IWMW: Xcri-cap files workshop

At this year’s IWMW (Institutional Web Management Workshop) I attended a workshop session on xcri-cap facilitated by Rob Englebright, from JISC and Claire Gibbons, Web and Marketing Manager at the University of Bradford.

A few attendees at the workshop came from one of the 63 institutions involved in the JISC course data programme (the xcri-cap project). Others were not involved but keen to find out how xcri-cap might benefit their institutions.

It was really interesting to hear Claire Gibbons talk about how Bradford are using the project to refine their course information handling processes, with the full backing of senior management. Having worked on Kent’s corporate website for five years, I saw many parallels between their experiences and ours at Kent.

Like Kent, updates to Bradford’s online prospectuses have historically been driven by the annual publication of print prospectuses, with the prospectus text then being cut and pasted online. Of course, this is not ideal because it doesn’t make the most of the online medium.

Print prospectuses tend to group programmes of study into broader subject areas – there just isn’t space to give a detailed description of each and every course.

Online there is the potential to produce course catalogues containing detailed information about each programme. At Kent, our course catalogues contain programme pages but many of them would benefit from more detailed, programme-specific content.

Producing an effective online course catalogue is a chief goal of our work on the xcri-cap project. For us, the steps to achieving this are:

  • Developing a CMS with workflow – to store, manage and output course data online
  • Collating the necessary information about each programme, and
  • Establishing a suitable process for keeping online course information up-to-date throughout the year

These are undoubtedly steps worth taking when you consider that an aim of the xcri-cap project is to allow prospective students to compare courses from a range of institutions. More pressingly, from September 2012 all universities will be required to carry a KIS ‘widget’ (a sidebar) on each of their undergraduate programme web pages.

The widget will display course-specific data aimed at helping students to decide whether the course is right for them and will represent value for money.  Producing more bespoke programme pages will help us contextualise the KIS data and help inform the decision-making of prospective students. The better suited a student is to a course, the more likely they are to graduate with a well-earned degree.

So there’s everything to gain from providing accurate and bespoke course information online.   The question for is: how do we best achieve this? As readers of this blog will know, we are already developing a new course content management system. However, as many of us at the workshop agreed, it’s important  to keep sight of understanding, developing and refining the people-based processes which must lie at the heart of an efficient course information management system.


Improving the Modules Catalogue

Follow up demos of the Programmes Plant prototype application (see previous blog) went well and we have another technical sprint booked to begin on June 14th. This is a double sprint giving developers four weeks to work on the next version of the prototype. In preparation for this Mark Fendley, Scrum master and I met with customer representatives on Monday to refine user stories. Following a final sprint planning session on the first day of the sprint we will hand over to the developers to do their stuff.

Meantime the project team have begun the work of looking at Kent’s module catalogue. It is beyond the scope of our XCRI-CAP project to deliver a new application to deal with modules. The current module catalogue software works well but we have identified a few possible improvements which are within the project’s remit.  Our project plan states that we will do some work to

  • improve data quality,
  • add or enhance searching, grouping and collections functionality and ;
  • clarify the purpose and remit of the Modules Catalogue.

Nick Thurston kicked off the practical work on this by running validation reports to identify ‘orphaned’ modules – the Student Data system appears to confirm they exist and are active but detail is missing from the Modules catalogue. (Details of these modules are available on the School or Faculty websites). The missing data is not evenly spread across the schools – but I shall not name names.  Now these anomalies have been identified the Faculties have been asked to rectify things but that is just the beginning. To have a lasting legacy the project will put in place workflows to try and ensure data stays in synch in the future.

It is interesting to observe that as a result of getting stakeholders from departments who deal with the different parts of the module and programmes lifecycle many of the problems identified at the beginning of the project can be solved almost immediately. For example: Person A says I need to know when X happens. Person B says well when X happens we send out an email to Y & Z. Shall I add you that list? One of the greatest values of projects like the Kent  XCRI project is that it gets people together and gives them the space to talk about things. In our busy day-to- day working lives we often just don’t find time for that.