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Data Futures Alpha phase 2 progress report

In this edition

Coding manual usability sessions

We held focussed usability sessions with Alpha volunteers, to understand user requirements and activity in our coding manuals. We asked the same questions and requested the same actions in each session to compare responses and observe how participants use the HESA website to access coding manuals. A summary of the findings are below.

What are the main purposes for you using the coding manual(s)?
Participants overall made a key distinction made between existing collections and the Student - Data Futures collection. Many of the interviewees were seasoned record contacts. In current collections, main purposes for checking the coding manual would be towards definitions and guidance, reviewing notes and coverage for each page and field. 

The interviewees focus on specific items in the Student - Data Futures coding manual, to check that they’re getting the right data and applying in the right way. An example would be checking the caregiver field

Action requested during session: 'Please navigate to the Data Futures Beta coding manual'

Participants did not flag a single preferred way they access coding manuals. The Data Futures -Student coding manual has a distinct URL and is not searchable within the HESA website but is linked within the Collections and Data Futures landing pages. This was not considered an issue by interviewees. Initial entry to the coding manual is via the Collections page, or via the Data Futures page and clicking on a link there. 
Once participants have visited the coding manual, they often rely on the autofill function of their browser, i.e., typing in ‘’ or ‘codingmanual’; to then scroll and click on the relevant link.

The participants interviewed had ‘bookmarked’ for other coding manual URLs previously, and many confirmed they would bookmark the URL once the coding manual for the 2022/23 collection was released (these interviews were held in December 2021 and refer to the Student Beta 20156 coding manual). 

How would you instruct another colleague, who has no experience of the coding manual(s), to use them?

Interviewees often recommend e-learning to colleagues new to HESA coding manuals. One participant referred to the coding manual as a one-stop shop. Whether checking data items against the data model, or drilling down into guidance, the information is all there.

List three words to describe the existing HESA coding manuals

Words used to describe HESA coding manuals include extensive, useful, and detailed. 
Participants mentioned they experience some confusion or need for clarification, when there were updates to regulation or more detailed guidance, but the visual versions, scenarios and glossary were also flagged as improving interpretation and understanding. 

A noted improvement in the Data Futures coding manual was better layout and narrative; the option to download values on the data items page was also beneficial.

Uploading files containing real data files

Phase 2 of Alpha was the first opportunity for providers to engage with the HDP using real student data. Two Alpha participants submitted files that contained real student data. These were relatively small files: 

  • One submission processed with no issues on the first attempt.
  • The other submission found a bug with some of the quality rule processing: this has now been triaged and resolved, ahead of Beta start. 

The upload of real data was a major achievement for the Alpha pilot to de-risk the Beta pilot phase. One participant commented: 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much excitement in our team as when we submitted the first file!”

Using migrated data in quality assurance (QA) process

Alpha participants were encouraged to continue with the work to review their data migration files, as previously detailed in the Alpha August progress report. We received overall feedback and participants engaged in individual conversations with HESA colleagues. This has helped us to refine the data migration scripts ahead of the 2020/21 data migration for use during the Beta phase.