Joint MDR and EC SIG meeting, 29 June

The MDR and EC SIGs held a joint meeting on 29 June at the University of Strathclyde. The focus of the meeting was on innovative ways of creating, storing, sharing and using content.

As this was a joint meeting the presenters were a mix of people and projects working a the more formal ‘coal face’ repository end of things and those working more with staff and students in creating content using more informal technologies.

The day got off to a great start with David Davies (IVIMEDS, University of Warwick) who gave us an overview of the way he is starting to mash up content from various sources (including their formal repository) to create new and dynamic resources for students. A process which he described as being potentially both transformative and disruptive – for everyone involved. David gave a really practical insight into the way he has been combining RSS feeds with yahoo pipes to create resources which are directly embedded into the institutions’ learning environment. Using this type of technology staff area able to share content in mulitple ways with students, without the student having to access the learning object repository. David also strongly advocated the use of offline aggregators, describing these as personal repositories. As well as using RSS feeds from their repository and various relevant journals, Warwick are increasingly creating and using podcasts. David described how a podcast is basically and RSS feed with binary enclosures which means that they can do much more than just contain audio. At Warwick they are creating podcasts which include flash animations. So in this way they are again providing another way for students to access content.

Of course the system David was describing is quite mature, has stable workflow processes with agreed metadata. However it did show the great potential for ‘remixing’ content within an academic environment and how more informal interfaces can interact with formal repositories to create dynamic, personalised content. A real inspiration if like me you’ve been meaning to do something with pipes but just haven’t quite got round to it yet 🙂

Charles Duncan (Intrallect Ltd) then presented the SRU (Search and Retrive via a URL) tool they have developed as part of the CD-LOR project. SRU allows a way to embedded a simple query directly into a web-page. The tool was developed to meet a use case from CD-LOR which would allow someone (staff or student) to search a repository without actually having to ‘join’ it ( or become a member of that community) – a sort of try before you buy. Charles give an overview of the history of the development of SRU (and SRW) and then a demonstration of creating queries with the tool and then searching a number of respositories. The tool retrives XML metadata recordings which then can be transformed (using XSL generally) and then using style sheets the results are made ‘viewable’ on a webpage. Limitations of the tool include the fact that it is limited to a single repository search and there are a number of security issues surrounding XSL transforms from repositories. However using this approach does provide another way to access content (or at least the metadata about content) stored in repositories. As this was developed as part of a JISC project, the tool open source and is available on sourceforge.

Before lunch we had a short demonstration from Sue Manuel (University of Loughborough) of the PEDESTAL project. Part of current JISC Digital Repositories programme, the Platform for Exchange of Documents and Expertise Showcasing Teaching project created a service to provide new opportunities for the sharing of materials and discussion related to teaching and to provide new opportunities for showcasing teaching and research interests. Sue gave us a demo of the system, illustrating how it related content and people. It is now staring to be used by staff at Loughborough, unfortunately the future of the system is somewhat in doubt due to the implementation of a new VLE system throughout the institution.

After lunch we moved to more issues surrounding student generated content with Caroline Breslin and Andrew Wodehouse from the DIDET project. Part of the JISC/NSL funded digitial libraries in the classroom programme, DIDET is a collaborative project between the University of Strathclyde, Stanford University and Olin College. Based in a design engineering course DIDET actively encourages (global) online collaboration using online tools to create, store, share and assess coursework. Caroline and Andrew gave an overview of the project, the tools they had created (including an online collaborative learning environment and a digital library). They then outlined some of the challenges they’ve had to face particularly when putting resources into the formal repository and also how to capture some of the more tacit learning process that are taking place in this type of learning situation.

Students are increasingly using sites like youtube, flickr, etc when they are working – and this is actively encourged by staff. However a continuing challenge for staff and students alike is the issue of creativity versus legality. In a design course when students are expected to research existing products, and with the international dimension to this project, there is the added problem of differences between copyright laws in the UK and the US. As librarians as involved in course design and teaching information literacy is an underlying theme of the curriculum. There are QA procedures in place for any content that is going to be archived and made available in the formal repository. The project has a team of staff including lectures, learning technologists and librarians however they are still grabbing with workflow issues when it comes to adding content to the formal repository – mainly due to lack of time. However on the plus side the overall approach has been sucessful and gets positive feedback from students, staff and employers. The project also shows how newer collaborative content creation and sharing technologies can be integrated with more institutional based ones to allow students to use the technologies that suit their needs.

We then moved to the Resource Browser project, presented by Michael Gardner (University of Essex). Part the JISC eLearning programme’s current toolkits and demonstrators projects, Resource Browser is a tool which aims to help improve searching by linking resources with information about the people who created them and vice versa. Building on the work of a their previous Delta project (which was aiming to help practitioners find and share resources) Resource Browser combines a web service tool for storing FOAF (friend of a friend) profiles with exsiting functionality of Delta. Michael then gave a demo of the sytem. If you are familiar with topic maps it looks like quite a similar interface but uses a technology called touchgraph for viewing. By clicking on a person an extended view of that persons profile, the resources they have created and the people they are linked with is viewable. As this is only a six month project it is very much at a prototype stage but it does look like it could have potential. With the use of educational ontologies created in Delta it could be very useful for sharing learning designs as peer recommendation seems to be very important when searching for learning designs. Michael also outlined some ideas they have for automatic metadata creation where an application scans the documents on a users pc then creates a concept map which can be uploaded to the Delta system . . .I have to say the thought of what useful metadata might come back from such a scan on my documents does seem a little scary 🙂

The final presentation of the day came from Julie Allinson (UKOLN, University of Bath) who presented the SWORD (simple webservice offering respository deposit). As Julie pointed out her presentation nicely ended the day as it dealt with putting ‘stuff’ into a repository and not just getting it out. The project is looking to improve ways to populate repositories through a standards based approach and they are looking at ATOM in particular. Perhaps the best summary of this talk comes from David Davies blog – where he describes how the project has restored his faith in educational technology – can’t get better than that really.

Overall a great day with lots of interesting presentations and hopefully some useful linking of people and projects – in fact a bit of f2f mash up of ideas! Presentations and audio recordings are available from the JISC CETIS wiki.

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