Posts Tagged ‘University of Exeter’

Humanities Update #2

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In previous posts we have talked about the dates that were set for Humanities.

• Basic functionality of iPaMS (view/edit/copy) revise 11/12 data into 12/13 data: 14th Feb
• Data for 12/13 then feed to their intranet pages: 1st March (For online module choice)

These target dates were all met and  this blog post will focus on our experience of Humanities moving from dwai to iPaMS.

Lauren Welland – Project Support Officer
“Initially the first week Humanities moved over to iPaMS, all was quiet, I didn’t hear from anyone for a few days. It wasn’t until a week later people started using iPaMS and this is where the questions came rolling in. The majority of the questions were about how to use iPaMS, I instructed users to firstly follow the training material, whilst also giving them help via the phone. It started to become obvious that people didn’t have time to read/watch the training material and felt it easier to ring up with their questions. After a few weeks of questions regarding how to use iPaMS, new emails and calls were now coming through regarding issues with their data. I began logging all the calls and emails I received into a spreadsheet. My job was to co-ordinate between the users and the developers, working on these issues to resolve them as quickly as possible. By investigating the issue log we were able to see specific issues were spread throughout a number of users, whereas some issues were specific to particular users. This allowed us to investigate why some of these problems were coming to light for some and not others. A few of the main issues which I would be contacted about daily were regarding the names of the convenors and problems with logging in. Since the last two upgrades we have had on iPaMS, the majority of the issues have all been sorted now. The only main problems we have left is convenors/lecturers’ titles not showing when feeding to the web but this is currently being worked on.”

Helen Connole – iPaMS Lead Developer
“On 1st March the Hums intranet switched over to using the iPaMS web service. There were a few teething troubles as the web service displayed items in the order and formatting of the module template which was used as the basis of the iPaMS template design. Humanities however wanted to customise this to look more like their current intranet, and with a bit of tweaking at the front end, such as not showing blank data fields, they were able to achieve the result they wanted. Ben is planning to produce some documentation around this so that web developers in the colleges can best utilise the web service for their needs.”

Ben Norcombe – iPaMS Developer

“Over the past few months I have been helping with switching Humanities intranet over to the iPaMS web service whilst also helping resolve users’ issues. One of the main issues we have had, that I have been working on, was users being logged off/ unable to log into iPaMS, using SSO. To solve this problem, last Wednesday we released the Zend_Auth OpenSSO adapter to iPaMS allowing the application to authenticate against the university’s installation of OpenSSO within the application. This decoupling from the university’s SSO gives us the flexibility to assign the user with a Zend_Auth identity and then utilse Zend Framework’s Acl authorisation classes while using the secure authentication methods available in OpenSSO. As the adapter was written with portability in mind we have made it available to our colleagues within the university and there could be an opportunity to contribute the code to the Zend Framework library code base.”

The next stage for Humanities, which we will blog about soon, is to move both their programme data and archived data over to iPaMS. We are currently working on making the old module descriptor templates in iPaMS ready to import the data over from dwai. We are also working on the new 12/13 programme descriptor, investigating how we can link modules to the programmes and best use the data that will be held in iPaMS. Keep an eye out on the twitter page @JISC_CRIATE for more regular updates on these tasks.


Kate Hellman – Faculty Officer

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I work in the Faculty Office and have responsibility for policy and procedures for approval of new programmes and modules as well as amendments to current modules and programmes. The Faculty Office works as a team to support the Dean of Faculty of Taught Programmes and the Dean of Faculty of Graduate Research and the Colleges with the development of new programmes and to ensure that University Programme Approval procedures are followed. The Faculty Office is also responsible for maintaining records and archives of programme approvals and programme amendments. These are reported to Faculty Boards and are also published in the Calendar. The Faculty Office works closely with other offices such as the planning, marketing, admissions and registry offices at both the Business Approval stage as well as the final academic approval stage of the programme approval process.

Currently much of the work of the office is carried out manually and includes a paper archive as well as an electronic database of programme development and approval. CRIATE project will support the programme approval and amendment procedures by securing a single central database of all current and archive programmes, the approval process and any subsequent amendments. This will improve communication surrounding the processes as well as providing a visible reliable record of the procedures themselves. We look forward to completion of the CRIATE project which will provide an efficient and effective electronic format for both programme approval procedures and archive.


Project Support Officer

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As the new GBP Project Support Officer working on the CRIATE project I have had a lot of information to get my head around as I try and get up to speed on what has happened in both phase 1 and 2 of the project.  The team currently seem to be progressing at a rate of knots; we are now adding new module information from the College of Social Sciences and International Studies into iPaMS, Lauren`s training materials have been an invaluable resource in providing step-by-step instructions to help me with this.  I am also working on the `access rights` for individuals within iPaMS, hopefully getting started on this now will make life easier both for users and the project team as more information and functions are added to the database.

The entire team have been fantastic in helping me to find my feet and I look forward to seeing the project develop over the next year…there is still an awful lot of work to do.


Welcome to Catherine!

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I would like to welcome our newest team member, Catherine Hine, to the CRIATE project.

Catherine is a Graduate Business Partner who will be working as a Project Support Officer on the project for the next 12 months. She currently trying to get up to speed with all the policies, procedures and forms we have collected so far as well as understand where the project is up to, but we’ve already given her some ‘real’ work to do in looking at the permissions various people require for iPaMS, which will be used in the online workflow design.

In due course, I am sure she will be posting on here!


XCRI-CAP

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As part of our JISC funding we will be providing an XCRI-CAP feed from iPaMS. If you’re not up to date on what XCRI-CAP is then here is a video giving a quick overview of how the feed will work.

This feed will allow us to share our data with external users and services. Sounds great, but I want you to think about the implications…

What does XCRI-CAP mean to us?

The clear benefits will be automated links with UCAS, HEFCE, etc that will drastically cut down on our manual processes.

What is less clear is that market that will spring up to consume institutions’ XCRI-CAP feeds. Imagine a ‘comparetheuni.com’ or ‘Which University’ where every part of the course data is analysed and compared.

  • Would this be advantageous for us?
  • Are we confident that our portfolio would compare well?
  • Would some universities opt-out of providing this data?
  • Would some universities feel they can charge to provide it?
  • Would some comparison sites be seen as more ‘elite’?
  • Would some specialise on certain subjects?

These comparison sites would want to be perceived as drawing accurate conclusions (i.e. conforming to the common university rankings), but there could be some anomalies where courses at Exeter don’t compare well with other ‘comparable’ institutions. What would we do about that? Of course, all the other universities would be doing the same, so it could end up being a bit of an ‘arms race’ to improve ratings.

Please feel free to add your comments below this post!


Training Material

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Due to the continual development of iPaMS, we felt training sessions with the iPaMS users would become outdated rather quickly. It was therefore decided that documentation and videos would be the best type of training material as these would be easier to update whilst iPaMS developed. I first began with creating a word document that would enable users to learn how to

• Browse modules and search for specific modules
• Copy forward modules from a previous year to the new academic year
• Add new modules to iPaMS
• Edit and enter data into iPaMS

With limited functionality in iPaMS the document wasn’t too long and consisted of print screens and written instructions. It was also decided that a set of training videos would be made to coincide with the training document; these videos were made using Camtasia Studio. Using Camtasia allowed me to record a step by step guide, with narration, to further instruct people how to use iPaMS. I thoroughly recommend Camtasia Studio, it was easy to use and contained good editing functions.

For the time being, users are only able work with modules but as iPaMS develops functionality it will move to programmes too. Once Humanities have had the chance to work through the training material I will be sending out a questionnaire asking for their feedback on the document and videos. This will help to improve the future training material.

Here is a quick overview of iPaMS so far


Select module staff function

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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a way to connect staff to their modules in a more structured way than the current free text field.

This should improve ease of use for people using iPaMS – the system integrates with the University’s Ldap system to retrieve a list of Academic staff for the Humanities college, which can then be picked and assigned to roles such as Convenor or Lecturer.

It will also improve the ‘front end’ of iPaMS. For example colleges may want to link modules to (and from) staff profiles on their website or intranet. The staff username is used as the unique identifier, so this could potentially integrate with other systems too.

Below is a screenshot of the new feature in action.

Screenshot of staff chooser feature

This change is due to be released to the live iPaMS system this week.


Quality Assurance

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My name is Ruth O’Neale and I’m a IT Progamme Manager here at the University of Exeter, responsible for a number of projects of which CRIATE is one.  My role in the project is quality assurance, giving Sam and his project team day to day support but also acting as a critical friend and ensuring that the project is managed in the most effective way possible and in line with our University project governance and that of JISC.  I am keen that however possible project documentation is streamlined so no long onerous reports are produced and that we can easily keep JISC and internal stakeholders up to date on our progress  by using the same information but presented in the different templates required.

The project team are making good use of basecamp, an online collaboration website where we can share project information/documentation and this is a much more efficient way of sharing and maintaining project logs (risks, issues) etc rather than these being shared via email or on shared drives, especially as the project team is made up of individuals from various services (IT, Marketing, Faculty Office, Colleges).  It also alerts our basecamp members when updates are made so they are prompted to go and check the latest information.

A key success factor for our project is effective engagement with staff in the Colleges who have been maintaining their own separate databases up until now. Ensuring we communicate with them appropriately and in a timely way will be really important for our project.  As I’m delivering several projects across the University I may be aware of other factors outside of CRIATE which may impact on it and I see a role for myself in recognising these and in working with Sam  to mitigate any impact.  From a personal point of view like Sam I am relatively new to the University and to working in HE and I’m really enjoying working on the project and engaging with other institutions on the wider programme.


Zend Framework

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Whilst Sam and Ian have been blogging about the the project itself, I guess it’s time I wrote something about the technical side of CRIATE…

ZendFramework-logo

As you may know, we are using the Zend Framework (ZF) to build the system. The modular nature of ZF makes it quite easy to start in a simple way and extend functionality as the project progresses.

ZF uses a Model-view-controller (MVC) architecture which separates out the business logic and data (model) from the user interface (view) and the controller provides the link between these two. E.g. the user presses a button (view) which gets (controller) a table of data (model) from the database.

The database structure in CRIATE is quite normalised and flexible, in practice this means that rather than one or two large tables with hard coded fields there are numerous smaller ones with flexible options and lookup lists. This structure allows templates to be created with customisable fields. So if we need to add new fields say for the KIS data, an administrator could do this without the developer having to amend the database structure.

In ZF each database table has a corresponding model and mapper. If as we’re developing we need to add extra fields to a database table, it is easy to update the models and mappers too, without affecting the rest of the code.

Some of the mappers include calls to ‘parent’ and child’ tables too, which are related tables (for example a programme is related to a yearly programme description, via a common programmeId in both tables). Aside from the benefits of this structure there will be challenges too with tables with many thousands of rows, and the need to not attempt to fetch them all at one time!

ZF has inbuilt functionality for forms although this has somewhat of a reputation of having quite a steep learning curve, especially with getting the forms to display as you wish, and with valid HTML. However, once you have cracked this, forms are quite powerful and not that hard to use. I would be happy to help anyone else who is struggling with this.

ZF’s modular nature also helps when two (or more) developers need to work on same project simultaneously, as we can each work on different parts of the system. We are also using Subversion, which is the University’s version control system, to help us avoid overwriting each other’s work!

For more information on ZF, please visit the official website http://framework.zend.com/


A different perspective on our project #2

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As Sam notes, in his recent post about our attendance at the recent JISC Programme Meeting, it has been interesting to see just how many ways there were of approaching a similar goal.  This, surprisingly, was still the case even when the delegates grouped together by system or approach, during the afternoon discussions.

As two of us were attending the event, I took the liberty of joining the discussion centred around a particular student record system, that we also use, as I was interested to learn about the projects in that area.  It quickly became evident that there was no definitive approach, even though we were all using the same SRS, in part due to internal processes, but also due to the availability and use, or not, of various system modules by each institution.

However, there was much commonality in other areas, for instance in the intention to work together more closely to co-ordinate the submission of development requests to the SRS supplier, such that the product better addresses the management of course data.  It was also suggested that an SRS specific sub-group, within the programme, would also contribute to the broader efforts around the projects and this particular system.

It’s early days but the contacts made, allied with the shared vision, should help us to move forward in cooperative partnership with our supplier.  More on this, I hope, in future posts!

Ian Tilsed
Project Director


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