Friday, December 11, 2009

GLO Maker 2.1 released

Hey, repurposing folks! The RLO CETL has just released an upgrade to its GLO Maker software. The new version includes the facility to add hyperlinks to your learning objects.

Download for free here:

They've also set up a wiki for users to share experiences and find out more information:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Staffordshire University workshop on OER, metadata and repositories

Last week my colleague Jill Russell and I travelled to Stoke-on-Trent to run a workshop for the good folk at Staffordshire University on metadata and repositories. I had met one of their librarians, Sarah Hall, at another talk I gave at Staffordshire in April and she contacted me to see if I was interested in talking further about metadata, both as a user and as one sharing materials on the web.

The first half of the workshop focused on the importance of metadata in describing learning resources appropriately (we got the participants into small groups and asked them to come up with questions they would need to ask about a resource to find out if it would be useful for them - basically getting them to come up with the ideal metadata schema).

Jill (who is our institutional repository manager) then took them through our institutional repository, UBIRA (, highlighting metadata fields and how material on the repository is found by Google.

I got to bang on about how crucial rich metadata is in not only finding material but also in contextualising it for the user. It was really exciting (yes, exciting) to see the small groups come up with so many points that I also think are important to ideally include in metadata for learning resources:

  • who is the intended audience
  • are there any specific learning outcomes attached to the material
  • how well does the material work for the intended audience
  • how difficult/easy was it to create
  • tracking of different versions
I also got to use my pistachio/Tesco analogy (see previous post)!

I know the day was all about facilitating discussions amongst another group but I found it to be really interesting and not a little inspiring. The participants were very vocal in a positive way and really engaged with each other and the topic.

I'm now looking forward to another possible talk on designing and sharing educational resources next year (I'll have to wait to see if the abstract is accepted first) but I have come up with yet another terrible analogy that I'm just itching to use...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Google Books and bad metadata

What was I saying earlier about the need for good metadata in order to open up free content? The Times Higher Tweeted today on the Google Books metadata fiasco and ensuing online discussion on linguist and Professor Geoffrey Nunberg's blog. At the end of August he blogged about the millions of metadata errors on Google Books. At first you almost think this is funny but then it dawns on you how much information Google holds and how much trust is invested in them by their billions of users.

One thing that's pointed out on Geoff's blog post is that a crucial thing to remember is that Google Books will likely be 'The Library' in the future. No-one else will repeat the scanning they've done, so we're stuck with Google Books as our one online source for digitised books. This means that they absolutely have to get this right and, more importantly, that they must alert their users to its ongoing limitations.

Frustration of different database platforms

I've just come back from co-running an information skills session for GP tutors. I've run this session, along with NHS librarian/trainer Elizabeth Saunders from Worcester Trust, a few times now. Each time we seem to spend longer explaining how the different Medline platforms work than the GPs do actually get to practice using the database. I would like someone to explain to me how it benefits our users (the GPs and eventually the medical students) to develop different versions of databases. I'm assuming that it's partly down to the requirements of different networks/systems within different institutions and partly down to the data on the database being licenced for use by more than one platform provider.

This reminded me of my recent post (below) about the design of databases and how this links to being able to find information. Today, I first demonstrated how to use the Ovid Medline platform via our eLibrary. There are several versions of Medline available this way, mostly different date ranges (just to confuse users further) but the searching interface is actually fairly intuitive and the searching functionality is very powerful. It's what I'll train the medical students on so it's useful for the GP tutors to see it in action.

Elizabeth then took over, demonstrated the NHS Evidence site (which I think is excellent for finding information) and then went on to demo the NHS version of Medline. This version looks very different to Ovid and kind of behaves differently too. It should be just as powerful and bring back the same results. However, this isn't always the case. Elizabeth and I did some testing last year and found that with some searches, sometimes, slightly different results came up.

There are several reasons why this is frustrating:

  1. Having to demonstrate two versions of the same database is time consuming and confusing, especially when demonstrating just one database can be confusing enough.
  2. If the same database (different platform) is bringing back even slightly different results then this kind of goes against the idea that you are undertaking a comprehensive literature search. If 'good enough' is okay, then fine, but users need to understand the limits of a database and if the limits are different for each version you will lose them pretty quickly.
  3. It means that as a librarian I should be getting to know different versions before showing them to users and I don't want to have to do this. I want to get to know the best version and show my users this one.
So, how does this link to re-using learning material? Well, journal literature is learning material and if I can't demonstrate an easy(ish) way of finding relevant material to my users, then someone is doing something wrong, and it ain't me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

OER and linking up resources to users

Reading some Tweets yesterday from David Davies and others has made me want to write at a bit more length than 140 characters about opening up resources to users. David blogged about a post by Tony Hirst on opening up library resources to searchers.

This has made me think again about how we structure collections of information, whether it be books on physical shelves or electronic articles in a bibliographic database. So much of my job in teaching students and researchers how to find information is spent describing how databases/search engines/libraries/indexes etc. are put together. Librarians like me come up with clever analogies to help demystify databases and the necessary search strategies ("imagine you're arranging a dinner party, you have to go shopping, now we need to put together a shopping list" etc.). The reason we spend so long training students how to do this is that, in many cases, databases aren't built to help people find information, they are built as repositories.

Some databases are better than others, but I think we should glean something from the success of Google and Wikipedia about usability and how users instinctively look for stuff. I don't want to turn any of my students or researchers into librarians and it can be frustrating sometimes, having to go into great detail about MeSH searching and Boolean operators when all they want is to find the perfect article.

I think that we need to concentrate on pushing content out to users, to places where we know they will be looking. At Birmingham we've configured our e-resources so that if a student is on campus or off campus and signed in to our eLibrary, then any search they do on Google Scholar will display our e-journal holdings (along with all the open web results) with a branded link. This way users are guided back to the (very expensive) resources that they are entitled to.

I go back to my shopping analogy again. In my local Tesco there are three locations where I will find pistachio nuts: the baking aisle, the wholefoods aisle and the snack aisle (all with different prices but that's another matter). What Tesco's are doing is placing the product where they know shoppers will go, rather than forcing the shopper to behave in an unnatural way. This is what we must do with information. Don't try to turn every student into an expert searcher, place the information at their point of need.

This is why I think that really thoughtful metadata can be very helpful. It's all very well having a sophisticated taxonomy with technical medical terms but if your users don't think or search in that way, they'll never be linked up with what they need. Maybe this means more emphasis on user collaboration/consultation when building databases (without it going all Homer-Simpson-designs-a-car). Or maybe the semantic web will solve all of these problems!?

I think we need to ask ourselves what we really want our databases/repositories to be: carefully structured but inpenetrable warehouses or open, usable, welcoming goldmines.

Friday, August 07, 2009

SOLSTICE event: Creating and Sharing Digital Content

The SOLSTICE event (Edge Hill University, 16th July) was a really good day. The speakers comprised project managers from the JISC funded ReProduce programme of projects ( and one from the new OER programme of projects.

One of the keynote speakers was Tom Boyle, director of the RLO CETL. Tom demonstrated the GLOMaker2, a tool for creating online learning content. It looked really easy to use and the best thing is that is has a pedagogical framework underpinning every step of creation. This is especially exciting (yes, exciting!) as many of us are guilty of creating content based on what is available or possible technically rather than focussing on the pedagogy first and then using appropriate technology to create content. The new tool will be released on 21st August, for free, from the link above.

We will be testing out GLOMaker2 at Birmingham in a sort of ReJiG, part 2, where we will be demonstrating various bits of kit to support creation of learning content. We will be encouraging our librarians to use this software and evaluate in terms of use and re-purpose.

Anyway, back to SOLSTICE. The other talks were very good and highlighted many of the same problems that we found with BRUM and ReJiG and that I've pulled out in the post below (finding content, standards of content and metadata, copyright). There was a discussion session at the end of the day in which we all listed our 'must haves' for anyone looking at these issues. I'm hoping that an organisation/individual/project group will start to take these issues forward, especially in terms of IL RLOs (this is the idea for our IL RLO Share community of practice) so watch this space!

BTW - visiting Ormskirk meant a very welcome overnight stay in Liverpool and another quick peak at the Colour Chart exhibition at Tate Liverpool (that I'd visited a week before). Well worth a visit.

ReJiG talk at Birmingham eLearning event

Sorry, it's been a while!

I gave a talk (my two project colleagues chickened out again) at an internal eLearning practitioner event at the University of Birmingham on the 23rd June. The talk was a general overview of the project and then focussed on the barriers that we came up against during the project. We had a good crowd and many of those asking questions afterwards shared the same problems that we had including:
  • finding appropriate online content
  • questions of copyright
  • the standards that we use (or don't use) for content and metadata

The issue of standards is one that really struck a chord with many in the audience as academics, it seems, are very concerned with the quality of the learning material that they may be expected to release to the outside world. I will be very interested to see how our Social Sciences department deals with quality assurance of their material before releasing as part of their OER project.

Please follow the link below to see the slides from the talk.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"These resources are OER" "Oh ER they?"*

The JISC-funded OER programme of projects have finally been launched: and anyone interested in issues surround sharing learning material really should be following these projects closely.

Follow this link to see a list of the projects being funded: I spoke to Sarah Hall (very briefly) about OpenStaffs at Staffordshire University and I will watch the progress of the projects with interest. The Social Sciences department here at Birmingham are running one of the projects so it will be good to see how it goes.

The outcomes of these projects will be crucial in influencing how other UK HEIs begin to open up their content and share it with others. I will post soon about a talk I gave on Tuesday at an internal eLearning event and issues around sharing (including the adoption of standards and peer review of material) cropped up again.

*Very poor Rushmore-related joke:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

SOLSTICE Seminar: Creating and Sharing Digital Content

SOLSTICE Seminar Series:
Creating and Sharing Digital Content: Promises and Pitfalls
Thursday 16th July, 10am - 3.45pm
Venue: Edge Hill University, Ormskirk
Creating the conditions for institutions to develop high quality content for use, reuse and open sharing is high on the agenda for UK Policy and funding bodies.
New institutional practices are required to support environments to mainstream and sustain use, reuse and open sharing of digital content.
Individual practitioners must also aquire new skills and strategies to realise the potential of open educational resources (OER).
This seminar will bring together who are currently working through all or some of these issues.
Melissa Highton, Head of the Learning Technologies Group at Oxford University. Melissa is heading up the Open Spires Project funded under the recent JISC OER Call Open Spires focuses on supporting strategic institutional learning and encouraging cultural change.
The RLO CETL was established in 2005 and will be making all of its content freely available in the new Open Jorum.

If you require any further details please contact Amanda Boult at

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Good Intentions report

I *finally* got around to finishing reading this report:

Good Intentions: improving the evidence base in support of sharing learning materials by Lou McGill, Sarah Currier, Charles Duncan, Peter Douglas (December 2008). Available at

It makes very interesting, hopeful reading for those of us keen on truly sharing our learning materials, improving the quality of IL RLOs and reducing duplication of effort. The report looks at how sharing takes places and learning from the good practice that's out there in the RLO/repository community. The authors focus on different models that are particularly successful, including the subject-based sharing model and the open sharing model.

The subject-based model is of interest to us in libraries as the authors explain that disciplines with a strong professional identity (librarians) and shared curricula (we're all teaching referencing, plagiarism, evaluation of information and search strategies at least) are more successful than, say, institutional sharing models.

They conclude that evolving attitudes to IPRs (Creative Commons etc, Open Jorum) and technology (Web 2.0 sharing tools) mean that sharing is becoming more widespread. The report also includes some really useful tables and business model charts.

SUILCoP talk

Just wanted to update everyone about a presentation that I gave at the Staffordshire University Information Literacy Community of Practice (SUILCoP) on the 29th April. My talk covered the background to BRUM, RLOs in general and, most importantly, sharing learning material. It was good to speak to an audience who were all interested in sharing IL RLOs, but don't quite know where to start. After waffling on for about 45 minutes, there was a short group discussion and many of the issues that came up at the LILAC symposium were echoed here, including:

  • Developing standards - by which I mean having a set of standards as to how material is first created. For example, DDA compliance was raised as an issue for one library and I'm sure this would be a universal standard.
  • Training/expertise - it was agreed by the participants that some of our time when developing IL training material is wasted in getting to know software or new bits of kit (e.g. Captivate, TurningPoint, Echo360) and virtually no formal training is offered in library schools (Bob Glass of MMU is keen to follow up this point in particular).
  • One-stop shop - many people expressed interest in the idea of a one-stop shop of shared training materials or at least a detailed listing of what's out there. I have put up a current listing of all the IL RLO sites that I'm aware of on the ILRLOShare wiki (details below).

It was a really enjoyable event and it was interesting to meet so many like-minded library folk. I've uploaded my slides to SlideShare so please take a look:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

IL RLO Share wiki

In order to keep the momentum going from the LILAC symposium discussions I've set up a wiki at to host:
  • the discussion write-up
  • discussion threads on all topics discussed at LILAC
  • IL RLO intitiatives/project links
  • IL RLO events
  • links relating to IL RLOs and sharing of learning material

If you're interested in any of the above or any aspect of IL RLOs please follow the link and click on the Apply to be a Writer button.

LILAC in Cardiff

A weekend off and Rachel and I were on our way to Cardiff to LILAC 2009.

This is an annual conference devoted to all things information literate and I was running a symposium, along with Nicola Siminson of Jorum and Rebecca Mogg from Cardiff University, on setting up an IL RLO community of practice (CoP).

This was my third time at LILAC, so it was great to catch up with so many familiar faces again. It was a really packed conference with loads of interesting parallel sessions. The symposium was due to take place on the morning of the last day and when I found out the running order I was a bit disappointed to have to wait until the last day (not least because it meant I couldn't stay out late the night before!). However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it meant that I got to sit through other sessions that focused on RLOs and get a sense of what people were talking about in these sessions.

I think what interested me the most about so many of the papers was that, to some extent, I'd seen it all before. There were so many projects, large and small, up and down the country that seem to still be focusing on creating so much content from scratch, rather than searching for existing appropriate content and re-purposing. More than once I found myself busily writing notes and then giving up half way through as I thought "...but...didn't so and so do a similar thing last year? But better? For less money? And in less time?".

This is fine as long as the IL community and wider library community are happy to accept that so much duplication of effort is still going on. If library managers are happy to set their librarians off on projects to create IL learning material without first seeing what else has been done, re-using what they can and embedding and re-branding to suit their context then that's great.

Except, I'm not sure that this is the case. I would argue that most librarians would love to go to a single point of access site with a set of links to high-quality IL material along with explicit indications of permission for re-use. I would also argue that these same librarians would like that learning material to have been created in easy to adapt formats with some information about how easy it should be to edit.

One of the most inspiring (if that's not too strong a word) papers was from Katy Wrathall on the SMILE project, in which the project team actually re-purposed existing material to create a module of IL resources on a Moodle site. I've yet to read the project report all the way through but I'm sure that some important lessons can be learned from this project.

We ran our symposium on the morning of April 1st (!) and had a healthy turn out of about thirty attendees. The group discussions gave us some very interesting talking points and it was just a shame that we didn't have longer for the open discussion. All the attendees indicated that they would like to see a continuation of the discussion and the organising of a CoP to support sharing of IL RLOs.

After the session we promised that we would keep in touch with the attendees and so I've now set up an IL RLO Share wiki. Anyone interested in joining our fledgling CoP should follow the wiki link and click on the Apply to be a Writer button. More information on the wiki to follow.

By the way, Rachel and I also managed a few runs in Cardiff, round the lovely Bute Park.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Intrallect user's conference - Edinburgh

Rachel and I gave a paper at the Open Educational Repositories: Share, Improve, Reuse conference in Edinburgh, organised by Intrallect, on the 25th March. We had no expectations at all and really no idea who would be attending or presenting. It was only after we arrived at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and looked at the programme that we began to get really interested.

The two day programme was a good mix of long talks on JISC-funded projects and showcases of smaller projects from the UK and beyond. The conference kicked off with Amber Thomas from JISC outlining the Open Educational Resource programme of projects which are due to begin in April 2009. These projects will aim to encourage institutions and individuals to open up their learning material to be available to all. The projects will also track any cultural changes in how and why creators of learning material share their content.

As the morning went on the other, shorter talks focused on projects involving creation and re-use of learning material with the emphasis of making use of repositories (as the conference was sponsored and held by Intrallect) in opening up content. During these talks, metadata was an issue raised again and again (which was also an important part of our paper) so we felt at least that we would be speaking to a receptive audience.

We gave our talk, and during the questions bit at the end Catherine Bruen, from Trinity College Dublin, echoed our concerns about use of metadata to adequately give RLOs a context and to indicate how successful learning material had been in achieving learning outcomes/intentions. Catherine works as a project manager within the NDLR in Ireland and later on, over some lovely sandwiches, we discussed how important we also think metadata is for repositories for 'discoverability' (another big issue for ReJiG). There is a balance that needs to be struck between getting contributors to input detailed information about their material and with not wanting to burden them with too much work.

The following day we listened to Lou McGill give a talk about the Good Intentions report from JISC. This report focuses on gathering evidence of sharing learning material among individuals and institutions. Even though there is evidence that many creators of learning material are unwilling to share, 70% of respondents to a 2006 JISC survey said that they had re-purposed others' material.

The report includes various tables illustrating different models of sharing and indicates that subject-based reposistories and communities of practice (CoP) are very successful in encouraging sharing. This is good news if we are to build a CoP for IL RLOs.

Later on, in a break out session with Lou and Sarah Currier, there was a lively discussion on the issues surrounding sharing learning material and Lou mentioned a chapter of a book on the experience of the folk at Merlot (an educational resource repository). I've yet to read this but it will be interesting to read more about the CoP approach.

Anyway, Rachel and I really enjoyed the conference and felt that we learnt a lot about what is going on in the repository world and about what the hot topics are.

We even had time to run around the streets of Edinburgh, both in the evening when the castle etc. are lit up beautifully and in the glorious morning sunshine among the daffodils.

Monday, March 16, 2009

ReJiG at Birmingham and beyond...

On Wednesday 4th March I gave a presentation about the ReJiG project at the University of Birmingham's 6th Annual Learning & Teaching Conference (see photo). The talk covered the background of the project, aims and objectives, what we've done so far and what we still hope to do to tie up the project. I also talked about the problems that we encountered whilst trying to achieve our objectives and our suggestions for solutions, including the problems with access to Jorum (some of which will be solved with the new JorumOpen licence); taxonomies and searching, metadata and promotion of Jorum to academics at Birmingham.

Next week, Rachel and I will be travelling to Edinburgh to give a paper at the Intrallect Conference in Edinburgh ( Our plan is to talk about these problems and our suggested solutions to the Intrallect team, who are behind the software behind Jorum, and that they will come up with ingenious ways to fix them all.

The following week, on the 1st April (!), along with Rebecca Mogg from Cardiff University and Nicola Siminson from Jorum, I'll be running a symposium at LILAC ( to look at issues surrounding re-use and re-purpose of IL learning material and the possibility of setting up a community of practice in the UK, a la ISCoP in Ireland. We're all hoping that we get an audience full of enthusiastic folk who want to join us in our mission to share our IL RLOs, spread good practice and stop duplicating our efforts.

I'll post back after each of the events.