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Future Directions for XCRI: discussion at the JISC Curriculum Design Programme Meeting May 2010

 Following on from the session on Managing Course Information at the JISC Curriculum Design Programme Meeting May 2010 I chaired a discussion on possible future directions for the development of XCRI. During the discussion we attempted to keep track of ideas on PowerPoint slides, but it is always tricky to capture a discussion while you are taking part.

The "live" PowerPoint that everybody in the session saw and agreed with (or at least did not object to) is available to download, but after reflecting on the discussion and the notes I thought it would be worth providing a bit of commentary and tidy things up a little.  What follows is my attempt to summarise the discussion.

Why XCRI?

As a starting point we considered why it was that extending XCRI might be a good way forward to improve our institutions' ability to manage course information.  The answers that came forward were

  • XCRI's status as a standard, particularly with backing from multiple agencies and the additional cachet of compliance with the European MLO standard, gave additional weight to arguments for adopting the new processes and data collection that would be required to populate the new elements that were discussed
  • Related to this observation was the recognition that a standard expressed in a technical form made it possible to build the systems required
  • There was also a feeling that there was no other alternative to XCRI for this sort of development

What Directions?

The session identified three main directions for the development of XCRI that contributors felt would be of immediate benefit

  1. XCRI should provide structures for capturing the data identified in the current requirements/guidance for validation and review provided by QAA
  2. XCRI should be developed to provide better support for providing information at the module level
  3. Specifically XCRI should provide structures for capturing all of the following properties of a course or module
    • Learning outcomes
    • Competencies
    • Graduate attributes/skills
    • Student activities (as opposed to teaching methods) -- although the appetite for this was much less than the other three

Discussion focused on the need to capture and publish information on outcomes, competencies and attributes.  It was recognised that these were all different aspects of course information and would be targeted at different audiences.

A principal motivation for specifying these course information elements was that participants felt that the current processes and systems in their institutions did not effectively capture these elements, and certainly did not capture all four aspects.  Yet all these distinct aspects of the course/module design were recognised as being very important components of a robust validation and review process as well as being important to the marketing of courses, particularly market is businesses procuring tailored programmes.

Further Directions

While the session focused on the three main areas above there was some appetite for a more general development of XCRI to support the wider academic planning and course approval process. A specific area noted was support for structuring the information that makes up a course/module business plan.  However this excited much less enthusiasm than the other three areas for development.

Observations on the current state of Course Information

During the discussion a number of observations were made on weaknesses in the current approach to collecting course information, particularly in the areas identified for development, i.e. outcomes, competencies and skills.  These weaknesses were seen as primarily a consequence of prevailing culture and practice rather than systems, and it was clear that changing these would require more than the development of data elements in XCRI.

  • Validation documents capture course information in academic speak
    • information in academic speak is unhelpful to students, external members of validation panels, business partners/customers and anyone who is not part of the academic culture
    • information in academic speak is not even helpful for the academics involved in the validation and review processes
    • the best solution was seen as encouraging staff to use "plain English" to describe courses and modules
    • in the meantime it was felt that it would be useful to be able to flag the intended audience for different representations of the same data element, e.g. distinguish between module learning outcomes written for academic validation and module learning outcomes written for students
  • The information currently collected for validation and review could not support the level of analysis and reuse that the extension of XCRI promises
    • e.g. learning outcomes are not written in such a way as to allow mapping to competencies
    • e.g. the contribution a module makes to promoting the institution's target graduate attributes/skills is not clear

I have prepared a revised version of the PowerPoint slides that summarises this reflection on the session. 

posted on 14 May 2010 by Jim Everett

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