eXchanging Course Related Information

XCRIThree weeks without a noise from the Web Services blog! How have you coped, dear reader?! We’ve got lots going on with some exciting developments you’ll hear about over the coming few weeks but I’m going to talk about something that’s probably not quite as exciting to most people!

Before Christmas we submitted a proposal for JISC funding for a mini-project looking into implementing and testing the XCRI format. XCRI is an application of XML which is designed for exchanging course information between organisations. For example universities could provide a feed of courses to websites which aggregate course information, reducing the need to retype information.

I’m happy to say that we heard just before the holiday that our proposal was accepted! So now the work begins on integrating XCRI into our systems. This isn’t as hard as it might be – part of the work we’re doing redeveloping the corporate website is on the eProspectus and we’re working on ensuring from the start that all the information required to output valid XCRI feeds is available from the start.

About a week ago I attended the JISC CETIS Joint Portfolio SIG and Enterprise SIG Meeting at Manchester Met. I didn’t really know what to expect but there was a session outlining the XCRI project and developments from last year so I thought it would be useful.

The first morning session was from Peter Rees Jones about ePortfolios and how HE can integrate better with companies. More acronyms than you can shake a stick at, but many interesting thoughts.

Same for John Harrison’s session on “Personal Information Brokerage”. Some obvious comparisons with OpenID, but more than that offers. Edentity clearly think that Education (and delivery companies!) have the capacity to act as a hub for implementing some of the systems they propose. Personally, I suspect that the commercial sector will do more than they give it credit for. Looking at the criteria for selection:

  1. Need for further data sharing
  2. Clear organisational boundaries
  3. Capacity for collective action
  4. Demographics

John marked them down on 3 and 4 but I disagree. If that doesn’t describe Google, Amazon, Yahoo and a bunch of other online companies (including most that get a “Web 2.0” label), I don’t know what does. Okay, standards may be slow to establish at times, but when there’s the will it can happen!

So on to XCRI. There were a few presentations from people explaining the XCRI standard and how its been implemented in institutions. Mark Stubbs gave a good overview of the standard, where it’s come from and where it’s going. I’ve been using a useful diagram handout showing the proposed XCRI-CAP 1.1 schema for the last week to check that what we’re developing for the eProspectus is heading along the right lines.

A few of the last round of XCRI mini projects displayed their work – the University of Bolton probably most closely matching the work we’re doing at Edge Hill. They’ve not yet launched their new site but I’m keeping an eye out for it!

Some of the slides (including those from Selwyn Lloyd of Phosphorix – developers behind CPD Noticeboard) are on the website, so check it out if you’re interested.

Published by Mike Nolan

Head of Web Services

11 replies on “eXchanging Course Related Information”

  1. good stuff. i also managed to get one of those mini-project grants from JISC for Salford, so now trying to get our IT department to get some coordinated effort on the way (sadly, it includes a lot more pain due to legacy systems and some behind-the-scenes data that’s not optimised/normalised). exciting times, nonetheless…

  2. Is it bad that each time I read about this topic I just remember my National Record of Achievement and how it was going to revolutionise the data flow between educators, students and employers?

  3. Hey Phil, when I was an undergrad in the 90’s, I was handed my “electronic portfolio” on a floppy disk that I was going to be able to use when I left university to present my qualifications and skills to employers. hahaha!

    Seriously, though, with XCRI I think we picked a struggle we can actually win. Partly because this is useful now for existing services (UCAS etc), rather than requiring a load of process changes upstream.

  4. XCRI seems good from what I’ve seen, through CPD Noticeboard and a presentation about SOLVS.
    But I guess there need to be serious drivers to get widespread takeup – it needs to work well and be used by just about everybody or else it won’t really make a difference.
    How does this differ from something like Dublin Core which (to a complete layman) also sounded like a good idea at the time?

  5. It seems to be making quite serious inroads in certain sectors – 14-19 provision was given as an example at the SIG. The mini projects seem designed to test different methods of implementing XCRI within institutions and get some best practices. The demand seems to be there from aggregators and all it needs is for us to provide the data.

  6. I see – a ‘pull’ from aggregators that offer demonstrable benefits may make a difference I suppose.

  7. A key question has to be – what’s in it for the data providers? What would make them go to the effort of changing their existing systems, or building XCRI compliant interfaces into new ones?

    Cash, kudos or compulsion? Or is there a marketing advantage? Where’s the “demonstrable benefit” going to come from?

  8. The JISC funding helps, but there’s reasons to do it without that!

    Once aggregators start to use the data it will be easier for us to provide the information we want, turn around time should be reduced and the information updated more often. If updates are automated, that gives us the competitive advantage over institutions who update manually.

    There are potential efficiencies to be made, certainly pulling the information from one source should provide consistency across different media.

    Longer term I imagine there will be a compulsion, or at least an expectation from organisations like UCAS that the information is provided in a machine readable electronic form.

  9. I see it’s advantage in simply avoiding the need for duplication so that the same course information can be used across sites. Sites such as the CPD Noticeboard will continue to come up (UCAS may even start taking direct feeds from our data?!) and using XCRI will simply the whole process.

    So for the data providers; it’s creating information once rather than re-creating it in different formats for different websites.

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