Thursday, 28 October 2010

Bits of light in tunnels...

As the University enters the run up to the arrival of our new Vice-Chancellor in the middle of 2011 and the government announces some worrying changes with Browne and the CSR, I'm living in "interesting times"!

Nevertheless ENABLE soldiers on...

The work of ENABLE has been built into (and greatly influenced) the new Technology Supported Learning Strategic Plan, which is now in full draft and will shortly go to committee members for initial comment prior to be being discussed at the next Learning Teaching and Assessment Sub-Committee. I also have a meeting with our Finance Director, Director of Information Services and one of the Deans to discuss the relationship between the TSL Plan and our "emerging" Information Strategy.

The Information Strategy draft was discussed at the various governance boards that report to our Information Strategy Group, and it was heartening that the "ENABLE message" that we need to have a corporate view of our information and how it can be used to enable the university to meet its plans seems to have "taken hold" amongst increasing numbers of senior staff. I am now part of a group which will redraft the Information Strategy to ensure it is a "University" strategy and reflects the needs of all stakeholders. (This was following a full meeting of ISG to discuss the strategy).

Other messages from ENABLE have also shown signs of taking hold. ENABLE has a "mini-project" on External Examiners, and through no-one's particular fault, the University came perilously close to starting a parallel, overlapping, project. This highlighted shortcomings in governance and communication, particularly around the management and sustainability of innovation, and I shall be working with colleagues in our Information Service and others to try and find solutions...

That takes me on to "knowing what is going on". Changes in the Executive (and my own line management) have sadly slowed down progress towards having an institutional Programme Office (but the need for such a thing is increasingly recognised) but I've had a "cunning plan"! We will (with the support of our Dean of Students, Head of Academic Development, Business Re-Engineering Manager and colleagues in Information Services) being trying out a "Web 2.0" style approach to ensuring change across the University is easy to find out about. I'm calling it the "Change Heap" - more will be revealed in due course!

Aside from that, I've had meeting with the team working on the External examiner mini-project, the team working on the TransAPEL project (and associated Pineapple benefits realisation work - Neil Witt will be visiting us in November) and have been looking through the updates from the partner colleges and will be discussing those with our Partnerships staff. We have also had two meetings with staff managing the University's CRM project and looked at it against "the big picture"...

It has been suggested that the work of ENABLE should be presented to the University Business Development Group - that would be a great step forwards and I hope it comes off.

So, despite frustrations, I really believe that the message is finally beginning to "get out" and that the light I see is not a train coming the other way!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Ploughing on...

Well, since my last post, I've been working hard on getting the revised and updated version of the University's Technology Supported Learning Strategic Plan ready to go to Committee. Whilst the overall focus of the plan hasn't changed, the emphasis and priorities have. Many of the things we have found from the work of ENABLE (the original plan was written before ENABLE started) have become much more pressing and have become vital parts of the revised plan. In particular, the need for a hollistic view of Information and the wider availability of, and access to, readily shared data are paramount.

I had a useful update meeting with a colleague from Information Services who updated me and one of of team on progress on implementing the Snapshot integration facility for Blackboard. Progress on this had been slow, but at last implementation is drawing close.

Our TransAPEL project has established a link with Plymouth's Pineapple project. The Pineapple team will be creating a version of their software (which manages the business processes surrounding APEL) based on Staffordshire's APEL business processes - and this can then be "wrapped around" TRansAPEL (treating TransAPEL as a "black box" - important as we are keeping the detail of TransAPEL "under wraps"). In terms of TransAPEL itself, work proceeds apace...

I've been in contact with our College Partners on the ENABLE project and they have been very quick at providing me with updates on curriculum developments they are involved in with the University - thanks!

We had a great visit from Mark Stubbs from MMU, who talked to myself and our
Director of Academic Development about their institutional EQAL initiative to transform their curriculum and associated information handling. The parallels between their situation and ours was very marked.

Sam and I attended a Curriculum Design & Development Programme Cluster meeting at MMU this week and heard more about EQAL and also heard about progress made at Leeds Met and Bolton with their CDD projects. A very useful day...

Various things of late have strongly reinforced the need for an "Enterprise" approach to information and the need for a institutional programme office - no doubt Sam will say more about this...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Well - it's down to me then

First congratulations to Fleur and her brand new baby boy Ewan!

With Fleur off on maternity leave for while, Sam and I are moving on as best we can. Sam is working hard on the External Examiner mini-project (and the ENABLE spoke TRANSAPEL) and of course carrying on with the Enterprise mapping work. Sadly, as well losing Fleur for a bit, Jenny Yorke, Learning Development Coordination Manager, and a Strategic Manager for ENABLE, has been off with ill-health for some months now - she is sorely missed and I wish her a successful recovery.

Since Fleur had her happy event (somewhat unexpectedly) a couple of weeks back, I've had some meetings with our senior management about the whole area of EA and particularly Course Related Information, and we are lucky to have Prof Mark Stubbs coming next week to talk to us about what he is doing at MMU. Hopefully this will help emphasise the importance of the work and findings of ENABLE at Staffordshire.

In late July I attend the JISC Innovations Forum at Royal Holloway. This was an excellent event. I attended a really interesting session (honest!) on the pros and cons of Prince 2 and Agile approaches to project management and another on organisational change. I also met up with Prof Peter Hartley from Bradford - as well as it being nice to see him again, he was very intersted in our EA work at Staffs and offered to discuss his own institutions work on mobile technologies as a "knowledge exchange" - I hope to progress this soon.

The TRANSAPEL work has being going really well - seeing a group of academics agree a definition of something as contentious as "a competence" in a very short time during a meeting highlighted how much everyone is "up for" the projects goals...

I've had a good meeting with Sheila Dexter who updated me on progress in the area of Academic Planning and another with colleagues from Information Services about on-going work on Study Skills - an important area at the moment. (They commented on the interesting perception issues between some teaching staff and professional staff based in services....)

Work on rolling out the OER work and getting our Hive repository on a "service footing" still proceeds, and I had an excellent meeting with Information Services which made real progress on the issues around process ownership and roles as we move the repository into wider use...

I'm now wrestling with the list of jobs Fleur left me - along with very precise instructions ;)

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Daily Scrum

One of the key aspects of an agile approach to software development is feedback and refinement. This pertains to the software product being developed but also to the processes used to develop it. Feedback from stakeholders is used to refine and steer the direction of the product. Feedback and reflection from the project team on software development practices is used to refine and continually improve the software development process.

Practically, this boils down to the team identifying useful practices and adopting them and identifying practices which don’t work and abandoning them. I think it’s rare, nowadays, that a team will adopt a particular ‘brand’ of agile approach wholesale. Far more common is an agile-flavoured approach combining practices from a number of agile ‘brands’ - XP, Lean, Scrum, DSDM, etc.

One such practice, that we adopted a long time ago, has value for a much wider range of practitioner than software development teams alone.This is the Daily Scrum.

Scrum is a flavour of agile software development/project management. The name is derived from a scrum in rugby and implies getting people to work closely as a team which is what it is all about. At it’s core, it is all about getting people to talk to each other.

The daily scrum (a.k.a. daily meeting, daily standup) is a short (circa 15 minute) meeting held every working day at the same time in the same place. Each member of the team takes a couple of minutes to outline what progress they made yesterday, what they are working on today, and what problems they have had. This gives everybody a good flavour of what work is going on within the team, it allows team members to help each other – if they have encountered a similar problem they can suggest getting together after the meeting, and it allows problems to be escalated via the team leader (aka scrum master) who is responsible for removing impediments and creating the environment to get the best out of the team.

With our department, and even our office, split over sites and parts of the buildings, getting awareness of what the rest of the department is working on, engendering a single multidisciplinary team ethos and providing the chance for team members to help each other with problems, has always proved difficult. I recommend the daily scrum as the most low cost (only 15 mins) but most effective tool we’ve discovered to help with this type of awareness-raising and communication.

If you want more information about Scrum, chickens and pigs, the Wikipedia entry for Scrum has nice summary:

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Take me to your leader...

We have had an interesting few weeks where our Pro Vice Chancellor, our Executive Sponsor and the chair of our Senior Management Working Grouphas left the university. This could have had a big impact on the project, and left us with a number of questions. Who would become our new "leader", how would they feel about Enable, and how would it fit with their role in the university? These were big questions. Thankfully our Project Director, as head of department was facing the same questions and knew the right people to talk to, and temporarily at least, we are now reporting in to another member of the executive, the Deputy Vice Chancellor. This was good news, and better was to follow. Thanks to the practice we’ve had getting the message over to senior management and being further into the project we were able to communicate what the Enable project was about and how this related to University plans. This seemed to resonate with him and the Director of Academic Development. We are now busy writing some new documentation about how Enable can help with some possible executive-led initiatives that they are interested in exploring. What appears to be useful is that the focus is less on immediate quick wins but an understanding that making useful changes will take time and planning. More on that later!
Thanks to the work of Enable, and the cross dissemination we have been doing with the other institutions in the area, including the workshop we did in June around managing change, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Director of Academic Development have requested that Prof Mark Stubbs comes to talk to them and others involved in Enable about the work they are doing within the CDD programme at MMU. This is all very positive for the message we are communicating about managing change and information within our institution.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Reflections from Day 2 (pm) EISTA 2010

Academic Integrity was something discussed over lunch as it was the last presentation of the morning, this was done by Greg Williams who linked reducing cheating to strong instructional design (ID) (a systematic approach to curriculum development, using ADDIE - Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation). He believes that ID staff need to work closely with subject matter experts to get the best out of it. Sounds very similar to the work of the LDI team at Staffordshire University! We discussed the technologies that are supposed to help with cheating such as turnitin and a colleague mentioned a YouTube video can be found showing students how to get around this (and other) technologies. Greg spoke about the fact that a lot of elearning assessment is low level (true/false, multiple choice etc) and this assessment needs to be reviewed to support strong learning objectives that are more specific to learners and using world examples, and that the tutor needs to be involved further to the start of the assessment, reviewing drafts and feeding back on work already taking place.

The afternoon covered the session I was participating in. The presentation was kindly recorded by Nasir Butrous who also did a presentation in the session and I will be editing and publishing this soon, but have a video back log at the moment from the workshop in Stafford too. We had some good discussions around the role of a trusted individual in managing change in an institution, which was very useful. In the same session we had a presentation around Industry based assessment (ERP), which looked at supporting learners using relevant software in the classroom and getting employers engaged in developing the assessment so that they have real world examples to work with. Hiram Bollaert spoke about learning objects and I was surprised that this seemed a new term for a lot of the audience, along with IMS and SCORM. Hiram and I had an interesting discussion after his presentation around finding a SCORM player that does more than show SCORM packages but does all the tracking you want, that is also open/free/cheap and can be multilingual . Hiram discussed how the learners were the creators of the learning objects, helping them reflect, develop their ICT skills and encourages them to manage their knowledge. As they are displayed to a wider audience it also gives them recognision beyond their tutor.

Nasir spoke about how he had analysed online access patterns against student performance, by looking at learners accessing content online, and their performance at the end of the course he could see when the best time would be for tutor intervention on the course to improve performance.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Reflections from Day 2 (am) EISTA 2010

The first day was very focused on curriculum change, the next day focused more on supporting blended learning using online tools and different approaches. A number of presentation looked at how "e" can replace paper, and whether "e" was in fact better. I noticed that in some cases there was an assumption that it would be better, and in others, where stakeholders were engaged from the beginning there was a recognition of the fact that user perceptions were that in fact it would be much harder, more time consuming and require extra resources not necessarily available to the tutor. Project that captured those perceptions at the start of their work were able to demonstrate better the success of their work when at the end those same stakeholders said that the "e" approach (for example to learner evaluation to teaching) actually improved the process and made them think more about the questions and the approach they had previously used. This relates to Enable nicely, we need to be able to show how people feel now, and how things are better due to intervention, support and adaption of new approaches. It also highlights issues with some initiatives and how they haven't captured that information which has made it harder for them to measure the impact of their work.
A particular paper that caught my attention focused on studies around software and if learnability of a particular tool impacted on its adoption to the mainstream. Interestingly the work demonstrated if the need/ motivation was high enough to use the technology even with negative learnability it will become adapted. This has come as no real surprise as it reflects my own experience of using technology, and those of people I talk to in the university with regards to some of our internal systems. It raises the question - should we (as a university) be looking at replacing these systems as the motivation is there from staff to use them regardless? It's a sticky one as surely with more positive learnability then tools may be used in more intuitive ways and information used to support learning more than what can be seen as a "chore" at the moment?
More reflections from EISTA coming soon!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

EISTA 2010 Day One - Managing the curriculum

This is a quick summary of the first day of the EISTA 2010 conference. The main focus of the day, for me, was around presentations on transforming curriculum. The first thing I noticed was although the speakers (USA: Drexel University, and University of Texas, along with AEFIS) talked about Assessment, they were discussing what we would call curriculum review and that their award programme structures were very similar to ours and they are experiencing the same problems with how they managed their curriculum. The presentations didn't address this from an institutional perspective, but rather a faculty. They were also presenting the benefits of using AEFIS who also presented, and mentioned that they were looking for academic partners from across the world.

The first presentation talked about creating & sustaining change, linking reviews to student outcomes. They note the same issues with change that has been encountered by Enable, culture, hierarchy, communication, lack of understanding of reason for change. They discuss a faculty top down approach to change and how they managed communication to set up a new review process (the old one did not work, people never did it as they felt it was too much effort, and that the one size fits all approach does not work). They they talked about their implementation of the AEFIS to track development and review of course curriculum to improve the student experience. They now use the system as a central point to deliver resources to faculties.

The second presentation focused on how curriculum mapping with, at first Excel, and then AEFIS, helped them recognise that often course units where not being assessed in the best way to promote student experience, that they had too many units at an introduction level (14 programming units at introduction level and none at emphasis, reinforce or applies level so the students could say "hello" but not hold a conversation in any of them). The mapping exercise involved looking at 14 different learning outcomes and then breaking them down to 70 performance criteria (this break down took a couple of months of research as they did not start from scratch - nor would they recommend that anyone tried it from scratch). They said that the entire process of mapping took them 16 months in Excel but with AEFIS a lot of the work is automated and could be done in a day! We then did a nice paper exercise around curriculum mapping outcomes against level of learning and means of assessment, manually identifying issues with the curriculum - the presenter pointed out that the software helps but can't do everything.

The next presentations I attended focused on managing the curriculum using analytics to improve and inform learning. The first stressed the importance of being able to use good quality data, and that the most important needs to be selected from the avalanche of data that faculties and institutions collect. We were shown a model of developing learning analytics, with the focus on the individual student learning experience, to support optimising the student path through the course - this seemed to link to APEL and allowing students to use what they already know to skip units.

The second discussed the development of an Instructional Decision Support System. This system is designed to link student characteristics (learning styles etc), student performance, instructor characteristics, learning outcomes and instructional methods to inform faculty decisions (yes that was straight off the handout!). After collecting data on students in different courses they were able to show, for example, that on one course students were sequential learners but the teacher was using global learning and as such the feedback from the course was not positive, by adjusting her teaching to fit sequential learners over two years feedback from the students was much more positive.

The final presentation for this area was around creating EduApps - creating support documentation and applications for faculty staff so that they can focus on innovative teaching, these "apps" are not necessarily technological solutions, but can be guidance notes on using different technologies. They are developed based on faculty issues, and those faculties that raise the issues become owners of the solution. The main criteria of the apps is that they should be focused on a particular problem, pose low risk for faculty adoption, the tools should not require a learning curve or a significant investing of time or resources to use it.

Despite the great promotional work done by the universities and AEFIS themselves I did have a concern that they spoke about being the one system for university's fitting into different areas, rather than looking at how to support universities with different systems (along the lines of the work already happening in the UK around FSD and SOA). Although this could just be me and unfortunately I could not follow up on this during lunch as they did not provide any and I really need to eat at the moment!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Sustaining Innovation and Enterprise Architecture

The last month has been quiet, mainly due to holidays and attending workshops that have resulted in giving me long to do lists! The month started with a workshop here at Staffordshire University, Sustaining Innovation via Organisational Development Workshop. This was a great day that resulted in some useful discussion around how we engage Senior Management in supporting innovation and embedding it into the day to day. We had guest speakers from Australia, Manchester and Plymouth (among others). I tweeted heavily on the event (and others I have attended) and to read them and others on Enable check out Twapper Keeper Useful thoughts from the day included

  • Mark Stubbs rethinking what we do with the curriculum. Asking fundamental questions, why is approval process face to face?

  • interesting question from @markstiles about institutional values and data: secretive? open? risk-taker? risk-averse?

  • Enterprise Architecture as a model for managing innovation but role of effective governance also critical

  • USQ's Australian Digital Futures Institute - yes please! Can we have one?

  • Strategy & structure need to be scrutinised & regularly realigned

After this event it was back to interviewing faculties about their involvement in working with External Examiners. We have learnt a lot with these interviews and discovered extra stakeholders involved that had not been considered during the review. We are now planning an extra round of interviews to get them engaged. The best way we have done this is with three of us attending each meeting, one specialist from QIS, our Technical Manager to roughly bring together a model as we talk and me, to make a narrative note of the processes and issues faced by stakeholders. This seems to work well with each of our different perspectives opening up more questions about what is happening in faculties at the moment and what they would like to see happen. Everyone (so far) has been pleased that something is happening to support the work taken in this area.

This week I have attended the Enterprise Architecture Workshop in Birmingham. A useful blog post has been written on this by John Townslend (, who usefully has blogged about the management stream that ran at the same time as the practitioner session I attended. The hands on session was very useful, with discussions about whether there is a right way to model, with a practical example that we could model using Archi ( I was able to use this time to talk to our technical manager about my first attempt at modelling for one of our SURF colleges, which resulted in me re-modelling more explicitly and getting me up early on the second day to continue working on it before the sessions. You can certainly find yourself losing hours to working on models if you're not careful! The second day focused on the future of the group, what did we want over the next year, where did we want it held and did we see a future for the group to become a professional practitioners group as it grows in experience and numbers. There was also discussion around supporting the development of a foundation programme to support those who are just entering the EA arena, there were a lot of takers for the programme, including wanting to get Senior Management to get engaged with the programme so that they understood terms etc used by staff - although not have them attend the full 4 days. At the moment I am preparing for next weeks visit to Flordia for the EISTA 2010 conference where I am talking about managing strategic change in HE. I will let you know how that goes!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Communication is the key

The last two weeks have been busy dealing with the fall out from Ning changing its charging model. After doing analysis of a number of different tools the choice was made for which makes much of its ability to merge with Ning content. Our first step was to merge the user accounts so people did not have to re-register. This did cause some confusion as the site sent an automatic email out to all the users using a generic email address. Still the confusion was kept to a minimum due to contact with the partner colleges and staff via the SUN network and Twitter.

As part of the launch of the new network, Hamza and I visited  Newcastle Under Lyme College. This included going over a history of Enable and why we picked social networking as one of the tools to support the partners engage with Enable. This event was to a small team, however the discussions around their experiences around CDD were very useful.

As part of the new network launch and the modelling work we are planning I posted a query on what the processes and roles are used at the partner colleges – using a demo flowchart start discussions going. One college has been quick to respond to this which has  enabled me to do my first attempt of modelling using the Archi tool provided by CETIS ( and some helpful Archimate websites. This first attempt was difficult for me, from understanding the different relationship links and spotting the holes in the information I was given. This has required a number of subsequent emails to the partner college. I have passed my first attempt on to Sam, our resident expert for comments before I move further on it – and doing any others.

More modelling is taking place around external examiners with our first meeting with quality staff in the faculties. This was very useful and we have a number of these schedules in the next few months. It helped to have one of us typing notes about the process while the other worked on the model.

This week I attended the JISC cross programme meeting on Employer Responsive Provision (ERP). This was a great event which involved meeting some new people and sharing experiences around ERP, and recognition that work in this area impacts on all CDD. 

I’m off on holiday next week, but will be back on the 7th to see what interesting discussions pop up at the workshop “Sustaining Innovation via Organisational Development”

Thursday, 13 May 2010

For the Greater Good

Sorry about the Hot Fuzz start to this blog, but it matches the out comes quite nicely for the programme meeting we had yesterday.

Last week has been interesting for the project. In discussions with one spoke it was clear that some changes had been made to the processes around course design with little expectation of making a large impact on the creation of more flexible awards. This matched discussions at the programme meeting about whether changing processes and documentation alone will make the desired changes we need within institutions. There is hope that the changes made as part of the spoke will support more responsive curriculum design and a slicker curriculum portfolio. Discussions then turned to how these expectations would be evaluated, there is some difficulty in this a much of the baseline for the spoke was based on perceptions. The spoke will be using the expectation spreadsheet it completed at the start of the project along with the JISC Evaluation workshop notes, to support the evaluation process. The spoke is also reviewing the usefulness of recording date information against each stage of the process for faculties to measure responsiveness.

The JISC programme meeting raised an interesting discussion around institutions expectations of learner and staff cultural attitudes to technology and how this differs between institutions. As we, in the project, talk a lot about culture being a barrier to change is there a practical way of addressing this? Bolton spoke briefly on training they are providing for staff around supporting using technology for learning. Does Enable need to think about putting together training for staff to help manage these cultural attitudes, using faculties who we have identified as already making those changes? I’m not sure we would be the right people to do this but we can try talking about it to the right people. Some projects in the programme have created tools to help staff identify their teaching approaches and what others are doing in their institution.

The final part of the day was a discussion summarising the work projects have been doing and how it can be used to help others, stopping duplication of effort at a higher level than simply within an institution. The projects discussed whether it would be possible for them to bring together the combined effort using design studio or whether it was something that needed to be organised centrally with everyone in a room. The idea of an information roadmap was seen to be useful and projects were happy to provide information to support it, although what information was needed and in what form was difficult to determine. Some felt that information needed a context within a process map (or in a model) and Bolton demonstrated the work they were doing with the FSD programme. I personally feel that a generic model to support staff with a starting point for discussion would be useful, and that validation documents themselves would be of little value. Perhaps a quick model/map with each stage a clickable link to a list of information collected/used would be best. It will be interesting to see the out come of this session will be.

Added 24/05/2010

Further relevant blogs:

Monday, 10 May 2010

Supporting Innovation

The last week and a half has been a busy one, with the cluster meeting in Bolton at the end of March (read here for coeducates summary of the day), meetings around our new “mini” project and discovering Ning was changing its charging model. This has highlighted issues with innovation when it occurs outside of the “safe” environment of the university, as tutors as well as the Enable project are looking at alternatives to the Ning environment. We have had to manage how we look at these alternatives, we can’t spend too much time on it as otherwise we would be better off paying for the new service, however we also need to ensure that the choice we make does not impact negatively on the end users. We are, however coordinating our effort with others in the university and it is almost a project on its own – with stakeholders in each faculty.

The cluster event went extremely well, with discussions firstly around managing innovation and the shared experiences of the different projects. This lead to some thoughts around how we could work together towards a single output, rather than working in isolation, and to support our institution making the changes felt needed for the new environment we are finding ourselves in. The afternoon discussion was around managing course related information (CRI) and competencies. As a side product of this day, and the work the Staffordshire University LDI team have been doing towards a conference, a new expert workshop is being promoted at Staffordshire Uni  “Sustaining Innovation via Organisational Development” (more information, or register here).

Our project has been moving forward with the focus on modelling the processes, information and roles around supporting external examiners. We have had meetings with the university QI Service and they have offered to give expert advice and attend meetings with QA staff within faculties. As this work progresses a lot of it will be on the shoulders of the Technical Manager, Sam, as I am taking a lot of holiday before going on maternity leave in September. I am working hard at ensuring that the same level of communication occurs during my absence but please bear in mind that blog entries may drop off a little over the next few months.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Working together

This week has me reading a number of blogs from our partner colleges, this has made for some interesting reading. Mainly they pick up on the same issues that we have already noted but every now and again a real gem of an issue appears, two examples include:
  • If validation can't occur before Sept 2010 college is looking at having to wait a year to deliver - is this because of the university? because the college doesn't like "mid" year starts, or don't the learners?
  • Awards are running but access to the VLE across partners is difficult or can be delayed by a year - again why?
With these issues (and others) I am feeling a bit like the kid in school who likes to pick at scabs! As part of this scab picking process we are organising meetings with the UK Partnership office to put a model together of how they deal with CDD with the partners and to see how processes etc help/ hinder or have gaps that need to be filled. This will be my first attempt at modelling although I will have Sam there to help me. I am also planning to try out the new CETIS Archi tool as my laptop with BizzDesign on it has been taken in for another repair.
We are also starting work on the "mini project" which is our pilot on testing not simply technology solutions to issues around External Examiners but Programme Management and Enterprise Architecture also get in on the deal. We have our first set of interviews around this work at the start of May, before that our Technical Manager is sorting out the technical issues around this "mini project".

The end of this week we have a cluster meeting in Bolton which will be very interesting, this will be a one day event with a focus on the use of technology to support CDD - including what I am hoping will be useful discussions and demonstrations around using Wookies, Widgets and using XCRI. I am sure this will result in another blog post!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Everybody's talking

We have had some quiet meetings this week, as staff have been trapped abroad. This, in particular, has meant that the partner voice was muted at the curriculum group meeting. During this meeting we talked about the SURF Portfolio Review that is occurring at the university, with the support of the Enable project. There were some useful points being raised by partners not directly linked to the Enable project. These points are very similar to those previously raised by partners within Enable.

  • The partners have noted that there needs to be a clear link between the business strategy at college level to those held in faculties and the university.
  • They noted that issues weren’t with validation but CDD overall, and often they felt that it was much like a project without a project manager, thus problems with timings, access to information and managing meetings.
These points link with the work we are doing with the modelling, which hopefully should highlight that this role is missing until towards the end of CDD when a link tutor is provided by the faculty, and how strategies need to be linked to the faculties and partner colleges.

As I have been talking to Sam about modelling I am considering attempting the SURF level model on my own to get some real, hands on experience of using BizzDesign and Archimate. I have been putting this off for sometime, allowing Sam to take the lead, however as work progresses on the External Examiner mini project I believe it is important that I get some practical practice on the modelling.

In other areas of the project we are preparing our interim report, I have asked Mark and Sam to review this as they will be responsible for doing the next one on their own as I will be on maternity leave when it is due. We are also attending a one day cluster meeting next week at Bolton and the programme meeting at the start of May.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Taking a step back

I have been to two very different, and interesting, conferences over the last two weeks. The first was in Plymouth, a general elearning conference covering schools, FE and HE ( This was a packed two day event and it was difficult to see everything, however those sessions I attended were very good. The keynote speech by Josie Fraser discussed the web and privacy, the one by Dave White discussed how do we support what learners need and balance that against what they want, and has some interesting blogs on the subject (

I also did a presentation at the conference to a slightly smaller audience around supporting innovative curriculum in a traditional HE environment. This was a trail for Florida in June and was very successful, the discussions lasting 30mins after the presentation. There is a clearly recognised need by institutions to take a step back and look at what they are doing and why, without the caveat “we’ve always done it this way”. It was also acknowledged that some of the big barriers to institutional change that takes time and effort is engaging support from senior management, and getting them to understand that often quick wins are quick draws reinforcing the quid pro quo. The leaflet that went with my presentation is available from the project website ( although the slides are also available on the same page, my talk was slightly different to the one recorded. It is a shame I forgot to record the new presentation as some interesting points were raised.

The second conference was the JISC annual conference in London ( This one day event was also jam packed with good information. Martin Bean (VC Open University) did a great keynote to open the conference and I attended two useful sessions that support the work of Enable, including presenting our poster to the community.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Document Management with (or without) SharePoint

Fleur and I attended an RSC West Midlands “Document Management with SharePoint” event on the morning of 17th March. We were interested in the enterprise content-management features primarily. Presentations from OfficeTalk and Parabola Software gave a flavour of what could be achieved using ‘lightweight’ implementation of SharePoint using Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) only or full scale implementation using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS). See the product guide for SharePoint features.

Key points from the SharePoint presentations were:

  • Good integration with other Microsoft technologies – Office, Outlook, Active Directory. You might expect this.
  • Lack of a consistent user (interface) experience across the suite of technologies comprising SharePoint. Some component applications  implement the latest interface styles and modes of operation and others do not. It ‘feels like a collection of different applications’ rather than a coherent whole.
  • Numerous gotchas. It’s important to do your homework thoroughly. For example, the forthcoming SharePoint 2010 components are all 64-bit so upgrading might involved the cost of new hardware as well as the software. For new adopters of SharePoint the recommendation was to go straight to the 2010 version.
  • Accessibility is not good for SharePoint 2007 but 2010 is much better.

Balance was provided by a presentation from Sirius IT, Enterprise Open Source systems integrators. They outlined their concept of the e-Learning Stack consisting of the following layers:

  • Monitoring
  • Contact
    • Course Management
  • Course
    • Document Management
  • Resources

The open source offering for document management was Alfresco, a technology we’re already familiar with.


Alfresco provides facilities for workflows, collaboration and versioning. It tries to minimize the learning curve by employing commonly understood metaphors like the ‘shared drive’. This is where Alfresco content residing on the server appears and behaves to the user as though its on a shared network drive.

An Office plugin exists for integration with Microsoft tools.

A powerful feature unique to Alfresco is format control. Inbound and outbound rules can be defined which automatically convert or transform content as it is added to or copied from the Alfresco shared drive. This happens automatically and transparently. For example, you might have a rule set up to compress any video content over 500MB in size. If the user copies a larger video file to the shared drive, the video is automatically compressed. Another example might be an outbound rule which converts a document to PDF format when it is requested. This would allow documents to remain editable on the shared drive in Word format, with automatic conversion to the more ubiquitous format for sharing.

This format control feature could be a hugely important tool to avoid runaway resource consumption as learning content is deposited into repositories and VLEs.

The community version of Alfresco is free. The Enterprise Edition, with technical support and extras to smooth deployment and management across the enterprise is available via a subscription.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Practice makes perfect

Both Sam and I have had two days in Birmingham this week as part of the FSD programme. These were very useful. The first day was focused on the work different projects are doing around Enterprise Architecture, and how it works best where the approach is used but the term isn’t! It was good to review where we where as a project not just in terms of Enable but also with the mini project around e-enabling our External Examiners processes. There was also a review on the last meeting and that we needed to be careful not to try and take too many big steps (Ross et al 2006) but rather move from silos, to standard tech, to optimised core and finally the Holy Grail – Business Modularity. By doing the baby steps we reduce the chance of failure. I got a few to do reminders out of the day – including read the book by Ross on “Enterprise Architecture as a Strategy” and reading the Cairo final report, along with trying to track down the governance documents provided by Liverpool John Moore. It is really good how the more advanced projects are helping those of us just finding our feet. It was also good to see how different institutions addressed creating models and that there was no single right answer for everyone. There was general agreement that EA should be used as a method for enabling change, part of a strategy to support projects, which links back to those times I have spoken about programme management (Managing change and innovation, More Snow time, Merry Christmas and many more!).

We got to see a demonstration of the application CETIS have been developing to support those interested in doing EA modelling, with the right tools, but without the scary BizzDesign software and their licensing! This looks like a great starting point and something I would be interested in as we don’t use a lot of the features of BizzDesign at the moment, although I can see how BizzDesign is useful as the model and we get more sophisticated in our needs.

The second day was more generalist in talking about shared services, supporting student services, and SOA. This is the harder day for me being less technical than I used to be but I find it really useful seeing what other institutions are trying and hearing about their experiences. We talked about how others could benefit from this expertise, it was clear that the group wanted somewhere “safe” to discuss issues and models.

The afternoon session started with an extremely useful Dragons Den where we had to sell our projects, this was the first time I had done it without support, and I think it went ok. It has certainly made me realise that I know more than I thought about EA and also helped me with the understanding of what we need to communicate to senior staff about our “mini” project. Hopefully this knowledge will stick with me as we move forward in the project.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Moving Forward

The team has had a busy week, we had the Enable SMWG meeting on Tuesday which is our first get together since the middle of last year, we also had some dissemination events to attend and a Document Management workshop. It was good to get everyone around the table again for the SMWG. We were able to give them a quick update on what we had been up to and how we have been using the Enterprise Programme Approach to support projects, including working closely with initiatives such as the Quality Review and the SURF Portfolio Review. We also gave each member a copy of all the issues that arose during the first interview phase, broken down by those already being addressed and those not being addressed. Those highlighted as not being addressed also had an “impact” column. The SMWG has been asked to look through this list and see whether they agree with the issues (or whether they are perceptions – as discussed in “Barriers to being flexible – Myth or Reality?”. We have also asked them to consider which issues they think should be the priority for the university.

One of the main streams of the Enable is to help support a change in how we do CDD. As part of this we do the programme approach mentioned above, but we also want something tangible. As part of this we have taken the work of the Quality Review and their recommendations and taken one aspect we could use within Enable, as an example of the benefits of using a holistic approach. We will be using the same modelling framework that we used to create the baseline report and intend to fully engaging all stakeholders involved. We are looking at a 6 month initiative to e-enable the External Examiner process within QIS and Faculties. This was deemed to be be a practical scope for the Enable project team to handle, and with the help of those within the Quality Review we will also be creating the “to be” model mentioned in previous posts. This was presented at the SMWG with the use of a PID (Project Initiation Document) which raised some questions that we needed to address:

  • What technology are we planning to use? this was raised as we need to review document management as part of this work, and we mentioned that an example would be SharePoint. This made the SMWG think we had already picked the technology. We haven’t and in fact we are part of a steering group that is looking at university wide requirements for document management. This group is designed to give the university a solution (or number of solutions) for document management within a short time frame.
  • Is this just a solution for solutions sake? No, this was a real problem highlighted by the Quality Review, it is a small scope project that will be able to prove proof of concept that can be moved to other areas of CDD once the “to be” model has been created, and the skills have been acquired to implement the solution.
  • Are we really planning to model both “as is “ and “to be” of the whole of CDD in 6 months? Yes and No, most of the “as is” model has been produced as part of the baseline report from last year, although some changes have taken place that need to go in, the “to be” model can not be created without the input of process owners, we will be modelling how they see the “to be” not creating it in isolation as we don’t own the processes. We can however use the “as is” model to help identify areas of improvement.

We have had the go ahead on the “project” however we are all meeting again in 6 weeks to discuss the proposals given by the Document Management Group as to what technologies need to be in place and what the cost implications would be and how they would be handled.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Learning to stretch – becoming flexible

This weeks interviews have been very useful in understanding how we need to learn to be flexible, where we need to bend to make CDD easier.

  • Communication – we need to be flexible on how we communicate both internally and externally. We can’t assume that because we know something everyone else knows it too. This has been raised a number of times this week as an issue, “information may already be out there but I don’t know where it is without help.” and “I try and get information but can sometimes feel like I know less now than I did before”. Examples include, knowing about our QIS website, knowing changes have been made to processes and supporting documents, knowing where documents are stored, knowing the right person to talk to and having the same language. All big things that need to be considered.


  • External delivery – we need to trust those in our organisation who are putting forward external staff to deliver content onsite either at partner colleges or employer sites. We need to be flexible with our assumptions about employer delivery of awards. By being flexible enough to move away from “standard delivery” we can ensure that we have the same standards applied across the board, if it is good for us it is good for them. We can give clear ownership of processes and decisions so that we can find out (and communicate) why things have happened and how we can change them.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Barriers to being flexible – Myth or Reality?

As we have spent time talking to different faculties and services it is interesting that we each have our own perceptions of reality. During a recent interview it was noted that as a university we did not encourage cross faculty working, that our processes were not flexible enough to share funding for example. This was then discussed in another interview where the person mentioned that the university did have processes that allowed for sharing funding. What is the reality? It appears to be both are, depending on your own experiences and point of view. As Mark Stiles says “often the perception shapes the reality”, can we turn this around?

One member of staff (lets call them A) was able to achieve the “miracle” of cross faculty funding by looking at things from a different angle, another (B) tried to get the same result using the traditional point of view and was unsuccessful. At the moment there is no way of telling B about this way of working, or thinking. As Enable moves forward we will be able to share the experiences and the processes from staff member A and give them to staff member B to help change their reality. This is a fairly simplistic view that breaks down as we get into perceptions on what is responsiveness. Depending on who we have spoken to some staff members believe that for an employer lead award a years turnaround from design to delivery is perfectly reasonable, other staff (and employers) however find this an extremely long time to wait to train staff. Staff often say that validation takes too long, but investigation has shown the processes are very responsive, it is the information that takes time, along with organising meetings with relevant staff and employers (where needed). There is a recognition that as a HE organisation we are often obsessed with having meetings when it would be possible to discuss things either via email or online tools such as GoogleDocs or OfficeLive. A lot of the problems around these perceptions are based on changing peoples behaviours, supporting them using new technologies and providing tools to help reduce the amount of input they need to do into forms required for the CDD process.  This is the next 6 months of Enable, as we put together a “to be” model of the university, and plan the stages around how we get there. Along with this we will be implementing some prototypes, focused on supporting our quality service with external examiners.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Dissemination and promotion

The project has being focused on producing a Project Initiation Document to support the work it is doing around modelling course related information within CDD (Course Design and Development). It has also started working towards creating the “to be” view of CDD. The team has pulled out all the interview notes from different faculties about issues around CDD and also a list of issues from its interviews with the staff involved in the different initiatives at the university. I will be recording our next stage with some photos as we try and group together all the different suggestions and issues we have collated using post it notes.

Along with the work Sam has been leading we have also been meeting with deans in each Faculty to talk about their plans for the next year and to keep them up to date with the progress of the Enable project. This has been very useful and Mark will be writing up a summary sheet of our conversations, and about some of the issues that the deans see as needing to be addressed in CDD.

We have also been supporting the SURF Review, although we were unable to attend one of the meetings we have been able to pass on the issues highlighted by the project partners. There was some interesting discussions during this meeting between perception of progress from colleges, the university, and employers. Enable is supporting this work and has provided a lot of information from the partners experiences based not just on the annual report but on the spreadsheets we ask them to complete during the design and development process of a new idea.

Seeing as I called this a dissemination and promotion post I better say a bit about the dissemination we are planning to do outside of the university. We have had our abstract approved for the  Plymouth e-Learning Conference which is in April, and we are also presenting with the rest of our programme at the next JISC eLearning experts meeting in Birmingham in March, and the JISC Conference 2010 in London in April.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Project Partners feedback

Last week was focused on collating information from partners, tying the information together with feedback from internal interviews. As part of this work a number of positive aspects with working with Staffordshire University were highlighted:
  • Annual review follow ups to colleges is very useful
  • Some faculty processes encourage partnership developments
  • Consortium award developments works well
  • University is seen to work hard at providing suitable progression
  • University respects employer feedback
  • Colleges appreciate being able to start awards in Sept and January
However there have also been some issues that have been highlighted by the partner colleges:
  • Getting resources released in time for college teaching via VLE is difficult
  • Can be a delay in getting a validation date
  • Communication is slow, especially when working across faculties
  • Faculty processes to award development are all different for partner colleges
  • Faculty support towards award development in partner colleges is diverse
  • Perception of inflexibility in awards
These points have been highlighted (in more detail) within our own network, plus we have a SURF Portfolio Review that they will be able to feed into, along with into the work of the Course Related Information we are doing. We have also updated the Partners Ning site with the new documents already created by internal projects around improving the validation process.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Measuring the costs and benefits

The project is working hard at planning for managing course information with regards to the work of the Quality Review Process. As part of this I have been reviewing and attempting to write scenarios based on some of the issues around the Quality Review. This has been much harder than I expected using TOGAF and required me to look at a number of samples online to help me. This will not be a quick solution, however there is real value in doing this, and I am considering writing one for Enable itself. This could be a very useful communication tool to use with the executive. This is important as I try and get them to understand the benefits to an Enterprise Programme Office and how it will save money for the university. It seems as though the message is being lost somewhere at the moment. As part of this is the issue around the SMWG and the fact that it hasn't been able to meet recently. There was one scheduled for today but this has been cancelled, although the project team is meeting with the executive sponsor for the project and the Business Re-Engineering Manager for the university.

We have had some interesting interviews and informal conversations this week around managing course information, one discussion was focused on how accessibility could be embedded into course design rather than bolted on as part of induction or ignored completely. This was an interesting point, and one that was particular to that stakeholder, which reflects back to last weeks workshop about different views by different people.

We have also met with one of the faculties to talk to them about issues they have with CDD, and with the Quality Review team. This meeting was valuable in that it gave us a real insight in how to market content to the executive, but also about what the executive expect from projects running under their view. We are now writing a mini PID for this so we can communicate some of the outputs of the work we are doing and how it all fits together to create a bigger plan for the university whilst still giving them some quick wins

Friday, 29 January 2010

Managing Change and Innovation

Flexible Service Delivery Event

This week has been a busy one, we spent the first two days down in London with the Flexible Service Delivery programme, the first day was catching up with projects and talking about the use of SOA, and other solutions to managing data.
The second was focused on modelling and using Enterprise Architecture. This was very useful for us, and in particular for me, as it highlighted a number of issues around governance and process ownership that is needed for the modelling to be successful. It was also interesting to see during the modelling exercise that everyone had their own perspectives to a similar process, depending on their experiences and knowledge.

UPDATE: Since this blog we have used ArchiMate and Enterprise Architecture extensively to support the work of Enable (see Enable: Using Archimate in the Enable Project), and have pushed the benefits of the approach to other projects including XCRi, Student Systems, Assessment and Feedback, and Partnerships. This approach is slowly being appreciated by all levels of management at Staffordshire University.
I have had my paper successfully accepted to the 8th International Conference on Education and Information Systems, Technologies and Applications: EISTA 2010, held in Florida in June – this is based on my document I wrote a while ago for the Senior Management Working Group on Programme Management, to fit with the presentation I gave them last year. I’m pretty excited about this, and looking forward to discussing the theories etc. As part of this I have submitted something similar for the Plymouth conference as a trial. It’s the first time for me presenting all on my own!

UPDATE: Read my experiences here about the EISTA conference, to read the paper I did please check out. The paper is now available "Corfield, FM, (2010) 'Supporting an Innovative Curriculum in a Traditional HE Environment. Developing a winning strategy to support change at Staffordshire University', Journal of Education, Informatics, and Cybernetics, Vol 2, No 3, 2010".

As I am becoming more and more focused on Portfolio Management /TOGAF it is clear that support from the whole of executive, along with clear governance and business strategy statements are needed. How ready are we for all this? At the moment I would have to say not very, however with the work of the project and by constant communication with staff, this will change over the next year.

Friday, 22 January 2010


This week has been a planning week, with looking at the issues raised, and putting a plan of recommendations together for the SMWG. This document is designed to support how the programme office will work, and the work we are doing with EA and TOGAF.

As part of the work of Enable we are now talking to our Quality office around how they see the information used to support curriculum design being better utilised. This has had us discussing the issues found during the Quality Review (as well as those from interviews with Enable) and some ideal solutions to these issues using supporting technology. We will be following TOGAF for this information and are using our initial meetings to complete the “vision” stage. Sam is using the TOGAF guidelines to create scenarios from these meetings as part of it.

Next week is a heavy one from the perspective of EA as both Sam and I will be attending the next FSD meeting in London which is followed by an EA day. We then have an Architecture Elluminate session scheduled for the Wednesday afternoon. All EA hands on deck! I have installed BizzDesign on my little laptop which could also be quite interesting!

Friday, 15 January 2010

More snow time

As mentioned in my last blog the SMWG was supposed to be this week, however snow once again fell from the skies making it impossible to run, therefore it has been rescheduled for February. This is useful as there is now further discussion occurring at Executive level around the development of a programme office. We are waiting to hear what happens with those discussions and how they impact on the programme office governance and ideas we have already worked on in Enable. As part of the work we are doing for a programme office we are organising individual faculty meetings with Deans, heads of service, and FAD's as part dissemination about Enable and part discussion about their individual initiatives that could impact on the university, in the arena of CDD. This will then lead to meetings with those leading the initiatives to find out more about the work they are doing.
This leads on from last years interviews with internal projects and the issues mentioned in the last blog, along with these we have also managed to have most of the meetings with award leaders, finding out their experiences of validation, annual review and the 5 year review. We have had some interesting discussions about what would make these experiences easier and more responsive, and in one case had a good open discussion about the culture of lecturers and attitudes to senior/ executive management. These have been noted down to discuss at the next Enable team meeting.
Next week we have more internal Enable meetings, and we will also be talking with CETIS. Sam is also helping me with my first adventure into using BizzDesign Architect, could be interesting.
By now I was hoping to know whether a paper I have written on the development of a programme office in supporting a change in CDD had been accepted in the US but nothing has been said yet. I will let you know as soon as I do.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Having a n-ice new year

Sorry about that! Things are quiet for me at the moment, as I have been house bound for the last three days thanks to the ice on the roads by where I live. Fortunately Sam has been carrying on with interviewing staff around the curriculum design processes for mapping and for capturing more issues. We have created a long list of issues from the 2009 interviews, as part of this I have tried to group them in different areas and themes it seems that the issues can be broken down into the following areas:
  • Strategy (Culture, Product, Resourcing)
  • Student Support (Communication, Marketing, Systems)
  • Course DD (Communication, Annual Monitoring, Marketing, Engagement, Product, Processes)
  • Course Information (Communication, Systems)
  • Course Support (Resourcing)
  • Global (Communication, Culture, Engagement, Id Management, Processes, Project Management, Resourcing, Systems)
  • Partnerships (Communication, Marketing, Processes, Progression, Resources)
  • Project Management (Resourcing, Scoping, Systems, Timescales)
These will be discussed further at next weeks SMWG as long as snow doesn't get it cancelled. We really need this SMWG as the last few have been cancelled due to clashes either with JISC events or with other senior management meetings. We were hoping to be discussing the Programme Office principle at this meeting but it looks like this has got bigger than Enable and the executive are now interested in the model I have documented. Not sure what is going to happen next on this, but all sounds very positive still.

Other than the spreadsheet I have been catching up on previous Elluminate sessions that JISC have been running via the circle network, and managed to catch one live on Wednesday thanks to working from home. Some interesting discussions are going on out there on how to manage organisational change and addressing cultural issues to changing curriculum delivery.

Over the next week I am expecting some interesting reports from our project partners summarising their experiences over the last year with Staffordshire University. Will report on these and other points raised in this blog as soon as I can :)