All posts by tsparc

Development of the Rough Guide to Curriculum Design

Following on from the work completed by the sabatical members of staff (that worked alongside T-SPARC project staff) last summer, CELTs Sonia Hendy-Isaac (Senior Lecturer in Curriculum Design for Employer Engagement) has been adding to, and updating the resource recently. Working alongside Oliver, they have process mapped the new programme design and approval process from start to finish and looked at where support and guidance in the following areas could be offered:

  • Philosophy (why)
  • Process (what)
  • System (how)
  • Tools

Information on stakeholders are placed on blue post-its, tools in yellow.

Interestingly, we have realised recently that although the development of this resource has taken longer than originally expected, the project team are in a much more informed position now to talk about the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ now that we have actually implemented the new processes and systems within the pilots. The rich feedback from pilot teams and personal experiences of using the live system has enabled us to give more informed guidance on how the system can be used most effectively.

The content about how the system should be used to augment the process will be integrated into the SharePoint workflows and interface, the information / guidance on the philosophies, process, and tools to support the progamme design and approval process will also be available at appropriate points and offered to user groups dependant on the role that they are assigned.

Sonia is now putting the ‘meat on the bones’ and an initial draft is due by the end of next month.


SharePoint 2010 – How to ‘drive’ user adoption

I came upon this post over the weekend and think it will be particularly interesting to SharePoint developers as a commentary on issues to consider whilst delivering systems to the end users. I found it particularly poignant with relation to where T-SPARC are currently with the roll-out and piloting of the new programme design and approval system. Hope you find it useful.

(Original post can be found here at

A secretary walks into a Giant Car showroom and demands ‘OK tell me how much it is… I’ll take it?’ This is without actually telling the bemused sales guy; what make she wants, the model, the colour, age, size of the engine, spec etc. She had failed to ask her boss all of these things (end user) who had instructed her to ‘go out and get a car’, as he she took his instructions literally.

The salesman rubs his hands together and she goes and blows £300k of her bosses’ hard earned money on the latest supercar. All he needed was a basic saloon car to get around town!

Ok this didn’t really happen but the exact same thing happens week in week out with Internal Communicators who use SharePoint as their Intranet and/or Content Management systems and never ask users what they need and would like to see.

Between IT and Internal Comms, they are the ones that often decide what the end users will need and want as they ‘know’ their audience and have done the requirements gathering. (Often a 1 hour meeting with them to tell them what they were going to do!)

The days of static content (pushed out by Internal Comms) are well and truly numbered. On an Intranet, users not only demand and expect content that is fresh and relevant to them personally but also applications that will make their lives easier. With SharePoint, you will be amazed how many applications can be built within days, without any custom coding and often life changers for the users. This will also drive user adoption and get people visiting the content you want them to more often. These can be anything as simple as a holiday request form, through to a Recruitment system.

You just need to ask them what their pain is!

8 Great Tips to get the most out of SharePoint

  1. Don’t let IT Run the project – SharePoint is a business facing application. Unless there is a fresh installation needed, try to keep the project run by someone in the business who understands the challenges in the business rather than of the technology.
  2. Requirements gathering – Ask end users what they want by actually asking the question ‘tell me about the challenges in your business’. Count the blank looks on people’s faces when you ask ‘tell me what you want SharePoint to do.
  3. Custom code – There is always a time and a place for this but avoid wherever you can. For every 5 days of development, the same can be achieved with configuration in 1.
  4. ‘Out of the box’ Features – Get to know all of the features that are in SharePoint. Knowing what the product can actually offer can avoid custom code!
  5. 3rd Party Products – SharePoint, like all systems, has its shortfalls, but there are thousands of products that can be bolted onto SharePoint to address these. These costs a fraction of the cost of developing from scratch and are supported also.
  6. Micro-Projects – Wherever possible, try to deliver SharePoint offering in small chunks. This will make SharePoint become viral and also make it easier to improve on each piece that you deliver. Hard to do with a ‘big bang’ approach.
  7. End User Training – Train Train Train – Allow a decent budget for training end users on how to actually use SharePoint. How will people use the tool if they don’t know how to?
  8. Support – Log a ticket approach doesn’t work with SharePoint. Try to identify the ‘power users’ that can be accessible to help the business users.


Welcome to the T-SPARC blog homepage!

I’m guessing that you’ve arrived here this week after taking part in the JISC Online Conference, ‘Innovating e-Learning 2011‘ and clicking one of the links to our project blog and website. (If not, please feel free to look around!)

First of all, welcome, and thank you for clicking one of the links to the site and showing an interest in our project. If you would like any further information or access to documentation you can either email me at or alternatively start or comment upon threads within our session workspace. The topic for the session is ‘Socio-technical ramifications of a new technology-supported approach to course design and approval’ and is being delivered by Paul Bartholomew (BCU) and Jim Everett (University of Strathclyde).

A brief guide to the T-SPARC project site:

Project blog (this page) –

Meet the team –

Project overview –

SharePoint development site –

Baseline review info –

Feedback from stakeholders –

Contact details –


SharePoint Development Update

Following a meeting yesterday with BCU’s Head of Project Management in Corporate ICT, several updates have been agreed that will move the system development process forward in the coming months whilst piloting the new workflows:

  • The project will have made available the services of our in-house SharePoint 2010 developer over the next couple of weeks to finish all minor tweaks and adjustments to ensure the beta version that is made available to the pilot programme teams is fit for purpose (design informed from initial piloting phase of SharePoint 2007).
  • Corporate ICT have agreed that in true ‘Agile’ fashion, our developer will work alongside me (Oliver) in the same physical space whilst I act in a ‘Business Analyst’ capacity. This will allow us to define and solve issues in real time and help to ensure that the developers time is spent 100% on the project during these development sessions.
  • Once the software is ready for the piloting phase to begin (we envisage this being in the next couple of weeks) we have agreed that there will be a number of development windows during the process. These will be set at approximately 6 week intervals so that new requirements can be defined (with input and feedback from pilot teams) and technical solutions prepared so that once a development window is reached, the developer will have a set of definitive business requirements to work from.
  • As a caveat to the above development window structure, we have also agreed that if an issue becomes obstructive or starts to impede the programme development process in any way (due to unforeseen circumstances or usability issues, for example) , we will have the resources made available immediately to develop emergency solutions.
  • The services of one of BCU’s Senior Project Managers for the Corporate ICT Project Office who has extensive knowledge and experience as a software tester has been made available to the project to assist with final testing and run-throughs of test scripts.
  • Corporate ICT have another project that is in progress at the moment, the DAM project, (the Digital Asset Management system) which will deliver a single, University-wide repository system for the Universities video, audio, document and image files. It was suggested that T-SPARC project members have successfully gained buy-in to the project from a wide range of stakeholders (both internally, and externally) and have valuable experiences to share that could assist with the effective implementation and embedding of other CICT projects within the institution in the future. Conversations around this topic will continue.

Again, positive momentum in the right direction and further evidence of the deep institutional buy-in that the project continues to develop as we transition into the piloting phase.


Continued Support for T-SPARC Pilots

We have recently identified a pilot course team from BCU School of Property, Construction and Planning that will be reworking six inter-related FT and PT degree courses, with various professional body affiliations, in the course of the current year using T-SPARC systems, tech and methods. We we’re pleased to learn today that additional Programme Directors from BIAD (Birmingham Institute of Art and Design) had put themselves forward as pilot programmes following a demonstration of techniques and systems yesterday. From a total of around 8 programmes that were represented at the review meeting for courses going through review and approval, we think that 6 have put themselves forward!

Additionally, we already know that other pilots have been firmed up in the Faculty of Health and Birmingham City Business School.


T-SPARC voted ‘Most exciting change overall’

Paul and Oliver attended the penultimate JISC programme meeting in Nottingham this week. One of the sessions on day 2 was called the ‘Curriculum Design Market Place Activity’ which was an opportunity for projects to showcase some of their work and demonstrate how they have helped to change and enhance some aspects of curriculum design within their institutions. The idea behind the Marketplace was to sell the benefits of your products (i.e. outputs) to different stakeholders. Prizes were awarded in 4 different categories:

  • Greatest potential impact on teaching (teachers, staff developers, curriculum teams) – Won by Viewpoints at Ulster
  • Greatest potential impact on learning (learners) – won by PC3 at Leeds Met
  • Greatest potential impact on business processes (managers, administration, quality processes) – won by SRC at Manchester Met
  • Most exciting change overall – won by T-SPARC at Birmingham City University

Particular reference was made to the innovative use of the Microsoft SharePoint [2010] system that is in development here at BCU that augments the programme design and development process. Some of the comments delegates left about T-SPARC are below:

“Very well developed system for responsive curriculum design using technology supported workflows.”

“A radically different approach. Shows how good design can impact pedagogy.”

“The project has enabled real transformational change and resulted in new curriculum design processes and also considered the pedagogy.”

“This project does everything!”

“Greatest range of beneficiaries. Simplifies processes and promotes deeper consideration of learning and teaching.”

JISC voting slips

Reflections on Project Management Methodologies

In previous posts you will have heard how our approach to project management and business analysis has changed over the past 18 months. This post aims to give an update to readers about current T-SPARC project management methodologies.

When I initially started with T-SPARC I felt that it was important to make process mapping work for the relevant stakeholders groups. At the time that meant internal staff that we were consulting with on their views of current process, the hurdles they face through the lived experience of curriculum design any their opinions on how processes could be improved. Convoluting university processes with complex system diagrams didn’t seem appropriate, so we opted for a softer, user-friendly approach with relatively simple swim-lane diagrams. These were purposely designed to be easily interpreted by members of staff being consulted. It was during this process that we realised the process maps weren’t there just to communicate processes, but to encourage dialogue between stakeholders.

The next stage was defining the business requirements for the proposed new processes. From the information gathered during the stakeholder engagement events (including the multimedia review that was conducted during 2009), a vision of the new processes was developed that detailed how Microsoft SharePoint would be used to augment the new course design and approval processes.

The project then employed a SharePoint software developer as a contractor to work on the project alongside existing university staff to add capacity. At this point we had used PRINCE2 as a project management methodology with varying levels of success. Things such as the management structure, risk register, issue log and work package protocol were defined to PRINCE2 standards, but our CICT department felt that this project management style would not suit the [rapid] development of the new SharePoint infrastructure. Collectively, CICT and T-SPARC felt that a new approach should be sought to allow the iterative and ongoing development of the workflows. Agile (Scrum) methodology had been looked at by our CICT department in the past and used by members of their team and a decision was made to manage the T-SPARC SharePoint development using Agile methodology.

Agile allows for regular ‘Sprint’ meetings where developers, business analysts and project manager(s) evaluate previous Sprints, and define the next ones. A Sprint is a series of objectives that must be achieved to produce the next iteration of the software (or product). This approach allows a series of prototypes to be designed and tested on an ongoing basis, this in turn allows functionality to be defined iteratively and gives project teams the ability to test each iteration of the software with users and feed back to developers to add to the next Sprint for implementation and then further testing.

In addition to the regular Sprint meetings, Agile allows for daily ‘Scrum’ meetings where developers and BA’s (business analysts) meet to discuss the previous days progress, and targets for the current day. This approach has led to the rapid development and rapid integration of new features into the system.

Something thing that has been noted is that the Agile approach can lead to a lack of definitive project documentation! The nature of the rapid development means that rather than the product specification being designed and defined during the initiation of the project – post requirements gathering and analysis, the specification is defined with input from stakeholders on an ongoing basis. This leads to a Sprint log being developed, to be used as a set of Sprint deliverables, which can be updated at the end of each Sprint to define the next set of deliverables. However to counteract this lack of documentation, with Agile, you do get a series of prototypes that are developed and tested by stakeholders which ensures that the end product is fit for purpose.

We realised that two key aspects of Agile are communication between and commitment from developers and project staff. We started using the Sprint and Scrum meetings but then realised that ongoing and more responsive dialogue was needed and for this we decided to use Skype as it allows for ‘share screen’ functionality which has been extremely useful for answering quick queries without having to leave our desks.

Another observation that we have made; tightly constrained project management methodologies can restrain competent and confident members of staff. Certain staff need to be empowered with the freedom to make decisions, project teams need the need ability to be able to relax the constraints of the methodologies and be creative and to encourage the ‘doing’. Project managers need to be able to relax the constraints of particular project management methodologies to allow this, especially when using the more fluid and dynamic Agile methods. The flip side is that less competent and confident members of staff may rely on more tightly defined project management methodologies to define processes and work packages. You need buy-in from all members of a project team, and all involved need to be practiced in Agile methodologies for it to work properly.

For more information on Agile project management methodologies click here.


Student Handbook / Course Guide Update

I have been working on changes to the student handbook now for several months. During this time I have researched into what students are currently given on arrival to the University, how that compares with other Universities and how we can make things better at Birmingham City University.

From staff and student focus groups, it was reported that the current Student Handbook was bulky, inaccessible and unappealing. To combat this, some faculties and schools had created a bridged versions of the handbook called ‘Survival Guides’ but these were not formally approved and would have to complement the handbook with a risk or reiteration.

Therefore it was decided that there should be two levels to the information that students receive. This would be University level, the generic information that all students need to know and then the Course level information which would also include Faculty or School level information.  It was agreed that it would be appropriate to house the University level information on the University website and students would be issued with a ‘Course Guide’ during induction which would have all the information that students need to know about their course, with links to where more information could be found.

The Course Guide was created and has been piloted on 6 courses across 2 faculties. Feedback so far has been positive from staff and students, although staff were keen that the guide must remain concise and student focused, it was felt that it should not be made verbose and cumbersome by items needed for approval which students could be directed to elsewhere. Students have described the guide as being much more visually appealing and easy to use.

The Course Guide will go to Senate on 11th May 2011 with a view to it being approved to be rolled out University wide for the 2011/2012 intake.


T-SPARC Technology Usage & Uptake

We’ve been piloting the use of various technologies for several months now, such as the Flip cameras, Voxur units and MP3 voice recorders in many projects here at Birmingham City University. These have mainly been curriculum design based projects but we have had interest from a number of diverse areas from within the institution and always keen not to miss an opportunity we have also been collaborating with these slightly off scope projects.

Collectively, these projects are helping us to establish usage patterns, usage and user preferences (voice Vs video), how projects influence course structure, how students experience feedback, the delivery of course / placement outcomes, how students with disabilities perceive their induction programmes and first year at university and a range of other interesting any worthwhile projects.

To give you an idea of uptake, we purchased 70 Flip cameras, 60 of which are currently being used by 13 unique projects. 2 of our 3 Voxur units are currently being used with the 3rd being used for 8 weeks from mid-March by our Library & Learning Resources Team. In the past 6 months the 3 Voxur units have been used to collect data for 11 different projects and have generated around 90 hours of footage collectively.

Interestingly, we purchased 30 MP3 voice recorders which we thought would be useful to certain projects where participants were uncomfortable with being videoed. However we have only loaned out 12 of these at the moment, and despite some reports of initial reticence from individuals to being videoed, it seems that many project organisers are still keen to push this means of data collection.

We’ve had a lot of interest in using the technologies from participants of our Student Academic Partners Scheme which is generating an increasing amount of feedback data (both written and video) that we are beginning to collate for the purpose of sharing with future users in the form of a ‘how to guide’.

If you’d like more information on these projects please post in the comments section below, alternatively you can visit our Student Academic Partners Scheme website and blog here.


Is Meaningful Engagement Without Risk?

Readers of this blog will be aware that we have been ardent advocates for meaningful stakeholder engagement in curriculum design. As we have progressed through the project we have become aware that although the benefits far outweigh the risk, it does exist.

If course designers do a really good job of getting stakeholders involved, it is very likely that those stakeholders will actually come to care about that in which they are investing their time. It is therefore very important that we carefully manage the expectations of those stakeholders we engage.

This is well illustrated through the reflections offered below from one of our pilot partners, Kate Chadwick:

A downside to using Survey Monkey/VOXUR?
One phenomenon I have experienced in the use of survey monkey and VOXUR in order to gain information from potential students for our proposed MSc Radiotherapy is that it has created a good deal of interest in the programme.  This would have been extremely useful if we hadn’t hit a stumbling block in the approval process and been forced to alter the proposed structure of the course.  Those potential students who expressed interest initially after the survey monkey/VOXUR use were eager to find out more information, yet we were unable to say at that point even which topic areas would be included in the final structure of the MSc programme or when it might actually be running.  This has led to some potential students becoming disheartened and frustrated and we may end up losing these students to our competitor institutions.  Fortunately, so far, these potential students have been placated through close and frequent communication but it has been a difficult situation to manage and one which, had we anticipated it, we might have been able to take steps to avoid when conducting our information gathering stage.

Kate Chadwick
Joint Postgraduate Lead for Radiotherapy

As can be seen, the radiotherapy team had done enough to involve people to such an extent that they created a situation in which potential students felt they had a vested interest in the developing course. This is an excellent indicator of effective engagement; but there is certainly food for thought here in relation to our need to manage expectations of stakeholders and to alert them to the potential for positive and less positive progress in relation to course design.