Tuesday, September 30, 2008

BRUM and ISCoP in Dublin

On the 5th of September I travelled to Dublin to give a talk about the BRUM project at the launch of the National Digital Learning Repository (NDLR) Information Skills Community of Practice (ISCoP) (http://www.ndlr.ie/iscop/). The NDLR is an Ireland wide repository of learning material funded by Ireland's Higher Education Authority. The NDLR is split into subject areas that are known as communities of practice (CoP) and each CoP is responsible for gathering and uploading learning and teaching material on to the repository.

The NDLR is based on the Intrallect software, as is Jorum, so it was interesting for me to see how they have organised the learning material. The taxonomy they use is based on their subject areas (CoPs) and a bit more straightforward to use than Jorum (for HE users anyway).

The launch day saw librarians from across Ireland come together to discuss developing and sharing information literacy (IL) learning material through ISCoP. It was a great opportunity for me to talk to other creators of IL RLOs about how best to maintain high standards when developing, sharing, re-using and re-purposing this material.

Several interesting issues arose during a group discussion including many that Ann-Marie and I had discussed as part of BRUM.

Quality Assurance (QA) - this was raised when I attended a Jorum training day but I think it is relevant to any repository of learning material. Should QA be an issue when uploading learning material and if so, who should do the checking? This should be easier when you are part of a CoP as you have a forum/framework for discussion already set up but do RLO developers want someone judging their efforts? It may be that this becomes an organic process whereby colleagues give feedback on learning objects as and when they use them. But, as ISCoP develops it may be that a QA panel could be formed to look at all new RLOs added to the site and decide on what should be kept. I have no feeling either way on what is best but that it should be something any repository manager considers.

Number of RLOs - during discussion at the ISCoP launch some community members aired the view that a large number of objects would be uploaded at once, thereby flooding the repository. Whilst this is a slight risk I think it's better to have more objects than less as it gives the community a more realistic idea of the kind of material being created and used. One option would be to form a QA panel as mentioned above to decide on what should be kept. Also, if the repository has a thorough metadata/indexing system then this should ensure that even with hundreds of objects, relevant material can still be found easily.

Audit trail of re-purposing - it is currently not possible with the Intrallect software to easily track when and how many times a learning object is downloaded or by whom or how it is subsequently re-purposed. I think that if the RLO community takes re-purposing seriously there needs to be a way of tracking re-use and re-purpose. This is crucial in understanding how others have used your material for their own teaching and only then will we get a true picture of re-purposing activity and how widespread it is.

Regular training/workshops - frequent meetings should be at the centre of the CoP as it's at these meetings that issues are raised and discussed and important decisions made. Training opportunities within a supportive environment will also be invaluable in sharing and promoting good practice.

Many of these discussion points got me thinking about some of our BRUM project aims/further areas of activity. We had planned to gather like-minded RLO developers from across the UK to discuss issues surrounding IL RLOs including the points above. However, despite initial callouts and positive noises from other developers I never got passed the stage of thinking about a meeting. Attending the ISCoP launch has inspired me to take up this idea again and to try to get IL RLO developers in the UK to meet at least once to discuss, among other things, use of Jorum in hosting IL material, quality assurance etc.

I've also tried to encourage the ISCoP team to submit a paper at next year's LILAC to inspire us here in the UK to try to organise our own community. Fingers crossed, they'll cross the Irish Sea next spring and make it to Cardiff...

ReJiG update

First of all a little ReJiG update. Rachel and I are still working on the repurposing of the RLOs but the biggest hurdle that we are now facing is repurposing subject material. In the last posting of the blog I mentioned that I'd been liaising with two medical science academics in editing of some lab skills material. I got some feedback from one of them and it was very interesting. Even though he could see the value in the material he also said that it was too basic for first year undergraduates. In order for the material to be useful for his students it would need a good deal of editing etc.

Even if it means we don't add this learning material to our skills website, it's still very useful to know what the academics think of the material on offer on repositories like Jorum. So, whilst Rachel and I can repurpose the other more generic study skills material, subject focused material like this will be a bit trickier.

We are now in the process of appointing an assistant to repurpose material for the project and to gather qualitative feedback from academics. We will be drawing on a pool of post graduate research students across the University who put themselves forward for paid work. Once we've selected an appropriate student, we're hoping that they will collect some useful feedback from our academic colleagues on reusing and repurposing learning material.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Subject advice

Another issue with repurposing the learning material has been the editing of subject specific content. The first learning object that I uploaded was generic (reading critically) but the two yesterday were to support students learning basic laboratory and microscopy skills.

I've contacted two of the medical sciences academics that I liaise with regularly and asked for their help and advice in repurposing the material. I'll post the outcome of this when I hear back from them.

More repurposing

I spent yesterday uploading more learning material into our WebCT and organising the content into modules. This proved to be a hit and miss affair depending on the organisation of the files within the zip file downloaded from Jorum. Both learning modules were designed as SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) packages so that you should be able to simply upload them into WebCT as they are.

However, after uploading the first SCORM package I wanted to edit the order of the files and delete a couple of them. I tried to find a way of doing this in WebCT but couldn't. I then tried to edit the original files on my computer then re-save them but this didn't work either. I've contacted one of our eLearning team so I'm hoping that they'll find a way of doing this as editing the SCORM package within WebCT would be by far the most convenient way of repurposing.

I found that most of the files were named according to the original users' needs. This didn't make further organisation very easy as I had to go into each file (about 30) and rename them with meaningful titles. Compare this with the first ever learning object that I downloaded that included a file called 'Read me' with full instructions on which order to put files etc. So, for example the first learning object that I worked on yesterday was a module made up of about 163 HTML files. These were listed as below:

page2.html and so on...

Unfortunately these pages weren't in the order of the module and many of the files included were images (figues and tables within other HTML files) and so weren't necessarily needed to be listed in the module in WebCT.

The compatibility of SCORM with WebCT has big implications for academics, librarians and other learning technologists to be able to repurpose material easily. Having said this, thoughtful organisation and naming of files would also have saved me alot of time and hassle. In our end of project report I'll be compiling all of our usability feedback and contacting Jorum with it. It would be great if when repurposing content new users give tips on how they have either improved the organisation or metadata of the original material and/or highlighted the challenges they faced. If this knowledge could be added to the metadate in Jorum this could improve the process for any further users. Just a thought.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

First one done!

I spent this morning uploading and playing around with one of the LOs from Jorum. The title is Reading Critically and is an introduction to detecting bias in a piece of written work from the University of Edinburgh Settlement (http://www.sett.ed.ac.uk/). The LO itself is a series of HTML pages containing a piece of text and asking students to answer various questions about bias, so it's got a good level of interactivity. There are also tutor answers and the option to print out the material.

Uploading the zip file and extracting all subsequent files into WebCT was very straightforward. There was a very useful file entitled 'Read me' which held all the instructions about which HTML file to link to in order for the others to work. I set up a folder in WebCT and followed the instructions and all seems fine.

I then had a tinker with the text within the original HTML source page and edited a few sections. This was very easy too and I think that with not much effort an academic/learning technologist could easily repurpose into a subject specific LO.

It may be that for some LOs the hard part will be the pedagogical issues as I spent some time over whether to edit the content to suit a higher level of student, make it more interactive etc. whilst the actual editing was very quick. As with creating learning material from scratch it's all about the planning - who is it aimed at and what do you want them to learn from it?

I think we will need to include a section on aims, learning objectives and other pedagogical aspects in any workflow documents.

More next week when I tackle the rest...!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Project web page and update

Rachel has now added a section to the GEL web site for the ReJiG project. You can find it at http://www.gel.bham.ac.uk/ReJIG.shtml. We will add any links and updates to this page as well as to the blog and this is where we will put links to some or all of the learning objects (LOs).

An audit of Jorum was undertaken and we identified 11 LOs that are appropriate for repurposing. Using our information retrieval skills (!) we drew up a list of keywords and terms to search for learning material and also made use of the different taxonomies on Jorum to find stuff. This stage took a long time and I think a systematic search of Jorum may put some people off. The different taxonomies (MeSH, JACS etc.) won't mean much to many of our academics so I think a review of these would be useful.

Once I found what looked like useful material I checked the metadata to view a full description and to check things like file type and size. So, we ended up with 11 LOs in subject areas ranging from critical reading, using statistical data right through to basic laboratory skills. Some are simple Microsoft Word documents whilst others are a bit more complex.

We have now begun the repurposing phase of the project. I'll be working on 6 LOs, Rachel will be working on 5 and we have so far uploaded them into our institutional virtual learning environment (VLE) WebCT. We will store them there whilst we 'play around' with repurposing and develop our workflow documents.

I will add more to the blog at the end of this week as we are really into the nuts and bolts of the project now and discovering much about this process every day.

Friday, June 06, 2008

ReJiG: BRUM part two?

Even though the BRUM project was completed last year, we're still receiving requests to share our experience of developing RLOs for information literacy from interested practitioners and I have started another project which is almost a BRUM part two: Return of the Killer BRUM!

ReJiG (Repurposing from Jorum into GEL) is an internally funded project with money from our generous alumni through the University of Birmingham Fund scheme. Along with a colleague from our Learning Development Unit, Rachel Wood, this project aims to repurpose learning material from Jorum to fill gaps in our Guide to Effective Learning (GEL) web site. The GEL site contains a host of study skills material, most of which is available to anyone accessing the site.

One of the reasons behind the project, and this is where it partly follows on from BRUM, is to further engage academics and support staff in reusing and repurposing learning materials. We're hoping that along with lots of repurposed content we will also develop a flowchart/checklist/process map for anyone wanting to reuse material from Jorum. We have tried to encourage use of Jorum (and the wealth of guidance provided on the site) within our institution but most of the academics that we've spoken to would like a bit more direction and reassurance about the process of repurposing.

So far we have audited the GEL site and identified gaps in provision. So, we now know we need to focus on material for numeracy, critical and analytical thinking and research skills. I recently undertook an audit of the Jorum repository to find appropriate materials and came up with a long list of possibles.

Rachel and I will now look to identify about 10 learning objects from my initial list to repurpose for use on the GEL site and spend the next month or so getting our hands dirty and repurposing the material.

I'll post further information as the project progresses but if anyone out there is undertaking anything similar please do get in touch.