Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Deflated but not dismayed!

On Friday 23rd November Dave, Mike and Max met at Burton College to do another run through with the nursery manager. The experience left us deflated in more ways than one. Max's car had been abandoned in Tesco car park because of a puncture and LifeRay fell flat as well. We created a new account for Ruth which fell over (something temporarily unavailable) then registered her and it fell over (page not found). On both occasions a refresh or a logout/login appeared to get us over the two problems. Then we tried logging in as one of Ruth's students and picked up the ID to allow the employer (Ruth) to see her details. But when we then logged back in as Ruth the system for sharing the student ID was also temporarily unavailable.

So then we went and helped Max to get his puncture sorted - we probably spent more time doing that than using the access point. With that success behind us we went back to work, but what now for the pilot? - Well watch this space.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Planning for another evaluation!

Dave and I met Max, the new person appointed at Stoke for the project and we had an informal chat about the project and progress made to date.

We detailed our work so far and as Max is a student at Staffs Uni doing a degree course and an employee at Stoke, we thought it would be great if he registered on the system as part of evaluation. The process worked well and Max was impressed that he could see his completed modules and work to date.

We have set a meeting for Friday 23rd November at Burton College for Dave, Max, Mike and I to evaluate the system again with the Nursery Manager (as employer) and Nursery Assistant (as employee and student) to complete registration and see what happens next!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Computer Say No!

Dave and I met with Fleur (Programme Manager for the SURF-WBL Way project), today to go through the testing of LifeRay and the portal undertaken yesterday, and to document what worked well and what needs tweaking in advance of more work on the pilot.

We also discussed the forthcoming meeting with the tutor and Employer for the Construction FD and the evaluation of the pilot to be undertaken over the next couple of weeks.!!

Watch this space for more developments!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

'Take me to the Pilot.. Take me to the Chamber!'

Dave and I met with Mike Parker at Burton to go through the process of creating an account on LifeRay and using the portal process. We expected that certain aspects of the system would not be in place, and wanted to test and detail.

It seems to be some problem with completing the portal details form to register as a manager. It kept delivering a blank page on submitting the completed details page..

We also had the good fortune to meet the manager of the Nursery who went through the process as well as one of the nursery assistants (who is a learner on the classroom assistant foundation degree course at Staffs Uni). They too experienced the same problems. The learner's Staffs Uni student number was identified and detailed some of the module and course details, but would not let us register the learner!

Dave and I have a meeting with the WBL-Way Project Manager tomorrow to go through this in more detail and hopefully iron out any problems before the pilot continues!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Preparing to light the pilot

We are filling the gas bottles as we write and preparing to light the blue touch paper!

In preparation for the pilot we have done the following:

  • Arranged for Fleur to give us a detailed demo of LifeRay here at the College
  • Arranged to do a joint test and evaluation with Mike at Burton
  • Asked our pilot tutor to arrange a meeting with the pilot employer
  • Asked our data team at the College if the HE students sign the same data protection forms as other learners, or if a separate form is used

We look forward to the results of the fire!

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Shipshape and Bristol fashion

Well here we are blogging again!

Our recent aim has been to try and tie up the loose ends, work out what was outstanding and try and get ourselves up to date with any actions. So we went through meeting actions, notes from meetings and nags from the Project Manager. We knocked off a few of the actions and questioned some of the others.

All we can do now is wait!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Dug for more gold...found a diamond!

Just spoke with Nick diMarco (Construction FD tutor) and the identified employer who we wanted for the project has agreed to be involved in the pilot with their learner! The Architect company who have a learner on the FD course are happy to take part in evaluating the pilot for us from September!

We have a point of contact and will be following this up and introducing them to the project, the proposed pilot and the simple evaluation of the portal that we would be looking for.

The employer is very proactive in finding out what the College are doing for them from an educational point of view for their employees who may undertake any courses.

Great news and a good week of activities for the project!

...We struck Gold!

Dave and I had a meeting with Chas Warren (the new Director of Business) and Sandra Harris regarding the Goldmine system and what has been done to capture employer data.

The system is there, but not being used fully as it is at present only available on one computer! It is on the network and staff involved in collating employer data will soon be able to input data from their own computers!

Sandra and her team have made a start at collating employer data and adding it to the Goldmine system. It basically contains the name of the employer, address and phone number. Additional details and fields can be added but not utilised at present.

We had a discussion regarding the project and outlined what we are hoping to achieve with the pilot from September. I demonstrated the Liferay portal with the different logins for employer, learner, etc and they seemed impressed.

I emailed Chas the questions which I asked Phil Bentley on Tuesday (see last blog entry for details), and included the scoping questionnaire if Chas could add any further comments or views which would help. Dave and I feel we have made some good progress this week with the project and finding out the information stored at the College regarding employers and happy that we now have found some!

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Digging for employers!

Today, I met with Phil Bentley who is in charge of Quality and Curriculum and discussed the pilot of the project from September.

Phil is very keen to attend one of the next project management meetings and get involved in supporting us on the project. We discussed the area of employer engagement and who deals with and communicates with them. On the whole Chas Warren who is the new Director of Business is the person who has responsiblity for employers, specifically for marketing the FDs to employers and employer data. Dave and I have a meeting with Chas and Sandra from that area to discuss employer data and we can raise further questions in this area at the meeting tomorrow.

Phil also mentioned that tutors for specific FDs would communicate with employers directly so we can do follow up meetings with tutors for any outstanding questions that need answers!

I left a copy of the last scoping questionnaire and answers already collated. Phil is to go through these and add any additional comments and answers where appropriate.

The final part of the meeting was for a tour through Liferay so that Phil understands what we are trying to achieve as a project and how things will progress for the pilot and beyond.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Going underground!

This week we are concentrating on the data mining bit of the project, and particuarly the storage of employer data at the College.

Dave and I met with Brian Hollis, the MIS Manager to find out what information is stored on Eclipse. We discovered that the only information is a an account code, the employer name and a post code if you are lucky! This information is added to the system by one of the finance team when an employer is paying for one of their employees to attend a course. There is no link between the MIS and the finance system, in fact the employer even has a different code on each system (numeric in the finance system and alphanumeric in the MIS).

Brian has pointed us in the direction of the Marketing and Business Development departments who supposedly use a CRM system called Goldmine. We are awaiting confirmation of a meeting later this week.

Brian has left us with a priceless gem - Apparently some employers give their employees the money to be on the course, so the employees pay the money and attend the course in their own time. So in these instances we would never have contact with the employers at all!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Pilot - We almost washed our hands of it

Or another possible title (Pilot - we're cooking on gas!)

It's been a seesaw of emotions today as we tried to find possible volunteers for the pilot. At the last meeting we mentioned that the numbers on the Foundation Degrees have been dropping (from 45 at the beginning of the year to 36 now!), and today we discovered that our pet student/employer were going the same way. We had been relying on the MIS data to tell us which students were paid for by their employers and we could only find one. We talked to the FD tutor today to ask if this employer might pilot for us only to find out, to our horror, that the student is likely to fail and be withdrawn!

But then we were told by the tutor not to rely on the data (so I take back everything I said at the last meeting about the state of our data). Our tutor Nick keeps records in an Excel spreadsheet of all of the students whose employer pays for their course. And then, bless him, he named the perfect candidate and his local architect employer, and he's going to see them next week, and he's going to ask them if they would be willing to take part in the pilot. So right now we are hoping for 1 pilot learner, 1 pilot tutor, and 1 pilot employer. We asked Nick to ask the employer if they would accept in principle and to reassure them that it would not be onerous. We told him that the pilot would run for a year and he reminded us that it will be a very short year since the semesters are only 12 weeks each.

Today we also started the data mining operation. We have meetings planned for Monday and Tuesday next week with the MIS data manager and with the Head of Quality & Curriculum who has overall responsibility for HE in FE. We are very hopeful that he will attend the next project meeting with us.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

More answers to questions !!

With the questions sent out to the tutors yesterday regarding information about employers and mentors, I have received a reply from the tutor for the Arts FDs.

The FDs for the Creative Industries specify that all students should have a mentor and there is a Mentor's handbook issued by Surf. The Mentor should be someone related to their area of interest. As regards real employers the courses are part-time, most will have a real employer NOT necessarily related to the creative industries or may well be self-employed.

More replies and information will be disseminated as we get them in!

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Getting answers to questions !

I spent the morning in between supporting tutors with ILT relation problems, trying to find answers to some of the questions posed at the last project meeting which took place on 10th May.
  • Contacted all the tutors involved in delivering the Foundation Degrees for Complementary Therapies, Creative Arts, Heritage & Culture, Construction and Computing. I asked for possible answers to whether or not our foundation degrees have real employers and if the students have mentors.
  • I received a reply from Ian Smart, the tutor responsible for delivering the Computer HND course and he mentioned that Part time have real employers as they are working in Computing jobs. They can't do F/T because there is a need for a significant several month placement in a good computing position and we can't offer that in Shropshire unless the student can find one or are already working in one. This year all have opted to move to HND for Year 2.
  • Contacted the Director of Information and Planning to see where the Foundation Degree course descriptions come from; is it from Staffs Uni or our own institution systems.
  • Asked Evelyn Boyd the Team Leader for Shrewsbury College's LRC if the HE students are aware of the My Portal system.
    - Evelyn doesn't think the students are aware of any 'portal'.
  • Emailed to see who is responsible for HE in FE at Shrewsbury and detailed the WBL-Way project and what we are trying to achieve with the Foundation Degree work.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Aimhigher report (test for older men)

I know it's taken a long time but I've finally gotten round to reviewing the Aimhigher report and these are my musings:

Progression - It's interesting that this is sought after by employers as much as it is by students - some of the group on our Complementary Therapies FD knew they wanted to progress but did not know what their options were. But how do we serve up this information - should it be generic or specific? My daughter is coming to the end of her National Diploma at a local college and has been looking for some time at her options. She doesn't want generic pleasantries but real specifics. Her question is 'What are my options?'. Can we ever hope to be able to load the portal with all the right information that will suit any individual? If not then what are we going to try and do?

Course and module information - Again this appears to be common to employers and students. I would expect (and our College is about to make it a requirement) that this information will be available on the VLE. This is fine for students who have already enrolled and, from our student interviews, they all want this to be there. But this information also has to be available for prospective students and for employers visiting the portal. So where does the portal get it from? Obviously not from the VLE (which one would you get it from and what about permissions to access the course) so my guess is that it would have to come from the portal. But now we're into the same area as course descriptors as explored by Fleur on her blog.

Case studies - I like the idea of having case studies about the experiences of other employers and it fits neatly with the idea of using this as a marketing tool as our tutors have been suggesting. Which reminds me, we really need to talk to our Marketing department about this!

Ideas for content development - There appeared to be suggestions within the report which could give us ideas for developing content. Perhaps it would be useful to compare to what we already have and to 'divvy them up'.

Clarity of scope/purpose - Something has been nagging away at me for some time and it's not easy to put into words but this report helps. When you look through the various responses you can see how some are very specific (e.g. sector information for the NHS). If we were to take each of these, plus the requirements documented elsewhere, and try to deliver them all we would never end the project. Just look again at Fleur's thoughts about course descriptors. If we have to go through those cogitations for each item then we're in trouble. So how do we decide what's in and what isn't. There is a danger that we will descope things that are too difficult or time-consuming, perhaps settling on something generic and all encompassing, but then the final result could be diluted and sterile.

It comes back to a question that I asked once before but I don't think anybody understood it. I asked how does something get on the portal? (who puts it there?). From my brief look at LifeRay (still hindered by access from college) the screens I saw had some content. Why is it there?, who decides that it should be there?, how did it get there?, who changes it if it needs changing? So how much is the content pre-decided and how much of it magically appears depending on who you are?

Sorry I got a bit carried away - no doubt we can pick this apart at the meeting on Thursday.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Return to the fold!

Dave and I reviewed the responses from the Complementary Therapies online response form to see what materials could be developed for the project.

The learners would liked to have a full description of the course (module information, assignment schedule, etc). That was a unanimous response from all 6 learners so we are going to discuss this with their tutor with a view to developing this course-specific resource for next year.

The learners would also have appreciated a progression route from the foundation degree, so this is another possibility for the portal.

The Portal is looking really good, but we haven't been able to access RaysLife from within Shrewsbury because of a firewall issue, probably related to the use of the port in the URL. Dave managed to take a quick look from home last night before being dragged away by his wife. From what we see, we agree with Fleur's comments about the appearance - We like the way that it mirrors the web site.

We either need Stafford to release the site properly or we need the College to make a firewall change. We think that it may be quicker for Stafford to do the former!

Friday, 30 March 2007

More Therapy needed!

Just returned from a Steering group meeting for Complementary Therapy which took place at Staffs Uni. After the horrendous journey stuck in a huge queue of traffic, tutors and 'IT' representatives from each partner institution met to discuss the possibility of having access to the same system for accessing materials and communication.

I spoke about the recent meeting that Dave and I had with the Complementary Therapy students on the FD at Shrewsbury and one identified wish list item was the need for an area where they could communicate not only with the rest of the group when they are not in College but with students and tutors at the partner colleges who are delivering and experiencing the same course materials, problems and ways of helping each other.

It was identified that Newcastle, Cannock and Shrewsbury are using Moodle and Stoke using Learnwise. The problem could be resolved in a number of ways:
  1. Everyone has access to Blackboard to access the same materials and communication tools
  2. Use own institution VLE to upload course materials, and have access to Blackboard for communication with other colleges
  3. Choose one institution VLE for all to access
  4. Make use of the Portal being developed for the SURF Project

A number of valid thoughts were aired as to the pros and cons of the suggestions.

  1. Everyone needs to be clear of what will be on the Blackboard system, how to use it and make sure that everyone has a login to the system.
  2. Own institution VLE use is fine, and this could happen quickly, but why a need to replicate materials in different ways?
  3. Easy to set up, but who decides on which to use and why!
  4. Portal would be great to address all the issues, but will not be ready in the short-term for the exisiting students on the course Now!

The result of the meeting was to try and use Blackboard for all course materials to uploaded and a communication area for all to use. The next meeting will have somebody from Staffs Uni to give a introduction to Blackboard and how to use the system.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Anyone for Therapy?

On Wednesday this week Richard and I met with the students taking the Complementary Therapies Foundation Degree. We gave an outline of the project and had an informal discussion based around the questions we wanted to ask them. We then went to our LRC and the students used an online feedback form in Moodle to give us their responses.

During the informal bit we got the overall impression that the students could have done with much more information in advance of the course, especially information about what a Foundation Degree actually was and the the structure of the course they were about to embark on. It was also obvious from their replies that they would appreciate an online facility to communicate with their fellow students and those sitting the FD at other colleges. Right now this course does not use or Moodle VLE but we are taking steps to address this. This will deal quickly with online access to course materials and to communication tools for use within their course. However it won't deal with communication with students elsewhere unless we invite them onto our VLE. Either they need a Blackboard facility or of course they need the outputs from the project. I think it's touch and go as to which one comes first! (said slightly tongue in cheek).

The detailed feedback is available to the project team in our shared files area.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Marketing the Foundation Degrees

I attended a meeting on Monday 19th March to discuss how the College could market the 'Creative Arts' foundation degree. Members of the Marketing team, the tutor for the course and the Head of Art met to discuss how we could take this forward.

We spoke about the possiblility of setting up a Moodle course to showcase examples of work from the foundation degree course with useful information for prospective students. A page on the College website could be developed to advertise and promote the Moodle course to give as much awareness as possible.

I am in the process of setting up the new course and working with the tutor (Hugh Sanders) on the Creative Arts FD to add the content. One good suggestion was to include good quality images from the students work and communication items so that the prospective students can communicate with the staff and current students on the course.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Tutor Scenarios and Learner Feedback

Great day on WBL-Way!

Richard and I used the staff interview responses to produce 4 tutor scenarios for using the portal. Interestingly the main theme appeared to be communications, either messaging or discussion forums. Does this tell us something about the way in which staff at the colleges might use the portal?

We also finished preparing for a learner feedback session next Wednesday. We are meeting with the students on the Complementary Therapies FD to explain the project, engage them in informal discussion, and then encourage them to give us their feedback and suggestions via an online questionnaire which we have built in Moodle.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Scoping meeting: Feedback to 'The Management'

After the very productive Project meeting on Thursday 15th March, I met with the Management at the College (Abi Smith and Len Tildsley) to feedback the outcomes of the meeting and talk over the proposed development of the portal.

They were very impressed with the progress from the meeting and that the Management answers to the scoping questionnaire was useful to the project group.

Next step for Shrewsbury is to work on and complete the scenarios from a tutor's perspective 'What would you like to see on the screen when you login to the portal?' The scenarios will be derived from the interviews and discussions with the tutors working on and delivering the Foundation Degrees at Shrewsbury College.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Project Meeting: Scoping discussion

Finally made it to the Project Meeting in Stafford (althought 15 minutes late), after long delays on the road! Saw two crashes on the way!

The meeting was very productive as we discussion the scoping for the portal and what is should contain and why. The document that Mike, Dave and myself put together after our initial scoping meeting was very useful in answering some of the questions and the functionality of the portal.

We identified the Stakeholders and what should be seen by specific parties. The result of the meeting gave Sam much information in order to progress with the initial design views of the portal front end and the process needed for each stage of the development.

Action for all partner colleges is to produce three scenarios based on a tutor's perspective:

'What would you like to see pop up on the screen in the portal?'

These will be fed back via the Google Groups area for all to look at and discuss in advance of the next project meeting.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Scoping Questions for Management

Met with the Director of Information and Planning and Head of Learning Services to go through the scoping questions aimed at Management at Shrewsbury College to gain information regarding FD's and some of the important issues.

I gained some good responses with the problems identified that need to be resolved in order to make WBL work on Foundation Degrees, their development and the question of employer involvement.

The results of this meeting will be feed back at the next project meeting to take place on Thursday 8th March.

Monday, 26 February 2007

Second interview with Complementary Therapy staff

After arranging the next round of interviews with FD staff, Dave and I met with the Head of Department for Hair & Beauty and the course tutor for the Complementary Therapies FD to go through the interview questions we had prepared.

We gained some interesting feedback regarding the WBL model and how it will work on the course and also that all the learners are self-employed and do not work for an employer.

One outcome of the meeting is we have been invited to the Complementary Therapies steering group meeting to discuss the project with the other partner colleges involved with the FD. We have also arranged to meet with the learners on the course at Shrewsbury. We will produce an online questionnaire to gain feedback from the learners perspective. This will take place on 21st March.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Preparation for the Scoping Meeting

Richard and I had a 'happy hour' this morning going through the Project Plan word for word. As we read we tried to relate it to the scope of the project. We came up with a number of questions, the answers to which will hopefully help to understand the way in which the portal will work and be structured. These questions have now been posted in the WBL-Way Google group.

We've also been in touch with the staff involved with FDs to arrange another meeting with the stated purpose "for us to understand how 'work based learning' is going to work on your foundation degree, to get a little more information about the employer relationship and to find out if you would be willing to let us interview your students"

We are aiming to get these meetings completed within the next 10 days so that the results can also inform the scoping meeting on 8th March.

Monday, 19 February 2007

The 'Three Fishes' meeting!

On 15th February 2007, three men met to discuss and agree a scoping document for the project:(Dave Shearan, Mike Parker and Richard Booth).

This was a very useful meeting, agreeing on a possible structure for the information portal.

In advance of the meeting, Richard and Dave used the scenarios from the project plan to try and understand what the portal would have to contain for the scenarios to work. This generated more questions than answers and provided a useful starting point for the scoping meeting.

The meeting wasn't easy! We had to keep telling ourselves to ignore things like design, where the data was going to come from and whether something was possible or not. The output from the meeting was a scoping requirements document which has now been uploaded to the project google groups file area.

We all rewarded ourselves with a much deserved pint of Three Fishes finest beer! (well, beers!)