Innovation, sustainability and community – reflections on #cetis13

The theme of this years CETIS conference was Open for Education: Technology Innovation in Universities and Colleges, as usual we had a wide and diverse range of sessions but if there was one theme that underpinned them all it was how can we sustain innovation in the face of the challenges currently facing the sector?

Sustainability was the explicit theme of the Open Practice and OER Sustainability session Phil and I ran. Three years of HEFCE UKOER funding came to an end last autumn and, while there’s no denying that the programmes produced a significant quantity of open educational resources, did they also succeed in changing practice and embedding open education innovation across the English HE sector? Judging by the number of speakers and participants at the session I think it’s fair to say that the answer is a resounding “Yes”. At least in the short term. Patrick MacAndrew, who has been involved in organising this year’s OER13 conference, pointed out that while they expected a drop in numbers this year, as UKOER funding has ended and the event is not running in conjunction with OCWC, in actual fact numbers have risen significantly. Practice has changed and many institutions really are more aware of the potential and benefits of open educational resources and open educational practices. Though as several participants pointed out, MOOCs have rather eclipsed OERs over the last 12 months and the relationship between the two is ambiguous to say the least. As Amber Thomas put it: “MOOCs stole OERs girlfriend”.


David Kernohan used the memorable image of a teddy bear lecturer playing happily on a seesaw with his friends and with lots of open educational resources and innovative technologies until all the money ran out and all that was left was the teddy bear and the resources. However I can’t help thinking that the real threat to OER sustainability is that the next thing to disappear might be the teddy bear, and after all it’s the teddy bears, or rather the people, that sustain communities of innovation and practice. With this in mind, there was some discussion of the importance of subject communities in sustaining innovative educational practice and Suzanne Hardy of Newcastle reminded us that Humbox, an excellent example of an innovative and sustainable development presented by Yvonne Howard of Southampton, was originally a collaboration between four HEA subject centres. The legacy of the subject centres is certainly still visible in the sector, however as many talented people have had to move into other roles and those that have managed to hang on are increasingly under threat, how much longer will the community of open educational innovation be able to sustain itself?

The latter half of Scott Wilson’s session on Open Innovation and Open Development also focused on sustainability and again the discussion circled round to how can we sustain the community of developers that drive innovation forward? It’s more years than I can recall since their demise, but the CETIS SIGS were put forward yet again as a good model for sustaining innovative communities of developers and practitioners. I also suggested that it was still possible to see the legacy of the SHEFC Use of the MANs Initiative in the sector as a surprising number of people still working in educational technology innovation first cut their teeth on UMI projects.

There was some discussion of the emergence of “boundary spanning people and blended professionals” but also a fear that institutions are increasingly falling back on very traditional and strictly delineated professional roles. At a time when innovation is increasingly important, many institutions are shedding the very people who have been responsible for driving innovation forward in the sector. At the end of the session, Scott asked what is the one thing that organisations such as Cetis and OSSwatch should do over the next six months to help sustain open innovation and open development? The answer that came back was Survive! Just survive, stay alive, keep the innovation going, don’t loose the people. The fact that Scott was wearing a zombie t-shirt while facilitating the session was verging on the poignant :}

Meanwhile over in Martin Hawksey and David Sherlock’s Analytics and Institutional Capabilities session Ranjit Sidhu of SiD was laying into all manner of institutional nonsense including the sector wide panic that followed clearing, the brutal reality of the competitive education market, the millions spent on google advertising, the big data projects that are little more than a big waste of money and, last but not least, the KIS. Ranjit showed the following slide which drew a collective murmur of horror, though not surprise, from the audience.


If you look carefully you’ll notice that the number of daily request to Unistats for data is….9. Yep. 9. It hasn’t even hit double figures. One colleague who was responsible KIS returns recently estimated that the cost to their institution was in the region of a hundred thousand. Multiply that across the sector…Does anyone know what the total cost of the KIS has been? And the return on investment? As one participant commented in response to Ranjit’s presentation, KIS is not a tool for students, it’s a tool to beat VCs over the head with. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions…

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of us went to CETIS13 not knowing quite what to expect and even fewer of us know what the future holds. Despite these uncertainties the conference had a noticeably positive vibe, which more than a few people remarked on over the course of the event. We’re all living in “interesting times” but the brutal reality of the crisis facing HE has done little to dent people’s belief that sustaining open innovation, and the community of open innovators, is a fundamental necessity if the sector is to face these challenges. I certainly felt there was a real spirit of determination at CETIS13, here’s hoping it will see us through the “interesting times”.

Open Practice and OER Sustainability at #cetis13

The Cetis13 Conference is just days away and excitement is mounting to fever pitch. Or something. Sadly, if you haven’t already booked your place at the conference, you’ve missed the boat. Don’t despair though! You can still follow the fun on twitter, #cetis13, and this year we will also be streaming our two keynotes, “Digital Citizenship and Open Social”
by Josie Fraser and “The Path to Open Learning is Paved with Good Intentions” by Professor Patrick McAndrew. You can find the livestream here

This year, for our sins, Phil and I are running the following session:

Open Practice and OER Sustainability

HEFCE funding of the HE Academy/JISC Open Educational Resources programme has come to an end, but this should not mean the end of UK OER. The emphasis of the programme was always on sustainable release of resources and change in culture and practice, not a one-off dumping of teaching materials. Through the programme we have seen changes in approaches to the management of learning resources, learned about how they can be disseminated openly, and embarked on new practices in Open Education that go well beyond (and occasionally do not even include) open access to learning materials.

In this session we will reflect on some of these changes and new approaches, with an emphasis on which are sustainable and how various technologies might help with sustainability. A good starting point for discussion would be “Technology for open educational resources – Into the wild” which reflects on several areas covered during the UK OER programme, though there are also many issues worth discussing that are not well covered in that book, for example management of the creation of OERs and practices in Open Education.

When Phil, Martin and I were initially planning this session we drew up a wish-list of people that we knew would be able to make a really thoughtful contribution to the debate. Based on the assumption that maybe only about half of our dream team would be able to participate, we e-mailed a dozen speakers and were <cliche>stunned and delighted</cliche> when almost everyone said yes! So we are now in the enviable position of having ten of the UK’s most challenging and thought provoking open education thinkers presenting in the space of just over three hours. Just look at our lineup….

  • David Kernohan (Jisc)
  • Joe Wilson (SQA)
  • Sarah Currier (Jorum/Mimas)
  • Yvonne Howard (ePrints Edshare / Humbox / Southampton)
  • Suzanne Hardy (Medev / Newcastle)
  • Pat Lockley (pgogy)
  • Marion Manton (Oxford)
  • Julian Tenney (Nottingham)
  • Nick Sheppard (Leeds Met)
  • Amber Thomas (Warwick)

We haven’t asked our presenters for titles in advance so I am looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts and perspectives on OER and sustainability. I think it’s fair to say that this line up should make for some lively discussions! Particularly as Suzanne has promised to deliver her presentation through the medium of interpretative dance, while David Kernohan will be favouring light operetta. At least that’s what they said on twitter, so it must be true, right? Oh, and Pat has threatened to do another video…. And all I have to do is chair the session and make sure no one talks for more than ten minutes. Easy? Wish me luck :}

Look forward to seeing you at #cetis13!

#chatopen Open Access and Open Education

Do open access and open education need to work together more? That was the question posed by Pat Lockley and discussed on twitter on Friday evening by a group of open education folks using the hashtag #chatopen.

Open access in this instance was taken to refer to open access repositories of peer-reviewed papers and other scholarly works and associated open access policies and agendas. There was general agreement that open access and open education proponents should work together but also recognition that it was important to be aware of different agendas, workflows, technical requirements, etc. Suzanne Hardy of the University of Newcastle added that it was equally important to take heed of open research data too.

Although the group acknowledged that open access still faced considerable challenges, there was a general consensus that it was more mature, both in terms of longevity and uptake, and that it was embedded more widely in institutions. Amongst other factors, the relative success of open access was attributed to the fact that most universities already had policies and repositories for publishing and managing scholarly outputs, while few had comparable strategies for managing teaching and learning materials. Phil Barker added that research outputs were always intended for publication whereas teaching and learning materials were generally kept within the institution. Nick Sheppard of Leeds Met also pointed out that most institutional repositories could not handle teaching and learning resources and research data without significant modification. This led to the suggestion that while institutional repositories fit the culture of scholarly works and open access well, research data and OERs are much harder to manage and share.

In terms of uptake and maturity, although there was general agreement that open access was some way ahead of open education, it appears that open data is catching up fast due to institutional drivers such as the REF, high level policy support and initiatives such as Funding council mandates were also recognised as being an important driver in this regard.

Different interpretations of the term ‘open” were discussed as the open in open access and open education were felt to be quite different. The distinction between gratis and libre was felt to be useful, though it is important to recognise more subtle variations of open.

There was some consensus that teaching and learning resources tend to be regarded as being of lesser importance to institutions than scholarly works and research data and that this was reflected in policy developments, staff appointments and promotion criteria. Furthermore, until impact measures, funding and business models change this is likely to remain the case. Open access and open education both reflect institutional culture but they are separate processes and this separation reflects university polices, priorities and funding streams.

The group also felt that different communities had emerged around open access and open education, with open access mainly being the concern of librarians and open education the domain of eLearning staff. Phil refined this distinction by suggesting that open access is driven by researchers but managed by librarians. However Nick Sheppard of Leeds Met suggested that the zeitgeist was changing and that open access, open education and open research data are starting to converge.

In response to the question “what open education could learn form open access?” one lesson may be that top down policy can help. Although open education processes are more complex and diverse than open access, the success of open access could aid open education.

Pat wrapped up the session by asking where next for open education? What do we do? Lis Parcell of RSC Wales cautioned against open education becoming the domain of “experts” and emphasised the importance of enabling new audiences to join the open debate, by using plain language where possible, meeting people where they are and providing routes to help them get a step on the ladder. There was also some appetite for open hackdays and codebashes that would bring teachers, researchers and developers together to build OA/OER mashups. Nick put forward the following usecase:

“I want to read a research paper, text mined & processed, AI takes me to relevant OER to consolidate learning!”

Finally everyone agreed that it’s important to keep talking, to keep open education on the agenda and try to transform open practice into open policy.

So there you have it! A brief summary of a wide-ranging debate conducted using only 140 characters! Who says you can’t have a proper conversation on twitter?! If you’re interested in reading the full transcript of the discussion, Martin Hawksey has helpfully set up a TAGS Viewer archive of the #chatopen here.

If you want to follow up any of the points or opinions raised here than feel free to comment below or send a mail to

Many thanks once again to Pat Lockley for setting up the discussion and to all those who participated.

Back to the Future – revisiting the CETIS codebashes

As a result of a request from the Cabinet Office to contribute to a paper on the use of hackdays during the procurement process, CETIS have been revisiting the “Codebash” events that we ran between 2002 and 2007. The codebashes were a series of developer events that focused on testing the practical interoperability of implementations of a wide range of content specifications current at the time, including IMS Content Packaging, Question and Test Interoperability, Simple Sequencing (I’d forgotten that even existed!), Learning Design and Learning Resource Meta-data, IEEE LOM, Dublin Core Metadata and ADL SCORM. The term “codebash” was coined to distinguish the CETIS events from the ADL Plugfests, which tested the interoperability and conformance of SCORM implementations. Over a five year period CETIS ran four content codebashes that attracted participants from 45 companies and 8 countries. In addition to the content codebashes, CETIS also additional events focused on individual specifications such as IMS QTI, or the outputs puts of specific JISC programmes such as the Designbashes and Widgetbash facilitated by Sheila MacNeill. As there was considerable interest in the codebashes and we were frequently asked for guidance on running events of this kind, I wrote and circulated a Codebash Facilitation document. It’s years since I’ve revisited this document, but I looked it out for Scott Wilson a couple of weeks ago as potential input for the Cabinet Office paper he was in the process of drafting together with a group of independents consultants. The resulting paper Hackdays – Levelling the Playing Field can be read and downloaded here.

The CETIS codebashes have been rather eclipsed by hackdays and connectathons in recent years, however it appears that these very practical, focused events still have something to offer the community so I thought it might be worth summarising the Codebash Facilitation document here.

Codebash Aims and Objectives

The primary aim of CETIS codebashes was to test the functional interoperability of systems and applications that implemented open learning technology interoperability standards, specifications and application profiles. In reality that meant bringing together the developers of systems and applications to test whether it was possible to exchange content and data between their products.

A secondary objective of the codebashes was to identify problems, inconsistencies and ambiguities in published standards and specifications. These were then fed back to the appropriate maintenance body in order that they could be rectified in subsequent releases of the standard or specification. In this way codebashes offered developers a channel through which they could contribute to the specification development process.

A tertiary aim of these events was to identify and share common practice in the implementation of standards and specifications and to foster communities of practice where developers could discuss how and why they had taken specific implementation decisions. A subsidiary benefit of the codebashes was that they acted as useful networking events for technical developers from a wide range of backgrounds.

The CETIS codebashes were promoted as closed technical interoperability testing events, though every effort was made to accommodate all developers who wished to participate. The events were aimed specifically at technical developers and we tried to discourage companies from sending marketing or sales representatives, though I should add that we were not always scucessful! Managers who played a strategic role in overseeing the development and implementation of systems and specifications were encouraged to participate however.

Capturing the Evidence

Capturing evidence of interoperability during early codebashes proved to be extremely difficult so Wilbert Kraan developed a dedicated website built on a Zope application server to facilitate the recording process. Participants were able to register the tools applications that they were testing and to upload content or data generated by these application. Other participants could then take this content test it in their own applications, allowing “daisy chains” of interoperability to be recorded. In addition, developers had the option of making their contributions openly available to the general public or visible only to other codebash participants. All participants were encouraged to register their applications prior to the event and to identify specific bugs and issues that they hoped to address. Developers who could not attend in person were able to participate remotely via the codebash website.

IPR, Copyright and Dissemination

The IPR and copyright of all resources produced during the CETIS codebashes remained with the original authors, and developers were neither required nor expected to expose the source code of their tools and applications to other participants.

Although CETIS disseminated the outputs of all the codebashes, and identified all those that had taken part, the specific performance of individual participants was never revealed. Bug reports and technical issues were fed back to relevant standards and specifications bodies and a general overview on the levels of interoperability achieved was disseminated to the developer community. All participants were free to publishing their own reports on the codebashes, however they were strongly discouraged from publicising the performance of other vendors and potential competitors. At the time, we did not require participants to sign non-disclosure agreements, and relied entirely on developers’ sense of fair play not to reveal their competitors performance. Thankfully no problems arose in this regard, although one or two of the bigger commercial VLE developers were very protective of their code.

Conformance and Interoperability

It’s important to note that the aim of the CETIS codebashes was to facilitate increased interoperability across the developer community, rather than to evaluate implementations or test conformance. Conformance testing can be difficult and costly to facilitate and govern and does not necessarily guarantee interoperability, particularly if applications implement different profiles of a specification or standard. Events that enable developers to establish and demonstrate practical interoperability are arguably of considerably greater value to the community.

Although CETIS codebashes had a very technical focus they were facilitated as social events and this social interaction proved to be a crucial component in encouraging participants to work closely together to achieve interoperability.


These days the value of technical developer events in the domain of education is well established, and a wide range of specialist events have emerged as a result. Some are general in focus such as the hugely successful DevCSI hackdays, others are more specific such as the CETIS Widgetbash, the CETIS / DecCSI OER Hackday and the EDINA Wills World Hack running this week which aims to build a Shakespeare Registry of metadata of digital resources relating to Shakespeare covering anything from its work and live to modern performance, interpretation or geographical and historical contextual information. At the time however, aside from the ADL Plugfests, the CETIS codebashes were unique in offering technical developers an informal forum to test the interoperability of their tools and applications and I think it’s fair to say that they had a positive impact not just on developers and vendors but also on the specification development process and the education technology community more widely.


Facilitating CETIS CodeBashes paper
Codebash 1-3 Reports, 2002 – 2005
Codebash 4, 2007
Codebash 4 blog post, 2007
Designbash, 2009
Designbash, 2010
Designbash, 2011
Widgetbash, 2011
OER Hackday, 2011
QTI Bash, 2012
Dev8eD Hackday, 2012

Bye bye Amber!

She’s probably going to kill me for writing this but what the hell….Amber is leaving JISC at the end of the week and I can’t let her go without a send off! I’ve known Amber professionally for more years than it would be polite to mention and to be honest I can’t actually remember where she was working when I first met her, though I think it was pre-Becta. I do remember being really pleased when she joined JISC because she had a reputation for Knowing Her Stuff and for really understanding technology from a teaching and learning perspective.

I’ve collaborated with Amber on a number of JISC programmes and for the last three years we’ve worked together with CETIS colleagues Phil Barker, R. John Robertson and Martin Hawksey to provide advice and guidance on digital infrastructure to support the JISC HEA Open Educational Resource Programmes. It’s been an immensely rewarding experience. Although the UK OER Programmes are not “about” digital infrastructure development per se, they have fostered some really innovative technical developments such as the OER Visualisation Project, the CETIS OER Technical Mini Projects, the JLeRN Experiment and the OER Rapid Innovation Programme, all of which, to a greater or lesser degree, are a result of Amber’s vision and willingness to take risks.

Over the last three years Amber has also become an influential voice in the global open education debate. One of the things I have always admired about her contribution to discussions is that she has an enviable ability to ask the right questions, to synthesise complex and often conflicting issues, and represent a wide range of views without ever loosing sight of her own perspective. Some of the posts she has written for the JISC Digital Infrastructure Team blog have been important markers in the development of the UK OER Programmes.

Above and beyond her undoubted technical expertise, I don’t think it’s too far fetched to say that Amber has been a really positive role model for other women working in a domain where female colleagues are still rather under-represented. She is immensely patient and understanding, and I personally feel that I have benefitted enormously from her support and encouragement. She’s also really quite silly and is immensely good fun to work with.

The last project Amber, Phil, Martin and I worked on was a booksprint earlier this autumn. The aim of the booksprint was to synthesise the technical outputs of all three years of the UK OER Programmes and to write a book in three days. It was Amber’s idea of course and I have to confess that I really wasn’t convinced we were up to the task. I’m delighted to admit that I was proved wrong. With patient input from booksprint facilitator Adam Hyde we did manage to write our book, or most of it at least, and we actually had great fun while we were at it!

Amber Thomas*

Amber Thomas*

So now Amber is off to the University of Warwick where, among other people, she’ll be working with the lovely Jenny Delasalle who some of you might remember as Phil’s predecessor as CETIS Metadata SIG coordinator. I’m sure we’ll all miss working so closely with Amber but I have the feeling that we haven’t seen the back of her yet! So good luck with the new job Amber and I hope we can look forward to working together again at some stage in the not too distant future.

Now I had better go and finish writing the conclusion of our book, otherwise Amber really will kill me ;)

* Picture of Amber gratuitously pinched from Brian Kelly’s Metrics and Social Web Services Workshop report at

* ETA Brian has very kindly let me know that the picture above was taken by Kirsty Pitkin, @eventamplifier, or possibly by Mr@eventamplifier! Who ever took it, it’s lovely :)

The great UKOER tag debate

After three years of innovation focused on the sustainable release of open educational resources, the JISC HEA UK OER Programme is drawing to a close and yesterday Martin and I went along to the final programme meeting in London. Phil wasn’t able to attend the meeting and instead posted the following e-mail to the oer-discuss mailing list:

Hello all, I can’t be in London today, so I’m kind of joining the end of programme discussion from afar. The last three years have been great. At one of the early planning meetings someone (Andy Powell, I think) said that one measure of whether the programme was successful could be the widespread recognition of UKOER / OER as an idea within UK F&HE and the existence of a community around it. I’m pretty sure that has happened, not just because of UKOER but we were there and helped. So well done all of us :)

But what now? The programme has always aimed at sustainable release of resources, change of culture and practice, not just a short burst of activity leading to a one-off dumping of resources. What will happen over the next few years by way of sustained release and which practices are sustainable? Also, of course, from a CETIS point of view, what technologies can help?

Happy diwali, keep the OER light shining.

Phil’s mail prompted Nick Sheppard to ask the apparently innocent question:

Possibly a silly question…but I should stop tagging new resources ukoer?!

This seemingly innocuous enquiry prompted the kind of mailing list explosion normally only seen on Friday afternoon, and it wasn’t long before the discussion had it’s own twitter tag: #oergate. I haven’t counted the number of replies but if the thread has reached double figures it wouldn’t surprise me. If you’re feeling brave, you can read the whole thread here.

Some colleagues were all in favour of continuing to use the ukoer tag, arguing that it now represents an active community which is powerful evidence to the sustainability of the funded programmes’ legacy. Others argued that continued use of the tag would muddy the waters for collection managers and make it difficult to identify resources produced through the funded phase of the programme.

Amber has now managed to capture the discussion in an excellent blog post UKOER: What’s in a tag?*. Although there is no conclusive consensus as to how to answer Nick’s original question, one thing that this discussion has clearly demonstrated is that there does appear to be a lively and active community that has grown up around the funded programmes and the ukoer tag, and that definitely has to be a good thing!

*Amber’s blog post was written with input from Sarah Currier (Jorum), David Kernohan (JISC), Martin Hawksey (CETIS), Lorna Campbell (CETIS), Jackie Carter (Jorum).

ETA It now appears that the #oergate debate borked JISCmail! It seems that the list exceeded posting limits or some such, and no further comments were posted to the list after 15.10 on Wednesday afternoon. I’m delighted to say that I got the last word in ;)

JLeRN Experiment Final Meeting

Earlier this week I went to the final meeting of the JLeRN Experiment Project ,which CETIS has been supporting over the last year. The aim of the event was to reflect on the project and to provide project partners with an opportunity to present and discuss their engagement with JLeRN and the Learning Registry.

JLeRN project manager Sarah Currier and developer Nick Syrotiuk opened the meeting by recapping the project’s progress and some of the issues they encountered. Nick explained that setting up a Learning Registry node had been relatively straightforward and that publishing data to the node was quite easy. The project had been unable to experiment with setting up a node in the cloud due to limitations within the university’s funding and procurement structures (Amber Thomas noted that this was a common finding of other JISC funded cloud service projects), however all the JLeRN node data is synchronised with, a free CouchDB service in the cloud. Although getting data into the node is simple, there was no easy way to see what was in the node so Nick built a Node Explorer tool based on the LR slice API which is now available on Github.

Sarah also explained that the project had been unable to explore moving data between nodes and exploiting node networks and communities as there are currently very few Learning Registry nodes in existence. Sarah noted that while there had been considerable initial interest in both the Learning Registry and JLeRN, and quite a few projects and institutions had expressed an interest in getting involved, very few had actually engaged, apart from the JISC funded OER Rapid Innovation projects. Sarah attributed this lack of engagement to limited capacity and resources across the sector and also to the steep learning curve required to get involved. There had also been relatively little interest from the development community, beyond one or two enthusiastic and innovative individuals, such as Pat Lockley, and again Sarah attributed this to lack of skills and capacity. However she noted that although the Learning Registry is still relatively immature and remains to be tried and tested, there is still considerable interest in the technology and approaches adopted by the project to solve the problems of educational resource description and discovery.

“If we are to close the gap between the strategic enthusiasm for the potential wins of the Learning Registry, and the small-scale use case and prototype testing phase we are in, we will need a big push backed by a clear understanding that we will be walking into some of the same minefields we’ve trodden in, cyclically, for the past however many decades. And it is by no means clear yet that the will is there, in the community or at the strategic level.”

In order to gauge the appetite for further work in this area, JLeRN have commissioned a short report from David Kay of Sero Consulting to explore the potential affordances of JLeRN and the Learning Registry architecture and conceptual approach, within the broader information environment.

Following Sarah and Nick’s introduction Phil Barker presented an update on the status and future of the Learning Registry initiative in the US, which I’ll leave him to blog about :) The rest of the meeting was taken up with presentations from a range of projects and individuals that had engaged with JLeRN and the Learning Registry. I’m not even going to attempt to summarise the afternoon’s discussions which were lively and wide ranging and covered everything from triple stores to Tin Can API to chocolate coloured mini dresses and back again! You can read about some of these projects on the JLeRN blog here:

It’s worth highlighting a few points though…

Pat Lockley’s Pgogy tools gave a glimpse of the kind of innovative Learning Registry tools that can be built by a creative developer with a commitment to openness. Pat also gave a thought provoking presentation on how the nature of the learning registry offers a greater role for developers that most current repository ecosystems as the scope of the services that can be built is considerably richer. In his own blog post on the meeting Pat suggested:

“Also, perhaps, it is a developer’s repository as it is more “open”, and sharing and openness are now a more explicit part of developer culture than they are with repositories?”

Reflecting on the experience of the Sharing Paradata Across Widget Stores (SPAWS) project Scott Wilson reported that using the LR node had worked well for them. SPAWS had a fairly straightforward remit – build a system for syndicating data between widget stores. In this particular usecase the data in question was relatively simple and standardised. The project team liked that fact that the node was designed for high volume use, though they did foresee longer term issues with up scaling and download size, the APIs were fairly good, and the Activity Streams approach was a good fit for the project. Scott acknowledged that there were other solutions that the project could have adopted but that they would have been more time consuming and costly, after all “What’s not to like about a free archival database?!” Scott also added that the Learning Registry could have potential application to sharing data between software forges.

Another area where the Learning Registry approach is likely to be of particular benefit is the medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine domains where curricula and learning outcomes are clearly mapped. Susanne Hardy and James Outterside from the University of Newcastle presented a comprehensive use case from the RIDLR project which built on the work of the Dynamic Learning Maps and FavOERites projects. Suzanne noted that there is huge appetite in the medical education sector for the idea of JLeRN type services.

Owen Stephens made a valuable contribution to discussions throughout the day by asking particularly insightful and incisive question about what projects had really gained by working with the Learning Registry rather than adopting other approaches such as those employed in the wider information management sector. I’m not sure how effectively we managed to answer Owen’s questions but there was a general feeling that the Learning Registry’s open approach to dealing with messy educational data somehow fitted better with the ethos of the teaching and learning sector.

One issue that surfaced repeatedly throughout the day was the fact that Learning Registry nodes are still rather thin on the ground, although there are several development nodes in existence, of which JLeRN is one, there is still only one single production node maintained by the Learning Registry development team in the US. As a result it has not been possible to test the capabilities and affordance of networked nodes and the potential network scale benefits of the Learning Registry approach remain unproven.

Regardless of these reservations, it was clear from the breadth and depth of the discussions at the meeting that there is indeed a will in some sectors of the HE community to continue exploring the Learning Registry and the technical approaches it has adopted. Personally, while I can see the real benefit of the Learning Registry to the US schools sector, I am unsure how much traction it is likely to gain in the UK F/HE domain at this point in time. Having said that, I think the technical approaches developed by the Learning Registry will have considerable impact on our thinking and approach to the messy problem of learning resource description and management.

For further thinky thoughts on the Learning Registry and the JLeRN experiment, I can highly recommend Amber Thomas blog post: Applying a new approach to an old problem.

ALT Scotland Special Interest Group

Earlier this week Martin Hawksey and I went along to the first meeting of the new ALT Scotland SIG Steering Group. The meeting was chaired by Prof Linda Creanor of Glasgow Caledonian University and members of CETIS, RSC Scotland (Celeste McLaughlin) and SQA (Joe Wilson) attended, with apologies from Dr Lesley Diack of Robert Gordon University.

ALT Scotland is a national SIG for practitioners and researchers in learning technology based in Scotland and its remit is to provide a forum to –

  • Further the aims of ALT in Scotland.
  • Promote the technology agenda in all sectors of Scottish education.
  • Encourage sharing of expertise, resources, and best practice in learning technology within the context of Scottish education.
  • Influence relevant policy and strategy.
  • Develop constructive relationships with related organisations and committees.

The meeting focused on identifying actions to support these aims and objectives, with policy and strategy advisory being highlighted as a priority area, particularly with regards to furthering the development of policy to support open educational practises and open educational resources in Scotland.

The actions that the ALT Scotland SIG plans to take forward over the next twelve month period include:

The SIG would welcome participation from ALT members across Scotland and the UK. To get involved, and to keep up to date with SIG activities, please sign up for the ALT Scotland SIG mailing list here:

OER Technology Into the Wild – Call for Comments

The OER technology directions book that Amber, Phil, Martin and I drafted during a book sprint at the end of August is now almost complete. We even have a title!

Technology for Open Educational Resources – Into The Wild. Reflections on three years of the UK OER Programmes

We’ve spent the last few weeks, polishing, editing and amending the text and we would now like to invite colleagues who have an interest in technology and digital infrastructure for open educational resources to review and comment on the open draft.

We’re looking for short commentaries and feedback, either on the whole book, or on individual chapters. These commentaries will form the final chapter of the book. We want to know what rings true and what doesn’t. Have we missed any important technical directions that you think should be included? What do you think the future technical directions are for OER?

Note that the focus of this book is as much on real world current practice as on recommended or best practice. This book is not intended as a beginners guide or a technical manual, instead it is a synthesis of the key technical issues arising from three years of the UK OER Programmes. It is intended for people working with technology to support the creation, management, dissemination and tracking of open educational resources, and particularly those who design digital infrastructure and services at institutional and national level.

The chapters cover:

UK OER projects from all phases of the Programme are encouraged to comment, and we would particularly welcome feedback from colleagues that are grounded in experience of designing and running OER services.

There are three ways to comment on the book:

  1. Email your comments either to Lorna at or Amber at
  2. Create a account here, and then add your comments directly to the “Contributed Comments and Feedback” chapter here
  3. Post your comments to you own blog and send a link to Amber or I, or add it to the chapter page above.

Please note your name and affiliation, clearly with a url to your blog or online profile if possible. All feedback and commentaries will be credited to the original authors. The deadline for comments and feedback is the 31st October.

We currently have a designer working on the text and once we have received and collated the commentaries we will publish the book as a free to download ebook under CC BY licence. There will also be an option to purchase a print-on-demand hard copy of the book.

Into the Wild

Into the Wild

If you are interested on commenting or providing feedback, but would like further information, please don’t hesitate to contact Lorna at We look forward to hearing your thoughts!