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 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.

The use of IMS CP in the UKOER programme

IMS Content Packaging “describes data structures that can be used to exchange data between systems that wish to import, export, aggregate, and disaggregate packages of content.” http://www.imsglobal.org/content/packaging/ .
There are a number of projects in the programme which have identified themselves as using IMS Content Packaging, they are:

Some of the projects use Content Packaging in so far as the software they are using to manage OERs uses it or offers it as an export option. These projects are:

  • Unicycle
  • OpenStaffs
  • OLE Dutch History
  • Simulation-OER

Some projects using IMS_CP as a mechanism to deposit content into Jorum

  • Unicycle
  • OpenExeter [tbc conversation about CP use occured early in project]

Some projects are mediating but not creating resources which are Content Packages

  • OERP
  • OOER


Although some projects have chosen to use CP, it should be observed that many projects are either submitting single resources or simply using zip to aggregate or bundle resources. There are a number of reasons CP may not have featured as much as usual, which include:

  • different tools in use
    • In comparison to many e-learning development projects few projects in the UKEOR programme are using elearning specific technology (more on this in a future post) and as a result out-of-the-box support for CP is not prevalent in the programme. There is also only limited use of VLEs in the programme.
  • detailed structuring seen as superfluous?
    • Another possible reason for the relative underuse of CP may be that the functionality and features it offers to support or store structured content was not considered necessary by projects.
  • “Not using content packaging for repository- end users unlikely to use Reload so using  a more straightforward Zip based approach” Humbox project

The use of IMS QTI in the UKOER programme

IMS Question & Test Interoperability Specification http://www.imsglobal.org/question/ is a standard used to support the interoperability and exchange of digital assessment items (questions, answers, and data). Based on the technical conversations we’ve been having with projects, here’s a brief overview of the use of IMS QTI in the UKOER programme based on the data we have.
Eight projects identified themselves as using QTI in some form.

The use of QTI in these projects does not however follow a single pattern, there are three rough groups of the occurrence of QTI in the Open Educational Resources being released in the programme.
Some projects have acquired OERs which already use QTI and they are managing and passing them on as they are. These projects are:

  • Skills for Scientists
  • CORE-Materials
  • Evolution

Some projects are using tools which support the export of QTI, and they could export items they have in that manner. These projects are:

  • TRUE
  • Open Educational Repository in Support of Computer Science
  • OLE Dutch History

Some projects are explicitly creating or releasing OERs which are QTI assessment items. These projects are:

  • FETLAR (particular focus on Math related items and using some Math-specific tools )
  • brome OERP (are taking items they have been given in in QuestionMark and exporting as QTI to make more open before sharing)

FETLAR’s work builds on cutting edge development on how to use QTI with Math items.