Institutional Collaboration

Our SharePoint space is now working. A number of documents and a discussion area is there and the code will be added very soon (just removing usernames/passwords now).

If you’d like access to this site please e-mail with your details and I’ll send you an invite to register/access the content.

Caring and Sharing

Southampton is just starting its second academic year using the JISC funded e-Assignment system. This will be with the majority of assignments from 3 Faculties along with pilot assignments from all others during the year. We’ll also be linking e-Assignment to a new feature of the University student administration system so that final marks can be derived from the non-final marks that are held in e-Assignment.

Over the summer we’ve had a number of requests for the code or other detailed information about the system. We’ll shortly be adding a link on this site and on for registering for access to our SharePoint site. We will be putting a copy of the current code within this repository and also enable cross-institution discussion on how e-Assignment is (or can be) implemented as well as other features that could be developed.

AV workflow in the University of Reading

by Dr David Wong

The workflow provides for an end-to-end solution where users submit their audio / video file on a university web page, and after a few minutes receive an email containining instruction on how to link the transcoded media file on their web page.

The systems components consist of:

  1. Workflow server (Ubuntu), provdes a platform for NSSDropbox 2 (from University of Delaware).
  2. A modified version of NSSDropbox 2 using LDAP security, provides upload facility (2.0GB limit per file). Each submission causes an email sent to a designated email account
  3. Script (Perl) in workflow server scans email account for new message,  extracts uploaded file out of NSSDropbox’s internal storage, writes it to a designated directory, emails administrator a notification of the upload, and emails the user instruction on how to link the transcoded files from their web page
  4. Mac OS XServe, running Episode Engine, scans the designated directory regularly for new files, does transcoding, and writes transcoded files to an output directory
  5. The output directory is mounted on a web server, making the files available on the web
  6. Templates in University CMS, and VLE (Blackboard), enable end users to link the transcoded files from their web page
  7. JW Player

File formats:

  • Audio: accept mp3, wav and wma, and output to mp3
  • Video: accept mpg, mp4, avi, and output to mp4 h264 AVC (Levels 1.2 and 3), and AAC audio encoding. Some success with other input formats wmv, tod, mod etc.


  1. Episode Engine’s preset formats and workflows transcode files that conform to h264 standards.
  2. JW Player provides for a large number of platforms.
  3. Very low load on servers. 
  4. Apart from staff costs, main expenditures are XServe and Episode Engine.
  5. Multiple workflows based on media type or requirements (e.g. teaching and learning, audio only, video).


  1. Episode Engine is not easy to use, nor flexible; its warning and error messages can be confusing and far from instructional. In cases where it is stuck with a job that’s difficult to transcode, it could hang and requires intervention by aborting the job. It’s possible to modify / create workflows which requires root access, and I didn’t pursue that.
  2. Episode Engine strips out metadata contained in file.
  3. Workflow server (running NSSDropbox 2) is inside the firewall to minimise security issues. Off-campus users can upload if they log in using VPN.
  4. Not really an issue, but for people new to Perl and scripting (or those thinking about implementing NSSDropbox 2), we did spend a lot of time (weeks) modifying NSSDropbox 2 code, adding extra bits (and removing/disabling others), and hours of testing. And time spent learning Perl.

Migration test case

Two years ago, most of the univeristy video files were hosted externally. With Episode Engine and Helix, we began hosting the assets in-house. By mid September 2011, we have about 700 AV files stored on a disk attached to the Helix streaming server (a majority of these originally migrated from another project dedicated to teaching and learning). Most of these files are in mp4 (video) or mp3 (audio) formats as for about 1.5 year we stop transcoding file in Real format and also ceased streaming, giving preference to wider standards. This paves the way for a relatively easy introduction of the “AV Dropbox” scheme (easy in the sense that we didn’t have to re-transcode the files)

Migration consists of requirements analysis with stakeholders, and commissioning of servers (workflow & upload using NSSDropbox, and web) and storage areas (Netapp, one for upload and one for transcoded files). Other issues came into play including the use of a “friendly URL” (we decided on, and proxying the workflow (or not, being the motion at the moment), and re-transcoding a small number of old files to mp4 / mp3.

Going live was an event that demanded some added attention as updating the CMS and Blackboard templates (to point to new server URLs) meant currently available AV files needed to continue to work with the new URL. A great deal of checking went in to ensure going forward does not result in going back swiftly! Apart from some templates that were non-standard, the go-live went unnoticed and was a quiet success.

Next step

JW Player remains an attractive asset. With HTML5 (and mobile platforms) becoming mainstream, we are looking at what’s possible. There is significant requirements from the corporate office to provide for these outlets. A bought-in solution is unlikely, nor something that potentially gives security concerns. Cloud solution maybe possible, so long uploaded files are not stored on remote servers. appears to be attractive with regard to workflow.

Dr David Wong

Multimedia: Corporate Information Systems Support

IT Services, University of Reading


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Where next for Institutional AV? – Steeple Workshop

The STEEPLE Community hosted a workshop at Oxford on the 1 July 2011. This was an opportunity to bring together some existing members of the community as well as people attending for the first time who had interest and expertise to share.

My highlights of the day, the 8 question communication plan and the simplicity of HTML5, the future opportunities of eBooks and mobile, but please read on.

Peter Robinson (Oxford University)  provide an overview of all that is good about STEEPLE, a community support in the scaling-up of production of video material, with  support and advice to tackle technical, policy and legal issues. The theme  for day was  looking at what might be happening in the future, with lots of changes, new delivery channels and challenges for media services. However this is offering new opportunities for learners and allow us to do different things, away from the 50 minute lecture, towards smaller chunking of presentation.

The web site still has lots of really useful resources, guidance material and videos, to support that business case when meeting with senior managers. See One action from the day was to ask members to update the wiki and add new resources and reviews.

Katharine Lindsay (University of Oxford) presented the 8 question communications plan.

  1. Who are you stakeholders? Know what makes them tick.
  2. Who are you audiences? People who need to receive messages.
  3. Who are most important? Interest and influence
  4. How will you engage them?
  5. What is your media for? Current, future audiences – these can become stakeholders
  6. What are the messages? May be different messages for different people. Need an elevator pitch.
  7. How will you deliver them? Different ways to communicate the messages, what works for each audience.
  8. How will you evaluate? How do you know if the communication works? Plan early on in the project and measure the impact, there are tools you can use to track websites, etc.

That was useful for projects, and so simple presented in 8 minutes.

Carl Marshall (Oxford University) provided an overview of the Listening for impact – measuring impact analysis project that looked at the use of  iTunes U at Oxford.  See the blog for some really useful lessons and ideas of how to promote you media site.

Emily Goodhand (University of Reading) looked at Policy & Copyright. We all know that technology has changed things and the law has not kept up. This year Govt plan changes to copyright to address this.  She recommend people see Web2Rights

Zak Mensah  (JISC Digital Media Service)  provided an overview of the  guides , advice and training they provide on using digital media. They are actively looking for people using digital media to promote as examples to the community. There is also an obvious opportunity for the STEEPLE community and resources to complement the service.

Tom Hayes (Trinity College Dublin) has been implement podcasting for over 5 years. The challenges are the  same: audio quality in a lecture theatre;  getting a steady stream of podcast material that can be used internally or externally and having resources (people) assigned to support. They have established a  Digital Broadcasting group to support the 20 lectures theatres now equipped.  He emphasised that people as important as the hardware, raise internal awareness, it is not for everyone and a need for an editing service, and finally convincing institutions that this is a cost benefit activity.

Tobias Wunden  (OpenCast Matterhorn project ) provided an overview of the Open Cast project that is a trying to address all issues around lecture capture. Part of the motivation was how to avoid getting locked into a redundant technology. So they promote open source, open technology, open formats (standards), open content (sharing knowledge), open community. See  

Frans Ward –(SurfNet – Netherlands) SurfNet Mediamosa is a  software community  supporting open source software to build media management and distribution platform.

  • Screening- choosing who can access a video
  • Coding – which format
  • Metadata – to make it easier to find video.

See http:/

Ben Hawkridge (Open University) presented the latest develops around  eBooks and  mobile devices at the OU.  They are using ePub3 and HTML5 to produce eBooks with embedded media.  This is a move towards producing open rather than proprietary eBooks for education.

The eBook market is growing as they offer the printed page along with the richness of the internet. The OU has developed its own authoring tool (using OS Software) and a process for generating eBooks from “source” materials.

The trend towards use of mobiles for accessing information is growing fast by 2014 (prediction 2010) as many people will be accessing internet from mobiles as computers. The use of mobile Apps are now exceeding internet on mobiles, so we need to be looking at Apps as learning opportunity. 18 months ago you couldn’t access iTunes from the OU, now 70% of access is via a mobile.

Ben then proposed the question “Are you ready for students who don’t have a PC?”. I would ask are institutions listening?

Pat Lockley  gave an overview of browser technologies and HTML5. Is it really so simple?  HTML5 offers support for audio and video embedding. Video and audio tags now exist, you can embed audio and video into a web page. You have various controls and can add java scripts for example jump to a time in the video. Life just get easier.

John Ireland  gave a short introduction to the institutional use of cloud services. Cloud Computing is a recent extension of outsourcing, moving technical service outside and making it someone else’s responsibility. There is always a computer at the other end. You can buy a bit of space on someone else’s computer.  Is Cloud cheap? For an individual maybe, it depends of how much you use what you buy, however it can get expensive at present if you want lots of users as would ne the case for an organisation. Cloud is emerging but still an immature technology.

The afternoon involved discussion sessions and an opportunity to speak to some of the presenters and ask questions.

Bjoern Hassler led small discussion identify some next steps

  • Sharing reviews and information, idiots guide to microphones
  • Linking with JISC DigitalMedia
  • Facebook group for STEEPLE.

With so many media people present I just had to ask how many podcast on the Oxford iTuneU site were produced by media services, I leaned from Carl Harrison that at least 90% of podcasts were not produced by media services. Having the advice, support and services in an institution may be essential but this shows that a well organised podcasting service can lever large amounts of quality material from staff and students within the institution. The opportunities are endless.

Work-based Learning Maturity Toolkit dissemination event

A Dissemination and Engagement Workshop was held on the 28 June 2011 at the University of Westminster to promote the Work-based Learning Maturity toolkit and invite institutions to engage in a second phase of pilots.

Further information and presentations from the day can be found at

Gunter Sanders (University of Westminster) opened the day saying how they had taken this opportunity engage WBL at the University, strongly supported by Senior management. The toolkit will be a part of their formal course validation process as a result.

Peter Chatterton provided an overview of the Work-based learning maturity toolkit. See for more details and the individual criteria within the toolkit. The toolkit has collated lessons across several projects and institutions around their expertise and experiences of work based learning and related employer engagement activities such as student placements and knowledge transfer, to draw out the success factors for HEIs. The toolkit provides institutions with an opportunity to access their performance against what the sector sees as mature.

The approach to adopting the toolkit, is based around customising and selecting the resource to your institutional needs and working individually or as a collaborative group of institutions (e.g. CAMEL group) to share the process and support each other.  A five phase approach, planning, commitment and customisation, evidence collection and synthesis, levelling workshop, actions workshop is explained within the guidance on the website.

The real benefit of the toolkit approach is the dialogue and focusing of discussions across the institution, helping institutions to develop their vision and create an action plan for change. However it is essential that there are clear goals and real outcomes from this discussion for the institution.

The stage 2 pilots Pilot will be supported by the institutions involved in the stage 1 pilots who are willing to support institutions in using the toolkit.

Pilot Presentations

Peter Hartley, The University of Bradford, provided an overview of WELL project and other projects at Bradford that have impacted on WBL. Bradford are in a state of institutional change, looking at international markets as well as WBL. WELL produced a model for institutional diagnostic process around WBL courses.  Pilot raised issues of investment in time and energy as it is not a quick fix. There is a a need to identify champions and drivers for change. A key lesson is timing the use of the toolkit with what else is going on in the institution, picking the right time is critical.

Rob Gales, Craven College. The toolkit reflects the scope and scale of institutions and one common issue is massive restructuring and survival. FE has a simplicity as curriculum is set whereas HE curriculum has more flexibility around who can engage with.  Many FE academics are part-time and are themselves working with employers in the other part of their life. An internal review shows that existing WBL documents from 15 years ago in the college  basically say what is in the toolkit.  However it also highlighted the differences between HE and FE culture and a need to address the language used.

Andrew Haldane, University of Wales Institute Cardiff (UWIC) described how in planning the pilot, they asked was it fit for purpose. They focussed on the institutional, school and programme criteria and looked at whether the maturity levels were well described. They did this by approaching key stakeholders and interviewing them to get views on the usefulness of the toolkit.  One outcome was that they found there was no coherent strategy around WBL across the institution. Staff needed to have more ownership, felt it provided a good description of maturity but was very large so needed to be honed down before use. An online version of the toolkit would be useful, using a traffic light system.

The next steps are to look at creating an institutional strategy and how to work with schools so they have chosen mature programmes and working with a newly validated programme. It was suggested that categorise statements into core and supplementary (to reduce size), present maturity indicators as questions rather than statements, use a 3 point traffic light systems to illustrate maturity level, have space to record results.

Sibyl Coldman (University of Westminster) - the institution has a long history of engaging professionals and long relationships with industry, traditional mainstays of WBL. The toolkit pilot focussed on criteria around Institutions, school and partnership to get a cross-cutting overview across departments. They looked at finance, quality, etc and also schools and academics and staff, to see if they had similar perceptions of readiness.  The institution is currently engaged in a Change Academy project, so there is an opportunity to link the two. The toolkit was customised using a selection of 8 criteria to reduce size for pilot. Members of staff were interviewed on how they saw WBL, their perceptions of the toolkit criteria, and they were also asked to benchmark their department and the University. General agreement was around level 1or 2 on the maturity scale.

 They found that departments interpreted the toolkit differently; their perception (scope) of WBL included other activities. This raised questions about the effectiveness of decision making and implementation processes in the institution with a culture of committee-led responsibility. There was concern that it would be used as an audit tool (by academics and quality). They found it useful as a planning tool as long as it was streamlined, the language very academic and wanted a better definition of work based learning, feeling it was it overly geared around one sort of WBL? Future plan is to carry on with Change Academy project and would like to join up with a similar institutions in stage 2 pilots.

Andrew Comrie, ELRAH/Edinburgh Napier University.  ELRAH is an initiative and a partnerships of HEIs and FE Colleges, one of 5 hubs in Scotland, enabling college students to move to HE courses. A review found that there were some pockets of good practice but little in terms of strategy. The developed a model WBL programme, around Youth Working as an exemplar of how to design and deliver WBL. So they had a programme to develop and the toolkit helped them to make it happen. They used it to form a brief and establish a set of external evaluation points.  The model has been promoted with other articulation hubs and through the WBL Forum (QAA) in Scotland. They used a selection of criteria, a strength o f the toolkit, use what you need. The focus was  at pre-entry and induction, use of technology as enabler to support a blended model of delivery and support.

The toolkit helped to define roles and responsibilities of the partners; support the validation process; and determine who delivered each element. As a result all partners are involved in all levels of delivery (rather than a traditional HE/FE split). They have developed new procedures for bring products to market, looking at impact on employers and assessing business models. They found the toolkit a useful checklist rather than an audit tool.

Technologies have been integrated into the courses (e-portfolios and blogs) and  they also looked at the type of access students have in the work place; the need to develop digital literacy skills; explore virtual classrooms; and enable communication between programme teams.

The key lesson was that the toolkit was extremely useful as a checklist and they are planning to feedback more to the project and hold a workshop in Napier to share lessons and new WBL model to other institutions.

 Panel session: Q&A with pilots

 The questioning explored areas such as

  • costing models for WBL courses;
  • how to use the toolkit with a large number of stakeholders and the need to be selective in use of criteria and not try to use it all;
  • the need to look at the wider picture and link use of the toolkit to what else is happening in the institution or nationally;
  • the legacy of the FdF assets, which are being redistributed by HEFCE;
  • QAA picking up WBL in Scotland (WBL Forum) might they have a similar role across the UK;
  • the need to find a vehicle when using the toolkit, don’t try and change whole institution, rather a specific programme or aspect of WBL change in the institution;
  • the other resources that have been used alongside the toolkit such as the WELL diagnostic tools, and ELRAH found the partners were a valuable resource!

Discussion Groups

The groups looked at identifying barriers, enablers and a possible focus for CAMEL groups.


  • Confidence and a need to just survive.
  • Resources, time and energy to engage with the toolkit.
  • Time to form partnerships and maintain it (this is a role the team could support).
  • Decision making processes in HE, a lack of protocols to make it happen.
  • Understanding the purpose of the toolkit/ Not knowing what we’ll get out of doing it.
  • Reluctance to identify levels as lower as it means work.
  • Reluctance to do WBL by staff.
  • Language and terminology (in toolkit) – between HE and FE.
  • Not knowing when we are being successful.
  • Paper based  – needs technology enhancement and comparison o f response and  packaging for different audiences.
  • Funding and costing mechanisms are implemented and applied (nationally and institutionally).


  • Top level champions a are essential.
  • Communication across stakeholders.
  • Vehicle to focus use of the toolkit – finding the right one and ride it.
  • Partnerships – external partners help us to meet targets.
  • Current climate new types of students.
  • Strategy – e.g. Welsh Government focus on WBL
  • Look at roots to creating a common language
  • Incentives to do this and sustainability (of staff and funding).
  • Don’t need to use whole toolkit but cab pick and mix.
  • If it is not ambitious it won’t achieve much.


  • Programme team undertaking review
  • Programme design, through a vehicle with an area.
  • Institutional initiatives to cascade to faculty level
  • Commercial developments

Participants were then invited to complete a planning sheet to indicate a willingness to participate in a next round of pilots working either individually or in collaborative groups.

Andrew Comrie’s final comment “When the wind blows some build walls, other build windmills” – in the current climate institutions need to decide which they will do, we’d like to see the toolkit as a windmill rather than a wall. We need examples of good practice to promote and share.

XCRI Exchange 2011

XCRI eXchange 2011: eXchanging Course Related Information was a National Showcase held on Monday 27 June 2011 at the University of Nottingham.

Alan Paull provided an overview of day. The event had been organised jointly by the SAMSON and MUSKET projects and the XCRI support team. All presentations were recorded and the material will be available on the XCRI knowledge base

The workshop consisted of a series of short presentations that are summarised below followed by group discussions.

Prof Mark Stubbs, Manchester Metropolitan University provided some back on the origins of the XCRI  work he has been leading across the UK since 2005. The original project developed a reference model for course information and through the CETIS Enterprise SIG identified a simple need to stop re-typing course information for different course sites. In 2006 a high intensity role out phase was started to further develop the specification. This was developed into a standard for course information (XCRI-CAP) and they looked at EU for related standards and worked towards EU harmonization, leading towards MLO standard being agreed and adopted in the UK.

It has been very important  to do tests and trials to understand the issues, which is why it has taken 6 years to get to where we are today with XCRI. The challenge is now to develop the business processes within institutions as XCRI 1.2 is ready. The time is right as well with the Browne Report in  Oct 10 saying students do not get adequate information which has led to the development of the Key Information Sets technical standard to be rolled out next year.

Ruth Drysdale (JISC) gave an overview of the future development opportunities around  XCRI-CAP. A new JISC  call coming out 29th June ( This will be a   two year programme with a focus on XCRI-CAP 1.2, and including important roles for UCAS and HESA.  The XCRI work is right level of maturity to create critical mass through large scale role out.  The first stage will require institutions to review their current situation and plan out what they will do to address issues (3 months), they may wish to make use of the XCRI self assessment framework ( Funding of £10k will be available to ant eligible institution conditional on having senior management, marketing and academic registrar/admissions commitment.  The final output will be an implementation plan that will go forward for selection to start in Jan 2012.

There are several drivers for implementation that institutions will need to consider. Fee paying students want to know more about academic experience and how courses will compare. They want a clearer understanding of what they will be paying for. There will be an increased scrutiny by QAA (through the KIS) and requirements for transparency on what institutions are spending money on. Students need to be able to compare courses between institutions in meaningful way.  The implication is that better informed students improves retention and motivation. Other standards work especially the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) will also need to be considered.  

A main challenge is to articulate the differences and connections between the HEAR, KIS, CAP, etc. HESA are leading a study to look at how the course information changes across the different stages.

  • CAP – provides information on what students are about to do i.e. the course
  • KIS – provides information on what they likely to do if they take a course
  • HEAR – describes what they have done at the end of a course

Some important areas to look at are the non-standard courses (i.e. not core UCAS) such as online, distance and part time, post graduate and CPD courses. There is also a need to with other agencies such UCAS, NLD, 14-19 prospectus, careers services, IAG staff.

Scott Wilson (CETIS and XCRI Support Project) explained what has changed from XCRI-CAP: 1.1 to 1.2. XCRI-CAP 1.2 has been harmonised with the EU standard  MLO and made simpler. It includes new requirements such age range from schools, better information on venues and provider types, abbreviations for qualification name, all of these trying seeking consistency.  It has simplified the modes of student engagement, distinguishing between text that will be displayed and a label that is for machine use. A similar implementation has been made for course start date and duration.

Full details are available at and a single page for the 1.2 specification will be provided and this will not change for the next few years.

There are some bits that have not been include but the XCRI community will continue to explore and further develop them.

George Dafoulas, Middlesex University provided an overview of how they have been demonstrating the potential uses of XCRI for transforming and comparing course documentation.  They wanted to help students and institutions (and potentially employers) to compare courses.  They found it difficult to access course information in their own institution, so they had to go direct to academics and converted course documents into XCRI-CAP format. This allowed then to look at how to map and compare courses. They have developed a set of tools to compare courses (see  The challenge is to try to match the needs of learners, employers, AP(E)L claims from learners, etc.  There are several applications  that can be utilised and what  this demonstrates  is the potential of having course information in an XCRI format.

Richard Staniforth, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff  provided some stark indicators of why it has taken so long for XCRI to become  adopted in Wales. The current message of the potential benefits of XCRI is very simple, but the issues of adoption are a challenge. XCRI been over-sold initially, but will only be taken up if it is adopted. HEFCW see it as the role of institutions to implement it.  In Wales they need to be able to exchange information across the post-92 institutions, FE and skills council and training centres  in Wales. A key question is who has ownership of XCRI , this is important in Wales as they are unable to access the capital funding in the JISC programme.  There is a need to look at the real market being demonstrated by OU, MMU, East Midlands, OXCRI as examples of tangible value added deliverables. They hope to establish a pathfinder team to build XCRI use across Wales through the University of Wales Federation. The opportunity to partner with XCRI champions and look at collaboration outside of Wales will be essential to draw in the support of the HEFCW and Welsh Government. The fear is that is the sense of ownership is dispersed there will be no commercial imperative to implement XCRI, so partnership and collaboration are essential in taking this forward .

Kirstie Coolin, University of Nottingham. XCRI adoption & opportunities to build data ecosystems

The implementation of XCRI is already within many institution’s roadmap and funding may not be the issue, but their own commercial drivers to meet needs of future market should be what drives it forward.  There are many potential uses of the XCRI data and opportunities to link it with open data.

Kirsty asked “shouldn’t all course information be available as open data anyway?.  All institutions and providers could have XCRI feeds out of their course systems as well to allow others to use it. It could be linked with other information to help provide richer information for learners to make decisions, promote course information wider and engage wide markets. So there is a commercial model for XCRI implementation through providing the services and making use of the information.

Craig Hawker, Software Developer, SMART Ways Technology Ltd. has developed an XCRI-CAP Generation and Validation tool.  The generator is a .NET library to produce XCRI xml, it is open source and free to use in education.  This makes creating XCRI-CAP xml easier and more consistent.  The XCRI validation tool was developed to check what was being delivered met the standard. It lets users know issues with your XCRI feed and also gives feedback on what might need to be done. A future development will be to look at also validating the specific needs of other aggregators of XCRI feeds. See

David Sowden, Hull University  provided some examples of why they implemented XCRI.  They started with a project working with the NHS and looking at competence frameworks and an existing electronic framework.  The need was to link learners needs to course outcomes and find courses. They aimed to develop an integrated system linking outcomes in the framework with outcomes in modules. So XCRI looked like a possible way to do this, did a small successful pilot but they needed to scale it. Before this could be done the NHS competence framework was to be discontinued due to lack of funding.

So they are now looking at the Cogent Skills for Science based industries, Cogent Gold Standard has been created  to meet needs of large engineering employers.  They are using XCRI as part of the solution to link all the data and mapping skills (future and current needs) with CPD offerings of institutions. 

Michael Nolan, Edge Hill University described how they had used XCRI to develop an online prospectus.  They started with The Big Brief in 2007 to redevelop their web site and decided against using a CMS but used systems to manage data.  They had no way at that time to manage course data Courses, so XCRI-CAP offered a basis to develop this.  They implemented the XCRI-CAP specification and built systems based on XCRI.  This allowed several new possibilities in presenting course information on the web site.  As a manager he has found basing systems around data to be very powerful.  They are still having difficulties with short courses as no real system for getting them into the database.  They can generate XCRI feeds from any web page but have not found any real applications, but they are ready when the opportunities arise.

Neil Pearson, Hotcourses Ltd explained what a course aggregator needs from XCRI. The HE data they receive is mainly from UCAS but also from providers, large privates, small providers and international providers.  They have been piloting bulk upload, after 3 years and adoption of the latest XCRI they are making it works and seeing more take-up. Don’t under-estimate the stick in getting institutions in board.

There are misconceptions in the approach “beyond build it and they will come”, as they won’t. We need to look at services that use XCRI that can be consumed not only by aggregators and other organisations but also the “mash-up guy” who writes small apps.

Aggregators need to give users choice to help them chose courses like car or house search. XCRI needs to suggest more enumerations to try and bring UK data into a coherent whole. Users need fast sites and if XCRI manipulation needs to take place, this slows it down, so it needs to be optimised.

In the future, they are working with the XCRI logical model and taking more responsibility as an aggregator to take things forward, building an auto-categorisation tool based on course title and summary for example.  They intend to also expose any course uploaded as feeds.

Richard Entwistle, InGenius Solutions Ltd presented the XCRI eXchange Platform (XXP), which has been developed as a platform to exchange data using XCRI-CAP, so institutions could use the service rather than having to create their own XCRI feeds. They provide a way to get data in and get it out as an XCRI feed. The ownership remains with the provider. They are also working with aggregators and providing services to support their needs.

Summary of the group discussion on upgrading to XCRI-CAP 1.2 Facilitated by Scott Wilson

There are some controlled vocabularies and there is a need to sort out ownership and make sure they are maintained. The course specification is only a container but it doesn’t specify how the data should be structured. The vocabularies provide one means but the community needs to agree hwo it will be used.

The XCRI community needs to agree what is good practice and produce a usage guide. This will be produced as a community document rather than part of the standard. This needs to be community owned rather as it will develop out of the implementation of the standard over the next few years. XCRI dummies – a usage guide. Current docs aimed at standards bodies, not even developers. Need a guide for next level. Why to use this field, how have others used this field etc.

A need arose to be able to identify courses delivered by a specific person (i.e. high profile academic). Learners want to know who teaches the course when choosing. However there is no person information in XCRI but it could be linked to the specification in other ways.

XCRI can be used to tie together SRS (finance information) and marketing information and web information.Commercial vendors not related to SRS, new curriculum management systems do relate to XCRI and may be more important.  

Hot Courses should be eating their own XCRI feeds.  Aggregators should be able to consume XCRI feeds and one way to demonstrate this is for them to develop applications that consume their own data through XCRI feeds

What is happening with 14-19 Prospectus? This is an important are that needs to be linked with the next stage of XCRO role out.

Qualifications frameworks across UK and EU .Skills Development Scotland, developed services in XCRI 1.1  and the biggest problem is qualification, they are using the SQF, but have different course descriptions and use different qualification frameworks than they are using. The Meta Data and Education Group did a qualifications mapping (last updated 2009) and this needs to be updated.

Cost was never standardized, as couldn’t be.  Cost is one area that could be worked on for the next version.  There could be an extension to XCRI to handle this if it was required. Users want to be able to search for a course say under £500.

Summary from other groups (from plenary)


XCRI-CAP enabled services: Tying it all together Facilitator: Kirstie Coolin


Curriculum mapping. A build your own course tool, aggregators, marketing of XCRI – gold standard of course information, crack the joining up stuff you can spin out a lot of services on this.

 JISC XCRI Capital Programme Facilitator: Ruth Drysdale


Policy issues: KIS, HEAR and XCRI Facilitator: Alan Paull

There is a need for change agents to lead institutional process review and to identify processes that are adhoc and inconsistent. The community of practice around XCRI use needs to be developed further and led someone such as responsible aggregators.

The implementation is a messy problem within institutions and XCRI-CAP is only a small part of the problem.

It is now or never, there will only be one injection of funding to role this out and this is the last opportunity to get some support with the XCRI programme to implement it within your institution.


The team will review the material to enhance what is already available in the XCRI Knowledge base. The workshop provided a useful baseline for the new JISC call and suggested how important it will be for institutions to work closely with agencies and aggregators (such as UCAS, HESA and Hot Courses). There are several tools and services that institutions could also be exploiting and assisting in the development. Perhaps most importantly is the need to consider the wider applications of course information data once it is in a standard format and available as a feed, how it links with the KIS, HEAR and other open data and how these can be used together to provide the necessary information and services to users.

Designing a process with the Pineapple Tool

This video provides a concise demonstration of how to create a simple process using the Pineapple tool created by the JISC funded Pineapple Project. The example process used is intentionally simple – doing an office tea run.

It demonstrates the simplicity and flexibility of the tool and its potential to be used for other purposes. This video is probably best viewed full screen.

Realising Co-generaTive Benefits

This assembly was held on Friday 17th June 2011 at the Aston Conference Centre, Birmingham and attended by around 20 people.

The Co-generative Toolkit can be accessed at  and presentations will be available at (tbc). Sheila MacNeil (CETIS) has collated some to the tweets from the day available at -workshop and written a blog post linking this toolikit with the work of the Curriculum Design Programme

Phil Gravestock (University of Gloucestershire) gave an overview of the Co-generative Toolkit and the rationale for use. They realised the use of language with employers was an issue so they developed the tool to assist with the dialogue with employers when developing a work based learning course. The institutional validation process however required “academic” language to be used which resulted in conflicting use of language. Discussion with QAA made it clear that they could use a more employer friendly language provided it could be mapped back to an academic level statement. Hence the CogenT  tool was developed. They hoped to use the toolkit to address issues such as employers understanding of levelling – i.e. that in a degree not everything was at the final level (6) but earlier modules were at lower levels.

Rather than creating new words they used some existing qualification frameworks and extracted the verbs and level descriptors, from level 3 (pre-HE) top Level 8 (Masters). In discussions users commented that some words are missing from the existing frameworks, so these can be added but the national occupational standards may fill the gaps.

The tool provides several views to allow users to explore key words and level descriptors

  • ·         A list view of verbs
  • ·         A cloud view of the verbs
  • ·         Blooms taxonomy view (for academics developing learning outcomes)

Another part tool developed some tasks and designs that mapped to the outcomes to allow learners to gather evidence to be help in their “learning environment”.

The tool was designed to collate examples of learning outcomes and designs but people are not recording their final outcomes even though they are using the tool. This might work if it was integrated into the design process within institutions, so some integration with the Learning Design Programme would be good at some stage.

The tool can now filter by qualification framework or search specifically with words, descriptors or level.  A set of applications were also developed using the CogenT   data, called “Describability” ( they include some applications to make it easier for academics or learners (including a skills questionnaire) to use.

There is also an administrative backend to the tool to allow it to be made institutionally specific, so an institution can have a framework with specific vocabulary to that institution. Currently there is only one instance of the tool. There is an option to have an institutional administrator who can provide authoring accounts.

Participants were then given the opportunity to explore the tool and discuss uses with other participants.

This was followed by some themed presentations from institutions who had piloted the CogenT toolkit.

Beverly Leeds (University of Central Lancashire) presented on how they had used the toolkit for curriculum development at Lancashire Business School. In the TELSTAR project they spoke to 50 employers and found similar issues around language differences. They were developing a personalised programme for learners to meet the need of the employer.  They also used CogenT   to rephrase the wording in their APEL tool for students to build an initial APEL claim.

They started using it for the validation of WBL programmes in Professional Practice, prior and negotiated learning. They were developing learning outcomes that could be used to do prior and negotiated courses for individual learners. This allowed them to put course together quicker and get it validated. When questioned at the validation panel on level they were able to reference back to the CogenT   tool to show the level and the qualification framework they had used. The validation panel were satisfied and commended what they had done.

Another use was with a Webfolio in PebblePad to supports student making an APEL claim. Students used the “Describablity” tool to interpret the generic learning outcomes, explore the meaning of words and rewrite them in the context of their own practice for APEL and similar for negotiated learning outcomes. Students are also able to use the tool to interpret their assessments. Students are being encouraged to work with their employer to develop a negotiated assessment and are using the tool to help them understand what is required. Employer’s suggested it could also be useful for them when writing reports from the annual appraisal.

The tool has also been used by academics to review and develop modules. Feedback has suggested that it saves time and helps to ensure the learning outcomes are at the right level. They are also using it to support the writing of assessments. New academics are being introduced to CogenT   during the PGCertHE.

Sue Lewis (WVLLN) presented how she had been using the toolkit to raise student aspirations to take HE level courses. The Lifepilot web site ( ) encourages students to enter HE.  They used CogenT   to support students to develop aspirations for HE level courses, by looking at how the vocabulary could be used to help them describe their skills and aspirations.

Using a cut down list of 23 words, at level 3, 4 or higher, reflecting the skills HE courses expected. Participants were recruited adults through Union Learn in several organisations, with low levels of qualifications (mainly GCSE level) and mature students, mostly 40+. A supportive process was developed, a preparatory stage that used the Lifepilot web site tool, “build your profile”, that involved series of questions describing skills and experience and a profile questionnaire. The profile answers were mapped to CogenT words and analysed to see where they were demonstrating higher level skills (words). This was followed by a guidance interview to go through the skills mapping from the profile questionnaire and discuss work and personal experiences in relation to skills areas, providing feedback on the results and how they could use the data, including for an APEL claim.

Feedback was positive, participants found the process useful, would have liked to spend more time on it, but the results useful. It raised aspirations to undertake an HE level course. Employers saw an overlap with tools and frameworks they used.

Raising awareness increases self confidence of adults, bridging the gap. Since the research one has applied for and HE course and several have recommended the tools and process to others. The main barriers to HE are time and work pressures.

The WVLNN have agreed to fund a 1 yr project to continue developing the online process, train and support union reps in work place to support people through the process.

Kelly Edwards (University of Wales Newport) presented on how they had used CogenT to support Employer Engagement. They have been supporting work based learning in the Heads of the Valleys, through standalone 10 credit modules in business and IT, either in house or small groups. They are now developing a foundation degree through EU finding.

To pilot the CogenT toolkit they sought employers to participate in a research project and arranged two meetings with employers in manufacturing. The first wanted a course more relevant to their business, around conflict management training, production staff conflicting with design staff. The second to raise skills levels across employees to level 4, a programme to improve communication s internally and externally (multi nationals). They used the cloud view and vocabulary builder to work with employers to generate curriculum. The main benefit was it focussed time to explore the requirements with the employer and making it clear from the outset.

Employers found it useful as it brought the issues to the start of the planning process and also to build a case to convince their senior management of the benefits of the learning. The toolkit raised awareness of the types of training and level available. In one case it changed what they were originally looking for into a focus around communication and a need for a level 5 courses as well.

The process took time but early intervention saved time later (and gets it right). This was an initial pilot and they are learning more how to make effective use of the CogenT tools to support employer engagement.

Deena Ingham (University of Bedfordshire) presented how they had used the CogenT toolkit to explore the student experience. Students (especially internationally) found it useful for understanding the key words, and many didn’t appreciate the difference in descriptors at different levels. They wanted to see it integrated into the VLE and to show all levels, as learners. They found the “Describablity” tool was easier to use

They have looked at a variety of uses from understanding assessments to writing graduate impact statements for the HEAR or how to map learning outcomes and articulate what they have done relevant to the employer. The conclusion was that it was useful as a student tool to articulate skills/capabilities for employers, etc. and could be used by PALS to support other students.


Conclusions and Discussion

The CogenT  tools set out to support employer engagement but has been found to have a much wider set of applications and be useful for students, employers and academics.  This led to a discussion on what is CogenT.  The following was given as a definition of what perhaps it should be: a set of data (i.e. definitions of level descriptors collated for all qualification frameworks and sectors), a developer toolkit (with APIs) and a set of applications aimed at different users.

A pathway for development stills needs to be secured but CogenT has demonstrated an important requirement, developed a wide range of applications and a foundation in Pebble Learning.

Technology for Employability and Work-Related Learning

The University of Central Lancashire hosted a workshop on 10 June 2011 to share experiences of using technology to support employability and work based learning. Over 25 participants attended from higher and further education institutions.

Kath Houston (University of Central Lancashire) presented on the use of webinars to provide careers advice. They had issues about getting people to attend careers workshops and how do you engage more people, including a growing international student market.

They explored using webinars to engage people better as attendance at face to face events very low. A review of the profile of those attending compared with face to face workshops showed that they still got some of the same people attending; they were able to attract more graduates and international students and engage more males.

The webinars were delivered using desktop video technology, Adobe Connect and are recorded so graduates can access anytime. They are getting 20-25 attendance (compared with 5-6 for workshops) and there is some indication that they are able to engage more students/unemployed graduates.  One benefit is that they get more contribution and discussion in online sessions, through the use of chat and polling. They have found that sessions of 30mins, at 5.30pm and scheduling during the week is also important, with Monday getting better attendance.

A list of futures webinars is available at  and they are now looking to find a way to assess the learning take-up, attract more students, and see if this will make their graduates more future fit.

Emma Purnell (University of Wolverhampton) presented a range of approaches using Pebble to engage employability skills with students, using webfolio templates within the e-Portfolio. These included short questionnaires and tools to help learners assess and address skills such as developing employability skills for level 5 students, using questionnaires in Pebble to build a profile for learners to support skills development.  See work of the Institute for Learning Enhancement for further details, and reports from other BR Assemblies for more detail on the work of this team, hence I have not expanded on this presentation.

Beverley Leeds (University of Central Lancashire) provided an overview of the TELSTAR Project (see The project looked at matching learners skills and employers requirements with courses. It also made available a set of resources on employability skills and using e-portfolio system to deliver the WBL pedagogy using PebblePad. They tried a Ning network as well (to engage WBL) but the didn’t have a large enough community.

They looked at how work based learners who had professional qualifications could gain some credit. It was difficult to identify level and credits or students may have only completed part of the qualification. They created an “options database” which allows students to input qualifications, and then matched against existing qualifications data to allow staff and students to see what could be matched and allow for accreditation of prior certificated learning.

In terms of employability skills, they looked at personalising programmes to individuals and providing flexible programmes, developing skills and recognising and individual needs. Students can negotiate or APEL a max of 4 modules per award. Modules start when they have sufficient numbers to run. This has been a challenge to institutional systems and processes, students have ended up having to register for each module rather than the whole courses, but working with the student record team on a solution.

They are using a range of technologies, Adobe Presenter for induction, PebblePad for APEL and negotiated learning support and a combination including PebblePad, Adobe Connect and Wimba for taught modules. Students can use an iPhone to access Adobe Connect sessions, this has been useful as employers’ can have restricted access because of firewalls, a lack internet access or policy restrictions for employees using the internet.

Alex Greenwood, Barrie Roberts and Beverly Leeds (University of Central Lancashire) presented in the use of open educational resources to support employability skills, called Working Creatively. The resources needed to be reusable, shareable, customisable, durable, applicable, interoperable, stand-alone and accessible. Importantly the needed to be independent of any system or device

The resources have also been converted to work on mobile phones as well, to enable learners to take away the learning and complete it in a “third space”. The institution sees this type of resource as offering something extra for new student fees. Mobiles are familiar tools for many users (currently 4 billion phone subscriptions) making mobile materials on study skills and employability skills an attractive resource.

Adobe Presenter creates a .swf file that can be played on Android and Windows mobile but not the iPhone, and there are still some issues with the Blackberry. To get around this they are moving to using Camtasia to create a video recording of the resources  that will work on the iPhone. They are also using “dropbox” to provide access to videos via mobile phone. They are using googledocs as a way of delivering learning activity with embedded  links to the swf files and video files (via YouTube), and other resources which worked. See for an example.

Paul-Alan Armstrong (University of Sunderland) has been supporting students on work placements, on Human Resources, using Mahara.  He used “Poetics”, a process of reflexivity to know who you are and what you know.  He finds that graduates can’t tell their story when applying for jobs and poetics is used to help them think about who they are. Students create a “view” in Mahara that illustrates their skills and students remember this better than writing an essay.

See and for examples of the work he has been doing.

There is some initial resistance from students who felt they were not “creative” but they come to see the value of using the approach. Mahara also allows the tutor to provide feedback on what students doing. A free (unstructured) approach was tried at first, but it was found that they needed some structure, i.e.  three columns past, present and structure, to get them started. They use a range of approaches for example collages, montages and patchwork as ways of building up views in Mahara.

Andrew Haldane (University of Wales, Institute Cardiff) looked at workforce development and breaking the barriers to scalability of provision. There were several barriers to meeting the needs of learners in the work place.

Staff in “innovations (in WBL area)” was reluctant to adopt new practices and in particular use of technology. The current rise in learner demographics has just peaked, so spare capacity may persuade institutions to look at new markets., but staff are not taking the risk and don’t want to make decisions and rely on those who have the expertise, situation specific expertise.

Delivery to the workplace is also an issue if remote access is required. Better learning resources are requited and this costs and takes more time. These courses often have very small cohorts so it is hard to justify the cost and staff often doesn’t have the expertise to develop the resources. There are also support issues and blended learning has geographical issues (i.e. a need to travel to the institution). One solution has been using F2F at a distance using web-conferencing or similar.

Integration of Learning and Work.  APEL has been around for while but has not been encouraged, a move towards developing experiential learning means institutions need to manage the APEL process better and support the facilitator role. Staff need to have domain knowledge as well as practitioner expertise to be able engage with employers.

Wales is looking at “Learning for Work” (Employability Skills) and “Learning through Work” (Placements), also Learning in Work (Work based Learning). There are conflicts between what the employer, employee and institution are looking for in each of these situations. The employee can be happy with domain top up but there is a need to embed this into practice and the employer looking for enhancement in practice as an outcome of learning.

Possible solutions are however starting to emerge.

  • On the supply and delivery side, institutions are using web conferencing, learning objects and e-portfolio pedagogy to successfully deliver learning.
  • There is a need to correct perceptions, demonstrate it can be done, solutions do exist, the perceptions of colleagues and institutions are that there are issues
  • Demand side issue: employer expectation learner expectations are that they don’t know Universities deliver WBL successfully.

Andrew suggested that we now have several successful approaches using technology that address these issues and there is a need to change perceptions about Universities abilities to deliver effective work based learning and engage with employers.

Ajaz Hussain, University of Bedfordshire presented a set of online tools to support employability skills in a master’s programme. The institution have an Employability strategy 2009 -2012 that engages with Faculties and asked them to change approaches, refocus resources in tools to support academic staff rather than go careers support staff being brought in to deliver skills training all the time. As part of this, Ajaz was invited into the Business School as part of a review of the MBA curriculum.  The school have an MBA with international student and are developing a Global MBA (i.e. a distance learning module across world). They also have an existing successful initiative “SOARing to Success” – a framework (SOAR –  Self Opportunities Aspirations and Results) to help students develop skills.

They introduced a self assessment questionnaire that was undertaken by students, comparative on two separate dates, to support student development and linked to a portfolio (paper with some online elements) of evidence and using Linked-In.

A new tool called JOBSAVVIGRAD has been developed to increase the quality of online applications, moving away from a CV structure (by developing more a skills and experience profile) and providing access to graduate level vacancies.  Students can apply for jobs through the tool (without registering with an employer or e-recruitment agency). Students have an account for life. Agencies are already filtering applications using technology due to the poor quality of many applications; some of these filters have been integrated into the tool. The tool manages and tracks applications, so it can support students to develop a better application process and also get feedback from the employers.

An online demo is available at, it is built using the “tucows” free software approach and customised versions can be developed. It works best on Mozilla Firefox.


The workshop provided an interesting collection of approaches that are being used successfully by institutions to develop employability skills and engage work based learners.  The examples drew on several examples that are outside the JISC funded programmes and illustrated the breadth of activity that is being undertaken by HEIs. It is hoped that lessons and approaches will be adopted by other institutions as a result of this event.

Supporting Foundation Degrees and Transition to University using Portfolio Tools

Leicester College has been supporting learners on a foundation degree course to maintain interest over the summer break through the process of reflective thinking and creation of a blog. They used the Colleges e-Portfolio tool, Mahara, to allow learners to undertake a short project around Photography and Video and the write a reflective blog to share what they were doing with colleagues on the course. The learners found this useful despite a few technical issues they needed to overcome. All the learners returned to next year which was an improvement on previous years where several did not return.

They sought to extend this further and worked with De Montfort University to develop a peer mentoring scheme for students transferring from the college to undertake a degree course after completing their foundation degree at the college. The same portfolio tools were used to provide the students with a peer who had previously completed the transition to the degree courses at the University.

The initial pilot had limited success however the college hoped that the approach could be developed for future cohorts. This project shows some of the challenges of extending an approach from one institution to another. A similar peer support process is being developed at De Montford University for graphics students and is working well.

Further information is available from the project website at

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