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 (http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2007/03/16/some-real-data-on-web-20-use/).

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: http://www.csuchico.edu/stcp/portal/portaltour/.

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.