Reshaping my Twitter Network

In the autumn I took part in the Hyperlinked Library MOOC. One of the assignments was to develop plans for use of an Online Professional Learning Network (OPLN). The specific requirements included developing a Network Maintenance Plan:

This will provide answers to questions such as: How will you maintain your online professional learning network? When will you adjust it? At what points will you actively add to it or delete from it? Is there a particular type of technology that you will employ to make the best use of your network? Will there ever be a point where you would create a new plan from scratch?

XCRI Support Project wraps up

March sees the end of the JISC funded XCRI Support Project as it signs off leaving the development of the XCRI (eXchanging Course Related Information) specification for sharing (and advertising) course information looking very healthy indeed.

The support project picked up where the original XCRI Reference Model project left off. Having identified the marketing and syndication of course descriptions as a significant opportunity for innovation – due to the general practice in this area being one of huge efforts around re-typing of information to accommodate various different systems, sites and services…then to have that information maintained separately in various places – the XCRI Reference Model project mapped out the spaces of course management, curriculum development and course marketing and provided the community with a common standard for exchanging course related information. This would streamline approaches to the syndication of such information and give us the benefits of cost savings when it comes to collecting and managing the data and opens up the opportunities for a more sustainable approach to lifelong learning services that rely on course information from learning providers.

Over the course of the next three years the XCRI Support project developed the XCRI Course Advertising Profile (XCRI-CAP), an XML specification designed to enable course offerings to be shared by providers (rather like an RSS feed) and by other services such as lifelong learning sites, course search sites and other services that support learners in trying to find the right courses for them. Through the supervision and support of several institutional implementation projects the support project – a partnership between JISC CETIS at the University of Bolton (, Mark Stubbs of Manchester Metropolitan University ( and Alan Paull of APS Limited ( – promoted the uptake and sustainability of XCRI through engagement with the European standards process and endorsement by the UK Information Standards Board. Through this work the value of XCRI-CAP was demonstrated so successfully as to ensure it was placed on the strategic agenda of national agencies.

Hotcourses manages the National Learning Directory under contract from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). With over 900,000 course records and 10,000 learning providers the NLD is possibly the largest source of information about learning opportunities in the UK, which learners and advisers can access through dozens of national, regional and local web portals. Working with a number of Further Education colleges Hotcourses is now developing and piloting ‘bulk upload’ facilities using XCRI to ease the burden on learning providers supplying and maintaining their information on the NLD. UCAS also continues to make progress towards XCRI adoption. Most recently, at the ISB Portfolio Learning Opportunities and Transcripts Special Interest Group on January 27, 2010, UCAS colleagues described a major data consolidation project that should pave the way for a data transfer initiative using XCRI, and cited growing demand from UK HEIs for data transfer rather than course-by-course data entry through UCAS web-link. The project is a two-phase one, with XCRI implementation in phase II, which is due to deliver sometime in 2011.

Having ensured that the specification gained traction and uptake the project has worked extensively at developing the core information used by XCRI into a European Norm with harmonisation from other standards that addressed this space developed elsewhere across Europe. It is this process which has seen the evolution of XCRI from a standalone specification to a UK application profile of a recognised international standard. This could now be transitioned to an actual British Standard through BSI IST 43 (the committee of the British Standards Institution which looks at technical standards for learning education and training). At the same time adoption of the specifications were continued to be supported through engagement with policymakers and suppliers while the technical tools developed for adopters continued to be updated and maintained.

XCRI Aggregator DemoA couple of key tools were developed by the support project to assist implementers of XCRI. An aggregator engine was setup and maintained by the project and is demonstrated at This shows how its possible to deploy an aggregator setup that pulls in courses from several providers, and offers a user interface with basic features such as searching, browsing, bookmarking, tags and so on. It also demonstrates some value-added aspects such as geocoding the course venues and displaying them on Google Maps. Once you’ve had a look at the demonstrator you can get hold of the code for it at
The project also developed an XCRI Validator to help implementers check their data structure and content. This goes beyond structural validation to also analyse content and provide advice on common issues such as missing information. Currently the development of this is very much at a beta stage but implementers can try out this early proof-of-concept at Accompanying this is a blog post describing how to use the validator at

Up to press there have been around 15-20 “mini-projects” which were funded to pilot implementation of XCRI within institutions. These looked at developing course databases using the specification, extending existing systems and methods to map to XCRI and the general implementation of generating the information and the exporting of this via web services. Not to say that this was the only project activity around XCRI. Various other Lifelong Learning projects have had an XCRI element to them along the way and all these have contributed to forming an active community around the development and promotion of the spec.

This community’s online activity is centred around a wiki and discussion forum on the XCRI Support Project website at and while the support project is now officially at an end, the website will stay around as long as there is a community using it – currently its maintained by CETIS. Some content may move to JISC Advance as XCRI moves from innovation into mainstream adoption. However, as long as people are trying out new things with XCRI – whether thats vocabularies and extensions or new exchange protocols – then provides a place to talk about it, with the LLL & WFD project at Liverpool (CCLiP – currently looking at how to improve the site and provide more information for non-technical audiences.

More information on the XCRI projects can be found at the JISC website, specifically at

I’ve had the timeline of my life….

Some time ago (like about 2 years or so) I had this great idea for an ePortfolio manager that would use timelines and playlists to organise ones life experience and be all superduperly web enabled and so forth. I even gave it a catch name and registered a domain for it: Mofolio

I posted up my mockups and then did absolutely nothing with it! Shame.

Anyway, this idea has been re-surfacing in my mind of late and if it’s not too late to pick it up again I’m going to see if I can make some kind of push into actually building it in the autumn.

The timeline component was something I always though really important to give people a visualisation of their work and experiences and today, while reading Alex Little’s blog I saw his post entitled Time for Timelines where he tries out two tools for doing just this; Simile which is a timeline-generating javascript widget from MIT and the intriguing Dipity which looks like it has beaten me to it in many respects. Dipity takes a bunch of feeds (rss, flickr, blogger, twitter etc etc etc) and turns them into a timeline. You can then add more stuff or remove things or make other timelines about the history of Spacerock in the 1970s or whatever floats your boat. Here’s mine – it took five minutes and for some reason wouldn’t accept my workblog feed. Ho hum:

My dipity timeline
And it wouldn’t embed a live version in WPMU… Click to see the real thing

Anyway this all gives me pause for thought – Mofolio also needs to do much of this, but as I had conceived it, needs to do a whole load more too. Reflection, playlisting, organising of earlier educational experiences, organising of local resources (rather than just webstuff). Oh and it’s got to be prettier and have swimlanes rather than just everything muddled together.

Dipity and other such general timelining tools doubtless also have their classroom use potential. Great for teachers who want to have students build reflective timelines of their learning experiences or timelines representing the rise of the roman empire or whatever it may be. Then again there are always big bits of flip-chart paper and sticky notes.

Futuresonic 2008

Futuresonic is an annual conference and festival held in Manchester on technology, music, art and ideas. This year’s theme (spot the bandwagon) was entitled Social Networking Unplugged so I figured it would be a perfectly legitimate way to spend a Friday discussing social technology and it’s educational/creative/artistic implications with a slightly different crowd from the normal JISC/CETIS bunch. Oh and there were some excellent gigs too which I’ll write about elsewhere!


The big keynote of the day was Richard Stallman donning his free software halo and mantle and telling us all that we are complicit with the forces of darkness by using proprietary software. Frankly I find his point of view somewhat puritanical and preachy though there are some legitimate concerns over openness and security of the tools we use. Still his general political message and anti-megacorporation, pro-civil-liverties stance is very admirable. For me it’s a matter of practicality – for servers I’d not use anything but free software but it’s not going to make me ditch the Mac OS tomorrow for my desktop platform. I suppose I could but I just don’t want to. Shucks, I’m supporting EVIL. The corollary of free software in my mind is free hardware – and to the possibility of sweatshop-free open hardware which would be something to strive for. I notice that Scott has been on about this too.

The angel blesses his flock

In other sessions though I didn’t think there were any major revelations there were a few cool things shown off – mainly along the lines of niche social networks and things to do with them. There were also some energetic open discussion groups set up in the afternoon – mine talking in a more artistic vein about the impact of social networking on artists and their relationship with their audiences (it was always a 2-way thing – but now it’s a 2-way thing on the internet).

Shannon Spanhake from calit2 at UC San Diego showed a device for measuring air pollution and reporting it back through web-enabled mobile phones to a central processing house and website – nothing to do with music (apart from the beeping she turned on to demonstrate the device) but certainly a novel application of technologies. Her plan is to do this on a large scale in Lima of all places – where the existing environmental monitors are so utterly useless (3 working monitors in a city of millions) that something needs to be done. Do you really want to be broadcasting information about how many carbon-monoxide particles there are in your trouser pockets though? I’m not sure I do.

An educationally interesting one was a sort of game called PMOG – or Passively Multiplayer Online Game. Delivered through a Firefox plugin, the concept being that whenever you are browsing the web you are simultaneously playing the game, fulfilling missions, discovering traps or messages that players have left lying around the web. An example might be that you hit the Tesco site and see a message pop up saying something like “mmm sausages” presumably as a starting point on some merry sausage related journey. I could imagine this being quite good fun in the classroom – providing a kind of framework around which you could get kids researching and exploring online but with a bit more guidance (from peers as well as mentors) than just “letting them loose on wikipedia”.

And I opened a Dopplr account just to tally up yet another network to belong to. This one is for frequent travellers and aims to bring about serendipitous meetings: “ooh look, Dave is in birmingham tonight and so am I, let’s go for a pint”. Happily it already interfaces neatly with other major social networks (including Facebook and Flickr) so in theory all my friends will pop up once they realise what a cool and indispensable thing Dopplr is. At the moment I have one trip planned to Newcastle-under-Lyme and two “friends” and neither of whom have chosen to tell me about their travel plans. There are a few very good points to Dopplr though – it uses OpenID for authentication (though you still have to register first) and it generally assumes that you want your information keeping private unless you specify otherwise, a very sensible assumption.

Then there was DirtParty – which is a bit like LolCats only with humans instead of cats. Nuff said.

The Unplugged bit probably was best articulated by the various art pieces. An exhibition called My Space Our Space Your Space produced an analogue analogy to various popular social networks. They provided participants with:

  • Webspace a cardboard box
  • Development tools a wide selection of art materials, scissors, glue
  • Server Architecture wooden bookcase in a shop window in which the boxes are placed
  • Messaging services envelopes mounted on the back of your cardboard box in which people can place notes. Also little “you’ve got mail” stickers to go on the front of the box.

Server architecture

Over the course of several days the people of Manchester filled the shop window with a wide array of strange things. From an operational point of view they experienced capacity problems (not enough shelving) server crashes (several boxes fell down) spam (someone put flyers for their gig in everyone’s envelopes) and all that you would expect from the “real” thing.