Evaluating ON Course APIs on OUseful.info

Over the course of our project, Dr. Tony Hirst from the Open University has helped us think through the way course data might be visualised and built upon. Recently, he’s written a series of blog posts that discuss this in more detail and offers useful feedback to the project team about our APIs. You can read Tony’s blog posts on OUseful.info

APMS -> Nucleus -> APIs. How? Why?

The Academic Programme Management System (APMS) is designed to allow read-only access to the course data through APIs. However, these APIs allow for very little (if any) search parameters to be used and as such were unsuitable for our use cases when developing applications based around course data. As such it was necessary to import this data into our own data platform, ‘Nucleus’.

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Designing an ‘Assignment Wizard’

Before Christmas I was asking for people within the university for ideas about applications that could be developer for them, based around the concept of re-using course data that was already available.

After meeting with a member of staff from the School of Computer Science, we developed an idea around an ‘assignment wizard’, that would make use of the course data already available, such as awards, modules, assessments and staff.

The purpose of this application is to make the process of writing assignment documentation quicker, easier and more accurate. By tying the application in with assessment data, the assessment strategy delivered within the module will be identical to the strategy as defined in the validated module documents.

The expected flow of the applications is :

AssignmentWizardFlow-2As well as reducing the amount of data that has to be entered by academics (such as learning outcomes, module details etc), the versioning and PDF generation will make the writing process more efficient. Further to this, it allows one lecturer to write a part of the assignment brief, and another to log in and complete the assignment.

A follow-up blog post will show the completed application, and start to evaluate it.

Conference Paper Accepted

Back in August, I wrote a blog post that mentioned a paper that I had submitted to The International Conference on Information Visualization Theory and Applications, titled ‘Data Visualisation and Visual Analytics Within the Decision Making Process’. I found out this week that my submission has been accepted as a short paper. It can be downloaded from the Lincoln Repository.

The (short) abstract is included below :

Large amounts of data are collected and stored within universities. This paper discusses the use of data visualisation and visual analytics as methods of making sense of the collected data, analysing it to assess the affects of historical institutional decisions and discusses the use of such techniques to aid decision making processes.

Before and After APMS

It was suggested to me that a useful blog post would be one explaining some of the benefits of APMS by comparing processes before and after its implementation.  It seemed like some visualisations in the form of process maps might be a useful way of doing it, but after looking at some it became apparent that they don’t really represent the changes as well as I had hoped.

The fundamental principles of programme management have not changed as a result of the project, and nor was it intended to change them.  What has changed, and in my view at least has a big impact on the way we work with programme information, is how we go about recording information and the mechanisms that lie behind the various processes.  Process maps make things like modifying a programme still appear fairly convoluted when it comes to the approvals, whereas in fact the workflows in APMS mean that it is fairly simple to either click the button to decline approval (sending it back for further work) or click the button to approve the changes (forwarding it to the next stage).

Here, then, are a few examples:

Stand Alone Credit Creation

To create a new Stand Alone Credit module, there was a Microsoft Word form to complete containing information about the module selected, type of activity, academic school, and so on.  There are sections to confirm approval at the end.

To accomplish the same in APMS, the module is selected from the list of existing modules, and the other information entered (many items as list selections).  The academic confirms College approval and submits it to the Quality team who, having checked it, click the approved button and that’s it.

Short Course Creation

To create a new short course there was a Microsoft Word Short Course Application form to complete with fields including the course title, level, credit points, course leader, school and confirmation of approvals.  Accompanying the application form would be a the Short Course Specification, based on a Microsoft Word template, containing the course title, level, credit points, school, delivery mode, rationale, learning outcomes, learning and teaching strategies, module specification(s) and so on.

To accomplish the same in APMS a proposal for a new short course is created and items selected from lists where available (e.g. school, course leader) or information typed in.  The modules are selected from the module list (or new ones created) and the proposal submitted through an approvals and validation process.  There is no duplication of information needed and each person involved can see all the information related to it.

Programme Modification

To modify a programme an academic would complete a Programme Modification Form in Microsoft Word.  A series of tick boxes would indicate whether all evidence had been provided, external examiner approval gained, revised module specifications provided and more.  Details about the school, campus, affected programmes and modified modules would be provided, along with the rationale and summary of the change.  New programme and modules specifications would be written and attached, which themselves would also contain details about the school, campus and other duplicative information.

A programme modification in APMS starts with a discussion between the academic and a Quality Officer to determine whether the magnitude makes it a revalidation or a modification, and the Quality Officer starts the appropriate workflow.  For a modification, certain fields are then available for change by the academic whilst others (that would require a revalidation) are not.  Once the changes have been made to the programme and/or modules, the academic submits the modification proposal for approval, and it goes through the workflow getting the appropriate approvals until validated.  There is no duplication of information, and everyone can see where in the process the modification is and all information relating to it.

Benchmark Statements

As one final example we briefly look at benchmark statements.  The format of benchmark statements vary from subject to subject – in some cases they can be presented as numbered items whereas in others they are paragraphs of text.  In APMS each item for a subject is presented as an individual item, having been painstakingly extracted from documentation by our project intern, Louise.  Statements are presented automatically once the benchmark subject is selected, and the system presents them in a matrix with programme outcomes so that the programme leader can map where each is covered.  Previously, each programme leader would need to conduct this exercise themselves and duplicate information throughout the document to make sure it was presented in the appropriate way.