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README.md

EWP Mobility Process Explained

Summary

With help of some flowcharts, this document briefly describes how the Student Mobility Business Process is modeled within the EWP Network. It should be useful to get a quick grasp on which APIs are used by whom and when.

Is it up-to-date?

Before reading this document, take care of its last-modified date, and compare it to respective dates of the API specifications. Many EWP APIs still hadn't been marked as stable, and MAY change substantially. For this reason, this document MAY fall behind. While reading this document, keep in mind that some fresh versions of the APIs might not work exactly as they have been explained here.

A note for future maintainers of this document: Once all mobility-related APIs become stable, this document SHOULD be updated. From this point forwards, all changes to the APIs should be backward-compatible, so that this document wouldn't require frequent updating.

Accessing information on Institutions

The following APIs allow the members of the EWP Network to discover basic information on institutions and organizational units covered by other EWP partners. (This kind of information is also referred to as "fact sheets".)

  • Institutions API - provides information about the HEI, e.g. its address, contact persons, logo image, list of organizational units, etc. One of the more interesting features is the ability to provide a link to a current version of a PDF Fact Sheet - a "business card" in a nice, printable format, exchanged by IROs to help everyone with the mobility process.

  • Organizational Units API - provides very similar types of information as the Institutions API does, but on the department/faculty level. Quite often, organizational units will have a tree structure, with the HEI in the root of that tree.

Some basic examples of when these API might be used:

  • When developers want to display the details of a HEI referenced by its ID in other APIs.
  • When an IRO staff member wants to obtain contact details on other IROs.
  • When a student of one HEI wants to obtain links to ECTS catalogues of other HEIs.
  • When a developer wants to implement an autocomplete feature for searching through the organizational units of foreign institutions.
  • etc.

Handling Interinstitutional Agreements (IIAs)

All HEIs taking part in the mobility process sign IIAs with each other first. The signing itself doesn't (currently) occur via EWP, but EWP can be used to exchange data on both signed and not-yet-signed IIAs.

  • Interinstitutional Agreements API is implemented by IIA partner HEIs. None of these HEIs is the "master" of the IIA, all HEIs are "equal". This API allows HEI A to access all IIAs related to HEI A stored on HEI B's servers.

  • Interinstitutional Agreement CNR API allows HEIs to get notified whenever any IIA (related to them) is updated on the other HEI's servers. (Partners SHOULD NOT rely on always receiving this notification though. Please read CNR introduction to understand why.)

These APIs enable HEIs to find possible inconsistencies in their IIAs more easily, and synchronize them. Each partner uses his own ID for the IIA, so partners will need to manually "bind" their local agreements with their remote counterparts (by storing the remote partners' IIA IDs) before they will be able to compare them. A partner is also allowed to peek on draft IIA proposals published by the other partner without actually storing them on his own server.

Handling IIAs

Example of IIA CNR API usage

Student Mobilities

Outgoing and Incoming Mobility APIs

Each mobility can be looked at from two different perspectives:

  • The outgoing perspective - this is how the mobility looks like for the sending HEI.
  • The incoming perspective - this is how the mobility looks like for the receiving HEI.
  • Obviously, your own incoming mobility is your partner's outgoing one.

In EWP, the sending HEI is the master of the majority of the student mobility data. The receiving HEI often keeps its own "slave" copy of this mobility data, but it is the sending HEI who is actually required to have it recorded.

In the master/slave communication model, it is always the master who has the most up-to-date copy of the data. The master is not required to pull the changes from the slave, it's the slave's responsibility to push changes at the master. This means that:

  • The Outgoing Mobilities API is used for serving information which we (EWP designers) chose the sending HEI to be the master of. If the receiving HEI wants to change some of this data, it needs to "ask" (e.g. via an phone call, or - if applicable - via an API call).

  • Similarly, the Incoming Mobilities API is used for serving information which the receiving HEI is the master of (and the sending HEI news to "ask" to change that).

The non-master partners still "have a say", but they might need to work a bit harder for their "say" to "get committed". For example, if the changes are performed via an update-like endpoint, and the sending HEI's servers are offline, then they cannot perform these changes (but they can retry later, or temporarily fall back to sending email messages asking the partner to change things).

The are also the CNR APIs, similar to the ones described in the previous sections:

  • Outgoing Mobility CNR API is implemented by the receiving institution, and allows it to receive live updates when outgoing mobilities are changed (provided that the sending institution is willing to send such updates). Partners SHOULD NOT rely on always receiving these notifications. Please read CNR introduction to understand why.

  • Similarly, Incoming Mobility CNR API is implemented by the sending HEI, and gets called by the receiving HEI when their own "master part" of the mobility gets updated.

Alternative file exchange format

There's also the .ewpmobility Exchange File. This is not a web service. It is a file format, which can be exchanged by other means (such as email). It establishes a common format for exchanging mobility data, in a form strictly compatible with EWP Outgoing Mobility objects. Can be useful when moving mobility data from one institution to another (e.g. when migrating from other workflows to the EWP workflow).

Handling Nominations

After IIA is signed, sending institution begins recruitment for the mobility. As the result of the recruitment, students are nominated. The receiving institution is then notified, and nominations are being approved (usually all of them).

For each new nomination, the sending institution creates a new Outgoing Mobility object with the nomination status. The receiving institution is notified (via the CNR API we have briefly described earlier) about (a) creation of new Outgoing Mobility objects, and (b) all updates to the existing Outgoing Mobility objects.

The following flowchart illustrates how nomination process works in EWPs workflow:

Handling Nominations

Preparing Learning Agreements

After nominations get verified by the receiving partner, students prepare their Learning Agreements (LAs). While this might be displayed as a completely separate process in the user's interface, internally this is covered by the same APIs.

Sidenote: Remember, that in many cases servers are allowed to implement only a subset of API features (e.g. only nominations, but not LAs). This differs from API to API, and you should consult the specs for details.

It's worth noting that the receiving institution MAY also be allowed to edit Learning Agreements in EWP. The flowchart below presents only one of the possible use cases in which it is the student who edits his own LA, but - if both partners support this feature - then it is also possible for LAs to be edited by both coordinators (via their own local user interfaces). All changes, regardless of who made them, need to be accepted by all three parties (the student, the sending coordinator, and the receiving coordinator).

As we said, the primary workflow uses APIs which we have already introduced. There are however some other APIs which might be useful during this stage:

  • Courses API - implemented by the receiving institution, it allows to verify if a course by the given ID exists, and - in some cases - if it has been confirmed that it will be conducted during the next academic term.

    Please note, that implementing Courses API is optional in the EWP Mobility process - Learning Agreements can be filled out without the receiving institution implementing it. However, it is still RECOMMENDED for the receiving institution to implement it, because it allows for a much better user experience when Learning Agreements are edited in the sending institution's web application (and we want students to be able to edit them there).

  • Simple Course Replication API - implemented by the any institution, it allows other institutions to copy the entire Course Catalogue.

    As above, implementing this API is optional, but RECOMMENDED. It allows the sending institution to design for a better user experience.

The following flowchart presents the entire process:

Editing a Learning Agreement (LA)

Approving Learning Agreements

At some point, the student wants his LA to be approved. To do so, he first approves it himself, then waits for other actors to approve it. As with the editing, the approval process can also be started by other actors (e.g. the receiving coordinator, when he wants to exchange a particular LA component to a different one).

Regardless of who starts the process, the LA is approved only after all three parties approve it. The details of this process are explained in the API specs.

Learning Agreements can still be edited after they are approved. Then, they can be approved again, and again. Partners are encouraged to keep a record of all such changes (European Commission requires mobility partners to keep only the two snapshots - before and after mobility - but it seems safer to keep all changes, for forward compatibility).

There are no new APIs needed for approving LAs. We will be using only the ones we have described earlier. The following flowchart presents the entire process:

Approving a Learning Agreement (LA)

Exchanging Arrival and Departure dates

After the mobility ends, the sending institution usually needs to know the exact dates on which the student has arrived to - and departed from - the receiving institution (this is related to the final value of the stipend provided for the student). The receiving coordinator is required to provide this data.

In this case - it is the receiving HEI who is the "master" of this date. Therefore, it is published by the receiving HEI via its Incoming Mobilities API.

Exchanging arrival and departure dates

Exchanging Transcripts of Records (ToRs)

Currently:

  • EWP allows for ToRs to be transferred from the receiving institution to the sending institution. This is usually done after the mobility ends.

  • EWP does not specify any means to transfer ToRs the other way around (from the sending institution to the receiving one), nor to transfer ToRs to partners which we didn't sign IIAs with. There are some talks about adding these features though. For example, see here or here.

These issues are still "live", and the following APIs and flowcharts might quickly fall out of date. At this moment, there are two API used in the ToR exchange process:

  • Incoming Mobility ToRs API - implemented by the receiving institution, it allows the sending institution to retrieve transcript of records of their students.

  • Incoming Mobility ToR CNR API - implemented by the sending institution, it allows it to get notified by the receiving HEI when ToRs are changed.

The following flowchart presents a possible usage scenario:

Exchanging Transcripts of Records (ToRs)

It's worth noting that the exact workflow of the recognition process is not in scope of EWP. However, the Outgoing Mobility object provides some basic information on this topic too. Please review the Outgoing Mobilities API specification for details.

Migrating from other workflows

As you can see after reading the sections above, all mobility-related features in EWP use a common set of APIs, and have a similar workflow. This chapter discusses the reasons we have picked such a workflow, and compares it to other workflows you might be more familiar with.

S-MASTER and R-MASTER approaches

We found two basic mobility workflows in use in computer systems today. Some readers may find EWP's workflow quite natural, while others may say it's "turned upside down". This is caused by the fact that at the time of writing this half of Europe seems to be using one approach, while the other half uses the other.

The S-MASTER and R-MASTER definitions introduced here are not "official" in any way. We made them up. We simply wanted to have some kind of a label for them to refer to. (If you want to reuse these terms somewhere else, then you can use this permalink to refer others here.)

  • First approach, and the one we will use in EWP (let's call it S-MASTER), is that the mobility history is stored on the sending institution's servers, and it is created and updated primarily by the sending institution (hence the "S" in the code-name). Such mobility history always describes an "outgoing mobility".

    Receiving institution may keep its own copy of the Mobility object, and it is allowed to update parts of it, but all such updates are indirect (the receiving institution needs to request the sending institution to make the change).

  • Second approach (R-MASTER) is that the mobility history is stored on the receiving institution's servers. You might say that in this case the mobility history describes an "incoming mobility" (as opposed to "outgoing" one).

    Coordinators from the sending institution are allowed to sign into the receiving institution's system and then they can create and update the mobility data. Receiving institution is the "master" of the data, and it is the sending institution that has to "ask" to make a change.

It's also worth noting that:

  • Some institutions probably use a mixed approach. For example, they use S-MASTER for a subset of mobility properties, and R-MASTER for the rest, depending on which side seems to the more authoritative in regard of the particular property. It's important to emphasize that this mixed approach is still a master/slave approach (as every property has a single master).

  • No institutions we know of chose a truly multi-master approach (in which every change would be asynchronously propagated and all conflicts were automatically resolved).

Both S-MASTER and R-MASTER approaches offer exactly the same functionality. The only functional difference between them is the problem of authority ("who has the final say?").

Unfortunately, the technical differences are bigger, and these are important for us, developers. It is feasible to work with multiple approaches simultaneously (and some of the readers probably already do), but is NOT feasible to use two approaches for processing a single property of a single Mobility object - that would require us to implement a multi-master approach, and we have decided against it. Therefore, for each single mobility, we must determine which approach we will be using.

Why we chose S-MASTER for EWP?

At first glance, it might seem reasonable that we should try to support both approaches in EWP. However, if we give it a little more thought, it seems clear that this would actually make EWP adoption more difficult than supporting only one workflow:

  • If we require all EWP members to support multiple workflows, then all members will need to do additional work. Members who use S-MASTER flow would be required to implement the R-MASTER flow, and vice-versa.

  • If we require only one approach, then only half of the members are required to do this additional work.

We have picked S-MASTER approach for the majority of mobility properties in EWPs workflow, and here's some reasoning behind this decision:

  • While it seems that existing computer systems in Europe are evenly divided between two approaches, the proportion for the initial EWP partners is quite different (most partners seem to be using S-MASTER). Since it is important to give the project a good kick start, we want to make it easier for the initial EWP partners to adopt it.

  • S-MASTER seems to also be a slightly better choice from the functional point of view. As we said above, the only functional difference between the two is the problem of authority. And it seems that it is the sending institution which SHOULD be "in charge" of the greater part of mobility's properties (though not necessarily all of them).

General guidelines on migrating from R-MASTER workflows

We recognize that many systems use other workflows than the one we chose for EWP, and probably all partners will need at least some changes in their workflows to support EWP. Having that in mind, we'll try to offer some basic guidelines on the migration process (not only here, but throughout all API specifications).

In general, we believe that initially most partners will need to support both workflows for some time (their current one, and the new one, introduced by EWP). The choice on which of the workflows to use for particular mobility depends on the answer to the following question: Does the partner institution (also) support EWP workflow?

If both HEIs support EWP workflow already:

  • As was said before, it would be very difficult to support both workflows for a single mobility, so - at first - we advise to support EWP workflow for new mobilities only. If sending coordinators were allowed to create new nominations in the Receiving Web App, then they should be advised to not do that any longer - they should now create nominations in their own system (Sending Web App).

  • Once the new workflow between two HEIs is well adopted, you may decide to speed up the process and exchange all the mobilities between the two of you (.ewpmobility Exchange File might be of use here).

If the other HEI does not support EWP workflow yet:

  • You should continue with your current workflow (when exchanging students with this particular HEI).

  • You should implement all Mobility APIs, prepare your system for the EWP workflow, and wait for the other HEIs do so too.

You can even try to differentiate between these two scenarios dynamically by monitoring the Registry's catalogue and checking if all EWP Mobility Workflow APIs have been implemented by the other HEI. Once they are, you can - for example - stop allowing the creation of new nominations on your side.

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