Overview paper: Technology and descriptive choices in UKOER

Technology and descriptive choices in the JISC and HEA Open Educational Resources programme.

A position paper for the ADL Learning Content Registries and Repositories Summit by R. John Robertson, Lorna Campbell, Phil Barker

Theme: ‘State of the practice in learning content repositories’ and ‘Systemic Initiatives’  License: CC: BY

JISC and the Higher Education Academy are collaborating on the Open Educational Resources Programme. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has provided an initial £5.7 million of funding for 29 pilot projects, plus associated support activities, (April 2009 to March 2010) which will explore how to expand the open availability and use of free, high quality online educational resources. (http://www.jisc.ac.uk/oer).

CETIS (the Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards), a JISC innovation support centre, is providing strategic and technical support for UKOER at both programme and project level. Technical guidance and synthesis is disseminated primarily through the CETIS blogs which are aggregated onto the CETIS website (http://www.cetis.org.uk/).

A different approach

Unlike many previous development programmes, UKOER has not specified a particular technical architecture or mandated a specific approach to metadata and resource description, beyond the requirement that a few key pieces of information are recorded in some way.

The required information is:

  • Programme tag
  • Title
  • Author / owner / contributor
  • Date
  • URL
  • Technical info – file format, name & size.

Some additional information has also been recommended:

  • Language
  • Subject classifications
  • Keywords
  • Tags
  • Comments
  • Descriptions


It is still too early to present a synthesis of how this information has been recorded but it is possible to provide an overview of the platforms, tools, metadata standards and packaging formats that projects have adopted.

Packaging formats in use

Packaging formats in use

Communication protocols in use

Communication protocols in use

Descriptive metadata standards

Descriptive metadata standards

Types of tools used to manage OERs

Types of tools used to manage OERs

Details of the types of tools in use in UKOER

Details of the types of tools in use in UKOER


  • projects may occur more than once in any given graph.
  • the graphs record the number of platforms that support a given format, protocol or standard (rather than use per se)
  • the recorded use of Zip is probably unrepresentative


  1. At this stage CETIS technical synthesis of UKOER is still very much a work in progress but some preliminary trends are emerging:
  2. Unsurprisingly projects have gravitated to technologies they are familiar with and already had in place.
  3. Projects have used a mixture of elearning platforms, repositories, and innovative approaches
  4. The standards used are often embedded in applications and their use is dependant on the application chosen.
  5. The feasibility of aggregating distributed heterogeneous resource descriptions is still unproven.
  6. The pilot programme points to ways forward to use both web2 applications and digital repositories and to exchange information between them.
  7. Projects have chosen multiple platforms to support different functions such as preservation, streaming and dissemination, marketing and advocacy.
  8. Projects’ technical choices primarily reflect resource management and distribution requirements – as opposed to course delivery requirements.

Questions for discussion

  1. How do these figures fit with your expectations of approaches to sharing learning content?
  2. Can the applications you are using interact with multiple different platforms and applications for different purposes?
  3. If relevant, can your content move between different types of platforms? Can your metadata?

A fuller version of this position paper will be presented at the OCWC Conference in May 2010.

The use of Content Packaging and Learning Object creation tools in the UKOER programme

Although it is possible to create learning objects or content packages within virtual learning environments (from which it may be possible to export them) there are also a number of content packaging or Learning Object creation tools which have been used in the UKOER programme.

As the discussion around the use of Content Packaging noted ( http://blogs.cetis.org.uk/johnr/2010/03/08/the-use-of-ims-cp-in-the-ukoer-programme/ and http://blogs.cetis.org.uk/sheilamacneill/2010/03/09/proding-around-curriculum-design-what-happened-to-content-packaging/) the perceived usability of available tools may influence the choice of packaging standard (whether the tools listed produce IMS CP, ADL SCORM, both, or something else is not noted).


In use by:

  • C-Change

Learning Object Creator

In use by:

  • Humbox


In use by:

  • Evolution
  • Unicycle


In use by:

  • Simulation OER


In use by:

  • Berlin
  • Evolution
  • Centre for Bioscience OER
    • “ Using eXe, in part as they had significant issues with using RELOAD and in part as eXe is JorumOpen’s preferred tool”



In use by:

  • brOME OERP
    • exporting materials from QuestionMark as QTI items to make more open
  • Centre for Bioscience OER


In use by:

  • Berlin
  • C-Change
  • C-SAP OER – one mini project used Xerte to transform PPTs into Learning Objects

The use of ADL SCORM in the UKOER programme

“The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) integrates a set of related technical standards, specifications, and guidelines designed to meet SCORM’s high-level requirements—accessible, interoperable, durable, and reusable content and systems. SCORM content can be delivered to your learners via any SCORM-compliant Learning Management System (LMS) using the same version of SCORM.” (http://www.adlnet.gov/Technologies/scorm/default.aspx )

In the context of the OER programme SCORM has mostly been interacted with as  a profile of IMS CP (though it utilises and profiles other standards as well).

SCORM is supported by:

  • Unicycle
  • OCEP
  • BERLiN
  • mmtv (under consideration)
  • Evolution
  • OLE Dutch History

comparing this to the list of those using IMS CP (link); those using SCORM and not using Content Packaging are:

  • OCEP
  • BERLiN
  • Evolution
  • mmtv

Support for SCORM is an out of the box function for

  • OCEP
  • BERLiN
  • Unicycle
  • Evolution

it may also be for the Moodle users (I’m not sure):

  • OLE Dutch HIstory

I’m not (yet) sure if mmtv decided to pursue the creation of SCORM packages, and am not clear, at this stage, if anyone is actively using SCORM or if projects are only supporting it.

Use of web publishing tools in the UKOER programme

Another approach taken in UKOER for the use management and sharing of OER management has been to use mainstream web publishing tools such as WordPress, Content Management Systems, and ‘simple’ websites (‘simple’ being a website created and managed without using a CMS ). One of the challenges this approach faces is that such tools are often not designed to export resources and a number of the projects have had some challenges when considering how to represent their OER(s) within JorumOpen.


  • TRUE
  • OpenSpace
    • OpenSpace created a virtual learning studio for collaborative creative script writing and storyboarding
    • Explored the integration of Kaltura with Drupal
    • the OER is not only the environment but also a example of it’s use (using a example (real) course with student work)
  • Phorus


    • OTTER have had problems exporting metadata they had created within Plone


  • numbat
    • XHTML and PHP based search


It is worth noting in passing that many projects have extensively used blogs throughout the programme for communication, discussion and dissemination. This has provided a valuable way to engage and stay up to date with projects but that usage is a different topic entirely.

  • ChemistryFM
    • WordPress used as the primary ‘repository’ for content and publishing platform. Courses broken down into into one sub-topic per post comprising of embedded videos and related supporting resources.
    • The posts are tagged with the appropriate course code – this allows the courses to be put together through the blog interface.
    • can export resources via OAI-ORE for import to other repositories
  • C-Change
    • is investigating the use of wordpress as a possible local publishing tool for their members of their consortium who need (especially in the longer term) a way to publish OERs.

The use of VLEs in the UKOER programme

Within the UKOER programme there has been some use of virtual learning environments or related classroom or collaboration tools in the management and distribution of OERs (see also the list of learning object/ content-packaging creation tools in use ).



  • Evolution



  • OpenStaffs
    • Trying to decouple storage and use of educational materials. Moving resources/ course materials out of BlackBoard into Hive. Then creating references to them within BlackBoard. This allows the resources to be more open and accessible (and uses a resource management tool to manage and store (and preserve?) the resources rather than relying on the resource management capabilities of the VLE) )



  • Fetlar
    • used by project to coordinate and manage gathering of resources and as a platform for sharing them.
  • OLE Dutch History
    • direct use in teaching as well as managing resources; (afaik) used for www.dutch.ac.uk which offers access to a number of free taster courses