Another technical sprint begins

Bare tree reflected in pond

Blue skies reflected in a campus pond

Today marks the beginning of another two week technical sprint on the project. This follows the inaugural Steering Group held on Monday, which endorsed the team’s recommendation that we should  develop a new Programmes Factory from the ground up using PHP. A couple of days later we held a very succesful planning session with  our colleagues from EMS and took delivery of  Angela Watson’s excellent handiwork – the core list of data fields.

Mark Fendley, our scrum master  then prepared user story cards from what turned out to be a very useful planning meeting. The project  start period was always going to feel a bit slow with lots of talking and apparently not much happening – though this was a very necessary stage. It now feels that we are entering a much more ‘hands on’ phase.

By the end of this sprint we should have created the basic data model, though we expect to have to tweak it a little as the project progresses, and have created a ‘proof of concept’ user interface form. This will allow us to seed the database with test data and to perform some early load testing.

As mentioned before we want to deliver  the application incrementally to our customers and seek reviews and endorsements for each stage of development. Here’s hoping for a suceesful retrospective at the end of this sprint.


A quick project update

A pile of carved wooden books and a bench at an outside meeting place on the University of Kent campus

Outside meeting space, Canterbury Campus, University of Kent

The first technical sprint is now over and the project developers have produced their recommendations for a development platform. The current Programmes Factory software is a Drupal application and I think it is fair to say it has its problems. Users find it slow – particularly if there is more than one user  – and the developers had some issues with the data model. In summary, neither side, developers or users were keen to redevelop on this platform. However time had been invested in acquiring expertise in Drupal and there are other Drupal applications in use and supported by IS so the decision to drop it as a development platform should not be taken lightly. Ultimately the Project Steering Group will decide whether to approve the  team’s decision. I won’t pre-empt that by rehearsing all the arguments here but the platforms we were originally considering were:

  • Drupal
  • Microsoft .NET framework
  • PHP
  • Sharepoint

The best laid plans of mice and programmers being what they are however a latecomer has popped up in the form of Python on a Django framework. The EMS team are considering a third party application to produce customised Prospectus pdfs and there may be good reasons for settling on a platform that best fits with that system  – which uses Django. Trouble is we need a technical spike to make that decision. We can do this but it may push back work already scheduled. Next week sees the first meeting of the project Steering Group – that is where the decision whether to spike or not will be taken.
The development platform is important but not more so than the system architecture. The course data system will be web service oriented with a service bus at its core. The data management tool we build will produce a web service which will be used by the central core aggregator. By aggregating data from disparate web services  the central service bus will provide other web services – including the open XCRI feed. The central bus should be platform agnostic towards its web service suppliers. It will also need to have good performance and be fully extensible.


An interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education reveals how far ahead the UK are – though we are not alone in this – with open course data in comparison to the United States. One of the lessons to be learned from the article is that if institutions do not provide the data students, alumni and prospective students feel they need to make their decisions they will find other ways of getting it. Of course statistics are  not the only measure of value in Higher Education but we can surely trust our customers to work that out for themselves?