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:

http://politicsinspires.org/dynamic_collection/political-theory/

http://politicsinspires.org/dynamic_collection/comparative-government/

http://politicsinspires.org/dynamic_collection/international-relations/

http://politicsinspires.org/dynamic_collection/european-politics-and-society/

* 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)

JIF10 at Royal Holloway

I’m not sure I was fully aware of the memory until I wandered past the Earth Sciences Building at Royal Holloway last Wednesday that it was in that very building that I first experienced the internet in 1994. I was a feckless undergraduate with little interest in technology having recently grown out of side-scrolling shoot ‘em ups on my Commodore Amiga.  I had a scientist friend, however, a Geologist, who seemed excited by it and took us into the lab to surf the nascent world wide web.  I have no idea what spec of machinery we would have been using at that time.  Or browser.  Would it have been Mosaic back then or did Netscape come on the scene fairly quickly?  Anyway, I don’t think I was terribly impressed and soon wandered off for a game of pool and did not, so far as I recall, re-visit cyberspace for the rest of my university career.  At some point in the intervening years, of course, along with several billion others, I did venture back onto the Web (it’s got much better) until I found myself back at RHUL with JISC for their Innovation Forum 2010; on the down-side I no longer have much time for pool.

I arrived bright and early on Wednesday morning to set up my exhibition stand and was particularly looking forward to speaking with Alison Pope who had invited me to look at Equella which Royal Holloway have recently implemented to manage the full range of digital resources including OA research and learning objects – a set of use-cases not too dissimilar to Leeds Met.  It is interesting that, like intraLibrary, Equella was originally designed as a Learning Object repository and, like intraLibrary, this heritage is evident in Equella being an authenticated system (does this, perhaps, reflect how quickly the zeitgeist has now shifted towards open educational content not just OA research?)  We get round the issue, of course, with our Open Search interface utilising SRU, whereas both RHUL and Oxford Brookes automatically log visitors into Equella as guest-users.

I had several conversations throughout the conference around the nature of “blended” repositories like ours; although institutional repositories increasingly store different types of resources and may have an implicit remit to manage the full range of digital material, it’s still far from the norm, I think, for them to be explicitly tailored to multiple collection types and browsing OpenDoar, under “content”, the majority still list “Articles; References; Conferences; Theses; Books” though some do include “Learning Objects”, “Multimedia” or “Special” (how many of these are aspirational rather than fully operational services?)  To my knowledge, in addition to ourselves and Royal Holloway, Oxford Brookes are developing a blended repository with their RADAR project (also using Equella after shelving intraLibrary).  Coventry have also implemented Equella for their CURVE project though I think currently for research material only.

(N.B.  The EPrints crowd are coming at the OER from the other direction with Edshare and HumBox, bespoke implementations of the de facto OA research platform.)

The first session I attended was Thunderbolt and Lightning, an Open-Mic session run by the inimitable @dfflanders to share the “big thunderbolts” in institutions today (all sessions from JIF10 are summarised on Cloudworks and there is a Twitter archive at http://twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/jif10).  The great thing about JISC events is the different styles of discussion that are encouraged and while, personally, I find the lightening talk format exhausting (and that’s just listening) it’s certainly an effective way to rapidly share a lot of information and generate (preliminary) discussion.  Lightening talks included Rufus Pollack from the Open Knowldge Foundation and Cambridge University on open data and content, Steve Hitchcock from Southampton on why it’s still too hard for people to put things in repositories and Sarah Porter on the fact that we need a collaborative university network, not a competitive one.  For a live blog of the session see http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/3408.

I missed the first afternoon session as I was having a guided tour of Equella after which I had half an hour to kill so took a trip down memory lane back to Kingswood, the halls of residence where I stayed in my first year before rejoining my fellow delegates for a panel discussion “The Impact of Open: transformational possibilities for education and research”.  The session was chaired by Craig Wentworth (JISC Programme Director – Organisation and User Technologies) and the panel were Rufus PollockRoss GardlerHelen Beetham, Sal Cooke and Hugh Look.  See http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/4183 for a blog-post from the session.

The evening was given over to dinner and (for some) dancing – an opportunity for social and professional relationships to be cemented before rest and another packed schedule on day 2…which began with a search for bacon and eggs, as hapless JISC folk (one or two a little green around the gills – possibly correlated with those that had been dancing but this is just a hypothesis) finding themselves in a breakfast hubbub of Italian teenagers before being herded downstairs by events staff to our own more sedate dining environment.

I had intended to visit as many of the project showcases and demos, some of which I was already aware of and some which were new to me.  In the end, however, my day was rather more tangential and I never got round to seeing all sorts of interesting stuff that I shall at some point try to follow up online, in particular, One Share (University of Southampton) and Xpert (University of Nottingham) which though I missed the demo, I have, in fact, liaised with already in the context of RSS aggregation for ukoer (see http://blogs.cetis.ac.uk/lmc/2009/12/09/oer-rss-and-jorumopen/).  I was also able to speak with Pat Lockley from the project who told me that Xpert can now harvest OAI-PMH as well as RSS – after a little bit of hacking this week on Pat’s part, all Unicycle material has now been harvested from the Leeds Met repository into Xpert (will try to blog this in more detail at some point).

I did manage to make it to the MIMAS stand and speak with Amanda Hill of the Names Project and to man named Vic about the Intute repository search demonstrator which I was interested to learn will be developed further (last I heard development was suspended.)  Having not been to the site for quite a while, it was gratifying to see that searching for “ukoer” returns 146 results from just 3 repositories and 144 of them are from Leeds Met (though there are in fact 279 resources in our repository tagged ukoer so I’m not sure what’s happened to the other 135 – perhaps we haven’t been harvested for a while?).  The other small issue from my perspective is that research results are not always displayed properly which is an artifact of the fact that intraLibrary is based on IEEE LOM and I’ve used multiple description fields to accommodate ISSN/published/refereed.

I really hope the Names project continues to make progress and I would urge the community to get behind this project which has developed a prototype to tackle the thorny problem of name disambiguation – an issue in all sorts of online domains, especially repositories.  There is a blog of the session that I missed at http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/4243 and you can see the prototype and search for names (harvested from Scopus I think) at http://names.mimas.ac.uk/

In the afternoon there’s a rather jolly Dragon’s Den style session where 3 presenters pitch their innovative ideas to a panel of JISC Dragons who opt, 3 to 1, for Mark “bearded Dave” Stiles’ (call me Dave) Cameron inspired Big Education idea, the audience, however, disagree (this is a democracy after all) and it’s a land slide for Yorick Wilks’ possibly-cuddly-artificially-intelligent research companion to help the academic drudge sift through the crushing weight of online information.  Dave the Librarian’s idea (something about libraries being an interchange where learning and teaching takes place) gets limited support from either the dragons or the audience – all seemingly persuaded by the ConDems that libraries aren’t really necessary at all in the broadband age – and he is dismissed by one of the dragons (clearly relishing her role) because libraries are just “glorified coffee shops”… ‘we just need a virtual library”…”people only go to libraries because the wifi is free.”

The final keynote is delivered by Professor John Potter on the subject of leadership and which causes one or two heckles to rise – personally I’m inclined to agree with @ambrouk who found sentiments like “give your people a sense of purpose”, and “people copy what they see” somewhat patronising and argued on her blog that, rather, the world of HE is a “world of intelligent people who don’t need leading, they just need managing, as in, given the time, space and mandate to do things.”

That is certainly true of many of the colleagues I engaged with over two enjoyable days – people, in fact, that “work” as they play, sharing information and ideas.  Innovating.

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