Anyone who’s ever worked on a European funded project or programme will be all too familiar with the volume of paperwork and time spent on administration and auditing to meet European funding and reporting requirements. Digital signatures, although highly time and cost efficient, are not acceptable for auditing purposes with only hand signed documentation being permitted.
As part of a consortium providing a significant amount of European funded work based learning in Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr were keen to find a solution that would meet both European and Welsh Assembly Government requirements for hand written signatures as well as providing the elegance and efficiency of the online learner management and learner support systems colleges and tutors wished for.
The Secure Work-Based Learning Administration through Networked Infrastructure (SWANI) project, funded under the JISC Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants SWaNI FE programme, therefore set out to identify ways of addressing this tension and establish a pilot project as a proof of concept to form the basis of a long term solution.
After some research the project team settled on the Fastdox digital document system as offering exactly the combination of hand signed originals and timestamped digital copies necessary to meet the needs of all parties.
The documents to be signed are created in a MySQL database supported by a very user friendly and remotely accessible web interface. These are then printed using the Fastdox software which applies a unique pattern of microscopic dots to the physical document to communicate with the digital pen. The pen functions just like an ordinary pen, allowing trainers to sign the documents normally and therefore produce the required hand signed physical document, but the pen also stores all the written information, time stamped, for later downloading into the online learner management and auditing system: an excellent overview of the entire process is available from the product site itself and an exploration of how it was put into practice can be found on the project’s blog. At between £4-500 for each pen and software package it represents a one-time investment that fulfils a long term requirement, requires little training for tutors to use and meets all the requirements the project set out to address – indeed, the biggest problem the project team ran into was the lack of standardisation in documents across WBL providers and changes to the document design part way through the project which required some revision.
With the pilot now coming to a close, the project team will be adding further information to the project website and undertaking a series of dissemination activities. Their solution should be useful not only to FE colleges with similar funding and auditing requirements but for anyone looking for efficient and effective digital document management and tracking.