Five new publications from JISC

The JISC e-Learning Programme team has just announced the release of five new publications on the themes of lifelong learning, e-portfolio implementation, innovation in further education, digital literacies, and extending the learning environment. These publications will be of interest to managers and practitioners in further and higher education and work based learning. Three of these publications are supported by additional online resources including videos, podcasts and full length case studies.

Effective Learning in a Digital Age: is an effective practice guide that explores ways in which institutions can respond flexibly to the needs of a broader range of learners and meet the opportunities and challenges presented by lifelong learning.

Crossing the Threshold: Moving e-portfolios into the mainstream is a short guide which summarises the key messages from two recent online resources, the e-Portfolio Implementation Toolkit, developed for JISC by the University of Nottingham, and five institutional video case studies. This guide and accompanying resources explore the processes, issues and benefits involved in implementing e-portfolios at scale.

Enhancing practice: Exploring innovation with technology in further education is a short guide that explores how ten colleges in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland (SWaNI) and England are using technology to continue to deliver high-quality learning and achieve efficiency gains despite increasing pressure and reduced budgets.

Developing Digital Literacies: is a briefing paper that provides a snapshot of early outcomes the JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme and explores a range of emergent themes including graduate employability, and the engagement of students in strategies for developing digital literacies.

Extending the learning environment: is a briefing paper that looks at how institutions can review and develop their existing virtual learning environments. It offers case study examples and explores how systems might be better used to support teaching and learning, improve administrative integration or manage tools, apps and widgets.

All guides are available in PDF, ePub, MOBI and text-only Word formats. Briefing papers are available in PDF.

There are a limited number of printed copies of each guide for colleges and universities to order online.

New CETIS briefing paper on IMS LTI

A new CETIS briefing paper on the IMS LTI specification is now available online.

Written by Stephen Vickers (ceLTIc project and an early adopter, developer and user of the specification) the briefing provides an overview of the specification and illustrates benefits of using it for for developers, VLE administrators, teachers and learners.

The paper is available for download from here.

Mega mash-ups and personalising learning environments: DVLE Virtual Brown Bag session now available online

Over the past 18 months the projects funded through the JISC DVLE (Distributed Virtual Learning Environments) programme have been exploring ways to extend their provision of teaching and learning services. The W2C and SLEP projects joined for an virtual brown bag session to give an overview of the work they have been undertaking – particularly around developing access to greater and more personalised information for students.

Mark Stubbs (W2C project) started the session giving an overview of what they now call their Core+ DVLE model, aka their “mega mash-up”.

W2C Megamashup diagram
W2C Megamashup diagram

With their VLE (Moodle) at the centre the team have developed a number of web services from a range of institutional systems. This is now allowing students to access a number of services such as timetabling, PC availability, reading lists etc from mobile devices. Taking this web service approach has allowed the team to use the “develop once, deploy often” approach. Consistent tagging (based on existing commonly used tags such as course IDs etc) has also been key for integration. Mark also took us through some very interesting stats around usage of the services, and the students use of mobile devices.

Hugh Davies, Dave Millard and Yvonne Howard the took us through developments from the SLEP project. There are a number of similarities to be drawn to the mega mash-up approach of W2C. However a key difference being that Southampton don’t have a VLE at the centre, instead Sharepoint is at the centre of their developments, with new UIs being developed for students to access information. Using Sharepoint hasn’t been without it’s challenges, as the team did highlight, it hasn’t been as flexible as they first thought, however they are using the project to try and introduce more agile and user centred development processes into the mainstream of institutional provision of services.

Being Southampton the team have also be investigating ways to increase the use of open data, and so have been spending time working with internal groups such as the Data Access Group, to try implement and develop policy around the use and sharing of data.

The actual apps/services which each project has/is developing are pretty unique to each institution, however the over-arching principles and techniques could be applied to many institutions and shows that it is possible to create more distributed learning environments through the greater integration of existing systems allowing access from multiple devices. To find out more, a recording of this highly informative session is available online.

More information about the DVLE programme, including links to previous online sessions is available on the CETIS wiki.

DVLE programme virtual brown bag session, 13 January

Beat the January wet and windy blues by joining us from the comfort of your own desk, for a free “virtual brown bag lunch” session next Friday (13 January). The W2C project (MMU) and the SLEP (Univeristy of Southampton) will give an overview of the work they have been doing in creating mobile web services and apps for staff and students as part of the JISC Distributed Virtual Learning Environments (DVLE) programme.

Starting at 12 o’clock and lasting approximately an hour this session will give delegates an insight into the underlying technical approaches the projects have taken to providing mobile services which integrate with existing institutional systems, and also their ongoing requirements and student engagement processes. To get an overview and some background to the programme, this post gives a summary of project activity based on the last set of interim project reports.

As ever the event is free to attend, and you can register your interest by using the form below.

Enhancing and creating student centred portfolios in VLEs webinar

This week has been designated “activity week” for this year’s JISC Innovating E-learning conference. There are a number of pre conference online activities taking place. I’m delighted to be chairing the “enhancing and creating student centred portfolios in VLEs” webinar, this Friday (18th November at 11am).

The session will demonstrate a number of portfolio centric integrations and widgets being developed as part of the current JISC DVLE Programme from the DOULS, DEVLOP and ceLTIc projects. Below is a short summary of each of the presentations.

Portfolio redevelopment at the Open University has focussed on incorporating some of the enhanced functionality available within Google, e.g., a document repository, facilities for sharing, collaboration and reflection. The DOULS project (Distributed Open University Learning Systems) has been tasked with delivering integration between the Moodle learning environment and Google. The presentation by the Open University will focus on these integrations and what it means for the student experience.

Part of the University of Reading’s DEVELOP Project has been to look at e-portfolio provision and use, and to develop three widgets to assist staff and students in the creation and maintenance of e-portfolios. The University uses Blackboard as its VLE and widgets have been designed using HTML/JavaScript to interact, in pilot studies, with Blackboard’s very basic e-portfolio tool. One widget, now fully developed for Blackboard, enables students to build a portfolio with all the pages as specified by their tutors/lecturers. This widget also guides the user through the various steps needed to share and maintain their portfolio. A feedback widget is at this moment being developed to allow tutors to provide feedback on specific parts of the students’ portfolios while an export widget is planned to allow students to download their portfolio in a standards-compliant form.

Stephen Vickers from the ceLTIc project will demonstrate how the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) specification can offer a simple and effective mechanism for integrating learning tools with a VLE. The session will also illustrate how LTI can enable learners from Moodle and Learn 9 to collaborate together in a shared space within an external tool such as WebPA or Elgg.

Information on registration and how to access the webinar can be found at the conference website, and remember to follow @jiscel11 and the #jiscel11 hashtag on twitter for updates.

A recording of the session is available by following this link.

How would you build a widget authoring tool?

Yesterday along with about 20 others I attended a Design Event organised by the Widg@t project, which is being funded through the current round of JISC Learning Teaching Innovation Grants (LTIG).

The aim of the day was to help the team “define the design specification for the WIDGaT toolkit, in particular the Design Decision Maker and Authoring Tool interface.” The team are planning to build a tool specifically aimed at non-techies – ” The WiDGaT toolkit (Design Decision Maker, Authoring Toolkit) aims to enable staff or students without technical expertise to easily design, develop and share widgets that support personalised learning. It enables the creation of widgets that address particularly (but not exclusively) the needs and preferences of disabled students.”

Splitting into small groups, the morning session was designed to get us thinking not about the authoring tool, but rather on designing widgets. Using the paper based design process the team had used during their previous WIDE project (see my previous post on this), each group had to create a design specification for a widget. The picture gives an idea of how the group I was in used the Design templates and flip chart to record our ideas.

widgat design template
widgat design template

The afternoon was then spent thinking about what kind of tool would allow people without any development experience build our, or indeed any other, widget. So we were thinking around a set of questions including:
*What would be the best way to replicate the f2f, paper supported, decision making process we had gone through?
*What kinds of interface, components and services would need to be available?
*Would templates be viable/useful?
*How would you save/share/publish outputs?

The group I was in spent quite a bit of time discussing the need to include some of the information made explicit in the Design template sheets e.g. detailed “personna” and “scenario” (basically the who, why and how of widget use). Although fully appreciating the need for them, we did wonder if they are better done offline, and if too much pre-authoring form filling might be off putting and actually slightly counter productive? We were also concerned with scope creep and very aware that the team are working to a tight timescale for development. So again we spent quite a bit of time discussing how to create an environment that gave enough options to be useful/useable, extensible to allow new functionality to be easily integrated and also, most importantly, was feasible to build.

During the feedback session it was clear that everyone in the room was broadly thinking in a similar way – particularly around the pragmatics of building a working system within the project timescale. The use of templates was also popular, as that provides a way to show users what is possible and also define an initial set of components/services.

I found the day to be very stimulating and very well structured, so thanks to all the team for their efforts in planning. As with any well designed design process, our input doesn’t stop after one day. The team are now pulling together all the ideas, reflecting on the themes emerging from the day and are going to produce a draft specification which we will be asked to feedback on before producing their final specification. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the toolkit develops and enjoying being part of a collaborative, user centred design process.

Summer round up from the institutional DVLE projects

Summer generally provides a bit of time for reflection and gathering of thoughts. It also marks the start of the final phase of the current JISC Distributed Virtual Learning Environments (DVLE) programme. For the five institutionally based projects, this summer has provided a short break before some major implementations and evaluations get underway in the new semester. This post summarizes some of the developments and future plans as outlined by the projects in their recent interim reports.

To give a bit more context the original call for funding for the institutional projects specifically asked for bids that would:

” . . .review their virtual learning environment and related systems to establish to what extent they meet the current and projected needs of the wide range of users in the institution and beyond, and implement technical work to widen the range of functionality the VLE can provide in an interoperable way.”

Which would lead to a set of deliverables including:

“• Enhancing the flexibility of VLEs to meet new and developing user requirements and to permit future expansion and changes.
• Demonstration of a range of architecture models for composing institutionally delivered learning environments.
• Guidance on, and models for, expanding VLE functionality and delivering it in different ways to meet institutional needs.
• An increased number of high-quality sharable widgets and applications made available to common web platforms in UK institutions, and an easier process of deploying them.”

So what progress is being made?

ceLTIc, University of Edinburgh
Progress continues with deployment of LTI connectors across a range of platforms including BB, Pepplepad, Elgg. You can get more of a feel for what the project has achieved so far from their recent presentation at our IMS LTI and LIS in Action Webinar. The project are now entering their evaluation phase which aims to “explore the impact of the implementation of LTI connectors with a VLE and four applications: Elgg, WebPA, PebblePad and Learning Objects in a number of higher education institutions from the perspective of:
tutor; developer; e-learning support; administrator.” More information about the evaluation methodology can be found on the project blog.

DEVELOP, University of Reading
The DEVELOP (Developing and Enhancing Virtual Learning Environments and E-Learning Options) team at Reading have primarily been exploring the extension of their BlackBoard VLE to allow greater pedagogic flexibility and their portfolio provision so that it can be used for teaching and assessment purposes. Scoping documents for their widget development (Tagging and recommender, portfolio, ASSET Video, content) are available from the project blog. At the moment, the widgets are all at various stages of development and user testing. The user evaluation and testing are part of the rapid prototyping approach the team are using (you can read more about the technical evaluation part of this process in this post. These evaluations will form the basis for a set of case studies around the effectiveness of each of the widgets. The case studies will be based on the templates created at Reading as part of another project JISC funded project, OULDI, which is part of the Curriculum Design Programme. The team have also been working closely with their key internal technical stakeholders to ensure sustainability of developments. The University of Bedfordshire is also testing the video widget.

The DOULS (Distributed Open University Learning Systems) team have continued with key user engagement processes to scope, define and specify the set of Google gadgets they are going to develop: Assessment Helper; Forum Recommender; Forums; OU Buddy; Study Planner. Draft gadget functionality specs for each one is available the project blog. The team have also documented their process and have produced a number of useful guidelines relating to usability and accessibility in terms of testing gadgets and overall management of accessibility within a VLE. These are openly available from the blog. The team are continuing to learn the “ins and outs” of working with the Google Apps for Education API for widescale adoption. Again the team are sharing some of their “visions” for potential Google App/Moodle integration and thoughts around potential uses/extensions for the Google start page on the blog. There will be more code releases in September, when they will also start their evaluation. Their interim report is also available for download from the blog.

SLEP, University of Southampton
The SLEP (Southampton Learning Environment Prototype) project is part of a wider institutional wide initiative at Southampton to restructure both its research and teaching and learning environments. As you’d expect from Southampton, open and linked data are central to their approach and the team have used a “co-design” process “made up of a large- scale student survey, smaller focus groups and one-on-one interviews) has revealed a preference for a small number of key services in our initial launch (including email and timetabling).” This process has also surfaced the importance of groups and communities, and the team’s prototype interface design highlights these and makes “ them the lens through which students and staff access all of the data and services of the institution”. The project is now coming out of “stealth” mode with their first round of apps being released in September accompanied by a large scale (c. 1,000 students) user evaluation of their new user interface. More detail on their overall approach and the co-design methodology is outlined in this paper presented at the PLE conference earlier this summer.

The W2C team continue to make good progress with what they often refer as their “megamash up”. The team have made steady progress developing web services including: PC Availability; Fee Status (RSS); WebCT Areas & Announcements (RSS); Library Reading Lists (RSS) & Podcasts (RSS); Integrating Talis Aspire and Equella. Providing this information in a mobile friendly way has had a dramatic impact on the number of hits these services are now getting. The team have been closely monitoring the usage of these services and shared how they collect the data and some of their insights in this post. The team have also been involved in a study of student use of mobile devices with a number of other institutions. Preliminary findings from the on the MMU part of the study are available in this post .

The team have prioritised the development of web services for mobile devices and have been working with oMbiel’s campusM mobile phone product. This has allowed them to rapidly deploy their web-services and create a user feedback loop. The team have also undertaken work in developing open source widgets for their Moodle installation which I’ll refer to later in this post. The W2C project, again is part of a wider institutional change process around provision of teaching and learning and the team have been very pro-active in sharing their “core- plus” model with the rest of the programme and the wider community.

The CETIS Distributed Learning Environments briefing paper was a key starting point for the programme, and particularly for the institutional strand, JISC wanted to find out the key institutional infrastructure issues are surrounding more flexible creation distribution of apps/gadgets/widgets and how data can be shared and re-used effectively.

Again going back to the funding call: “ The following technical approaches are of particular interest:
• Widget platforms external to the VLE displaying content from a range of sources including the VLE.
• Plug-ins to the VLE or other institutional web platform demonstrating the use of open educational standards such as IMS LTI (learning tools interoperability).
• The VLE providing some of its data and functionality as widgets/and or plug-ins to be consumed in other environments.
• Enabling access to particular research equipment in VLEs via widgets.
• Identity and access management approaches, such as OAuth.
• Approaches which illustrate innovative creation, use and consumption of data sets (including linked data ) sets across multiple platforms.”

Security has been and continues to be a key concern for projects (as highlighted in this post from Mark Stubbs after the programme start up meeting last September). Accessibility is also a concern, and it’s probably fair to say that the DOULS and others at the OU have had to spend more time than they probably first envisaged ensuring that their Google apps provision met required accessibility guidelines.

However there have been some quick wins for example W2C have been able to accelerate their mobile app deployment using an external partner which freed up the team’s time to work on developing web-services. We are also beginning to get a far greater understanding of student mobile device ownership and indeed from all the user engagement across the projects a greater understanding of the key data/services which staff and students actually want and use regularly.

In terms of standards/ specifications we have a stalwart supporter of the IMS LTI approach from Stephen Vickers at the ceLTIC project who clearly thinks the IMS way is a win, win, win scenario. There is still some resistance to implementing LTI in other projects – partly due to their unfinished status. Reading are keeping a watching brief on developments and are concentrating on developing widgets they know will work in their VLE. Whereas Southampton prefer to work with more conventional, non education specific web service approaches. However the recent announcement from IMS that they are now merging the development of full and basic LTI into one specification may start to convince more potential adopters. Once again the security question raises its head. Whilst there seems to be more convergence across the IMS, Open Social and Wookie development communities around the use of services such as OAuth, and the development of data handling process which sh/could start to allay common concerns around security of sensitive data such as assessment information etc. However, there is still probably a need for quite a dramatic culture shift within institutional provision and access before OAuth is widely adopted across the sector.

The programme has also afforded the opportunity for projects to explore the W3C Apache Wookie (Incubating) approach to the building and deployment of widgets. Our widget bash provided hand on opportunities for developers to get started building (and repurposing their own apps) wookie widgets. Despite the (relative) ease of building widgets, there has been some articulation surrounding concerns around the institutional deployment of a wookie widget server see this post from the W2C project. There continues to be an appetite for a stable sandbox/test server that projects could experiment with. This has been discussed before through our widget working group (pre-cursor to the DVLE programme) and it is something we at CETIS do recognise. Unfortunately we aren’t in a position to guarantee stability of any such service, and so we have being advocating a community based solution (perhaps augmented with a bit of funding from JISC). This is bound to be something we return to at the end of the programme once the projects have completed their reviews of their approaches and we can get a more informed view from across the programme.

There is also the question of where widgets/apps/gadgets should be accessed from after the projects finish. Should the code be available only via project websites? Do we need think about developing education app store (again this brings up similar issues as the wookie test server). One potential interim measure we are starting to investigate is the use of the JISC Design Studio which is primarily being used to share outputs from the Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes, but there are plans to use it to share other programme outputs too.

In the final stage of the funding cycle, the projects will be reflecting more on their infrastructure and how they relate to the models outlined in the CETIS DLE briefing paper. Both DEVELOP and W2C are seeing alignment with Model 2 “plug-ins to existing VLEs”.

screen shot of DLE Model 2
screen shot of DLE Model 2

W2C have begun to articulate their model in a some more detail in this post.

Over the coming months as evaluations begin in earnest, it will be interesting to see any convergences of approaches/models start to appear, and to explore what kind of affordances the projects distributed learning environments have to offer over traditional approaches.

More information about the projects and the programme support activities can be found on the CETIS wiki. There is also a public netvibes page with feeds from all the project blogs.

The timeline below also gives another view of programme activity through aggregated tweets using the programme hashtag #jiscdvle and with an RSS feed from the related Learning Platforms topic page on the CETIS website.

"Win, win, win" Are we really there with IMS LTI and LIS?

“Win, win, win” is the mantra from Stephen Vickers (ceLTIc Project, University of Edinburgh) is going to be taking to the Blackboard conference next week. During yesterday’s webinar “IMS LTI and LIS in Action”, Stephen gave an overview of the integrations the ceLTIc project have been able to achieve using basic LTI. And it does seem that we might actually be at a turning point for both basic (and hopefully full LTI) with most of the major VLE vendors now implementing it, and projects such as ceLTIc and EILE (University of Kent), who also presented their work using LTI with Moodle, being able to show real examples of a number of service integrations including blogs, reading lists and streaming servers.

However the biggest battle for uptake and adoption is probably the hardest one – the move from general awareness raising to actually widespread and commonplace use. And, as Stephen pointed out this isn’t just an question of making developers more aware of, but teachers too. So they are the ones asking the question of their VLE teams “do you support LTI” with the knowledge that they can integrate or “mix and match” a lot more “web stuff” into their VLE if the answer is yes. The IT departments should also have the confidence that taking this approach will mean that they can bring more services into their VLE, offer more flexibility to academic staff and not have to worry about a major system upgrade every time they want to add another service.

However these things can take time, and even in the JISC DVLE programme it’s only the ceLTIc project who are actually using LTI. The other projects have noted interest, but as is so often the case, it’s just not quite a priority at the moment, possibly because a number of the projects are dealing with more administrative and non VLE services. Also as the CETIS DLE briefing paper outlined there are a number of potential models for learning environment integration – LTI isn’t the only game in town. On the plus side with more major players now actively involved we might just be on the cusp of seeing some significant advances over the coming year.

The session also included an update from Linda Feng (Oracle) on recent developments with the IMS LIS specification. Again it was encouraging to hear that the working group have been trying to make the spec as usable and flexible as possible. Linda explained how the IMS working group have been developing a set of profiles to allow greater flexibility for implementers and more importantly the profiles will be available, tested and ready before the spec is finalised. Taking this more iterative approach has already allowed the working group to already sort out some element naming gotchas.

Linda also gave a quick walkthrough of a demo of some work Oracle and Blackboard having been doing with SIS data and will be presenting at next week’s BB Conference (an annotated version of the demo is available online). Phil Nicolls (Psydev) then demo’d some bulk data imports from the a cloud service into Moodle.

So all in all a very interesting session with lots of real examples of standards being used in real situations. The recording is available for viewing by following this link.

IMS LTI and LIS in action webinar, 7 July

As part of our on-going support for the current JISC DVLE programme, we’re running a webinar on Thursday 7 July at 2pm.

The session will feature demonstrations of a number of “real world” system integrations using the IMS LTI and basic LTI and LIS specifications. These will be provided by the Stephen Vickers from the University of Edinburgh and the CeLTIc project; Steve Coppin, from the University of Essex and the EILE project and Phil Nichols from Psydev.

The webinar will run for approximately 1.5 hours, and is free to attend. More information, including a link to registration is available from the CETIS website.

Widg@t widget building tool

I really like widgets or apps or whatever you want to call those little discrete things you can pop into a web-page, VLE, blog, access on your phone etc. Over the last few years at CETIS we’ve been supporting developments in this area through various activities such as the widget working group, the current JISC DVLE programme and our widget bash earlier this year.

As I’m not a programmer I’m also always on the look out for easy (and preferably free) ways to make widgets. A couple of years ago I thought I had found the answer with Sproutbuilder, but hey-ho as is the way of things they changed their terms of service. As I really didn’t do that much with it, it didn’t seem worthwhile to pay for the service. So, over the past couple of years I’ve been really keen to see some kind of WYSIWYG widget builder funded. We didn’t quite get there within the scope of the DVLE programme, however I’m delighted to report that the latest round of JISC LTIG grants includes the Widg@t project from the University of Teesside.

Building on the work of the ARC team’s excellent WIDE project (one of the DVLE programme’s rapid development projects), Widg@t aims to:

“explore, design, develop and evaluate a WIDGaT toolkit that will support the design, development and sharing of widgets by those directly involved in the teaching and support of disabled students

By engaging pedagogical and technical experts with our intended end users the objective is to produce a WIDGaT authoring tool that enables teachers or students to develop and share bespoke widgets.”

I’m a really looking forward to seeing the developments and final output from this project and hopefully having fun building some widgets again. This time with an open source, W3C standards compliant tool:-) As I’ve commented before, it’s also great to see a continuum of development from across JISC funding and to see pedagogic and technical developments truly working hand in hand.

The team are also looking for community involvement, so if you want to get involved please do contact them, details are on the project website.