EMA in HE: system specification for comment

This is a draft version of content for a new Jisc guide on EMA processes and systems that will complement the existing guide. Here on the blog we have split the two to help readability.  This post should be viewed in conjunction with that on processes. The drafts will be open for feedback to help us improve the guide until 5th Jan 2016 so please do share your thoughts using the ‘comment’ function below.

Selecting EMA systems

Because the assessment and feedback lifecycle covers so many different functions most institutions need a range of systems to support all of their activities. The key areas covered by information systems are generally:

  • course and module information including assessment details
  • student records including marks, feedback and final grades
  • submission of assignments
  • marking and feedback
  • academic integrity checking
  • online testing and examinations

Integrating systems

Ideally these systems should be able to exchange data readily so that institutions can mix and match technologies based on needs, preferences and making best use of the systems they already have. Currently however, interoperability between systems remains a key problem area. The expectation is that modern IT systems should have good APIs (application programming interfaces) ie a set of routines, protocols, and tools that describe each component of the system (data or function) serving as building blocks to create a plug and play architecture. In practice though the emphasis is still very much on creating a set of interfaces to move data around between systems on a point-to-point basis. This is complex to achieve and brings with it a maintenance overhead as whenever a particular system is changed, a series of interfaces must be rewritten to update the links to all of the other systems.

The systems are not the only problem. System integration often throws up a host of issues around institutional business processes, workflows, data definitions and data quality. This is why we have tackled the two topics in tandem. You need to ensure your data and processes are not an obstacle to making best use of your existing systems or to effective implementation of new and better systems.

System requirements

Through collaborating with a working group of c.30 universities and the membership of UCISA we have identified the core requirements that UK higher education institutions have for information systems to support assessment and feedback practice.

The requirements are presented in a downloadable format that maps to the assessment and feedback lifecycle and which has supporting user stories to illustrate why the functionality is necessary. They are also viewable as embedded pop-ups as part of our EMA process maps.

Because we have concentrated on what is fundamentally important to all HEIs, all of the requirements should be considered as being ‘Must have’ priority.

Download requirements list as an Excel template

EMA System Requirements Template for supplier responses i3

See the requirements embedded in our process maps

Guidance for suppliers on using the requirements specification

The specification has been publicised via Jisc and UCISA channels and suppliers of products of relevance to the EMA lifecycle are invited to use our template to highlight which of the requirements are supported by their product. Supplier responses are published on our EMA blog and customers of those suppliers are invited to use the blog for comment and discussion. The idea is that by sharing knowledge about effective use of a particular product, or about integration between a particular set of products, we can help institutions to get the most out of their existing investments.

As a supplier we suggest you continue to:

  • consider the specification when preparing your product roadmaps
  • update your response as new versions of your product are launched
  • Respond to customer discussion on the blog so that the wider community can develop a better understanding of your product.

Guidance for universities on using the requirements specification

The requirements specification can be used as a basis for developing an ITT to select a new system for your institution. This will not only save you work; you can also have confidence that the major system suppliers will be familiar with the requirements expressed in this way so you have a better chance of getting accurate and meaningful responses.

Using this list as a starting point you can select the parts that are relevant to your particular procurement exercise and add features that are desirable for your institution as well as further detail about your existing product set that will need to interoperate with the new system.

For more guidance on how to go about choosing new technologies to meet your needs see our guide to selecting technologies. This will take you through managing a selection project, defining your requirements and conducting supplier evaluation.

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