Joss Winn: University of Lincoln

Interview with Joss Winn, University of Lincoln

Lincoln project – Oncourse – which was on the back of a larger internally funded and organised project to implement a new curriculum management system.  Oncourse existed at the fringes of that project.  I was interested in what could be done on the outskirts of that project with its data

Most satisfying aspect of the project?

It has been very satisfying because we’ve got a fully-fledged new curriculum management system with a valid xcri feed.  But I don’t think our project can really take credit for that.  Our project, as I said, was interested in the data that the larger project was producing, including the xcri feed and Jamie Mahoney, who I worked with, the developer who worked on the project full-time, he spent a lot of time trying to understand course data, the complexity of it.  We also have historical data so we could see changes in the curriculum and the institutional structure as a whole over time so he did some very interesting visualisations to get a grip on what course data looks like and the relationships between modules and programmes, learning outcomes, that was very interesting.  From there that then helped us to model the data that we took from the APMS.

What has been the biggest benefit of running the project for your institution?

Well running the Jisc part of the project I think we have probably been useful auditors, as the project, in terms of ensuring the data that it produces is sound and the APIs that the main system has were useful to developers at the University.  But I think the main benefits are probably going to arise over time really because the Jisc funded project has given us the opportunity to warehouse that data and now we’re starting to link it to other institutional data sources.  And we’ve produced 3 prototype applications to show the variety of uses that course data can have so from this point onwards at the end of the project it’s about appealing to people in the university and demonstrating what can be done with course data.

What’s going to happen in the institution post March 2013?

Well the curriculum management system’s in place and it produces the xcri feed and the kis data and I know that it’s intended for that to also produce the HEAR data and it’s also producing diploma supplements as well.  In terms of the work that we did which is more about looking for business intelligence really and I hope that we can work with colleagues in registry and planning to apply some of the techniques that we rehearsed in our project as well as take some of the applications on that we prototyped in the project as well.  So we have a data warehouse now which a large component of that is curriculum data, we’re starting to link it up with other data – people data, reading list data, space data, timetable data so it’s about trying to create a universal index for the university.

Do you have a feel for what the benefits of this might be to the sector as a whole for this type of work?

Well I hope that we can provide a few lessons learned for the sector, they’ll be in our final report.  I hope that, as with other Jisc projects that we’ve worked on, we take quite a data-driven approach, we try to develop standards-based APIs for our data and I think that this approach is seen as valid and catching on and so I hope we can offer support and advice in those areas as well.

What’s been the biggest challenge with the project?  Has there been a Pandora’s Box effect?

On the larger curriculum management system project I couldn’t really say.  They worked with a third-party company and I’m sure the company had to deal with a lot of the problems, they abstracted the problems away from us in some ways.  In terms of what we did on the Jisc project, just getting to grips with the complexity of the data.  Thinking about how to model it, and model it in a way that is useful to developers and for further development.  A lot of time was spent reading research and trying to understand the data available to us – it had never been available to us in that form before. 

What’s been the most interesting innovation in the project?

Well early on we were very interested in the visualisations that we were producing and they remain interesting but not very useful because of the complexity of them and Jamie wrote a paper which he is presenting in Barcelona next month on that work.

I think where a lot of effort went in was trying to model and then develop the data warehouse and the APIs for that data warehouse and it wasn’t just isolating the course data it was working with other developers who were working on other Jisc projects at Lincoln to combine it with people data and research data.  I know that that for developers working with me that got me very excited, just feeling that they were at last starting to develop a coherent model for institutional data.