No, this isn't a weird Dungeons and Dragons clone, it's about the Jisc Course Data Programme 'Show and Tell' on 29 Jan at Aston University. This day-long conference was for projects to share what they'd done before the funding for the Course Data Programme runs out (March 2013). And there was multitudinous sharing! We had a keynote from Professor Mark Stubbs (the grandaddy of XCRI-CAP), excellent synthesizing from Gill Ferrell, sizzling lightning talks from projects and demonstration services, discussions galore across the themes of institutional course management, getting ready for better data integration, techies' corner, and XCRI-CAP enabled services, as well as over fifty beautiful project posters. The day was rounded off with a Q&A panel of experts (and me!), during which both Graduate Prospects and UCAS were able to re-iterate their support for XCRI-CAP aggregation - always a good sign to get national approvals.
My own involvement was primarily as a member of the XCRI Support Team, together with my colleagues Kirstie Coolin, Geoff Ramshaw, Roger Clark and Craig Hawker. I gave a lightning talk - less than 5 minutes, but rather longer in prep time - on the demonstrator that APS has produced alongside Ingenius Solutions: Advanced XCRI-CAP Search Widget. This little piece of code for websites gives 'best of breed' subject searching using synchronised XCRI-CAP data, a specially designed thesaurus, and a cunning algorithm. We're now hoping that many others will want to re-use our method - and we have interest from the Creative Assembly already, so let the collaborations continue... they've already begun.
Each of the demonstrator projects gave succinct and stimulating lightning talks, topped off at the end by George from Middlesex University in pirate's hat and pistol to demo the MUSKET tools - you certainly couldn't miss his team. MUSKET and its sister project MUSAPI are providing interoperable data services for sophisticated course content comparison, and for linking up academic subjects with job profiles and job opportunities. Fortunately for me, Rob Englebright is looking at the demonstrators in some detail on the JISC eLearning Blog, so I don't need to go through them here.
The Creative Assembly - Arts UC Bournemouth, Courtauld Institute, Falmouth Uni and Plymouth College of Art - was probably the highlight of the show for me, epitomizing so much of what we're trying to achieve: They've not only improved their own processes for producing course marketing information, but also collaborated on a range of common solutions to common problems (Drupal modules for example), they aggregate their marketing information and are building a brand new web portal for learners in their niche market. Elaine Garcia and the team did an excellent job, and Falmouth placed first in the poster competition too.
I also chaired the discussions in the afternoon session for Theme 1: institutional course information management, for which we had an excellent turnout. After 45 minutes or so of lightning talks, the floor was open for questions and issues. Topics of particular interest included:
- how granular is the information?
- can we write Plain English or must we use Academese?
- there's a problem with versioning that's pretty hard.
- how can we identify CPD courses?
- managing this stuff is difficult, and some of our problems are the same across institutions.
- cultural change is also hard.
However, the situation is not impossible. As Gill Ferrell said in her synthesis comments: "Opening Pandora's Box also released Hope", and part of that hope is XCRI.
Though we've still got a long way to go to embed XCRI-CAP into the HE landscape, the Show and Tell generated a huge amount of enthusiasm, and it's obvious that many more people now 'get it'.