RSC’s Services Description
RSC Services are delivered to meet the needs of the region, based on a common core of services defined by the respective funding body (LSC, SFEFC, ELWa or DEL respectively for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
These descriptions of RSC services function as a commentary to the RSC core remit and performance standards statements, by identifying in more detail how RSCs are expected to deliver the core remit and improve their performance standards. Stakeholders have identified different priorities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so there is some minor variation in the way services are delivered.
RSCs support different sectors in different home countries. Across the UK as a whole, not all supported sectors are composed of colleges. Therefore the generic term ‘provider’ is used throughout this document to refer to ‘learning provider’. This term includes institution, college, local authority, private training provider, Ufi hub or any other organisation funded by one of the above funding bodies to provide learning opportunities.
RSCs access expertise from each other and a range of other national sources in order to help them advise customers. The term ‘support’ is problematic, because in the IT world, ‘support’ implies full responsibility. The JISC Annual Review 2003 states, ‘RSCs provide support and guidance, leaving ownership and resolution in the hands of institutions.’ Whilst RSCs can provide advice and guidance on ICT and e-learning implementation issues, they do not have the resources to take responsibility for solutions. The responsibility for developing and implementing solutions rests with the learning providers themselves.
The RSC offers advice to providers on server and network requirements for connectivity to JANET including the whole new connection or upgrade process. The RSC maintains general knowledge of the status of the network via its access to national, regional and individual connection statistics and offers advice to providers on effective use of these statistics. The RSC is in regular liaison with the management and technical committees of the Regional Networks Operators (RNOs) in the region.
The RSC is responsible for advising on the initial configuration of a provider-owned router and advises the provider on router upgrades and patching. In the case of an RNO or UKERNA-maintained router, the RSC is responsible for the initial configuration, for implementing patches or upgrades, and for assisting with updating the configuration.
The RSC advises providers on infrastructure, selection and configuration of network equipment and servers, development of web, e-mail and DNS services, quality of service (QoS) and segmentation issues, and new network configurations.
The RSC offers advice including analysis, as appropriate, for local area networks (LANs) of providers. With reference to UKERNA’s Bandwidth Management Advisory Service, the RSC advises providers on effective use of current available bandwidth.
Network and Information Security
The RSC advises providers on security policies, security implementation, acceptable use policy, network security and firewall issues. Some providers have found it helpful to use BS 7799 as a framework for policy development.
Advice on Multi-site Connectivity
The RSC sources the UKERNA Multi-site Connectivity Advisory Service for advice on how to connect several sites to their main connection.
2. Advice on Systems Development
Technical needs analysis and technician training made available
The RSC offers advice to providers on upskilling staff with respect to security, DNS, web server, mail server and network operating systems. The RSC acts as a broker for local and regional courses or training materials.
Technical advice for VLE/MLE implementation
With respect to the implementation of VLEs, MLEs and e-learning platforms the RSC offers first-level advice on technical issues affecting NLN materials, JISC resources, VLEs, Intranets, library management systems, relevant tools and provider information systems, and their interoperability. In many cases, this first-level advice will mean little more than raising questions and awareness that issues need to be explored further. RSC technical advisers understand the issues and the sources of expertise available sufficiently well to know where to refer customers for more expert advice. The RSC gives advice on NLN materials plug-ins and general support to IT managers and teams, on NLN materials issues.
3. Advice on Staff Development (SD) Programmes
A strategic approach to advising providers on appropriate SD programmes
The RSC works with partner organisations to ensure that client providers receive equal opportunities to access guidance on staff development. This usually requires the RSC to advise on delivery and implementation strategies rather than delivering the staff development directly. Where direct delivery takes place, an RSC policy of equal entitlement needs to be articulated, enabling all providers the opportunity to access the same RSC staff development opportunities.
Moreover, the RSC acquires intelligence on the training needs of the providers and sectors supported, and then works with providers to devise strategies for meeting those needs over time. Such strategies take account of national policies, guidelines from funding bodies and the RSC Board, and also of the knowledge of the steering group.
Advice for FPP guides/ organisers in developing an effective delivery strategy
Where supported providers are using the Ferl Practitioner Programme as a vehicle for ILT staff development, the RSC follows the agreed guidelines on core support. These identify ways RSCs support those responsible for the programme in the provider rather than direct delivery of the programme by the RSC.
Assistance with devising in-house staff development programmes
Where provider staff development officers (SDOs) require advice on ways to provide and deliver ILT staff development, the RSC coordinates the provision of partner organisations’ (e.g. Ferl) activity, referring to good practice elsewhere. For example, the RSC might help SDOs to plan a day of ILT staff development. Where RSC resources permit, helping to run the day is also a valid way to support staff development, so long as the RSC does not commit itself to support that it cannot offer equally to all supported providers.
Advice on how to improve relationships between technical, LRC and teaching staff
Advice to providers places particular emphasis on the ’roundtable’ approach to organisational transformation, which gives a voice to all stakeholders in, for example, the implementation of a VLE. This requires the RSC to use its own mix of specialist expertise to encourage staff from the various constituencies to engage in dialogue on one anothers needs and aspirations. Strand Five of the FPP can support this purpose.
4. Advice on embedding ILT in the Curriculum
Generic workshops on integrating ILT into learning programmes
The RSC offers practical hands-on workshops for curriculum practitioners, showing them how to use everyday and freely available tools from Microsoft Office, Hot Potatoes etc to produce learning materials themselves. Furthermore, general advice on repurposing existing materials and incorporating resources from the Internet, the NLN materials or JISC collections might be offered at such workshops. By definition, these workshops should be suitable for practitioners from all subject disciplines and from learning resources or learner support teams.
Subject-specific work coordinated strategically with partners and other regions
The RSC coordinates activity with partner organisations to offer workshops, online training etc in specific subject disciplines, showcasing resources of subject-specific interest, and demonstrating how ILT can effectively support particular elements within a particular curriculum or course. Since not all RSCs can offer all subjects in any one year, this work should be coordinated with that of other regions, to ensure a reasonable spread of subjects. In England, the RSCs open their subject-specific workshops to practitioners from other regions, especially in the case of less common subjects. RSCs will consider whether there is sufficient interest for certain core subjects such as key skills, basic skills, English and maths to be offered in their region annually.
Advice on implementing learning platforms and tools in the curriculum
The RSC identifies and offers general advice on learning platforms and tools, including VLE packages used by the providers they support. RSC advisers are not necessarily experienced users, though they often have some familiarity with the more popular platforms. The main role of the RSC is to facilitate either user groups or support by the more experienced for the less experienced providers and their practitioners, by brokering visits, twinning arrangements or forums as appropriate. Where only one or two providers use a particular VLE, it is sometimes possible to link them with users in a neighbouring region. Where several providers are working on their own solutions, such as extensions to their Intranets, the RSC might likewise facilitate opportunities for pooling knowledge.
5. Advice on effective use of Library Management Systems (LMS)
General advice on the integration of a LMS with a VLE or intranet
RSC advice to librarians and learning resource practitioners takes account of the systems they use and opportunities to exploit their potential as fully as possible. Whilst RSC staff cannot be experts in all systems, they can facilitate knowledge development and sharing among their customers. Thus, through forums and discussions during site visits, they raise awareness of good practice in systems integration (e.g. Library Management System to Virtual Learning Environment), and stimulate customers to explore the opportunities afforded by the kit they already possess, or to investigate upgrades or reprocurement
Facilitate user groups for library management systems if required
In regions with sufficient users of the same LMS, the RSC engages with an existing user group, or where there is none, investigates the interest and where appropriates establishes one. Other forms of peer support such as twinning, are investigated for systems where there is more than one provider using the same system, so that sharing of knowledge is facilitated.
6. Advice on the development of Information Skills Programmes
Sharing good practice
Following the acquisition of intelligence about the level and type of provision of programmes to develop both learner and staff information skills, among providers in the region, the RSC creates opportunities for the sharing of good practice.
Promotion of resources such as VTS and Tonic
Appropriate online tutorials and other materials suitable for delivery of Information Skills to learners and staff, are promoted by the RSC, with examples of how they might be used effectively in an integrated way with learning and staff development programmes.
7. Advice on the take-up of appropriate Learning Resources
Promotion of all appropriate JISC collections
The RSC works with the JISC collections team in consultations on potential new collections, and on promoting and advising on the application of existing collections with learning resources specialists and teaching staff
Promotion and support for ATHENS
The RSC promotes the adoption of ATHENS authentication and advises providers in integrating ATHENS services effectively with their technological and management systems and processes. For example, where appropriate, the RSC advises providers on how to implement ATHENS devolved authentication.
Promotion of NLN materials
The NLN learning materials are now used throughout the UK in FE colleges (and other sectors in England). The RSC promotes and advises on their implementation in the curriculum, from download and access issues, through to pedagogical support. [In England, this is done in association with the NLN subject mentors.]
8. Community Communications for Technical, Curriculum and Learning Resources, and Staff Development Communities
(N.B. Apart from subject-specific groups, each of the following applies separately to each of the three communities)
Forums are supported
Forums meet on a regular basis, as often as the members require. The members of the forum control the agenda, perhaps with one of them chairing, and the RSC facilitates guest speakers or workshops according to their needs. Where a forum already exists, led by another organisation, the RSC engages with it as appropriate. For example, where a regional forum exists, but local forums would be more suitable for some forum members, the RSC might offer to set up local forums. Email discussion lists and other forms of virtual communication according to the needs and wishes of the members can support forums. Forums that do not meet face to face are hard to establish and sustain.
Subject-specific groups where requested
In general the RSC is not resourced to support a full range of subject-specific groups in the region. However, where subject-specific events have been run, the RSC facilitates any follow-up activities requested by participants. If a group of subject-specialists asks the RSC to facilitate a forum or group, wherever possible, the RSC responds positively to such requests.
Specialist sections on website, in newsletters
RSC advisers ensure that the RSC publishes a range of appropriate advice and information in an accessible form and style for their respective communities of practitioners. Where possible this is written by practitioners themselves from the region, but where there is a useful resource or source available from outside the region this is promoted through RSC publications
Effective helpdesk provision
Key contacts in the providers served by the RSC are made aware that the RSC runs a phone or email helpdesk facility for them. The RSC has a published policy for response to enquiries and for informing the customer of progress. There is also a customer feedback mechanism, with a published policy for response to feedback, that includes specified time intervals. There is a logging and tracking system, which is accessed by the relevant staff in the RSC, so they can interact with it and use this enquiry information in establishing customer profiles.
Events are organised according to identified needs. They supplement the forums and other communications channels of the RSC. The challenge for staff to get release from work to attend events will be borne in mind when planning events, and alternative forms of communication used whenever possible.
Regular site visits
Site visits enable the RSC to develop and maintain personal face-to-face communications with key contacts. The RSC has a policy of regular site visits (frequency depending on geography of the region). In some cases this will not be possible more than once a year, but where possible and required, regular visits are more frequent. The RSC team takes a strategic approach to this issue taking due account of the number of staff available to make visits, their other commitments, the number of learning providers supported by the RSC, the geography of the region and the current agenda. Supplementary visits take place as the need arises. Site visits are purposeful, and might include small elements of on-site training, or discussion and planning around particular initiatives or services. Apart from the initial visit when a customer is new to the RSC, visits are focused on specific, timely issues.
Visits with staff development officers or managers include discussion of where and how e-learning and ILT staff development fits within the whole staff development programme, and involve the RSC in advising on appropriate sources for staff development materials and programmes.
9. Liaise effectively with Managers on Key Strategic Issues
Advice on the development of MLEs
The RSC cannot have expertise in all the challenges of interoperability or standards for MLE development. However, it will be reasonably familiar with the questions that providers are asking, and know the various sources of expertise (e.g. CETIS or JISCinfoNet) to which customers can refer. Furthermore, the RSC will promote the MLE concept appropriately, relative to the stage of development of particular groups of customers, and thereby facilitate their progress to the next stage. In particular, the RSC helps managers to recognise the potential of MLEs to enhance their current and planned business practices.
High profile activities to help senior managers develop e-learning (ILT/ ICT) strategies
The RSC has developed understanding of the strategic issues surrounding both ICT and ILT (e-learning) integration with the business goals of its customers. This requires a consideration of the business and policy environment within which learning providers operate, and the opportunities afforded by ICT. The RSC creates effective channels (such as high profile events) for raising awareness and good practice amongst managers. The RSC often uses other sources of expertise for activities under this heading, such as members of the steering group, guests from providers in other regions, speakers from funding bodies, the JISC executive, government departments, national services from JISC or partners.
Events for appropriate groups of managers on issues of the day
Managers willingly attend events where there is a very clear added value to be derived. Therefore RSC events for managers are carefully targeted to immediate issues that have obvious business impact relevance (for example, because the business might be improved by adopting something, or because the business might suffer if something is neglected).
Promotion of advisory services for management i.e. JISC Legal, JISCinfoNet, TechDis, Netskills, and JISC-PAS
Available relevant advisory services for management are still underused in the post 16 and FE sectors. The RSC works with these services to develop their impact and pervasiveness. The services are not resourced sufficiently to achieve this alone, but must work through intermediaries such as RSCs. The RSC builds an understanding with each advisory service on how to best promote that service to the community. For example, the RSC runs local and regional courses and events on accessibility issues, in liaison with TechDis.
10. Support for HE
Six HE-post 16 events annually
The RSC runs a programme of at least six events per year, aimed at all in both post 16 and HE communities in its region. These events are on topics of mutual interest, and include speakers from both sectors, from JISC services and from other relevant organisations. The events seek to foster an ambient relationship between practitioners and managers from both sectors. This programme requires careful planning, marketing, chairing and management, because all events in the programme must appeal to and satisfy delegates from both sectors.
Comprehensive RSC support for identified HE institutions
The RSC supports specified HE institutions in its region. This support includes technical advice, learning resources advice, Advice on e-learning and advice for management e.g. in implementing MLEs, on a similar basis to that offered to FE colleges. Support for embedding eLearning may involve liaison with LTSN subject centres, depending on regional needs. The support for specified HE institutions includes site visits, opportunities to join RSC forums, training and awareness raising events, and access to other relevant RSC services such as the helpdesk, website, newsletter etc. It is up to the RSC to determine what is relevant, in consultation with the specified HE institutions, and to broker appropriate guidance, including advice from regional universities.
Advice on making HE in FE more effective through ICT
The RSC advises on the ILT needs of HE learners in FE. For example, HE learners in FE often find it hard to access the learning resources that they would have if they were based in a HEI. The RSC helps FE providers to facilitate such access.