Factfile: JISC and the Information Environment
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Be part of the future today
In the not too distant future
Alice is a student at a college in Wales. From her desk at home she ‘logs on’ to the student area of her college website. She checks the timetable for a new course, her department’s notice board, a message from her tutor and then sends a few emails to friends. She then begins to search for information about poverty for a social work assignment. Her search results return several possibilities including links to: a course reading list; books held in the college library; a digitised Victorian pamphlet about ‘the poor’; a list of websites for international charities concerned with poverty; articles in electronic journals; abstracts from a database; and e-prints in repositories at UK public sector institutions.
Alice then sets about exploring and selecting the information she has retrieved from content providers around the globe through a single search from her college website.
If Alice wanted to find information for her assignment today, her experience would be rather different. The information is ‘out there’, but searching requires time and perseverance with no guarantee of finding what she needs. Why? Most online resources and services have traditionally been developed in isolation. Each has its own name, its own interface, features and search facilities.
Users cannot possibly come to grips with them all, nor have the time to search each individually. As a result, the considerable public and commercial investment into resource creation is not being realised.
JISC is working to address this by developing tools and mechanisms to foster an online Information Environment (IE) that will allow online services to ‘work together’ (called interoperability) in a secure way for the benefit of its user community. The vision also includes enabling institutions to create, adapt and share content and incorporate it into their own services such as Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs).
Making it happen
JISC makes a significant investment in technical development activities to realise this vision for its community. This involves cutting edge experimental work often considered ‘unviable’ in the commercial sector. Without JISC and its national and international partners it is doubtful whether this work would be undertaken.
Collaboration with other organisations and agencies, UK and worldwide, also ensures that JISC’s IE work is an integral part of the national and global networked environment.
To make the IE actually ‘work’, commonly agreed technical standards and protocols must be implemented. The JISC IE Architecture specifies a set of standards and protocols designed to realise the vision of delivering digital resources and services to users like Alice in an integrated way. This focuses on the use of open standards, which are widely accepted, designed to promote interoperability and owned by vendor-independent standards bodies. Such standards are available for use by anyone. By adopting the standards and protocols, you will help make the vision of a secure integrated user experience a reality and be at the forefront of providing content in a way that users want.
Adopting the standards and protocols will make your ‘wares’ available to users through a variety of routes, so that students like Alice can find the information for their assignments with ease. You can still control access to your content and maintain your branding, which means increased uptake without loosing your identity. Ever-increasing user expectations are driving developments in this field.
Becoming part of the IE may give you a competitive edge in the academic market. You could increase awareness and uptake of your content by using the standards specified in the JISC IE Architecture to:
- Make descriptive data for your content available for searching by users through other providers’ services (eg college website)
- Provide appropriate links to your content in search results from other services
- Make your content useable by everyone who is entitled to access it
- Provide news and alerting services that meet user needs and expectations
- Provide institutions with user statistics that can influence purchase and renewal decisions
- Adopt JISC-supported authentication standards to allow institutional content management
References and further information
You can find out more about each of these opportunities and associated standards through the other cards in our JISC IE Architecture Standards Fact Card series.