Posts Tagged ‘XCRI-CAP’

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…


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

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

A different perspective on our project

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Last week Ian Tilsed and I attended the first face-to-face JISC programme meeting in London. It was interesting to see just how many ways there were of approaching a similar goal. Many institutions already have a course information database and just need to produce a XCRI-CAP feed. Others, like us, were using the project as an opportunity to produce an entirely new system to consolidate existing sources. And quite a few were asking the providers of their student records systems to step up and produce the feed.

However many of the challenges facing the projects were the same. Engagement from the wider institution seemed to be one of the largest problems for most projects, but I was delighted to report that we are doing really well here. This might be because such a database at Exeter is well overdue, so everyone is really keen to see it implemented, but it’s a good sign nevertheless. The good news is that once we do have iPaMS in place, producing the XCRI-CAP feed should be easy as we have designed iPaMS to hold the data in the right structure to do this.

Now we need to put some thought into what the XCRI-CAP feed will actually be used for. Our course data is a valuable asset and we might want to consider who has access to this…

CRIATE Lead Developer

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My name is Helen Connole and I’m the lead developer for the CRIATE project. I have worked at the University since 2007 and am the Web Developer for the Business School. I have been seconded to ExeIT part time for over a year now and have experience of how things work both in the colleges and in the central University infrastructure, which is very useful for this project.

The system itself is being built using the Zend Framework (PHP) and the aim is to create a flexible but sturdy system which will cater for the ever changing needs of the University.

iPaMS developer

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Hello all.

My name is Ben and I’m one of the two developers who is working on the CRIATE project. My role within this project is to carry out development work and assist the lead developer Helen Connole on the university’s new programmes and modules system called iPaMS.

I’ve been at the university since September 2009 and I have been involved in various development projects which have involved using a wide range of programming and structural querying languages and not just for clients within the university (one project was intended for use out in Afghanistan). Along with the CRIATE project I’m also responsible for developing and supporting the Exeter Award system, which is the university’s current careers events system.

Project Support Officer

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Hello everyone, my name is Lauren and I’m the Project Support Officer (PSO) working on CRIATE. I have a few main roles within this project. Firstly I work with the Colleges to help collect their programme and module data and to get it ready to import into iPaMS. Since October I have been working closely with our pilot college Humanities. So far we have collected all their 11/12 module data and I am now currently working on collecting their programme data too. Another aspect of being a PSO is to organise meetings with various members of the Colleges and project team. These meetings are essential for delivering updates regarding CRIATE and to allow further development within the project to go ahead. This role also allows me to be a point of liaison between other members involved in the project and Helen the lead developer. Overall I help with the general organisation of the project, filling up everyone’s outlook with emails and meeting requests and making sure everyone has done their homework on time!

Project Support Officer

Welcome to the CRIATE Project!

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exeter uni#

Welcome to the blog for the JISC funded CRIATE Project! This is where our progress can be followed during the project’s life cycle. There will be regular and informative updates from the whole project team, as well as postings of key documents and other related outputs.

By way of explanation, the CRIATE (Course Related Information AT Exeter) project is part of a wider JISC initiative related to making the most of course data.  CRIATE sits alongside 62 other projects in Stage 2 of the programme and is scheduled to run from January 2012 until March 2013.

CRIATE will build upon previous work by the JISC funded iPaMS (Integrated Programme and Module System) project, which developed a generic toolkit to allow the production, management and publication of programme and module information. The CRIATE project extends an existing, internally funded, project, which is developing a production course information database, based on the iPaMS schema, and gathering undergraduate course information from a variety of sources.

The CRIATE project will review the existing manual processes relating to course information, with the aim of introducing online programme and module approval, integrated with the course information database. From a technical perspective, the project will, in addition, review and extend the iPaMS database schema and specifications to address the requirements of Key Information Sets (KIS) and develop a process for the production of XCRI-CAP COOL URI compliant data feeds. This will also require the collation of course descriptions (numbering several hundred) relating to postgraduate, continuing professional development (CPD) and distance learning courses, in addition to undergraduate learning opportunities (with over 2,600 module descriptors currently identified).  As a result, the CRIATE project will deliver additions and amendments to the previously published iPaMS toolkit, made available at SourceForge.

In addition to the technical and process improvements, the CRIATE project is to review and update the governance and policies relating to course information and its supply to third parties. Furthermore, the opportunity will be taken to review requirements for the use of particular subsets of course data, particularly the various short courses on offer from the University of Exeter Business School, with the aim of identifying further uses of XCRI-CAP data.

That’s the project, in summary!  The project team is assembled, the work is under way and we are looking forward to getting to grips with more effective management of course data, and all the challenges that it will bring.  We also look forward to working with the other projects in the programme, and meeting their members at the various programme meetings.

Ian Tilsed
Project Director

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