Mobile discovery: don’t retro-fit; invent!

The following is a version of an article that was printed in the March edition of Cilip Update.
 
When confronted with new technologies we often fail, early in their existence, to exploit the opportunities offered by the new medium. We retro-fit existing solutions rather than inventing new experiences.

The Canadian philosopher of communication and media, Marshall McLuhan, famously argued:

We see the world through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future

In the early days of the web it was common for retailers to replicate paper brochures online, so called ‘brochureware’, missing the interactivity and format opportunities the web provides (and losing customers in the process too!). We continue to transpose our experiences of physical paper and books online, with little or no adaptation to the opportunities for interaction and multi-media.

While mobile technology has been available for decades, its current ubiquity and power (both socially and technologically) mean we find ourselves at the edge of a technological shift. As we move from a desk top to a mobile lifestyle we must be careful not to succumb to the rear-view mirror effect and replicate the desk top experience in the services and systems we design for the mobile user.

We find ourselves inhabiting a very different environment to a few years ago. Where once our computing power was located in one place, it now travels with us, capturing and distracting us no matter where we find ourselves. It connects us to people, places and things in ways not previously possible.

With this mobile lifestyle in mind I want to explore 4 challenges that mobile technologies present to libraries. In articulating these challenges I hope it will become increasingly clear what strategies and opportunities there are for libraries, and their services, systems and collections.

Simplicity

When you take a look at some of the best mobile experiences, whether apps or websites they usually have one thing in common: They do one thing extremely well. Everything extraneous is stripped away to leave only the most essential and relevant information.

Exemplars include Rise, an alarm clock app that incorporates visually simple interfaces, combined with gesture recognition and your music playlists. Or Clear, a ‘to do’ app, with intuitive gesture controls and the use of colour to denote urgency – nothing else.

Amazon’s stripped down app is a good example of a website that has adapted its presence to a mobile experience: Only the relevant information is included and all the complexity is hidden away from sight (although you can dig deeper if you wish).

The Amazon example is an interesting one. It invites comparisons with the library catalogue, and it certainly provides an effective template for mobile discovery. However, libraries have a physical infrastructure, processes and technologies that mean refining the mobile experience to a single thing can be hard. When we use a phrase like ‘discovery’ in a library or information-seeking context we often mean a set of interrelated actions, such as: search, select, find and use. Is it possible to break these down into their component parts and still deliver a positive experience for the user, both in terms of the mobile experience and of using the library?

The challenge the mobile devices present to libraries in this context is one of needs over solutions. The challenge is to think beyond the solutions already in place (the catalogue, discovery layer), to articulating the actual need. In the case of discovery maybe, ‘I need to answer a question’, or; ‘I need to find something’. Formulated in this way it is clear that a solution may be very different to the ones already available.

It forces us to consider the context we’re operating in; it invites us to invent, not retro-fit!

People and Place

Increasingly, the mobile device is a bridge between our online social connectivity and our localised real-world interactions. If you explore a map on your phone you don’t have to tell it where you are, the internal GPS has already told it. Similarly, it can tell you when a friend is near-by through apps like Facebook, FourSquare and so on.

There are a number of interesting examples where libraries and others have exploited these inherent benefits of mobile devices. Mendeley, the reference manager, is a good example of a service that is explicitly looking to build a social layer on top of the bibliographic data they have crowdsourced from the academic community in the form of bibliographies. You can follow academics with similar research interests, build groups and curate and build your own, personalised discovery network.
Increasingly, the discovery experience unfolds and is led by the content itself. What used to be the destination, the content or resource, is now the beginning of the journey.

For example, projects like Bomb Site, from the National Archives, have taken bomb site map data and made it available as a responsive website so that academics, researchers and members of the public can explore where bombs fell. This data is augmented over a map and includes images, descriptions and people’s memories.

Bomb Sight App

Similarly, the PhoneBooth project from the London School of Economics mobilised the Charles Booth poverty maps of London so that students and researchers could use and annotate the maps in context, i.e., on the streets of London as part of their learning experience.

PhoneBooth app

Increasingly the discovery process will find itself facilitating peer-to-peer and social recommendation experiences.

The traditional catalogue will itself begin to disappear from these interactions. Instead, the discovery experience will have an intimacy and personalisation associated with it that mirrors the intimately personal experience of the mobile device itself.

Personal

The web provides unparalleled opportunities for scale. The local bric-a-brac shop becomes eBay, the bookshop Amazon, the University becomes the massively open online course (MOOC) such as Cousera. Similarly the library begins to operate at ‘web-scale’ with its systems and services.

Yet, the mobile experience is an intimately personal one. It challenges libraries and information providers to find a balance between these two types of scale: the singular (the personal) and the ‘web-scale’. It is not enough simply to adopt web-scale systems and services: mobile challenges us to think about how that web-based interaction is transformed into real-world action.

One opportunity for libraries is in the data that circulates through their systems, both the management data and the user-generated interaction data. There are an increasing number of services and projects looking at exploiting this data for the personalisation of the user experience. These include commercial offerings, of which the best known is bX from Ex Libris.

There are also a number of academic libraries exploring the use of this data, including: SALT (surfacing the academic long tail) and RISE (Recommendations improve the search experience) which are exploring how different sets of data can be used to enhance and personalise the library experience.

The ability of libraries to exploit this data will grow increasingly important. The data provides a way for libraries to continue delivering services to hundreds and thousands of users, while providing a personalised experience that users expect from web-based services.

New models

If the mobile shift challenges libraries to invent new experiences, it also invites us to rethink how we develop and implement these.

As information becomes abundant and digital, the models for how libraries develop and implement new services and systems will radically change too. Libraries are no longer comparing themselves and their services to other libraries; instead they are being compared to the web, and the types of services and resources users can access there. Increasingly libraries will find themselves needing to adopt approaches that would normally be more associated with web start-ups.

This implies a greater focus on ideas (ideas from everywhere: librarians, users et al), rapid iteration and testing, and implementation of the idea (or quick relegation of ideas). This more entrepreneurial approach recognises that there is no simple crossing between how things are now and the future. There is not a simple roadmap from the complexities of the information environment as they are now, to some stable future; disruption is a feature, not a bug of the system.

While the change in a libraries approach to the user and the work it undertakes is significant, and not easy, there are some straightforward starting points. There are already great examples and case studies of mobile innovation in libraries. The M-Libraries community support blog, for example, includes a large amount of information, including case-studies, best practice guides and inspiration from other organisations on how they have transformed services with mobile technology.

Indeed, as many of the examples on the M-Libraries blog demonstrate, the financial overhead for this type of change should be low. Rethinking your approach to design of mobile services shouldn’t include significant barriers, either financial or technical. A good place to start is by borrowing ideas from other domains, like software development and design. The example of paper-prototyping, used in a recent mobile development workshop, provides a good place to start.

What many of these examples share is a renewed focus on the user. It moves us away from a focus on internal systems and processes, toward the behaviours and requirements of the user. The centre of gravity moves away from the technology and toward the user; the mobile-turn is one where the technology is overshadowed by the needs of the user.

The challenges mobile technologies present to libraries are ones drenched in paradox. The hardware (the phone, tablet, ereader) gradually fades from view, and it is the user, with their intricate behaviours and requirements that remain the focus of our attention.

Unlike so many other technologies, mobile enables the library to rethink its services, systems and processes to ensure that it is the user that remains at their heart. This does not mean business as usual, however. But it does mean that by understanding these challenges and their implications, libraries are in a position to design and deliver mobile experiences that users will want to engage with.

Digital Library User Experience – A video from the future!

I was asked to present a short ‘provocation’ on the topic of the Digital User Experience for the SCONUL winter conference 2012, and the impact this will have on the future of library skills.

The strangest thing happened on the way to the conference…

A stranger appeared as if from nowhere and presented me with a usb stick. He told me I had to play the video contained on the stick at the conference instead of the slides I had prepared.

He said it was of the utmost importance.

So, here is the video I played:

As I am sure you can imagine, I was very surprised! But, despite the surprise I was able to jot down a few notes on what I thought were the implications for the future of library skills.


Librarians need to learn how to code?

A number of interesting themes emerged during the conference. One of the most interesting discussions actually moved from the conference hall onto Twitter, and centered on whether or not librarians would need technical (i.e., programming/developer) type skill sets in the future.

This is an interesting thought – and one that reflects my personal opinion that many of the skills we’ll associate with librarians in the not too distant future (say 2020), will be very different from the ones we currently associate with the profession. While ‘soft’ skills, like communication etc, are essential, they do not differentiate the profession from any other.

What are the skills that really define the profession and its future? 

I plan to blog about these ideas and some of the other themes that emerged during the conference in another post – there are far too may nuances for me to do them justice quickly here. But I suspect that the profession will become increasingly associated with aspects of technical development that we currently see as still separate from librarianship.

These differences will begin to break down, and the technical development and librarianship roles will converge to such an extent that there will be no meaningful distinction. 

However, if you want some reading for over the break there’s a great post by the LMS Change project on New Skills for a New Era which does a good job of summing up the conference and some of the themes and discussions that took place.

 Imitation is the greatest form of flattery: So thanks to my colleague Andy McGregor who graciously allowed me to steal his idea!

Mobile technology and the future of Higher Education: 5 Predictions

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. Niels Bohr

Recently I have been thinking a bit about ‘mobile’ within an academic context. The M-Libraries projects are coming to an end, and we’re currently working on a report exploring the future impact of mobile and ubiquitous technologies on the HE sector called Mobile Futures.

Mobile technologies are a bridge between our online social connections, the hallmark of recent web innovations such as Facebook, twitter etc, and our physical, real-world social interactions. Institutions increasingly recognise mobile as an extension of the journey from online social connectivity to real-world reciprocity. This transformation provides opportunities for institutions to engage with their students in significant new ways, and to exploit mobile technologies to enhance this engagement and experience.

So, with these thoughts in mind I thought I would have some fun and think about 5 ‘trends’ around the future of mobile in academia and education. These thoughts are very much rough-drafts, and shipped far too early!

Mobile as a Platform

For institutions mobile ‘products’ are often the focus of attention – the campus app or the mobile website. Yet, these discrete developments feel increasingly like a means to something greater – stepping stones – rather than as ends in themselves.

Can mobile (services, and the development of those services) itself be a platform for other institutional and student/researcher benefits? Are our future mobile interactions a platform for a new form of engagement with students and researchers?

This is a question that is emerging from current work exploring the future impact of mobile on the academic sector. Here platform embodies something much closer to the ‘platforms’ represented by Facebook or other social network platforms.

The potential of this new ‘platform’ seems to run over our current conceptions, to something decentralised, data-centric, open, social, intuitive… In many ways the technology begins to drop out of our considerations of the future, and its the mobility of the student or researcher that becomes the critical factor.

It is the mobility of the individual that also highlights the fragmentation of the mobile device, into one much more intimately connected to our-selves.

Mobile Realities

The mobile devices that we have upon us will, increasingly, also be the filters through which we view reality. Augmented Reality (AR) will be the next transformative technology to change the way in which we interact with the world, and our institutions.

Using visual cues in the environment, AR uses mobile devices to overlay a digital world on top of the real world. Projects like HealthCARe at City university enable students to gain contextual information on health care issues simply by pointing their phone at an object or space.
SCARLET, a project from Mimas, at the University of Manchester, uses augmented reality as a way to connect students to extremely rare books as well as all the relevant contextual information for that resource to radically enhanced the student learning experience.

AR will play an increasing role in teaching and learning, as well as in the way institutions provide support services and information to students and staff. The interactions between the physical and virtual environments of the student will become increasingly blurred, as will the boundaries between the body and the device.

Mobile Forms

The history of our recent technologies is one of carefully repackaging the artifacts of our lives in smaller and smaller boxes. The zenith of this miniaturisation is mobile computing. Increasingly, however, these boxes are being unpacked, and the technologies of mobile computing are being reconfigured in new forms.

The emergence of Augmented Reality as a serious mobile trend for education also marks the growing intimacy between the device and our bodies. The augmentation of realities will be mirrored with a augmentation between the device and the body. Increasingly the ‘form-factors’ we are used to (the mobile phone, tablet) will gradually be superseded by new forms: earpieces, glasses and sensors.

This evolution of form could have some interesting implications for institutions. If BYOD (bring your own device) creates issues for institutions supporting user-owned technologies, then a fragmented, decentralised mobile form could increase those problems of support exponentially.

Devices will become hyper-personalised, and this will impact on the experience students will expect from the institutions that deliver their education.

Mobile Scales

There are huge opportunities for scale when it comes to educational technologies and mobile learning initiatives: the worldwide demand for education is growing exponentially. Yet, mobile offers an intriguing opportunity for institutions to scale downwards; effectively scaling down to the singular – to the individual level of experience.

Imagine an institutional information service that is scaled to you – not the institution. Echoing Paul Walk’s futuristic vision of library services this might place the mobile device in the role of ‘educational concierge’, delivering relevant information and resources, wherever and whenever. Indeed, it is a small leap of the imagination for this ‘library service’ to deliver information before you know you need it: precognitive services!

This notion of scale rolls over into areas such as course work and accreditation: micro-tasks combined with micro-accreditation. A couple of small tasks to do on the bus into campus, accruing towards your final exam. With the rise of MOOCs and online learning, this future is fast becoming a reality!

Mobile Disconnections

Mobile technologies, given their ubiquity, encourage a focus on the opportunities for constant connectivity that they offer. An academic world always on. However, it is clear that there will be an increasing need for spaces, places and strategies that enable students and staff to go ‘dark’. As institutions attend to enabling wifi everywhere, there may be an increasing requirement for wifi ‘coldspots’.

Some of the research that is emerging from the Visitors and Residents project highlights the awareness of students to the addictive and distracting nature of online social media and may increasingly require wifi free areas. Indeed, it may be that around periods of intense ‘visitor’ type activity, for example, examinations, paper deadlines, that institutions provide entirely ‘blacked out’ environments.

Institutions will need to build this ‘graceful disconnection’ capacity into their systems and services to enable students and researchers to step away from the ‘internet of things’ while they study.

Your Futures…

This is my attempt to have some fun with the implications of mobile computing and technologies on education and academic institutions. It’s personal, HE-centric and hopelessly optimistic (I don’t touch on issues of your ‘data shadow’, issues of privacy or protection etc).

So… What would you articulate as the important trends in mobile for education? What are your #mobilefutures?

Preparing for Mobile: Supporting institutions in a mobile world.

I recently facilitated a workshop at the Institutional Web Managers Workshop (#IWMW12) entitled: Preparing for Mobile. This is a slightly delayed (by holiday) write up of the event and some of the things I took away from the session.

The aims of the session were:

  1. to share some of the resources JISC (and others) have developed for institutions attempting to understand, and adapt to ubiquitous mobile devices;
  2. give delegates an opportunity to share their current practice, experiences and tips, and finally;
  3. provide JISC with a perspective on how mobile is being addressed in institutions and its impact.

I began the session with a presentation of some of the resources and work JISC has done on mobile within a teaching, learning and research context.


Delegates were then invited to discuss the issues and experiences they have had in groups. The groups were arranged around four themes: content (this was a self-forming group by the delegates themselves); strategy; design and delivery; tools and techniques.

After a period of discussion, each group was asked to present back for 3 minutes on their discussions to the whole group, outline their top 3 tips for their area and their top disruptor for HE in terms of ‘mobile’.

Content (is King)

Content remains the bedrock of what web managers do in terms of their day-to-day job: The technologies and strategies may change, but delivering the content does not.

Content tips:

Content disruptor

The seduction of delivery distracts us from the content. Content is King.

Strategy

It was generally agreed that any strategy development should look beyond just mobile to a broader e-strategy or similar. But there is an urgency in institutions getting this right – access via mobile devices is growing exponentially.

The strategy group were also very clear about the need to engage and understand users. It was clear any strategy needs to begin with an understanding of the user and work from there.

Strategy tips

Strategy disruptor(s)

Unhappy being restricted to just one, the group came up with three!

  1. HTML CSS future web techs will remove need for most native apps.
  2. Network speeds, cost will change things
  3. Apples standards become the de facto standards; watch it carefully

Design and Delivery

It was clear that for most of the delegates mobile was something they were ‘dipping their toes into’. This meant that few had useful strategies for adapting to the growing importance of mobile access and most mobile delivery was being done on an ad hoc basis.

Design and Delivery tips

Design and delivery disruptor

Devices beyond mobile (the new desktop?): Impact of users accessing institutional content via plasma screens, Google tv (already get Xbox, PS3). What’s a TV anyway….?

Tools and Techniques

Much of the decisions being made on tools for delivering content are based upon the CMS that’s currently employed by the institutions.

The group also made it clear that as a sector we borrow from each other a lot (and there is always the need for those outliers and cutting-edgers). So it’s important to look out beyond the institution for support and advice, especially via blogs.

Tools and techniques tips

Tools and techniques disruptor

There will be something cross-platform that will disrupt all our current tools – something finally to end the debates and disagreements about formats etc.

  Many thanks to my colleague Amber for helping facilitate the session and taking wonderful notes and photos!

The JISC ebooks universe

My colleague Ben Showers has recently been looking across the work taking place around digital books in all their forms: open textbooks, digital monographs, epub, web-based books. For educational institutions the need to keep up with the content needs of learners and researchers is paramount but so much is happening at the moment, with hardware, content formats, the emergence of new authoring tools and rising user expectations, so where do you start?

We have pulled together some key information for decision-makers, with a distinct JISC flavour. Particular thanks to Caren Milloy from JISC Collections and Zak Mensah from JISC Digital Media for their help.

 

Legal (Licensing, IPR, DRM)

Business Models

 

Technology and Standards

 

User behaviour/Requirements

What have we missed?

Please let us know what resources you find most useful, from JISC and elsewhere, in meeting the challenge of ebooks in your institution.

 

Ben Showers and Amber Thomas, JISC Digital Infrastructure Team

May 2012

(last updated 28th May 2012)

Digital Infrastructure for Learning Content Update: February 2012

So much has been happening since my last update in November 2011, I thought it would be useful to round up the news around JISC work on digital infrastructure relating to learning content.

OER

The Call for OER Rapid Innovation Projects closed on Friday 27th January and I’m pleased to say we received 34 bids. Thank you all for your hard work! The bids are out for evaluation now, and in parallel we are looking at how to best present the collection of Use Cases. Bidders should hear back by early March. Note there is likely to be a big UKOER Programme Meeting on 26th March, venue tbc. So if you’ve bid to run an OER RI project, please pencil it in your diary. You should know a few weeks beforehand if you’re successful, so there will be time to make travel arrangements then.

Other news on the UK Open Educational Resources (UKOER) Programme:

OER beyond the UK OER Programme

Our sister strand in the eContent programme, OER digitisation is now underway, and the OER WW1 project will shortly be announced.

Open is a major theme for JISC in 2012. I blogged my individual take on openness in My Story of O(pen) but watch out for future JISC activities in Open, building on the Open Access section and case studies but taking it broader and deeper and drawing on the richness of JISC-supported work. This includes a study I’ll be managing on the Open Landscape (see below). I hope you saw the pieces in the current JISC Inform on  Joi Ito: education is at the core of creative commons and the Round up of what’s happening in open access publishing. There will be more about openness in the next issue.

Globally, March 2012 will see the very first Open Education Week , and April 2012 is the joint OCWC and OER conference, so expect to see more around the issues of supporting open content and open practice.

Developing supporting infrastructure: including two developer challenges!

The JISC Learning Registry Node Experiment (JLeRN)  is coming to life, see their introductory blog post. They ran a Hack Day on 23rd January for people to understand how they might work with these approaches. They are also sponsoring a Challenge for Dev8D

“Are you interested in capturing, sharing, mashing up or otherwise using paradata, AKA data about the use of open educational resources?

Are you thinking about exploring where and how teachers and learners are using resources, or sharing them via social media, or what they are saying about the resources?”

See The JLeRN Experiment Paradata Developers’ Challenge at Dev8D 2012

The Jorum team are doing so much at the moment its hard to know where to start. See their blog for an inside update. Highlights for me would be they are exploring how best to provide analytics to users, as part of that they are developing a dashboard approach. They are also running a Challenge for developers;

Are you interested in exploring new ways to extract, share, visualise, search, collate or mash up the thousands of open educational resources available in Jorum?

See The Jorum Developers’ Challenge 2012 at Dev8D: Releasing Open Educational Resources into the Wild

Pssst … If you’re a developer working on educational technologies, then I will whisper a rumour at you that it might be worth keeping 29th & 30th May pencilled in your diary for our very first DevEd event. Shhhh! We’ll tell you more as we plan it!

Meanwhile, the UKCoRR repository managers community ran a session on OERs on 27th January. The presentation from Phil Barker is a really useful whistlestop tour of different approaches to managing and disseminating OER

Funding opportunities for digital infrastructure work

There is currently a major Call for Proposals out from the Digital Infrastructure team . Most closely related to the area of digital infrastructure for learning resources, I would flag up the potential of Research Tools – Projects to Develop Sustainable and Open Vocabularies for Research and Information Management  , and also a Synthesis Project. Worth watching also will be the access and identity management projects arising from this Call.

Also due out very soon are a set of Invitations to Tender for a range of Reports on Digital Infrastructure Directions.  I’ll be managing a report on Embedded Licences: What, Why and How, and an Open Landscape study that focuses on how openness supports institutional objectives. Also requested will be a Report on the Advantages of APIs and one on Activity Data: Analytics and Metrics, one on business models around open source, and one on citation.

Sign up to JISC announce to get funding opportunity alerts via email.

Some hot topics

E-books, i-books and open books have been a big topic recently (E,I,E,I,O!). Apple caused a stir with their announcements. If you’re interested in ebooks, there is a wealth of technical material and guidance in the JISCPub Technical Monograph Landscape Study . JISC Digital Media are running a webinar on Getting Started with eBooks on 22nd February.

There is a growing interest in the role of libraries and librarians for OER. CETIS have been tracking this opportunity . A nice edtechpost sums up what this might mean all for emerging roles. Talking of libraries, my colleague Ben Shower’s post on the future of Library Management Systems, the Squeezed Middle has implications for how the role of content management within institutions might develop.

I had the pleasure of joining a NIACE workshop on open educational resources on 20th January. I gave a presentation on the benefits of content sharing and reuse . The big take home message of the day for me is that in HE we have a wealth of support, content and tools for both adult learners and the people to teach, tutor and support them. There is so much more we can do to promote open and free learning beyond HE, as highlighted in the soon-to-be-released OER Report on Open Practice across sectors .

JISC has been busy behind the scenes coordinating evidence and responses to Hargreaves review of copyright. That warrants a whole blog post which I won’t attempt here!

… (pause for breath) …

Coming soon …

Major reports due out soon which may be of particular interest :

I’ll be out and about a bit this month too. I’ll be running a session at Dev8D with CETIS’s Lorna Campbell about digital infrastructure directions for learning content, 2-4pm on Wednesday 15th Feb .  As well as attending the Learning Registry session at the CETIS Conference , I’ll be contributing ideas on the potential of social network analytics for education and research on 23rd February.

And thus endeth my update for February 2012.

Hope this update is useful! A lot of this work has involved my colleagues in the UK OER Programme, JISC CETIS and Mimas, as well as the many expert projects we are lucky enough to work with. Feedback on this update is very welcome.

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:

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:

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.


Amber Thomas

JISC Programme Manager: digital infrastructure for learning and teaching materials

Addendum

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)

OER Rapid Innovation Call

***THIS CALL FOR PROPOSALS CLOSED ON 27TH JANUARY 2012 and this blog post will no longer be updated***

The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) invites institutions to submit funding proposals for projects to enhance digital infrastructure to support open content for education.

Read the Call for Proposals.

Supplementary Information

IMPORTANT!: AMENDMENT TO THE CALL DOCUMENT: BIDS SHOULD BE SUBMITTED TO OER@JISC.AC.UK (NOT OER@JISCMAIL.AC.UK AS IT SAID IN THE ORIGINAL CALL)

CLARIFICATION: Proposals can be up to 6 pages long, the coversheet does not count as part of the 6 pages and the Use Case does not count as part of the 6 pages either.

REMINDER: Bidders are strongly advised to ask a peer with “fresh eyes” to read through the Call and Proposal before submission.

An online briefing session was held on Friday 9th December 2011, 10:00-11:00.  A recording of the briefing and the Slides are available. I also ran a skype surgery on Wednesday 11th January 2012. Further queries are very welcome.

An extract of the Call is available: Digital Infrastructure to Support Open Content for Education

Further information on Use Case Requirement is available.

Summary of the Call

Eligible institutions (HEFCE capital) may request between £10,000 and £25,000 per project.  A total of £200,000 is available for this strand. Between 10 and 18 projects are likely to be funded.

I previewed the Call earlier in November 2011.

wordcloud of scope of the Call

www.wordle.net of OER RI Call

The OLnet initiative has recently identified Key Challenges for the OER Movement. These challenges include:

It is these global challenges that underpin this Call for projects to enhance the digital infrastructure to support open content. The Call outlines some of the opportunities and challenges that have been identified in this space, proposals are welcome that meets these, or more generally the main aims of the Call.

Intended benefits of these projects are:

These are Rapid Innovation projects.  In keeping with the size of the grants and short duration of the projects, the bidding process is lightweight and the reporting process will be blog-based.

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.

The outputs of these projects will be made available open access and open source.

Key Dates

Please do post questions as comments to this blog post, join oer-discuss, or contact me direct.

Amber Thomas

JISC Programme Manager: digital infrastructure for learning and teaching materials (CONTACT INFO)

OER Rapid Innovation Call: Preview

Released later this month, with a deadline of mid January, this Call will be for short (max 6 month) projects to develop solutions to enhance the digital infrastructure to support the use of open content in education.

Eligible institutions (HEFCE capital) can bid for between £10,000 and £25,000. Technical staff should already be in place. Existing partnerships with commercial and overseas organisations is welcome. Proposals should be focussed on a clear use case and have user involvement build it. In keeping with the relatively small grants and tight timeframe, there will be a lightweight reporting process based on blog posts.

Open Education, open academic practice, open scholarship and open content all need digital infrastructure to thrive. The emphasis in this Call is on making use of existing tools, services and standards, to meet clearly articulated use cases.

Areas to bid to will include:

A: Open content and academic profiles

B: Enhancing platforms for open content

C: Enhancing tools and services for open e-books

D: Search log analysis

E: SEO of common platforms and format types for OER

F: Open Call, including:

As you can see, the scope is broad. It includes discovery, analytics, social web and platform work, so don’t be put off if you haven’t been involved in the OER Programme so far. Read my latest programme update, join oer-discuss mailing list, follow #ukoer on twitter, check out the work of the programme and start making connections. 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.

We have high hopes for the technical outputs of his strand. The CETIS OER mini projects call, which this supersedes, funded the CaPRet project for £10k, which may now become a core part of Creative Commons licensing technology. The SWORD protocol was originally funded in this way, and is now used all over the world. Great solutions can come from humble beginnings.

Get your thinking caps on and watch this space!

Amber Thomas

Programme Manager, JISC

@ambrouk

Mobile Infrastructure for Libraries – New Projects

As part of the Mobile Infrastructure for Libraries programme I am pleased to announce that 6 new projects have recently received funding, with projects starting in November and finishing in August 2012.

The majority of the projects are innovating around library content and services to develop prototypes for the innovative delivery of scholarly content and library services.  The projects will also be producing rich case studies documenting their work and the lessons learnt.

There is also a community support project that will aim to build a body of evidence and practice around the notion of m-libraries and the provision of services and content to mobile devices.

The support project will also help support, build and engage this community of practitioners both within the programme and beyond.

I will be updating the Emerging Library Opportunities webpage shortly with details of the programme.  Until then, here are some brief details of the projects:

Supporting the Mobile Library Community
Evidence Base (Birmingham City University)
Partners: Owen Stephens

This project will provide a mobile library community support project to help support and engage the emerging m-library community by reviewing and synthesising existing research and  evidence-based guidance.

PhoneBooth
London School of Economics
Partners: Edina

PhoneBooth will repurpose the Charles Booth Maps, Descriptive of London Poverty and selected police notebooks, which record eye-witness descriptions of London street-by-street, for delivery to mobile devices. The project will enhance the current online delivery by enabling content to be delivered directly to the location to which it refers.

MACON: Mobilising Academic Content Online
The Open University
Partners: EBSCO

MACON will address challenges involved in delivering quality academic content to mobile devices in a seamless and user-friendly manner. The project will work with EBSCO, a major content and systems provider in order to prototype a mobile friendly resource discovery interface which will discover and expose quality academic content from both third party & local collections.

M-Biblio
University of Bristol

The project will enhance the learning and research activities of the University of Bristol’s academic community by developing a mobile application that can record and organise references to books, journals and other resources. These references can be added actively by scanning barcodes and QR codes, or passively by automatically recording RFID tags in items being used for study and research.

Mobiles and Public Electronic Displays (MoPED)
City University, London

The project will develop the MoPED system, which will combine mobile phone interaction with a public display in City University’s Main Library. The aim of the
project is to investigate how to encourage the adoption of mobile services through a two-fold strategy: first, a strong, user-centred design process, commencing with an
investigation of which mobile services are most likely to be beneficial; second, using an in-situ public display to promote (and assist getting access to) the library’s mobile services and to connect online services to the space of the library itself.

Learnmore Mobile App
City University, London

The project will develop the Learnmore Mobile Application using a user-centred design process. Building on the current ‘desktop’ Learnmore content, the interface
and content will be tailored to the actual needs of students using mobile devices, with considerations including the preferred media, topic and content size for mobile
consumption.

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