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

Jorum / OER case-study

The process of setting up an OER service at an institution is potentially complex, requiring a significant infrastructural and human resource both to implement and maintain hardware / software and to promote the service to institutional stakeholders. A successful service is likely to require at least 1 FTE post-holder though the full range of expertise is unlikely to reside with an individual staff-member and will involve a considerable learning curve in areas as diverse as copyright and IPR, cataloguing and metadata standards, repository/VLE/content-management and more general web-technologies.

At Leeds Metropolitan University, the OER repository has to a large extent developed alongside Jorum and represents several projects including a JISC funded repository start-up, a UKOER phase 1 project (Unicycle) and the HEA funded ACErep project. The maturing service is built on intraLibrary, a commercial learning-object repository that incurs an annual licensing fee in addition to a substantial implementation cost in year one and has required considerable customisation and associated technical work to embed it within a broader OER infrastructure. The core human resource is currently 1 FTE Repository Developer (University grade 5), 0.3 FTE Information Services Librarian and 0.5 FTE Senior web-developer (University grade 6) though staff employed on the project(s) has varied over time, including faculty based administrators during Unicycle for example.

Even though Leeds Metropolitan University has implemented its own repository, Jorum continues to be an important component of the institutional OER infrastructure and has the potential to increase the visibility of local repository content, by harvesting metadata into the national service for example. Moreover, as the institution moves towards a “consumer” model of OER use as part of the resourcing of its curriculum, staff will be increasingly directed to Jorum as a national OER repository that links together a number of institutions & resources where the aggregated material is largely from the UK HE sector, meaning there is an agreed understanding of levels of study so staff can feel confident about using the resource in their Learning & Teaching.

In terms of what the sector would lose, one of the main things is simply the focus of a national aggregation service…it has always been a frustration that OA research has never been successfully aggregated, for two main reasons, I think:

  • because they are “diluted” by metadata records for which it has not been possible to procure full-text or copyright does not permit deposit
  • insufficient (auto-harvestable) rights information

(See these posts on the UKCORR blog for more on this http://ukcorr.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/unfulfilled-promise-of-aggregating.html and http://ukcorr.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/are-your-repository-policies-worth-html.html)

UKOER and Jorum, I think, have in fact circumvented both these issues and aggregation is therefore much more effective (especially by RSS as a light weight alternative to OAI-PMH) and with the potential to do all sorts of interesting stuff with that aggregation.

Leeds Metropolitan University has also worked with Jorum and intraLibrary on the PORSCHE (Pathways to Open Resource Sharing through Convergence in Healthcare Education) project at HEA MEDEV which has explored potential ways to represent OER in multiple repositories and which has resulted in the intraLibrary software incorporating OAI-PMH harvest functionality so that the metadata from external repositories can appear as a “collection” in intraLibrary. As well as being valuable to the institutions involved, this work has benefitted the sector as a whole and demonstrates the value of a central OER repository that can serve as a focus for innovation across the sector.

An institutional tangram – musings on developing an integrated research management system

“The tangram (Chinese: 七巧板; pinyin: qī qiǎo bǎn; literally “seven boards of skill”) is a dissection puzzle consisting of seven flat shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape (given only an outline or silhouette) using all seven pieces, which may not overlap.”


Having implemented an institutional repository at Leeds Metropolitan and learning by experience some of the difficulties associated with advocacy around the use of that repository (both for OA research and OER) I have become all too aware “that repositories are ‘lonely and isolated’; still very much under-used and not sufficiently linked to other university systems”. So said JISC’s Andy McGregor at an event called “Learning How to Play Nicely: Repositories and CRIS” in May 2010 at Leeds Metropolitan (see my report for Ariadne here). This quote is still relevant, though  perhaps a little less so than when I heard it nearly 2 years ago, thanks to the ongoing work of JISC and particularly the RSP. In any case, the event was a revelation for me and I have coveted a so called Current Research Information Management systems (or CRIS for short) ever since!

And now, in Symplectic Elements, I have one…or at least the components of one (click on image for full size.)

The finished tangram? (click on image for full size)

It’s a puzzle though. A tangram if you will…one with considerably more than seven pieces:

intraLibrary, Symplectic, institutional website, University Research Office (URO), faculty research administrators, The Research Excellence Framework (REF), academic staff, web-developers, bibliographic information, research outputs, Open Educational Resources (OER)…

In fact, this may well not be all the pieces…pretty sure a few have been pushed down the back of the settee. I’ll look for them later.

Anyway, tortured metaphors aside, I have become increasingly aware that working in a large institution, in a role that encompasses technology and institutional policy (though I’m not, by any means, a policy maker…or indeed a real techie) is largely about communication and getting the right people, with the right skills, in the right place at the right time! Absorb policy and technical requirements from senior stakeholders and communicate those requirements to the proper techies – while also trying to ensure any motivating passions of one’s own don’t get lost along the way – Open Access to research and Open Education in my case.

For various reasons, individual user accounts have never been implemented for our repository and historically it has been administered centrally from the Library. In Symplectic we now have a system that is populated with central HR data; all staff will have an account they can access with their standard user name and password from where they can manage their own research profile including uploading full-text outputs directly to the repository*. In addition, administration by the University Research Office and faculty research administrators will be more easily centralised (particularly for the REF).

* In actual fact this functionality is not yet available in lieu of development work from Intrallect to capture the Atom feed from Symplectic and transform with XSLT to a suitable format for intraLibrary. I think.

One of the clever bits of functionality used to sell the software is automatic retrieval of bibliographic data from online citation databases – we are currently running against various APIs, Web of Science (lite), PubMed and arXiv – but I think this may actually be a bit of a red-herring for an institution like Leeds Metropolitan – at least until more (preferably free) data sources are available (JournalToCs API please!); early testing has shown, at best, it will only retrieve a subset of (the types of) outputs that we will need to record and it will be necessary to manually import existing records (e.g. EndNote) as well as implementing other administrative procedures at faculty level to capture information at the point of publication, especially for book-items, monographs, conference material, reports and grey literature.

More important, I think, to ensure that academic staff actually engage with the software rather than just seeing it as a tool for administrators, is to re-use the data to generate a list of research outputs – a dynamic bibliography – on a personal web-profile which has the potential to dramatically increase the visibility of research including Open Access to full-text.

Developing staff profiles of this type has been something of an obsession of mine for a while; we explored doing so from the repository (using SRU and email address as a Unique Identifier) and did develop a working prototype. Symplectic, however, integrated with central HR data and with its more sophisticated API, should make it much easier, at least from a technical perspective, and we are currently liaising with the central web-team to develop something similar to this example from Keele University – http://www.keele.ac.uk/chemistry/staff/mormerod/ (like us, Keele run Symplectic alongside intraLibrary.)

N.B. From the Symplectic interface, a user is able to “favourite” a research record and a flag comes out in the xml from the API which I understand is used on this page to display “Selected Publications”. DOI is also available from the API to link to the published version and if a user uploads full-text to the repository from Symplectic, this link is also in the xml – the first two records on this page include links to the full-text in Keele’s intraLibrary repository.

Our own Library web-dev Mike Taylor has been looking at the Symplectic API in detail and has put together a couple of prototype pages on a development server and after a meeting this week with a representative of the central web-team I’m reasonably confident we can move forward with this work fairly quickly…though there’s still a bit of a chicken & egg situation in populating the Symplectic database to then be re-surfaced via the API in this way.

There is also the question of whether we might alter our repository policy to become full-text only; one limitation of repositories across UK HE from an original conception (in the arXiv mould) of holding, disseminating and preserving full-text research outputs, is that they have in effect become “diluted” by metadata records for which it has not (yet) been possible to procure full-text or copyright does not permit deposit and “hybrid” repositories like ours, of full-text and metadata typically contain more metadata records than full-text (see figures from the RSP survey here). As I have argued on the UKCoRR blog, I think is makes sense to separate a bibliographic database (in Symplectic) from full-text only in a repository.

N.B. As Symplectic does not have the same search functionality as the repository, this approach has the potential disadvantage that it makes it more difficult to search across the entire corpus of research records (though one potential solution may be along the lines of that implemented by City Research Online which, in my view is rapidly becoming an exemplar of a research management system (Symplectic) + full-text repository (EPrints). Another good example is  St Andrews (PURE + DSpace) who presented a case study at “Learning How to Play Nicely: Repositories and CRIS” (video here.)

And what of OER? Along with our EasyDeposit SWORD interface, using OER to resource the refocus the undergraduate curriculum and the soon to be released intraLibrary 3.5 that will enable us to harvest OER from other repositories…for now I think they may be the bits down the back of the settee…

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)


Motivated by this post on the OpenSpires blog from @patlockley I’ve been experimenting with WordPress with a view, ultimately, to providing a one-stop OER environment for my institution. Pat has written a plug-in that allows the WordPress admin to specify search terms to create (a) dynamic collection(s) from Xpert, Merlot and OER Commons via their APIs (also searches Wikipedia, Wikibooks and Wikiversity for Openly licensed materials, openly licensed blogs on politics and Mendeley for journals as well as political podcasts from OpenSpires.) For examples of the plug-in in action see http://politicsinspires.org/oer/political-theory/

The plug-in isn’t yet publicly available – I’m hoping that I can have a go fairly soon *waves at Pat*…I’m no WordPress developer and am just finding my way round a test install of the platform, experimenting by pulling in different feeds from various sources (our own repository, Jorum, HumBox) using a plug-in called FeedWordPress – http://feedwordpress.radgeek.com/. It’s dead easy to syndicate one (or multiple) feeds to a designated posts page but what I can’t figure out is how I might push different feeds to different pages so I could, say, have one page that auto-publishes from the Leeds Met repository, one from Jorum, one from Humbox etc.

Below: Syndicated posts from Jorum (HE – Architecture, Building and Planning) to a “Jorum” page…but how can I push separate HumBox and Leeds Met feeds to the respective pages?