Digital Infrastructure to Support Open Content for Education
Background to this blog post
The OER Rapid Innovation Call for Proposals was announced in November 2011. It is open to HEFCE-funded institutions to bid.
I am very aware that the issues in scope for this Call are broader then the UK. It includes a snapshot of the digital infrastructure space at November 2011, it builds on the understanding and experiences of projects within the UKOER Programme and beyond, and is particularly informed by the expertise at JISC CETIS . It therefore seems useful to make the snapshot available as a blog post so that it is more accessible to people working in open content for education around the world.
The following is taken from Paragraphs 25-75 of the Call, but with added headings to enable easier reading online. Please read the full Call for further understanding of what the requirements are for projects.
The Global Picture
The OLnet initiative has recently identified Key Challenges for the OER Movement. These challenges include:
- How can we improve access to OER?
- What are the issues surrounding Copyright and Licensing and how can they be overcome?
- What technologies and infrastructure are needed/in place to help the OER movement?
It is these global challenges that underpin this Call for projects to enhance the digital infrastructure to support open content.
The Story so Far
Through the JISC Digital Infrastructure Team, JISC supports the creation and use of a layer of scholarly resources for education and research across the network. This includes the development of infrastructure, technology, practice and policy to support processes from creation and access to re-use of resources. Major activities include sharing and storing content, providing access to content (via licences and technologies), developing solutions for curation and delivering data and content resources via data centres and distributed solutions.
Through the OER Technology Support Project, the OER IPR Project, the evaluation and synthesis, and the experiences of funded projects, and aided particularly by JISC CETIS’s technology synthesis work, JISC is developing a clearer understanding of the role of technologies and infrastructure in supporting open practice and open content.
In particular JISC has funded a number of elements that support the sharing of learning materials including Jorum, the Repositories Infokit, previous rapid innovation funding for the Xpert search, the SWORD protocol, the CaPRet project and an OER Programme-funded prototype showcase of UKOER content that is currently under development.
Opportunities and Challenges
There are some key areas that JISC has identified where developments under this call are encouraged. What follows is a description of some of the opportunities and challenges that have been identified in this space. However this list is not exhaustive and bidders are welcome to submit proposals that address different areas if they fulfil the main aims of the call.
Open licensing is key to open content, and fertile ground for developing digital infrastructure. Tools built around Creative Commons licences may provide a useful backbone, so the Open Attribute tool and projects using those conventions, such as OERGlue and CaPRet are useful in that they provide benefits to users (easy attribution) rewarded by benefits to content providers (analytics). Tools such as Xpert Attribution Tool help the flow of rights. Implementation of Open Attribute into tools and services, and a set of services around embedded licenses are potential areas that proposals could tackle.
Improved resource description, both machine-readable and human-readable are important to enable content to be effectively found, shared and selected. CETIS have provided a summary of the key initiatives to track, namely Learning Resources Metadata Initiative which is a profile of the schema.org initiative for improving html markup. HTML5 may offer promise in this area. Including provenance and licensing information in the sharing of resources is important to digital literacies as well as meeting the requirements of attribution such as in the Creative Commons BY clause.
Aggregation and discovery is another area of interest for open content (see OER aggregation blog post). The OER Thematic Collections projects have explored a range of approaches. The Content Clustering and Sustaining Resources publication provides a good description of the approaches in this area generally. The Shuttleworth-funded OER Roadmap Project proposes an ecosystem of repositories and services, characterised by the use of APIs and shared protocols such as JISC-funded SWORD. The Discovery Initiative promotes an open metadata ecology to enable better use and aggregation of content. The Learning Registry approach explores the use of activity data to enhance the metadata and discovery of resources and the OER Programme is funding a UK experimental node. Solutions might be developed that build on these initiatives, specifically to enhance the digital infrastructure for open content in education.
Many sites hosting collections of educational materials keep logs of the search terms used by visitors to the site when searching for resources. There might be solutions that could be developed to aid the understanding of search activity. For example, a project could deliver a tool that facilitates the analysis of search logs to classify the search terms used with reference to the characteristics of a resource that may be described in the metadata. Such information should assist a collection manager in building their collection (e.g. by showing what resources were in demand) and in describing their resources in such a way that helps users find them. The analysis tool should be shown to work with search logs from a number of and should produce reports in a format that are readily understood, for example a breakdown of how many searches were for “subjects” and which were the most popular subjects searched for. A a degree of manual classification will be required, but if the system is capable of learning how to handle certain terms and that this learning would be shared between users: a user should not have to tell the system that “Biology” is a subject once they or any other user has done so. Further information on the sort of data that is available and what it might mean is outlined in CETIS’s blog post on Metadata Requirements from the Analysis of Search Logs. Solutions should be developed as open source software then made free to use or install without restriction, with full documentation. The tool proposed above is one way that we could improve the understanding of search, other suggested solutions are welcome.
Effective Search Engine Optimisation is key to open educational resources providing benefits of discoverability, reach reputation and marketing. Guidance on “improving your online presence” needs applying to the wide range of platforms and content types used for OER, as described in JISC CETIS’ UKOER technical synthesis. Projects have explored SEO in several ways, for example, the SCOOTER project has produced guidance on its chosen approach to search engine optimisation and the MMTV project experimented with Google AdWords to improve SEO. The variations in format types and platforms mean that it is exposed to web search in a variety of ways. A particular key issue is how “repositories” compare to “web 2.0 services” in terms of search engine optimisation. To answer that, we may need to go beyond theory into running a structured experiment. For example, a technical investigation/tool for the SEO of commons platforms and formats for OER would be very useful. This project would be a repeatable approach, using technical tools to run the SEO work and capture and present the findings in a useful way. The outputs of such an investigation would include the methodology, a findings report to JISC, and an accessible set of outputs aimed at OER projects. Other solutions to improving SEO for open content would also be very welcome.
Understanding use has been a major theme of the OER Programme Phase Two. The Value of Reuse report and the Literature Review of Learners Use of Open Educational Resources captured what is known about use of open educational resources. The Learning Registry is relevant here. The Listening for Impact study analysed the feedback and usage of some open content collections. Further useful resources are available from the Activity Data Programme. Analytics may be an important way to provide evidence of the benefits of open educational resources, so enhancing content and platforms to enable enhanced usage tracking, exploiting APIs of third party systems, exploring ways of capturing and visualising use, and providing dashboards to manage analytics data may be very useful.
Online profiles are becoming a part of academic identity and open content provides a significant opportunity for academics to enhance their profile, alongside managing and reflecting on their professional work. To this point many efforts at creating academic profiles building on institutional information and open content have focused exclusively on profiles of publications and the provision of open access to scholarly communications. However, other forms of open content can play a significant role in academic identity and professional development. A key opportunity is therefore linking a broader range of open content to academic profiles.This might involve fully/semi-automated integration of publication/release/record of multiple types of open content into academic staff profiles. This is not about creating new platforms but of using feeds and APIs to enhance existing systems that handle continuing professional development / CVs / ePortfolios etc. Examples of this sort of functionality can be found in Humbox’s profile on contributing authors which also allows users to embed that author’s content list elsewhere, and Rice Connexions offers author profiles. Services such Slideshare and Youtube host user-generated content are well used as platforms for open content.Proposals could demonstrate fully/semi-automated approaches that can flexible draw on multiple distributed sources of open access articles, OER, blog posts and so on. Proposals to address this opportunity are very welcome.
One mechanism that connects people to content is social recommendation. This includes favouriting, liking, bookmarking, reviewing, and social curation tools such as Scoopit, paper.li, zite, storify, pearltrees and so on. Often this involves browser-based tools such as bookmarklets making it very easy for people to capture, share and store useful resources. There are two OER-specific bookmarking tools available that handle the licensing characteristics of open content: FavOERites developed at Newcastle University (as a UKOER funded project) and the OER Commons tool both of which have APIs and have open sourced their code. The implementation and enhancement of these tools to handle open content may be a useful area for projects to explore. For example, projects might develop solutions for making content “share-friendly” to these tools, how the tools can use automatically generated metadata about licences, the user and their context, and how shared tags and vocabularies might enable more effective sharing for educational purposes.
The growth in e-books and e-readers, both open and proprietary, is of interest to education. Books are a familiar format to use in teaching, but also digital technologies affording new ways of creating, sharing and using books. For example, the College Open Textbooks initiative states that “We have found that open textbooks should be:
- easy to use, get and pass around
- editable so instructors can customize content
- cross-platform compatible
- and accessible so they work with adaptive technology”
In the UK, JISC Collections have been running the ebooks observatory and examining business models for etextbooks. Developments from the research world are emerging around Enhanced Publications which combine research text, date and rich media. There is a recently announced pressbooks platform. International initiatives such as the The Saylor Open Textbook Challenge the WA State open course library etextbook initiative and have raised the profile of open textbooks. JISC CETIS have described the use case for open e-textbooks. There is guidance on ebooks available from JISC digital media, and JISC has funded the #jiscpub R&D projects. Several campus-based publishing projects have piloted reusable approaches, including Epicure, CampusROAR, Larkin Press and another useful example to look at is “living books about life”.
Phases 1 and 2 of OER programme made use of a wide range of platforms, blogs, wikis, repositories and often made modifications to the software to fully support OER use cases. It is likely to mean improving ingest and expose mechanisms, handling licence information, addressing syndicated feeds, APIs, widgets and apps. An example of platform enhancement would be the work Oxford University and others have done with WordPress or the CUNY Academic Commons in a Box work. Proposals are welcome to enhance platforms for open content. Bidders may wish to create enhancements to existing release, aggregation and remix platforms to improve the transfer of open content for educational purposes. Projects may wish to combine existing tools to provide enhanced functionality. The outcomes of these projects should be a richer exchange of metadata between publishing platforms, aggregators and other services used in the sharing of openly licensed content.
The opportunities and challenges above are only indicative and not exhaustive.
Please read the full Call for further understanding of what the requirements are for projects.
Bidders are welcome to use the oer-discuss mailing list to refine ideas and identify potential collaborators. JISC will not provide a matchmaking service, but commercial and overseas experts are welcome to use the mailing list to express an interest in collaborating.
I hope you find this useful. Comments very welcome.
JISC Programme Manager: digital infrastructure for learning and teaching materials
Enhancing platforms for open content: the project cited is from City University New York not State University New York (now corrected, thanks to Matthew Gold, CUNY for spotting the error)