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Report from the JISC CETIS conference 2007: Beyond standards

Sarah Holyfield & Christina Smart
Last modified 03 Dec, 2007
Published 03 Dec, 2007
We report from the JISC CETIS conference; "Beyond Standards - Holistic Approaches to Educational Technology and Interoperability" held on the 20th and 21st November 2007 at the Lakeside Conference Centre, Aston, Birmingham. The conference gathered invited delegates to debate the innovative systems of the future and how JISC could support their development.


Now in its fourth year the JISC CETIS conference has become a must in the calendar. Taking an unashamedly technical focus the conference gathers experts from within the JISC community as well as creative thinkers from outside the sector, both national and international, to think ‘outside the box’ and "to anticipate the innovative practice of the future rather than focus on the best practice with the technologies of today."

Adam Cooper, JISC CETIS deputy director said: "The focus of the conference is on exploring the territory, rather than coming up with practical solutions, we want people to operate on the boundaries of informed speculation."

As in other years the format included a number of keynote presentations as well as parallel discussion sessions, led by the JISC CETIS staff. This report will give a brief overview of the event. As always it is impossible to go to each session, but this year the delegates took the invitation to blog about the event to heart, so we have a rich collection of personal reflections from the sessions which can be found on the conference website along with several articles on our website). Each session has also gathered blog posts, presentations and other resources together on their wiki pages. This report is an overview and provides pointers to where you can read more.


Oleg Liber, Director of JISC CETIS

In his opening keynote Oleg reflected on the last ten years of national funding for educational technology interoperability standards, and on the changes that have taken place for education. In the past universities and institutions were the only way to access education, but now open content and social software give people access to content and each other outside of the control of the educational establishment, he said. Technology has developed and we have exploited it, he reminded us that ten years ago we couldn’t link from email messages, and broadband wasn’t available. Oleg likened institutions to a frog being slowly boiled to death, where the improvements in technology might be too slow for institutions to notice until it is too late. "Universities need to think of themselves as one learning node, part of the knowledge environment, but not the whole" he said. To facilitate these changes we will need to understand institutional business processes better. We will also need tools that can cross institutional and personal barriers. In terms of content we will need more opportunities to share, validate and certificate, he said. Oleg concluded by suggesting that we need to think beyond standards, to practical and more "seamless interoperability" to make these changes possible, and to allow universities to fulfil their role in benefiting society.

("Oleg’s presentation": )

Patrick McAndrew has a good summary of this talk

Sarah Porter, Head of Development, JISC

Sarah’s talk focussed on innovation, change and transformation, and JISC’s role in fostering innovation for the sector. Asking the question "Why do we innovate?" Sarah said we innovate to improve practice and quality, responding to the changing needs of users, new opportunities and changing external pressures.

In terms of teaching and learning it is clear that student profiles are changing, and a new JISC study into student expectations’ will look into this. Externally there are government drivers including the widening participation and inclusion agendas as well as the Leitch Report recommendations for skills and employment. One thing we can be sure about is that the pace of change will continue, she said. Sarah went on to consider the models we have for adoption of new innovations, including Moore’s Crossing the Chasm theory , and the MIT90s transformational models on technology adoption. Asking the question "If we know what the problem is, why hasn’t anything changed?" Sarah suggested that we need to acknowledge that institutions are very complex organisations, and that a combination of top down policy and strategic approaches as well as bottom up practice and experimentation, in short to take a holistic approach. The JISC has been funding projects to address problems from these different perspectives, including the Scottish Transformation projects, XCRI, Reload, the CAMEL tangible benefits project and many more. In her conclusion Sarah stressed that JISC are responsive to new ideas about how to foster innovation and asked delegates to feedback their ideas to the Development team at JISC.

Sarahs presentation

Patrick McAndrew has a good summary of "Sarah’s presentation.": )

Iain Stinson, Director of Computing Services, U.Liverpool

Iain provided a very timely perspective for delegates on the reality of providing ‘academic management and administrative information systems’ in HE institutions. UCISA represents ‘those responsible for delivering information systems and technology services in universities, colleges and related institutions’, and Iain told us about the results of the third UCISA Top Concerns Survey 2006/7 which offered members of UCISA a considerable number of ‘candidate concerns’ to rank, this was closely related to a similar exercise conducted by Educause and the results had many similar patterns.

The top concern the members identified was the funding and sustainable resourcing of IT. This is in the context of being required to reduce costs, yet provide expanding and improving services and facilities. The question of being able to provide a stable environment both as a service and for exploration was a major challenge. The need to align IT strategy with the institution’s strategic objectives came second, and Iain argued that this process needs to be involved at the right point of planning to ensure its transformative potential.

e-Learning continues to be a major concern and whilst it is embedded in the minds of learners, it may not necessarily be in the minds of senior managers. There is a tension between providing a good quality and reliable system for everyone, as well as an innovative environment which is also essential. The move from business systems as specialist processes, through to becoming integrated providers of management information, is a high cost area and needs a huge amount of institutional commitment.

Other concerns included the need for systems to be constantly available as they were now critical to many operations, and working patterns have changed, which has led to the issue of disaster recovery rising in importance as an issue. Strategic decisions on IT have an impact on how universities do business, and the question of how decisions are made about investment in IT systems is becoming an increasingly important issue.

There are some areas of concern which are rapidly increasing in significance but are so recent they are probably not yet properly reflected in the survey, in particular environmental issues, both because of carbon footprints, and also because of the rapidly increasing energy costs involved in providing IT infrastructure, and support for social networking, which is becoming a major concern for institutions.

Many issues were raised in the following discussion such as staff development, outsourcing, the changing role of IT departments and whether students should be expected to provide their own computers. Iain was concerned that there were many who would not be able to do this and IT departments had to ‘drag slightly behind’ in order to ensure the stability of what they provide.

Iain provided a sound ‘reality check’ for conference participants about to embark on two days of explorations and visions of the future.

The presentation slides provide more detail on the survey


The following brief reports on the session provide a summary and links to further reports and resources.

Day One

Responding to Change and Institutional Challenges

Facilitators: Brian Kelly and Paul Walk, UKOLN

Session wiki

This session explored the impact of Web 2.0 on educational institutions. Presentations from both the institutional perspective and the innovator perspective explored the issues around these disruptive technologies and considered whether they would herald the end of educational institutions as we know them, or be "simply absorbed into mainstream activities".

Brian Kelly gives an excellent summary of the session in his post When two tribes go to war and the session wiki contains links to other summaries.

Niall Sclater wonders whether consensus is breaking out

Beyond Reality: Multi User Virtual Environments and Games

Facilitator: Paul Hollins

Session Wiki

Educators are increasingly interested by the potential role of gaming and virtual environments like Second Life for educational purposes. This session explored emerging issues such as the range of systems available, technical interoperability and and "whether there's more to teaching in MUVEs than hype".

There were presentations from:

  • Daniel Livingstone, University of Paisley
  • Mark Bell, Indiana University
  • Sarah "Intellagirl" Robbins, Media Sauce (US)

A summary of the session can be found on Daniel Livingston’s blog

and also Sheila MacNeill's blog

Learning Resources in the Ecology of Repositories

Facilitator: Phil Barker

Session wiki

The current work of the JISC Repositories Research Team which is addressing the complex interactions involved in the creation, storage and management of learning resources from the point of view of an ecological study. This session explored the parallels between the subjects of biological ecology and the systems and entities at play in an information and learning environment to session aimed to provide an alternative perspective on repositories.

Neil Fegen has posted a summary of this session

A summary from Sue Manuel

Coordination and Control of Business Processes

Facilitator: Scott Wilson

Session wiki

Recent developments and some of the emerging challenges and pressures on the coordination and control of business processes (eAdministration) was the subject of this session. There were a number of presentations from JISC projects followed by a brainstorming session in which delegates identified some priority areas for future development. The priority areas can be found on the session wiki.

Sig Rinde’s thoughts on this "session":"

Beyond Standards

Facilitator: Wilbert Kraan

Session wiki

This session explored some of the alternatives to the standards approach to interoperability including adopting a single vendor's products (as in PC operating systems), or developing bridges that make different implementations interoperable or interchangeable (as in some network routing gear). Participants considered the pros and cons of different approaches from the perspective of an institution, a vendor and a sector body. A background paper Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access Kelly, Wilson and Metcalfe (2007) lays out the arguments in detail.

Day Two

Mapping across domains: an exploration

Facilitator – Helen Richardson

Session wiki

A range of issues of interest to the community were explored in this session, focussed around the questions:

  • What kind of domain models do we really want?
  • Which models will be fruitful for promoting discussion?
  • Which models will integrate with the e-framework, and with one another?

The relationship between e-learning domains, including Portfolio and Assessment, and how such relationships can be modelled and understood, is becoming a significant interest to the e-learning community, emerging from recent research and development work. In this session delegates looked at a high level domain map of HE in the UK, the relationship between portfolio and assessment, and the extent to which mapping can be explored between a range of domains.

There were presentations from * Tom Franklin, Franklin Consulting

  • Simon Grant - JISC CETIS
  • Yvonne Howard- University of Southampton
  • Bill Olivier - JISC

The session wiki includes all the presentations and papers.

"Cool" or just "Sad"? - What motivates learners to participate in and use technology?

Facilitators – Paul Hollins and Lisa Corley

Session wiki

The question of what motivates learners to engage with technology, and whether our understanding of this can inform the design of elearning tools was explored in this session. eLearning technology has been part of the educational environment for some time now, but not all learners have the same motivation to use it. However, engagement and participation with technology outside of the educational context has exploded. Whilst it is clear that these systems cannot simply be imported into the educational environment, innovative educational tools could emerge from an understanding of what actually motivates learners to use certain types of technologies. Andrew Ravenscroft from London Metropolitan University told participants about his interests in ‘designing ambient pedagogies and meaningful experiences for future learning’ and Hazel Hall from Napier University explained how soaial exchange theory could play a role in motivating learner engagement in online environments. Lively and productive discussions took place throughout the session and Lisa Corley has provided a detailed account of these on her blog

Mash-up Market

Facilitator – Sheila MacNeill

Session wiki

Participants had an opportunity to demonstrate their own mash-ups and see examples in use across the sector (from admin to teaching and learning) in this hands-on session. Tony Hirst showed how he has been creating open learning mashups with OU OpenLearn content and there were extensive discussions on the implications of this, in what was a lively and involving session, including the questions of

  • technologies
  • types of information needed to be accessible
  • identification of some common patterns of use.

The session wiki has a large selection of bookmarks and provides a valuable resource for those interested in this area, and Sheila MacNeill has written an interesting blog exploring many of the fascinating issues this approach raises.

Semantic Structures for Teaching and Learning

Facilitators – Lorna M. Campbell and Phil Barker

Session wiki

This session explored semantic technologies and asked such questions as

  • What can currently be achieved with semantic technologies?
  • What future developments are in the pipeline, and when are they likely to be realised?
  • How does the Semantic Web relate to Web 2.0?
  • What are the technical or non-technical advantages to exploiting semantic technologies and what are the barriers to their adoption?
  • What affordances can semantic technologies offer the domain of teaching and learning?
  • How can we facilitate communication between semantic technology researchers and developers and educational technologists and practitioners?

Position papers were provided by -

Tore Hoel, Oslo University College, Norway

David Davies, University of Warwick, UK

David Millard, University of Southampton

Mikael Nilsson, Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Alistair Miles, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Michael Gardner, University of Essex

Simon Buckingham Shum, Open University

The session wiki provides a rich background to these discussions including an extensive set of bookmarks, and all the position papers and is recommended for those interested in this topic. "Lorna Campbell’s blog": provides the thinking behind the session and a summary of the position papers, and Neil Fegen provides a useful description of the input made by the speakers and the topics that were discussed -

Sue Manuel’s summary of the session

Beyond Education: Employment and Skills

Facilitator – Peter Rees Jones

Session wiki

The focus of this session was reviewing recent and planned international implementations of ePortfolio for employability and identify the services learners require in this new situation. It was concerned with looking at how the traditional view of education and training has been at the heart of a lot of e-Learning standards and specifications, and wondering whether we are we now in danger of being left behind by the radical agenda endorsed by Gordon Brown, John Denham and Ed Balls in "Implementing the Leitch Review of Skills"? The session discussed the work of the HR-XML consortium, its potential implications for education and how we might influence or contribute to this work.

Keynote 3 "Beyond Interoperability – All at C?"

Professor Mark Stiles, Staffordshire U.

In his closing talk Mark Stiles, who has wide ranging experience at a senior management level, as well as teaching, and development, sent delegates away with a set of important reflections and questions to consider. Mark identified many words beginning with ‘C’ which seemed to characterise the world we are in at present, including Collaboration, Control, Communication, Conservatism, Confusion, Constructivism, Cultures …and so on.

He presented the following hypothesis – ‘In our desire to produce a holistic and inclusive view of the use of technology to support and enhance the entire learning experience are we in reality creating a world which will alienate those we seek to help?’

He considered the themes of innovation and control.

Innovation - There are several strategies for supporting innovation including; ‘ Let 1000 flowers bloom’, ‘Change things’, ‘Seed change by innovative projects’ - but the question is how to sustain innovation and run an organisation effectively?

Control - Mark reflected on the role of VLEs and considered whether they are being used in an innovative way or becoming a ‘straightjacket’. The ‘new web’ is bringing new possibilities for enabling informal learning, collaboration etc and is often outside institutional control. He then wondered about the question of control and commented- "In our desire to enhance the learning experience with technology, have we created a generation of learners who are watched, monitored, measured, intervened with, and controlled more than ever before?".

He reminded participants that we may think using social networking sites provides us with freedom, but we are often signing away the rights to our personal work to the companies running the sites.

So the issue is whether institutions can encourage innovation without losing organisational control. Mark presented a policy framework to help institutions develop their policies. He concluded that policy should be about enabling, not controlling and regulating.

Marks slides provide the questions he identified.

And Patrick McAndrew described Mark’s session in his blog


The conference was another stimulating and thought provoking event. It gathered together what is in effect a community of practice engaged in elearning and interoperability. It was a chance to explore some highly technical, and not so technical things in one place, and also to use some of the new tools it was thinking about to record what was happening. A rich set of resources were developed as a result, and the debates and discussions are continuing (see the growing list of technorati items at the bottom of - ) - and will hopefully help inform JISC in its deliberations on where to focus its future funding.

Here are some comments from the blogs and feedback:

"Had the pleasure of being invited to two days of discussions about IT among English educators - a first time for me, hopefully not the last! This is fun, wall to wall folks who thoroughly enjoy a good discussion, remarkably free from any entrenched viewpoints about IT. Sig Rinde

"Great interaction with the delegates and speakers. Relaxed & friendly atmosphere. Lots of opportunity for debate & feedback."

"Illustrated the gulf between those who control technology in Universities and those who wish to use them, in particular the willingness of the different groups to take risks."

"The depth of the technology understanding coupled with quite a pragmatic attitude. Highly enjoyable as well."

"Good quality discussion, with many very well-informed delegates highly engaged in the issues."


Supported by JISC Supported by CETIS
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