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 (http://www2.plymouth.ac.uk/e-learning/). 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 (http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/author/whited/).

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 (http://www.projects.staffs.ac.uk/enable/p3m3.html) 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 (http://www.jisc.ac.uk/events/2010/04/jisc10.aspx). 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.