Category Archives: ukoer

eTextBooks Europe

I went to a meeting for stakeholders interested in the eTernity (European textbook reusability networking and interoperability) initiative. The hope is that eTernity will be a project of the CEN Workshop on Learning Technologies with the objective of gathering requirements and proposing a framework to provide European input to ongoing work by ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC36, WG6 & WG4 on eTextBooks (which is currently based around Chinese and Korean specifications). Incidentally, as part of the ISO work there is a questionnaire asking for information that will be used to help decide what that standard should include. I would encourage anyone interested to fill it in.

The stakeholders present represented many perspectives from throughout Europe: publishers, publishing industry specification bodies (e.g. IPDF who own EPUB3, and DAISY), national bodies with some sort of remit for educational technology, and elearning specification and standardisation organisations. I gave a short presentation on the OER perspective.

Many issues were raised through the course of the day, including (in no particular order)

  • Interactive and multimedia content in eTextbooks
  • Accessibility of eTextbooks
  • eTextbooks shouldn’t be monolithic and immutable chunks of content, it should be possible to link directly to specific locations or to disaggregate the content
  • The lifecycle of an eTextbook. This goes beyond initial authoring and publishing
  • Quality assurance (of content and pedagogic approach)
  • Alignment with specific curricula
  • Personalization and adaptation to individual needs and requirements
  • The ability to describe the learning pathway embodied in an eTextbook, and vary either the content used on this pathway or to provide different pathways through the same content
  • The ability to describe a range IPR and licensing arrangements of the whole and of specific components of the eTextbook
  • The ability to interact with learning systems with data flowing in both directions

If you’re thinking that sounds like a list of the educational technology issues that we have been busy with for the last decade or two, then I would agree with you. Furthermore, there is a decade or two’s worth of educational technology specs and standards that address these issues. Of course not all of those specs and standards are necessarily the right ones for now, and there are others that have more traction within digital publishing. EPUB3 was well represented in the meeting (DITA is the other publishing standard mentioned in the eTernity documentation, but no one was at the meeting to talk about that) and it doesn’t seem impossible to meet the educational requirements outlined in the meeting within the general EPUB3 framework. The question is which issues should be prioritised and how should they be addressed.

Of course a technical standard is only an enabler: it doesn’t in itself make any change to teaching and learning; change will only happen if developers create tools and authors create resources that exploit the standard. For various reasons that hasn’t happened with some of the existing specs and standards. A technical standard can facilitate change but there needs to a will or a necessity to change in the first place. One thing that made me hopeful about this was a point made by Owen White of Pearson that he did not to think of the business he is in as being centred around content creation and publishing but around education and learning and that leads away from the view of eBooks as isolated static aggregations.

For more information keep an eye on the eTernity website

Examples of good licence embedding

I was asked last week to provide some good examples of embedded licences in OERs. I’m pleased to do that (with the proviso that this is just my personal opinion of “good”) since it makes a change from carping about how some of the outputs of the UKOER programme demonstrate a neglect of seemingly obvious points about self-description. For example anyone who gets hold of a copy of the resource would want see that it is an OER, so it seems obvious that the Creative Commons licence should be clearly displayed on the resource; they would also want to see something about who created, owned or published the resource, partly to comply with the attribution condition of Creative Commons licences but also to conform with good academic and information literacy practice around provenance and citation. With few exceptions, the machine readable metadata hidden in the OERs’ files (such as MS Office file properties, id3 tags, EXIF etc.) are an irremediable mess, especially for licence and attribution information which cannot on the whole created automatically, and so are generally ignored. Also, the metadata stored in a content management system such as a repository and displayed on the landing page for the resource are not relevant when the resource is copied and used in some other system. So what I’m looking at here is human readable information about licence and attribution that travels with the resource when it is copied. Different approaches are required for different resource types, so I’ll take them in turn.

Text, e.g. office documents, MS Word, Powerpoint, PDF
Pretty simple really, you can have a title section with the name of resource creator and a footer with the copyright and licensing information. You can also have a more extensive “credits” page at the end of the document. Running page headers and footers work well if you think that people might take just a few pages rather than the whole document.
Example text OER with attribution and licence information. Note that the licence statement and logo link to the legal deed on the Creative Commons website.
Example OER powerpoint with licence and attribution information. Note how the final slide gives licence and attribution information of third party resources used.

Web pages
Basically a special case of a text document, the attribution and licence information can be included in a title or footer section, scroll down to the bottom of this page to see an example. For HTML there is a good case for making this information machine readable by wrapping the information in microdata or RDFa tags. Plugins exist for many web content management systems to do this, and the Creative Commons licensing generator will produce an HTML snippet that includes such tags.

ImagesExample of photo with attribution and licence information
Really the only option for putting the essentially textual information about licence and attribution into an image is to add it as a bar to the image. The Attribute Images and related projects at Nottingham have been doing good work on automating this.

A spoken introduction can provide the information required. BBC podcasts give good examples, though they are not OERs; also the introduction to the video below works as audio.

An introductory screen or credits at the end (with optional voice over) can provide the required information. See for example this video from MIT OCW (be sure to skip to the end to see credits to third party resources used).

Podcasts (and other RSS feeds)

As well as having <copyright> and <creativeCommons:license> tags in the RSS feed at channel and item level, Oxford Universities OER podcasts use an image for the channel that includes the creative commons logo. This is useful because the image is displayed by many feed readers and podcast applications. Of course the recordings should have licence information in them just as any other audio or video OER.

Using Turn-it-in to track re-use of OERs…

…isn’t really worth the bother–a simple web search seems to work better.

I’ve wondered, somewhat idly, whether Turn-it-in (t-i-n) may be a useful way to track whether and OER has re-used on the more-or-less open web. T-i-n is plagiarism detection software, it is designed to detect plagiarism in student work by looking for resources with the same content. Simple idea: just put your original into t-i-n and see whether any resources out there have been created using it. So I used a briefing I wrote on the LOM in 2005, which we later submitted as a wikipedia article on Learning Object Metadata. Selecting a chunk of text from the wikipedia article, putting it in quotes and searching for it finds quite a few verbatim copies. But when I asked a colleague who has access to t-i-n to look for a copies of the briefing, t-i-n found four with high match values: which to be fair is enough to meet the t-i-n use case of showing that a significant amount of it had been copied (in this case to the web), but not much use for tracking the re-use of an OER.

Anyone tried anything similar?

A reflection for open education week

It’s open education week, lots of interesting events are happening and lots of reflections being made on what open education means. One set of reflections that caught my eye was a trio of posts from Jisc programme managers David, Amber and Lawrie: three personal attempts to draw a picture of the open education space to answer the question “what is open education and how does it fit in with everything else?”. These sprung from an attempt “to describe the way JISC-funded work is contributing to developing this space”. They are great. But I think they miss one thing: the time dimension. By a stroke of good luck, Lou Macgill has recently produced an OER Timeline which I think represents this very nicely. (Yes, I know that there is much more to education than resources, and much more open education than OER, but it’s resource management and dissemination that I mostly work on.)

Maybe it’s a sign of age, but the changes in approaches to supporting the sharing of content is something that has been interesting me more and more of late. Nearly two years ago Lorna, John and I produced a paper for the ADL Repositories and Registries Summit called Then and Now which highlighted changes in technical approaches to JISC programmes that CETIS had helped support between 2002 and 2010. The desire to share resources had always been there, the change was from a focus on tight technical specifications to one which put openness at the centre. This wasn’t done for any ideological reason, but because we had an aim, “share stuff”, and the open approach seemed the one that presents fewest obstacles. I tried to describe the advantages of the open approach in An open and closed case for educational resources.

The timeline helps me understand why we are doing OER rather than some other means of solving the problem of how to share content, but that is just one aspect. What I really like about the open approach is that it creates new possibilities as well as solving old problems. So as well as a timeline of solutions what we should have is a timeline that shows what we are trying to do, one which shows the changing aims as well as the changing solutions, and that I think would show a trend to Open Education.

WordPress for hosting and describing learning resources

On 5 August I gave a presentation about Delores Selections with the above title to the CETIS Advances in Open Systems for Learning Resources workshop at the Edinburgh Repository Fringe meeting. Below is the powerpoint presentation I used and the (lightly editted) notes taken by Nicola Osborne’s in her live blog of the event.

Slide 1
Delores is: Delivering Open Educational Resources for Engineering Design.

Slide 2
We have static and dynamic collections of university level OERs and other openly available resources relevant to Engineering Design. A static collection may include dynamic resources but the collection itself is static, once set up it stays as it is. Dynamic collections can have new materials added or taken away or developed.

ICBL, School of mathematical and computer sciences, Heriot-Watt University and the University of Bath worked together on this project, funded by HEA and JISC under OER Phase 2.

Slide 3
We used WordPress to gather resources selected by experts in design engineering as being of high quality and usefulness for the collection. We aimed for about 100 objects in that collection of materials. The dynamic collection is everything underneath that. We use a tool called Sux0r which does Bayesian filtering of content – this is how Spam filtering works. We are using that idea the other way around – filtering to detect likely design engineering materials. Then we put material through a tool designed by Bath called Waypoint which enables faceted searching by automatic classification. Because Sux0r pulls RSS feeds from collections we know of, those feeds are continually updated and the collection presented by Waypoint continues to grow. I am going to focus on WordPress but I mention this context to point out that the technically difficult stuff, the effort, the hard thinking wasn’t really in the bit I am talking about.

Slide 4
So, starting off: what do we think we need in order to have this static collection? What are the needs for describing these OERs? First up you may not want to hold an actual copy of the resources. We decided we didn’t want to hold a copy of the resource, these are pre-existing resources hosted elsewhere. What metadata do we need? Title, description, authors, origin, date, subject, classification of some sort, licence, and probably something about the resource type. Users want to see that information, not necessarily locked up in an xml file. We want to embed a preview. We may or may not want to allow comments – but we don’t want to have to manage and spam filter those for the long term. We want something with a good web presence (and findable by Google) and something that has good participation (links in many direction, embedded material, widgets etc. We want it to take part in the web). We want RSS feeds – great for pushing metadata around, we want embedded metadata (thinking RDFa, microformats etc), we want flexibility, want something easy to use and maintain (perhaps familiar), and possibly the option to export metadata?

Slide 5
The idea that we had was to use WordPress. One blog post per resource – if required you can attach resources that are single files to the post. This gives you a basic description and good web presences. WP handles author, date, tite, and you have tags and topics for classification. Also extensions for metadata and additional functionality (a big developer community there).

Slide 6
We weren’t the first people with this idea…

Slide 7 & 8
Oxford’s Triton Project are running the Politics InSpires blog. They are creating OERs within WordPress – describe and comment on current affairs and other items. They have focused on add ons around that blog.

Slide 9 & 10
Edinburgh University have an initiative called OpenMed

Slide 11 & 12
CETIS has been exploring the use of WordPress to disseminate our publications. We see a sneak preview and should note that resources are attached to posts and it looks nothing like a blog

Slide 13
Scriblio (formally WPopac) – WordPress theme to create an OPAC using WordPress

slide 14 & 15
How were our goals met? Well most of what we wanted was possible.
All those question marks are where WordPress gives you information about the post not the resource resource described in the post, which matters for us because we are describing third party resources produced and hosted elsewhere. That is you get the date, author etc of the wordpress post you wrote to describe the resource, which isn’t really what you wanted. You get RSS feeds which link to and are about the descriptions in WordPress, not the resources.

But you do get a good website that is easy to use and maintain and familiar – though the more flexibility you use, the harder it is to maintain.

An Aside
One thing I like about WordPress is Trackbacks – you can see when you’ve been blogged or linked to – people can write about you and you can then aggregate those comments on your post.

Slide 16
So some customisation…

We used WordPress’s custom fields and we adapted a theme so that these are displayed. And we will have either a Plugin or theme extension written so that the right metadata goes into the RSS feed.

slide 17 and demo of Selections site
So lets have a look in the system for bridges

We can find a description and preview of the resource, links to it etc. Looking at the admin screen you can see we are using custom fields to include metadata about the object and we have set up categories that fit the curriculum. Lesa in the audience here wrote all of the resource description – she is a trained librarian and that has really been helpful here.


Training sux0r to recognise design engineering

I spent some time last month training sux0r to recognise what is and isn’t relevant to design engineering, and also to recognise what is relevant to each of the top level topics in the SEED curriculum that we are using to categories resources. We should see the fruits of this training in filtered feeds coming out of sux0r as we add new feeds and as new resources are added to existing feeds. So where do we look for that? For simplicity I shall focus on the more important design relevant/not relevant categorisation here.

The sux0r API provides access to various feeds and other information relevant to the filtering, Santy has written in general terms about what is where in the Delores installation of sux0r. More specifically:

We can see from Return vectors call that the relevant dimension to the categorisation is DesignEngRelevant which has vectorID of 3.

Using this in the ReturnCategories per vector Call we get the categories categoryName=isDesignEng, categoryID=10; and categoryName=notDesignEng categoryID=11.

To get the feeds we use this information in the ReturnItems per Category call. So

Immediate feedback from Chris, who is the project team member who know about Design Engineering, is that the automatic categorisation is working well at the is/isn’t relevant level.

The hunting of the OER

“As internet resources are being moved, they can no longer be traced.” I read in a press release from Knowledge Exchange. This struck me as important for OERs since part of their “openness” is the licence to copy them, and I have recently been on something of an OER hunt, which highlights the importance of using identifiers correctly and of “curatorial responsibility”.

The OER I was hunting was an “Interactive timeline on Anglo-Dutch relations (50 BC to 1830)” from the UKOER Open Dutch project. It was recommended at a year or so ago as great output which pretty much anyone could see the utility of that used the MIT SIMILE timeline software to create a really engaging interface. I liked it, but more importantly for what I’m considering now I used it as an example when investigating whether putting resources into a repository enhanced their visibility on Google (in this case it did).

Well, that was a year+ ago. The other week I wanted to find it again. So I went to Google and searched for “anglo dutch timeline” (without the quotes). Sure enough, I got three results for the one I am looking for on the first page (of course, your results my vary; Google’s like that now-a-days). These were, from the bottom up:

  1. A link to a record in the NDLR (the Irish National Digital Learning Resources Repository) which gave the link URL as (see below)
  2. A link to a resource page in HumBox, which turned out to be a manifest-only content package (i.e. metadata in a zip file). Looking into it, there’s no resource location given in the metadata, and the pointer to the content (which should be the resource being described) actually points to the Open Dutch home page.
  3. Finally, a link to a resource page in JORUM. This also describes the resource I was looking for but actually points to Open Dutch project page. The URL for Jorum page describing the resource is given as the persistent link–I believe that the NDLR harvests metadata from Jorum, so my guess is that that is why NDLR list this as the location of the resource.

Finding descriptions of a resource isn’t really helpful to many people. OK, I now know the full name and the author of the resource, which might help me track down the resource, but at this point I couldn’t. Furthermore, nobody wants to find a description of a resource that links to a description of the resource. I think one lesson concerns the importance of identifiers: “describe the thing you identify; identify the thing you describe.”

This story (and I very much suspect it is not an isolated case) has significance for debates about whether repositories should accept metadata-only “representations” of resources. Whether or not it is a good idea to deposit resources you are releasing as OERs in a third-party repository will depend on what you want to achieve by releasing them; whether or not it is a good idea for a repository to take and store resources from third parties will depend on what the repository’s sponsors wish to facilitate. Either way, someone needs to take some curatorial responsibility for the resource and for the metadata about it. That means on the one hand making sure that the resource stays on the web and on the other hand making sure that the metadata record continues to point to the right resource (automatic link checking for HTTP 404 responses etc. helps but, as this post on link rot notes, it’s not always that simple).

By the way, thanks to the incomparable David Kernohan, I now know that the timeline is currently at