Friday, 27 November 2009

Yet more CETIS 09 - it was that good

An overdue blog post following the excellent CETIS Conference 2009. Highlights of the conference were discussions and contacts made over coffee and demonstrations of the Wookie widget server and Google Wave.

Gold star to whoever decided to have long coffee and lunch breaks. Such breaks are at least as valuable as the more formal sessions. Discussions about our Enterprise Architecture strand of Enable during one such break got me introduced to Alex Hawker, Programme Manager of the JISC Flexible Service Delivery Programme. They have set up a Strategic Technologies Group (STG) as a forum “for members and their institutions to discuss, disseminate and exchange useful practices and good ideas, and do work to advance practical knowledge on major themes that enable progress towards realising a flexible service delivery environment.”

Though we’re using Enterprise Architecture (EA) from a curriculum design rather than a service delivery viewpoint, an awful lot of the issues and problems we face will be common to STG members so I’m looking forward to participating in the group. It’s been encouraging to see that there’s a great deal of EA work being done at the moment. This is a reassuring indicator that an increasingly number of HE institutions have identified it as a valuable approach. It’s also good to know we’re not working in isolation so we can share ideas and solutions. Being part of a community like the STG will provide support for our efforts and will contribute to solving problems across the sector as well as locally.

The Wookie widget server looks as though it will form a core part of our approach to diversifying delivery of information in the future. One of the problems we’ve had in recent years is how to cope with an increasingly large and diverse range of delivery platforms for our information. Writing bespoke widgets for each and every platform imposes a large development overhead on any innovation. Each innovation costs more, takes longer and requires more maintenance.

I believe the solution is to put in place a platform of APIs and/or services to make it quick and easy to hook into useful information when developing widgets and then to use the same widget across many platforms to reduce the amount of development and maintenance needed. The Wookie widget server provides the means to accomplish the latter. You can develop one widget and then run the same widget on many different platforms via Wookie plugins.

Google Wave was also demonstrated and discussed. It has the feel of a technology looking for a problem to solve. Lots of folk agree it has potential but no-one has produced a compelling application of it yet.

You can use a wave for threaded-style discussion which seems a bit more interactive and ‘live’ than existing forums but it’s not mind-blowing. Collaborative live wave/document creation is similar but doesn’t add much value compared Google docs or Office Live. Use as a substitute for a Wiki falls down on the ability to track (and potentially reverse) changes.

I suspect the real value of Wave will be using it behind the scenes via APIs to provide applications with new collaborative capabilities that are impossible or very hard to implement currently. One to keep an eye on.

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