Posts Tagged ‘JISC’


Friday, December 19th, 2008

EGRET is the latest in a series of computing projects at the University of Cambridge named after birds! The full project title doesn’t shed much more light – “engaging responses to emerging technologies” – but it hides a fascinating area of work.

EGRET explored how small software projects, especially those using new technologies (such as user-generated content, and automatic data sharing through “feeds” of information), can thrive and grow in higher education. EGRET specifically examined the service as a case study, as it matured at Cambridge, and also investigated what user-generated content means for academic IT systems. EGRET has ties to our JISC Academic Networking project, which has identified events, such as academic seminars, as an important aspect of scholarly networking for many academics.

Learn more about here, or have a go with the service yourself here (anyone can use, but it helps if you are based in or visiting Cambridge, UK). If you are interested in the EGRET project itself, have a look at our project blog where we shared some of our activities and also most project outputs, such as reports.

Course Tools

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

(Course Tools was formerly known as Curriculum Design.)

The Course Tools project  supports University lecturers and administrative staff in creating and updating courses, creating administrative tools to allow fast and flexible access to course information and planning.

In our pathfinder project with the Natural Science Tripos, lecturers and administrators are currently working with project members to choose the areas they feel will benefit most from the introduction of software.

Between 2009 and 2013, the project will develop tools which will ultimately be available for use across the University.

All members of the University are very warmly invited to contribute their suggestions for aspects of development and reviewing courses for the project team to investigate. To make suggestions, please contact Dr Amyas Phillips (

Over the course of the project, we will explore the potential benefits of administrative software tools to University members, and investigate the drawbacks.  Our research methodology is designed to take account not only of technical implementation issues but also of complexities of the institutional settings and the pedagogic process.

As part of the project, we will evaluate the potential of Kuali Student, a student information system designed by a number of Universities in collaboration, to meet the needs of Cambridge staff and students.

The project is funded by JISC.

JISC supports UK further & higher education and research by
providing leadership in the use of Information and Communications
Technology in support of learning, teaching, research and
administration. JISC receives funding from all the UK further and
higher education funding councils.
JISC logo


Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Over the past 30 years, video has been making its presence felt in the UK’s Universities. Things have moved on quite a bit from those well-remembered Open University documentaries always shown at 5am. Students now live in a world of podcasts and audio-on-demand, creating their own videos and uploading them to YouTube. The potential teaching benefits of video are obvious: video allows us to show diagrams, workings, illustrations, and artifacts as the lecturer talks through them. Students can return to the video explanation again and again, freeing up face-to-face teaching time for deeper discussion.

The  University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and the Open University came together in the JISC-funded Steeple project, which aimed to make it easier for University members to share and find videos online, create and disseminate podcasts and to look at the institutional changes necessary for this to happen. The project found that there is no catch- all solution for these changes but have built a strong and active community sharing best practices and processes.

The final executive summary shares the projects outcomes and resources on managing institutional change, institutional podcasting, distribution portals and infastructure needs as well as links to community support.

CARET is supporting Steeple with research and documentation of current processes and systems on the Steeple wiki through the Benefits Realisation extension project (lead by Dr Bjoern Hassler) which is taking the outputs of Steeple to other universities around the UK, and exploring ways in which this kind of system can be sustained.  In addition, we are working with the University Computing Service and the Office of External Affairs and Communications to create the Steeple portal, a user-friendly showcase for public video and audio content, which will be used at the University of Cambridge from early 2010.

Modular e-administration of teaching

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Why is University paperwork – and its computerised equivalent – so often a profitless burden?

We all understand the need for organization, and we have a pretty good idea who it is that keeps our groups in good shape, ready for its vital tasks: the overworked departmental administrator; the dedicated committee chair; the ingenious laboratory technician. How rarely central administration and institutional IT seem to feature in that list! So how can the University hope to genuinely reduce the workload of these vital departmental staff?

A few years ago, the orthodox solution would be to embark upon an investigative exercise of questionnaires and interviews, followed by feverish tool making, and culminating in the presentation of a finished artefact to the University. An enlightened project manager may have repeated this process a few times, hoping that the tool will improve with each iteration.

At CARET we have started to explore an innovative approach to solving these age-old problems. We noticed that, from time-to-time, some departmental organisers with the appropriate skills find some time to work on administrative tools of their own. These tools, where they exist, usually meet the needs of their department much more closely than anything brought in from outside. Where such home-grown tools exist, could they be of use to another department? Is it possible that with just a few simple changes we could widen the application of these tools without reducing their precision? That’s what we set out to discover.

A while ago, Richard Prager at Cambridge University Engineering Department addressed the thorny issue of the fair allocation of teaching with a custom tool. Through the use of weightings, Richard uses this tool to compare each academic’s teaching activity.

With the increase of modular courses, allocating students to appropriate exams consumes ever more effort. With Rachael Padman, we have worked on creating a tool for the Cavendish Laboratory which helps students register for exams.

CARET, Engineering, and the Cavendish Laboratory have taken these two hand-crafted tools, and experimented with ways to broaden their usefulness.  At the Cavendish, our work has initiated a review and possible extension of CamSIS by MISD to provide new exam entry options for the whole University.  The Judge Business School, Veterinary Medicine, Divinity, Mineral and Materials Science, Chemistry, Biochemistry, English and other departments have all trialled an individually-customised system for administering teaching allocations. Their reaction and enthusiasm has been overwhelmingly positive.

The project is now complete but CARET will continue to assess whether this federated approach could develop into a genuinely grass-roots approach to University administration, and whether it could be used again for future IT projects. We have also found that the prototype systems created by academics can be interpreted as powerful specifications for the systems they really need.

The final report of the project will shortly be available from the JISC project website.

As well as various articles on the project blog, we have produced two white papers detailing the principles of an innovative ‘trunkless’ model of software development

The Trunkless Development Model

Principles of Simple Software Development

JISC Academic Networking

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Social networking is a growing phenomena with a wide range of sites offering different features to connect people to each other; from Facebook, MySpace, and Bebo, to LinkedIn and At CARET, we’re stepping back from these commercial products. We see that social applications can offer powerful, compelling features to students and staff in higher education, and hope to enhance the existing real world networks that make the University of Cambridge experience so valuable. (Click here for more information and other projects in this area at CARET).

This project used user-centric design methods to build a range of social applications for CamTools. Our early explorations to find out how social applications can enhance and support teaching and learning helped us understand that there can be a big overlap with research activity too. We undertook user research with undergraduates, postgraduates and staff at the University to investigate how they communicate and connect with each other today, and synthesised this into design ideas, with help from real user testing, during Spring 2009. We discovered that events, and the social or people-oriented information around them, are important to staff and students alike. We have substantially added to the body of knowledge relating to user-centric design (UCD) practice in UK HE and brought in expertise from the realm of commercial software development.

Early applications will be integrated into next generation CamTools, with further applications following later on. All the software created as part of this project has been released under a community open source licence as part of Sakai.

All our research outputs and our closing summary are available on the Academic Networking blog and our final report is available as a PDF. We’ve published lots of information and practical guides on undertaking user-centric design to help others who may be attempting this for the first time.

Did you know? Over 41% of undergraduates at the University of Cambridge use Facebook several times a day.