Monday, 17 December 2007

Handing over control

As the project moves forward I am handing over the blogging to the techies for the next few weeks as they let you know what they are up to - although you still might hear a little from me.

I have set up a couple of new tools for the project, there is a public page in pageflakes ( that lets you see all the blogs, project calendars and websites from one page. I have also set up a private WetPaint WIKI for discussing the support point features. This is after our unsuccessful attempt to use it for the last project. I really want to see a more positive outcome to using it this time - so fingers crossed. If all goes well with the pages this could also go public as part of the project dissemination.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Development Work

As the development work takes place for SURF WBL-Way the blog has been really quiet. Sorry folks! There is not much to report, the technical team are still working at tidying the code and the database and I am working at trying to get content into the universities repository (HIVE) in a way that will be usable.

I have got a number of learning activities in - over 35, but with another 50 to go the task seems never ending. Plus there are some problems with how Blackboard reads IMS packages, for some reason putting the Base attribute after the HREF attribute rather than before it. Hopefully this will be a quick fix otherwise it really impacts on the work I have been doing. The other main issue is how HIVE previews SCORM packages, with the embedding of Reload with its Explorer programme I was hoping for SCORM to be using the Reload previewer. Unfortunately not which means that at the moment the SCORM packages only show their top level navigation. I have demonstrated to the technical team here how Reload Previewer works and how Jorum displays IMS packages but it looks like we will have to purchase a commercial product to cover this gap in the software.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Pilot has taken off

Well the pilot is now up and running, anyone interested in registering as an employer, learner, tutor or support staff can do so. While this has been going on I have tried to put a list of all the features together of everything we have discussed in meetings. This has been put in GoogleDocs (as it is a document that others in the project will need to contribute on). This list will form the project plan for implementation of features that will occur while the pilot is running. I am now looking forward to feedback on the document and the launch of the pilot.

On an aside I have avoided using GoogleDocs since the start of the project as its functionality seemed limited and there was no way to add folders, since then they seem to have spent some time on it and now there is a way to add content to folders etc so it might be worth thinking about again as a store for documents with the project as GoogleGroups now has over 60 documents in it and is getting difficult to manage.

Next week I am off to the CETIS conference which should be interesting. I get to take my business cards, which have finally arrived too, helping with getting the projects name out there.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Helping friends

Went out and about yesterday with Mark to talk to Bradford college about their HE in FE project that is using some of our content. It was an interesting day that reinforced some of the points raised at last weeks Project Management training when it comes to writing work packages and using GANTT charts. I know I need to spend a bit more time now on the next stage of the project and the features that need to be added to the support point once it has launched (still waiting on that one!). It also reminded me to send the work packages for the project to the Programme Manager.

It is always interesting to see how the same problems occur for different projects, often these revolve around senior management support, lack of internal communication, and unforseen technical issues. These problems always impact on the success of a project, especially on its timings. We have been lucky with communication with the project, by choosing and using tools to communicate (thanks Google!) from the start the team have always had ways of keeping in touch, along with the use of monthly meetings. We are also fully supported through senior management thanks to ensuring the project fits with strategy within the university and the partner colleges. We seem to have been hit by the technical issues bug though and I am not sure that there is any way that this could be managed any better, but I will certainly be working at it!

Friday, 9 November 2007

Pilot in bar

Yep, the pilot is still on the runway! Technical problems seem to be the order of the day and they keep on coming at us. The pilot is now looking at launching next Monday which is 3 weeks late, but as they say better late than never! Still I have been working at developing my project management/ managing skills (including planning and risk analysis - oh the irony!) with a day and a half of training (thanks JISC for a good day). The days were very interesting and talk about shared experience about the project management was useful.

Now that the project update is out of the way I have been investigating PDP within the university on behalf of the fdf. This has involved my trying out PebblePAD with some colleagues, and I am having fun with that at the moment. It seems to be very useful for collaborative work and this is the bit we are testing in the department.

Other than that I am reviewing the Staffs Uni handbooks for awards, I am finding this useful for the project and the repository work I am involved in. The main problem appears to be that there is no standard format for these documents in SURF although the university has some guidelines for full time, undergraduate courses based at the university these guidelines do not work well for courses offsite.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Plane holts on runway

The launch of the pilot turned out to be a bit disappointing with a few technical problems that could not be resolved as quickly as we hoped. Fortunately the pilot launch coincided with half term and it turned out difficult to contact employers due to them taking time off, or staff needed to initiate contact had time off. This week I am hoping for a more successful story as the technical team work at fixing the last few bugs, and employers start to see the system. Release features are going to be limited but with the technical team still working hard the features will soon be growing. To begin with tools such as forums and calendars will be up and running along with linking to learner information from the university systems and courses run through SURF and Staffordshire University. At this point there is no link to college systems.

The one thing that is bugging me the most at this point is that Staffordshire University give access to tutors teaching Staffordshire awards at partner colleges access to University systems such as email & MyPortal, as they are funded by the university. Unfortunately support staff at the colleges don't not get the same level of access and as such are limited in their access to the support point at this stage, even at a most basic level this raises the question - how can support staff at partner colleges fully support learners on Staffordshire awards at those colleges when they can't use the systems themselves? From a technical perspective is it possible to get lifeRay to look at different LDAP systems to validate support staff rather than use just the university LDAP?

In the meantime I am working with Sam putting the final touches to our Project Update document for JISC - although time is running out on us to get it in before the deadline as Mark will need to take a look before it goes. We also have the monthly project meeting this week so any feedback and comments on the site can be collated there.

Thursday, 18 October 2007


As we move towards the pilot phase of the project I have been talking about the experiences we have had to date with the Information Services team. Staffordshire Uni has these events where we showcase what we have been up to for the last year. It was very interesting, not only to hear peoples own views on how communication has been "managed" within work based learning and how useful the support point would be (always good to know!) but also to help clarify and summarise the experiences of the project to date. Namely:

  • Communication between institutions and employers is limited
  • Employers often feel that the institution is being paid to do a job - so why are they being asked to get involved?
  • Often we assume tutors know which employer a learner is associated with, and this is not always the case
  • Mentors are often forgotten after the start of a course
  • Setting up a foundation degree can be a long and complicated experience

Everything appears to be flying towards a positive start to the pilot with the techies working hard at resolving a number of issues around lifeRay including the difference between private / public in a community and also how to link to different communities.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Pilot at airport but not ready to fly!

Over the next few weeks I will be trying all the cliche's for pilot and flying that I can! This is because the project has reached that important stage of running the pilot. Yesterdays meeting made something clear, employers interested in doing the pilot under two main conditions:

  • They did not want to meet other employers! this was due to a fear that employers would loose their 'edge' if others knew what they were doing
  • They did not want to have to go to partner colleges for any events

This has made planning the pilot rather interesting, and time consuming for the project partners. As the development team work hard to meet the project deadlines for the pilot the rest of the project team are writing a short pilot plan, including a script for the "welcome" meeting so there is a consistant feel to it.

I have started writing the project update for JISC with the help of Sam (technical) and Mark (budget). It is good to see that the project is still running within the planned timescales, however this relies heavily now on the technical teams achievements. Some items that we would like to have released for the first stage of the pilot will be added as the support point develops due to the small size of our development team.

You will be the first to know when the pilot goes live, and the features available.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Personalisation and Social tools

This is more of a general blog about what I have been up to this week rather than a total focus on the project. I have been to several meetings, including one covering the "dynamic prospectus" with our marketing department. Unfortunately the quotes are needed as this seems to be an idea at the moment rather than something that feels tangible. Further meetings with corporate information confirmed this impression, with their investigation into XCRi.
Another thing that has been keeping me busy is pushing the marketing of the project, including setting up the portal with the right information to be shown on leaflet screen grabs and creating Flash Demos from Wink of both the site and of HIVE and how it fits in to the site and local VLE's
On a side note to all this is the impact of ALT-C, and how people use social software. Since attending the conference I have had some friend requests for facebook, and as a result I have set up a second facebook account for my work persona. There are a number of groups I have got involved in which have got me attached to a few more blogs. In particular Helen Keegans EduSpaces Blog and Steve Wheelers e-learning blogspot have been interesting to read (and added to my Google Reader list) as well as adding myself to the Hood 2.0 facebook group. Another tool I have had my interest revived in is PebblePad - which seems like a handy tool.

Friday, 7 September 2007

ALT-C 2007

As you can see this week I have been attending the ALT-C conference in Nottingham with some colleagues. This has been an interesting event covering some useful subjects for the project including methods of evaluation, although some ideas seemed very restrictive (i.e. just using positive interviewing to gather feedback). It was good to see some very controlled evaluation projects out there, which is difficult for our project but still made for interesting listening. The sessions seemed to be more around the experience for the learner rather than the technology itself which is good as this links into what we are trying to achieve with this project, the other interesting one was how frameworks fit with simply good learning and not with the technology that was being demonstrated. This was particularly clear with the sessions on wikis and I am still to be convinced that they are a useful tool for learning. The main problem seems to be a learners reluctance to change someones work (and who can blame them?). Podcasting is another one where someone mentioned something I have experienced myself - by uploading learning material (in my case learning Italian) onto my MP3 player it would appear during my random playing of music which was annoying and not something I like to experience, this was reflected in their study of learners. I am more likely to use my phone for this content as I don't use it as an MP3 player even though it has the fuctionality, but this requires learners to be using different technologies for different purposes (i.e. MP3 player for entertainment, phone for learning - and how likely is this?).

alt-c 2007 Conference Dinner
flickr photo by Fleur Corfield

Anyway back to the project!
We have now got a new version of lifeRay running on the test server, we are working on getting the look and feel right as the CSS is different in the new version. The Business school have expressed an interest in using the portal for the work placement learners, allowing all of them to access the information in the school relating to that module. Hopefully we will be able to cover this for them reasonably close to the start of the evaluation period - the more the better! We also have a meeting with CI to find out about linking through to course information and learner study history.
For enrolment it looks like we are OK about linking to the university login information, however we are having to think about how we validated who an employer is - it might have to be something the learner does - i.e. notification to learner that the employer has registered and wants to see their information.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007


Had a meeting this morning to discuss access and management of the forums within lifeRay. The main solution to managing the forums is to focus the information much like we already do in Blackboard. Thus tutors will be managing something they already take control of in the VLE. This way link tutors manage the overall generic work based learning forums and the subject specific forums are managed by tutors involved on the course. In order to ensure that the correct tutors get the right permissions we need to ensure that the right information is collected at registration (and kept up to date by the user). We need to ensure we cover main job roles in each of the institutions and the faculties/departments each institution has.
One bonus would be if we can show the different forums under different areas so that they could be under the generic WBL Support page and then the Learner sub category (and those categories under it) are also displayed under Learners Public area as the main category. This is being investigated by the technical team.
The technical team have managed to investigate further into the use of LDAP within lifeRay and copying data across (very like the tool in HIVE) into a local database and it is looking good. It could be an easier issue than previously thought (thanks to the new version of lifeRay - this should be up on our severs by the end of the week). We are planning a meeting with the Corp. Info people for two weeks time so that we can start looking at linking with their data too.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Timescales and planning

Had a few meetings recently, and will be having a few more, about the functionality of the support point and what will be possible for the end of September. The main one is LDAP authentication of users to access data from the university. We will need learners and tutors to go through this process to prove they are who they say they are. We need some way of verifying the employers now :)
Other than authentication we are looking at different ways of giving access to the forums and prioritising the different functions of the support point. To get everything together at once might be difficult but once the pilot is out functionality can be added as we go along. We do need to think about evaluation after the Christmas holidays to look at what everyone thinks, how often they have used it and also if they have any extra requirements that have not been considered.
Rather depressingly I have had no response from those sector skills councils I contacted about RSS feeds so it is looking like another load of emails.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Moving Closer

After a well rested week off I was busy last week catching up on everything the team had been up to as I missed a team meeting. I have also worked at updating the Google Group with all the registration screen shots and what information will be used for each login.

The project will be using its own database for the pilot phase of the project due to the time/ staff restrictions in place and also due to data protection issues. This is mainly because learners don't have to give employers access to their study information even if they have paid for it. This also allows the database to be used for other purposes in the future (i.e. Careers/ Competitive Workforce/ Marketing etc). It is important that we make it clear to all stakeholders involved in the pilot that the information in the site will be viewable by other users (mentors, learners, employers, tutors etc).

Everyone has given the thumbs up to the project leaflet so copies are now being printed and will be going out to project partners and to university staff.

The HIVE meeting went well, I was able to use it easily to upload some learning objects from the last project, however it was less obvious if IMS packages were used how they would be viewable through VLE's etc. The case studies really helped and also gave other departments ideas on how they would be using the repository.

There was also a meeting with AimHigher as we discussed their involvement in the project pilot phase. It was agreed that their role would be more as advisors with regards to setting up the pilots but they will be in charge of any focus groups.

I have contacted a number sector skill councils, based on their websites, about the possibility of them setting up RSS feeds to both their news and events items.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Learners lead the way

We received the final report back from AimHigher WM today, it made for interesting reading and demonstrates where the demo is going right / wrong. It seems learners like information dripped to them and also like more colourful sites (although they also say this is confusing to use...). The project will have to think about how this impacts on the demo site or whether the changes are simply reflected in the next stage of the project - the pilot.

At the start of the week I had a meeting with Sian and Jodie from the competitive workforce department. They are also working on employer engagement with the university and are interested in the project, they have their own employer database. I mentioned that the project is looking at ways to centralise this information, saving employers being contacted by different people keeping their own databases up to date. So far the project has found over 5 different employer databases within the university, they are used for different reasons but hold the same information.

As mentioned last week changes have been made to the demo site based around the pilot document I am writing. The project team are kept up to date with the changes through GoogleGroups. Some new pages have been created including registration pages and others have been changed. I hope they will get some good responses.

Thanks to feedback from the project team the project leaflet is going well and has had a total overhaul. It now includes a number of screenshots from the demo site which I wasn't going to do but it got some positive responses so as long as we are clear they are demonstration pages then we should be ok. I am hoping to get the leaflet confirmed as ok at the next team meeting so we can start using it for promotional purposes.

The SURF WBL-Way project is working with the HIVE repository project at Staffordshire university, as part of this work I have had to consider a number of case studies on how the project will be accessing information from the repository into lifeRay. There is a meeting on this at the start of next week. This also meant changes to the demo screens to clear things in my head. The case study document is now with the project manager so just waiting on feedback.

As I am not here the first week of August I am putting together a list of actions for the next team meeting and things that need to be discussed.

Thursday, 12 July 2007


It's the summer season at the university and colleges so a lot of staff are on holiday, and yes in two weeks time I too will be enjoying a short break. Which will be nice, especially after the rain we have had recently. The project team is data mining at the moment at each college identifying what information they hold and where it is held. I am working on what to do if the data doesn't exist (or exists in an unusable format). Also having to think about the pilot phase which involves checking out all the partner surveys and working out exactly what we want to know. It is looking like a bigger job than initially thought, need to work out how to keep questions short and interesting to the stakeholders. It is making me think more about the functionality and management of the lifeRay site too. I am planning on working on the support point a bit more over the next week.

Attended the fdf conference on Tuesday which made for interesting thinking, they have a number of resources that we could use in the support point, (employer case studies being the best) plus we could give them some of the materials we are creating (i.e. guidelines on validation). Saw a few members of Staffs Uni and SURF at the meeting and managed to do a bit of that project management nagging I seem to be getting a name for!

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Innovating e-learning Event

Last week was a busy one, wasn't very well for a lot of it and had Friday off to see mum in hospital (she is out now). I aslo participated with Mark Stiles and Richard Benefer in a JISC online conference, "Innovating e-learning", we were presenting under the Supporting LifeLong Learning Theme with the presentation based on how we promote work based learning (WBL) and how our project is looking to support wbl stakeholders. We had some interesting comments/ thoughts/ outputs including:

  • Being able to point people to JORUM and SURF WBL outputs
  • Communication is vital for WBL
  • Institution tools (i.e. VLE's) are not suitable vehicles for sharing information with employers
  • Understanding and Supporting the mentor role is still difficult for some institutions
  • Ownership of Learner data - Employer or Learner owned?
  • Getting the Employer to understand:
    • The role of the FE college outside of the more traditional context (16 -19)
    • Understanding the roles of HND against Foundation Degrees
  • SME and bigger companies have different needs for training
  • Difficult to access Work Based Learners access to computers
  • Accessibility of tools being used is important
  • Sharing good practice across HE and FE is vital

Friday, 8 June 2007


Thanks to our presentation at the Welsh conference we have become involved in a working group (WBL/Programme Delivery Group) for employer engagement, engage (a Higher Education Authority funded employer engagement project), I presented at the meeting held this week at Loughborough University and spoke about some of the experiences of the original WBL project, on the AimHigher report the WBL-Way project had commissioned and also on the experiences of project partners when talking about supporting work based learning at HE level in FE. Some interesting things were discussed at the meeting:

  • Employer definitions of WBL are varied and confused

  • Employers want students fit for purpose, interested in courses with accreditation at modular level

  • Need to look at Change Management approach to learning, considering company strategies in developing courses for individuals

  • Employers not interested in point in time qualifications but in capability and confidence in their employees (qualification output but not goal of training).
  • Case studies are important to help employers, learners and mentors understand their roles in WBL
  • Often large companies have outsourced Human Resources, IT etc so it is important for the WBL-Way project to develop a Staff Development Area rather than a personnel or HR area (this links back to the last WBL-Way project meeting)
  • Templates and guidelines would be considered useful, this included the UfI's learning contract, there was an interest expressed about how Staffordshire University looked at mentoring (I need to sort out the last projects documents on mentoring and send them to the group).

The engage project has already created a number of useful outputs, including developing a WBL-Journey for the Employee mindmap which I have passed on to the WBL-Way project partners.

The WBL-Way project had a team meeting this week, still keeping to the first Thursday in each month, and we managed to get one partner senior manager to attend it - a real achievement! It is looking like this will lead to further meetings about how we can fit our project into their own strategies. Will keep you posted!

Thursday, 31 May 2007

e-learning at the cusp

Went to an event held at Stoke campus yesterday, once again it raised the issue of the use of Web 2.0 in an educational context, and the idea of the student being in control of their learning - to the point one institution calls their learners "researchers". Another interesting presentation was Mark Stiles' 'Living with the Uncontrollable' his framework made me think about what tools should the institution recognise, embed in the learning and take control of.

This project has been looking at providing one point of access to a number of stakeholders of not only institutional information but information personal to that stakeholder (i.e. blogs / rss feeds/ favourites (, this information would not be controlled by the institution but just displayed by lifeRay. This is the best solution to encourage stakeholders to use the access point as a single reference for those either unfamiliar with information available to them or for those who need one area for all of their information.

As stakeholders gain familiarity with the information we can provide to them the more I wonder whether we need to take this a step further and look beyond the project.....allowing the institutional information to be accessed through authenticated rss feeds? Or using standard widgets which would allow them to be plugged into those tools we are using for project management (Google homepage, yahoo!, Flock, MS Live)? I will have to revisit this thought once we have managed to have a (successful!) pilot of the support access point.

Useful Links
Google Gadgets (Personalised Homepage) :
Yahoo! Widgets:
MS Live Gadgets:

Monday, 14 May 2007

Information Information Information

Well the course descriptions are looking like, that to begin with at least, the information will be at university level, with links to the college websites. In most cases it does not look like the colleges have a database of course information, or a single point of contact for employers trying to find information on local HE courses. This again can be a problem for the project.

Managed to attend a SURF meeting last week and disseminated information about the project, we have been asked to run an event for tutors on the ground in the near future. It is looking like we might be able to squeeze into an existing training day as it links to the QAA looking at FE's support for HE. Have found a hidden bonus database held at the university outside of the main corporate information which includes information on validation and foundation degrees and lets people know the status of the awards.

The project has been worried about the terms used in both HE and FE and are trying to build a glossary. Due to the university having a Portal we have started this off by saying as a project we are creating a "Work Based Learning Support Point" rather than calling it a portal. We have also made the decision that we will be going ahead with the use of lifeRay as the software to support the project.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Course Information

One of the things raised as a task is to look at Course descriptors and how they are handled at the different colleges and the university. This is interesting as a quick evaluation of websites shows the same foundation degree has two different course descriptors - depending which college is delivering it. When we look at putting this information into a link in a portal showing foundation degrees run by the consortium do we link to the course information held by the colleges or the information held by the university? From a good will point of view we could look at both - but that could get confusing. How do we handle this information? Perhaps a main link to the unversity generic descriptor then links to the local colleges information (but that would have to assume that the college information is held in a database with matching codes). Perhaps the colleges information (and the unversities) should be pushed to the repository before going to the portal?

Monday, 23 April 2007

Settings and Permissions

I have been working on trying to set up a HR Managers area in the test portal (LifeRay), a Managers area and a Learners area. Before completing this hit a couple of fundermental issues for different groups seeing simular information and also sharing information across users. I think it is based on my understanding of roles and communities within the portal so even with permissions across groups the different users could not see the same information, and the end user could do too much across the portal, as we are hoping to make it mostly a push site. Hopefully Sam will be able to sort it out. We have managed to give the portal the same colour scheme as the project website which is nice :) I have set up a HR Managers area with loads of information in it that seems to make sense. I have passed the information on to the team to check out and also now waiting to see what they think of the portal.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Presentations and Use Cases

I have (fingers crossed) now finished the final report for the SURF WBL project so now I can put that project to bed, oh no how could I forget dissemination?! Have a number of events coming up relating to both the SURF WBL project and the SURF WBL-Way project. Off to Bradford this week to help contribute to a project that is planning to use the learning objects from the SURF WBL project within a personal learning space for students on Foundation Degrees. Next week involves a trip to Taunton and the week after I am spending some time in Wales. I have a number of presentations, workshops and papers to put together which is going to keep me busy. We are also planning to publicise the projects using the in house newsletter IS Connections.

SURF WBL-Way need not feel neglected - I am working hard with the LDI team to try and get a working demonstration in place for the portal. This includes getting the layout to look good and the tools to look useful. A main start was the logo selection at the last project meeting and sitting down with Sam to think about Use Cases based on the partner interviews and also on the report by AimHigher. Meanwhile the project partners are working at identifying gaps in our supporting materials to go on the portal.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Spring time

Spring is in the air, portals are up and running, things are looking sunny in the project world of SURF WBL-Way.

For the last few weeks Sam and I have been looking at the employer database, now that we have spoken to the Corporate and Student information teams we have a better idea of how things fit together and can now push something to Mark and back to the Corporate information team.

The marketing team have managed to come up with a logo we are all happy with (bar the colour) so will be able to get that up on our site in the next two weeks (the marketing contact has the next week on holiday) and it can also go onto our demonstration portal. The team meeting went well, with ideas being spoken about how to get marketing involved from the different colleges, and at what stage that should happen. We spoke about getting the demo a bit more polished before showing it externally so I have two days planned with Ray to get it looking good with demo content.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

From the very begining..

Due to the creation of materials for supporting foundation degrees in the SURF WBL project we were contacted by CWT the Coventry Chamber of Commerce Training firm. They were given our details from foundation degree forward, one of our project partners for both the WBL project and the WBL-Way project. It is good to know that our materials are being disseminated outside of our own dissemination days. They have been given access to our Moodle site and some learning objects have been emailed over to them based on their requests and discussions(Negotiated Learning, the Project, Mentoring handbook).

I organised a meeting looking at supporting them in creating a foundation degree in Leadership and Management based on REAL work based learning. This is very interesting for the SURF WBL-Way project as it has allowed me to see the very start of the process of what happens when someone expresses an interest in running a foundation degree. We had a very profitable meeting yesterday with the university (Rex), SURF (Richard), CWT, and foundation degree forward attending along with Mark and myself. It was interesting to see the very start as due to the project I have been working through student enrolement, validation and award setup but not this side. Hopefully some of the information we collected at this meeting can be used for guidance for other people wanting to set up foundation degrees, such as:

  • Collect a list of existing internal training - including learning outcomes
  • Collect a list of professional training employees have attended
  • Think about the setup for the award (including do you want to embed existing training / x days + assessment = 15 credits?)
  • What would be considered a critical success (for measuring against in the future) for the company
  • Expected numbers of students
  • Frequency of award being delivered
  • Starting date of award
  • Does the company want to deliver the courses or do they want the university to do it?

These are some of the basic points I have picked up on, and we are organising another meeting in May to carry on work in this area. It was surprising that they felt that they had to push their project back from being ASAP to being delivered next year as they perceived universities as being shut over the summer. We have been able to move their project forward much quicker than they hoped and may be something we need to consider on our portal is letting employers know that we are available to help them regardless of the time of year.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Meetings, Conferences and too many teas!

After talking to corporate information it seems we were on the right line with the employer database and it looks like we can use existing database fields for the portal including allowing employers to search awards based on subject fields from JACs (although we will need to hide the term JAC’s!). Thanks to student registration we capture company name when the student fees are being paid for by the employer, and this links in nicely with the results of Stokes student survey. By linking the company to a learner we are linking them to awards, the question is how we handle histories, for example what happens if a learner switches employer during their studying? We also don’t hold (at the moment) much information at award level, rather just at module level at the moment.

The Shock of the Social was an interesting conference, Terry Anderson covered some interesting points as the key note speaker talking about the decline of the compliant learner and the fact that content on its own had no value and that it needs to be linked to pedagogy. He went on to say that there needs to be a change and the systems need to conform to the learner rather than the learner conforming to the system. This appeared to missed by some of the other speakers who focused on fitting social “web 2.0” tools into existing systems, i.e. Blackboard / Moodle. The main thing about moving forward is putting the learner in control and in the centre of the tools, not the institution. The SPIRE project shows that young learners do not accept institutional systems as well as older learners, this could be as they have found their own tools and would rather use them (

Paul Wall followed this up with looking at roles of traditional IT teams and using social internet tools within institutions. He looked at institutions needing to pick portable tools, able to use across systems and the presentation layer of using existing tools. This linked in well with the SURF WBL-Way project which is looking at a number of tools that will fit within a presentation layer created by the university, using information across selected tools. For example information from the repository could be delivered to a number of different tools including VLE’s, News Feeds, HTML pages etc. Blogs appeared to be the technology of the day with some different ways of supporting learners and delivery of assessment. Although the big problem still appears to be the learner can’t pick the tool, it is chosen for them. There are reasons for this including tutor management. One of the main drivers to getting learners to use these chosen tools is still linking it to assessment, there was little coverage on what learners do on their own time, with their own tools.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Coordination across projects

Had a really good meeting with Sue Lee (LDI) about a project she has been working on with some colleagues with the Creative Arts team. They have requested a portal similar in requirements to what we are doing in the project, we have taken it in under our project umbrella but should give us an in into colleges not directly involved in the project. Also combines well with the project group being set up by the SURF office.

I have been asked to deliver a presentation at JORUM next week “from the outside looking in”. It could be interesting, especially as we have been collating comments from other institutions as we demonstrate the last project outputs.

Tried to use Yahoo in the same way I have been looking at Microsoft Live Homepage and Google Personalised Homepage, unfortunately at the moment it looks like Yahoo have some way to go before getting the functionality and usability to the same level as these more mature tools and wont be something I recommend to the team to use instead of the Google / Live options. It could just be me but these two tools seem much more mature and more flexible than the Yahoo! Personalised Homepage. It seems that all these companies are embedding more options within their email tool rather than making the options modular – which could be more of a way forward, i.e. Google calendar with your Yahoo! Email and your live blog. We will have to see. Got a busy two weeks ahead – will have to try and keep this blog updated as I go!

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Validation and Employer Engagement

Spoke to QIS (Quality Improvement Services) about validation documents and information given to tutors, employer etc involved in setting up foundation degrees. It is clear that the same information is given out regardless of the stakeholder. The QIS service has recognised that they need to review the information that goes out to either the colleges or employers as the documents have been written in academic terms. They are already going to be involved in the project through a mini project being run by the SURF office, especially looking at best practice and the possibility of creating templates for staff to download and complete. In discussing templates we got on to talking about XCRi and how the QIS could use parts of it for their programme specification. I have promised to send them some of the materials created from the WBL project for review and in turn I have got some QIS documents around validation to review.

On the case of more meetings about employer engagement Mark and I had a meeting with Rex Hollyman, this went really well. Especially as Rex came up with some more uses of a centralised employer database. Rex reflected on the same issues raised at the colleges of communication to/from the institution and the employer. Most of this would be the future as a CRM system but some could be implemented earlier. His department is also looking at converting ALL their materials into e-learning objects. Their focus will be on distance learners and in creating learning objects more "wizzy" than the first project as they are focusing totally on supporting the learner. I have spent some time with him to show him everything done by the first project. They are looking to get funding for this project so I have helped with the terms in the bid. Fingers crossed we should have a good working relationship with Rex and his team. I should be getting access to their materials for the project to see if anything can be used to support the portal. Anything their team does will be useable through the Harvest Road repository too.

Tomorrow it’s another meeting to discuss a smaller project being run by the LDI team and one of the faculties and whether it fits within the reaches of this project.

In between gaps in meetings I have been thinking about screens and information and have started putting fingers to keyboard over generic content but need to see what everyone thinks yet.

Monday, 12 March 2007

HE in FE and using uPortal

Last Fridays meeting in London was very successful with some interesting talks on foundation degrees in FE. Foundation degree forward did a presentation that reflected on simular experiences to our own, and resulted in a conversation about getting feeds from them with regards to tenders from employers looking for universities to develop / validate foundation degrees. The presentation reflected what Richard Benefer was saying in last weeks meeting that it is clear that HE language a barrier, and that it is important to develop personal links between the employer and the institution for successful foundation degrees. The meeting also made me think more about our portal and some of the tools they might like. Which lead to this mornings research into uPortal.

In trying to understand more about uPortal and its possibilities I found the case studies site where you can see a number of implementations of uPortal within education. It was interesting to see how some places already use personalisation for students/ staff to link to external tools such as the BBC News, local weather channels etc. One interesting tour was:

This all links back to getting information to employers, like feeds from fdf, sector skills councils etc. It might be an idea to allow employers to change colours etc to match the branding at work rather than using Staffordshire branding.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

March Team Meeting

Had a team meeting today and was able to get some real thoughts together around the scoping of the project, including scenarios and identifying stakeholders. See the screenshots below for information discussed. Some work still needs to be done by the colleges on scenarios and they need to blog their experiences with trying to engage employers with the project.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007


Had an interesting couple of days, been looking at collaborative and social working (web 2.0 for a better term) still and the different tools available and how they could hang together. Microsoft have taken a step towards compatibility with allowing Google tools to be viewable through their Live homepage. I can now have Google calendars etc on this site. Wonder if Yahoo! are doing something similar?

Had a meeting this morning going though support needed to help with the development/ validation of foundation degrees, only to come back into my office to find someone requesting my help with a foundation degree they are trying to set up in Coventry. They had been given my name from the first project. After attending a dissemination event down in Bedfordshire it reinforces the fact that there doesn't appear to be anywhere to go for help on this subject. Hopefully we will be getting some input from those at that event too.

Got a group meeting this Thursday and fingers crossed some scoping should come out of it ready for Sam to run with.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Back Again

I have been back for 4 days from the wedding and honeymoon and the partners have been working on the scoping of the project while I have been away, and have set up their own blog sites to record their experiences (see links on the right). The Google group I have set up has been busy; we are using the beta version so the partners have put up a couple of documents I have had to comment on.

Mark and I went to Bedfordshire University CETL yesterday to promote the resources from the first WBL project and the new project. We had a wonderful turn out of very friendly people, who are battling with the same issues as the SURF consortium with running foundation degrees, getting employer involvement, understanding the roles of mentors and using APEL. Feedback about existing materials from the SURF WBL project was extremely positive, and some people have offered to help with the WBL-Way project. A success all round.

Next week is going to be busy; we have a meeting with our SURF office to discuss supporting validation and looking at how to put together an employer database that would help the SURF office as well as faculties. We end the week with a presentation in London for the RSC.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Getting Married! :)

I am off now for two weeks, getting married and very excited! I have passed on a number of tasks to the team, including starting their own blogs up, I will link to them when I get back.

The other tasks include focusing on the scope of the project, what is wanted by employers, tutors etc. After a meeting this morning had some good overlap between project goals and the university plans including setting up a CRM database for employers. This will link to work already being started by the Corporate Information team. We have to put a specification together around the requirements of the project to see how it can all fit together. I can definitely see that once the information is in a central place how it could be queried by different people for different things.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Harvest Road Training

Last week was spent mostly in Harvest Road Hive training, looking at the issues of implementing a repository not only in the university but sharing it across SURF for the purpose of the project. There were a number of issues raised, including some of the same issues seen at all repository installations such as meta data, version control, permissions and managing copyright. Initial thoughts would be that access to the repository for SURF WBL-Way will be purely through web page interfaces. We have to think about the users accessing the portal, and therefore the repository, and what type of access we should give them, this could include the very restrictive option of being able to search the repository, see the summary of the materials, but not actually view the materials themselves. Other options for displaying information from Hive include being able to pull information out of the repository as rss feeds, or creating widgets.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007


The last project meeting got quite a lot agreed in the end with regards to project tools to be used. The last project used a WIKI for communication but soon was unweildy and became difficult to find anything, I think the main problem was with the management as it really needed more time than any one person could spend on it. This time we have started looking at online tools that can be pulled together in an online environment such as Google Personalised Homepage (GPH), I have been using this successfully for some time for management of my own time as it means one place to go no matter where I am. We have hit some issues, such as colleges blocking some of the more useful tools, or stopping staff from installing new browsers available such as Flock. Although investigation showed that although Flock is a good community tool its remit was too wide for the project and did not work/ layout was messy with some of the tools we wanted to use.

I have been pleased with the take up of the use of GPH by the team as it means that we can personalise the tools we use and get them all together in one place. At the moment I am the only one with a blog but I am hoping the others will set up their own. The main problem now is how to share documents, as we don't need the collaborative aspect of Google Documents and we need to display folder structures so we can't use Google Groups Beta. A lot of the free tools out there seem to be limited or can't be added nicely to GPH, or other personalised environments. I would love a plugin to GPH for DriveHQ that works like the gadget.

Monday, 22 January 2007


Bit of an eventful week with the wind causing everyone to be evacuated from the Beaconside campus on Thursday afternoon. Fortunately I was in Wolverhampton on the Friday for an AimHigher event as the campus was closed until Monday. The AimHigher event had a keynote speech by Stephen Gardner (Director of Work based learning National LSC) and the questions asked by the group raised the same issues as we have been hearing within this project, problems with getting employer involvement, issues with funding for employers, businesses too small to afford to send employees to be trained, employers scared of losing highly trained staff, students have a lack of understanding progression from non traditional level 1, 2, and 3, students reluctant to raise training with employer for fear they should be seen to want to leave. Some of these issues are already being addressed with websites such as AimHigher's getupgo and the alps sites. I think it's going to be important to link to these external sites to help guide learners, and potential learners. Perhaps there should be a FAQ area in the portal for each type of person we are trying to help with links to other sites.

Monday, 15 January 2007

New Year

Well the new year is now in full swing. I have been focusing on finalising the last SURF WBL project with only some of the time spent working on the new WBL-Way project. I seem to be spending my time organising meetings for it at the moment. I did have an interesting conversation with one of my colleagues with regards to requirements of employers and award leaders involved in foundation degrees. It seems the main point raised was the fact that it would be good to give employers access to the same materials that the learners see, another point raised was to give them an idea of employers already involved in foundation degrees (something prospective students are also interested in) within their area. Work has continued with disseminating the two projects and a great forum for this was the TENCompetence conference held in Manchester at the end of last week. I have also been contacted by the RSC London team to visit in March to present at their HE in FE forum. This week I am at an AimHigher West Midlands meeting in Wolverhampton.

TENCompetence raised a number of thoughts:

  • That the learner should be in control of their environment, and that universities should be the "middle man" in providing access to tools, and to manage the complexity of technologies out there, and learners themselves appreciated the fact that they could take skills learnt in using existing tools across subjects. Mark Johnson spoke about this at the conference in more detail.
  • Shared materials across institutions providing the same course showed a decrease in the drop out rate of over 40% to 10% with the use of a single source of materials shared across the institutions. Each lecturer used the source materials rather than their own materials. (John Casey)