Education context.

The Process
A series of workshops was held with representatives from Schools to further understand the problem to be addressed and draw up a list of requirements and timetable for development. As well as meeting the objectives set a major outcome of these workshops was the acknowledgment on the part of participants of the complexities of producing solution to the issues raised from a systems integration perspective. The outcome of the process was that the following requirements were identified:

The solution should enable:
*Allocation of students on a Moodle course to tutorials.
*Enable students to self select a tutorial.
*Reduce the size of a tutorial on the fly – allowing staff to hide the full tutorial capacity in case they need to move students.

An eight week timetable was identified for the delivery of the project.

Systems Integration Achieved

Diagram of system integration

Diagram of system integration

The major challenge for this development has been managing the co-ordination of 4 the parties (including Greenwich) involved. University of London Computing Centre who host our Moodle environment, SunGard for IPP and Scientia who provide the timetable system. A steep learning curve was involved in delivering this project within a tight 8 week time frame and on budget.

Enabling users to articulate their requirements was an additional challenge, the tendency is for users to largely ask for what they already have and to really only fully understand their requirements after actual use (see paragraph below). The ability to quickly develop in Moodle and IPP has meant that we have been able to respond to new requirements that have emerged.

Implementation and Subsequent Development
The selection block was used on all 561 Business School Courses at the start of the 2012/13 academic year and has been very popular with students, with reports of them valuing the additional control they now have over determining their timetables. We are clearly providing a better service to students.

Following the initial implementation the timetable block has been further developed to provide the following additional functionality:
● Allow staff to time release the block on a course by course basis.
● Allow staff to make changes to all activities in one go.
● Staff to be able to download the list of allocated students from the tutorial.
● Hide individual tutorials.
● Change the size of a tutorial in Moodle – this change is not written back to Syllabus +

The timetable block will be used by our Engineering, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Computing and Maths School’s as well as Business at the start of the 2012/12 academic year which means that over 70% of courses will be using the development.

The development of the Timetable selection block has not only enabled us to improve the student experience via process improvement, but has also enabled us to work with a Business Process Modelling tool seriously for the first time enabling Greenwich to support its desire to be a more agile and Service orientated institution.

About Clifton
Clifton Kandler is the Web Services Manager at the University of Greenwich, leading the team responsible for the development, implementation and support of the University’s VLE, Portal, Library management system and e-portfolio.

Learning Environments Timeline: The JISC CETIS view

One of the advantages of having being involved with JISC for a number of years (as a project and a service) is the opportunity to reflect on some activities that we’ve been involved in for some time. We thought it would be interesting to take the long view of some of our involvement with OER, XCRI and Learning Environments and reflect on what has worked and why, and where we think these activities are going next.

In this final article, we asked Lou McGill and Sarah Currier to talk to CETIS staff and devise
the timeline and this story to illustrate CETIS involvement in the area of Learning Environments over the last decade.

Learning Environments

In the mid 1990’s educational institutions began to see the potential that computer networks could offer to manage their learning activities and content. Alongside that developments on the web were transforming what could be achieved using technology to support learning, often described as e-learning. These two elements essentially emerge from two different motivations one to manage learning, and its’ outcomes, and one to directly support learning. It could be argued that this difference led to a dichotomy of provision for learners through the early 2000s that is now being addressed by more holistic approaches to support an increasingly diverse range of learners.

As institutions invested in Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) they realised the benefits of linking these to other institutional data systems such as library and student records and the notion of Managed Learning Environments (MLEs) emerged. In parallel, early adopters of web based technologies such as wikis and blogs were focussing on social interactive aspects of learning akin to social constructivist approaches [1]. CETIS highlighted the value of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) as early as 1999 [2] and have contributed much to this field as educators have now moved towards a range of models to create Distributed Learning Environments (DLEs) [3] that fulfil a range of management and pedagogic requirements. This timeline [4] charts the story and provides links to further information.

How we got here

Investigating and advising on requirements for VLEs was an early activity for CETIS. As institutions started building or procuring these new tools for online education, a number of challenges became evident.

One challenge related to constraints VLE design placed on pedagogical flexibility, directly affecting the learning experience. Professor Oleg Liber and Dr. Sandy Britain penned the seminal 1999 report ‘A Framework for the Pedagogical Evaluation of Virtual Learning Environments’ [5]. This report became an international jumping-off point for exploring the relationship between technology and teaching and learning; a key premise for JISC CETIS’s work since.

The other key challenge concerned how VLEs interacted with other tools, such as student record, management information and library systems. Getting content into and out of VLEs, sharing it across departmental, institutional and regional borders, and being able to deliver the content in a flexible, useful way for learners, were all issues that needed to be addressed. Interoperability requirements entered the equation, and the concept of the managed learning environment (MLE) was born.

Virtual Learning Environments to Managed Learning Environments

CETIS supported the JISC MLE Programme, and became JISC’s representative on the IMS Global Learning Consortium [6], which was producing the relevant interoperability specifications. To fulfil this role, CETIS nurtured local communities of practice (known as special interest groups) to investigate requirements on the ground. These communities coalesced around educational metadata and repositories, assessment, learning design, content packaging, and enterprise systems requirements. CETIS’s experience with the standards development cycle enabled it to support this work, from establishing user requirements, to developing standards based on these, advocating for and supporting their uptake and implementation back in the communities, and using the communities’ experiences to further refine requirements. CETIS staff edited the MLE guide which later became the JISC Infonet toolkit ‘Creating a Managed Learning Environment’ [7] which offered practical advice on the kinds of questions that institutions needed to address when implementing an MLE.

Managed Learning Environments to Personal Learning Environments

The most successful interoperability initiatives around MLEs were enterprise level projects linking student record systems with VLEs [8],[9] and CETIS were instrumental in feeding back experiences from projects to the final version of the IMS Enterprise Services specification. Other, more experimental specifications looking at assessment, content packaging, and learning activities engendered a growing acceptance that a university-wide one-size-fits-all approach was unsustainable [10]. At this time the concept of the e-framework [11] emerged which attempted to map MIS systems in universities and offer an alternative service oriented approach to interoperability. Meanwhile, the Web 2.0 revolution was under way, and new, free tools were emerging on the open web. Students’ expectations of everything from email to online discussion to creating and sharing their own content changed. A session on PLEs at the 2004 CETIS Conference [12] is noted in Wikipedia [13] as the first recorded use of the term. Through the JISC-funded PLE reference model project in 2005/2006 [14], JISC CETIS further developed the idea of the Personal Learning Environment.

Image by Scott Wilson, CETIS. The future of the VLE, 2005 [15]

This vision saw learners using a combination of tools of their choice in parallel to the institutional VLE / MLE. It offered universities options to pick and choose which tools they wanted to support, and make their own enterprise systems interact with these tools. CETIS also supported JISC and the international education sector in looking at Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) [16],[17] at the enterprise planning level, and at widgets at the individual level, all of which dovetailed with this new vision. The key goal however was to move from two parallel approaches to a more holistic model with the learner in control.

Where we are now

Personal Learning Environments to Distributed Virtual Learning Environments

Important features of Personal Learning Environments were of learners setting their own goals and managing both the content and processes. However, not all learners want the added responsibility of creating their own learning environment, and most universities want some control over what they offer to students, not least because of the increasing complexity of system support requirements. Alongside this there were some exciting mash-ups of tools and services which offered some innovative approaches to bringing together institutional and web service tools. The 2007 CETIS conference included a hands-on session with some demonstrations of educational related mash ups [18]. During 2008 the interest in widgets continued and CETIS started to engage with the W3C widget specification group who produced a widget landscape study [19]. Following this an interview with Scott Wilson highlighted ways in which widgets could be used to extend VLE functuionality [20]. Around the same time IMS began work on the LTI (learning tools interoperability) specification [21] which enables quick integration of widgets and externally hosted services into systems like VLEs.

The 2008 CETIS conference included a session dedicated to designing widgets for education [22] which highlighted an interest within the community for a working group [23] around sharing practice in developing and deploying widgets. This group aimed to build a widget infrastructure, to determine models of widget use in teaching practice and to identify what widgets were needed in the HE/FE community.

The 2009 CETIS conference broadened widget development work to look at the various ways in which individuals and institutions were integrating widgets to expand their learning environments [24]. CETIS presented four main approaches and later developed and described these in the Distributed Learning Environments (DLE) Briefing paper [25] which was written by Sheila MacNeill and Wilbert Kraan. CETIS also worked closely with JISC programme managers to shape a new programme to explore the viability of these models.


The goal of the JISC Distributed Virtual Learning Environments (DVLE) [26] Programme was to take the best ideas from VLEs, MLEs, and PLEs to allow more flexibility and less silo thinking. Working with students, teachers and system administrators, the projects have been exploring the development and integration of widgets, apps and gadgets into a variety of commonly used learning environments. The programme has had two strands, one focussing on rapid development and deployment of widgets, and the other exploring institutional approaches to integrating flexible tools and services into teaching and learning environments. As this programme draws to a close we have some excellent exemplars for the wider community. For example the Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) impressive W2C project [27] has added value to their core Moodle VLE, and through strong partnerships and institution-wide activities have proven that a mega-mashup service-oriented approach can work at institutional scale. The Open University DOULS (Distributed Open University Learning Systems) project [28] have utilised a range of Google gadgets and developed a useful set of open guidelines on usability and accessibility from within a VLE. Sheila MacNeill from CETIS produced a useful summer roundup blog post [29] describing each of the projects and their activities. This programme has drawn together over a decade of exploration; with it JISC, and CETIS, have supported the sector’s journey towards flexible and customisable learning environments – what Sheila describes as “pick and mix” learning environments. As the final outcomes are synthesised the wider community should have a range of models and supporting information to learn from.

Where we are going?

We asked Sheila, one of the authors of the CETIS DLE briefing paper, to consider if any of the distributed models presented in 2010 have emerged as stronger, been adopted more fully, or if any had been less effective. Naturally we ended up speaking about the financial constraints currently impacting on educational institutions and their readiness to invest in either institutional technologies or staff to support web services. Sheila felt that this more ‘risk averse’ climate had impacted on institutional readiness to engage with the cloud computing model but that this may still emerge in the future as an attractive model.

Two of the models have emerged strongly as current solutions – and interestingly these present two sides of the picture that have been discussed throughout this article – one institutional model and one more individually focussed model… Institutions are, at present, tending to adopt the ‘plug into existing VLEs’ model which reflects their desire to make good use of existing investment and skillsets, whilst recognising the potential value that stable plug-ins can offer. It’s a relatively safe model that is supported by developments in IMS LTI and Widget specifications. The model that offers a more individual approach to mash-ups – ‘many widgets into one widget container’ such as Netvibes [30] or iGoogle [31] tend not to be integrated into institutional systems but present both educators and students with a way to pull together different elements of their learning environments. It is difficult to estimate how widespread this model currently is but it presents an approach which supports individual control and self regulation.

One of the models identified by Sheila and Wilbert presented the idea of client and provider, using Sakai [32] as the key example. Sakai offers learning management, research collaboration and ePortfolio solutions in one system and is used by 350 educational institutions. Some of the projects in the DVLE programme have used external 3rd party hosting for some elements of their systems, including UCL [33] and Google for email or apps. This kind of model presents possibilities for cost efficiencies and may appear to be less risky. In the short term future we may see more institutions adopt this model – making effective use of expertise and services available elsewhere. In the longer term it will be fascinating to watch this story continue to unfold as institutions seek to balance their institutional needs with the growing demands of highly diverse learners.

About Lou

Lou McGill is currently working independently and has recently been involved in synthesis and evaluation activities for the HE Academy/JISC UKOER programme and the JISC Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology programme. She lead the team that produced the Good Intentions report on business cases for sharing and worked on the LLiDA study (Learning Literacies in a Digital Age). She has experience of working in a range of HE institutions as a librarian, learning technologist and project manager and used to be a JISC Programme Manager on the eLearning team. In the distant past she worked for NIACE (the adult learning organisation) and in Health education for the NHS. Her interests and experience include digital literacy, information literacy, open education, distance learning, managing organisational change, and effective use of technologies to support learning. Further information on Lou’s work can be found at:

About Sarah

Sarah Currier is an educational content management specialist, with a background in librarianship. After emigrating to Scotland from New Zealand in 1997, she worked with educational repositories, metadata and content, including OERs, from 1999 until 2009, including stints with JISC CETIS, IRISS Learning Exchange, and Intrallect Ltd. She then spent three years running her own consultancy, with a varied portfolio including projects on open science, agile metadata management, data skills development, and the use of social media in supporting educational communities of practice. Sarah now commutes between Glasgow and Manchester, coordinating Jorum R&D projects and leading the JLeRN Experiment at Mimas (

Curriculum Delivery: Dynamic Learning Maps

In this second post Lou McGill focusses on the DLM project which produced a dynamic map of the entire Medical Curriculum at Newcastle University.

The Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) project at Newcastle University was funded by JISC as part of the Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology programme. This programme saw a very diverse set of projects use technology to address a number of institutional challenges and ultimately transform their approaches to enhancing the student experience.

The DLM project aimed to make visible the complex medical ‘spiral curriculum’ where topics are revisited with increasing depth over a 5 year programme, and to reveal connections across curricula to support modular learning. High level goals included a desire to promote lifelong learning, enhance employability and enable personalisation for students. The diverse nature of stakeholders with unique views of the curricula increased the complexity of the project and led to some interesting paths and choices as the team developed the maps. Simply getting agreement on what constitutes a curriculum map proved challenging and required a highly flexible approach and agile development. Like many technical development projects DLM had to balance the need to develop a common understanding with the need to reflect different stakeholder requirements. Agreeing on what elements to include and the level of detail was important as well as the fundamental issues around how they might be used by both staff and students.

The project stands out in this programme for a few reasons – not least that it has much in common with the ongoing Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design programme, which has several projects engaged with mapping the curriculum. DLM has developed an interesting mix of formal curriculum maps, personal learning records and community-driven maps which have proved to be as useful for curriculum teams as for the medical, psychology and speech and language students they support. Another distinguishing feature of the project was that it had a more technical focus than other projects – engaging with neural networks, a range of institutional systems, data feeds and mashups, e-portfolios as well as a range of web 2.0 approaches.

A curriculum map from the DLM project

A curriculum map from the DLM project

Curriculum maps
Curriculum maps are diagrammatic representations of the curriculum and can be seen as operational tools for staff to support course management and administration or as aids to support curriculum design and delivery. They offer a window on to the curriculum and can include learning outcomes, content, assessment and information about people. They can be complex and are usually very labour intensive to develop and embed into institutional processes. Making curriculum maps open to students gives them navigational aids through their courses, providing clarity around different modules, identifying connections between these and supporting module choices. Adding capacity to personalise their pathways through the maps, link to individual portfolios records and add their own resources to can turn curriculum maps into powerful learning aids. This is what makes the DLM project stand out for me.

It is challenging enough to visually represent or describe a curriculum, but using established standards and technologies to link data in a meaningful way takes things to another level as connections can be made with a range of institutional systems.

Institutional Systems linked in DLM project

Institutional Systems linked in DLM project

DLM pulls in data from a variety of institutional systems including repositories, library and curriculum databases, and student information systems, as well as having a two-way transfer with e-portfolio systems. This means individuals can navigate the formal curriculum map and see links between elements, such as learning outcomes, timetables, etc. They can also add to the map in the form of personal reflections or notes and external resources which can be rated and discussed. It is important to note that the project highlighted that existing curriculum data will not necessarily plug-in easily to other systems. They identified a range of issues that had to be addressed including governance, QA process and data mitigation and translation. This is one example described in the final report:
A separate tool was developed to manage programme-level learning outcomes and link these to units /modules, this provides a feed used in Learning Maps. This was necessary because existing data from an MBBS study guides database was in non-standardised text; this tool enables curriculum managers to map specific programme-level outcomes, but to still use context-specific language of the module.

Web 2.0 mash-ups
Technically DLM is very interesting – the team built on previous work around personalisation and Web 2.0 approaches. The DLM concept was inspired by neural networks, where nodes can be connected to any other node in the network, and those connections vary in strength. They used open standards and existing corporate and programme data to support sustainability, transferability and reduce dependencies on specific systems.

The project team took good advantage of work being done within the institution as part of other initiatives. The e-portfolio element of DLM drew on work done with the Leap2A specification for e-portfolio portability and interoperability as Newcastle University has been involved in developing the specification and the JISC EPICS-2 project (e-Portfolios and PDP in the North East). Taking a web service approach, when learners add their reflections and notes to curriculum topics these generate an xml file which is stored remotely in their individual portfolio using Leap2 and becomes part of their portable portfolio record. This approach means that even if departments have different e-portfolio systems the standardised data can be stored in any of them. For more information on Leap2A see the recent article by Christina Smart from JISC CETIS.

DLM also benefitted from the experience of using XCRI-CAP from the mini project North East XCRI testbed (NEXT) which reported in April 2010. As an example of using XCRI feeds within a learning application, they added support for DLM. By embedding XCRI feeds inside learning maps course related information relating to specific parts of the curriculum are revealed using rss/atom feeds which send an http request to course database and http response into DLM. This experience was of significant value to both projects. Other initiatives built on by DLM were the use of CAS authentication as an outcome of the JISC Iamsect single-sign-on project and use of corporate data flows from the JISC ID-Maps project.

The project final report describes the project approach:

The project maintained a blog which covers a whole range of interesting aspects but my favourite post was one by Tony McDonald called DLMS as a substrate for academic content where he provided a real glimpse into the possibilities of taking existing data (eg a study guide) and re-presenting this using DLMs, and the kinds of detailed considerations that affect this such as metadata and context. Here is a brief snippet of his conversation with himself…

Well, we would need to deconstruct the study guide into something which is ‘node’-sized for the DLMs machinery. This could be at the paragraph level or smaller. That isn’t so bad to do, we have a lot of contextual information on the guide itself (where it sites in the curriculum, who is the module leader etc) which would contribute to over-arching metadata on the document. We would then need to add DLM-specific metadata on each node. The metadata is quite varied, from simple one word descriptions (eg simple tags) through to multiple-selections for licence usage of the material itself (we very much believe in OER!). The metadata also helps us to decide how the content should be rendered – eg as simple HTML, as something which is only released in a specific time frame, something that is only seen by particular categories of user, etc This deconstruction is certainly doable, and the DLMs team has already done this for small sections of study guide material. (Tony McDonald)

Impact so far
Evaluation occurred throughout the process and early feedback shaped the visual representation and elements included in the maps. Students revealed an almost 50/50 split in preference for visual (concept map style) representation and hierarchical lists (text-based) so DLM has both styles of display, as well as tagcloud views.

Ongoing challenges have emerged that are relevant to any curriculum mapping processes such as changing curricula – sometimes restructuring of whole courses, and the fact that the student journey through the curriculum changes over time. One particular issue is that each cohort has a different experience of the curriculum and the team were faced with a decision around mapping these differences, however they chose to opt only for the current map as this would link to up to date developments and guidelines which are crucial in the healthcare field. Other challenges include managing stepped/timed availability of resources, and that not all data is available in a usable or consistent form. A major challenge lies in balancing automated data with that requiring moderation or contextual information – impacting on choices around granularity of content and specificity.

DLM offers different things to a range of stakeholders. For learners it offers an overview of their learning – a reminder of prior learning, a view of current learning and opportunities to consider future learning choices. They offer interactive opportunities for sharing, rating and reviewing resources as well as facilities to add personal reflective notes, portfolio records and evidencing learning outcomes. Different student groups expressed alternate ways of using DLM – ie for revision, contextualisation, planning curriculum choices or career choices. .

For staff DLM offers mechanisms to review curricula and identify connections across modules. In addition they highlight gaps in provision, duplication and issues around consistency of terminology. Staff are able to see how a student may perceive and engage with their curriculum, monitor access and equality of learning opportunities, and consider alignment of teaching learning and assessment. They will be able to identify which resources emerge as popular and offer a glimpse into learning that may happen outside the formal curriculum.

At Newcastle, thanks to interest at strategic level the team are planning to extend DLM to geography and dentistry. It will be very interesting to see how well it transfers to other subject areas but there are quite a few challenges in transferring the model to other institutions, although the team have received expressions of interest. The extent of customisation required to make this work takes commitment and considerable technical support. A public demonstrator and software download is available via the project Website and thanks to the use of open standards other institutions could potentially take this forward if they too are prepared to develop a shared understanding of curriculum mapping and take the time to share data across their systems.

This excerpt from the project final report nicely sums up the potential of DLM – it is definitely a report worth reading and I hope other institutions consider a similar model or take some of the steps towards making it work within their own context.

DLM is a flexible and interactive tool, which can be readily aligned with an institution’s Teaching and Learning Strategy, whilst at the same time support a diverse range of specific programme requirements. It can be used to increase transparency in the curriculum in an interactive and participative way that more closely matches the changing experience and expectation of many modern learners. It also has potential to help address sector-wide drivers for PDP, employability, greater personalisation and student involvement in the curriculum. DLM final report

Range of outputs
Demonstration version of Dynamic Learning Maps (needs registration)
Project final report

Curriculum Delivery: Let’s Get Real

In the first of two posts on the Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology programme Lou McGill discusses how a number of projects used technologies to recreate “real” learning experiences. This post first appeared on Lou’s blog in April this year.

Following on from my post about the final synthesis report of the Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology programme I thought it may be useful to focus of a few of the key themes to emerge from the programme in more detail.

One of the aspects that I found most interesting was the number of projects who were using technologies to support authentic, situated learning experiences. In the past I worked at the University of Strathclyde on a JISC funded Digital Libraries in the Classroom programme on the DIDET project, which used a wiki and a variety of technologies to support design engineering students during the design process. What we aimed to do was provide the technologies to replicate a global product design experience (with our partner Stanford University in the US) where students created, managed and shared design artifacts. I think this project was very forward thinking as it started in 2003 when wiki’s were not widely used in higher education contexts – so definately worth a plug here; )

I was particularly interested then that two of the Transforming Curriculum Delivery projects were focussed on design students. A common need for design students across a range of disciplines is to experience the reality of working collaboratively in teams to tight deadlines and to a fairly well established design process. The Atelier-D project, based at the Open University was aiming to replicate a traditional atelier style environment for distance learning students to learn in a collaborative way with their tutors and other students. They used a range of technologies including flickr, facebook, video conferencing, concept mapping, second life and social networking sites. This project faced significant challenges in implementing, sometimes complex, technologies with distance learners who faced problems both with access and usability of services where the base technical requirements and learning curve for new users can be high.

Also focussed on design students was the Information Spaces for Creative Converstations project led by Middlesex University Interaction Design Centre and partnered by City University London, Centre for HCI Design. This team wanted to make sure that technologies supported creative conversations between design students rather than distract from them. They also used technologies to help students record and conserve these conversations for later reflection and like the DIDET project utilised technologies to manage the range of artifacts that emerge during this part of the design process – such as sketches, photographs, recorded conversations, and later reflections that inform the next stages of design work.

Other projects offering authentic professional or work-based experiences included Generation 4 at St George’s University of London which developed interactive Online Virtual Patient cases with options and consequences. Students work in groups on a virtual patient problem where they could see the impact of their decisions, without damaging a real person. The Duckling project at the University of Leicester was also focussed on distance learning students and they utilised and adapted an existing oil rig in Second Life for occupational psychology students to use.

The MoRSE project led by Kingston University and De Montfort University worked with two different groups of learners using mobile technologies to provide a practice based curricula.

‘The delivery of a situated curriculum for students working beyond the institution in practice based environments is critical along with the ability to be active contributors in real world problem solving. The ability of both institutional and personal technologies to effectively and appropriately enhance this situated curriculum and experience is crucial. For example fieldwork experience in real problem environments for students has been crucial to student understanding to all aspects of real world scenarios from the collection of primary data through its processing, interpretation and analysis to the completion of an output. This experience can be lessened through the student having to split work on a project between the field and institutional laboratories because of time and access to technologies and resources. In addition basic data processing tasks can take a significant period of limited fieldtrip time that could otherwise be spent on analysis and interpretation, and increases the time between data collection and its analysis.’ (MoRSE final report)

This type of approach required quite a lot of learner support and MoRSE used student mentors, which provided useful experience for mentor’s CVs or portfolios, and provided low cost field and placement support.

The Springboard TV project at West Anglia College focused on providing an experience that offered an opportunity to state of the art technologies to develop their own internet tv station.

“Creating an identity and branding has been a very powerful agent in developing a ‘learner centred approach’, where learners now respond as professionals, working in a ‘real life’ production company “
Jayne Walpole Head of Faculty Creative Arts’ Springboard TV

Wikis were used by the INTEGRATE project at the University of Exeter to provide an authentic international group experience for a very large cohort (465 students from 40 countries) to stimulate international co-operation and international management skills. As well as providing an opportunity to practice a professional role it also provided a small group setting where students with a wide range of language and cultural differences could support each other, creating a collegiate environment and culture.

These brief descriptions are just snippets that are more fully explained in the Design Studio and project websites and reports. I think several of these approaches and activities should be of interest to others trying to create authentic learning experiences.

XCRI-CAP – now is the time

In her third post on Curriculum Design, Lou McGill reflects on the challenges and opportunities surrounding the effective use of course data in institutions.

JISC have recently released a call entitled ‘Course Data: Making the most of Course Information’. This is a different style of call which offers funding for a review and planning stage, during which institutions will develop an implementation plan to improve course data flows within the institution as well as producing feeds for external agencies. The second phase will see some of those institutions funded to take the implementation plan forward. JISC are hoping to fund a range of examples using different kinds of courses – online, postgraduate, distance and CPD courses so we should learn a lot from programme activities. A national XCRI showcase was held in June 2011 and highlighted some really useful exemplars. These are detailed on the JISC Benefits Realisation blog post which also documents some interesting discussions.

The call nicely reflects an increased interest in the role of course information across institutional processes and systems as the post 16 education sector prepares for increasing demands on course data from both students and from government agencies requiring increased transparency from publicly funded bodies. As I mentioned in my last post HEFCE requirements for institutions to provide KIS (Key Information Sets) for all courses from September 2012 and to feed into the HEAR (Higher Education Achievement Report) recording student achievement means that institutions need to collate, manage and provide consistent and complete data. These drivers provide the impetus for institutions to finally embrace and take forward the XCRI specification (Exchanging Course Related Information), which, up to now, has not been taken up widely in institution-wide contexts. This new impetus and the results of ground building work done by pioneer individuals and institutions means that there is now an excellent infrastructure of supporting information and knowledge to move forward.

Lisa Corley from CETIS has written an informative overview blog post which charts the development of XCRI, recognises the work of these pioneers and provides a very useful description of what it is and what benefits it offers to institutions. This, coupled with the excellent XCRI Knowledge Base should provide anyone interested in the call with the basic information to take this forward. Scott Wilson from CETIS has also written a more technically focussed blog post entitled XCRI – the end of the beginning.

One of the most useful things for those about to embark in this process is what they can learn from people and institutions which have already been through it – as they can highlight challenges, pitfalls, good practice and also illustrate benefits. The latter is particularly useful to use with reluctant stakeholders who may need convincing. This post focuses on the work of projects involved in the Institutional approaches to Curriculum Design Programme. Two earlier posts describe the business process approaches adopted by projects and looked in detail at course information.

Sheila McNeill, from CETIS has been working closely with these projects and produced a blog post in April 2011 which provided some excellent visual representations of the technologies being used by them. This wordle, reproduced from that post, illustrates just how significant XCRI is to these projects.



Wordle of techs & standards used in Curriculum Design Prog, April 11

However as Sheila points out ‘ we are still some way off all 12 projects actually implementing the specification. From our discussions with the projects, there isn’t really a specific reason for them not implementing XCRI, it’s more that it isn’t a priority for them at the moment.’

This reflects what I was saying above although some notable exceptions are the Supporting Responsive Curricula (SRC), Predict, and Co-educate projects which have engaged significantly with XCRI implementation and development. Early conversations among projects highlighted some shortcomings in the specification, which also reflected a wider community concern that the XCRI-CAP (Course Advertising Profile) profile concentrated on marketing elements and did not support pedagogical information. The recognition of the CAP profile in the European Metadata for Learning Opportunities (MLO) standard in 2011 is a major step towards consolidating XCRIs place in the wider course information landscape. Publishing course information in the standard format means that it can be found and aggregated by services such as UCAS and offers potential for collation in a range of ways.

Although appearing to focus on a fairly narrow aspect of course information (advertising and marketing) the elements that make up XCRI-CAP are central to a much wider range of institutional processes and systems that require accurate and up-to-date course data. This links to wider course information, inputs into institutional systems such as VLEs, and can be connected to student data. The notion of having one accurate definitive source of data should be appealing to many stakeholders in an institution: fundamental for administrators and marketing staff, supporting decision making for senior managers, easing the burden for teaching staff and better informed students – but also for people outside the institution: clarity for prospective students, employers and other interested agencies as well as fulfilling requirements from funders. The implementation process should highlight the different elements of course information and how they connect. It should also help institutions articulate which information is relevant for which stakeholder.

Implementing XCRI-CAP
We learned from the JISC XCRI mini projects (2007-2009) that there are no major technical difficulties in implementing the specification, but as Sheila says in her blog post ‘As with many education specific standards/specifications, unless there is a very big carrot (or stick) widespread adoption and uptake is sporadic however logical the argument for using the spec/standard is.’

So if the KIS and HEAR requirements represent the stick then I think the outcomes and outputs from the Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design illustrate the carrot – the rewards for taking on this challenge. I describe it as a challenge, not for technical reasons, but because it relates back to issues discussed in my first two posts – the challenge and the benefits that come from having institution-wide conversations. It is time consuming and demanding for institutions to take a ‘big picture’ view of the many processes that link together, to rethink some of these processes and to articulate where they all connect and which data is central to this. However the benefit of this approach has been strongly emphasised by all of the project staff that I have spoken to. In early stages projects typically found a lack of articulation between course review, approval, advertising and enrolment/reporting, and between quality assurance, marketing and student records.

Whilst these projects have a focus on curriculum design processes all have had to take a broad view of whole institutional processes involving course information and student data. Many of the projects worked in parallel with other institution-wide initiatives (such as the University of Bolton Co-Educate project which linked to the development of a module database) reflecting the breadth of scale of their activities. It is hard to tease out the benefits of implementing XCRI-CAP from the benefits of those wider scale activities, because they naturally augment each other. Benefits include:

  • Increased understanding across the institution of how processes connect and how the data and systems facilitate or hinder these processes.
  • Improved efficiencies – such as less duplication of data, time savings, one accurate source of data that feeds into several systems, less paperwork.
  • Transparency of information for registered students, prospective students, and external agencies (e.g. government bodies and employers) has the potential to increase student intake and enhance the experience of students once they register with the course/s.
  • Automatic feeds to comply with funder requirements.


There is a consensus that implementing XCRI-CAP is fairly straightforward – once the data is in a database it is fairly uncomplicated to maintain – but when institutions try to broaden this to develop a definitive set of course information, linked to key processes such as quality control or curriculum design activities, then it becomes much more challenging. The Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design projects have been documenting their experiences and producing some really useful outputs that should be of interest to the wider community. There is a particularly well written report from the University of Bolton Module database project which describes how they took experience from a JISC mini XCRI project and the Co-Educate curriculum design project to redesign and implement their module database.

‘The resulting system supports the capture of information from course inception, the development of modules, through the validation process, to approved and published status. A database application has been implemented with the functionality to support collaborative development of courses and manage the version control for module specifications subjected to minor modification. The system provides the capability to assemble pre-validated modules into new courses using the University’s pre-validated IDIBL course framework. The use of XCRi CAP 1.1 to render module specification in standards based XML, enables module details to be accessed and reused without having to use the database application. This opens up new possibilities for the reuse of module information. The University’s JISC funded Co-educate curriculum design project will be developing further tools for collaborative curriculum specification and design that will now use the XCRI capability.’

The report is really worth reading and they describe their approach and highlight the lessons learned.

The SRC project at Manchester Metropolitan University ran alongside an institutional initiative to Enhance the Quality of Assessment for Learning (EQAL) which is introducing a new curriculum framework, new administrative systems and processes, revised quality assurance processes and new learning systems to transform the student experience. The SRC project has been led by Professor Mark Stubbs, Managed Learning Environment Project Director who has been affectionately described as ‘The Godfather of XCRI’. Mark talks eloquently in a recent presentation on the origins of XCRI. In the video Mark re-iterates the fact that the technology behind the standard is not complex and describes how the Curriculum Delivery and Design programmes have highlighted the business process challenges that need to be worked through to ensure that it is possible on an institution-wide scale.

The project has produced some excellent resources which map and describe their journey and some of these have recently been added to the JISC Design Studio. One of these is a game called Accreditation! which is a training resource for those trying to encourage stakeholder engagement when embarking on a major change process involving program design and approval.

Screen shot of Accreditation board game

They have also produced a case study outlining academic database stakeholder requirements which includes some useful visual representations of their processes.

So the consensus is that ‘now is the time to embrace XCRI’. The JISC call presents a really great opportunity to get started on this. The first phase simply requires a Letter of Commitment from eligible institutions which provides evidence of support from Senior Managers responsible for Teaching and Learning, Marketing, Management Information Systems/IT and the institutional course web sites by12:00 noon UK time on Wednesday 7 September 2011. There is an Elluminate recording of the live briefing session in case you missed it and lots of information described here to convince these various stakeholders of the benefits.

Curriculum Design: X marks the spot?

In her second post on Curriculum Design Lou McGill considers how institutions connect and manage course information, and the role that XCRI can play.


This ‘middle earth’ style map produced by Professor Mark Stubbs, Managed Learning Environment Project Director at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) shows the extent of information about courses that exist in further and higher education institutions. What is missing on the map, and sometimes within institutions, are the paths which connect the breadth of processes and systems that link up this data. It would certainly make for a more complex picture but this is actually what many of the Institutional approaches to Curriculum Design projects are doing through business process mapping and through their baselining and early stakeholder engagement activities. The previous post introduced some of the approaches adopted by projects to map their processes. This post offers a bit more detail of the ways they managed their information and made sure that systems share and utilise this effectively.

Course information comprises a range of data from several fundamental processes including course creation, approval, validation, documentation, QA, resource management (timetabling, resource allocation), modification and review. It seems rather obvious to say that the management of this information presents many challenges but feedback from the projects has seen common use of terminology such as ‘grappling’ and ‘wrestling’ to describe their efforts to prevent duplication and disconnected silos of data. Projects also highlighted a need for different views and pathways into course information for different stakeholders. However, course information does not exist in isolation and projects really benefitted from taking a broad view of the whole institutional landscape and thinking about how the different processes and data across other functions connect. This rich picture emerging through conversations with several projects nicely highlights the need for joined-up thinking across organizational boundaries between Student Records, Quality Assurance, Marketing and Course Teams.


Course approval, as an example, is a key activity in curriculum design and during baselining activities several projects identified challenges with existing processes as they involved formal (with a strong emphasis on QA) and well established paper-based methods. The format of this activity shaped the kinds of information collected and resulted in the need for augmentation and modification at later stages when inputting the data into different systems. Projects highlighted that many staff responded to the process as a ‘form-filling’ exercise rather than an opportunity to think about and re-consider their practice. At a practical level course related documents (such as handbooks, online module descriptions) were usually developed locally and quite separately to the course approval process. At a more strategic level, course-related information to support decision making and planning was often poorly collated and managed. How institutions utilise diverse course feedback information such as external examiners reports, evaluation data and broad market research is often subject to localised departmental approaches.

The UG-Flex project team carried out a business process review for the University of Greenwich’s existing Programme Approval and Review process in order to identify stakeholders, issues and inform system requirements. The resulting documents are now informing ongoing system review at Greenwich. Other course process maps from other projects are included in the previous post and more will eventually be available on JISC Design Studio.

Linking student and course information

Student data, which includes information about enrolment, admissions, registration, progression, assessment, records and e-portfolios, links to course information at several points and project activities have also included work in this area. A significant issue to emerge during the review process was that many existing institutional systems reflect the more traditional standard academic year course patterns. Departments which had adopted more flexible teaching approaches and models to respond to changing learner demands were frustrated by centralised systems that did not fit their needs and were using workarounds to fit their students in or developing parallel local systems. UG-Flex project stakeholders described cases where some students on short courses who had actually finished their course before gaining access to the VLE, which highlighted the need to organise their information differently to ensure timely access for different student cohorts.

Claire Eustance, Project Manager at UG-Flex emphasises the need to establish and maintain trust when undertaking business process mapping to ensure that initial talks with staff are followed-up, with them being shown the outcomes and solutions to problems and keeping them involved throughout the process.

‘When we first started talking to our stakeholders their perception tended to be that problems lay in the systems and what they could, or couldn’t do. Eventually though more people are beginning to understand that the systems merely reflect existing institutional mechanisms which have either simply evolved over a period of years or have been based on the needs of ‘mainstream’ students. I can’t stress enough how significant this has been. Now at Greenwich, at the highest level, there are moves to ensure that our organisational mechanisms and processes reflect the needs of all of our students. Once we have these in place then the systems will be redesigned around them.’

UG-Flex’s efforts to reveal and map Greenwich’s institutional processes and how systems support these have helped strategic and operational managers recognise and articulate the need for change. UG-Flex aspires to see this approach to business process review and mapping embedded into mainstream strategic planning at Greenwich, anticipating long term benefits as systems and processes develop through cycles of change and review. Whilst this can appear to be about efficiencies such as reducing the administrative burden, duplication and clerical error, the crux is the real value that comes from being able to enhance the experience for all students.

Where VLEs link into wider systems

One of the places that most learners connect with institutional systems is through the VLE, and whilst they may not be interested in the underlying processes and systems, their learning experience can be significantly affected by them. VLEs are just one of the systems that benefit from well managed course and student information.

The PREDICT project at City University have been looking at how course information links to student data with a particular emphasis on the admissions process and through linking information about student module choices to the VLE. The new student registration system at City has led to improved quality of information and significant reduction in administrative time (from 3 hours to 10 minutes) with about 90% of students registering online before their courses started. The vision is that on day one a student at City University will log into the VLE and see their own space with appropriate course information, discussion areas and content, and ultimately assessment and grading information. This will be achieved through the use of middleware to establish automatic links between the VLE , the admissions system, course information systems, the student record system, the library, finance and identify management functions to facilitate the sharing of data.

Quite apart from the cost efficiencies (saving £20K per year on printing postage and data entry) time is freed for staff to do other activities and the student experience at the very beginning of their relationship with the University is significantly enhanced. The way that information is now being made available across systems immediately is a vast improvement on the traditional data-dump scheduled transfer that those of us who have been around for a while are very familiar.

With an imperative to reduce duplication and the drive to enhance the student experience it is also possible to personalise the student view of their modules through the creation of rules which link content within the VLE. So, for example, a student registered on one course may automatically have relevant content from a different course or module revealed. There are also plans to incorporate module information so that students can select elective modules online, requiring links with timetabling and resource planning information. This can be quite a drawn out process as their selections may depend on results due in several months time – hence a need to incorporate attainment data. This currently necessitates some backward data exchange as marks entered into the VLE need to be seen by the student records system.

Like other projects the activities of the PREDICT team have resulted in revised documentation and data collection mechanisms. One example is their module and programme revision documents which are available on the project website. In the longer term the institution is also considering linking the VLE to the student application and enquiry processes and the potential of using university OERs to feed into broader marketing processes. Future plans also include addressing staff and research data. The pragmatic incremental approach taken by City has some merit making sure they achieved some quick wins and using those to push forward more challenging tasks.

The student experience can be greatly enhanced by quite pragmatic approaches to incorporating information into VLEs and making them transparent to learners. Some of the projects in the sister programme Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology saw significant enhancement through these kinds of approaches, such as course enrolment and payment, timetabling, attendance data and assignment handling. At the heart of these achievements is the need to create core sets of data that can be exposed in number of places… Perhaps the most significant example of this in relation to course information is XCRI.

XCRI (Exchanging Course Related Information)

The value of XCRI as a standard to facilitate exchange of course related information is fairly obvious, but an imperative for implementing it on a wide scale in institutions has been lacking. However the HEFCE requirements for institutions to provide KIS (Key Information Sets) for all courses from September 2012 and to feed into the HEAR (Higher Education Achievement Report) recording student achievement have both provided strong drivers to encourage the implementation of XCRI.

Mark Stubbs, mentioned earlier, has been involved with both the SRC Project (Supporting Responsive Curricula) which was featured in the earlier blog post and with the development of XCRI said “Although being able to make prospectus information available on course comparison websites without retyping will doubtless become a plus, the real value of XCRI lies in re-thinking business processes used to manage course-related information so that definitive data are available freely for re-use: for transcripts, for course approval, to provide context for VLE activities, to support personal development and for business intelligence-driven continuous improvement”

I plan to talk in more detail about XCRI in a future post…

It’s hard to capture the range of activities of a whole programme in a few blog posts but some key issues to emerge from talking to projects and reading their outputs so far are:

  • need for creation of core data sets that can be exposed in a variety of places
  • technical systems are sometimes perceived as the root of problems but simply reflect traditional and sometimes outmoded practice
  • integrated technical solutions can have significant impact on reducing inefficiencies and duplication if based on institution-wide dialogue and examination of processes, and through streamlining systems to share data more effectively
  • need for changes to documentation to facilitate better data collection – and best done after business process modelling has been undertaken
  • value of integrating business process review into ongoing core practice
  • stakeholder engagement and ongoing involvement
  • utilising modelling methods that suit the organisation
  • curriculum design and delivery can become embedded into core institution planning by making sure that people involved in making key decisions start with the learning and teaching requirements
  • informed curriculum planning can result from streamlined systems and people that understand , engage with, view and contribute to curriculum development processes in more meaningful ways

Perhaps it is better said by the SRC Project from MMU when talking about the development of their central academic database…

‘The change to an authoritative single source of courses information from pre-validation through advertising, enrolment, teaching and learning, and to production of HEAR records and even alumni support is a powerful one. It involves breaking down self-standing silos of information and addressing information technology and process issues across the whole institution. It results in a deeper knowledge and understanding of curricula by staff in the institution, and potentially by partners, by students and other learners, by employers and employees. This knowledge and understanding can be used to develop new curriculum elements, both pro-active and reactive to demands from inside and outside the institution, from learners in general and from employers in particular. At the heart of this is a customer-centric view that sees the organisation’s processes from a student viewpoint, the student customer journey being an end-to-end lifecycle that cuts across institutional functional silos.’

Excerpt from SRC case study.

A shorter two year sister programme ran in parallel to the Institutional approaches to Curriculum Design programme which focussed on curriculum delivery – the space where students engage with the curriculum. Both programmes naturally involved some overlap with curriculum design and delivery having close synergies. The Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology programme has now completed and outcomes (lessons learned) and outputs (case studies, guidelines, etc.) are incorporated into the JISC Design Studio. Both programmes are feeding into this resource which was created during the programmes to provide both a resource for projects and ultimately a source for the wider community.

About Lou

Lou McGill is currently working independently and has recently been involved in synthesis and evaluation activities for the HE Academy/JISC UKOER programme and the JISC Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology programme. She lead the team that produced the Good Intentions report on business cases for sharing and worked on the LLiDA study (Learning Literacies in a Digital Age). She has experience of working in a range of HE institutions as a librarian, learning technologist and project manager and used to be a JISC Programme Manager on the eLearning team. In the distant past she worked for NIACE (the adult learning organisation) and in Health education for the NHS. Her interests and experience include digital literacy, information literacy, open education, distance learning, managing organisational change, and effective use of technologies to support learning. Further information on Lou’s work can be found at:

Curriculum Design: The Big Picture

Guest Post

As part of our series of articles on the technical aspects of the e-Learning Programme over the next few weeks Lou McGill, e-learning consultant, will be focussing on the Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design projects. Now three years in to the four year programme these twelve projects have been exploring the convoluted and sometimes opaque processes universities use to design, validate and deliver courses. In this first post Lou discovers just how useful modelling approaches have been to help projects clarify these curriculum processes.

Engaging with institutional processes and practice

Learning and teaching is of course the core business of our Universities and Colleges, but the processes around how courses are designed and developed are sometimes fragmented. Curriculum Design connects with several processes and systems within an educational institution and impacts on a range of stakeholders. It is difficult to engage with institutional processes without referring to ‘business’ language – and talking about curriculum design in this way can easily alienate the very people you need to engage. Taking a business process view of educational activities however can help to highlight technical and system requirements as well as supporting strategic planning and development. Similarly, focussing on efficiencies, reducing duplication and saving time can result in real enhancements for both the staff and student experience, as highlighted by the JISC Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology programme which has just completed. (see end of this post for more information)

Projects taking part in the ongoing JISC funded Institutional approaches to Curriculum Design programme have become very familiar with the challenges of taking an institution-wide business process approach. How can you get academic staff who often see the course approval process as a ‘form-filling exercise’ to use it as an opportunity to re-imagine and re-think their curricula? How do you convince staff to see the bigger institution-wide picture and understand the links between the seemingly separate processes that support teaching and learning? How do you utilise technologies to take some of the burden of these processes away, leaving staff time to focus on more important activities?

Projects have been responding to these challenges by looking at ways to effectively integrate institutional systems to prevent duplication and streamline processes, particularly in relation to learning and teaching technologies such as institutional VLEs (Virtual Learning Environment) or e-portfolio systems. They have had to articulate and demonstrate the added value that linking these systems brings to a range or different stakeholders. Their experiences in identifying which technologies and standards can meet institutional needs and, perhaps more importantly, which people in the institution have the knowledge to inform these decisions are of value to other institutions. Key to streamlining these processes and integrating systems is the need to identify which data is central and how institutions collate, share and manage that information.

Like many Universities, project teams have also been grappling with the need to align curriculum design with external drivers such as employer needs, the widening participation agenda or practical things like UCAS or HERA requirements; institutional requirements for increased efficiency; and flexibility to respond to changing learner needs. Many institutional systems reflect a time when standard three year degrees where the norm. Modularisation of courses and increasing numbers of part-time, distance and work-based students has resulted in the need for more agile systems that can reflect changing learning patterns and the need for more flexible support mechanisms.

Sarah Knight, Programme Manager for the JISC e-Learning Team says ‘This is a difficult time for educational institutions as they struggle to make sure that they continue to offer high quality learning and teaching whilst responding to drivers for increased efficiency and the need to offer flexible learning choices. The projects in this programme are making excellent use of business process modelling and other innovative approaches to engage stakeholders, highlight their strengths and adapt their systems to be more effective. The wider HE and FE communities should find much to inform their own practice.’

For many projects the programme timing mirrored an institutional desire to review existing systems which provided an ideal opportunity to re-examine the processes affected by these systems.
The processes covered so far by the programme include:

  • course creation, approval, validation, documentation, QA, management (timetabling, resource allocation), modification;
  • student data – enrolment, admissions, registration, progression and assessment, records and e-portfolios;
  • marketing and advertising – recruitment

This range of processes is underpinned by a number of systems and data, many of which will have been developed over time in response to specific needs, and often without an institution-wide consideration. At City University the PREDICT Project (Promoting Realistic and Engaging Discussions in Curriculum Teams) proved timely as the Institution had identified a need for review of IS systems. The obvious practical value of the two things happening at the same time has been augmented by the long term benefits in raising the profile and understanding of curriculum planning requirements. John Gallagher, Enterprise Architect at City said,

‘Historically with IS our projects have ignored the impact of both Curriculum design and delivery unless that was the specific focus of the project. However now, thanks to the profile of PREDICT, we do try to assess any possible impact. An example of this recently was the introduction of a new Student Module Feedback system to provide additional information in order to assess academic performance. However this feedback is also essential for staff to review the design and delivery of the module. Prior to PREDICT we would have ignored this angle as it was not a specific deliverable of the project!’

Where to start?

As a four year programme projects had time to do a comprehensive baseline review and to invest significant time in engaging stakeholders. Project baselining activities or benchmarking are of high value to any change process as they offer time to look at and record where an institution is at the start of the change process and to really examine existing practice, identify strengths and highlight weaknesses. Having to explain something you do to others in detail provides an opportunity for questioning of activities that seem obvious but can be based on historical or traditional approaches that are no longer relevant.

When baselining is done across a programme of activities a picture of the sector begins to emerge and this one has highlighted issues relating to marketing, quality assurance and enhancement, understanding and responding to employer and learner needs and demands, issues around assessment and feedback and managing course information. These areas are discussed in more detail in a briefing paper produced in February 2011 and will, of course, be described in more detail in the final synthesis reports at the end of the programme. This series of blog posts will focus on issues around managing course information and how institutions link this to other data through a range of processes and systems.

Business process modelling

During the baselining stage many diagrams were developed to capture the various processes and data that result from these. One example is the process workflow diagram from the PIP project (Principles in Patterns) at the University of Strathclyde.


It can be useful to see how other institutions visualise their activities and processes, even if they do tend to be context specific, but it is the process of developing the diagrams that has been of most significance to the institutions involved, such as this curriculum approval process mapping described by the PALET Project (Programme Approval Lean Electronic Toolset) from Cardiff university. The dialogue and learning to be had from identifying, recording and sharing how the various business processes link up has been noted by several projects. The SRC Project (Supporting Responsive Curricula) has produced an excellent case study detailing Manchester Metropolitan University’s stakeholder requirements for an Academic Database of programmes and units. This document describes the activities and includes examples of process diagrams. Engaging stakeholders through the use of rich pictures was a method adopted by the UG-Flex Project at the University of Greenwich – a diagramming technique developed to capture stakeholder views in a non-confrontational way. See this example – computer says no!


(A further explanation of developing rich pictures is available at:

It is clear from even these brief examples that Projects have adopted a range of modelling approaches. JISC CETIS ran a workshop in May 2009 to highlight the ArchiMate enterprise architechture modelling language for curriculum design processes. Discussions with projects at the end of the CETIS workshop highlighted that:

‘ In terms of cost-benefit, adopting a modelling approach for those projects that didn’t already use it, opinions differed. Some felt that the investment in software and skills acquisition were only worth it if an institution took the strategic decision to adopt a modelling approach. Others felt that a lightweight, iterative use of Archimate, perhaps using common drawing tools such as Visio during the trial stage, was a good first step. Yet others thought that modelling was worth doing only with considerable investment in tools and skills right at the beginning.’ Wilbert Kraan, JISC CETIS

The SRC Project used ArchiMate components to present visualisations during baselining activities and have also blogged about this. They presented at the CETIS workshop on their experiences with ARchiMate which they decided to try after finding the Course Validation Reference Model (COVARM) useful but a bit complex for most stakeholders. The SRC project also used UML (Unifying Modelling Language) to develop more detailed diagrams and examples are available in the SRC case study.

A range of project diagrams and process maps reflecting the different modelling approaches will be made available in the JISC Design Studio which is being added to as projects progress. The JISC CETIS Architecture and Modelling page provides an ongoing picture of developments in this area. It seems likely that these projects have significant potential to further our understanding of some key interoperability standards such as XCRI, learning design specifications, competency standards and qualification frameworks, particularly in relation to how these support data sharing across the range of institutional systems.

A shorter two year sister programme ran in parallel to the Institutional approaches to Curriculum Design programme which focussed on curriculum delivery – the space where students engage with the curriculum. Both programmes naturally involved some overlap with curriculum design and delivery having close synergies. The Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology programme has now completed and outcomes (lessons learned) and outputs (case studies, guidelines, etc.) are incorporated into the JISC Design Studio. Both programmes are feeding into this resource which was created during the programmes to provide both a resource for projects and ultimately a source for the wider community.

About Lou

Lou McGill is currently working independently and has recently been involved in synthesis and evaluation activities for the HE Academy/JISC UKOER programme and the JISC Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology programme. She lead the team that produced the Good Intentions report on business cases for sharing and worked on the LLiDA study (Learning Literacies in a Digital Age). She has experience of working in a range of HE institutions as a librarian, learning technologist and project manager and used to be a JISC Programme Manager on the eLearning team. In the distant past she worked for NIACE (the adult learning organisation) and in Health education for the NHS. Her interests and experience include digital literacy, information literacy, open education, distance learning, managing organisational change, and effective use of technologies to support learning. Further information on Lou’s work can be found at: