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

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

Custom ‘repository’ developments in the UKOER programme

One interesting development in the UKOER programme has been how many projects have chosen to build their own repository/database to manage their content in some form. Normally the phrase ‘we’ve built our own repository’ makes me worry in the same that ‘we’re developing our own standard’ or ‘our own controlled vocabulary’ does. However, these projects have had a wide variety of good reasons for doing so – all of which bear closer examination. Their approach is a reminder that there are circumstances under which ‘build your own’ is both necessary and a good idea. Some projects also make a case for lightweight and disposable approaches.

All the custom developments have used MySQL and all of those taking this option have been subject strand projects.

  • CORE Materials
    • they have built a database for the central management of resources prior to uploading to web 2.0 sites; their own solution was required to support interaction with the APIs of web 2.0 tools.
  • Medev OOER
    • they have built a database as a staging ground for preparing OERs – JorumOpen is their primary deposit. They are also considering a local repository in the longer term.
    • MySQL was chosen to be able to interact with Subject Centre website.
    • They are also looking at web2.0 api interoperability
  • Open Educational Repository in Support of Computer Science
    • built a lightweight disposable solution as management and publishing tool and staging ground for Jorum deposit
    • Jorum as the primary repository and copy of record/ preservation copy.
  • Phorus
    • primary cataloguing of OERs is into Intute which is then harvested via OAI-PMH into their local database
    • they then aim to harvest resources into JORUM
    • they may also move resources to host institution’s (Fedora) repository
  • Simulation OER
    • developed local repository both as continuation of earlier work and as available repository options did not meet the key requirement of being able to preview simulations.

The use of Web 2.0 tools in the UKOER programme

In the UKOER programme, Web 2.0 tools have been used to manage, promote, and provide better access to open educational resources. This post outlines what tools have been used and briefly notes how they’ve been used. Details about the projects can be found at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/oer and futher technical information can be found http://prod.cetis.org.uk/query.php?refineterm=theme&refinevalue=UKOER&format=descriptions .

More details about the technical and descriptive affordances of the various Web 2.0 platforms are available
http://wiki.cetis.org.uk/Distribution_platforms_for_UKOER_resources the descriptions of tools included below have been drawn from this work (these have been primarily created by my colleague Phil Barker with input from the community)



“Scribd allows the sharing of documents, including short reports, posters, presentation slides, magazines, sheet music or full-length books. Typical use is for static text-and-image documents but spreadsheets are also handled. …Documents are viewable on the Scribd website and embeddable in webpages elsewhere in the iPaper format (which requires a Flash reader). Files on Scribd can be distributed either freely and openly, for fee, or privately.” (http://wiki.cetis.org.uk/Scribd_for_UKOER_resources)

Scribd is being used by:

  • OERP (Engineering)
  • CORE Materials

Projects in which academics are uploading to Scribd

  • OERP (Engineering) – central team to begin with moving to individuals for sustainability

Projects using the Scribd API

  • CORE Materials



“SlideShare’s core service is as a host for presentations, e.g. PowerPoint slides. These can be simple slide stacks, or can be slidecasts or videocasts which include audio or video commentary to accompany the slides. Recently SlideShare has added support for more general text and graphics “documents”.” (http://wiki.cetis.org.uk/SlideShare_for_UKOER_resources).”

Slideshare is being used by:

  • OLE Dutch History
  • OERP (Engineering)
  • CORE Materials
  • Skills for Scientists

Projects using Slideshare as well as another form of repository [not including JORUM]

  • CORE Materials (central database)

Projects using the Slideshare API

  • CORE Materials

Projects in which academics are uploading to Slideshare

  • OTTER – individuals uploading
  • OERP (Engineering) – central team uploading to begin with which is moving to individuals for sustainability
  • C-SAP OER – central team uploading

Projects exploring (but not yet committed to using) Slideshare

  • OLE Dutch History
  • Skills for Scientists



iTunes is a music and video distribution platform created and run by Apple. It offers a mediated marketplace for content and along with Apple’s hardware has been instrumental in the popularisation of digital delivery of audio and video including podcasts. iTunesU is a developed section of this service allowing institutions to showcase podcasts and video – typically lectures or other audio.

iTunesU being used by:

  • OCEP
  • Berlin
  • OpenSpires
  • mmtv

Projects for whom iTunes has actively determined their approach to the description and delivery (RSS support) of their content

  • OpenSpires

Projects negotiating with their institutions about how their OER content relates to the institutional channel

  • mmtv



“Most of the resources on Flickr are photographs and many of the features of the platform are tailored to this (e.g. the automatic extraction of EXIF metadata to show, for example, camera type, aperture setting and shutter speed), though it is also used for diagrams and other forms of still image. Flickr also supports short (<90s) videos and other types of moving image. Flickr has comprehensive capabilities for metadata tagging, aggregation, syndication through RSS/ATOM.” (http://wiki.cetis.org.uk/Flickr_for_UKOER_resources)

Projects using Flickr:

  • OLE Dutch History (considering using it)
  • OERP
  • CORE Materials
  • C-Change (embedding into ppts)

Using the api to upload materials

  • CORE Materials

Using Flickr as a primary store

  • OERP



“YouTube is the pre-eminent video sharing website. While many of the videos are entertainment (home-shot or otherwise) it is widely used for more serious material and has a YouTube EDU branding for degree-level material. Access to view video is unlimited and any registered user may upload and share videos; the collection of videos provided by a user is known as their channel which also includes user-profile information. Registered users may also create playlists (collections of videos from other users) and comment on videos.” (http://wiki.cetis.org.uk/YouTube_for_UKOER_resources)

Projects using Youtube

  • Berlin
  • OCEP
  • mmtv
  • OpenSpace
  • ChemistryFM
  • OLE Dutch History
  • True
  • OERP
  • C-Change (embedding into PPTs/ contextualising)
  • Humbox
  • Core Materials
  • Skills for Scientists (some partners exploring)

Project specifically using YouTubeEdu

  • Berlin

Projects cataloguing resources academics have put on YouTube


Using Youtube as a primary repository

  • mmtv
  • ChemistryFM

Using YouTube instead of local streaming

  • True (local copies hidden (for preservation) but youtube for access/ embedding)
  • OERP (local copies hidden but youtube for access/ embedding)
  • CORE Materials – considering this



“Vimeo is a social web site for video sharing, with a reputation for supporting higher (technical) quality, longer videos than YouTube. The emphasis is on sharing videos created by individual users rather than commercial videos. Socially, vimeo supports user profiles, commenting on video, individual contacts, and subscriptions to channels and membership of groups. ” (http://wiki.cetis.org.uk/Vimeo_for_UKOER_resources)

Projects using vimeo

  • mmtv
  • OERP



Zoho is a suite of collaborative cloud based tools including tools for writing, presenting, using spreadsheets, and sharing resources.

Projects using Zoho.

  • OERP (considering using it to share spreadsheets if required)



Delicious is an online tool for managing and sharing bookmarks.

Projects using Delicious:

  • OOER
  • OERP
  • C-SAP OER – (using for project info management – this becomes a resource in itself also using Cite-u-Like in same way)

We’ve very little direct information about other uses of Delicious were mentioned.

JISC and MIT: comparing notes on ed tech

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to join a conversation between JISC and MIT OEIT (http://oeit.mit.edu/) to exchange information about current initiatives and possible collaborations. The general themes of the conversation were openness and sustainability. There was an agreed sense that, currently, “Open is the new educational tech” (Vijay). The areas of strategic interest, competencies, and knowledge of open institutes are now central to much educational development. JISC’s work in many diverse areas has contributed to the growth of openness both the successive programmes of work connected to repositories (including the cultivation of developer happiness) and more recently the JISC and HEA OER programme.

Vijay outlined some of the thinking that MIT OEIT are doing around innovation and sustainability outlining where they fit in that cycle and the limiting dependencies of innovation. In a four stage innovation cycle. MIT OEIT are mostly involved in the initial incubation/ development phase and the early implementation phase. They’re not in the business of running services but they need to ensure that their tools are designed and developed in ways which are congruous with sustainability. One key point in their analysis is that the limiting factor for innovation is not your organisational growth (whether the size of the project, design team, or facilities) but the growth of nascent surrounding communities in other parts of the value chain.

As a result, MIT have found that sustainability and embedding innovation isn’t just about more resources it’s about basic design choices and community development. Openness and open working allows the seeding of the wider community from the outset and allows a project to develop competencies and design skills in the wider community). This resonates with some of observations made by OSS Watch and Paul Walk. We then discussed the success of the Wookie widget work carried out by Scott Wilson (CETIS) and how that has successfully developed from a JISC project into an Apache Foundation incubator http://incubator.apache.org/wookie/.

The conversation continued around the tech choices being made in the UKOER programme noting the strength in the diversity of approaches and tools that have been in use in the programme and the findings that appear to be emerging- there is no dominant software platform, choices about support for standards are being driven, in part, by the software platforms rather than a commitment to any standard. [I’ll blog more on this in January as the technical conversations with projects are completed]. We also noted upcoming work around RSS and deposit tools taking place both following on from the JISCRI deposit tools event and emerging from the UKOER programme [see Jorum’s discussion paper on RSS for ingest http://blogs.cetis.org.uk/lmc/2009/12/09/oer-rss-and-jorumopen/]

Brandon then highlighted the SpokenMedia project (http://spokenmedia.mit.edu/) creating tools to automatically transcribe video of lectures both for to enable better search and to make materials to be more accessible and scannable. The tools achieve up 60% base accuracy and are trainable up to 80% accuracy. MIT hope this will make lecture video significantly more browseable and are exploring the release of an api for this as an educational service.

We then discussed some projects working in areas that support bringing research data into curriculum. MIT have a series of projects in this area under the general name of STAR (http://web.mit.edu/star/) which provide suites of tools to use research data in the classroom. One successful implementation of this is STARBioGene allows Biology students to use research tools and materials as part of the core curriculum. Some of the STAR tools are desktop applications and some are cloud-based, many have been made open source.
The wider uptake of the project has contributed to the development of communities outside MIT who are using these tools – as such also it’s an example of growing the wider uptake community outlined in their innovation cycle. One consideration that it has raised about communities of use is that some of the visualisation tools require high performance computing (even if only needed in small bursts). The trend toward computationally intensive science education may create other questions of access beyond the license.

Another interesting tool that we discussed was the Folk Semantic Tool from COSL at Utah State University: on the one hand it’s another RSS aggregator for OERs, on the other, for users running Firefox and Greasemonkey it’s a plugin to add recommendations for OERs into any webpage (which runs off a single line of javascript). http://www.folksemantic.com/

MIT: M.S. Vijay Kumar & Brandon Muramatsu JISC: David Flanders, John Robertson (CETIS)