Some notes from EUNIS 2017

In the SISU project we study a major system implementation in a university context. This year we got accepted for the EUNIS 2017 Conference, which is an excellent opportunity to present our results outside the academic community (no pun intended).

My presentation was one of the last but we had a full seminar room and the response was positive. (The presentation will ba available from the EUNIS web site.) Many universities all over Europe are in the same stage, transitioning from old student information systems to new, so many shared the same concerns. One example was this year’s host Münster who presented their transition to a new student management system, a project which felt quite familiar to us studying Ladok.

Of course, for me it was really interesting to listen to the other presentations and to get a feel for what is important for the community and what is on the agenda.

The three largest conference tracks were e-learning, infrastructure and management respectivly. Reocurring themes were mobility and analytics. The new EU regulations on privacy were given special attention.

The conference ended with a brilliant presentation by Nikolas Guggenberger on trust in blockchains. Guggenberger discussed the relation between blockchain and law. He concluded by pointing out how reliance on blockchain will invert the field of data protection. Not by solving the problem but rather by switching focus from known individuals with secure transactions to anonymous users with open transactions. A main point was also how the lack of a central authority is misaligned with most jurisdiction as the idea of someone ultimately responsible is often critical.

To me, the keynote on open education by Sheila Macneill was nevertheless the most inspiering. Macneill is a long term advocate for open education and made a convincing case for openness being a core value of higher education. (Her presentation is available on her web site as a recording.)

Taking a somewhat longer perspective she also noted how hard it is to make reliable predictions. Just some years ago MOOCs were seen as the next big thing, ready to make all but a few HEIs obsolete. Now they are just a part of life but instead alternate facts are shaking the wery foundation of education. “That’s just an expert, what does s/he know?”. Sheila’s answer was a plea that universities must create their own strong narratives to remain relevant.

This year all but one member of the Ladok consortium were absent due to heavy workload. Pray next year’s conference will be dominated by lessons learnt from the Ladok project.

A View from the Top

Recently I had the opportunity to listen to a full day of presentations from what could possibly be Swedens largest software development project, the New Ladok project. The New Ladok is Sweden’s new national student information system, which will serve about half a million users when fully implemented.

In the SISU project we follow the preparations for the implementation of the new system, from what could be called a bottom up perspective. It was thus very interesting to hear about this huge project from a top down perspective–from the actual development project.

Project Leader Johan Sjödin stated that the initial development backlog was estimated to have started at 60000 hours of pure coding/development. While one major effort has been the prioritizing of the backlog a project of this size is not just coding. Adding requirements elicitation, testing, validation, documentation, learning material etc. the project so far amounts to over 400000 hours of work. That is the equivalent to more than 50 PhDs.

The presentations included high level perspectives from Mauritz Danielsson and Johan Sjödin. There were also more in depth presentations: Catherine Zetterqvist commented on backlog, the technical setup was described by Staffan Ekstedt and Anna Åhnberg talked about the concepts behind the learning material being developed. Malin Zingmark said a few words about success factors for local implementations and the new web site was presented by Rebecka Guzman.

Interesting were also Jan Winkle’s presentation from Malmö University, which has formed the avant-garde by being the first larger university to implement the new system. This was nicely contrasted with the presentation by Karim Andersson from Lund University, which will form the derrière-grade and implement the system in 2018. So far the implementation at Malmö University seems to have been successful and that must indeed have been very positive for the project as a whole.

Still this huge project no doubt has many challenges ahead, both on the project level but also on the level of local implementations. Starting with the latter there is a huge undertaking at each university relating to the conversion of legacy data and the adoption of routines.

On a project level, there are of course the usual challenges related to running huge IT-development projects. I could note two principal challenges that the project has to deal with. One is the fragmented customer base. There are many differences between universities and colleges, but also within institution there are many structural differences. As the new Ladok will have a monopoly there will have to be a one size fits all for the end product, and no doubt this will be better for some then for others.

A more intricate problem relates to the overall orchestration. The project is now in a critical phase where it is simultaneously implementing the system, keeping implementations stable and developing new versions to meet the more complex requirements that have to be supported. At the same time the higher education system is very cyclic, and the project has to adapt to the academic year leaving little room for quick adjustments.

All in all, it would seem that the new Ladok would be a perfect example for the hype curve. At the beginning there seems to have been rather unrealistic expectations. The project has since worked hard creating a focus and in a sense lowering the expectations (at least for the first version). There will no doubt be a rise towards the plateau of productivity. The question that remains is whether the project already has hit rock bottom and is working towards that or if the large scale implementations ahead will be a cause of concern. It will definitely be interesting to follow this huge project as it proceeds and I hope we could gain further insight into the development project as such.

Informing about Future Changes Related to IT in the Sisu Project

This spring we are doing a campus tour around Uppsala university to inform about the future changes that are coming up.  As you might remember we have an action research project, Sisu, with the local Ladok implementation project, see this blog post .

The content of the seminars:

  • Short presentation of project.
  • Demonstration of the system.
  • What is “digital workenvironment”
  • Results from the survey “The digital work environment of study administrators”
  • Some advice to the departments for handling this change

We have the following upcoming seminars planned:

7 april, 10.15-11.45. BMC, sal B/A 111a.

10 april, 13.15-14.45. Gamla torget, sal T/GT6_3576.

11 april, 12.15-13.45 Engelska parken. Geijersalen.

19 april, 12.30-14.00. Blåsenhus, Laborativa lärosalen. Med videolänk till Campus Gotland: rum B23.

You find updated infomration about New Ladok on the university information page 



La la Ladok

Our research group has a long tradition of doing action research. Action
Research has been defined as having dual aims, research as well as involvement. The latter implies things happening, action, change–a bit like agile development if you wish. At the same time, this is relative to scale. In a small project, things are happening fast and various actions by practitioner and researcher alike have direct consequences. In large projects, this is not always so. In retrospect it will be easier to see the change and trace a trajectory. In real time, especially in the periphery of a large project, it can be hard to experience any action.

One of ongoing action research projects we are following the local preparations for a major new system implementation. Deadlines have been pushed forward on numerous occasions–by years.

The system in question is the nationwide Swedish Student Information System (SIS) – better known by the name Ladok. The system holds all student records for students in Swedish higher education and is critical from a legal perspective but it is also the backbone for most other student related ICT as it is used to generate directory information that is used by learning management systems (LMS), campus cards etc. The system is long overdue for an upgrade and a completely new version is just in its early phase of implementation. This is a 50 million Euro project with an estimated user base of 400 000 students and 50 000 staff in higher education.

We have been following the local preparations at one university, rather than the development as such. The collaboration has included activities such as:

  • coaching,
  • seminars,
  • participation in information efforts and
  • surveys.

The major effort though, were the vision seminars that were conducted with students and staff (users that is) in order to establish high level goals. Thus, our focus has been on local preparations for a huge change in work processes that the new system will require.

While the constraints and uncertainties can be at times frustrating this is also the reality behind many large system implementations. In the next few posts we will further discuss some of our experiences from the project – so far.