The diagram below was produced by HESA as an overview of course data in HE. It shows the main areas of the course lifecycle as they relate to learning providers’ information systems, the purposes the data serves during each part of the lifecycle and the interactions with the major sector level data sources.
This is already complex, especially when we think about the combinations of learning opportunities a single provider may offer (amounting to thousands of different combinations in the case of large learning providers) and it does not yet begin to hint at the variety of different sources of the data and formats in which it is held. It is a highly simplified ‘administrative’ view and each of the data arrows in the diagram may derive from a number of different sources (with different supporting business processes). Some of the ‘HE provider systems’ in the diagram above may indeed amount to no more than a series of filing cabinets in departmental offices.
Also it cannot be assumed that the originators of some of the data even think of it as such or that concepts are clearly defined so that there is a shared understanding and common terminology within a single organisation.
"Some institutions have very precisely defined (and published) lexicons while others find that different terms and phrases are used in different parts of the organisation to describe the same concepts. One institution mentioned the difficulty that the implementation of a new student records system caused, simply because a system that used to deal with courses and modules was replaced with a system that dealt with programmes and courses."
HESA, ‘What is a course’
Across the learning landscape as a whole it appears that the percentage of learning providers who have holistic policies for course data management is relatively small and even where sector-wide data standards exist (eg joint academic coding system (JACS) codes for subject classification), they are not always universally adopted. This situation is however beginning to change, particularly as a result of the course data programme.
"The lack of campus-wide agreement on how data is originated, disseminated and kept up to date and by whom means that the success of the operation [in this case course advertising] is over reliant on the skills, experience and determination of a few key members of staff."
University of Kent
"Some of the course data that is produced in the institution is not to sector standard. An example of this is in UWL in which the JACS code is not used as a subject classification for courses. These issues have been raised and will lead to changes to the course specification."
University of West London
"… we have learned the difficulty in getting changes to processes and data definitions agreed across the University. This is partly the result of there being no defined and agreed business process and business data owners, and the lack of embedded change management processes."
London Metropolitan University
"Major lesson – we didn’t understand our offer to stakeholders well enough and our internal policies and procedures for creation, verification and audit of course data were weak couldn’t be thoroughly tracked."
City College Norwich
Understanding the data is perhaps best achieved by taking a look at some of the functions it supports. See the section on course-related processes.