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New XCRI Course Locator

Christina Smart
Last modified 17 Oct, 2006
Published 09 Oct, 2006
The exchanging course related information (XCRI) project has produced a prototype web service aggregator which will allow students to locate courses they’re interested in through a Google Maps like interface.

Imagine you want to apply for a course in your local area on say – Creative Arts, wouldn’t it be great if you could look on a map and see all the Creative Arts courses in your area to help you decide where to go? Well this will very soon be possible thanks to the work of the XCRI (Exchanging course related information) reference project and a new web service aggregator.

Aggregator showing geographical location of courses

Aggregator showing geographical location of courses.

XCRI reference model project

The project has been exploring the whole area of how institutions organise and use information relating to courses. At the beginning of the project there was no standardised way of representing course information. After gathering and analysing a vast amount of information the team (principally Mark Stubbs and Ben Ryan) produced an XML schema for describing courses – the first version of which was released in December 2005 [1]. Since then the schema has been tested and used in a number of organisations including the University and College admissions service UCAS.

Course Advertising and Map Aggregator

Recently the project has produced a ‘slimmed down’ version of the schema which includes elements for course advertising – essentially those bits that are required to run a web site advertising what courses are available from a particular university or college. Here comes the neat bit… the project team have built a bit of software that aggregates course data provided as an XML feed from institutional web sites and combines it with location data similar to Google maps and displays it on an interface so that you can see the details courses and the location of the colleges that are offering it – a potentially very powerful ‘mashup’.

Information on an individual course

Information on an individual course.

I spoke to Scott Wilson who built the aggregator;

“It was relatively easy to do – I’d say it took about two days work. You could see it as an example of inside out web services – institutions often think about what web services they could consume – pull in to their internal systems. This is an example of the information that institutions can push out – in this case to potential students.”

“The tricky bit was getting the location data. In the US postcode information is freely available, and Google offers a geocode service to map locations. At the moment it isn’t possible to get full postcode information in the UK – so I had to create a web service to combine the first part of the UK postcode with latitude and longitude information, eventually it should be possible to get the geocode information and be able to use the Google maps API in the UK. GeoXwalk are looking into this on behalf of JISC”[2].

Course Advertising Pilots

The latest call for the Capital Programme [3] includes a call for a number of mini projects where institutions across the UK can pilot the xcri course advertising profile. The aggregator will then be tested to check how it is working. If you are interested in being involved have a look at the call which closes on the 23rd November [3].

This is just one of the things that becomes possible when you introduce web services to an existing infra structure – and I’m with Vashti Zarach – co-ordinator of the JISC-CETIS Enterprise SIG [4] on this one, she said;

“I wish there had been things like this when I was applying for courses.”

If this has inspired you to have a go at making your own mashup there are lots of resources and APIs for creating aggregators and web services on the Programmable Web site [5].


[1] XCRI project web site

[2] GeoCrossWalk, an Edina JISC project providing location information to UK HE and FE

[3] The JISC Capital Programme Call - September 2006

[4] JISC-CETIS Enterprise Special Interest Group

[5] Programmable web site

Good example and clear illustration

Posted by Tavis at 2006-10-30 11:39 AM
That's really smart; very useful to show people who are used to working/thinking in a visual/concrete way. Plus it has our course in the sample!

It's sometimes quite difficult to sell people on the idea that, if they publish their information in a way anybody can hook into, then others will add value to it by incorporation, linking, transformation, building funky user interfaces etc., assuming that information is valuable to someone else.

This is a clear illustration; examples like this are appearing on the tea-time television news, so the concept may be familiar to many already, and the associations are generally positive for these types of web services.

Supported by JISC Supported by CETIS
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