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 iriscouch.com, 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:
- ENGrich Learning Registry Case Study for JLeRN some ideas for a use case on paradata and accessibility opportunities
- Ideas for a use case on paradata and accessibility opportunities
- Understanding and using the Learning Registry: Pgogy tools for searching and submitting
- How widely useful is the Learning Registry?
- Sharing Paradata Across Widget Stores
- Rapid Innovation Dynamic Learning Maps-Learning Registry (RIDLR)
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.