How to handle Start Dates - The Open University experience
Problems with date format are now largely a thing of the past. With an ISO standard covering most styles of date, it is relatively easy to change one format into another, using either a function in an information system or a small piece of code. The non-technical reader is advised to consult a local developer or technician.
However, some courses do not have an advertised Start Date (for example distance learning courses taken at the learner's own pace, and training courses arranged to suit the client), so it is important in many systems that the Start Date element is not compulsory, or at least not a compulsory date format element.
At the Open University most course credit presentations (synonymous with presentations in XCRI-CAP) have traditional Start Dates, for which the yyyy-mm-dd format is used. The full XCRI-CAP Start element format is 2010-03-19T14:18:24+00:00, although the Time section can be omitted. The OU advertises full programmes leading to degree awards (for example BA Honours in History) in competition with other higher education institutions. OU programmes are constructed from individual course credit presentations, but do not themselves have regular start dates as do degrees from many other higher education institutions. Therefore where course advertising systems require a start date, a placeholder is used instead. The favoured placeholder is '1900-01-01', and this value can be recognised automatically by importing systems and handled appropriately by the software. Explanatory text is included in course descriptions, so that learners can understand why these programmes do not have traditional start dates.
The OU also offers a number of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses for which learners can choose when to start and when to finish their studies, between two dates often over a period of several months or even years. These CPD courses therefore have no traditional start date, but instead can be taken at any point during an extended window of opportunity, the primary time restriction being that assessments have to be completed and submitted before a specified closing date. The practice adopted for the XCRI-CAP feed has been to include the start and end dates of the 'window of opportunity' in the presentation element, but also to include in a course description element an extended note about the CPD course requirements in respect of timing.
A suggested rule to handle this type of Start Date issue is:
If present, Start MUST contain a date and / or date-time in one of these formats:
2010-03-19 or 2010-03-19T14:18:24 or 2010-03-19T14:18:24+00:00
If Start is not present, then start details SHOULD be included in the Presentation Description.
It is expected that XCRI-CAP version 1.2 will contain a specific recommendation covering this point.