WebLearn - Nexus Integration Project
Nexus is the University's 'groupware' solution that provides several communication services such as e-mail, calendars, task and document management, and workflow solutions through SharePoint. On the other hand, WebLearn, University's popular learning 'environment', offers many a tool for better teaching and learning, for e.g. it serves as a repository of course-related material, provides assessment and plagiarism-detection mechanisms, and offers discussion forums and blogs. As WebLearn is used for teaching and learning, Nexus is utilised for cross-team collaboration and process automation. At present these two environments sit side-by-side, serving different communities for different purposes. However, there is an apparent need for a groupware-backed pedagogical environment, for a streamlined and automated document management system, and for a unified communication and scheduling system. The WebLearn-Nexus Integration Project, thus, attempts at addressing these needs by bringing in and combining the best of the both worlds. In this attempt, the project also provides opportunities for informing the end-users of the benefits these two systems offer.
- Benefits to users of both systems to easily move documents, combine calendars and make use of their personalised group-working environments.
- Benefits to teaching and research in bringing the institutional support systems for these two activities together.
- Opportunity to offer innovative solutions using best of breed systems designed for higher education.
While addressing the pressing need for integrating both WebLearn and Nexus environments, this 21-month long project's primary scope is to investigate and gather requirements for possible integration of the key features. Implemented in three phases, the project's scope involves:
- developing detailed use cases and robust technical specifications,
- creating and piloting some integrated solutions (detailed below), and
- evaluating and enhancing the integration services by providing detailed documentation and user guidance.
The project thus explores each of the pre-defined areas to develop use cases; identifies the quick wins, scopes the more detailed technical work required; implements and evaluates pilot solutions; and ultimately offers improved services to users, both staff and students.
Strands of the Project
Applying an agile methodology, the project implements an iterative approach in integrating several services of WebLearn and Nexus. These services and the integration aimed for are as follows:
- Integration of Organisation and Scheduling Solutions: Both WebLearn and Nexus provide calendaring services (called 'Scheduling' in the former). Whereas Nexus calendaring system is used for personal scheduling and resource booking for e.g. setting up tutorial sessions, the WebLearn calendaring is utilised for course scheduling. The project thus initially explores integrating these two divergent systems and thus support myriad requirements of student and academic fraternity. For e.g., allowing students to set up tutorial sessions and events integrating WebLearn schedules, supporting committee meetings that relate to educational strategy and practice, replicating lists of lectures and events between WebLearn and Nexus personal calendars, etc. In a similar vein, the project also aims at investigating which calendars the students and academics use and how they use them in order to better tailor the integration solutions.
- Document Management and Process Automation:Nexus, specifically SharePoint server, offers seamless document management solutions that allow users to circulate documents through review process and automate these approvals from the initial steps. However, the academic fraternity primarily uses WebLearn as a document repository, for e.g. to host course handbooks, course material, presentations, etc. But WebLearn lacks the functionality of seeking approval on documents automatically. Thus the second strand of this project is to identify ways the documents that get published on SharePoint directly appear on WebLearn to access. Moreover, support for graduate education, e.g. taught Masters courses or doctoral training, is also likely to require exposure to the research process (e.g. supported by SharePoint) through WebLearn (as part of the overall learning support process). Therefore, this project's second strand of work is to investigate, define and implement techniques to support the linking, exposing and/or transferring of digital objects between the two services.
- Collaboration: The University provides opportunities for interdisciplinary research and the interdependency and collaboration are evident in the research practices. In order to facilitate this cross-group collaboration, the OUCS offers Groupstore shared service that is offered as part of the University's identity and access management suite. This service enables creation of ad hoc groups (and pre-populated Student-generated groups). Both Nexus and WebLearn intend to make full use of the Groupstore functionality, by optimising the process for group creation and re-use between Nexus and WebLearn, for e.g. making any distributed lists created in Exchange available for WebLearn usage and recalling any ad hoc group created in WebLearn from Nexus.