Student Dashboard v0.1 responsive design

June 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Student Dashboard 

About a year ago I started a blog post on here about taking a completely unresponsive, non-mobile-friendly set of style sheets and making them responsive. I got a fair way in, and wrote about 1500 words describing my methodology. However, then the project ended, reports were due and there was no real time to carry on working on this.

Over the past couple of months I’ve found a few spare moments to work on this again, and I am now happy that I have a suitable prototype stylesheet that does the University branded template from the full screen version (well the fixed 940px wide default), all the way through a fluid version in slightly smaller screens, to a responsive version that fits iPhone-sized screens.

I just wanted to post these screenshots somewhere :-) The “student” being viewed is a persona developed for testing purposes. Andy is not real!


iPad landscape

iPad portrait

iPhone landscape

iPhone portrait

What next?

Well there’s obviously more to do. This needs usability testing. It will be integrated with the real live system, and the whole service tested. I can even see a few issues with it already, which I’ll go away and fix soon :-)

Feel free to post comments on what it looks like.

Oracle Databases

April 17, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Student Dashboard 

Yesterday, I was given access to the data cache held by iSolutions here. Well, a view on to it. And it doesn’t have every piece of data we requested (first name, last name, e-mail address, faculty, supervisor, degree title, year of degree and photo), let alone all of the data the University holds (which is our eventual goal).

That aside, I was given the keys to dad’s car and was about to set off on a wild data-ride when I drove straight into the garage door. I know from experience that iSolutions use Oracle as their database system; what I didn’t know is how hard this is to access.

At first I thought maybe I should download a client so I can interrogate my view of the database, before installing the necessary PHP extension to access it programmatically. I found out this client (or part of it) is called SQL*Plus and headed over to the Oracle client download page.

However, after agreeing to the license and clicking the download link, I was hit with this page:

I tried a few different links, I tried going to the registration page, but everything to do with the Oracle sign on process was giving me this error page. “Well forget this client”, I thought to myself, “I’ll just interact with Oracle through PHP”.

Easier said than done!

Obviously my early code didn’t work:

$conn = oci_connect('hr', 'welcome', 'localhost/XE');

The oracle extension isn’t installed yet, so PHP doesn’t know what oci_connect is. “I’ve enabled MySQL before, it can’t be that much harder to enable Oracle”, I confidently muttered. I followed a few instructions:

Installing Oracle libraries for PHP5 on Ubuntu Server 8.04

How To Install Oracle XE in Ubuntu 64 Bit

The main problem I encountered is that in all cases, I have to download the Oracle client. Except I can’t get past that sign-on page! The first tutorial has a solution: add the Oracle OSS repository to your source list and type sudo apt-get install oracle-xe-client. Seems simple, except the repository only has binaries for the x86 version of the client, which apt-get refuses to install if you have an 64-bit installation of Ubuntu :-(

The second tutorial explains how to manually install the .deb packages after wgetting them from the repository. It was going well until I ran sudo pecl install oci8, and received the following error:

/usr/bin/ld: skipping incompatible /usr/lib/oracle/xe/app/oracle/product/10.2.0/client/lib/ when searching for -lclntsh
/usr/bin/ld: cannot find -lclntsh

I cannot find any information about why this doesn’t work, but I imagine it is because that clntsh library is for version 10.2.0 of the client and maybe oci8 expects something newer?

My only solution is that I need to download the latest client and see if that works. While writing this post, it dawned on me that it’s a bit strange that the Oracle sign on page was not working, so I tried it in a different browser. It turns out that the Oracle sign on page is incompatible with Opera, which is a shame.

I started following “something” but realised it was just making things more complicated and decided to just follow the instructions on the Ubuntu PHP Oracle page. And it works! Now I can connect PHP to Oracle.

Lessons Learned

  1. Just follow the instructions on
  2. Don’t use Opera to download from the oracle site, because their single sign on page does not work.

Privacy by Indolence

March 31, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Student Dashboard 

I know it doesn’t have the same dactylic rhyme as “security through obscurity”, but the discussion we led at #cetis12 really drove home to me the fact that a lot of people rely on the laziness of others to remain private.

It turns out that a lot of people give away more data in reality than they say they would if you asked them. It’s called the privacy paradox. Many of the people who claim they want to remain private still post all their photos on Facebook and use Google for search, despite it being well known that they both harvest and hoard immense amounts personal data.

Some of this can be put down to people not knowing or reflecting on how things work behind the scenes, but I think there’s an element of expected behaviour from other people and relying on their laziness to keep our data private.

I have reached this conclusion by the reaction people have to making access to data easier. That is one of the fundamental aims of the Southampton Student Dashboard after all. Even though the data is accessible in one way or another (whether it is virtually trudging through Banner Self-Service or physically trudging down to student services to view the paper copy of a student record), people immediately raise privacy concerns as soon as you present an accessible interface to it.

An example of this came up in the discussion. One group were asked what directory information should be available on the University intranet, and the issue of photos was hit upon. When we ask the potential users of the Dashboard what information would be useful to them, photos are always high on their list. However, one of our participants countered with something along the lines of: “if students want others to see what they look like, they put photos on Facebook, just go look there”.

Well immediately that begs the question, if it’s already openly available, why make someone go to more effort to see your photo, unless you are hoping they will just give up and not bother?

Whose data is it anyway? #rminhe discussion at #cetis12

February 22, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Student Dashboard 

An hour ago our #rminhe cluster group presented in one of the parallel sessions on the first day of the JISC CETIS conference.  The session was entitled Issues around Using Data to Improve Student Retention and our team from Southampton led a discussion around data ownership and privacy.

We gathered our attendees into 4 groups and posed each group with one of the following questions:

  1. Who are the stakeholders involved in holding data and what are their rights and responsibilities?
  2. What directory information should be available to everyone on the University intranet?
  3. Is it reasonable to data mine the student’s trail? Is it OK to use student data for research?
  4. Who should have access to which data?

The groups were given 10 minutes to discuss and explore their given topic. The following is from a Google Doc created live during the feedback session at the end.

Is it OK to data mine the student’s trail? Is it OK to use student data for research?

  • What does it mean? What is the trail?  What is legitimate to look at?
  • Student declaration – what does it contain?
  • Consent for national data set (given to HEFCE and HESA) and for internal uni use.
  • Transparency of that statement determines the degree of confidence of whether you can use it.
  • Specific function data might have more particular guidelines around it (e.g. certain student services).
  • Research? Depends on the research project and whether the work will be published.

What “directory” information should be available to everyone on the University intranet?

  • One view: Everything unless there are specific exceptions.
  • Another view: Should ‘everyone’ include students?
  • What about photos? Do they need it? They can join discussion groups on  VLEs. They can see each other on Facebook if they need it.
  • Opt-in clause as contractual between uni and student.
  • Would staff be happy to give out all details? (Home address and phone number are out of scope!)

Who are the stakeholders involved with holding the data and what are their rights and responsibilities?

  • All of the university have some engagement with holding data.
  • Parents or SLC might phone up and say they have a right to data because they are paying for it!
  • Contractual obligations.
  • Managing students’ expectations.

Who should have access to which data?

  • Either personalised data or de-personalised data.
  • Whoever legitimately needs the data should have it?
  • What makes it legitimate? Should you sell to a third party to a book company?
  • “Break the glass” situations may need more information.
  • Explicit permission is required.
  • Anyone can have properly depersonalised data (if only 3 on course, not so).
  • Control of access through contact details.  Student might be overwhelmed with information.
  • If everyone has access to all data there are situations where you do not need all of the data.

Another question: Should students be able to see their own data?  How much can you show them?

And the obligatory photos of the sticky-notes our able volunteers made:

Service vs Product

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Student Dashboard 

Mid-November saw another Service Design event led by Lauren Currie of Snook, this time at Aston University in Birmingham.

Service Design is a methodology for creating services that are more appropriate for the people that will actually be using them; this in contrast to traditional design methodologies which involve a designer gathering requirements from some potential users, then go away and plan the service. Service Design focuses the designer on thinking about exactly who the users will be and how they might interact with the service. JISC have asked the Student Relationship Management projects to use Service Design.

This is interesting as we are keen proponents of the agile co-design methodology for designing software and it seems to have a lot of similarities, for example, using personas and scenarios to explore the range of users and uses of the system, and using storyboarding to explore what the experience will be like. At this most recent event, we were working on blueprinting, using some paper forms such as this one here:

Photo of a service design blueprinting paper instrument

Service Design Blueprinting

In this detailed blueprinting, we were looking at how the various touchpoints occur in making users aware of the service, joining it, using it, “growing” it and leaving it. It was here that I started getting a little confused. It occured to me that the Southampton Student Dashboard is a tool for staff to detect when a student is struggling, and direct them towards the support services that already exist within the University. It is a thing that will eventually make a student aware of other services. In fact, is it even a service? I think it might be a product, which is why trying to apply Service Design is confusing me a little.

This got me thinking as to where software fits into the product-service spectrum. Which is it? A product is something tangible, so when you buy it, you get one to use. A service is a set of actions that the provider performs on your behalf. Software has been sold as a product for most of my life (since people have had home microcomputers), on disks in a box from a shop. I guess when the only computer you could have was a mainframe rented from and maintained by the likes of IBM, the software on it was provided as a service. And of course with the boom of cloud hosting on the Internet, there has been a resurgence of Software as a Service (SaaS).

Having talked myself in a circle, it turns out that perhaps software can be either a product or a service. In fact, as I see it the software itself is a product, but the provision of the software can be a service. As such, it means there are two separate things to design, hence the variations on the methodology and my confusion.

The Service Design workshops will certainly be helpful, because eventually we will be running the Student Dashboard as a service (it’ll be a website staff can visit, rather than a piece of software they acquire and install), and we will have to consider how to make people aware of it, and how they will join and leave the service (or whether it will just perpetual). At the moment though, we also need to consider the design of the software product.

Thanks for letting me clarify my understanding by thinking about that out loud!

Enterprise Architecture Modelling

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Student Dashboard 

At the beginning of November I was lucky enough to be sent to St. Andrews for the JISC CETIS 2nd ArchiMate Modelling Bash. As a computer scientist and software engineer, I’ve done a fair amount of modelling during the design phases of building systems, but I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of Enterprise Architecture Modelling.

The 2 day event consisted of  an introduction to the modelling language ArchiMate, which is a standard for representing enterprise architecture models, an introduction to Archi, a JISC-funded, Eclipse Modelling Framework-based tool for creating enterprise architecture models. That took us up to lunchtime on the first day, and then the next day and a half was dedicated to the “bash” element of this event. The bash was time for us to model something in Archi, with the support of some ArchiMate experts and the developer of Archi.

Before I continue, I think it’s worthwhile mentioning how great Archi is, especially given the fact it only has 1 developer. Yeah, that’s right: one! It is rigorously compliant with the ArchiMate spec, it has a very polished interface and, best of all, is open source and in continued development. It is evidence of the quality of software that can be made, even in very small teams, given the right application of skill and attention to detail.

Enterprise Architecture Modelling allows an organisation to record and communicate the components and relationships within it, including the business processes performed, roles undertaken within the organisation, software applications provided and the computer systems they are run on. The reason we are interested in this within the Student Dashboard project is to provide our institution the incentive to understand itself better. Currently, iSolutions (our information services department) have an exhaustive inventory of the computer hardware they manage, but there is little information recorded about how the applications that run on that hardware relate to the processes undertaken by staff on a day-to-day basis. We hope that by demonstrating the worth of modelling part of the enterprise architecture that affect the student dashboard, it will encourage other parts of the university to begin modelling themselves.

The bash was very useful to me, as I hadn’t done any Enterprise Architecture Modelling (EAM) beforehand, nor used Archi, so the introduction to both and a chance to put them both into practice was invaluable. However, while bring isolated in Scotland is useful for concentrating on work, it also made me realise the requirement of EAM to have *all* of the information to hand. When trying to construct some models, I found myself coming up against processes where I wasn’t entirely sure how they worked, and in particular, trying to model the hardware available was impossible for me! My main takeaway from the event is that EAM is a tool to be used when sitting with the domain experts, for encoding their knowledge for future reference.

User Stories

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Student Dashboard 

One of the outputs of interviewing the stakeholders was that we have developed some user stories to describe the thoughts of the stakeholders.  A user story takes the following form:

“As a <role>, I want <goal/desire>
so that <benefit>”

As you can see, it states who the user is, what they want to be able to do and the reason for wanting that.

Below are our collection of user stories developed for the student dashboard.  It is a work in progress, so we will add more and amend them as we validate them with the stakeholders.

“As a <role>, I want <goal/desire>
so that <benefit>”

“As a tutor, I want to see a photo of my tutee
so that I can recognise who I am meeting”

“As a senior tutor, I want to access mobile telephone numbers
so that I can contact students that have gone AWOL”

“As a tutor/senior tutor, I want to see my tutee’s exam and coursework marks
so that I can support and advise them appropriately.”

“As a tutor, I want to see my tutee’s mitigating circumstances
so that I can ensure they are taken into account on the exam board.”

“As a senior tutor, I want to see my e-mail communications with a student
so that I have context for our meetings.”

“As a student, I want to know see my predicted degree grading
so that I am aware of my current performance.”

“As front desk staff in student services, I want quick access to all of a student’s data
so that I can deal with their inquiry immediately.”

“As a careers advisor, I want to know the course title, length of that course and which year a student is in
so that I know whether to offer advice on getting a summer placement, or applying for jobs.”

“As front desk staff in student services, I want to know a student’s alternative contact e-mail address
so that I can communicate with them prior to their enrolment, or while they are suspended.”

“As a member of faculty student services, I want to see a student’s timetable
so that I can tell them where they need to be when they ask.”

“As a tutor I wish to see a list of engagement indicators for each of my tutees. Indicators such as Attendance, Coursework Hand-in, Induction attendance, etc. Along with some straight forward factual info like A level marks, and marks obtained so far.  This is an “early warning indicator” so that I can spot troubles as early as possible.”

Indeed if you have any comments or suggestions for user stories, please add them below, though we will have to compare them to the feedback we have had from our stakeholders.

Notes from Derby Cluster Group Meeting

October 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Student Dashboard 

On 13th October Derby hosted a cluster group meeting – the first one that Southampton have been able to attend.

Derby are doing a traffic light / dashboard on Student Engagement. They have a  very useful Fried –Egg / target diagram of primary, secondary and tertiary indicators of (lack of) engagement and including miscellaneous  at risk groups.  We discussed the possible role of tutor /teacher  “hunches” in predicting engagement and future success. The contact is Jean Mutton.

Loughborough are looking at final year progression and factors that effected students, with a view to informing relevant people of issues. Malcolm King indicated that they had probably collected too much data – some of which indicated things they could do nothing about.

Roehampton are doing work on an academic warning system which is combined with an on-line system for handling mitigating circumstances. The early warning system is  using usage information from their VLE along with attendance information.

All three institutions reported that they had a lecture/tutorial attendance register system. This technology is quite advanced now…

We (Southampton) introduced our student dashboard as being the mash-up presentation of the data we have about students in different places at the “right time, in the right format for the right person” (See my previous blog post). And we discussed the issues of privacy and who should be allowed to see what data, and the student’s role in this decision. We were given some useful suggestions

  1. Look at what data other universities distribute to appropriate people. Apparently at Loughborough tutors have access to almost everything the university knows about the student (on paper). Tutors need to be frequently reminded of their responsibilities not to discuss this with the wrong people, over the phone etc.
  2. What is our initial contract with students concerning the use of data. Have they signed up for data being used this way? If not, why not?
  3. We could hold some kind of Hackfest/Camp inviting representatives of all stakeholders. The idea would be to look at privacy e.g. comparing Facebook with University systems.

Another realisation from the meeting for me was that what we are doing could be more than just data – it could be about “engagement analytics” (Jean Mutton’s expression). An interesting experiment that was suggested in the discussion was to compare tutor/teachers’ “hunches” with predictions for success/failure from other analytics factors.

We agreed with Lauren Currie (@RedJotter) that we would have a discussion again in a couple of months when we had developed our scenarios and story boards. However, we also offered the group that we at Southampton would be happy to host the next meeting in Southampton – and that in this meeting we would “show and tell” our storyboards and any early prototypes. I’m going to look at offering something early next semester (Feb 2012). It might make sense that if Lauren is attending this we could combine the two meetings.

Visibility to the Right People

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Student Dashboard 

In my previous posting I said that the purpose of this project is to make the information about students that we have available though many systems in the university available to the right time in the right format for the right people.

This posting is concerned with “right people”, and will be the focus of our topic at the action learning set at the cluster meeting in Derby.

Clearly a great deal of the information we have about our students is “sensitive”. For example we have marks, learning differences, fees status, accommodation details and maybe even self reported medical or psychiatric details. Who should be able to see all this? This subject will be a major issue for our project – and no doubt the data protection act will be called into the act many times by those who are frightened of sharing their data.

Well who can see these things?

  • The personal tutor?
  • The senior tutor?
  • The reception staff in student services?
  • The student?
  • The student’s parents?
  • Teachers on the student’s course?
  • Faculty Admin staff?

We have started to consider the importance of allowing the student some control of how widely the information may be spread. In the USA they talk about “Helicopter Parenting” (Google it) – and this is increasingly happening here: as parents pay a larger and larger part of the cost of the education they expect to know more about what is going on (perhaps in the same way that a sponsor expects information on progress). At the moment if parent rings and asks me if their offspring has been seen recently or what marks they are getting I am required to say “no comment”. Perhaps the Dashboard would enable the student to specify that I could answer their parents on agreed topics?

An Introduction from the Project Director

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Student Dashboard 

Allow me to introduce myself. I am the director of teh Student Dashboard project, and I am the Director of Education resposible for TEL at Southampton. More about me at

I have been on sabbatical leave since February, and so somewhat disconnected from the early stages of this project.   In fact more disconnected than was intended as when JISC changed their mail provider our spam filter was so certain that mail coming from JISC was spam that it2 marked it for immediate server side deletion (not even sending it to us marked as SPAM). Consequently we missed some important emails about this project and the first cluster meeting.

The second cluster meeting is on 13th October, and I have resolved to turn up mob handed to apologise for our absence at the first meeting.

However, while I have been away the project has been progressing better than I knew.

The Purpose of our project is to make the information about students that we have available though many systems in the university available to the right time in the right format for the right people.

We have collected a detailed list of the sources of information. The various CRM systems and student record systems are the most obvious, but there are some less obvious systems, such as the assignment hand-in system (so we can know whether the student is up to date on their courseworks) and email archives (so that we can revisit previous (official) conversations we have had with students.

An important issue at the start of this project was the choice of CRM. The university currently uses Oracle CRM in student services, and then a range of third party products and home grown products for recruitment, alumni contact and for faculty/departmental information.  The preferred choice of nearly all the key players was to move the whole university over to Micrososft CRM which would interface best with Sharepoint which is also being rolled out across the University. However, in view of the current financial situation it was decided that this option was too expensive and disruptive. Instead it has been decided to stick with the Oracle CRM for Student Services, the existing Alumni package will continue for the moment. Banner CRM will be introduced and used for a standard university recruiting system. (Banner also provide our SRS), taking away a chunk or responsibility from the Faculties.

This means that there will continue to be a gap. All the other information that Faculties collect about their students will probably continue to fall into home grown systems and be difficult to access. Having said that, there has been a major push in the last year to centralise the collection and curation of information. The sort of information that is currently getting  lost is that collected by personal tutors, senior tutors and other faculty pastoral staff, and programme directors.

This project will provide a vehicle for introducing discussion about this information and hopefully help individuals and faculties to understand the benefits of putting the data somewhere that it can be used by others.

To conclude, the Student Dashboard project is underway and up to date on all its deliverables except the open reporting (blogging).  We now intend to rectify this and make sure that we share the understandings that are emerging.

The srtand of our blog specifically for the Student Dashboard project is

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