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4th Meeting Notes

The 4th Enterprise SIG Meeting was held in the Tower Building of London Metropolitan University (a merger of the University of North London and London Guildhall University) on Friday 9th Jan 2004.

The meeting was kindly hosted by Paul Walk, Intranet Developer at London Met (and a member of the Enterprise SIG); and his manager, Mike O’Reilly, Head of the Intranet Services Team at the University.

The meeting was attended by 29 delegates from a range of backgrounds, including universities, FE colleges, UCAS and the Tate; and a few e-learning and student record system vendors were also present. Meeting Delegate List.

Half of the delegates kindly filled meeting evaluation forms. Feedback from forms.

Jim Farmer from the US who works on uPortal (a free, sharable framework for producing a customizable campus portal, developed by a range of JA-SIG member higher education institutions) and the new SAKAI project (a collaboration among several higher education institutions to develop and share open source software) attended, and kindly gave a quick impromptu introduction to his work during the afternoon session.

Vashti Zarach, Enterprise SIG Coordinator: World of Enterprise
The world of Enterprise (Powerpoint).

I began the day by welcoming the participants, and encouraging them to contribute and ask questions. I gave a short presentation about the SIG, with an update on current news and forthcoming events. Current news included the new IMS Enterprise Specification (due to be publically released any day now), and the new JISC e-Learning Frameworks Programme (more details below).

I also referred delegates to the Creating MLEs Infopack recently edited by Sarah Holyfield for the JISC, and encouraged people to read the technological sections in particular, and submit comments or references. I then displayed some figures from a recent UCISA VLE survey (HE based) (scroll down to 2003 survey) to demonstrate the extent (or lack) of systems integration in institutions. Paul Bailey has since supplied links to a Survey of VLE activity in FE in the UK (includes figures from HE for comparison); and a Study of MLE Activity.

I updated delegates on useful forthcoming meetings, notably the JISCInfonet When Worlds Collide Conference, in York on the 18th and 19th Feb, which will explore cultural differences between academic and systems practitioners and the management implications for institutions developing Managed Learning Environments. I also mentioned a forthcoming Vendors Meeting, designed to introduce vendors to the new Enterprise Services Specification, which Scott and I will be organizing. The meeting will probably be held sometime in March. More details when available.

Paul Walk, Intranet Developer, London Met University: MISLine: Exposing Student Records.
MISLine: Exposing Student Records (Powerpoint).

Paul Walk gave a very interesting presentation on MISLine; the creation of a web interface for exposing student records at the London Met. MISLine has made it far easier for university staff to manage student records; and has additionally exposed many inaccuracies in the data. Delegates discussed student data accuracy; including the importance of ensuring that inaccurate data was not being kept on students, and the problems of allocating responsibility for correcting potentially large amounts of inaccurate data. We also discussed the difficulties of obtaining accurate module attendance data in the early stages of term when students were still deciding on their options.

Paul has tailored MISLine in order to ensure that appropriate amounts of student data are revealed by MISLine in different circumstances. For example, many library staff are students, and therefore MISLine only displays basic student data to library desk staff.

Jim Farmer inquired about the reasons for MISLine’s success with users; which Paul put down to:
1) gathering user requirements at the start of the project, and
2) having designed a self-explanatory and highly usable web application interface.

There is an MISLine User Guide on the London Met website, with screenshots of MISLine.

Scott Wilson, Assistant Director, CETIS: IMS Enterprise Services Specification
The IMS Enterprise Services Specification (Powerpoint).

We apologised for the absence of Nick Sharples, currently still working on an Enterprise Services Demonstration Kit to assist people implementing the new specification. The Kit should be ready for demonstration at the next Enterprise SIG Meeting (to be held in about April). The Kit will additionally be demonstrated at an earlier meeting for vendors, which Scott and Vashti are planning, in order to introduce vendors to the new Enterprise Services Specification.

The Enterprise Services Specification is the Web Services version of the existing Enterprise Specification. The Enterprise Spec outlines data formats for data to be transferred between systems, but does not specify how data is to be transferred between systems. The new Specification aims to remedy this situation by providing transport mechanisms. Scott gave a technical presentation about the Spec, and handed out some examples of code. He explained that with previous specifications, people had been overwhelmed by the documentation; and hence the Enterprise SIG had funded the Demonstration Kit, which would contain a Java library set of example applications.

The Public Draft of the Enterprise Specification should be available on the IMS website sometime during this week (early Jan 2004).

Tish Roberts, JISC: e-Learning Frameworks Programme
JISC e-Learning Frameworks Programme (Powerpoint).

JISC have set up a new e-Learning Programme, comprising three strands: e-learning and pedagogy; technical frameworks for e-learning; and innovation. Tish’s presentation introduced the Enterprise SIG to the aims of the e-Learning Technical Framework and Tools strand.

The objectives of the programme (taken from JISC e-Learning Framework page) are to:

  • develop a generic framework to join-up systems and support a diversity of pedagogic models and institutional types.
  • establish the key current requirements of an e-learning system and define the ‘pool of services’ (applications and interfaces) needed to support e-learning.
  • map, consider, inform, and be informed by existing development activities funded by the JISC (such as the IE, Grid, etc.) and relevant external activities.
  • pilot or demonstrate exemplars of systems and tools that are based on open standards and that are solving interoperability problems.
  • identify ‘gaps’ in software provision, standards and middleware that currently prevent institutions developing a coherent architecture and, where appropriate, commission the development of new tools and interfaces.
  • create evaluation and dissemination strategies that will communicate main findings and recommendations to relevant stakeholders on a regular basis; regular feedback will be sought via working groups and wider consultation activities.

Tish asked delegates to submit expressions of interest, stating their skills (e.g. Java, UML modelling, XML, WSDL, .NET, J2EE, IMS standards, etc), and potential time available for working on short or long projects. JISC will be commissioning short projects testing and developing tools (e.g. testing tools developed in existing projects), and longer projects spanning a couple of years, (e.g. demonstrating specific user scenarios that cross traditional boundaries, or integrating products / tools / services and standards). The programme intends to identify gaps, and develop Open Source tools to fill these gaps.

JISC will also be developing an infrastructure to support the projects, and is currently working with CETIS to provide a developer bay where developers can collaborate and share tools, find references and resources, carry out plug fests, use testing facilities and toolkits, etc.

There is already a call for a Scoping Study to inform the new Frameworks Programme up on the JISC website (tenders to be submitted by 30th January).

We also distributed an article by Scott Wilson, entitled: Case for a Technical Framework to support MLEs and e-Learning.

End of notes, thank you.

 

Address: Vashti Zarach, CETIS Enterprise SIG Coordinator, Research Institute for Enhancing Learning, Padarn, School of Education, University of Wales Bangor, Normal Site, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2PX. Tel: 01248 388384. Email: v.zarach@bangor.ac.uk.