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Report from the JISC conference 2007

Christina Smart
Last modified 20 Mar, 2007
Published 20 Mar, 2007
Developments in the e-Learning Programme were well represented at last week's JISC conference. Of particular interest was the announcement of a JISC Enterprise Working Group to evaluate The Open Group Architecture Framework for HE and FE.

Each year senior managers from UK FE and HE institutions are invited to attend the JISC conference to witness the breadth and depth of the work undertaken under the JISC banner. We report from the conference and particularly the latest developments in the e-Framework for Education and Research.

Commentaries on the keynotes and presentations can be found on the JISC web site at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/events/2007/03/event_conf_0307

Sir Ron Cooke, Chairman of JISC

Sir Ron Cooke opened the conference with a short State of the Union address. One of the things he focused on was the recent value for money report commissioned by JISC which had reported that for every £1 spent on JISC the value to the HE and FE community is £9. Sir Ron wondered what the JANET network might cost if it were run commercially and speculated that commercial costs would be double current costs. Sir Ron went on to introduce the new JISC strategy and discussed the impact of research projects. He said that the impact of research wasn’t always direct, but was none the less vital to the community [1].

David Eastwood, Chief Executive of HEFCE

David Eastwood looked at the expansion of HE in the 1960s and again in the 1990s. During the 1990s the work of JISC had expanded along side the growth of HE. Speaking of funding he said that investment per student FTE had increased during the last 10 years bringing the system back into equilibrium after underinvestment during the early 1990s. The vast majority of HEFCE funding goes directly to HEIs with JISC taking up a small proportion of the budget. He reminded the audience that while JISC funding would continue to advise the community, the responsibility for infrastructure development was with HEIs themselves.

Considering system interoperability David wondered whether there was too much diversity of systems and asked ‘Is there too much grit in the gears?’ He wondered whether JISC could do something to facilitate more convergence around generic systems. (The e-Framework initiative has been working to address some of these problems see next section).

David considered the drivers for change and asked ‘what is a university when there is universal access to knowledge?’ He concluded by considering Jefferson’s University of Virginia which had the library at its heart, where previously the chapel had been the centre of university life. He asked ‘what would be at the heart of the 21st Century university?’, and was in no doubt that the internet had a key role to play [1].

There were a number of parallel session in the mornign ahnd afternoon, before the closing keynote. Below are short summaries of the sessions I went to.

e-Framework, SOA and EA

Using the e-Framework, Service Oriented and Enterprise Architectures to develop more flexible and better aligned ICT infrastructures.

Bill Olivier began this session by showing the e-Framework for Education and Research animation, and asking ‘what the e-Framework could mean for an institution’? He discussed the duplication of functions in current institutional systems and how a service oriented approach could open system interfaces and allow lightweight re-use through the development of integrating applications.

Bill explained that the e-Framework is:

1) A JISC programme which informs other programmes and co-ordinates service related work across the domains of e-research, e-admin and e-learning.

2) An International initiative, to share the workload and risks.

3) A web site and knowledge base.

He added that the e-Framework is NOT a software framework.

The e-Framework approach should allow institutions to integrate systems and extend infrastructure, adding new applications quickly. Over time this will lead to more flexible infrastructure which would facilitate strategic change.

Bill outlined some of the JISC’s current work on Domains and community development. Mapping and modelling of domains will allow practitioners and developers to develop a shared view of a particular problem space. Broadly speaking there are five sub domains within institutions:

  • Learning and Teaching
  • Research
  • Libraries
  • Administration
  • Information Services

Bill said the idea was that each institution would pick up the JISC developments that were appropriate to their priorities and needs, so the infrastructure they developed was tailored to their own needs [2].

The second part of this session was by Chris Greenslade from the Open Group who spoke about Enterprise Architectures.

While SOA focuses on the software, Enterprise Architectures (EA) is the bigger picture looking at aligning policy and processes within an organisation with its IT infrastructure.

The open group is a consortium of companies and organisations developing standards for global interoperability [3]. The consortium consists of a number of fora where suppliers and customers come together to develop standards and make recommendations.

The Architecture Forum has been developing TOGAF (The Open Group Architectural Framework) a process for developing IT architectures.

Chris presented some definitions of Enterprise Architecture, including this one: “The primary purpose of an Enterprise Architecture is to inform, guide and constrain the decisions for enterprise related IT investments.”

TOGAF is based on the work of John Zachman, who developed a framework which allows you to decide whether you fully understand your organisation. The idea is that you can’t make change unless you understand:

  • What you have
  • How it works
  • What it does
  • Why it does it

TOGAF is a framework and process that builds on best practise in developing Enterprise Architectures.

The group is also supporting an emerging profession of Enterprise Architects by providing qualifications and certification programmes.

Bill concluded the session by announcing that the JISC working with the Open Group to establish an Enterprise Architecture working group for FE and HEIs to facilitate a good understanding of EA in colleges and universities. The Enterprise Working Group will provide case studies and evaluate the benefits of the EA and TOGAF approaches. This is great news because the lack of skills in developing architectures has been an identified issue for sometime [2].

For more information on how to get involved contact Bill Olivier (b.olivier@jisc.ac.uk).

Enabling Life long learning:

The role of technology in institutional and cross institutional contexts

This session chaired by Sarah Davies looked at four very different examples of cross regional partnerships and projects and how they are enabling students in their transition between FE and HE.

My favourite talk was from Bill Pollard from Cheadle and Marple College who described how students are using del.icio.us to tag their favourite university courses. Bill said that students on their e-media course had been reluctant to apply to university, mainly because they couldn’t find courses to apply for. In response they had started a project where students found courses and gave them del.icio.us tags so that they could share them with each other. The result is that students have been able to locate courses that suited them and applications to university have shot up.

Also in this session Bill Leivers from Loughbourgh College talked about their project on the e-progress file. Students record their achievements in the files which can be transferred to university if students so wish. The project has also been expanded to provide progress files for 14-19 year olds.

Mark Stiles introduced SURF WBL WAY a new regional project funded by the JISC capital programme which will look at the needs of employers and mentors in work based learning settings. The project builds on years of work at Staffordshire University, and aims to provide integrated information tailored to learners and employers.

Gill Ferrell from JISC Infonet spoke about the CAMEL project which set up a self help group for support staff and involved structured study visits to each institution. Participants had found the visits very useful and the model will form part of a new set of projects in the near future [4].

Tom Loosemore, Project Director, BBC 2.0

The BBC’s 15 web principles

Tom gave a very useful and entertaining talk for anyone who has ever developed a web site. And I’m sure we need all of these. As project director for BBC 2.0, Tom has just undertaken a review of the BBC’s 2574 sites and illustrated he his talk with some great examples from the BBC and elsewhere. For those who don’t have the time to look at all 15, Tom gave us just five.

Web sites should be:

  • Straightforward
  • Functional
  • Gregarious
  • Open
  • Evolving

His message was that user needs must be at the centre of all web site developments, and that in the BBC online activities are becoming as important as making TV programmes [5].

There were a number of other parallel sessions that I missed, including one on Learner Experiences. Commentaries on each session as well as presentations are available from the JISC web site [1].

References

[1] Commentary on the keynote presentations

[2] Presentations and summary of the e-Framework, SOA and EA session

[3] The Open Group web site

[4] Presentations and summary of the Enabling lifelong learning session

[5] Commentary on the closing keynote

 

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