CIePD | P3 Project Blog

Tags: benefits realisation, demonstrator, JISC, placements, portal

This is the blog for the Placements Portal Package project, funded under the JISC Embedding eLearning Benefits programme to realise benefits from the SAMSON project.

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Blog for the Placements Portal Productisation (P3) eLearning Embedding Benefits project, funded by JISC May 2012-April 2013 and building on outputs from the SAMSON project.

Tags: demonstrator, event, JISC, open source, placements, portal, technical

Defining 'generic'

We set out on the project intending to create something 'generic' that could be used in a variety of contexts. However we've uncovered a number of questions, some of which are technical, relating to the construction of the original code and architecture.

In discussion at the end of last year, our developer Mike suggested the system could be made ‘generic’ to a lesser or greater extent in one of two ways:

(1)   ‘Shallow’ – well coded, open source codebase designed according to best practice (get rid of all hard-coded stuff, elimination of duplicate code, object orientated design, n-tier architecture, stored procedures instead of embedded SQL etc)
(2)   ‘Deep’ –implement a (partial) entity-attribute-value database see ( with the user interface partially being dynamically constructed at run time. Entity-attribute-value databases have their critics but are a very effective solution if used in the right circumstances
The risk-benefit equation is different for each option:  it’s something that we need to discuss and come to a collective decision on. In essence, (1) has less risk but (2) offers much wider benefits and it would certainly be much easier to hit the target of making the system “into something that can offer a 90% best fit for generic placement activity” .
Given the time and budget constraints of the project, in the end we opted for (1) while recognising the desirability of (2).

Requirements workshop 9 October

Our thanks to the 10 placements professionals who gave up their Tuesday to travel to Nottingham for our first full project workshop. Discussion was lively and informative, and we hope the people who came found it a useful experience. It was certainly useful for us, on a number of fronts.

It will take a little while to digest the wide range of information we gathered: between them, participants represented most flavours and settings of placements provision (including HE/FE, centralised/decentralised, voluntary/compulsory and paid/unpaid),  and surfaced a number of shared issues, not all of which could be addressed by software! For the project team, it helped us gain a much clearer picture of the size and complexity of the domain, which helps to see where our tool might fit in.

Group mind map exerciseExperience in setting up a test system of the existing Placements Portal also revealed interesting issues. Installing a clean version of the underlying OPUS database structure proved far from straightforward, and probably involves a lot of functionality that our system doesn't need. If we're aiming to produce something lightweight and transferable, there's an argument for concentrating significant development effort on decoupling the Portal front end from OPUS so that it can be bolted back on to a smaller, more easily installed database back end. So the end result might look pretty similar to what we have now, but be much easier to transfer and transform. We'll be looking at this over the next couple of weeks.

More on workshops

Sandra's workshop at the ASET conference was very useful: about 15 placements staff from across the UK and Ireland attended, and were able to share lots of useful information about their processes and requirements, even though we only had a 45-minute slot first thing in the morning! Thanks to all those who came and shared their thoughts, which have added to our baseline data.

The project's 'own' requirements workshop is now fixed for the morning of 9 October: places are limited (because of space and practical requirements, such as the lunch budget!) so if you're interested in joining us to talk more about your own practice and let us know how we might help, email to book your place! The venue is the University's Kings Meadow Campus, still known to many locals as the old Carlton TV studios but now home to many of the University's business functions.

ASET workshop

Sandra is doing a requirements workshop at the ASET conference in Chester on Weds morning 5 September. If you're there, please sign up and come along! We want to find out what the issues are for placements staff, who their stakeholders are and how technology might help. Then we can start to shape what we do with the Placements Portal to meet the community's needs.

Next workshop after that will be in Nottingham, and then we can start to work on the system in earnest. taking a rain check with the community around Christmas time.


Our thanks to Debbie Siva-Jothy and the ASET team for agreeing to let us host a workshop at their annual conference in Chester in September. Sandra will be taking the opportunity to consult with placements professionals from a variety of backgrounds and gather requirements for reworking the Placements Portal.

Then we'll be holding a further workshop at the University in early October, once the start of year commitments for placements and careers staff are out of the way. This is likely to be on 9 or 10 October, so if you'd like to be involved in shaping a tool to help you with placements administration, please let Sandra know (



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