Snapshots of standards and technologies in use in the DVLE programme

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

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

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

DVLE standards and technologies wordle
DVLE standards and technologies wordle

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

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

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

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

What's in a name?

Names, they’re funny things aren’t they? Particularly project ones. I’ve never really been great at coming up with project names, or clever acronyms. However remembering what acronyms stand for is almost a prerequisite for anyone who works for CETIS, and has anything to do with JISC :-). The issue of meaningful names/acronyms came up yesterday at the session the CCLiP project ran at the Festival of The Assemblies meeting in Oxford.

Working with 11 partners from the education and cultural sectors, the CCLiP project has been developing a CPD portal using XCRI as a common data standard. The experiences of working with such a cross sector of organisations has led members of the team to be involved in a benefits realisation project, the BR XCRI Knowledge Base. This project is investigating ways to for want of a better word, sell, the benefits of using XCRI. However, one of the major challenges is actually explaining what XCRI is to key (more often than not, non-technical) staff. Of course the obvious answer to some, is that it stands for eXchanging Course Related Information and that pretty much sums it up. But it’s not exactly something that naturally rolls of the tongue and encapsulates its potential uses is it? So, in terms of wider benefits realisation how do you explain the potential of XCRI and encourage wide adoption?

Of course, this is far a from unique problem, particularly in the standards world. They tend not have the most of exciting of names, and of course a lot of actual end users never need to know what they’re called either. However, at this stage in the XCRI life-cycle, there is a need for explanation for both the technical and non-technically minded. And of course that is happening with case-studies etc being developed.

During a lively and good natured discussion participants in the session discussed the possibility of changing the name from XCRI to “opportunity knocks” as way to encapsulate the potential benefits that had been demonstrated to us by the CCLiP team, and create a bit of curiosity and interest. I’m not sure if that would get a very positive clappometer response from certain circles, but I’d be interested in any thoughts you may have.

Challenging times, challenging curriculum(s)

The fact that we are living in increasingly challenging times is becoming ever more apparent. With the release of the Browne Report on HE funding and student finance, and the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review imminent; we are faced with radical changes to the current models of funding for our Universities. This is raising fundamental questions about the nature of teaching and learning provision, the role and relationship of students to institutions, the role and relationship of institutions and government and how institutions work with industry (in the widest sense of the word). It was in the wake of this complex backdrop, the current JISC funded Curriculum Delivery and Design programmes held a joint programme meeting last week Nottingham. The projects in these programmes are all grappling with issues around effective use of technology to enhance curriculum design and delivery process and provide a range of more flexible, adaptable curricula.

The meeting began with a very timely keynote from Peter Finlay from the QAA. Dispelling some of the current myths around the point and processes involved in QAA audits, Peter illustrated how inter-dependencies of what he described as the “triad” forces (State, Institutions and National Agencies) influence the quality assurance processes. The triad tends to work in a cyclical fashion with the interactions and developments of each stakeholder oscillating between extremes of autonomy within institutions to extremes of regulation from the State. The later most noticeably enforced by QA procedures. Peter highlighted how forward thinking institutions can use the QA process to create and foster institutional cultures of enquiry, based on informed reflection which should allow planned enhancement strategies.

The work of both the curriculum design and delivery programmes is already helping the institutions involved to take this approach as the projects are fundamentally about transforming course delivery and the course design and validation processes. Peter encouraged projects to promote and enhance the work they are doing. The current political context is unpredictable. However, by being proactive, institutions can influence the practice of QA. Peter finished by restating that he felt the programmes, and the work already highlighted within the Design Studio, is of great relevance and a major asset to the wider community.

The rest of the first day was then divided into a number of breakout session centred around some barriers/drivers to institutional change. Notes from each of the sessions will be available from the Circle website later this week. The day culminated with the Great Exhibition Awards Ceremony. Each of the Delivery projects set up their stall (you can get a feel for the stands from the pre event adverts for each project in the Design Studio ). Delegates had time to visit each stand then vote. The two runaway winners were Springboard TV (College of West Anglia) and Integrate (University of Exeter). Both teams thoroughly deserved the thoroughly outrageous chocolate prizes.

The second day started with another timely keynote, this time from Professor Betty Collis. Betty’s talk focused on her experiences learning from a workplace perspective -in particular through some of the key trends from her experiences of working with Shell. Taking us on a journey through some of the stages in the development of task orientated, work-based learning activities, Betty explained how they had developed a culture change from “I learn from myself, through to I learn with my group, to I learning in order to contribute to the learning of others throughout the enterprise.” Quite a leap – even for highly qualified, professionals. Shell had identified that their new graduate staff (even those at PhD level) had little experience of multidisciplinary, high pressured team working situations. By introducing a framework encapsulated by three verbs “ask, share, learn”, Betty and her team fostered the notion of coaching and effective organisational knowledge sharing. The use of a wiki as a common platform for knowledge sharing was fundamental to this process.

Betty encouraged the audience to think about formal education settings in a similar way by designing more cross discipline activities to help develop sharing/coaching and team working skills and to start thinking of e-portfolios not just as individual collation tools but as shared learning resources. She also challenged the programmes definition of design for learning which “refers to the complex processes by which practitioners devise, structure and realise learning for others” and reframe thinking to ask is it ultimately the task of formal education to fosters methods for learners (and teachers) to work with others to become more mature members of a learning organisation?

A number of the breakout sessions again highlighted some of the inroads projects are making in a number of these areas. Student engagement was high on the agenda and Integrate project from the University of Exeter has some excellent examples of students acting as real change agents.

The meeting finished was a panel session, which unsurprisingly focused on many of the issues the Brown report highlighted – particularly around fees and contact hours. Today’s education space is more complicated than ever. At a sectoral level we need to get politicians to understand the complexities, and we be able to provide accurate, update information about courses at a range of levels for a range of stakeholders. We are of course making good inroads with the work of XCRI in particular, but we need to do more and think more about how we can harness the principles of linked data to share information internally and externally. Peter Finlay also highlighted the need for greater clarity about when students are part of the learning partnership and when they are more service based customers i.e. paying for halls of residence as opposed to choosing a course of study. We need to ensure that students are able to commit to a learning partnership, as co-creators of knowledge and not just passive recipients.

We live in challenging times. However, there is a huge amount of experience within these two programmes (and across a range of JISC funded projects and beyond). We need to ensure that the lessons learned about the effective use of technology throughout the curriculum design and delivery process are being used as positive change agents to help us ensure the quality of our sector.

More information about the programme meeting is available from the Circle website and resources from the projects are available from the Design Studio. A timeline of the events twitter activity is also available online.

Cooking up networks, community and learning environments

I spent the early part of last week at OpenEdTech 2010 in Barcelona. Organised by Eva de Lera from the UOC, this 2 day gathering with 30 international participants, was a truly engaging and thought provoking experience.

Over the years I have seen the cookery book/recipe metaphor used for various purposes. However, Open Tech took it a stage further by actually having us take part in a cooking lesson. Not being the best chef in the world, I was slightly apprehensive beforehand. However, it turns cooking is a great way to create a build a sense of community, breakdown barriers and allow for free, frank and quite often totally unexpected conversations to happen. It’s amazing how much I learned about the Sakai implementation at UC Berkley whilst chopping onions 🙂

The theme of the conference was “rethinking the online campus life of the 21st century”. We were challenged to come up with 15 recommendations that could be implemented next week to improve online life for students. The conference blog has a great summary of the activities. As ever, being taken out of one’s environment gives a chance to reflect and share on some of the great work that is being done here in the UK. And it was heartening to see how much interest there was in a range of work that is being funded by JISC including DVLE, Curriculum Delivery and Design and OER. It was also encouraging to see so many people highlighting the need for more open, flexible architectures, which support personalization and integration of formal and informal networks, content and structures.

There was also great positive spirit in the group, which in the current climate is increasingly hard to foster. We had many challenging discussions, but they never slipped into the negative “that’ll never work where I’m from” type. Everyone really wanted to share experiences, processes, content with everyone else. So thanks to Eva and the NMC team for organising and facilitating such a great event. A full report will be produced over the coming months, but you can read/see more at the conference website.