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JISC Course data project

A few days before the Christmas break, staff working on course data projects at the University of Sheffield were pleased to learn that we were among 64 higher and further education institutions to receive JISC funding for the second stage of their programme for improving course data processes and systems.

The subtitle of this JISC programme is ‘making the most of course information’. As SROC members will be aware, improving course information is a key component of the government’s plans for higher education. Higher student fees are expected to lead to an increased demand for easily comparable information about institutions and the courses they offer. The JISC programme centres around encouraging institutions to adopt the XCRI-CAP (eXchanging Course-Related Information- Course Advertising Profile) standard for this. There is more information on the national programme’s aims and drivers here, and details of XCRI-CAP here.
At Sheffield, it was felt that the JISC funding would also help to co-ordinate related projects that are happening simultaneously (KIS, HEAR, and internal reviews of our programme regulations and the undergraduate prospectus). We therefore applied for funding to complete stage 1 (the review and planning phase) in September, and our project team includes staff who run the related projects.
As the project support person, I began by interviewing key staff involved with the creation, maintenance and use of course data, hoping to gather a full picture of the processes involved. Previously, this kind of mapping had only been carried out in a fragmentary way by individual central departments. I created and linked Visio maps of the annual review of courses, the longer course advertising cycle, and the processes involved in setting up new courses and modules. We could then see where there were blockages, delays, duplication and illogical sequences in the processes preceding the sharing of course information externally. The project team were then able to identify feasible ways that we could use further JISC funding to make effective changes to processes and systems, and these were indicated in the bid we submitted to JISC to participate in stage 2. The documents created during stage 1 have been distributed to senior decision-makers, and will be used to suggest strategies for change and to gain high-level support.
By the end of stage 2 we will aim to implement XCRI-CAP for as many different types of course as possible. As JISC has highlighted, it is often the non-standard courses (e.g. part-time, CPD) that are most difficult for potential applicants to find. We also plan to use the money to improve programme regulations and specifications to ensure that the information we distribute is accurate and up-to-date, as well as more straightforward to extract.
Some members of our project team will be attending the SROC 2012 in Newcastle, and we plan to run a plenary session to share our experiences with stage 1 and stage 2. We look forward to meeting members who are facing similar challenges with course data, whether or not they are participating in the JISC programme. Hope to see you there!

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