OpenLearn XML processor update

At the CETIS conference last November, one of the many highlights of Tony Hirst’s presentation was the openlearn XML processor which disaggregating the various parts of an openlearn unit (text, video, audio etc). Tony has just posted an update on some further work he has been doing with the processor. Well worth a read as it gives a good overview of how the processor works, and thoughts Tony has for future development including representations of course designs.

What does HE want from publishers?

Whilst colleagues were at the MDR SIG meeting on Tuesday, I was in another room in London at the annual Publishers Association conference to see what the answers(s) to the above question might be. Books, was the answer and I guess a simplistic, semi-accurate summary would be “anything else we can get for free” – but this has to be qualified by meaning free at point of access.

Actually I was quite depressed at various points during the day. Not least the at the start when we were shown part of a video vox-pox of students and staff at Manchester discussing how, why, where and when they used textbooks. We were then told we could buy copies of the DVD for £15 – they had some there and a form we could post back to them. Why weren’t the PA putting chunks of this on their website, YouTube and/or TeacherTube? That just seemed to me to encapsulate the differences between educators and publishers – particularly those of us interested in producing and sharing learning materials.

Perhaps I was a bit of fish out of water in that the majority of the audience were librarians and or publishers. But I don’t really find listening to someone lamenting over what a terrible breed of people his generation has created now that “four out of five (music) downloads are illegal”, particularly inspiring, helpful or even controversial.

However on a slightly more positive note, there did seem to be a recognition of a need for changing business models to allow the development of text books/ebooks which met the changing needs of educators, students and the publishing industry. However there was no concensus as to what form any such model would take.

There were interesting presentations from the OU about OpenLearn and from the JISC ebooks observatory project. It is looking like the ebooks observatory is going to provide significant data on use of ebooks as already they have had nearly 20,000 responses to their initial baseline survey. However both these projects although providing access free at point of use, rely on not insignificant funding which is (probably) not sustainable. Whilst there have been great strides in opening access to e-journals the same can’t be said for ebooks or learning resources. How we can learn lessons from the former really didn’t get addressed yesterday.

Latest poll results

As a follow up to the recent JISC one day conference “Using Learning Resources: Transforming the Educational Experience”; I thought it would be interesting to see what the SIG thought of some of the common themes coming through from the day about potential areas for funding and what the community thought priorities should be. Once again there was a great response to the poll – so thank you if you voted.

Perhaps unsurprisingly developing more user friendly tools for creating and sharing learning resources was the clear winner with 63% of the votes. I think this reflects how much people in the SIG just want to get on and develop more ways to create and share – in particular activities, designs and assessments. This contrasts with the more strategic views coming through at the event where discussions around engaging middle management through developing business models and providing clear IPR/copyright guidance were coming to the fore.

The results were as follows:

*developing more user friendly tools for creating and sharing learning designs 63% (27 votes)
*developing more ‘open’ approaches eg a JISC equivalent of OpenLearn 19% (8 votes)
*developing use cases for middle management 5% (2 votes)
*developing clear IPR and copyright guidance 5% (2 votes)
*Other: open call for evaluation and research projects; Re-using and rejuvenating existing resources; Re-use/Rejuvenation of existing content; Finally doing something for FE
(43 votes in total)

More information about this poll is available from the EC SIG wiki.

JISC Infonet Learning Resources and Activies resource

JISC Infonet have produced a web resource showcasing JISC projects that have carried out work in the area of learning resources and activities, connecting them across a range of JISC programme initiatives.

Five themes have been developed providing some context and the current state of play as well as examples of projects. The themes are:

* developing learning resources
* sharing learning resources
* re-purposing learning resources
* curriculum design and effective use of learning resources
* managing learning resources

Additional outputs from programmes such as Design for Learning will be added to the site to create an infokit. More information @

Strategic Content Alliance Home Nation Forum

I attended the Strategic Content Alliance (SCA) Scottish home nation forum this week. I have been vaguely aware of the SCA but to be honest haven’t really looked at the work of the SCA in any depth as I had thought it was mainly concerned with procurement of content and not with content creation. However as I found out yesterday this is not the whole story.

Briefly, the SCA is a two year JISC initiative involving a number of strategic partners (BBC, Becta, British Libary, MLA, National e-Science Centre and NHS) to “build a common information environment where users of publicly funded e-content can gain best value from the investment that has been made by reducing the barriers that currently inhibit access, use and re-use of online content”. The project is currently looking at ways of “providing a set of principles and guidelines for best practice”. As part of this process the SCA are trying to get feedback from as many sectors as possible, hence the series of ‘home nation’ forums. Although most sectors are all working to a broadly defined common goals around use and re-use, there are key differences in drivers in each of the home nations – for example unique learner numbers (as outlined in Clive’s post) will not be implemented in Scotland in the same way as England. So it is crucial that these differences are recognised.

After an introduction to the SCA by Emma Beer the morning was taken up with two case studies outlining the current work of the SCA. The first of these was from Naomi Korn who, along with Prof. Charles Oppenheim, are carrying out a study on IPR and licensing work. This work will include a synthesis of existing work and the development of guidance and dissemination of good practice in this area. This of course would be of great interest to the CETIS community as the need for clear guidance was an issue which was raised at the JISC learning resources and activities event last week. Some of the deliverables outlined by Naomi were maxtrices, a terminology toolkit, template statements, exemplars and case studies – all of which would be incredibly useful for those us involved in developing, sharing and re-using learning content. These outputs should be available by early next year.

The second case study was presented by Chris Batt (former Chief Executive of the MLA) who is undertaking research on user characteristics and behaviours of the sponsoring partners of the SCA. Chris has really just started this work so wasn’t able to share many findings with us. However, he outlined the scope the study and some of its aims in trying to develop methodologies for analyzing audience behaviour and audience relationships to/with e-content. The study will to begin to create cross-audience profiles and scenarios exploiting multiple content sources to help the SCA understand who/what the users of the future will expect from content providers and what services they themselves require as content producers.

The majority of the attendees seemed to be from the library and museums sector, however there were a couple their from the education sector. There was a real feeling of willingness to share experiences, resources and develop common frameworks (which allowed for regional variation) which was very positive. The next Scottish meeting will take place on 22 May and the SCA blog has details of the other home nation events taking place over the next few weeks.

As there is obvious cross-over with CETIS communities we will keep you updated on the work of SCA and try to foster collaboration wherever possible.

IMS announces development of community testing tool for Common Cartridge

The IMS Global Learning Consortium have announced the launch of a new project that will produce a community source testing tool for the Common Cartridge (CC) format. JISC along with ANGEL Learning, eCollege, McGraw-Hill, Microsoft, The Open University United Kingdom, Pearson Education and have agreed to provide initial funding for the project.

“A number of organizations have recognized the community benefit in having a common format for both publisher-sourced materials and in-house production by learning institutions,” said Rob Abel of IMS. “I’m delighted to announce that such is the level of commitment to this goal, nine organizations have already stepped forward to fund and participate in a project to develop a cartridge testing tool that will be distributed free-of-charge by the CC Alliance.”

More information about the Cartridge Alliance is available @

We will keep you informed of developments of this tool and the joint Assessment and EC SIG meeting on 19th February will include presentations from a number CC implementers including the OU and a community update from CETIS from the IMS quarterly meeting which takes place the week before.

What's hot (or not) for 2008

Drum roll please, the results of the first EC SIG survey are now in. When asked what would be the “hot topics for the domain in 2008”, increased use of web 2.0, mash-ups, social networking etc was the resounding winner with almost half (48%) of the votes.

The full results are shown in the graph and pie chart below and are as follows:

*increasing use of web 2.0, mash-ups, social networking etc 48% (16 votes)
*learning design (in its widest sense) 21% (7 votes)
*the development and use of open content (e.g. OpenLearn) 12% (4 votes)
*standards such as IMS Common Cartridge;OAI-ORE 9% (3 votes)
*virtual worlds and games 6% (2 votes)
*other 3% (1 comment – “increasing uptake of all e-learning technologies across the board”

Results of survey graph

Survey results pie-chart

Now, I realise that this has been not the most scientific/rigorous of studies – more really a case of me just trying out a free service and hoping that I would get some response:-) and I c/should probably have spent a bit more time thinking of categories and not just used the ones that were top of my list that morning. However I do think the results are interesting. I can’t help wondering if I had named Second Life in the virtual worlds category would that have influenced the results. Learning design (in it’s widest sense, not just the IMS specification) is still creating a lot of interest (hopefully this is due in part to the excellent work of all the projects on the JISC Design for Learning Programme which the SIG has been involved in); but newer standards developments such as IMS Common Cartridge don’t seem to be areas that the SIG members feel will be very important in 2008.

So with the resounding vote for web 2.0 etc does that mean that our community are now really committed to web service approaches? Does the seemingly lacklustre interest in developing standards just show that people feel that there are enough standards/specs out there already and we have cracked the content packaging problem and have moved on to more exciting ways of sharing and re-using content? I’d be interested to hear any other views on this.

The other main outcome for me from the survey has been the opportunity get such quick feedback from the community and I would like to thank everyone who voted. As someone who is commonly referred to as “the one that sends out all those emails” I hope that it has added a bit more (relevant) interactivity to the mailing list. It certainly is very useful for me for planning the next set of SIG meetings.

Schools programmes no more on Channel 4

I just saw in today’s Guardian that Channel 4 are axing there morning schools programmes from next year and replacing them with web-based interactive materials. According to the report, there will be a mixture of online games and projects based on social networking activities and sites; and Channel 4 admit that they are taking a gamble with this approach. Though I did like this quote: “It was very clear that we had to do something, . . . “because at the moment what we do is spend £6m commissioning TV programmes aimed at 14- to 19-year-olds and then put them out in the morning when they’re at school.”

Education is central to Channel 4’s remit and funding. I just hope this initiative doesn’t go the same way as the ill fated BBC Jam.

It only takes about half an hour . . .

said Tony Hirst as he took us on a mini journey of exploration of just a few of the mashups he has been creating with the OU OpenLearn content and (generally) freely available tools at the Mashup Market session at the JISC-CETIS conference yesterday. From creating the almost obligatory google map to mini federated searches to scrapping content for video, audio, urls to daily feeds of course content, Tony showed just some of the possibilities mash-up technologies can offer educators. He also highlighted how (relatively) simple these things are now and how little time (generally half an hour) it takes. He did concede that some half hours took a bit longer than others 🙂 A number of the tools Tony talked about are listed on the session conference webpage.

Of course, having well structured, open content has helped enormously to allow someone like Tony to begin to experiment. In terms of reusing content the content scraping that Tony has been doing was really exciting as it showed a simple way to get at the stuff that people (I think) would want to re-use – like videos, urls etc. Also, using an embedded iframe just now allows you to display just the video, not any surrounding advertising. However this may well change over time as advertising becomes more embedded into actual content.

So if it’s so simple to remix, reuse and republish content now, why aren’t we all doing it? Well partly I guess it’s down to people (teachers, learning technologists, students) actually knowing how and what they can do this. But also, there are other wider issues in terms around getting people/institutions to create and open up well structured data. Issues of privacy and our conceptions of what that actually means to us, students etc – particularly relevant given the current government debacle over lost data – and (as ever) IPR and copyright were discussed at length.

Clearly this implications of this type of technology challenges institutions not only in terms of what IT services for users they support, but also how and to whom they open their data to – if at all. Paul Walk suggested that institutions and individuals need to start with the non-contentious things first to show what can be done, without risk. Brian Kelly pointed out that there could be a tension between a mash-up based approach and a more structured semantic approach. Unfortunately this session clashed with the semantic technologies session; but maybe it’s a theme for next year’s conference or something we can explore at a SIG meeting in the coming months.

There was a really full and frank discussion around many issues, but generally there is a clear need for strategies to allow simple exposure of structured data, allow people to get to small pieces of data and easy tools to put it back together and republish in accessible ways. Again the need for clear guidelines around rights issues was highlighted. Some serious thought also needs to be given to the economic implications for our community of creating and sustaining truly open content.

Thoughts on OpenLearn 2007

Last week I attended the OU Openlearn conference in Milton Keynes. Presentations will be available from the conference website (agumented with audio recordings) as well as links to various blogs about the conference.

There were a couple of presentations I’d like to highlight. Firstly Tony Hirst’s on the use of RSS feeds and OPML bundles to distribute openlearn material really gave an insight into how easy it should be to create delivery mechanisms on demand from open content. I also really enjoyed Ray Corrigan’s talk “is there such a thing as sustainable infodiversity?” Ray highlighted a number of issues around sustainability of technology, energy consumption, disposable hardware. It’s all too easy to forget just how much of our natural resources are being consumed by all the technology which is so common place now. (As an aside, this was another conference where delegates were given a vast amount of paper as well as conference proceedings on a memory stick – something we are trying to avoid at the up coming JISC CETIS conference.) He also highlighted some of the recent applications of copyright laws that cut to the core of any ‘open’ movement. This view was nicely complimented by Eric Duval’s presentation where he encouraged the educational community to be more assertive and aggressive about copyright and use of materials for educational purposes – encouraging more of a ‘bring it on’ attitude. All well and good but only if academics have the security of institutional back up to do that. On that note it’s been interesting to see this weekend that the University of Oregon is refusing to give over names of students downloading music to the RIAA (see SlashDot for more information on that one).