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Bolton University Case Study | Technical

Drivers supporting XCRI-CAP implementation
Pre XCRI-CAP Implementation
University of Bolton – XCRI-CAP implementation journey
Post XCRI-CAP Implementation
Challenges during implementation and lessons learnt
Institutional buy in
References and Resources

The University of Bolton is new, modern and growing rapidly - it achieved university status in January 2005, but it has a long history as a higher education provider. Before its title change the University of Bolton was Bolton Institute of Higher Education, which came into being in 1982. However, its origins can be traced back to the Bolton Mechanics Institute, founded in 1824. From that point the institution has been involved in a continuous programme of vocational and educational training: a focus on learning for professional advancement has been part of this higher education institution since its beginnings.

The University is striving to develop as a Professional University.  Courses are linked where possible to the achievement of professional and chartered status within recognised industrial areas.  Directly linked to this is the University’s focus on the ability to develop and market Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses rapidly.

The University currently has approximately 13,500 students, of which less than half are full-time.  Additionally, half of the total learners are ‘mature’.

The need for flexible and responsive course advertising capabilities has driven the implementation of XCRI-CAP within The University of Bolton. The initiative was led by Patrick O’Reilly, the Head of Computing Services and XCRI champion within the institution.

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Drivers supporting XCRI-CAP implementation

Consistency, Clarity and Quality of course related information

Prior to XCRI-CAP implementation, Central Admissions looked after production of advertising information for undergraduate provision and was supported by well defined processes, data flows and management for these tasks. Advertising information for postgraduate provision was very patchy. Each individual department was responsible for creating its own course advertising material.  There was no consistency in the approach, which led to issues relating to quality control, currency of data and varying content. Additionally there was no advertising of short courses.

Limitations of current systems

Within the existing SITS system, data structures are in line with HESA and HESES returns, but not linked to the data structure and content required for marketing. The IPP (Institution Programme Publishing) module of SITS was available but had not been implemented. Internal developers felt they could achieve a lot more if they had better control over the database structure and built their own schema mapping out all the connections.

Reaching out to new markets

The recognition that 50%  of students are mature, and the move to being a professional university where CPD is  a core activity were  important considerations when developing marketing strategies around course advertising. Validated modules are being offered as CPD courses with credits, so having the means to advertise those courses becomes important.

Creating flexible learning pathways

The University of Bolton’s CPD Framework enables the creation of new courses from validated modules that are part of other courses. Modules need to be advertised and offered as mix and match courses, with the ability to create courses to employer specifications. The latest XCRI-CAP development is supporting this activity.

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Pre XCRI-CAP Implementation

Prior to XCRI-CAP implementation, course advertising information was generated from the validation process, which consisted of a three stage paper system with, at the third stage, a section where a marketing description was written.

One of the key challenges was that when courses were generated, advertising material was not considered. Some information generated through the course validation process, such as the market requirement, would not be appropriate for advertising. Additionally course descriptions tended to be written from an academic viewpoint and loaded up with pedagogical terminology for validation boards but not providing potential students with information relevant in their context.

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University of Bolton – XCRI-CAP  implementation journey

It was recognised in 2007 that to address the identified challenges and to bring together the offerings to support the CPD way of working, a new course database was required.

A bid was  submitted to JISC for the second round of early XCRI-CAP adopters [1]. The funding was incidental.  However it helped focus the activity and provided a useful requirement to run the implementation as a proper project with a formal structure. Key roles in the project were a technical person acting as the project lead and responsible for keeping records and reports up to date, and the steering group with senior  representatives from Information Systems and Technology, Marketing and Recruitment, Academic Quality (validation) and Student Data Management (registry)

Although representatives from course validation were included, it was felt they were not exploited as much as they could have been in the first phase of implementation.

What has been created is a database that can be extended to accommodate future developments.   Ideally the system will support the process from the time  an idea is generated for a course, through the whole production lifecycle to course advertising.

In developing the new course database, it was decided to start from scratch, rather than scraping data out of any existing sources. Prior to the new course database, there was a very crude set of approximately 56 web pages to describe the courses.  Typically these consisted of undergraduate courses containing sections on part time and full time options. Staff would also put their own diagrams into the pages as it was freeform HTML, including names of tutors who ran the courses several years ago.

The Marketing team wanted to have a strong hold on the development of a new course database, including how things were put together.  A copywriter was employed to take the existing material and turn it into what they considered the appropriate quality.  They also wanted to be able to separate a course that was part time and a course that was full time, and identify CPD offerings, with the idea that they might run three courses using the same descriptions, but tailor information, such as available bursaries, dependent on how the course was offered. The number of courses rose from 56 to 700 as a result of this exercise.

The database was developed so that schools could directly enter their own marketing information with appropriate authentication and structures, while the Marketing team retained overall control.

The course database generated first was then mapped into XCRI-CAP.  The development of the database took approximately 6 months, the population of the database, testing and piloting took an additional 12 months, resulting in an overall project timeline of 18 months.

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Post XCRI-CAP Implementation

Processes  have been streamlined as a consequence of implementing XCRI-CAP.   Opportunities are now being advertised that were not advertised before.  There is quality control on the information that has been provided, the accuracy of the information is better, and central oversight of the information has been included. As a result of control of course advertising information through the implementation of XCRI-CAP, additional software applications have been created, such as a new clearing application service.

University of Bolton has gained the ability to be more innovative and sophisticated in the way that course related information is managed, and other spin offs are possible now, such as the development of CPD and an associated framework. Overall, the institution has become more agile and able to respond efficiently to change requests in business processes.

In 2006, there were 8,500 students enrolled at The University of Bolton.  This has increased to 13,500, and a large proportion of this increase is believed to be a result of CPD activity.

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Challenges during implementation and lessons learnt

The key challenges faced through the implementation process were not generally associated with the technology, but rather the pre-conceptions and competing ideas of staff.  For example how to establish processes around work flow, data input and review prior to presentation and the necessity to use bullet points in the presentation of course related information which could be accommodated with manual input but proved challenging when using content management systems.

There were pre-conceptions and assumptions that SITS held all the information required by the Marketing team.  However, SITS only holds information on validated provision that is currently running, not prospective courses that need to be market tested and promoted prior to validation or short courses/CPD that may not require formal validation.

Key Learning Points

Data does not need to be in one place. There is the need to have the ability to support integration and interoperability rather than to have single systems.

Identify what people need to know, what is critical, essential, desirable.

XCRI-CAP implementation presents good information and data management, while going through the process also highlights issues in processes and procedures that could be improved and simplified.

There is a requirement to differentiate information, because not everyone wants to consume all the data.  It needs filters and key identifiers.

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Institutional buy in

Additional funds from JISC complement and enable projects, but these can be undertaken as part of business as usual.  However, the external funding creates more visibility of projects and requires Senior Management Team endorsement prior to the submission of bids.

Overall the organisation does not perceive the developments falling under the ‘XCRI-CAP implementation’ banner, but as the development of a new course database with increased versatility.  This means that staff view the work as part of the normal development of institutional systems with greater personal commitment to the solution.

Institutional support is for the new opportunities the new course database presents, such as enabling the CPD framework and online clearing applications.

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The Future

The University of Bolton has successfully bid for another JISC mini project that supports the development of a  module database that will become a key part of the information infrastructure. This also supports the generation of the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR).

Final Comments

For XCRI-CAP to continue to be supported, services of value that will consume the data need to be developed, such as UCAS, Student Loans Company or Hotcourses.

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References and Resources

[1] The Bolton XCRI project (BoXCRIp)

[2] CEN endorses European Metadata for Learning Opportunities, Scott Wilson, October 2008

[3] Bolton launches a new XCRI-CAP enabled course catalogue



Last Updated on Friday, 14 October 2011 20:25  


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