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 paper.li 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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4 thoughts on “OER Digital Infrastructure Update

  1. Amber Thomas

    I agree that the DCC lifecycle model is really interesting in this context.
    CETIS colleagues and I have been discussing how we might see a maturing of content management approaches so that there is a more integrated management of resources inside and outside institutional walls. It would be great to see more examples of scaled-up collections management of OERs, for example.
    I’m aware of a wide spectrum of technology practices around OER, almost like a matrix of individual:institutional and tightcontrol:loosecontrol, and I think articulating these would be helpful to understand the choices required.

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