Marks integration: a practical view of the Digital University.


There have been many interesting discussion points on the concept of what is a digital university. My simplistic view is the analogy of in health care in moving from X-rays to CT or MRI scans. I know this is a slightly superficial approach but it helps me to visualise and articulate what comprises a digital university.

At GCU we are still at the X-ray stage in so far as we have learning technology, administrative processes, communication tools and people with a wide range of skills which contextually provide a learning and teaching environment for our students. These major components combine, if at all, in different ways to somehow enable our students to pass through university life. Yes we do have some degree of systems integration, various type of reporting and mobile access but we still send e-mail attachments, lots of different logins and passwords and browser dependent software. While this appears to be mainly a technology and systems outlook, our staff and students as part of the institution need to think and act digitally. So the question is do we develop a digital strategy based on technology integration plans and implementation or do we “Think Different” to use an annoying advertising phrase from the Steve Jobs Apple re-birth period?

So if you go with my X-ray / MRI analogy, what does this mean in terms of identifying and developing the digital university concept? Rather than try to define this term, my thoughts have been influenced by my thorough research into Magnetic Resonance Imaging . The main lesson for me is that while the X-ray is still of great value, the real benefits for patient care lie in its digital presence. Yes it requires technology, cultural change and capable users but the benefits for everyone are more rewarding for everyone in its adoption. The digital university should develop and emerge from a more holistic approach to Higher education using the data it creates and owns to help inform this transformation. My colleague Sheila MacNeill has blogged as well as presented  on this topic

So while this is high level stuff, what can be done at the micro level now to demonstrate some changes which can be made? I’ve been aware of a project which has been going on for some time in GCU and it concerns the issue of marks entry and data reliability. Currently, we are able to export modules and student and staff attachments from our student information system (SIS) into our VLE which we call GCULearn. Even though we still get requests from academic colleagues to allow them to manually attach students to modules, this integration has been a great success in terms of time-saving , resources and data reliability. So how do we handle marks entry into the student information system from a variety of sources? Yes it is all done manually with sometimes the same data entered twice. This means we have major issues with data accuracy, pressure of time, system instability and staff stress at a critical period in the university calendar.

The university set up a process improvement team was set up to look at how GCU could become more efficient and more effective in getting marks and grades stored in the student record system. Two approaches were identified for piloting based on either direct entry into the student record system or the creation of a standard form to allow a paper record of assessment results per module and student. All very X-ray!

Over a year ago Blackboard announced that they were releasing the Grades Journey building block which would be able to extract marks from GradeCentre and place them into your Student Record system. Our SIS is supplied by UNIT4 and is not compliant with LIS2.0. This is a key consideration in terms of cost, but this is the solution which we decided to pilot because of the more effective means of ensuring accurate marks entry.

marks entry



The diagram above outlines the high level process concept of what we are trying to do. Earlier this week we have managed to complete the circle by extracting grades from Blackboard into the correct areas within the SIS. So the technical aspects have been accomplished. The next stage is the detail with regards to staff development, change management, and simplified but effective workflow. These have already started to varying degrees as we move towards the actual pilot with 19 modules which will run in December. Will this prove to be One Step Beyond?

I’ll be blogging more on this topic over the next few weeks and hope to produce some preliminary results at The Blackboard Users  Conference in Durham (#durbbu) from 7th January 2016. There are many aspects to identifying what constitutes a “Digital University” but I would like to think that this approach to marks integration demonstrates a practical contribution to the debate. Higher education needs to move on from the X-ray.






Using in learning and teaching: November Blended Learning Coffee Club meeting

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We had another great turn out at this month’s Blended Learning Coffee Club to hear Sarah Dargie, EBE share her experiences and research around using resources within her digital design modules.

Over the summer, GCU  got an institutional licence for allowing all students and staff to use the vast array of training resources it offers.  Before the institutional purchase,  SEBE had a school licence for and it was being used by a number of staff (and students)  within their learning and teaching.

As part of a project for her PgC LTHE qualification Sarah has recently undertaken some action research on the impact of taking a flipped approach to integrating resources with students to:  use face to face teaching time more effectively, breakdown tutorials into bite size lessons, promote discussion and development of ideas and improve student motivation.

Sarah’s research findings have shown some significant changes in student attitudes, but this was only through the contextualising resources and activities and improved consistency of use of tutorials by everyone on the module teaching team.  A PDF copy of Sarah’s presentation and research findings is available at the end of this post.

The discussion after Sarah’s presentation  very much focused on issues of time and contextualisation. is a fantastic resource but it is huge.  Knowing where to start can be daunting. Of course, it isn’t just limited to being used in formal learning and teaching situations.  For many of our programmes it doesn’t have an appropriate level of academic material. This is not surprising given that it has developed from corporate IT training.  That said it does have potential to be a really useful additional support resource for both staff and student IT development. For example it has “loads of stuff” on creating presentations, using SPSS and much more.

If you are using in anyway, then we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. As practice develops across the university we’ll also try to capture and share that, so please do get in touch if you would like to share your experiences.

Sarah Dargie Coffee Club_nov15 (PDF)

Next Blended Learning Coffee Club 10 November

The next blended learning coffee club will take place on Tuesday, 10 November at 12- 1pm in H116. This month we’ll be taking a closer look at which the University has recently purchased as site licence for.  Sarah Dargie, EBE will be starting the discussions by sharing her experiences of using in her teaching practice.

As ever, there’s no need to register, but if you let any of the Blended Learning Team know you are coming, we’ll send you a voucher for a cup of coffee/tea/.

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