#lak13–Getting Data In (and Getting Data Back Out!)

So the previous blog post talked more about the high-level view of how data transfer could be performed within an institution. Now we’ve (potentially) sussed out how systems can link, we can turn our attention to the actual movement of data.

When integrating systems, the top level action in any meeting is getting the blasted data into the system. After all, I guess that is the goal of any integration project. However, I prefer to take a backwards step and look at how to get the data out. This is 3-fold really:

  1. Its nearly always easier to read data than write. (Prove the simplest thing works)
  2. Having the ability to read allows for automated testing of writing
  3. It allows for long-term monitoring and much more functionality to enhance the student experience (but more this later)

Using Web Services

So in front of every system I’ve integrated I attempt to get the standard CRUD services in place. CRUD being Create, Read, Update, Delete. (After the request for Read to be done first, people normally start thinking I’m real idiot asking for Delete especially if data should never be deleted. But my thinking is you’re in there learning now, put the delete in place whilst testing, put it under source control and then remove the functionality – rather than needing to come back to it in 5 years time when everything is forgotten).

Read Providing Mechanism for Analytics

So whilst Create and Update get the data in, from an analytics point of view it is the read that bears the most interest. So using the library system as an example, we could probably place a read service that takes the Unique User ID and returns the users current status, along with their history.

From an analytics point of view, we could look at a number of students, comparing and contrasting grades and looking at the number of books they’d borrowed from the library (and/or how they much they owed in late fines). Did all the students who did very well on a single module all borrow the same book? If so, does the library have enough copies of this book for everyone on the course? (Of course, it gets difficult to determine if others had bought the book rather than borrowed it, or used an eBook instead). But there could be patterns here.

Could we also detect the student who hasn’t used the library? Are they at risk of dropping out? Is there a training need about how to locate books and check them out? Of course, like above, they may have bought there own copies or alternatively just used reference only materials in the library. But then we could use the swipe system to determine if they’ve ever swiped in whilst in the library / LRC.

Achievements System

This read structure could of course fit nicely with a rewards / achievements structure. A number of first achievements could be devised by the University, such as the first time you’ve taken out a book – a badge appears on your VLE page (I’m not a 4Square user, but I think they use this concept for different types of check-ins). This could of course further add to the analytics questions above – if you’ve not borrowed a book but everyone on your module / course has – are you at risk of dropping out? Can we intervene? Not only displaying you have been awarded this badge – we could display something like ‘a lot of your classmates have been awarded the ‘First Book Check-Out Badge’ – want to find out how to win yours? Click here – linking off to video and resources explaining how to locate books, check them out and where to go for further support.

Enhancing Student Experience

Provided the achievements are well thought through – they really could contribute to the student experience. Firstly some services that are offered by the University are not always known to students. This achievements page could highlight other awards to research – showing the range of services available, along with links for how to use them (and ultimately award an achievement). (It would also serve a reference page to help when they forgot the procedure for booking a Group Study Room for example from one year to the next).

Finally though, the read services in front of these satellite systems would also contribute to the availability of a student portal – letting students know what they need to know, now. When a student logs into the VLE, a read request could be made to the library system. They could be notified of the amount of money they owe (with a link to pay), and when their next book is due back – the sooner it is, the more prominent this message becomes.

And boringly, they aid support of systems

I should put this in small print. But by having read services available, tools to help diagnose student status’ across various systems can be developed to help resolve issues – find out where faults have occurred. A diagnostic tool if you will. If your Helpdesk could see your status across all systems with just entering your ID number / username – how much easier would their life be?

Oh, the read service would indicate if the system was up or down – help report to users that the system is unavailable, and allowing support staff to proactive to faults, rather than reactive.

The next blog post might actually get round to crunching some data, and see some really stuff happen – but that’ll need to keep until tomorrow.

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