Mark Stubbs: Manchester Metropolitan University

Interview with Mark Stubbs, Professor and Head of Learning and Research Technologies, Manchester Metropolitan University

Can you tell us a little bit about the background around your role and interest in the XCRI-CAP work?

Certainly, I’ve been involved in XCRI since the very beginning back in 2004-2005, when it was just an idea that there was a better way to manage course data, you know there was a feeling that there were moves in the sector to improve the information, advice and guidance available for learners but that at the time institutions were struggling to express their course information in a common way and that there were all sorts of convoluted manual mechanisms in place to move course information around from one part of the institution to another and to share it with aggregators such as UCAS, Graduate Prospects and others.  So there was this general feeling that there must be a better way to do things which is why I became involved in a project to improve the way in which we exchange course related information, XCRI.

What do you feel is the biggest benefit of the Programme?

I think that the biggest benefit is that it’s helped institutions to really come to terms with what’s really a difficult and challenging issue in terms of managing course related information.  The XCRI-CAP specification, standard as I guess it is now, has provided a focus for the output, but the real work lies in the processes that produce the output and I think the Programme has helped institutions focus upon that process and it’s provided the support group of other institutions to help them do so and it is surprisingly difficult to manage course information well.  There’s a temporal dimension because you need to have the past definitions of course information in order to produce transcripts.  There’s a present dimension in that you need to provide information to current learners, perhaps in a virtual learning environment, or whatever.  And there’s obviously the future dimension in terms of what’s going to be advertised for 2014 entry in the shape of a prospectus and dealing with those multiple timeframes is surprisingly challenging, particularly if you want to have a process in place that links in with quality assurance, marketing and student enrolments and bringing all of the different parties to the table to make it a success has been really what the Programme’s helped achieve and getting institutions to share best practice in that area has been good.

What do you feel is the importance of the Course Data Programme for the sector as a whole?

I think for the sector as a whole it’s really demonstrated that the sector can engage in process transformation for the common good and I think that’s quite important, particularly in the, and I hate to use those words, current climate but where we are at the moment the idea that institutions can work together to find a better way, a more efficient way to do things, I think is of significance at sector level and also with the increasing globalisation of education and the need to be able to project offers in a common way outside sort of UK borders and to be able to capture learner achievement in a way that can be expressed and understood more widely I think is the kind of areas that XCRI and this course information work is going to go to next and I know there are already standards work in that area going forward and it’s nice to see that the Programme’s been able to support that kind of thing.

You’ve touched on this already, but where do you think this will be going in the future?

Well, I think it would be great to be able to really have a common standard for expressing course information which would enable it to be mined and value added to it in all sorts of ways that we can’t imagine at the moment. I think that’s an exciting area for development, you know with open data and the way in which things can be provided in a very personalised way for learners to really understand the learning opportunities available to them.  That’s an exciting area for it to go into.  I think the other thing really is understanding when you’ve got a solid process in place for curriculum information management that there are efficiency benefits from that for the institution as a whole but being able to be very clear about learner achievement and the kind of curriculum they engage with and being able to share that with employers so that there’s a better understanding of what was studied and what value it might bring you know richer than the standard 2:1 definition I think would be a good area for development in.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about work that needs to be carried forward?

I think continuing the work that was started with the aggregators so that this really does become an end to end process so that information just flows from when it was initially approved as a programme worth offering, right through to where learners will make applications for that and having that common set of information flowing through is I think important so if the Programme can work with partners to make that a reality I think that would be great.