Testing the VLE PowerLink

To be honest, PowerLink is probably overstating it a bit but it is a link that allows us to search intraLibrary from the VLE and it does work. Sort of. But it’s not very powerful.

The main issue is the very basic nature of the search facility – just a simple search box with no way to perform a more advanced search:

PowerLink

So it’s not a great deal of use unless you know what you’re looking for.

The search functionality does support Boolean operators; the term ukoer, for example, will return the 13 items that I currently have identified with that tag in the keyword field:

PowerLink1

Whereas ukoer AND decision will return the single record “Decision Making” (ukoer OR decision of course, will still return all 13 records) – there is no automatic Boolean however and ukoer decision will return no results at all rather than, say, doing an OR search by default.

Search is also a little crude in that it will find adjacent words in the metadata but only if they are entered in quotation marks. So decision making without quotes will not return any results though “decision making” does return the expected result:

PowerLink2

An additional issue is that, as we are using intralibrary to manage research material as well as learning and teaching material, at the very least we will want to differentiate between these two categories. It is possible to configure the PowerLink to filter by collection and we are currently filtering on Open Educational Resources (and Learning Objects though that collection is not currently searchable externally until we have further developed Leeds Met Open search and configured that interface to differentiate between research & learning and teaching material). It will be useful, however, to also search for full text research papers that may not be available elsewhere but without an advanced search the only way to do this would be to switch off all filtering and allow the PowerLink to return everything….unless we can install two separate instances of the PowerLink in Blackboard and configure them to search different collections. This would be a quick and dirty solution and a bit clunky but, failing technical development of the PowerLink itself, might be the only option – of course, the two instances would need to be clearly named to identify the respective content they would return. We don’t even know if it’s possible yet though and my colleagues in the VLE team are looking in to it as we speak.

So not perhaps a full solution, not as sophisticated as MrCute for Moodle, for example, which, as well as more advanced search functionality also supports searching multiple repositories and depositing from the VLE back into a repository (it was supposed to include Jorum though was disabled last I heard and not sure what the status quo is with ongoing development to JorumOpen).  Limitations notwithstanding, I’ll certainly be testing with teaching staff as is, as something is better than nothing and experience has shown that I’d be ill advised to wait for the perfect solution!

If any of the Keele crowd should pass by these parts I’d be very interested to know if they have done any work refining/extending the functionality of the PowerLink or plan to do so – like us Keele are running intraLibrary 3.0 and Blackboard Vista. I’d also be keen to learn of anybody adapting MrCute for Blackboard.

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2 Responses to Testing the VLE PowerLink

  1. Nick says:

    Rereading this post I’m aware that it sounds a tad critical so just to add that the slightly frustrated tone just reflects my impatience at developing high level functionality across a range of environments and applications using different technologies that I don’t have the skills to implement myself!

    With the PowerLink, Intrallect have provided a functioning tool that does what it says on the tin and released the code under open source so that projects like ours can develop and refine it independently. Intrallect and ourselves, of course, only have a limited amount of resources to develop all the bells and whistles we would like. MrCute, for example, represents several years development from a dedicated project team with repeat funding.

  2. Nick says:

    Thanks to my colleagues in the VLE team who tell me that it is possible to add a second instance of the PowerLink; it is now visible on the development server and filtering on the research collection(s) – I’ve tested it and it seems to be working OK.

    Things to think about and/or decide:

    When do we want to put this onto the live server – remembering that this will need a stop and start so we will need a few days to warn the users.

    When it is in production do we want to hide them in all except a specific part of the Training Area to start with or just make them available straight away?

    What do we want to call each instance of the PowerLink?

    N.B. We cannot change the name once it is created, we can only change some of the basic settings such as the search criteria.

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