How new technology makes education more flexible for students

Transparency

Transparency was the magic word, explains Manderveld. In the new system’s interface, the user is shown what happens to entered data with each action. Students are always asked for approval before submitting data to another institution. “When a student answers ‘no,’ he or she has to rely on the traditional way.” In addition, the infrastructure had to be designed as generically as possible. “Open source and the use of open standards is the standard for SURF. It is a condition that not only the three institutions can connect, because all three happen to have the same IT supplier. It must be able to be connected to all information systems at all colleges and universities.”

Challenges and obstacles

The infrastructure is now ready. It was put into operation on a trial basis in November 2021. But there have been a lot of challenges along the way, says Manderveld when asked. “It took a lot of effort to get the interface stable, but it’s going really well now. In particular, the component in which the educational offer is displayed at a glance was relatively easy to realize thanks to OOAPI,” says Manderveld. There were also complex puzzles. “In particular, it makes it possible to exchange data without SURF, which has the technology with which users identify themselves, accidentally getting their hands on it.” According to Manderveld, it is difficult because student data may only be exchanged directly between institutions. “The institutions first had to install this technology in their own student information system. It required a lot of effort from the suppliers, which is imposed on our standards.”

Release protocols

In the end, all suppliers involved succeeded in realizing the technology for identification. But that didn’t solve everything. “Because it is a core system, the educational institutions are naturally bound by their own release protocols. When you don’t plan releases properly, they hit the systems. The universities initially started very enthusiastically, but it gradually increased.” As a result, the pilot had to be postponed for three months, from September to November 2022.

Another obstacle was the reporting of results to the ‘home institutions’ if a course was completed at another institution. “We require that students have control over their data, including the numbers. Before these are returned to the institutions, they must therefore give permission. But after the interviews, it turned out that the students themselves were not at all interested in this. So we had to create a new design, where you not only give permission to complete a registration, but also for feedback on the results achieved.” Privacy-by-design is always a desire, but in some cases it can also be pushed too far, says Manderveld. “But you shouldn’t take it so far that it goes against the users’ wishes.”

Expansion

Several alliances of educational institutions have already joined the pilot. They not only want to be able to exchange courses, but also entire minors. In that case, these are complete packages of subjects. “This pilot was supposed to start in March 2023, but it’s even more complex because all kinds of exceptions, dependencies, and conditions have to be built in when registering for minors. There are more conditions for participating in a particular minor than for a major .” And then there is again a whole list of requirements for the IT specialists involved. “We will of course start with the same high standards. SURF must also adjust a number of things in its own IT infrastructure for this. In September, we will see for the first time whether the ‘party works’ technically. This will also be an exciting new piece of technology that we can be proud of when it works well.”

The most important tip Manderveld has as a result of the project is not only to bring the heads together on the technical level, but also to involve the educational world and those who carry out administrative processes. “Make clear agreements and discuss in advance what is and is not possible.”

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