Monday, 27 October 2008

Linking systems and information

Just had an interesting session with the head of Information Services, to talk about how the university handles course information and its different purposes. This is linked to the fact that during August we lost links to the course information from the website from within the Support Point. It raised some interesting points about looking at the reason behind existing databases, how they are very focused to different business purposes and whether it is right to expand their purpose. A big thing is if their purpose is expanded to include new audiences how is this managed? Are we going to start putting too much pressure on Faculties to manage this data?

This is a good point as the has a definate marketing focus on the traditional learner, therefore both the course search and results are targeted at that type of person. With the Support Point the target is either employers or employees looking for awards in a particular sector, and rather than looking at what entry requirements they need they are more interested in progression information and location of study. So how is this managed? Information overload!

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Successful Launch

Well I am now fully recovered from yesterdays launch, which went well. We did have a lot of positive comments about the usefulness of the support point, although there where concerns about the usability of the site and how those uncomfortable with technology would find it. This concern was mainly focused around the use of the Forums. A few bugs were found in the system, but this was mainly due to work the technical team were doing the day before to make the site look more polished. On the whole a positive experience which shows a real need by staff for this tool and for the functionality it gives.
Here is a couple of the presentations given during the morning:

Prof Mark Stiles Welcome and Background

Fleur Corfield gives a brief breakdown of the Support Point

Friday, 26 September 2008

Testing for Wednesday

With the launch coming up the technical team are working hard with testing to ensure everything works smoothly next week. We have over 30 people registered for the event with a number from the partner colleges, which is great news. The technical team even booked the room we are using for testing today so we were all sat at laptops going through what we were expecting to do on the Wednesday. Fortunately on the whole everything went well. There were a few bugs found in the system and I now have a few to dos to do from comments from the LDI team. This includes putting some images against the demo accounts so people can see how the forums work and making sure all the links work. Sam is going through and proof reading things and changing the look of the site, and is hoping to have this done by end of play Tuesday, cutting things a bit fine but as it is a spit and a polish will not effect functionality. I have put some simple questions in the forums for people to answer after the activities so we should get some meaningful feedback from the event too.

Monday, 15 September 2008

ALT-C 2008

I am back in the office after a good week at ALT-C, even though the event was over three days last week I was still thinking about it on Friday and sharing my experience with colleagues through pebblepad. Hopefully my notes make sense! It was an interesting experience with lots of discussion around social networking and using web 2.0 tools to support learners, although most of the focus was still around traditional learners there were some talks specific to WBL, including the one we did during the graveyard session (9am the day after the conference dinner) we had a turn out of over 40 and presented along with a paper on supporting prisoners as learners, the development of a Fd supported across Wales in eCommerce for Small Businesses and understanding the Net Generation in Eastern Australia. I know the technical team have been working on HIVE over the last few weeks, and this is important if we want it to work correctly with the Support Point but with the Launch coming up soon I will need to check that everything is running well and data is correct. I also need to check the status of setting up the hardware and make sure that we have people from each of the colleges in the consortium. So far we have attendance from Stafford University, Stafford College and Burton on Trent.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Date set and planning ahead

The event is set for 1st October, at Staffordshire University and will be held over a morning, with lunch at the end. I have now posted information about the event in the WBL Google Calendar that we created for the project, the Support Point itself and I am also looking to publicise it through the WBL Moodle site and using email and posters at partner colleges. The date is slightly short notice but fingers crossed people (learners, employers, mentors, tutors etc!) will be interested in attending.

This week I will aslo be preparing my presentation for ALT-C and getting ready for the monthly team meeting on Thursday.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Looking forward

After a short team meeting (due to it being Summer break) I went to see Shrewsbury on site last week to discuss what the project was planning as they missed the project meeting. It was a good thing I went as they reminded me it was not long to the ALT-C conference and that I needed to sort out the presentation for it. Time is just flying at the moment. We also discussed the idea of a launch party - this has been agreed to, it is just a matter of picking a date that the team can attend, and that gives us the conference facilities at Stafford. Once a date has been picked I am planning to speak to the Employer Engagement dept again about getting employers to attend.
As we move towards the end of the project we are still doing a lot of work on the Support Point - this includes more work on the portlet that links to the MIS data (TheSiS) and checking links to the Staffordshire website as the site has been updated and most of the URL's used by the Support Point have changed. We are also hoping to get some new portlets in place by the end of the project that link to HIVE, and I need to give some thought and investigation time into what information is used with the content that goes in (IMS 1.3 etc). As already mentioned as this is now core business work will continue beyond the project and work done in other projects will impact on what we can do in the Support Point.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Employers are the way forward

Had an interesting meeting today with the Director of Sales and Student Recruitment. She is running an Employer Engagement Project that fits nicely with the work already taken within SURF WBL-Way. This project is on a larger scale than this project, however our experiences will be informing on the work, and it looks like the Support Point will be used to support Employer engagement beyond the projects initial scope once we have finished in October. It is good to see that the Support Point has a real value within the university beyond strategies and policies and the partner colleges involved in the project. Some of the changes being implemented by the Employer Engagement Project will have a direct impact on the Support Point, including extra fields in our Corporate Information Systems that will allow direct linking to learners and employers where the award is for a specific employer and a standard language that should be used when talking to employers.

We have a team meeting this week where we will be looking at promoting the site within Induction at the partner colleges, and also thinking about workshops that involve all the stakeholders. Perhaps we need to look at a "launch party"?

Oh, and I have confirmation that the new PebblePad will be installed at Staffordshire late August!

Monday, 21 July 2008

Getting Lost

As I mentioned last Monday I attended the JISC 08 Innovation Forum. I attended the three sessions around sustainability, these sessions held some interesting conversations. I was interested to see the different models around supporting project outputs after the project ended. The first session showed how one institution had recognised a number of failures in developing project outputs beyond the initial projects (these were websites created around data sets). However they were more hopeful of future projects and had developed a model of generating income from subscriptions outside of the UK.
During the breaks in sessions more useful conversations took place, from discovering a new version of some software which might be of use to the project (PebblePad now pulls in information from the institutions MIS systems, and is being developed to pull information out of PebblePad to sites such as Monster / UCAS - does this mean we can pull information into the Support Point - and deliver it to employers etc?) to talking to librarians about the restrictive use of VLE's and allowing learners and other parties promoted "guest" access to different courses. I also discovered a plugin could be available for HIVE that will create RSS feeds for new content added, which would be very useful for the project.
On the title - well on the way back from Keele we were supposed to be going to Stoke station, but the taxi driver tried to take us to Crewe! We only noticed 5 miles from Crewe that we were going in the wrong direction, fortunately we left in enough time to catch the right connections.
The technical manager is off for the next week while the technical team are working towards embedding a FAQ Wiki into the Support Point.

Monday, 14 July 2008


The last few weeks have been spent publicising the work done in the project. The first event was last week at Bradford, part of supporting the SpaCED-FD project, this was a two day conference involving tutors, learners and employers. Those who attended showed a high level of interest in both the resources created and the support point and how it could be used to develop a support community beyond one institution. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the second event attended today, this event was held at Stoke college and hopefully the experiences and issues raised from this event will be raised on their blog. The main problem at this event was the lack of involvement employers & mentors appeared to have with the awards beyond the work based learning project. Another was ensuring tutors had access to the right systems at the university, and in this case were aware of what they should be able to access as opposed to what they could access.
Later this week I will be attending a JISC Event in Keele, where I am planning to look at sustainability beyond the life of a project. This is already looking good for the support point, with discussions with college staff on how the support point can be embedded into the learners induction so that they can continue to drive the site, and encourage tutors and employers to develop stronger relationships.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

From acorns

From wish lists back in 2007 the Support Point getting the features in 2008...the team have worked hard and are still doing great work in finding useful data in their systems.
In the meantime take a quick peak at what a manager can see:

Monday, 16 June 2008

Keeping Fit

Well the techie team has been working hard and its looking like they have the liferay performance issues licked. This was causing some problems with liferay only plodding on rather than running at full speed - giving problems for the pilot so hopefully they are now all sorted and people will no longer be experiencing a time lag in its use.
The project team meeting went well and I am pleased with the way the team is looking at different methods of keeping the employers & mentors engaged with the site, this has included two of the partners investigating sharing their attendance data with the Support Point.
I did a workshop last week at the Technology Supported Learning Conference at Staffordshire University around the Support Point. There was some interesting discussions around supporting stakeholders in WBL, and not many institutions seem to be involved in delivering the support given through the Support Point, and tutors seemed very interested in using it (or promoting the idea of it in their own institution). Hopefully the conference feedback will come back to me soon so I can use it in the ALT-C presentation.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Busy May

I have had a busy May with lots of travelling to promote the SURF WBL-Way project and a week off to enjoy the first bit of sunshine for this year. We have received some good news today - we will be presenting a short paper at the ALT-C 2009 Conference in Leeds later this year.
Work has been progressing well with the Support Point, with enhancements added from comments at the last project meeting. I am looking at seeing if we can embed extra RSS feeds from Inute as a resource for both learners and tutors - this again would be linked to subjects that they are linked to. On a plus side JORUM resources will become easier to access with the launch of JORUM Open which will be happening in the future. We will have to consider which license we want to put resources into JORUM now - should anyone be able to access it or should it be limited to tutors etc as it is now? The biggest concern with our resources is that it includes Tutor guidelines. However HIVE should help with this allowing two IMS packages - 1 for the tutor and 1 for the learner, which can both be sent to JORUM as URLs.
The project is coming to an end in October so we want a system that can be built on and managed by the normal IS team. Even so it is hard to stop thinking about where we would like it to go next and how we can use it further within SURF. Still we need to get this first stage completed before moving forward.
We got some positive feedback from our project update which was nice, and I am planning to catch up with the other project summary that was sent out by the Programme Manager, David, as soon as I can.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Together we will find a way

Well it has been an interesting week with a meeting with Corporate Information and the team working on the university MyPortal project. As Sam and I were talking to the team it was obvious that there was some overlap in the work being done and that, theoretically at least, portlets could sit within both the MyPortal and Support Point. However there were some very obvious, and already acknowledged issues.
MyPortal can not deal with non university linked stakeholders (i.e. college support staff, employers, mentors etc) this is partly due to the fact that it is heavily designed to support Staffordshire University learners and tutors and partly due to the licensing agreement for the backend system. Another main influencing factor is the lack of technology to support Personalised Fedorated Access - along with the need for each institution involved to understand their existing Identity Management. The Support Point has been able to work around this, as it is opensource and we have given users the ability to self register if they sit outside Staffordshire University. There are also combined resource limitations between the two teams.
It was interesting to see the University view and how feedback was handled between the university and the MyPortal team, and to see what portlets they have developed / are developing. We have offered to pass on any portlets they might find useful - including the ones designed around the repository. They have already been able to link users to groups by faculty/award/ module for targeted announcements (something we are looking at) but the biggest step forward is the agreement on both sides to see if we can link together so if a user has signed on to one system and they go to the other, they do not have to sign on again. It seems small steps forward is the answer.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Embedding, Reuse and Life

It has been an interesting two weeks, with a number of meetings with different people and writing a new bid for a project linked to this one. So where to start?

Had a meeting with the FCET elearning coordinator as a follow up from the last FCET meeting and had a wide range of discussions around elearning, supporting WBL and the use of emerging technologies within the university for all. This linked very nicely into the SURF WBL project and the WBL-Way project as they have asked for a "hands off" approach, where employers are told about the service, I have created the guide and passed it on to them. Will have to see if this approach gets any more people involved. At the same time I reminded those already engaged with the project that things were moving forward and not to forget to use the Support Point - and sent them a copy of the same guide.

I also managed to use the JISC Conference in Birmingham to talk to a number of people about the project, and leave leaflets about it and the WBL project on the JORUM stand! This was an interesting day, especially those talks focusing on identity management which is where I see the next big thing for the university as we become more engaged with supporting WBL.

Other meetings I have attended have been around supporting WBL within the University and on Foundation Degrees such as Business Start Up, the department involved in delivering this award has shown an interest in using the Support Point as a central contact point for mentors to talk to learners on a group basis and the use of materials from the repository in the Learning Through Work Site. They also have a copy of the registeration guide!

Oh and Sam and I have managed to complete the Project Update document!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Reusing in action

I know that this blog focuses on the SURF WBL-Way project but as I was promoting this project to our Computing, Engineering and Technology faculty I was pleased to hear that they had successfully used outputs from the SURF WBL project and that they had been able to use content from the Mentor Handbook in a presentation to help mentors involved in Work Based Learning understand their roles more. I am hoping to get a copy of the presentation and the revised Mentor Handbooks from validation to add to the repostitory and then share with everyone registered in the Support Point. At this meeting I was asked to work on creating a support document for Employers so that they could see why they would use the Support Point and how they can register so that they can tell their employers without the face to face sessions used by the pilot. They were happy with the fact that this was a pilot and problems would be expected but felt the value of the Support Point outwayed any teething problems they might have.

I also managed to find out that there are still problems with faculties access templated documents for SURF colleges rather than for Staffordshire University, traditional, learners. I need to chase this one up so that they can also be accessed through the Support Point.

The project meeting was this morning and feedback has been possitive about initial pilot experiences. Two of the colleges are actively promoting the support point with employers, learners, tutors and mentors, with the final college promoting it in the next two weeks. We had a short discussion based around how the Support Point was developing and how it matched the initial project plan. We are very pleased with how it is going but recognise that some problems will not be resolved in the project as hoped these include:- authentication of support staff at colleges, service access to information at colleges to get information, and information not consistant across partner colleges.

It was felt that users at partner colleges needed a clear message sent out that the Support Point is an information access point rather than a tool where they input information about their learners.

Mark mentioned that with HarvestRoad becoming part of JiuntiLabs, it looks like we will be able to get a built in SCORM player for HIVE that will work with our IMS packages, and Mark is looking at seeing if we can be involved in being Beta testers for this software. This would take a great deal of effort out of inputting all the WBL objects in the repository.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Plymouth, mentors, work based learning and Blogging

What a title but I think I should have covered it all! Mark and I went down to the Plymouth e-Learning conference, where Mark was the Key Note speaker. This had a lot of interesting things going on around work based learning, control and innovation (based on Marks talk), and "Web 2.0". Plymouth have a JISC project called Uspace, where they are looking at using iGoogle as a portal for their learners, and it will be interesting to see how they link that to university systems and authentication, at the moment most tools they are using appear to be those linked to Google, although they also link to their internal elgg installation. Another interesting point will be whether employers let learners access it at work (barriers on control/ what is learning and what is social). They have taken the approach that each partner college has their own tab within iGoogle - this is something that we will be looking at during the next meeting.

Other interesting issues linked to: Will learners really use devices they have for entertainment/social networking for learning? Previous studies have shown this to be unlikely so will we be able to encourage technology relating to learning as well as their other devices - or can we piggie back on devices they use for work? Are they happier using work/ personal devices as opposed to learning/ personal devices? No easy answers were there but still need to be considered and investigated.

The conference showed a move towards blogging in everyday learning, with learners now starting to complain that they have to reflect on too much. Where blogging has not joined the mainstream feedback shows the reason they like to do it is because it is new and different. I found it interesting one study appeared to have written their own blogging tool with a template for feedback in a certain way, the learners using this complained about the limited functionality and they had not been asked that if they had been given the template to go into their own blogging tool would they have been happier?

As we look at the Support Point and consider how the learner is being encouraged to blog their experiences will we have to think about linking learner blogs to different modules? And will the learner have to start thinking about different blogs for those modules? How will they be able to manage this experience?

Anyway enough of the questions!

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Moving on up

Have had a busy few weeks, and a few more ahead with the pilot taking off, features being rated with the technical team, and attending a few conferences. Last week was particularly interesting as I met one of the employers involved in the pilot based in Shrewsbury, plus one of the tutors involved. I am not going to say much here, just read Shrewsburys blog which should be out today or tomorrow.

This week I have been looking again at tools on the web that could be used to assist in learning and could also be embedded into the Support Point as tools for the learner etc. This included investing Diigo (nice) Shelfari (OK) and Squidoo (very good, similar to Pageflakes, and have set up a WBL page - which is referenced now in Diigo and Facebook) It is nice to see how some of these tools now fit together, and it will be interesting to see how they work for dissemination of project work.

Thanks to the project team rating features for the project on the roles of Learner and Educational Support Staff/ Tutor we have been able to put a plan together for developing the features and releasing them into the support point. Some of the features overlap with Mentor and Managers so progress should be fairly quick once we get started. We can't rate employer type features until a few more get involved in the project and see what is available.

On the plus side it looks like calendars in the University and the linking to online tools and software within the University is now being investigated beyond the project which should help with getting the information into the Support Point in a usuable format.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Meetings and Issues

Had an interesting week that has involved a get together at Birmingham for those involved in JISC projects (see and a project meeting within two days of each other. Found that some of the same issues in our project are reflected in the community around work based learning including:

  • Although Fds follow fdf models during validation by delivery they have changed, including the loss of the mentor role due to the nature of the learner and/or employer
  • Learners can get conflicting information due to being part of a FE and a HE institution
  • Learners & Tutors are confused about resources and support tools available to them from the validating institution
  • Employers don't like other employers to know they are engaged with WBL
  • Employers only want limited involvement in WBL
  • Applications supporting learner administration are often not linked and involve duplication of work
  • Good practice can only be replicated where all the conditions are the same, and therefore often needs modifying to fit the new purpose (audience, delivery method etc)
  • Learners don't have access to similar technologies in the work place
  • Course descriptors are often modified immediate need
  • Course support documentation created to support validation and not the stakeholders involved in the award.
  • Access and Authentication a big problem, not just across consortium's but with mentors, employers etc needing to access materials/ data

So its a list, a long one and most need some serious thought to being addressed. In most cases there needs to be a change in Business processes, and a change in policy (and to quote from Mark Stiles, there needs to be a change in perspective from restricting to enabling).

On a lighter note it is good to see the ning group grow and some of the inputs have been very interesting.

Monday, 10 March 2008


I am thinking about ways of making life more easy and centralising information about university calendars and then how they will fit within the Support Point, the University website and its own portal. I am really pleased with the calendar spreadsheet I have started and shared with the Student Information team, who seem happy with it. I will have to look at a way of sharing it with the community.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Start Spreading the Word

As the project moves forward there is more need to spread the word, one opportunity made available to us was through the SURF Curriculum & Qualifications Group Meeting. This meeting had its focus on helping inform colleagues in SURF about efforts around employer engagement, with a great talk by the fdf; Clare Stoney. This was a very interesting meeting about how both the colleges and the university need to look at strategies on engaging employers. We were able to get everyone there to take a leaflet about the project, and it looks like Clare has given us extra points to think about - and given us some backing on items we have already raised (like customer relationship management across SURF for employers).

Our next main opportunity will be in June, where we will be involved in a University event "Technology Supported Learning in the 21st Century: Issues and Paradigms in Transformative Tertiary Education" (for more information follow the link). We are hoping to run a workshop demonstrating employer engagement with SURF through the use of the support point.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Student Information

Had an interesting meeting with Student Information yesterday, initially about how the University delivers it's calendars and how the calendars are used for funding etc. It seems that the calendar is not just one thing that is agreed at the beginning of an academic year but a constantly growing, changing entity, and if this is the case how can it be used easily across systems? Obviously the easiest approach is to use the repository to centrally store a ICS file and then that file is called by different systems. There is a problem with this in that most systems using ICS files require an import of that file, so then we have to think about ways to create an automatic import once the file version has changed (when necessary) which may not be easy thinking about all the different systems at the University... This needs much more thought than originally perceived.

After some discussion around calendars we got on to the University's portal for full time students, MyPortal, which is something that has been running for 2 years at the University now. This was interesting as some of the features from the Support Point are already used in MyPortal, with differing success. The interesting ones included showing results to learners after they have been confirmed, and displaying learner history in a user friendly way. This can obviously be replicated across the different WBL stakeholders. They are also talking about taking MyPortal to learners outside of the University and to those studying at colleges and work place in September. This has an impact on the projects sustainability; we don’t want learners to have to go to two different points to get very similar information. We now need to think of ways in which the MyPortal and the Support Point can complement each other..

Friday, 15 February 2008


The team have worked this week on setting the ratings for features through the project WIKI rating them from very important to not important at all. The team went through and rated them on their own and then I went in to view them and whether they all match. It seems that the project team agree on must of the features ratings, however there were some interesting points raised by one team who had experience as a learner at Staffordshire University. The three most important Learner area functions are: Information on Modules they are studying now, Information on progression routes, and linking to support documents in HIVE.

I am wondering if the next stage - looking at the tutor/support staff section should involve tutors etc in the pilot should be rating the features or whether the project team should just review the interviews that took place at the start of the project. Has anyone else thought about this?

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

All Quiet

Work has been slowly moving on without blog updates, sorry folks. We have had to make some decisions on the HIVE software and how we get our learning objects out of it. We were hoping to access IMS packages from HIVE but there are a few problems with that. Mainly the IMS/Scorm viewer in HIVE is not displaying objects in the way expected, and now it also looks like without a big upgrade to Blackboard they will not be able to be used in there either! I am trying to think about work arounds that won't involve putting all the HTML files in - and darn it the only thought I can come up with is using frames....there has to be a better option out there.
Our portal has now got some users on it and we have had some useful feedback - especially on the use of forums in the community, and the fact that the permissions did not work as we expected. Thankfully the LifeRay community have come to the rescue with some work arounds - thanks guys. Calling on experts when needed means that the development team don't have spend lots of time investigating the back end of the software.
We had a project meeting last week, where the technical team have confirmed that they now have their own blog, and I will certainly be putting the link up here as soon as I get it. The project team are working together to prioritise the different features requested for learners over this week and by Friday they should have chosen the features most important to the success of the portal. They are using the project WIKI and will be blogging their experiences too.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Deja Vu

The project team are now working towards inducting employers, mentors, learners and tutors into the support point. Rather interesting this has highlighted some standard issues (some of which were raised in our eXchange for Learning projects (X4L & SURF WBL), including IT fatigue, unclear roles in support foundation degrees (see Burtons Blog), and lack of learner knowledge of available tools available via the University. One thing can certainly be said of this project, we have found that these problems just keep coming up and have to be faced and dealt with. Thankfully that is the main role of the support point, delivering information where it is needed and helping those involved in WBL understand how they fit in. Ideally it will be used to reduce the technologies the stakeholders will be aware of (they will, of course, still be in the background) - one point of access to the tools and information available. For example the repository will be a tool they will use but wont need to know anything about, it will be delivering content to them as they request it using the support point as a front end. The same could be said from any MIS such as Dolphin, Frame-Up etc.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Happy New Year

We are now fully into the new year and its starting off with some interesting posts from other JISC projects, mainly SPLASH who are looking at different social networking technologies for their project and have come across some interesting software. Their links are well worth a peek.
The project team meeting has been cancelled for this month but the team are still working hard, Stoke have been making progress on finding out about initial thoughts from end users on the support point, fingers crossed that will be blogged soon. Also, from looking at statistics the PageFlakes page is bringing more traffic to our blog and raising awareness of the project. Still not getting much feedback from the community but I am forever hopeful! The Wiki is taking a while to get going, but as meetings take place at the colleges this should become more active. We will have to see.
I am talking with different departments about institutional calendars and seeing if they are progressing beyond the traditional word/pdf files so that they can be shared through the support point as well as other methods (website, email etc). Plus it would bring all information into one place (open days, term dates, exam timetables, award events etc) rather than in different places.
Other than that I am down to London next week for the Engage Conference and presenting at the JISC conference the week after, which is keeping me busy.