Category Archives: ukoer

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.


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 :

  • a report on the Mobile Web, from the JISC Observatory
  • a set of case studies on HTML5
  • a report on TextMining
  • OER evaluation and synthesis team outputs
  • and not quite a report, but watch out for a cute animation from OER IPR Support Team

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.

My Story of O(pen)

Here at JISC we think a lot about openness: what it means, how to support it, where it takes us.

This is my contribution to that thinking. It is very much my individual views, but informed by the work we do at JISC, and by the Open Knowledge Foundation, amongst others.

My open narrative

Open makes things visible.

The everyday sense of “open” is open rather than closed – letting people see what is there, what is happening.

The web enables you to;

  • do some of your processes/practices online, visible to others
  • share some of your products/outputs online, visible to others

Open makes access easy.

This is where open–as-in-open-access comes in: open without needing to log in, and open without payment.


Open is social.

The “many eyes” principle of sharing open data and the open innovation model encourage others not only to view but to comment, to feed back, to engage. This speeds up the process in hand and improves the quality of the resulting work.


Open makes things usable by others.

Open standards exist to encourage as many developers as possible to adopt them.

This is where open licensing comes in: granting others explicit and generous permissions to use your content.


Open can be a way of working.

Doing open working and openly releasing outputs can make a person feel differently about what they do. Researchers might call this collection of activities open scholarship, technologists might call their activities open development, project teams might call it open innovation. Each of these types of open practice has elements in common and elements specific to the sorts of activities the practice involves.


Open is not exclusive

Open source can mean both the open development process and the open source software. They are not always found together: open development processes can produce non-open software, and closed development processes can produce open source software.


Opens are mutually beneficial

There is a virtuous cycle when open process and open products combine. In open scholarship, both creating and using open content and using open ways of working, the content feeds the practice feeds the content.

I’m watching the Openness in Education course with interest and I expect this whole meta open concept to deepen in 2012.

A Diagram of Opens

Its important to note that is is an abstracted diagram: in my view, open is not a replacement for the  way things currently work. There is not ever going to be a total transformation to open. The reality is a mixed economy. Business models matter. Practice models matter.

Open can be good for business, open can be good for practice but it exists in a bigger ecosystem of technologies and behaviours. Good is not enough, it needs to be useful. That’s what JISC and other advocates of openness are working hard to surface.

Ultimately I think open is good because it is a good way of working.

Amber Thomas

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My Story of O(pen) by Amber Thomas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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Sharing Learning Resources: shifting perspectives on process and product

I’m working on a paper with my colleague David Kernohan on the context of the UK OER Programme and it occurs to me that people understand the sharing of learning resources in very different ways. Even over the past 15 years that I’ve been involved in the field, the emphasis has regularly shifted.

One way to look at is that each iteration of the concept of sharing learning resources foregrounds different aspects of activity.

Processes and Products

For the sake of simplicity, I am illustrating this as four main activity domains: designing learning, creating resources, sharing resources and using resources. This is activities from a resource-centric perspective rather than a curriculum design and delivery perspective or a software/platforms perspective. This blog post is deliberately couched in soft systems terminology rather than practice.


(Paragraph clarified 2012/01/05 based on feedback!)

There are often multiple discourses in play at any one time – it’s not a linear or singular evolution. The diagram can just be used to describe the focus of a particular set of concerns/approaches. Sometimes the emphasis is on the process, with the product as secondary. For example, the late 90s to early 2000s emphasised the benefits of collaborative resource development. Later on, some advocates of Open Educational Resources (OER) brought to the fore the concept of content as by-product, exhaust, frictionless sharing. Simultaneously, the early 2000s saw a focus on reusable learning objects, with the transfer from resource creation process to resource use process being key. Towards the end of the decade that thread partially shifted into a discussion about the sharing process being key to open practices, a different angle again. There is currently an emphasis on making the learning resources themselves available to learners: a focus on access to product rather than improvement of process. Sometimes there is a new interest in eliciting a product/output from an existing process, for example, analytics brings to the fore the idea of usage data as a by-product of use. In parallel, approaches are maturing in designing learning, and an interest in how that design can be shared, directly as “a learning design”, implicitly as learning design built in to the resource creation process, and passively as contextual metadata to assist resource selection and use.  I could expand these examples to show more clearly what I mean.


One of the benefits of looking at it this way is that we can see different models of value. Although deeply unfashionable to talk about academic practices in this way, looked at from a soft systems perspective there are variables of time, cost and quality. The discourse about why and how to share learning resources shifts its benefits model between these variables, and whether the value is in the process or the product.

TCQ Triangle


A: PROCESS: Improving shared taught courses by using collaborative learning design

B: PRODUCT: Reducing time spent creating new resources by increasing the availability of existing resources

C: PROCESS: Promoting institutional subject expertise by sharing specialist learning resources

This was just a quick attempt to map the benefits. I found it easiest to think of examples where the driver is quality, though I seem to remember that the late 90s was more about saving time. We may be seeing a shift now to saving or making money (however indirectly). But the variables have always been there: the emphasis just shifts.

Infrastructure and Practice

I have a feeling that understanding where we are in terms of process and product will help us identify more accurately how technology can help. There is a history of sociotechnical engineering in the field of sharing learning materials that would be useful to tell. It’s not just a story of changing practices in pursuit of quality, it is also a story of government investment in a soft system, and a series of interventions (many of which I’ve been involved with), to support emerging good practices both processes and products. Maybe one day I’ll write a thesis on that!

For now though, I think it is salient to draw the conclusion that there is no reason to assume that today’s conception of the value of sharing learning resources will persist. This is a moving field. And that makes it very difficult to anticipate where public investment in supporting technologies should lie. Do we need specialist process based tools? Or generic platforms to share products/outputs/artefacts from each process?

Interim conclusions

There is more to be said about how this process and product model layers itself over individual, institutional, subject, national and global levels. There is also more to be said about how tools/services can get the balance between process-centric and product-centric models, and how this story plays out with VLEs, repositories and web2.0 tools.I found it useful to get my thoughts down on paper and hopefully some readers will be able to point me in a useful direction.

OER Update November 2011

Phase Three of the JISC/Academy Open Educational Resources Programme is now well underway and I’m pleased to report plenty of news since my last update.

We had our start up meeting on 14th November, where new projects met in Birmingham to learn about each other. We explored the existing resources in the OER infokit (which was recently enhanced with a new section for senior managers). It was good to see that at least two of the delegates are also involved in the digitisation for OER strand of the JISC eContent team too. I suspect plenty of links with the JISC digital literacies programme too.

We got a sneak preview of the OER Phase Two Evaluation and Synthesis report. Phil Barker shared technical trends that OER projects should be aware of, including aggregation, developments in machine- readable metadata, and the concepts around the Learning Registry. Jason Miles-Campbell shared his IPR and Licensing top tips.

Current Highlights

We have more work underway too.

  • The Academy have issued Funding Calls for OER
  • We’re working with the OU SCORE project to ensure a good range of training opportunities are available. There is already a good flow of ideas between the SCORE Fellowship Scheme and projects in the OER Programme.
  • I have been contacting a selection of OER projects to submit information about their collections to a prototype UKOER showcase, based on the JISC content portal. The prototype will be ready in the spring 2012. If you are a UKOER-funded project and want to be part of it, please contact me!
  • We are also hoping to fund some work to visualise the activities and outputs of the UKOER programme so far, to help the synthesis of understanding practices. This will complement the global mapping work being done by OLnet.
  • The OER Programme is also funding an experimental involvement with the Learning Registry. We are scoping out how this R&D project will run, but it will definitely involve a Task Group. Thanks to everyone who has contacted me about that so far. You should hear more by the end of the month.
  • We (myself, JISC CETIS and others) are also scoping out a developer challenge. So many ideas on what to focus on, we’re in brainstorm mode. Ideas include building content related services/interfaces around a course data aggregation, looking at widgets for open content / open practice, bringing together ideas for distributed VLE and curriculum design and development with open content.

On a broader note I have also been commissioning JISC-funded case studies on open institutional approaches. Part of a larger JISC focus on “open” (-access, -science, -source, -innovation) so far we have published University of Southampton and University of Salford, but there are more to follow soon and they will include OER approaches.

OER Funding Opportunities

I’d like to particularly draw you attention to the HE Academy’s new call for case studies on:

  • OER and student as producer
  • OER and student satisfaction
  • OER and staff development
  • OER and teaching quality
  • OER and distance learning
  • OER and public engagement
  • Changing the OER culture of your institution
  • Barriers to OER

The deadline is 9th December 2011.

We have chosen these as topics that have emerged from the evaluation and synthesis of project experiences, and from global work. We hope that this Call will result in a bank of evidence of how people are using open educational resources approaches to support those key objectives.

In parallel I am preparing a new funding opportunity: a Call for Rapid Innovation projects.

Amber Thomas

Programme Manager JISC


The OER Turn

At ALT- C I participated in several discussions around open content, and then this week we ran the closing programme meeting for Phase Two of the HEA/JISC OER programme.  I feel that a new perspective on academic-created open content is emerging.

I think it’s sometimes useful to think in terms of foreground and background: most of the elements are there and have been there all along, but some take centre stage. It’s a question of weight and attention given to the different activities, a question of where the discussions happen.

2009 Foreground 2011 Foreground
Focus on provision Focus on use
Focus on educator as provider and user Focus on non-educators as users
Open courseware, the course online Rich media, beyond text
Embedding in courses or free searching online Tutor or peer or social recommendation
CC BY NC ND  for editing by educators CC BY for remixing by anyone
Focus on licensing is key Focus on licensing might be distracting
Institutional workflows Institutional support for open practice
Storage and presentation services Brokerage services
OERs Open content

Just to stress, all of these views are evident in part in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and even before that. My interest is just in what is shifting in the foreground. This is just my first take and I hope it will stimulate discussion. It would be really interesting for others to write their own lists.

I think that enough of the focus has shifted that the space has changed.  I christen this The OER Turn. The OER Turn is characterised by the working through of the following topics:

  • visible and invisible use
  • the importance of licensing
  • the role of the university

Visible and Invisible Use

The Value of Reuse Report by Marion Manton and Dave White of Oxford, produced for the OER programme, uses an iceberg analogy of visible and invisible use. It helpfully guided our discussions at the end of phase two programme meeting. Previous to this, David Wiley’s “toothbrush” post was the example cited of this conundrum. The fact that it was so divisive amongst OER people shows that it hit a nerve (excuse the pun). I think the iceberg diagram draws on this and illustrates the problem of visibility.

The general consensus amongst people involved in UK OER Programme is that reuse of web-based resources does happen, all the time, but it is usually private, mostly invisible to the providers and often not strictly legal. So there is above waterline use and below the waterline use.

The visible use of open content tends to be institutional-level use that is itself more visible because it is openly shared again: it is being relicensed out again. Where institutions want to reuse content in aggregate open resources, it may influence the types of content they reuse, and they way in which they do it.


  • Visible use has characteristics that may not be shared by invisible use: we should not extrapolate too far from the visible uses to the invisible uses
  • Institutional content might make more use of resources that are clearly pedagogically described and fit with their structures course provision. So the most visible reuse we see might be that. But that might not be the main use case for open content.

On reflection, perhaps the top of the iceberg fits most closely with 2009 foregrounded conception of OER, the majority of the iceberg is what is being given more attention in the 2011 conception.

The importance of licensing?

Naomi Korn’s video introduction to licensing and IPR issues illustrates the concept of rights in > rights out. The more rights you want to give out to users, the more you have to restrict yourself to content you have obtained broad rights in for. As the risk management calculator illustrates, if you use content licensed as CC BY NC ND, you cannot licence it out as CC BY NC, because that doesn’t not include the ND clause. And CC BY SA can only be licensed out as CC BY SA, so cannot be remixed with anything less than CC BY or more CC BY SA. Share-Alike is quite restrictive. This is counter-intuitive but true. Play with the calculator and find out for yourself.

It may be only when reuse is more visible, such as formal institutional adoption of third party resources (above the waterline) that the risk of reusing un-cleared content is high enough to make the open license a key aspect of OER.Institutions as providers of content may wish to choose different licences to what institutions as  users of content want. They may want to publish content as (c) all rights reserved. If it is a choice between that or nothing, what should they choose?  Note that they could publish something as (c) all rights reserved unless otherwise stated, and have clearly marked CC elements. Polarising a simple open or not open isn’t helpful. As Naomi Korn put it, “what is the opposite of open”? Paid-for? Authenticated? Not editable? Open content needs to be viewed as part of the wider ecosystem of content. What it “affords” will be specific to the use case. Interestingly this is a good parallel with accessibility: “accessible to who to do what?”

Reflecting with Naomi Korn we shifted our recommendation from “whichever CC licence suits” (1) in phase one to “ideally CC BY” in phase two. John Robertson has summarised licensing choices made by the projects.  This is an example of how the programme has pushed forward our understanding of this area, including that of the legal experts. If we knew the answers at the start, it wouldn’t be an innovation programme!

Thinking above to the points about visibility: if the open content is not shared out again under an open licence then it might be being used but not so visibly. It might show up as web stats, but even then, once the content has been copied to another place, as any CC licence lets you do, then the content proliferates, as does the usage. Usage becomes even harder to see.

Another implication of described use as above below the waterline is that the risk is significantly less. The feeling was that this is an appropriate risk evaluation.  So, open licensing does matter for formal institutional use, less so for practice that is “under the waterline”.


  • Mixed economy of content is the reality for most end use cases.
  • The benefits of licensing to providers and users are different; of courses users would like as many rights as they can have, but which use cases really need those rights? Can the content be made available under a more restrictive licence and still be useful to the majority of use cases?
  • There is an emerging use case of intermediary/brokering services: aggregation, fusion, curation, which perhaps does require CC BY. Not because the end user needs them but because the middleware needs them in order to remix and represent content. Often though I suspect it is the feed or metadata that needs to be licensed rather than the content. Open metadata might turn out to be more important to open academic content than open content licensing.

We are genuinely learning together on this: as open licensing spreads and models of use develop, we will need to be alert to the mechanics of remixing content. And also open to the possibility that the end point of the supply chain need not be open: not all content will be licensed out again.

A great example of the OER Turn is how  OER Commons includes resources described as “read the fine print” licenses. Or Therese Bird’s work on iTunesU.

However … I still want to hear more about the rights that Creative Commons licenses grant to translate and shift formats, for above the waterline activities. Examples please! This could be key.

The role of the university

Alongside the previously dominant narrative of OERs as exchanges between educators and each other, and educators and their learners, there is also the potential for academic open content to connect academics with the public. I explored that a little in a previous post, Tony Hirst further in his post on OERs and public service education, University of Nottingham, Oxford University and other institutions also see their open content as part of their public engagement.

In some scenarios opening up universities through open practice is about OER, in the top of the iceberg sense. But much of the benefits of opening up knowledge to the public can be achieved without open content licensing (unless the brokering services need it). Initiatives like Warwick Knowledge also draw on the notion of the university as a pubic knowledge organisation.

So there is a strong argument for focussing more on the public and global use of open content.

Sidenote: Critics of the toothbrush analogy might say that this is what they meant all along. I’m not sure that is true. If it is, it wasn’t very well articulated. Because we still need to understand the drivers behind provision and how the benefits of public engagement can be articulated.  Academic staff are a university’s most precious resource. The needs of institutions, who pay academic’s wages, need to be factored in to how open practice can be supported.

The pursuit of global knowledge is not owned by universities. Wikipedia, Slideshare, YouTube, Twitter, Delicious have all seen a blossoming of thoughtful quality input from a huge range of sources. The role that academics play in this open content space is as one type of contribution. Learners contribute too. But so do millions who are outside of formal education.

OER is dead. Long live academically-created content appropriately licensed and formatted to support intended users

Not quite as catchy, is it? However I am increasingly hearing suggestions that OER is not a useful term any more, aside from a supply-side term relating to the visible tip of the iceberg. I have recommended for some time that we drop the term and focus instead on open content and open practice.

Having asked a year ago what the “O” in OER means, now I find myself asking what the “Open” in Open Content means. Well, it definitely means free (not paid). And it means easily linkable, which means not authenticated (not closed). However what about near-ubiquitous controlled access through gmail or facebook? Sometimes the format matters, sometimes the licensing matters. Maybe this matters a lot for content to cross language boundaries, maybe it matters a lot for accessibility. In which case do we need to articulate the costs and benefits of open content for those use cases? We don’t want to kill open practice dead by focusing too strictly on definitions of openness any more than we want to kill open content by diluting the promise to users seeking editable re-licensable content. What questions should be asking about open content?

What do you think?

Amber Thomas

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OER Digital Infrastructure Update by Amber Thomas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Footnote (1) The wording was  “Examples of suitable licences include those with the “Attribution” and “Share-Alike” clauses. We would encourage projects not to use the non-free Creative Commons variants (such as “Non Commercial” and “No Derivatives”), as these negatively affect the reusability of resources. However, we do recognise that in some specific circumstances this may not be possible.” (Thanks to David Kernohan for extracting)

OER Digital Infrastructure Update

Back in May 2011 I blogged an update on OER and Jorum, here are some progress updates for readers interested in digital infrastructure issues around online educational resources.


The OER Phase 3 Call is out (closing date 5th September), and bids for the Digitisation for OER strand of the eContent Call are currently being evaluated.

The Jorum team have been really busy over the summer transferring the service to a new hosting environment.

The OER CETIS mini projects are progressing. OER Bookmarking Project at Newcastle is under way, and the MIT-based CaPRet Project is looking really promising.

Due out imminently is the report on the Value of Re-Use, from the OER Impact study, and we also intend to release the report of the Literature Review of Learners Use of Online Educational Resources shortly. Also . Both reports deepen our understanding of how open educational resources are used, what evidence we have about their use, and recommendations on realising the potential of open content in education.

Personal Reflections

John Robertson wrote in August 2010 about technology and descriptive choices in UKOER, and now a year on he is revisiting these choices in the UKOER technical synthesis.

Looking back at a post I did last August on OER eInfrastructure Update, there were a number of issues I’d raised as being challenges that need to be addressed in the OER space. I think I’m able to say that things have progressed in the last year, so I’ve taken the opportunity to review how my thinking has progressed, but more importantly how the open content world has progressed in the last twelve months.


“Rights – how effectively are creative commons licenses being used, are they being accompanied by attribution information, are they being used by machine services to help find and filter content?” …. PROGRESS? In a post on choosing open licences I described the range of support available to ensure you choose the right license, and highlighted the importance of embedding licensing metadata. Developers have been busy creating the Creative Commons Open Attribute tool which is the most promising direction I have seen, forming a building block for potential services like CaPRet (mentioned above), and hopefully many more. I hope we can support the implementation of these tools.

“Platforms – what’s the mix of institutionally- JISC- and commercially- managed services that best support the range of OERs produced within the UK FE/HE community?” … PROGRESS?  John Robertson’s post on UKOER 2 Content management platforms explores this. One of the surprises of OER Phase 2 to me has been the importance of the Potential of WordPress blogging platform to developers in this space.  But in the lead, web2.0 services are being used widely. One question here is about which services can be most useful to institutions, and services such as OpenLearn are exploring which the most effective social media platforms are. Another is how these sorts of content can best be managed, for efficient content management in the longer term. That’s something we hope to explore further this year. Its also worth a specific plug for Nick Sheppard’s blog where he is at the sharp end of implementing innovative approaches into institutional services.

“Aggregation – how is the distributed content drawn back together, by who, for what purpose? Will people use search to source content that is then packaged into e-textbooks, courses, journals, wikis and blogs?” … PROGRESS? Well I explored the aggregation question a bit further. We have a project planned to create a prototype of the JISC content portal for OER collections.  The UK Discovery initiative is making progress with agreeing on ways to share open metadata. And in the US the Learning Registry project is tackling the aggregation project in an innovative way and we’ve funded some UK contributions to that.

“Data model – will content be embedded, rendered, mirrored, copied? Do we want or need to track it? Is the virtuous circle of use, reuse, feedback an idealised process rather than a reality?” … PROGRESS? These are explored in the forthcoming report on the Value of Reuse.  As I described in making the most of open content, I think many organisations providing open content will need to understand better the way content is used in order to make effective decisions about provision.I think embedded metadata allowing auto-attribution will really help this become a loop, but we’re still a way off.

“Scope and scale – how far do we need to zoom out to find the most effective points of critical mass for presenting content? Should we only focus on open resources? Is granularity an issue for aggregation and resource discovery?” … PROGRESS? I need to reflect further on this. I tried to explore the supply chain in connecting people through open content, but I am still hearing mixed messages about which points in the discovery of resources the open licensing is a key filter, especially given the issues around the O in OER.

“Curation and sustainability – how do we sustain subject collections not owned by individual institutions? What needs preserving? Who pays for the long-term hosting?” … PROGRESS? Hmmm. There is a lot of thinking about curation, but I’m not sure how sustainable the models are: it feels like the interest is in an ephemeral curation flow, of twitter-overlay services like and scoop-it. The hard decisions about how we pay for it seem to be happening in a space outside OER and I’m not sure what that means for the sustainability of open practices.

The above isn’t comprehensive but its been useful to reflect on where we have got to in these issues around digital infrastructure for OER.

Next Steps

Trying to see the wood for the trees, I think some paths are emerging.


To move these digital infrastructure issues forward within the OER Programme Phase 3, I have some exciting work planned for this academic year. I am planning a Rapid Innovation Call for November and some kind of developer challenge for the spring 2012.

The issues I think might be worth exploring in small technical projects are:

  • OER on the move: collating and transforming open assets into “cooked” open educational resources suitable for mobile devices and readers, using appropriate formats such as e-pub and html5, taking reuse and licensing into account by providing open source versions where necessary.
  • OER and courses: linking content to courses, particularly for sample or taster content, for users to be able to move between content and course information and vice versa. JISC’s programme on course data should provide opportunities for linkage.
  • OER and academic profiles: building scaleable automatic / semi-automatic profiles of OER release of academics to align with emerging approaches to managing researcher profiles, e-portfolios and other CPD and CV systems.
  • Improving release and aggregation platforms: custom open source / reusable improvements to platforms (e.g wiki, blog, cms and repository software) arising from use cases identified in OER phases 1 and 2
  • Recommendation, favouriting and liking services: scaleable approaches to integrating web-based services into OER platforms and content, building on existing initiatives
  • Web analytics: dashboards and visualisation to show patterns for OER release, connections and usage tracking. This would be about using existing tools to meet clear use cases, in ways that can be replicated, and build on the work of JISC’s activity data programme.

I’ll be working to develop and refine these targets for small rapid innovation projects, but I hope that sharing these ideas now will help us identify the best candidates for development funding. Details of funding amounts and timescales will be agreed nearer the time.

Amber Thomas

skype: @ambrouk

If you are interested in these sorts of issues please join the oer-discuss mailing list!

Amber Thomas

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OER Digital Infrastructure Update by Amber Thomas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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