There is a guide on selecting technologies and anyone considering the need for a new information system is recommended to use this tried and tested model to help you define your requirements and then evaluate the options on offer.
This section merely highlights a few examples specific to the area of managing course information that helps to show how the learning providers have gone about defining their requirements and making decisions about what type of system (commercial, in-house, open source etc) would be most suitable for them.
Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) was unable to find a commercial curriculum management system that would scale to its needs and so opted for an in-house implementation (although it does not view this as a permanent solution). MMU has produced a generic set of stakeholder requirements which were used to frame its in-house implementation (case study on developing stakeholder requirements for an academic database) and a host of findings on what is still the most thorough reform of course information management in the sector.
The University of Lincoln completed the implementation of an academic programme management system (APMS) in 2013. This provides a system for recording academic programme information; proposing, validating, modifying, revalidating or deleting programmes, and for producing diploma supplements. It provides automated version control and archiving of definitive programme information and is used for the production of information such as marketing material and KIS data. The university has published its invitation to tender (ITT) material: ITT 198-1 ; requirements: ITT198-1 annex 1 to appendix A – requirements list; pricing and questions: ITT 198-1 appendix B.
The University of Salford identified that the data and information systems needed to support the management of continuing professional development (CPD) courses was quite different to that for their undergraduate and postgraduate provision and has produced a guide to evaluating solutions to support CPD course data and processes.
A number of institutions are using an enterprise service bus (ESB) approach to exchange data between a number of different systems and some are making use of the solution offered by the Nexus service.
"We had hoped to use a commercial product but it’s clear that they are some way from having systems that will scale-up to meet the requirements of a large institution such as MMU."
Manchester Metropolitan University
"The use of enterprise service bus (ESB) as a middleware has been an interesting development that was not anticipated at the start of the project."
Royal Holloway University of London
Buy or build?
London Metropolitan University considered three options:
- Implementing an off the shelf, purpose designed course information management system
- Developing and implementing our own purpose designed system
- Utilising existing systems, in particular the student records and content management systems
An off the shelf solution would have been preferred, but initial investigations found that the only suitable products would have been more expensive and taken longer to deliver, taking procurement and the lead time on vendor consultancy into account, than an in-house solution.
The development, though non-trivial, went more or less to plan.
"…the first lesson learned is that purpose built systems, based on a robust design and a good flexible data structure, can save effort in the longer term when making use of the data."
The University of Kent found pros and cons with each of the buy/build options:
- Quicker to implement
- Other HEI users for support
- More expensive
- Likely to need customisation
- Third party deciding priorities
- Decisions about platform to be made
- Harder to predict performance issues until later in the project
The university ultimately decided to build their own system.
New or old?
Aston University developed its own course information database but had to make a decision about whether or not to base this on its existing student record system which it felt used obscure and outdated programming concepts. Despite these shortcomings they decided to continue with SITS as the technology platform as the difficulties would be offset against the benefits of building within a key university system:
- The administrative staff who will be maintaining the course information were already trained in its use
- Utilising a core university system provided reassurance for staff that this is a mainstream and well-supported project, integrated into university processes
- Much course-related data was already stored in SITS and could be accessed directly from within the system without the need to develop and maintain interfaces between systems
- Related information is maintained in SITS providing possibilities for further developments.
- The course database will slot easily into the maintenance framework of the dedicated SITS IT support team