Extending the CRIS model to a ukoer workflow?

One of the conclusions of the Repositories and Preservation Advisory Group (RPAG), which advised the JISC Repositories Programmes between 2005 and  2009,  was that teaching materials had not been well served by attempting to integrate them into institutional repositories as they had very different workflows and requirements to scholarly works and other research outputs (thanks to Lorna Campbell – citation needed.)

It is still the case, I think, that research management infrastructure is generally further developed than that for OER including Open Access repositories and CRIS (Current Research Information Systems) most often commercial software implementations of Atira Pure, Symplectic Elements and Avedas Converis. Typically these systems are dynamically populated with records from the institutional HR database and are designed to allow staff to manage their own research profile. Arguably this reflects the greater prestige, real or perceived, still implicit in research activity compared with teaching and learning. Associated to this, academic libraries are primarily focussed on access to research materials and historically have not been closely involved with the management of teaching materials which, where they are available digitally, are often in virtual learning environments (VLEs) to which the library may not have access (Robertson 2010) and may be poorly integrated into the users’ view of library resources (Hirst, 2009)

At Leeds Metropolitan University we have established a “blended” repository comprising both research and OER and have worked closely with Jorum (the national OER repository in the UK) to ensure both that openly licenced material from across the sector can be “harvested” into our local repository and that institutional OER can be automatically disseminated to the national service. In addition, the library has implemented the EBSCO Discovery Service which provides a mechanism to explore a wide range of library resources including the library catalogue, electronic databases and, crucially, the repository meaning we are able to configure the respective systems to enable library users to utilise the main library search facility to discover a wide range of openly licenced material from across the UK Higher Education sector (see previous post). Finally, in order to make it easier to maintain a constant, up-to-date picture of research activity across the University we have also recently implemented Symplectic Elements which automatically retrieves bibliographic data from citation databases and enables files to be uploaded directly to the repository. Records can also be imported (e.g. from EndNote) or manually entered; resource type and metadata can be easily configured for sub-sets of users and the system can pass any MIME type to the repository which means in principle it can be extended for use by teaching and learning staff (who may not be research active) to curate OER and offer an easy deposit mechanism to the local repository and subsequently to Jorum.

This approach could have several benefits, particularly for non-research intensive institutions in a difficult economic environment for Higher Education, providing an OER workflow that is closely related to that for research and deriving greater value for money from the investment in technical infrastructure which in turn will also have the potential to increase the esteem, recognition and reward associated with openly licenced teaching and learning resources.

Discovering ukoer at Leeds Metropolitan

Recently I blogged over at http://leedsmetlibrary.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/discovering-the-leeds-metropolitan-university-repository/ about integrating the repository with the EBSCO Discovery Service and I just wanted to expand a little, specifically in the context of OER and the (perpetually) developing infrastructure that I hope will ultimately result in OER from across the sector being discoverable from EDS…

…a long term objective is also to ensure that the repository is well embedded in the institutional infrastructure and that relevant resources are easily discoverable, both within and without, by our own students and staff as well as scholars in the wider world, whatever discovery tools they may use and whatever their level of information literacy.

The EBSCO Discovery Service provides a mechanism, a one-stop-shop or library search engine, to explore a wide range of Library resources including the Library catalogue and electronic databases and we have been able to liaise with EBSCO to add the repository as a searchable target.

Currently the repository includes just ukoer released by staff at Leeds Metropolitan; the most recent version of intraLibrary, however, developed as part of the PORSCHE project, and due by the end of the month, includes the facility to harvest metadata from other OER repositories, particularly Jorum, so that we can search from our local search interface and from EDS:Multiple routes to discovery including the “library search engine” EBSCO Discovery Service

Infrastructure schematic (1st draft)

There are several significant developments that will impact on our repository / research management / OER dissemination and discovery over the next 12 months or so…briefly these are:

This is a quick schematic of how the developing infrastructure might look (a bit big to fit in my WordPress theme so click on image for full size):

Plugged-in for OER

As mentioned in this recent post I’ve been experimenting with WordPress for presenting OER and have been testing a pre-release version of a WordPress plug-in, developed by the Triton project at the University of Oxford to facilitate a dynamic collection of OER in a WordPress blog.

Developer @patlockley describes the overall functionality of the plug-in here and also covers some of the limitations posed by the broader OER infrastructure here emphasising that “no standard API exists across repositories so as to facilitate a single approach to aggregation for an aggregation creator” - as well as a seperate post here considering limitations of the WordPress platform itself used in this context and associated technical considerations.

In summary the plug-in searches Xpert, Merlot and OER Commons (via their API) as well as Wikipedia, Wikibooks and Wikiversity for openly licensed material; Mendeley for journals and with options to add RSS feeds for blogs and podcasts.

Here I’ll briefly describe my experiences of using the plug-in – fairly candid in the hope that it will be useful feedback to Pat and Triton albeit with the initial caveat that any issues I’ve encountered are just as likely to be associated with my limited experience of WordPress and my shambrarian status (I simply haven’t had time to hone the search terms as carefully as I would like) as with the plug-in itself (which of course is pre-release.)

Once installed, famously straightforward in WordPress even prior to release (via FTP), you get a new “Dynamic Collection” tab in the dashboard where I can add a new collection…pretty much at random, I chose an undergraduate course from Leeds Met – Civil Engineering – around which to build my dynamic collection – it’s then just a matter of adding title and search terms, updating the feeds from the three source repositories and publishing:

This admittedly unsophisticated search returned 9 results:

Obviously the plug-in is only as effective as the keyword data / api / source repository(ies) that it is using and the fifth link here actually points at an entirely different resource (in Jorum) with no relevance to Civil Engineering, presumably due to an error at some point along it’s, er, conjugation – as the plug-in does not search Jorum directly this must have come via Xpert which does harvest Jorum. While experimenting with the plug-in I’ve also had instances where links have returned 404s or been otherwise broken so one requirement I think would be the option to remove links from the collection that are incorrect, broken…or simply less relevant; to allow the WordPress administrator fuller control of the collection.

In order to add a blog or podcast under the Settings tab, the plug-in has installed several new tabs (I don’t think the Feed management / Collection statistics / Collection tabs are yet fully functional in the version I am testing):

Under the Dynamic Collection Options there are fields to add rss feeds from blogs or podcasts:

I’ve experienced a few teething troubles adding blogs not least because I don’t know much about Civil Engineering! As I understand, it should search blog title and description for the dynamic collection keywords…I added a feed from http://www.civilengineering.co.uk/feed/ which returned this single (most recent) post – http://www.civilengineering.co.uk/2010/09/civil-engineering-issues/ (the blog, in fact, only appears to comprise 2 posts so presumably would update should any new posts be added?)

I’m very optimistic about the potential of this approach to allow WordPressing course leaders, perhaps with support from learning technologists, to quickly and easily assemble a dynamic collection of OER for their students and look forward to the formal release of the finished product* – in the meantime, in true Blue Peter stylee, here are a number of collections that Pat made earlier to give a sense of what should be possible:





* The only caveat from my perspective is that my own institution does not formally support the use of WordPress, nevertheless, there is certainly a requirement, explicitly identified by senior stakeholders,  to develop tools to cross-search Open Educational Resources and, in this context, I think we can learn a lot from the Triton project.

N.B. Such a mechanism, however implemented via the proliferation of OER repositories and their APIs, also put me in mind of this post from Suzanne Hardy (@glittrgirl) of MEDEV and the PORSCHE project – Branding, repositories, OER and awareness raising: some thoughts on embedding OERs

See also: Delores OER – WordPress for hosting and describing learning resources (University of Bath and Heriot-Watt)

A febrile vision of the future

Unfortunately I am not around for day two of intraconf10 but this is a quick (and slightly tongue in cheek!) contribution for the Forward to the Future Discussion Panel that will close the conference on Thursday afternoon.

The panel:

Ian Watson, IRISS
Lorna Campbell, JISC-CETIS
Charles Duncan, Intrallect
Neil Livesey, Learning and Teaching Scotland

The brief:

During the final discussion panel we will discuss visions of the future. Rather than consider what you think might actually occur we would prefer you to envision what you think the future of sharing digital resources should be like.

Twitter tag:



A few over-riding issues come to mind:

• IPR/licencing – pain in the proverbial; will the law be rewritten one precedent at a time?
• Revenue streams – business models will have to change
• Metadata – will we still need formal metadata at all?
• Cultural change/zeitgeist – it’s already changing and will continue to do so as the Google generation comes of age.

And perhaps to separate out from these, there are also interesting questions of how the infrastructure and indeed the web itself will continue to develop:

• The semantic web – will it ever be fully realised?
• Google – will it actually take over the world or be sued out of existence (unlikely)?
• The Cloud – likely to have an increasing impact on (institutional) IT infrastructure

I don’t know if it’s this blasted cold but, as I steam through the Scottish countryside on a Virgin train, I’m finding it difficult to take the mental leap implied by the brief to what *should* rather than what might actually happen. Maybe thinking about the rail infrastructure as a metaphor will help…

In the future the railways will be so cheap to build and maintain that people will expect to travel for next to nothing; they will be fast and efficient (mostly using super-conductors to glide on a cushion of air) and you will be able to get anywhere in the country within half an hour. In actual fact, “railway” is a bit of an anachronism and fairly soon you will be able to take a train to the moon (run by Richard Branson and Google, obviously). This will take a bit longer and there will be a variety of “value added services” to keep the punters entertained for the 12 hour round trip (which will be an important revenue stream to supplement the nominal moon-train fare).

Okay, may be that didn’t help after all but the point, if I have one, is that Universities, if they are to compete in the future, will simply have to share their digital resources for free (whatever precedents of IPR are breached along the way); they will need to create new revenue streams and develop new business models, perhaps based on value added services because their customers (the Google generation) will be used to accessing everything for next to nothing. They will still be using Google, (who still won’t be supporting OAI-PMH) and whose kidult engineers will have cracked the semantic web thereby rendering formal metadata irrelevant. Moreover, Universities will have to get used to storing their data in the cloud and handing over control of that data to a variety of third parties.

What part will repositories play in this brave new world? Well, they won’t need to support LOM or any other metadata standard (except may be user tagging for pictures and stuff) and instead, the emphasis will be on disaggregated instances of a super-portal that uses a secret, post Pagerank algorithm to return the best possible resources from the Cloud to an information illiterate user!

The Digital Economy Bill notwithstanding.

What would you like to search for – research or OER?

Leeds Met Open Search – http://repository.leedsmet.ac.uk/main/index.php – now incorporates a “splash screen” that allows the user to choose which collection they wish to search with links that provide access to separate interfaces that are tailored to each type of material:

Leeds met Open Search splash page

Each tabbed interface provides an appropriate Advanced search form as well as relevant browse options; by LCSH or faculty for research and by HEA Subject Centres or JACS code for OERs:

Once again, massive thanks to Mike for his rapid response to the the myriad requests I make of him on a daily basis!


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