How to define and format a course title: The East Midlands experience
When is a course title not a course title? When its format is different from the course title in my system!
Course Title is one of the most visible items of information on a courses website. It can also be one of the most contentious areas in an XCRI-CAP feed.
The East Midlands partners encountered this issue, when they were matching the components of their course advertising information for aggregation. Formats that were being used in existing systems included:
- Exactly as supplied by the provider.
- Subject first, then qualification element.
- Qualification element first, then subject.
- Subject only (qualification element stored elsewhere).
All these formats (and a number of others) are valid ways of storing and displaying a Course Title. However, displaying different styles of Course Title within one course website can be confusing or misleading for learners. Where Course Titles have the subject first (for example "Physics GCE A level"), a learner will quickly find a course from an alphabetically sorted list of courses. Similarly if the qualification element is shown first (for example "GCE A level in Physics"), all similar qualifications will be grouped together if presented in an alphabetical list. With mixed formats learners might miss some courses, or fail to realise that similar courses might not be displayed close to each other in a list.
There is a further problem that the learner may not be able to find additional information about a course easily in a provider's own website, if the title is in a radically different format from that displayed in a regional or national search system.
If the course aggregating organisation or the learning provider wishes to ensure that Course Titles are presented consistently, staff may need to carry out some re-keying or re-formatting. This would be the case even to maintain relatively trivial text styles, such capitalisation; some systems use ALL CAPS, while others use Title Case and still others use Simple sentence case, capitalising only the first letter of the title.
These issues were discussed within the East Midlands partnership, so that a data entry standard for consistent Course Titles could be agreed. The existing Course Title formats included all four of the examples given in the list above.
While there was strong support for the approach of storing the subject element of the Course Title separately, the partners agreed to recommend the following format for Course Title in regional XCRI feeds as a lowest common denominator:
The Title SHOULD be in the following format:
- Upper and lower case using the usual conventions for title (main words with first letter in capitals; less significant words like ‘of’ in lower case).
- Start the Title with the subject.
- If the Title contains the name of the awarding body, put this at the end of the Title in brackets.
Importantly some alternative formats could still be used, but the partners wanted to hold the data in a form that made it relatively easy to manipulate into the agreed format for the feed. For example, a title consisting of the subject only could have the qualification element added to it to satisfy the requirement of the feed format.
The format does not require an organisation to change its own preferred way of displaying the Course Title to its audience. At worst the organisation would hold a new data element containing the agreed feed format, but most partners would be able to manipulate their data in order to provide the agreed format on output for their XCRI-CAP feed.