JISC Inform 25
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In this issue...
Freeze Frame | JISC Digitisation programme rescues historic polar images
Rethinking social media | Ewan McIntosh on ICT for education
What is the library of the future? | Oxford’s high-profile debate
JISC Conference 2009 | Emerging themes from this sell-out event
A word from the Editor
Welcome to the latest edition of Inform.
In this edition we highlight the impact JISC funding has had in not only bringing to life resources that would otherwise have remained unseen, but also making them accessible to students and researchers throughout the world.
We reprint the photographs taken during the first expedition to the North Pole that have been preserved by the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University, and we report on a number of teaching, learning and research resources that have been undergoing extensive testing over the past 12 months.
As technology continues to change the way we communicate, with more channels and more opportunities, we report on the findings of the independent Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience. Sir David Melville, chair of the inquiry, shares the findings of his recent report into the impact that Web 2.0 is having on higher education.
And staying with the communication theme, ‘Twitter’ is rapidly becoming a useful tool in education and not just the play thing of celebrities with too much time on their hands; we look at the pros and cons of using it within education.
If you have a suggestion for a story, or have ideas for topics that we could cover in future editions, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Web 2.0 reading list’ wins Developer Happiness prize
David F. Flanders is a self-proclaimed ‘alpha geek’, currently working for JISC as a Programme Manager in Rapid Innovation. Here, he talks to Inform about the importance of developers working with users, to create the kind of new and exciting software prototypes he feels will help innovate education for the 21st century student.
Developer Happiness Days
The first JISC-sponsored ‘Developer Happiness Days’ event gathered software developers from higher education and commercial backgrounds to collaborate in seeking innovative technological solutions to common educational issues.
Who knows – our software competitions might even create the next Twitter or Flickr!
This year, the winning team from the University of Kent developed List8D, an innovative, Web 2.0-friendly reading list prototype that will help academic staff create and manage Web 2.0-friendly reading lists more easily. It also allows the delivery of personalised reading lists to students, with direct links to catalogue items and books for purchase via Amazon.
Ben Charlton from the winning team said: ‘Winning the competition was a bit of a surprise. We knew that reading list management was an issue for many, but were amazed at the way the List8D prototype caught people’s attention. To develop it further, we’re putting together a bid for the Rapid Innovations Grants call, and are planning how to best implement further development. We came away with an appreciation for agile development and prototyping techniques. The day was a lot of fun.’
Ross Gardler, from OSS Watch (the JISC-funded open source software advisory service), was one of our judges on the day. He said: ‘List8D is an excellent prototype, clearly demonstrating what the user would see, and the applicability of the solution, both immediately and in the foreseeable future. As a lecturer, I would have loved a system like this.’
Other innovative prototypes included ‘Lazy Lecturer’ (a tool to help teaching staff collect and assemble learning objects from internet resources); ‘Splash URL’ (a way for lecturers to shorten long URLs when delivering lectures); and a method of dividing up PowerPoint presentations into individual slides, allowing other people to re-purpose that material in their own contexts.
The University of Kent’s victorious developers collected their prize money of £5,000 at a ceremony in London on 29 April 2009. They intend to invest the prize in efforts to turn their impressive prototype into a fully functional piece of software.
I would like to encourage further innovation work of this kind across UK HE and so am pleased to hold up the Kent team as an exemplar as to what can be achieved with the support of an understanding and flexible IT department.
I think that Kent’s IT management are truly to be commended for their user-focused service delivery – many IT departments would do well to emulate it.
JISC plans to build on the success of Developer Happiness Days with a project dedicated to supporting, promoting and enabling the software development community in higher education, whilst exploring links to other relevant sectors. Details will be announced in summer 2009.
Event Twitter stream
Winner’s short film
Podcast with David Flanders
Event tag was Dev8D
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News in brief
InfoNet’s ‘Bologna process’ infoKit
The Bologna process is a voluntary initiative that aims to create a European Higher Education Area (EHEA), and to promote and strengthen this system in the face of global competition. A new JISC infoNet infoKit clarifies Bologna’s implications and potential, and how it could affect UK individuals and institutions.
The user-friendly infoKit is a ‘one-stop shop’ that links to other specialist organisations for advice in areas such as policy (UK HE Europe Unit) and subject-specific information (Higher Education Academy subject centres). It also gathers real life experiences such as case studies on implementing the new Diploma Supplement.
’The JISC infoNet Bologna site brings all the relevant material together and presents it in a highly readable, logical and accessible format.’
The infoKit already has supporters with Andy Gibbs, Napier University’s Bologna Expert, saying: ‘The JISC infoNet Bologna site brings all the relevant material together and presents it in a highly readable, logical and accessible format. I will definitely use it to complement my work.’
Whilst the infoKit is aimed at anyone with an interest in the adoption of the Bologna process, Graeme Roberts of the Higher Education Academy comments on its usefulness to academic colleagues: ‘At a time of growing engagement with the Bologna process, it’s very useful to have a resource that is so specifically designed to meet the needs and interests of UK academics.’
The new look JISC website
The JISC website is now sporting a brand new look and feel, complete with an easy-to-use, topic-based navigation system that will help you find the information you want more quickly and easily.
’The revamp of the site is the result of listening to you, the people who use it.’
Ben Whitehouse, JISC Digital Communications Manager, said: ‘The revamp of the site is the result of listening to you, the people who use it. We have looked at how we can meet your information needs most effectively and improve your online experience.’
Several new elements have been introduced to the website:
- Topic-based navigation system: When investigating a topic, this new search function will bring up all the relevant activity pages, with links to news stories, funding opportunities and any publications concerning it
- Improved search: Search not only the JISC site but also across JISC Services’ independent sites with one simple click
- Customisable: Tweak your home page so it becomes 100% relevant to you
- Simpler layout: Overhauled landing pages to make finding content easier
- RSS feeds: Increased use of RSS feeds, for example by topic or ‘Recently Updated’ activity
Whitehouse added: ‘We value your feedback, with a dedicated page for you to tell us what you think and to report any issues or bugs.'
You can also tag your blog posts and tweets with jiscweb to help us collate and react to your web comments rapidly.
Upcoming JISC Awards
JISC is sponsoring the Outstanding ICT Initiative category at this year’s Leadership and Management Awards run by The Times Higher Education (THE). The winning award will go to the initiative that is having a major impact on its institution’s services, with the potential to be adopted across the sector. The winners will be announced on 9 June at a ceremony in London. Visit the JISC website to find out who won the accolade.
Procureweb celebrates 10 years
Procureweb, the JISC-funded procurement support service for UK FE, HE and the Research Councils, celebrated its tenth birthday this year. Procureweb provides tools, information and support to anyone who participates in the procurement process, and has been dedicated to saving the sector money since its inception in 1999. In an era where the costs of technology are rising almost as quickly as the technology itself is becoming obsolete, its future-focused, long-term advice is proving to be increasingly valuable.
AccessApps wins award
At the IMS Global Conference in Barcelona, five JISC-funded projects and one of its services returned to the UK with a number of awards. JISC Regional Support Centre (RSC) for Scotland North and East won the Best Accessibility Solution award for AccessApps.
’It’s fantastic to get this award from such an important international body as IMS Global.’
Manager of the RSC Sarah Price said, ‘It’s fantastic to get this award from such an important international body as IMS Global. The impact it creates will undoubtedly help us deliver the message about the value of open source and free software. If colleges and universities are interested in being able to meet the individual needs of the learner – or to personalise their learning – there’s hardly a more personal tool than AccessApps.’
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RSC international relations
JISC’s Regional Support Centre (RSC) for Scotland South and West is currently involved in a European information and resource-sharing initiative with Reid Kerr College in Paisley, as well as partners from Italy, Romania and Turkey. Kerry O’Neill reports.
This project is part of the Grundtvig Social Adaptation of Disabled Adults (SADAP) European Learning Partnership, a focus of which is to see how technology can be a vehicle for accessibility and social inclusion.
‘The project emphasises sharing effective practice in partner countries.’
Margaret McKay, the RSC’s eAdvisor for Accessibility and Inclusion, said: ‘The project emphasises sharing effective practice in partner countries. We’d like to promote how our European colleagues can use enabling technologies such as free, open source and web-based resources to support inclusion. This is a vital factor in countries where funding for such resources is hard to access. The AccessApps accessibility software developed by the Scottish RSCs and JISC TechDis is a prime example of such a free tool.’
In Romania, projects are investigating how disabled people are training in the area of encaustic arts and in web and graphic design to help them into employment. In Turkey, children and young adults are given support in developing life skills. In Italy, sport and leisure activities are being promoted as a tool for social inclusion.
In April, Reid Kerr College welcomed groups from each project country, comprising staff, service users, students and their carers and families. McKay explained: ‘The Scottish participants are gaining much from this partnership, seeing first-hand how inclusion is approached in very different cultural settings.’
Organised by the RSC, and by Mary Jane Bird and Felix Gilfedder of Reid Kerr’s Learning Plus and Supported Learning services, the project is funded by Grundtvig, part of the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning programme. For more information, contact Margaret McKay.
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Rethinking technology for education
Ewan McIntosh is a Digital Media Manager with Channel 4’s Innovation for the Public (4iP), an initiative aiming to fund ideas that change lives. Ewan delivered a captivating keynote at this year’s JISC Conference, and here discusses the issues he thinks will resonate for the future of educational and public-funded technologies.
What do you think came out of the JISC Conference?
The ‘digital student’ and the student’s experience of technology within education were key at this year’s conference. I learned that we should all think about whatever it is we are doing, from the perspective of the person who is going to use it.
FE and HE are not designed from a user’s perspective at all – they are designed entirely around the system.
A great example of something designed around the user is 4iP’s ‘School of Everything’. This is a website, an online platform and a community in which we have invested quite heavily. If you are a teacher with something to teach or a learner wanting to learn, you meet there and you learn there, simple as that. It is not time dependent. It often leads to face-to-face meetings – so ‘traditional’ learning does take place – but the means of connecting learner to teacher, learner to learning if you like, are incredibly simple.
Universities do not have that luxury. They have a finite budget, with a finite number of staff. Universities are going to have to box quite clever to ensure that they can offer anything to everyone at any time. Gone, perhaps, is the degree where you study three chunks each year. Thirty chunks over four years with more flexible management might be more suitable for some.
How does your work help education open up its resources?
Most of the ideas I deal with do not stand out as being specifically ‘educational’. There is formal education and schooling on one hand, and learning in its broadest possible sense on the other. But I would argue that nearly every project we do has learning at its core, although you would not necessarily recognise it immediately.
Key to what we are doing at the moment is the whole concept of discoverability – how people consume and interact with material they find on the web, especially news, current affairs and public information.
Something we are looking at is how to make the filters on the web better and more interesting. For academia, this is probably one of the most interesting things for the next couple of years. It is relatively easy to create open formats of your information, of the statistics and research that you have. Universities and colleges need to take the lead, showing people how they are mashing up research that has been done over the years, creating platforms that digitise content, and then making permanent links to every piece of research that has come out of their university.
How many people would actually read a PhD lying on a library shelf? If it were published online it could be tagged, word-searched and cross-referenced to produce a much more powerful product from all that hard work. Making academic and research outputs more searchable is something I believe education’s managers and strategic planners need to be thinking about, very seriously, today.
How do you see this more open approach helping researchers and learners?
Well. I have just started a grass-roots, informal ‘unconference’ event called Teach Me. This is essentially an ad-hoc gathering where people come together with similar passions, to share and learn in an open environment. These intense events generate much discussion and participation. Anyone from research assistants to vice chancellors can share their experience or something they are working on in ten minutes, rather than the usual hour-long conference diatribe.
Though mainly aimed at school educators, Teach Me is attracting university lecturers, too, who sneak in to see what is going on in schools. Teach Me offers an opportunity for people to question, discuss and improve upon the great ideas they have come across. So you share something, but on the understanding that it might be made better by all those attending, so everyone benefits.
What initiatives are you currently working on?
One of my big discoverability initiatives is the social network-based Central Station (a working title). It is designed to help established and new audiences learn more about contemporary art. Like the Turner Prize for the MySpace generation! 4iP is going to provide platforms to share the things its users have created, and for established artists to mentor those considering entering or studying the art industry. A section of Central Station contains never-before-seen learning content; things we have managed to unearth, digitise and get out there. Like JISC, I am keen to push the idea that we can really use technology to share information. It is much harder to share a sculpture online than it is to share a dissertation.
How are you promoting multimedia technology for learning?
What we do is underpinned in learning. We are trying to lead by example, by creating long-lived, useful projects online. For this, we need people to want to use them, and to want to expand on them. It is then down to the imaginations of the people, students, teachers, anyone as to how they exploit these resources.
Ideas and data like this can potentially change people’s lives, and help public money be spent more wisely.
An ambitious example we are working on is called Through the Roof, which plans to take a thermographic photograph of every roof in the UK. This will reveal how much money and energy is lost through poor insulation and bad architecture, whilst helping push environmental messages. Such data could then be used in education and by architects, geographers or those studying environmental matters.
What do you see as the next big thing in social media?
If we knew that, we would just be going and doing it! We rely on the ideas and inspiration of a hugely talented independent sector in the UK to come up with ideas. Having said that, I think that mobile and social gaming technologies are going to be big in the near future.
Mobile phones (and especially iPhones) are simply the most ubiquitous computing device. The world has just over 1 billion people online, yet up to 3.5 billion own a mobile phone. I want to make much better use of this. The developing world is leapfrogging the laptop and going straight to mobile technologies.
As well as being a booming sector, gaming is also really how we learn best.
Anyone who has ever learned something complex probably did so through experimentation, by going and playing with it. By applying gaming theory, and even just commercial games to the learning environment, you stand a much better chance of engaging learners, whether formally or informally. If you look at Facebook’s current top ten social games, five of them are produced by one small, very young company in London who have secured over £10 million of funding to develop their games.
Now, I am not saying that these are games for learning, but I do think that colleges, universities and people designing learning infrastructure in those environments would learn a lot from playing them and examining their models, instead of purchasing large Virtual Learning Environments that were designed for 1980s office environments and not for 21st century learning.
Is a holistic approach to education feasible?
It would be great if learners could be in control of where and how they learn. The biggest challenge for university lecturers is that the system, in general, is not designed for that. A large-scale, fundamental and university-wide change would have to happen for that to occur.
Making academic and research outputs more searchable is something I believe education’s managers and strategic planners need to be thinking about, very seriously, today.
Ewan McIntosh's blog
JISC Conference 2009
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What do researchers want from ICT?
Three JISC-funded projects have come up with some answers. Judy Redfearn reports.
The UK needs a national e-infrastructure for research to remain competitive in the global knowledge-based economy, concluded the government’s ‘Science and Investment Framework 2004–2014’ in 2004. Since then, investment from JISC, the UK e-Science Programme and others has created many elements of an e-infrastructure – including a National Grid Service (NGS) and tools to create Virtual Research Environments (VREs) – but these are still not widely used by researchers.
JISC’s Community Engagement projects, e-Uptake, Engage and eIUS, sought to find out the barriers to e-infrastructure use, how the existing tools could be more attractive for researchers and the successes of e-infrastructure adoption.
eIUS: Success stories
eIUS (e-Infrastructure Use Cases and Services Usage Models) captured the processes that successful researchers of e-infrastructure went through and developed case studies to inspire others.
‘We’ve employed what is effectively story-telling to demonstrate that e-infrastructure use can now be considered normal within many subject areas,’ says project lead Dr Michael Fraser from Oxford University Computing Services.
Rana, an experimental biologist, seeks links between genes and human disease. She collaborates with a bioinformatician who uses several e-research tools to identify genes for further analysis in a fraction of the time it would previously have taken.
Geographer Linus wants to forecast the impacts of social policy and health trends. He discovers MoSeS, a project that has developed a suitable infrastructure for his needs. Accessing census data using the NGS, he projects the future distribution of illness in Bradford.
eIUS charts the successful use of advanced ICT across a broad range of disciplines. By the end of the project 15 case studies will be available, ten of them on video.
e-Uptake: Breaking down the barriers
e-Uptake identified barriers to the adoption of e-infrastructure after interviewing researchers and local, regional and national service providers. Barriers include:
Lack of awareness – ‘People don’t always know what is available locally, nationally and regionally’
Concern about sustainability – ‘You’re working with tools that come out of research rather than out of a software factory. It’s difficult to figure out what the risk is before you start.’
Communication – ‘I’m not an e-Scientist. People talk different languages and you’ve got to understand what different people are doing to see how they can merge together.’
Engage: Providing solutions
The Engage suite of projects is overcoming barriers by making research solutions for specialised projects widely available:
Climate modelling – making the Genie climate system model easily accessible on the NGS for post-graduate teaching and even public use.
Planning radiotherapy treatment – taking the output of a Cardiff project to increase the accuracy and effectiveness of radiotherapy and making it widely available on the NGS.
Image processing for ancient documents – adapting image-processing tools developed to study ancient manuscripts and making them available to a wider community on the NGS.
VREs: Working towards common goals
This work complements JISC’s VRE projects which also aim to develop infrastructure to better serve researchers’ needs.
For example the Engage image-processing project further develops software from the VRE project on the Study of Documents and Manuscripts (SDM). Similarly, two other VRE projects employed ethnographers to chart research processes and explore how the gap between researchers and software designers can be breached, addressing the communication issues identified by e-Uptake.
Breaking down barriers will be a key focus of phase three of JISC’s VRE programme, which is just beginning and aims to embed VREs in institutions. A full list of VRE3 projects will be available soon on the JISC website.
Explore the projects
JISC VRE work
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Digitisation Programme roundup
A historian of 19th century Britain can now search through two million pages of historic newspapers and seven significant pamphlet collections (totalling one million pages), and reference a wealth of contextual census data.
A postgraduate studying key events in 20th century British politics can now analyse the relevant cabinet papers, see how the politicians involved were portrayed in the political cartoons of the time, and choose from more than 3,000 hours of downloadable video clips of news items covering important events.
What’s more, scholars can now do these searches, downloads and analyses from their desktops, at a time that suits them. The savings in time and money this offers to students, academics and their institutions are immense. This has been made possible by JISC’s investment in building up significant and authoritative online resources.
From Captain Scott to Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a photographic history of polar exploration can now be viewed online. More than 20,000 images, capturing over 150 years of polar exploration, have been made accessible to all via Freeze Frame, just one of the projects benefitting from JISC’s £22 million digitisation programme.
Created by the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), the collection includes photographs of Captain Scott’s ill-fated 1910 Terra Nova expedition, which saw the explorer and his team perish at the South Pole, together with images of other figures including Scott’s contemporary Sir Ernest Shackleton and more recent explorers.
The negatives, daguerreotypes and lantern slides in the SPRI’s collection are so fragile, they would never be able to go on public display again.
According to Heather Lane, SPRI’s Librarian and Keeper of Collections, the project has saved many of the resources for the academic community and wider public. ‘Without this JISC-funded project we risked losing some of the most fragile of items forever and certainly wouldn’t be able to give so many people access to otherwise hidden collections that can further the study of polar environments,’ she says.
At the heart of JISC’s digitisation drive is a commitment to unlocking resources that were previously difficult or impossible to access. It encompasses images, film, sound, journals, newspapers, maps, theses, pamphlets and cartoons, and the collections capture a wide variety of aspects of British life.
As well as widening access to and protecting resources, digitisation can open up new areas of research, allowing scholars to make new connections between areas of study and explore fresh avenues. Polar explorer Pen Hadow, who is currently leading the Catlin Arctic Survey which will determine the likely meltdown date of the ice cap, explains: ‘The Freeze Frame archive is invaluable in charting changes in the polar regions. Making the material available to all will help with further research into scientific studies around global warming and climate change.’
The JISC programme is opening up whole new vistas for study in a cost-effective way that simply has not been possible until now.
Michelle Pauli investigates how resources from across the UK are being brought to life through digitisation
More than words
The digitisation of cabinet papers, parliamentary papers, pamphlets and newspapers has made over 10 billion words printed in British newspapers between 1620 and 1900 now fully word-searchable, so that it is possible to examine iconic events from the Great Fire of London to the French Revolution, as well as the minutiae of daily life.
Over 100 years of policy-making, investigation and reporting is on offer in the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1688–1834, while the 23,000 pamphlets in the 19th Century Pamphlets Online collection focus on the political, social and economic issues that fuelled some of those great parliamentary debates and controversies.
In the cabinet papers digitisation project, the spotlight is on the momentous decisions of the 20th century, courtesy of the half a million digitised pages which reveal how the government dealt with crises from the Somme to Suez. This resource also contains 100 learning packages and interactive learning tools to help put these papers into context.
Another context is provided by cartoons. The British Cartoon Archive offers access to one of the largest cartoon databases available in the world, with over 144,000 images from 250 leading cartoonists. Political cartoons provide satirical commentary on the affairs of the day, and the Carl Giles Collection, never before openly available to the public, provides a social history of English attitudes over a 50-year period.
Further insight into everyday lives from the 18th century to the early 20th is available in the one and a half million items of ephemera in the John Johnson Collection. It includes playbills for theatrical entertainments, broadsides relating to murders and executions, popular prints, and a wealth of different kinds of printed advertising material, all of which was previously only available to those who could go to Oxford’s Bodleian Library in person.
Places and people
Demographic data that was previously disparate and time-consuming to access has been brought together and organised in innovative ways in two websites: Vision of Britain and Histpop.
Vision of Britain offers a comprehensive digital library of historic administrative boundaries. As Project Director Humphrey Southall explains: ‘if you’re interested in information from the census, or information about births, marriages and deaths, you can’t actually map the information or study it without knowing the boundaries of the reporting areas.’ Based on these boundaries, the site is a one-stop shop for historical information on places in Britain, making a vast array of population and other data available simply by typing in a place name.
Histpop – Online Historical Population Reports – focuses on census data and provides an extraordinary picture of Britain’s changing demographic structure from 1801 until the Second World War. With its free online access to almost 200,000 digitised pages of population data, the site is, as Histpop’s director Matthew Woollard points out, ‘pretty unlike most university libraries, which have only parts of this material. In many cases, where they do have them, they’ve been heavily used in the past and are fragile and difficult to use and difficult to access.’
Film and sound
Film and sound have traditionally been under-used in education but that is already changing with the arrival of easy-to-use high quality digitised resources such as the British Library Archival Sound Recordings and NewsFilm Online.
The British Library’s groundbreaking service provides free online access to some of the treasures of its audio archives, from classical music, accents and dialects to Holocaust testimonies and wildlife vocalisations. Meanwhile, the London Broadcast Company/Independent Radio News archive is making available over 3,000 hours of recordings relating to news and current affairs, digitised from thousands of reel-to-reel tapes. Broadcasts include coverage of the Falklands war, the miners’ strike and the Thatcher era of government.
These major news events can also be watched as well as heard. NewsFilm Online offers unparalleled access to the archives of ITN and Reuters, while InView provides 600 hours of moving images in the form of news broadcasts, public record films and parliamentary coverage from a curated and thematic approach.
Journals are notoriously expensive for libraries to purchase. The free access to over 300 medical publications offered by Medical Journals Backfiles is providing an excellent value-for-money return on the digitisation investment. Not only does the resource make two centuries’ worth of medical journals available to all – on a fully searchable and Open Access basis – it is also a dynamic collection that continues to grow as publishers deposit their current and future issues.
A similar approach has been taken by EThOS, the Electronic Theses Online Service. This offers a single point of access to the entire range of UK theses for the first time. Where a thesis is not immediately available for download, it is digitised on request, making it a resource that will continue to grow as it is used.
A critical mass of online resources about Ireland and Wales, covering a wide range of subject areas, have been opened up to the world. The Ireland Collection comprises more than 75 key journals, spanning 300 years from the 1700s to the present day, alongside over 200 monographs and 2,500 manuscript pages.
Welsh Journals Online is a free online, searchable selection of 19th, 20th and 21st century Welsh and Wales-related periodicals. It offers over 400,000 pages of text from journals, making it the biggest single corpus of Welsh language content on the web, and allowing non-specialists access to important source materials that have, until now, been the preserve of professional scholars.
Spotlight on the arts
The First World War Poetry Digital Archive brings together previously dispersed and unseen primary source material from the major poets of the First World War, including Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Robert Graves. The collection contains over 10,000 items, from manuscripts to war diaries and photographs, supplemented by 500 multimedia items from the Imperial War Museum, including video footage and audio interview with veterans.
A similarly varied array of material – playbills, programmes, press cuttings and photographs – from the East London Theatre Archive puts the spotlight on the comparatively under-researched history of theatre in the East End, while the Pre-Raphaelite resource site preserves the delicate resources of Britain’s most significant and influential 19th century art movement. Now, through the open access website, visitors can follow the thoughts of a Pre-Raphaelite artist through his or her initial sketches and scribbles to working drawings and detailed studies through to the final oil painting.
Digitisation brochure online
JISC Digitisation programme
The Digitisation programme resources
EthOS, The Electronic Theses Online Service
Creating a one-stop electronic shop for all UK theses
Freeze Frame: historic polar images 1845–1982
Discover the polar environment through the eyes of the explorers who dared to go into the last great wildernesses on earth
Pre-Raphaelite Resource Site
Trace a movement that changed the face of British art
East London Theatre Archive
Putting the spotlight on East End music hall heritage
The world’s first digital library of core resources on Ireland
19th Century Pamphlets Online
Polemical voices from the past on the great debates of the 19th century
Welsh Journals Online
Free online access to key periodicals from Wales – past, present and future
A Vision of Britain Through Time
Mapping the past: a digital library of Britain’s borders
British Newspapers 1620–1900
Unlocking a rich seam of hidden treasures from 300 years of newspaper history
Archival Sound Recordings
A critical mass of the world’s rich audio heritage at your fingertips
18th Century Parliamentary Papers
Opening up Britain’s 18th century decision-making
Medical Journals Backfiles
Free access to the best medical publications of the past, present and future
Histpop: Online Historical Population Reports
Illuminating Britain’s changing population
The Cabinet Papers 1915–1977
Making the momentous decisions of the 20th century available at the touch of a button
First World War Poetry Digital Archive
Taking the work of nine First World War poets to a new generation
See and hear the events that shaped the 20th and 21st centuries, online
British Cartoon Archive
Opening up the single most important archive of British newspaper cartoons
The John Johnson Collection: An Archive of Printed Ephemera
Discover hidden treasures of everyday life from the 16th century to the 20th
Watch some of the key social, political and economic issues of our time unfold through digital moving image media
London Broadcasting Company/Independent Radio News
From Callaghan to Thatcher, a contemporary audio archive from the only radio news archive outside the BBC: available summer 2009
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Opening digital doors
On 24 March, JISC staged its best-ever conference, with 780 actual and 300-plus virtual delegates. Generating over 1,300 messages on Twitter, it became the world’s ‘most twittered about’ event for 48 hours. Kerry O’Neill presents a conference round-up.
New JISC chair Professor Sir Tim O’Shea opened proceedings by summarising a successful year of achievements for JISC. This included the operation of SuperJANET5, the fastest research network in Europe, and running the world’s largest access management federation, with over eight million single sign-on users. Professor O’Shea also underlined the importance of collaboration if the UK is to remain at the forefront of education globally, a key issue raised during 23 March’s pre-conference round table discussions, whose outputs will inform JISC’s future strategy.
Live online interactivity
The keynote speakers were live-streamed online, including the inspirational opening plenary by Professor Lizbeth Goodman and the equally informative closing presentation from Ewan McIntosh, 4iP Digital Media Manager for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The fully comprehensive conference blogs were maintained by JISC’s team of roving journalists, and included delegate interviews and coverage of the diverse break-out sessions, on themes from identity management to using Virtual Research Environments and e-Portfolios. This live amplification of events and emerging themes allowed far wider participation in the discussion than would normally have been possible.
This live amplification allowed far wider participation than would normally have been possible.
Though instantaneous online communication channels like Twitter are still relatively new, the sheer number of active users within the higher education community emphasises their innovation-friendly, ‘early adoptive’ nature. Twitter also allowed closing keynote Ewan McIntosh to request topics for discussion from the delegates, making for a relevant speech, tailored to the needs of the audience (see our Twitter debate).
In a similar vein, a ‘text wall’ projected behind the speakers in the ‘Mind the Gap…Understanding the tensions between institutions and the learner’ break-out session allowed delegates to text their questions in, for consideration by the presenters.
At the conference, JISC took its round-table and more informal discussions very seriously. Through the verbal and written evidence and information gathered, JISC will listen carefully to the needs, themes and concerns of its funders – and the communities that it serves – to inform the 2010–2012 JISC strategy.
Following presentations by Rashik Parmar, Juliet William, Lorcan Dempsey and Jeff Hayward, the round-table discussion covered many key issues JISC intends to consider in this forthcoming strategy. Topics included the role of national e-infrastructure development in international competitiveness; how global forces affect regional economies and how HE can strengthen such economies; why the systematic organisation of information resources is important; and how and why HE institutions need to strategically deploy IT to improve their competitive advantage in an international market place.
The JISC strategy is up for consultation in the coming months, for approval by the JISC board in November 2009, and will be published for 2010.
The key conference presentations are now available to view online, with session information, blog posts and podcast interviews available via the JISC Conference programme pages. Please visit these pages to catch up with or comment on the events and presentations at your convenience, and to grasp an overview of the conference’s emergent themes.
Bigger and even better?
In 2010, the annual JISC Conference will be held at the QEII Conference Centre in London, from Monday 12 April until Tuesday 13 April. For further information, see the Events section of the JISC website.
Ministerial attention at 2009’s JISC Conference
David Lammy, Minister of State for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, appreciates JISC’s efforts to stimulate discussion and action. He left a guest post on the JISC blog:
Like me, more and more people are using social networking and blogs to communicate with each other as a matter of routine, and it has been great to see the work that JISC is doing to capture that enthusiasm for technology and bring it into teaching, learning and research. The innovative use of technology, including Twitter, video live-streaming, conference podcasts and blogging to broadcast the JISC Conference 2009 to people who could not be there in person, has been a great example of what the web can offer.
The fact that anyone, anywhere was able to follow the conference live, or download the presentations, recordings or watch videos afterwards hopefully meant that no one missed out on the important issues being discussed. I hope you found the conference stimulating – whether you were there in person, or ‘virtually’ from the other side of the world.
JISC Conference 2009
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What is the library of the future?
In the future will libraries be ‘thrilling’ or ‘irrelevant’? Guest writer and event blogger Michelle Pauli reports from JISC’s Libraries of the Future debate held at Oxford University.
Several high-profile speakers presented their views, both to the assembled audience and to those attending virtually in Second Life, where the event was also broadcast. They tackled the campaign’s key issues, including: the skills libraries must acquire to remain relevant and visible; fostering partnerships between public and private libraries; discerning users’ increasingly diverse needs; and how to meet the future information needs of researchers given the changing models of scholarly communication.
Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodleian’s Librarian and Director of Oxford University’s Library Services, is firmly in the thrilling camp. Speaking at the debate, she said: ‘If you’re standing still, change looks fast. If you go with the flow, it will seem effortless. Libraries remain thrilling places and the future of the library is bright…Libraries will continue to evolve but remain true to connecting knowledge-seekers with the accumulated knowledge of the past for the advancement of individuals and society.’
‘For many, university science, technical and medical libraries are largely irrelevant, with all the necessary information now online.’
The provocative charge of ‘irrelevant’ was levelled by Professor Peter Murray-Rust, who spoke about research libraries from a practising scientist’s point of view. ‘What is happening in the world is bypassing university libraries,’ claimed Murray-Rust. He added that ‘For many, university science, technical and medical libraries are largely irrelevant, with all the necessary information now online.’
Does the solution lie in libraries fully embracing the digital age? Professor Robert Darnton, Head Librarian at Harvard University, thinks so: ‘We must digitise and democratise. The problem with many libraries is that they serve a particular body, for example students. We need to open them up – not by opening physical doors, but through digitisation.’
To that end, Harvard is gradually making its special collections available, free of charge, in an Open Access digital repository. It also requires its faculties to deposit all their scholarship in a repository, making it available worldwide for free.
‘The point is not to turn our backs on the world but to make the most of this extraordinarily rich university setting, in order to share the wealth,’ says Professor Darnton.
The Libraries of the Future campaign, which has encompassed events, printed resources, a Guardian supplement and podcasts, is just the latest manifestation of JISC’s commitment to understanding the needs of library users and helping librarians and managers to respond to them. The campaign emerged from over ten years’ work in supporting and influencing changes within libraries across the education and research sectors. It included the influential eLib programme which ran between 1995 and 2001 and which promoted a cultural change in academic libraries. As a result of eLib, a cohort of library staff with experience of managing sizeable projects that involved IT was produced, helping the UK’s academic libraries to compete more effectively on the global stage.
Like all JISC campaigns, Libraries of the Future performs a number of functions, from raising awareness to generating discussion. Making the most of economies of scale, it has the added benefit of letting decision-makers know what is already available from JISC, whilst helping JISC to identify areas for further work. One of these areas is likely to be how better to prepare librarians for their roles in the future.
According to speaker Chris Batt, former CEO of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, there needs to be a fundamental shift in how librarians are trained and how they perceive their roles. He suggests that the new breed of librarian, which he terms ‘knowledge warrior’, must be ‘people committed to wanting to change the relationship between the information and the people who want it. We need a knowledge sector that can define, mediate, manage and lead the public landscape of the learning society. This will lead to people with new skills, new organisational structures, and new partnerships.’
This is a sentiment even Professor Murray-Rust agrees with, who goes further to add: ‘The librarian of the future will not come from the librarian of the present. The librarian of the future will be a revolutionary.’
Watch the debate
Add to the blog
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Wales welcomes its national repositories network
Researchers, lecturers and students at institutions throughout Wales are for the first time benefitting from being able to share their work across the complete Welsh Repositories Network. Alice Gugan investigates.
From having just two operational repositories in 2007, JISC’s Welsh Repositories Network (WRN) project has transformed this situation by establishing a repository in all 12 of the Higher Education establishments in Wales. The WRN is led by Aberystwyth University, on behalf of the Wales Higher Education Libraries Forum (WHELF). It focused initially on gathering requirements from each institution, before procuring the necessary hardware, managing the installation and finally monitoring and evaluating each implementation.
’It’s the speed with which it’s all happened in Wales.’
Andrew Green, Chair of WHELF and Librarian of the National Library of Wales – a key partner in the network – describes the outputs of the project as a mini-revolution: ‘It’s the speed with which it’s all happened in Wales. At the beginning of 2007, only Aberystwyth and Cardiff had a repository of any kind. Now, all 12 institutions have their own repository, user-ready and run by fully trained staff. This is a major step forward for Wales.’
The reason this has happened with such efficacy and speed is because of the successful collaboration between the institutions involved. ‘Co-operation was the obvious way to go,’ continues Green. ‘WHELF is very much an action body for all 12 institutions’ libraries and information services, with the National Library also closely involved. It’s already an organisation of mutual help and co-operation. So it wasn’t difficult to put together our plan – the network existed already and fortunately a willing lead came forward in Aberystwyth.’
The team at Aberystwyth have also been a key part of the influential Repository Support Project, thus have been able to provide the level of expertise and support that the Welsh institutions required to get off the ground.
For a small institution like the University of Wales Lampeter, the impact of the Network, and a repository in situ, is enormous. ‘We’re bowled over by how this project has enabled us to benefit,’ explains Dr Andrew Prescott, Manager of Lampeter’s Library Services. ‘We are a very small institution for whom two years ago, given other developmental needs, a repository simply had to be low down our priorities. This project has been a godsend. The expertise we’ve been able to draw on and the financial aid to bring the project to fruition has had a tremendous impact on not just us, but small institutions all over Wales.’
Lampeter’s repository has limited users at the moment but is looking keenly to the future and the precise direction the repository will take. Will they choose to focus purely on thesis provision which can then be expanded upon, or on a wider remit from the beginning? Prescott says: ‘These are the questions that we’re asking right now, as the repository gets established. As a small institution, our commitment to shared services is vital. Aberystwyth will continue to provide server support and, given our recent merger discussions with Trinity College Carmarthen, the broader network is crucial in the decisions that lie ahead.’
For Andy McGregor, Repositories Programme Manager at JISC, the project has been a success in many ways. ‘A comprehensive network of repositories raises the profile of the Open Access debate in Wales higher than ever before, and encourages collaboration across the board. The network promotes value for money and institutional efficiencies through collaboration and sharing – core features of the Welsh Assembly’s Reaching Higher agenda. And, of course, it’s tailored to the user: the repository network is bilingual, in keeping with the requirements of the Welsh Language Act.’
A new phase of the WRN project has recently been funded to focus on further development, namely encouraging user deposit and uptake, and embedding the policy frameworks surrounding the repositories.
Institutions elsewhere in the UK can benefit from the experience of the WRN project via the case studies from the development of each of the 12 institutional repositories, documenting the hardware purchases in each case.
JISC’s Welsh Repositories Network
Repositories Support Project
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Bringing lifelong learning to life
JISC’s Lifelong Learning Symposium in March welcomed many lifelong and work-based learning practitioners, who were all keen to share their expertise and ideas for the future.
A ‘typical’ university student might be perceived as someone in their late teens to early twenties, campus-based and with little work experience, yet students can enrol into higher education at any stage of life.
With diverse skills and experiences and complex educational needs, lifelong learners present education providers with new challenges. Inspired by JISC-funded projects, April’s Lifelong Learning Symposium explored the role that technology can play in addressing these challenges. This includes areas such as accrediting prior learning and experience, supporting remote learners, assessing performance and professional development.
The WALES (Work-based Access to Learning through e-Services) project explored using mobile technologies and social networking software to support distance learners. Tony Toole from the project said: ‘Work-based learners have to juggle work, home and learning commitments. They welcome the immediacy of the mobile phone.’ Mobiles help to create dispersed communities of work-based learners, keeping employees informed and helping them record experiential learning quickly and easily. Mobiles also blur the boundaries between learning environment and workplace.
The JOSEPH (Joining up Organisations to Support New Engineering Pathways into HE) project explored the use of e-portfolios for vocational pathways into HE, specifically for the new 14–19 Specialised Diplomas. JOSEPH developed an Information, Advice and Guidance tool, to be used in tandem with e-portfolios. Learners can identify the progress they have already made towards their career goals, whilst planning their next steps. Guidance professionals regularly update this tool, enabling them to reach a greater number of students while ensuring high-quality guidance. As its name suggests, this project’s success hinged on the effective joining of relevant organisations, in this case the University of Nottingham with a number of local schools, FE colleges and guidance providers.
Up for discussion
The symposium addressed issues and ideas around lifelong learning in three key areas. These were personal development planning (PDP) and continuing professional development (CPD); admissions and progression; and work-based learning. In each area similar issues emerged, namely the ’human factor’ and ‘sustainability’.
In admissions, despite its complex requirements and the introduction of technical systems, people still provide personal assistance, information and guidance. As applicants become more diverse, so too do the routes to applying, with the percentage of ‘typical’ applicants decreasing.
Systems need to be simple, intuitive and above all, useful to people.
Systems need to be simple, intuitive and above all, useful to people. If staff appreciate the benefits of using technology and can input into its development, they are more likely to adopt it. In delegates’ experience, it is crucial to involve technical and non-technical staff throughout the design process, so that they ‘buy in’ to the new system.
With CPD and PDP, the ‘human factor’ was also considered paramount to success. People need to feel ownership of a technological solution, such as an e-portfolio. This may be influenced by a range of factors, including having an understanding of the personal benefits, the freedom to decide which aspects to share with others and the ability to move their content between institutions as their learning progresses.
It is important that new initiatives have a long-term outlook and involve people from all areas of lifelong learning. Sandra Winfield of Nottingham University commented on the need to find a way to ensure continuing benefits: ‘The big success of JOSEPH is that it has been taken on by the local Connexions service, who are building it into what they are offering to all Nottinghamshire schools.’
The hope is that small-scale solutions can now grow as many of the benefits will come through wider adoption.
Delegates felt that gaining senior management backing will be essential to bring about long-term cultural change and affect institutional strategy. Establishing communities of practice may also help to draw together isolated pockets of development. The hope is that small-scale solutions can now grow as many of the benefits will come through wider adoption.
Discussion will continue on JISC’s e-learning blog and internet radio show.
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HE in a Web 2.0 World
The newly published ‘HE in a Web 2.0 World’ report identifies the trends that may reverberate throughout education in the future. Sir David Melville, Chair of the Committee of Inquiry behind the report, highlights its key findings.
Today’s learners exist in a digital age. Even before they reach HE, this is exemplified through their use of Virtual Learning Environments, collaborative online spaces and social networking sites. Students’ literacy across such technologies is high and pervasive from the age of 11 onwards.
The importance of ‘face-to-face’ teaching, for example, is highly esteemed.In engaging with Web 2.0 technologies, our students are developing the skills they need to enter the competitive, digitally savvy and increasingly international workplace. By that, I mean communication, collaboration, creativity, leadership and technology proficiencies.
A worrying finding is students’ increasingly broad but shallow searching methods, with critical evaluation skills often lacking. Here, I refer not just to the ‘Google Generation’, but to learners of all ages. University librarians and information managers are therefore still vital, in directing students to online resources.
Students are heavily influenced by school methods of delivery and understanding how social technologies can be applied in a study context often presents difficulties. A student of mine once said, ‘Inviting a tutor into my online space is like having a teacher turn up at my house party!’ HE institutions need to consider how they can demonstrate the benefits of such technologies for learning and teaching. Over time, the role of the tutor is of fundamental importance. They must keep up with developments in their own subject and in pedagogy. They must also tune in to their students’ needs, as they grow up in a digital world. The time seems right to renegotiate the relationship between tutor and student, so that each values the other’s expertise and works together to capitalise on it.
Web 2.0 in HE today
More strategic and policy intervention is needed in its deployment, however, as current usage is patchy at best. Current drivers are ‘bottom up’, namely coming from the interests and enthusiasms of individual staff members.
On the basis of the strength and reach of our broadband infrastructure, courtesy of the JISC-funded JANET network, the UK is at the forefront of future developments in this arena. The recommendations in our report, alongside the guidance available from organisations such as JISC, will help identify a clearer path into the future.
Drivers for change
Tradition: whereas the benefits of face-to-face are understood, Web 2.0 approaches for learning still feel new
A diverse learner population: for those unable to participate in an actual community (ie distance or work-based learners), Web 2.0 is an attractive alternative
A richer educational experience: active learning is very effective, helping students become self-directed, independent learners
Practice in schools: project and group-based work supported by technology appears to be in the ascendancy. This is likely to condition expectation within HE
Open source resources and online courses: growth here increases students’ choice and access
Skills development: engagement with Web 2.0 can engender 21st century learning and employability skills
Many students are now at ease in the Web 2.0 world, enjoying its strong and participatory sense of community. But Web 2.0 has also led to impatience, and to a casual approach to evaluating and information and to copyright and legal constraints.
The means to these ends should be the best tools for the job, whatever they may be.
The traditional HE world is constructed around a wholly different set of foundations, being hierarchical, guarded and precise. The two worlds currently co-exist, with both sides adapting to deliver or gain qualifications most effectively.
The next generation is unlikely to be so accommodating. The ‘HE in a Web 2.0 World’ report makes several recommendations if the UK’s HE is to continue to provide a stimulating, challenging and relevant learning experience.
The report argues that the impetus for change will come from students themselves. Today’s fledgling behaviours are likely to be second nature to those in future intakes, having been encouraged far earlier in the education system.
HE should help students refine and articulate their Web 2.0 skill sets. This could involve adapting the positive behaviours currently being shaped by the experience of the newest technologies. More negative issues – such as the rise in plagiarism and insufficiently critical attitudes to information – must be addressed with equal vigour.
Request a copy of the report
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Open to the future
JISC is supporting the open release of myriad existing learning resources, licensed to enable them to be freely reused. Kerry O’Neill talks to David Kernohan, JISC’s Open Educational Resources (OER) programme manager.
The OER programme aims to help educators and learners discover high-quality online materials that can then be freely re-used, throughout the world.
Describing OER, the Hewlett Foundation states:
The Web presents an extraordinary opportunity for people and institutions everywhere to create, share, and use valuable educational materials. Open Educational Resources, as these free tools and content are called, can include full courses, textbooks, streaming videos, exams, software, and any other materials or techniques supporting learning.
JISC is collaborating with the Higher Education Academy on the OER pilot schemes. Their joint findings will inform a broader programme of activity to help get online the unique resources of a significant number of UK higher education institutions.
The projects involved in this year-long pilot are being run at institutional level (by JISC), and at subject and individual level (by the Academy). Each demonstrates a sustainable and long-term commitment to the open release of resources.
The pilots hope to establish which business models will be appropriate to help support OER, and how institutional policies and processes may need to be modified for resource release to become an integral part of the educational resources creation cycle.
Enhancing the reputation of UK education
David Kernohan, OER Programme Manager within JISC, describes how institutions are likely to enjoy ‘reputational and financial’ benefits in choosing to add to the open resources pool. Staff will also be able to save valuable time as they will no longer duplicate effort, recreating learning materials that already exist elsewhere.
Kernohan continues: ‘Looking at it from a worldwide perspective, [OER] is a fantastically powerful thing in terms of international development. It provides resources to the developing world that can then be used and reused in universities, colleges and schools all over the world, which is a good thing in its own right.
‘It also advertises the quality of UK higher education to the global market. It’s possible for a student sitting in, say, Albania, to look at materials from a particular university and decide, based on the quality of those materials, that they would like to apply to the course.
‘It’s also a starting point for lecturers to make their own teaching materials which, hopefully, under the terms of the licensing, could be released back onto the internet for reuse.’
OER as strategic tool
OER can help further institutions’ strategies, from increasing access to helping to widen participation in education. Kernohan clarifies: ‘Anything that gets university learning resources into the hands of prospective students has got to be a good thing. It can raise aspirations. They can look at the materials and think, this is something I’d like to do and it’s something I can do. This can also impact on student retention. If students actually understand the kind of learning they’ll be doing at university, they’re much less likely to drop out.’
Openness can drive up quality, too. Many institutions may choose to concentrate more on the quality of their openly available online materials, to give a good impression to potential students.
The global picture
Internationally, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Open Courseware Consortium and the Open University’s Open Learner are really adding momentum to the growing OER movement. However, the JISC/Academy collaboration across the entire UK sector is possibly the world’s largest joined-up pilot, supported by £5.7m of funding from HEFCE. As Kernohan asserts:"certainly, the UK higher education sector is on the leading edge here".
What of the future?
The OER programme is already promoting cultural change. The idea that content is king is being replaced by the notion that universities and colleges can actually add value to their content by providing support, examples, assessment and accreditation.
With the pilot schemes set to finish in April 2010, watch this space for further information.
Open Educational Resources programme
Podcast with David Kernohan
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Web 2.0 and virtual worlds for beginners…
Alice Gugan introduces the colourful collection of indispensible guides and goodies that have come out of JISC’s Users and Innovation (U&I) programme just in time for summer.
A range of guides and tools are now available from the recent Users and Innovation programme that will benefit teaching, research and administrative support staff within colleges and universities.
The programme focused on the use of Web 2.0 technologies, including social software, multi-user virtual environments such as Second Life and new tools such as audio-enhanced learning. If you are interested in how Web 2.0 technologies can help you, then read on!
The virtual worlds debate
If you are interested but uninitiated in the world of Second Life, you will benefit from browsing the Getting Started in Second Life user guide. This forty-page manual clearly and succinctly walks its readers through the initial acclimatisation process, next steps, and uses of the virtual environment in particular situations. It also provides a list of practical concerns and the dos and don’ts of using the environment in a teaching context.
Its new, glossy magazine is well worth a dip into…
Open Habitat is one of the three projects featuring in the above guide. Its new, glossy magazine is well worth a dip into for those interested in the debate about the use of virtual worlds and of Web 2.0 technologies in teaching and research today. In it, a number of academics offer their own perspectives and experiences in a highly accessible, readable format, designed with dialogue and images that capture the creativity and energy behind the project.
Both of these new resources will be available online and in print from the end of May.
e-portfolios to record CPD
Two engaging Flourish e-portfolio animations have been created, to help any university staff considering tracking their Continuous Professional Development (CPD) electronically via an e-portfolio. Using e-portfolios will help to bring staff closer into line with prevailing student behaviour. The first animation introduces the concept of the e-CPD, whilst the second focuses on the benefits of e-portfolios from a manager’s perspective. Both can be viewed online now.
Using Quick Response (QR) codes in education
QR codes are two-dimensional bar codes that link the physical world and the electronic world. Their use is evolving rapidly, and their potential is enormous. JISC has produced an introductory study called ‘The use of QR codes in education: A getting started guide for academics’. It considers how QR codes could be used effectively in teaching within HE and FE, suggesting how students can get engaged with the technology.
…each guide introduces its subject in a straightforward way.
An introduction to Web 2.0 technologies
Do you want to learn a variety of Web 2.0 basics, whether to bring yourself up to speed with the work of colleagues or to actually start putting them to use yourself? If so, then get acquainted with the brand new suite of Web 2.0 practice user guides from JISC Netskills. Focusing on podcasting, web and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, social bookmarking, blogging, micro-blogging and much more, each guide introduces its subject in a straightforward way. In addition, some are reinforced by short, helpful animations which can in turn be used as learning resources. Available in print and online from May.
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Debate: Should everyone be using Twitter?
We expect students and audience members to pay attention. But the presence of a digital back channel such as that provided by Twitter, through which your listeners can pass digital notes, turns that assumption on its head. Lecturers and teachers who use this digital back channel don’t consider typing and texting to be rude. They see it as a measure of engagement. Here are some of the advantages of using a back channel for you and your students.
In traditional lectures and presentations, listeners have to wait till the speaker invites questions. With a back channel students can ask questions as they occur to them. Other students may answer them, or the lecturer can choose to pause and answer them or address them during the next question break.
The Director of Educational Technology Services at Pennsylvania State University, Cole Camplese, encourages students to use the micro-blogging site Twitter. He tells of a shy student who posted a question on Twitter and was encouraged by her classmates to raise the topic out loud.
The existence of this digital back channel blurs the line between presenter and audience, with everyone present now able to participate actively. To exemplify this point, here is an account from an engaged member of a Twitter-fuelled meeting I attended recently:
‘What struck me was the dynamic of this meeting. It was participatory. No one was talking out loud except the man giving his PowerPoint presentation, but the conversation was roaring through the room via Twitter. It was exploding. People were asking questions, pointing out problems and replying to each other, all while the PowerPoint was progressing along its unwaveringly linear path.’
A library information specialist from the USA, Joyce Valenza, applies this to the educational context. She says students and teachers could use this digital back channel during formal lectures to enable several things: firstly, to make timely comments and share interpretations of the subjects discussed; secondly, to research unfamiliar terms or ideas and post new understandings for the benefit of others; finally, to assess opinions, namely to determine the levels of consensus in the room or to begin a debate.
As a teacher, you may worry that the back channel will be distracting, yet the opposite seems to be true. Dean Shareski is a digital learning consultant and educational technology blogger from Canada. He describes how much more involved he feels in presentation environments that take advantage of the digital back channel:
‘The more I’m allowed to interact and play with the content the more engaged and ultimately the more learning happens. The more the presentation relies on the back channel, the more I focus. Knowing that my comments are going to be seen by the presenter or live participants, seems to make me pay more attention.’
Rather than fear the back channel, look for ways you can incorporate it into your teaching and encourage participation. I recommend breaking your lecture or presentation into sections so that you can take a break to answer questions posed through the back channel. Perhaps consider crafting your main points into ‘tweetbites’ – ie sentences of no longer than 140 characters – so that your listeners can post them easily. Use the digital back channel yourself to pose thought-provoking questions or poll your listeners. Your students can now do far more than merely pay attention: they can participate.
In a time of information overload, the adoption of Twitter can only be seen as an act of great foolishness, at least for the majority for whom time is a precious resource. Its emphasis on timeliness and brevity means that Twitter provides little more than a chronic distraction by trivialities.
Twitter asks the question ‘What are you doing?’ and the narcissists reply in great detail when they wake up, get up, get dressed, have breakfast, go to work, have lunch, feel bored, go home, have dinner, watch TV, go to bed.
Twitter asks the question ‘What are you doing?’ and the narcissists reply in great detail when they wake up, get up, get dressed, have breakfast, go to work, have lunch, feel bored, go home, have dinner, watch TV, go to bed. These ‘tweets’ (although t-witterings seems a more appropriate term for a user’s updates) may occasionally provide useful information, but you must pay the price of the mundane comments to find the worthwhile.
There is, of course, great variation between users in terms of how many of their tweets may be considered useful, and how many useless; some users will focus exclusively on the trivial whilst others will supply primarily useful information. However, even for a tightly honed list of ‘friends’ who can be guaranteed only to post useful updates, Twitter is a distraction whose limit of 140 characters means messages are often over-simplified.
There is only so much useful information that can be squeezed into 140 characters. Whilst the proponents of Twitter will argue that the restriction on characters encourages brevity, in truth it requires the loss of the subtleties of an argument, encouraging people to either praise or dismiss a person or event rather than enabling them to state both sides of the argument.
There are, of course, a few people who will take the time to elaborate on an argument elsewhere when necessary, using Twitter to point to blog posts that consider the merits of different sides to a story. However, even then, do you really want to have these people’s thoughts and comments throughout the day? Whilst people talk of multi-tasking they are really serial-tasking, swapping backwards and forwards between two tasks, and every time their attention swaps from one task to another they waste a little bit more time refocusing on what they were working on.
The solution to Twitter being a chronic distraction by the trivial is therefore selecting only the highest quality feeds, and rather than having them interrupt you in real time, read them in batches at a time to suit. At this point, however, Twitter becomes nothing more than a poor version of a news aggregator.
Twitter can be a poor version of many things (eg news aggregator, chat room, messenger, social network), and for most people Twitter will provide an extremely poor return on time invested. There are generally better tools available for specific tasks.
YES: Olivia Mitchell helps people become more confident and effective presenters, through face-to-face training courses and via her blog
NO: David Stuart is a Research Fellow in Web 2.0 technologies at the University of Wolverhampton. He exaggerates the negative aspects of Twitter (just slightly) for the sake of the debate.
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eTutor with Tony Toole
What institution do you work for?
Swansea Metropolitan University.
What’s your job title?
Project Manager/e-Learning Consultant.
What does that involve?
Managing action research and development projects that probe the boundaries of technology enhanced learning.
What’s the name of your project?
eTutor (Education Through Ubiquitous Technologies and Online Resources).
How would you describe your project to friends outside of education?
The project explores two ideas about the future of online learning. The first is that learning resources for new courses will be sourced primarily from the web, rather than being created. The second is that the learning environment will be assembled from freely available Web 2.0 services rather than using a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). We tested this by creating degree-level modules, using visual interfaces and customised search engines to access web-based learning resources. These were then delivered using a social networking aggregation site, with embedded widgets to provide the functionality.
The project explores two ideas about the future of online learning
What is your project attempting to achieve?
A clearer view of the fundamental transformation that the developing affordances of the internet are going to bring to education.
Which JISC programme does it fall under?
Users and Innovation (U&I).
When is its time frame?
April 2008 to March 2009.
Is it achieving its objectives?
Yes – but the developing technologies and our effective use of them have some way to go before the vision will be realised.
In what ways?
The eTutor project demonstrated that learning resources could be sourced from the web and delivered using an online environment assembled from Web 2.0 tools. It used a ‘discovery learning’ pedagogic approach where the learners were finding and making decisions about the quality of resources, guided by an online tutor. It’s by no means perfect: a lot of materials were not ideally structured for learning purposes and there are problems with getting Web 2.0 tools to work together. However it did indicate that this may be the direction that future online learning might take.
What would you say were its lessons for the wider sector?
The work could provide different options for those involved in content creation or in making decisions about which VLE to use.
Who do you think would be most interested to hear about your project?
Any organisation that is developing the use of online learning as part of their delivery mix – but perhaps in the future when the approach is demonstrably effective.
What impact could it have on the student experience?
Discovery learning is learner-led and has been promoted as being more effective than classroom style delivery. The approach develops independent learning skills that will be valuable throughout the lifelong learning journey.
What has surprised you most about your project?
The fact that a single online visual gateway is all you need to provide access to all the learning materials required.
Which other JISC projects do you work with most closely?
Those associated with the RePRODUCE (Re-purposing and Re-use of Digital University-Level Content and Evaluation) programme; the new JISC CETIS Widget group; and the Open Educational Resources (OER) projects.
What benefits do you get from that?
All the benefits of serious networking with experienced practitioners.
What’s been the best thing about managing a JISC project?
The opportunity (in the U&I programme) to apply blue-sky thinking and take risks!
And the worst?
Convincing colleagues that this work is as important as the day job.
We’re certain that this is an important area of development and have already built it into future project plans.
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What: A workshop run by UKOLN to support members of web management teams within colleges and universities
When: 28–30 July 2009
Where: University of Essex, Colchester Campus, Colchester
What: A workshop for web archivists, preservation experts, librarians and content providers
When: 21 July 2009
Where: British Library Conference Centre, London
What: Debate on what do researchers want from ICT?
When: 09:00–15:10 18 June 2009
Where: The Franklin Theatre at the Institute of Physics, London
What: An opportunity for practitioners and managers from supported organisations to discuss developments
When: 10:30–15:00, 18 June 2009
Where: The Goldsmith Centre for Business, Letchworth, Hertfordshire
For details of all JISC events, please visit the blog.
For details of JISC Regional Support Centre events (RSCs), visit their individual home page.
‘HE in a Web 2.0 World’. From the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience
Preservation of Web Resources (PoWR) briefing paper
Doing Enterprise Architecture: enabling the agile institution
The JISC Digitisation Programme: Overview of Projects
Access these and other publications online.
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Editor: Kerry O’Neill
Design and Production Manager: Greg Clemett
Dissemination and Production Coordinator: Amy Butterworth
Design: iD Factory