Wednesday, 27 June 2007

AoC NILTA CIS Conference 2007

Monday was probably not the best day to be in Sheffield, but as the rain fell incessantly and floodwaters rose in the city's northern areas, at the Sheffield Park Hotel, we settled in for NILTA's annual CIS Conference.

John Bolt and Pete Ashton from the LSC are always on hand to give the latest news from the funding body and John announced his imminant retirement (at the end of the week). The photograph shows John in 1994, on a stand at the forerunner to the NILTA CIS Conferences - a conference run by the National CMIS Board. At the time he was author of the CovTech System, which was later taken over, eventually becoming part of the Dolphin and Capita empires. His approach and rock steady common sense will be missed I am sure.

Jean McAllister, the Principal of Shipley College and AoC NILTA Vice Chair gave the Principal's view of what was needed from a college information service. "We are building a cosmopolitan UK", she said. "At its best an MIS deepens our understanding of our college. Its essential function is to make sure the organisation is coached to aim for World Class.

"FE (Further Education) at its best promotes diversity. We enable people to perform at their best and therefore enable national goals to be achieved."

Colleges' use of their MIS have come a long way since the early days of the late 1980s. "We need to ensure the final 'S' stands for 'Service' and not for 'System'," Jean continued. "It has to work for the Learner. Learners must know what they have achieved and what is still to be achieved."

Ray Dowd, an ex-Principal of Hopwood Hall College in Rochdale, now acting as an Adviser to the FE Sector, spoke about the MIAP (Managing Information Across Partners) Project.

"We need to make sure we identify who and what information is for," he said, adding that there is a triangle of stakeholders requiring information from colleges; national government, employers and learners themselves. "Between each of the three main stakeholders there are tensions and there is still too much focus of our data on national needs - measuring and monitoring what we are doing, leaving too little time for fulfilling the information needs of employers and learners."

It was time, Ray said, "...to stop tuning the car and think instead about the passengers. What does data look like from a learner's or an employer's point of view? Data is at the heart of effective leadership."

The FE Sector has to be seen as:

  • strategically responsive

  • high-performing

  • relevant - ie customer-focussed

  • financially viable and

  • effective

"Data is crucial", Ray concluded, "but not just for the plethora of bodies around FE."

Helen Ashton, a Policy Adviser for FE with Becta, gave a talk on Getting the Most from your MIS. She had surveyed a number of colleges looking at MIS and VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments or Learning Platforms) and said she had "...found little money allocated internally by colleges to these functions, but where it had been there were obvious benefits."

The research was carried out as part of the ICT Test Bed Evaluation and results can be seen in full at the ICT Test Bed web site.

As always, the CIS Conference had a choice of small workshops for delegates to choose from. I was involved in running three of them, two on Risk Management and one, with my colleague from JISC infoNet, Andrew Stewart, on the use of Social Software in colleges where we asked delegates to think of the possible uses for collaborative Wikis both internally within their college and externally with partners.

They came up with the following, to which I have added any of our own suggestions that did not come up in the discussions.

Internal Use for Wikis:

  • Team discussions

  • Curriculum planning

  • Training – inc. feedback

  • Links to other resources

  • Cross team projects

  • Cross site projects

  • Technical forum

  • Data Entry Staff forum

  • Admin/Support forum

  • Academic Staff forum

  • As a platform for student work and collaboration

External Use for Wikis
  • Other college partners

  • Consortium projects

  • LSC

  • Surveys

  • Employer/employee

  • Software Suppliers

  • AoC NILTA

  • JISC Services

  • Regional User Groups

The weather situation cut the conference short a little as people were understandably anxious to get away early due to the weather, although at that time we had no idea just how bad it was getting in other parts of Sheffield.

Graham Mort, Chair for the conference, announced that the conference would return in June 2008 and that AoC NILTA main annual conference would take place in March 2008, venue to be announced in both cases.

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