Intrallect conference 2009

The title of this year’s conference was Open Educational Resources: share, improve, reuse and Wendy and I were invited by Intrallect to talk about the work we have been doing to repurpose intraLibrary as an OA research repository. We travelled through the stunning Northumbrian countryside up to Edinburgh on Wednesday morning so unfortunately we missed the keynote from Amber Thomas of JISC.

The event was held in the cosily named Scottish storytelling centre – it’s a lovely space but the wireless router wasn’t up to the traffic that it was suddenly called upon to, er, route – presumably guests are generally Caledonian raconteurs who aren’t grafted to their laptops in quite the same way as this lot. So, no tweeting today. Which was a shame, as I’ve only recently come to appreciate that particular web phenomenon – I didn’t get it at all when I first tried it but as a “back channel” at a conference it really comes in to its own. On Thursday, Intrallect brought their own router so it was business as usual – noses in laptops.

The first speaker was a Dutch fellow called Henk who told us about recent activities in the Netherlands. It was good to get an international perspective. Henk is from an organisation called Kennisnet – who, as I understand it, aggregate LOM metadata from educational data-providers – including repositories of course – there was a flutter of excitement when Henk seemed to suggest that there really isn’t a problem getting teachers in Holland to describe their LOs with high quality LOM and he briefly described wizards that facilitate the process. Whether these were wizards of the software-pop up variety or actual warlocks I’m still not sure.

Next was Deepal Desai from NHS Education for Scotland who are using intraLibrary in a very similar – though not quite the same – way to the NHS National Library for Health project in England which I’ve already seen – I’ve been signed up as an evaluator/beta tester for a while (emphasis here should be placed on “signed up” rather than “evaluator”). Both projects use MyKnowledgeMap’s online suite of tools Compendle – Tom and Jonny from that company spoke later in the day so more on that in a minute. I was also really interested in the FAST technology that Deepal described which seemed able to aggregate metadata records from numerous sources, and, describing different types of resources into a single interface. It might be just the thing for an interface for our repository if we want to bring research materials and LOs together in one place and from a common search as has been suggested – definitely have to explore the technology further.

Peter Kilcoyne from Worcester College of Technology led us through MrCute 2 which, as with many of these things, I’m aware of but to no great depth. Very interesting in the context of developing a PowerLink for X-stream (Leeds Met’s VLE, Blackboard Vista). I’ve already played around with MrCute and posted about it back in December. When the code for MrCute 2 is released perhaps it can be adapted for Blackboard Vista (currently for Moodle only).  Peter also showed an informative video podcast from Moodleman, an Australian Moodle evangelist with an interesting pronunciation of “Worcester.”

ReJiG was presented by Nancy Graham and Rachel Wood from the University of Birmingham.  The project has been looking at issues around discovery and re-use from JORUM and I’ll be very interested to look at their outputs which might tie in with some of our investigations into workflow as part of PERSoNA. The general message seemed to be how difficult it is to get academics to engage with the service even though they might think it a good idea in principle – loads of reasons, not least JORUM’s now famously restrictive licensing which, of course, is evolving rapidly now in the form of their three licence model which includes an open licence.

Then it was time for lunch which I couldn’t really enjoy on account of a few nerves; we were up immediately afterwards though it was good to see the food appropriately tagged with metadata to aid discovery of an appropriate resource. Then back to the theatre where Wendy did an overview of institutional perspectives and why we chose intraLibrary before I demo’d the SRU, talked about some of the issues we’ve encountered along the way and development work still required. It went alright I think.  Slides here.

Keele University were out in force and their first presentation was about how they have been using intraLibrary as part of their CLA digitisation service. When stuff is digitised and stored in the repository (under its own taxonomy) it’s dead easy to email the public URL to a lecturer who can then just drop it into the VLE (also Blackboard). Not the most essential use for intraLibrary perhaps but it beats our system which uses Blackboard Vista’s built in “repository”. Keele’s system is safer in terms of long term preservation and the resources are surely more discoverable year on year (they are described by metadata though I don’t know what Application Profile they’re using). And it’s secure, though I was a bit worried about the use of the public URL; apparently it has been cleared by the CLA – there is a copyright notice that makes it clear what a user can or can’t do with that public URL.

Next up on stage was Sarah Currier, formerly of Intrallect but now working as an independent consultant talking about SWORD. Yet another technology I’ve played with but not had time to really get to grips with. Demos included desk-top batch upload using drag and drop – which I’ve tried to implement without success; the netvibes widget developed by ICO3 which I have on my iGoogle page and used to drop into a workflow but never figured out how to set up a workflow in intraLibrary to append an AP and publish. Feedforward looked ace and I’m not going to talk about that until I’ve played with it myself – drops RSS feeds into a repo via SWORD (and packages them I think). Then Compendle again which can retrieve from intraLibrary via SRU, repurpose and deposit back in via SWORD which brought us neatly to Charles Duncan talking about intraLibrary Connect.

NB. Also the FaceBook SWORD app which I’ve also played with though it didn’t pick up the title, instead replaced it with a string of gobbledegook.

Charles described the companies vision for using open standards to make it as easy as possible for users to interact with the repository –  we need to go out to the user rather than necessarily expecting them to log in to intraLibrary whenever they want to deposit or retrieve a resource – again echoes some of the thinking behind PERSoNA. Indeed, we’d already seen how services can be built from the various open standards that the platform supports – SRU, RSS, SWORD (based on ATOM). There was also a neat little demonstration of Yahoo Pipes to knock up a customised RSS feed. All these technologies, of course, are indicative of the direction that the web is taking in a more general sense, nevertheless, it’s reassuring that Intrallect aim to incorporate this type of stuff at a formal level.

Michael Debenham from Keele spoke next about “simplifying the process” and demo’d another desk-top SWORD tool for drag and drop batch deposit.  In essence the same as the one we’d already seen from Sarah but without the Command Line window to avoid scaring academic folk.  The idea is to make it oh so easy for those timorous teachers to get stuff into the repository by just dragging and dropping on their desktop; the resource is immediately published in intraLibrary and becomes available to search from the VLE (Blackboard) via a PowerLink and incorporate directly into a course.  The only problem is that the resources end up in intraLibrary with only very basic metadata – they are held in a secondary workflow so that, in theory, they can be reviewed by library staff and enriched with metadata.  In practice, of course, Keele don’t have the resources to do this.  Sounds familiar!

The final session of the day was a more in depth look at Compendle with David and Tom.  It is a web based system that, in my view, goes a long way to achieving a nice circular workflow that allows a user to create a full course, pull in all manner of digital resources from the local (or other?) repository, repurpose if necessary, package as IMS and push it back into the repository for dissemination to students via a VLE.  From my own limited exploration, it’s fairly intuitive to use, though, as you’d expect, David and Tom revealed all sorts of bells and whistles that I hadn’t figured out on my own.

Day two was every bit as interesting as the first (with added Twitter – though @sheilmcn did manage to Tweet throughout day one).  Given that there is a Twitter stream from Thursday (see previous post); it’s Friday afternoon AND I suspect this post is now is beyond optimum length and into the long-tail off I’ll very quickly summarise:

  • Lou McGill began the day talking about Good Intentions: improving the evidence base in support of sharing learning materials (a JISC report)
  • Keele’s third slot was Boyd Duffee – “Can Google see my stuff?” (Answer:  No it can’t, at least not MY stuff; not yet.)
  • Next were parallel discussion slots on: Automatic Metadata Generation; Open Educational Resource; Making repository content discoverable – technologies (I went to this one)
  • Then Peter Douglas introduced the New Repository Reporting Service which we’ve been waiting for!  Looks OK but will require a modest monthly surcharge
  • Ian Watson of IRISS was promoting the IntraLibrary Customer user forum which many of us have already found very useful – hopefully engagement will  increase now
  • Finally Charles introduced plans to run monthly workshops on various subjects via web CT which will be great

And that was that.

I really enjoyed both days – not to mention the conference dinner on Wednesday evening so thanks to all the folk at Intrallect and all present who shared their knowdedge and experience.  Hope to see you again next year.


One Response to Intrallect conference 2009

  1. Paul Hart says:

    nice summary Nick, thanks for sharing 🙂

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