JISC RSC West Midlands SMT Focus Newsletter

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A newsletter aimed specifically at senior managers working in post-16 learning and skills sector learning providers who have an interest in e-learning.


  • Principal Praises Valued ServiceThe current economic climate and calls for cuts in spending require learning providers to achieve more for less. What better place to turn for advice on how technology can help achieve this than your local RSC which, as Steve Willis, Principal of Stafford College explains, is a valuable, cost effective resource.

    Originally established in 2000 to facilitate college connections to the JANET network, the RSC remit today has expanded into many new areas. Offering a variety of low cost, and in many cases free services, the RSC is a central point of contact for advice on implementing the use of technology and e-learning in the FE and skills sector.

    Steve explains, Stafford College has used the RSC extensively over the years and its an excellent resource. For example, staff have attended RSC hosted events and user forums for their own personal development. These events are very cost effective and we have also had input from the RSC at our e-learning themed staff development days at no charge to ourselves. Additionally, the RSC helped us to evaluate the colleges e-learning progress and carried out a self assessment review of our Learning Resource Centre.

    He adds, We have also used the RSC as a sounding board to fi nd out whats happening in the sector, and discover if the college is moving forward in the right direction. To have this central resource is very valuable to the region, and its an organisation that can advise us on the latest developments in e-learning. We have also been able to try products through the RSC before committing ourselves to spending any money, for example, mobile kit, e-portfolios and assistive technologies.

    Staff at the college have attended numerous RSC events over the years which Steve feels are an excellent opportunity to learn about good practice at other organisations.

    We struggle to fi nd out whether we are spending our money correctly and its easy to get carried away with enthusiasm for a particular product. By talking to RSC staff and delegates at RSC events, you can fi nd out about cheaper alternatives and learn about things that other colleges have tried both successfully and unsuccessfully. Its a great opportunity to share practice.

    Find out more about the value for money services from the RSC on the back page of this newsletter.

    - the Value for Money Issue

    SMT Focus Issue 2 Summer


    Stimulating and supporting innovation in learning

    In this Issue

    1. Principal Praises Valued Service2. e-Books for FE2. Making e-Savings3. Open Source Alternatives Save College Thousands of Pounds3. What is Open Source?4. Cost Effective e-Learning Services on Your Doorstep4. Contact Us

  • Have you registered with the Gateway?

    Making e-Savings

    Are you making the most of technology to achieve cost and effi ciency savings? There are numerous options available here are just a few potential ideas:

    Reduce travel costsWeb conferencing allows you to host and attend live meetings over the Internet using a web browser, headset and webcam. It reduces travel times and costs and can be used in a variety of teaching and learning situations such as staff meetings across multiple sites, lectures, demonstrations and collaborative work with other learning providers. Many web conferencing tools allow you to share documents, such as presentation slides, and record your session.

    Free web conferencing tools include DimDim, Skype, Google Talk and OoVoo. Tools such as Instant Presenter, Adobe Connect, WebEx and Elluminate incur a small annual fee.

    Reduce paper wastageOnline collaboration tools are great for reducing printing costs and saving the planet. They allow several people to contribute towards a document at anytime and from anywhere using a PC with an Internet connection. Googledocs, for example, is free to use with no need to install any software, and includes spreadsheets, word processing and presentation slides.

    Wikis are another method of facilitating online collaboration. Taking the form of web pages, wikis also allow several people to contribute their thoughts and ideas towards a project.

    Examples of free wiki tools include Mediawiki, Wetpaint and Wikispaces.

    Reducing hardware and infrastructure costsVirtual desktop solutions can potentially represent a more cost effctive option than traditional desktop PCs. They enable services to be delivered via Thin Client PCs from a central data source instead of individual PCs. Thin Client PCs are generally cheaper to purchase, and incur fewer ongoing software and support costs. Their life expectancy is longer than a traditional PC and reports state that they are more energy effi cient. Thin Client PCs also save space and are less vulnerable to viruses.

    Virtualised servers can also represent signifi cant cost savings. They remove the need for physical servers by creating a virtualised environment. Traditional servers potentially cost more to run due to a need for additional storage space to hold the servers, air conditioning to keep the servers cool, and demands on IT support.

    For examples of how virtual desktops and servers could benefi t your orgainsation, read the following Excellence Gateway case studies:

    Virtual servers: www.excellencegateway.org.uk/cc

    Virtual desktops: www.excellencegateway.org.uk/hsf

    For further advice on cost and effi ciency savings using technology, contact the RSC advisors by e-mail at support@rsc-wm.ac.uk

    JISC Collections was established by the UK Higher and Further Education funding councils, to support the procurement of digital content for education in the UK. One of its most popular and successful projects to date, has been the provision of a collection of free e-books, specially chosen for the FE and sixth form college sector

    The collection was purchased with 1.8 million of central government funding and provides over 3,000 e-books; since September 2009 over 4.5 million pages have been viewed by students and teachers. By purchasing the e-books collectively, JISC Collections has saved the sector a considerable amount of money (the e-books would cost over 100,000 per college), as well as being able to specify a highly accessible and user-friendly platform for viewing the content.

    JISC Collections has negotiated preferential terms and conditions for the e-books, so they can be used on a wide range of devices, including mobile phones and there are no limits on the number of users of any single e-book. Individual pages or chapters can also be linked to from Virtual Learning Environments or library catalogues, so material can be tailored to individuals needs. E-books offer a range of benefi ts for disabled users not found in their print equivalents, as they can be viewed using assistive technologies familiar to the learners, such as screen readers.

    In addition to the 3,000 free e-books purchased by JISC Collections, colleges can now supplement their collection by purchasing additional titles, evaluated and approved by the FE community. The e-select 100 collection can be viewed at: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/eselecttitles/home.action

    Project website: http://qurl.com/rlj11

    e-Books for FE


  • Open Source Alternatives Save College Thousands of Pounds

    Staff at Halesowen College have embraced open source software for many years. The approach began in 2003 when Technical Services Director Will Davidson was tasked with implementing a new telephony system on a restricted budget. During the past 7 years, the college has made worthwhile savings by opting for open source software, instead of more expensive commercial alternatives.

    The fi rst open source product to be deployed at Halesowen College was Asterisk Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) software. VOIP is a technology that allows phone calls to be made over a data network, such as the Internet, and is usually a cheaper alternative to using a dedicated voice network. Since Asterisk runs on a standard PC, Halesowen College were able to make additional savings on the cost of purchasing and maintaining proprietary VOIP Private Branch Exchanges (PBXs).

    Will says, The cost savings we made were huge. We saved on line rental, call charges and expensive hardware. We dont even need a high spec server to run Asterisk and have repurposed a PC from 2004.

    After seeing the benefi ts of open source with the telephony project, Wills team investigated other alternatives many of which are now in place at the college.

    Will explains, We use Moodle as our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and have a Linux fi rewall. Previously, we used a commercial email virus and spam fi ltering system but have saved 3,000 on licence fees by using SpamAssassin and it works so much better.

    The college has also recently introduced Alfresco, an open source document management system which is used to promote effi ciency and save on printing costs.

    Will says, Alfresco allows us to share documents such as meeting agendas. We have 8-9 committees that meet regularly and each member receives a lot of paperwork ahead of meetings. Its expensive to compile and they dont get much time to read it all. By putting this information in Alfresco in pdf format, it saves time, paper wastage and enables the committee members to have discussions based on the document which therefore makes the meeting more focused and effi cient.

    Will adds, There are real benefi ts to Open Source. There is virtually no risk involved you can try out a number of products without committing fi nancially. I would advise any learning provider to consider open source alternatives fi rst if the product doesnt suit your needs, there is no fi nancial commitment and you havent lost anything.

    Halesowen College has saved nearly 50,000 in the last 7 years just by choosing open source. In the current climate where a need to save costs and be more effi cient is more important than ever, it is something that is set to continue.

    Read the full story of Wills deployment of VOIP on the Excellence Gateway coming soon.

    Halesowen College

    What is Open Source?

    Open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials () with the end-product, source-material, "blueprints" and documentation available at no cost to the public. (source Wikipedia). This gives greater fl exibility and allows users to tailor the software to their needs.

    For FE and HE organisations who would like to explore the possibilities of open source (OS) software, OSS Watch is a free advisory service funded by JISC which provides guidance on OS.

    They offer a variety of services including:

    Events Authoring and publishing information on open source (including case studies, reports) and signposting to resources Consultancy for anyone considering or producing open source software Open source software sustainability evaluation Exploring sustainability options for software development activities Advice on software procurement

    The OSS Watch website contains a wealth of information. It features resources, links, and advice for end-users, technical staff and for those who are unfamiliar with open source software. For strategic IT decision makers, the website features guidance relating to legal issues such as Intellectual Property Rights, and institutional policies including open source software in IT strategies.

    For more information on how OSS Watch can advise your organisation, visit their website at www.oss-watch.ac.uk.


  • Cost Effective e-Learning Services on Your Doorstep

    The RSC continues to be at the forefront of e-learning advice to the post-16 learning and skills sector. The majority of our services are available at no cost here are just some ways that you can make the most of a wealth of regional knowledge:

    Advice and guidanceThe RSC provides on-the-ground advice on a daily basis on a variety of e-learning themes. Available at no charge, our e-learning advisers can visit your organisation and advise on anything from how technology can play a part in complying with the latest legislation (eg. the Single Equality Scheme), to developing your e-learning strategy. Being a regional organisation, we are also best placed to share practice and signpost you to e-learning examples from across the West Midlands.

    Our advisors are also available for advice over the telephone or by e-mail.

    To arrange a visit with an adviser, e-mail support@rsc-wm.ac.uk or call 01902 518982.

    EventsOver the last 12 months, we have run close to 70 events, including a combination of both online and face-to-face sessions covering a range of e-learning themes from e-portfolios to virtual learning environments. Over a quarter of these are regular forums where learning providers from across the region come together to discuss a variety of topics.

    Around 85% of RSC-WM events and forums are free to attend. They can also be used as evidence towards continuing professional development (CPD) with electronic certifi cates of attendance issued after the majority of our events.

    Keep up to date with the latest events from the RSC by visiting our website or joining our community. Sign up at http://info.rsc-wm.ac.uk/register/

    ResourcesOur website is a useful starting point for information on forthcoming events, latest news and our full range of services. You will also fi nd a link to our wiki which is packed with useful tips and support covering topics such as web 2.0, accessibility, learning spaces and ILT strategy.

    Access our website at www.rsc-wm.ac.uk and our wiki at http://tiny.cc/g736o

    E-learning progress reviewThis free service allows you to assess your organisations e-learning progress. There are three self assessment tools to choose from, as well as two tools which involve visits from our advisers.

    The service can be a useful benchmarking exercise and provides an insight into how integrated ILT is across all facets of your organisation. It can also be used a refl ection tool to consider what has gone well, and how your organisation can move forwards. Visits from our advisers can be particularly useful, as they have extensive knowledge of the e-learning position amongst many learning providers across the region.

    For more information contact our Teaching and Learning Adviser, Allen Crawford-Thomas by e-mail at A.Crawford-thomas@rsc-wm.ac.uk

    Forthcoming support topicsDuring the next academic year, our remit will expand to include advice and services relating to businesss processes and e-safety. Watch this space!

    JISC RSC West MidlandsTechnology CentreWolverhampton Science ParkGlaisher DriveWolverhamptonWV10 9RU

    Tel: 01902 518982E-mail: support@rsc-wm.ac.ukWeb: www.rsc-wm.ac.uk

    This newsletter is printed on recycled paper

    ManagerGreg Vivashgreg.vivash@rsc-wm.ac.uk

    E-learning Advisers

    Jason Curtis (Learning Technologies)jason.curtis@rsc-wm.ac.uk

    Jane Edwards (Adult & Community Learning)p.jane.edwards@rsc-wm.ac.uk

    Matt Gallon (Learning Resources)m.gallon@rsc-wm.ac.uk

    Colleen Romero (Technical Infrastructure)colleen.romero@rsc-wm.ac.uk

    Allen Crawford-Thomas (Teachin...