OER 2 Technical Requirements

Following the experiences of projects funded under the HEFCE / Academy / JISC Open Educational Resources Pilot Programme CETIS have made some minor revisions to the technical guidelines for the current OER 2 Programme. These guidelines reiterate and hopefully clarify the guidelines provided in the Programme Circular and presented at the Programme Start Up Meeting.

Resource Description

As with the OER Pilot Programme, the OER 2 Programme will not mandate the use of one single platform to disseminate resources and one single metadata application profile to describe content. However projects still need to ensure that content released through the programme can be found, used, analysed, aggregated and tagged. In order to facilitate this, content will have to be accompanied by some form of metadata. In this instance metadata doesn’t necessarily mean de jure standards, application profiles, formal structured records, cataloging rules, subject classifications, controlled vocabularies and web forms. Metadata can also take the form of tags added to resources in applications such as flickr and YouTube, time and date information automatically added by services such as slideshare, and author name, affiliation and other details added from user profiles when resources are uploaded. Consequently the OER 2 Programme only mandates the following “metadata”:

Programme tag – ukoer

Project tag – each project should devise a short tag for use in conjunction with the programme tag. e.g. projectname

Title – of the resource being described

Author / owner / contributor – Most systems, whether repositories, vles or applications such as SlideShare, YouTube, etc allow registered users to create a user profile detailing their name and other relevant details. When a user uploads a resource to such a system these details are usually associated with the resource.

Date – This is difficult to define in the context of open educational resources which have no formal publication date. Most applications are likely to record the date a resource is uploaded but it will also be important to record date of creation so users can judge the currency of a resource.

URL – Metadata must include a url that locates the resource being described. The system must assign each item a unique url.

Licence information – Creative Commons is the preferred licence for programme outputs. The cc:license element can be used to provide a URI for the licence chosen and the dc:rights element can be used to provide general textual information about copyrights, other IPR and licence. Embedding the license within the resource is also recommended where practicable. Projects may refer to the OER IPR Support Project for further guidance

Technical information such as file format, name and size may be added but is no longer mandatory.

The hash symbol # should be added to the programme and project tag for use on twitter. E.g. #ukoer for twitter, ukoer for blogs etc.

Projects are also encouraged to think about providing additional information that will help people to find and access resources. For example:

Language information – The language of the resource.

Subject classifications – Specific subject classifications vocabularies are not mandated for the OER Programme. However if a controlled vocabulary is required, projects are advised to use a vocabulary that is already being used by their subject and domain communities. It is not recommended that projects attempt to create new subject classification vocabularies.

Keywords – May be selected from controlled vocabularies or may be free text.

Additional Tags – Tags are similar to keywords. They may be entered by the creator / publisher of a resource and by users of the resource and they are normally free text. Many applications such as flickr, SlideShare and YouTube support the use of tags.

Comments – Are usually generated by users of a resource and may describe how that resource has been used, in what context and whether it’s use was successful or otherwise.

Descriptions – In contrast to comments, descriptions are usually generated by the creator/ publisher of a resource and tend to be more authoritative. Descriptions may provide a wide range of additional information about a resource including information on how it may be used or repurposed.

It’s also useful for projects to be aware that once OERs are released they can easily become separated from their metadata descriptions, if this information is recorded in an associated file. Consequently projects are encouraged to consider embedding relevant descriptive information within the open educational resource where practicable. For further discussion of this approach see Open Educational resources, metadata and self description.

Delivery Platforms

Projects should deposit their content in JorumOpen and in at least one other openly accessible system or application with the ability to produce RSS and / or Atom feeds; for example an open institutional repository, an international or subject area open repository, an institutional website or blog, or a Web 2.0 service.

The RSS / ATOM feed should list and describe the resources produced by the project, and should itself be easy to find. Where a project produces a large number or resources it may not be practical to include them all in one single feed. In such cases it may be necessary to create several feeds in order to list all the resources. If a number of feeds are required to represent the whole collection, the discovery of the complete set of feeds should be facilitated. A number of approaches to enable this are possible, e.g. by creating an OPML file and using multiple instances of the element in the HTML header, or simply listing all feeds in a human readable web page.

There are many other approaches that projects may choose to investigate and use to facilitate resource discovery including search engine optimisation, site maps, OAI-PMH or APIs for remote search (SRU, OpenSearch, ad hoc RESTful search). CETIS will provide further guidance on these approaches in due course.

Projects will be expected to report to JISC on resource use so it is highly recommended that if the chosen delivery platform has tracking functionality this should be switched on and monitored.

For an overview of the wide range of delivery platforms used by the OER Pilot Programme projects may find it useful to refer to the UKOER Technology Overview

Content Standards

The OER 2 Programme is expected to generate a wide range of content types so mandating specific content standards is impractical. However projects should consider using appropriate standards for sharing complex objects e.g. IMS Content Packaging, IMS Common Cartridge and IMS QTI for assessment items.

What We Hope To Learn

We have learned a great deal from the technical choices and experiences of the OER Pilot Projects but we still have much to learn about how to describe and distribute open educational resources most effectively on the open web. Consequently we strongly encourage projects to share their comments, queries, successes and frustrations with CETIS and with other OER 2 projects. CETIS OER Programme Support Officer R. John Robertson will be undertaking informal technical review calls with all OER 2 projects over the course of the programme. Feel free to comment here, or contact John with comments, queries and suggestions.

An interesting tracking case study…

Earlier this afternoon my colleague Phil Barker led a fascinating Elluminate session exploring resource tracking issues for the JISC / HEA Open Educational Resources Programme. One approach to tracking Phil raised was the use of unique keys or tag combinations which are embedded in resources and then released into the wild. Googling for the unique key will then indicate where your resource has been reused and by whom, more or less.

Now I’m no authority on tracking technologies but this reminded me of a very interesting article I read in the Guardian today How Belle de Jour’s secret ally Googlewhacked the press. This explains how a blogger known as Derren used some astute guesswork and a unique key combination of two terms associated nowhere else on the web to monitor whether anyone else was coming close to guessing the identity of the anonymous call girl Belle de Jour.

At the OER Technical Roundtable at last week’s CETIS Conference one of the actions participants prioritiesd was case studies and examples of different approaches to tracking. I’m not entirely sure that the above is the kind of case study the projects had in mind but it’s a pretty good real world example never the less! Just thought I’d mention it….. ;-)

Phil’s slides from the Elluminate session are available on Slideshare and no doubt there will be blog posts to follow.

The Repositories Research Team

The completion of the Repositories and Preservation Programme earlier this year also brought an end to what may have been one of JISC’s longest running support projects, the Repositories Research Team (RRT), formerly the Digital Repositories Programme Support Project (DRPSP). DRPSP / RRT, which ran from 2005 – 2009 is notable in that it was the first JIIE support project delivered collaboratively by two JISC services (now innovation support centres): UKOLN and CETIS. Dedicated support staff were funded at both CETIS and UKOLN and the project was managed by UKOLN’s Rachel Heery from 2005 until her retirement in 2007 and by myself and Phil from 2008 – 2009.

Digital Repositories Programme Support Project

In its initial incarnation from 2005 – 2007 DRPSP focused primarily on project support with team members supporting individual projects through thematic clusters. This allowed the team to become familiar with project activities, giving them a detailed overview of the programme as a whole and enabling them to provide advice to projects on relevant related work. In addition to two project support officers at UKOLN a project officer was funded at CETIS to support teaching and learning focused repository projects. This was particularly beneficial in the early stages of the programme as there is a tendency for issues relating specifically to the management of educational resources and the role of repositories in the teaching and learning domain to become subsumed by the open access / scholarly works / institutional repositories agendas.

During this period DRPSP also ran a number of support workshops focused on complex objects, using UML, writing scenarios and usecases and developing service usage models.


The team also played a significant role in incubating a number of high profile technical developments, most notably the Scholarly Works Application Profile (SWAP ) and the Simple Web-service Offering Repository Deposit (SWORD) Protocol. SWORD is particularly interesting as it originated from a discussion on repository service-orientation at the 2005 CETIS Conference. This discussion identified “deposit” as the most important repository function for which there was no single, obvious standard for implementation as a web service. DRPSP carried out introductory research, held a series of meetings and gathered use cases and feedback from the repository development community to help incubate work on a common API for repository deposit. This working group ultimately gave rise to the SWORD project which developed a profile of the Atom Publishing Protocol as a deposit API.

Repositories Research Team

When DRPSP morphed into RRT in 2007 the direct project support and institutional advocacy remit passed to the recently established Repository Support Project. This enabled RRT to concentrate on providing support to JISC at a more strategic level. Notable outputs from this period include the programme level synthesis and the repository ecology work.

Programme Synthesis and Evaluation

The objective of this activity was to identify evidence produced by projects that would be relevant to a planned thematic evaluation and synthesis of the Repositories and Preservation Programme. The actual evaluation and synthesis was undertaken by external consultants and the relevant themes were identified by JISC programme managers. In order to facilitate this work the team used a shared blog where they posted evidence tagged by theme that they had trawled from project outputs. This resulted in a blog that effectively acted as a public annotated index of project outputs tagged against themes. The blog platform provided useful functionality in that it allowed the distributed team to work together on a collection of documents, it provided a useful over-view for the JISC programme managers and a starting point and invaluable programme summary for the consultants commissioned to carry through the evaluation and synthesis.

Repository Ecology

The Repository Ecology activity was originally inspired by Neil Maclean’s EDCL 2004 keynote in The Ecology of Repository Services: A Cosmic View! and evolved into a major initiative to investigate models of repository and service interaction and to consider the strengths and limitations of different approaches to articulating or modelling their relationships. The biological study of ecology examined as a potential metaphor to provide new ways to represent the complex multi-faceted environments in which repositories exist and interact. The report and case studies, which are available from the IE Repository, were highlighted by Dorothea Salo on her Caveat Lector blog in a post entitled “JISC is so much win

On reflection

Running a cross service support project with a significant advisory, synthesis and incubation remit was not without its challenges and it is fitting testament to Rachel Heery’s considerable expertise as a project manager that the team overcame the obstacles of physical and administrative distance to produce such varied and valuable outputs. When Rachel retired her departure had an immediate impact on the team and it’s fair to say that Neil Jacobs of JISC, Phil Barker and I had quite a job picking up where she left off.

Despite the challenges of managing such a long running cross service support project we believe that funding dedicated staff in existing services and innovation support centres and bringing them together to form a coherent project is generally a good model for programme support. This enables the support team to leverage the resources and expertise of the host service or centre. In addition the services and innovation support centres are also in a good position to synthesise issues arising from the programme, relate them to broader strategic issues and feed them back to JISC.

DRSPS / RRT was a relatively long-lived project that spanned a number of programmes and whose remit changed considerably throughout its lifetime. The project was fortunate to employ a number of dedicated and motivated staff who rose to the challenge and who, despite the challenges, viewed their time with the DRSPS / RRT project as being extremely positive and productive both professionally and personally.

In the words of one team member:

“I gained an awful lot. I gained a broad knowledge of repositories and projects and what was going on in repositories area. I gained skills in standards development, application profiling…. I made tons of contacts and had opportunities to travel. It was a fantastic job really.”


We would like to acknowledge the following staff and thank them for their input to DRPSP / RRT: Julie Allinson (formerly UKOLN, now University of York), Sarah Currier (formerly CETIS, now Sarah Currier Consultancy), Michael Day (UKOLN), Mahendra Mahey (UKOLN), R. John Robertson (CETIS), Adrian Stevenson (UKOLN).

A number of JISC programme managers and consultants also made a significant contribution to this project over its lifespan including Neil Jacobs (who stepped into the breach as project manager in 2007), Andy MacGregor, Rachel Bruce, Amber Thomas, Balviar Notay and Tom Franklin.

In particular we would like to acknowledge the invaluable personal and professional contribution made to this and many other projects by Rachel Heery, Assistant Director for Research and Development at UKOLN, until her retirement in 2007.

Phil Barker and Lorna M. Campbell

Open Educational Resources Programme Briefing Day

A rather belated summary of last week’s HEFCE / Academy / JISC Open Educational Resources Community Briefing* meeting. This meeting pretty much did what it said on the tin – it provided the community with additional information on the OER Programme call and an opportunity to put questions to JISC and HEA representatives.

Malcolm Read and of the JISC and David Sadler of the Academy opened the meeting with a general introduction to the aims and objectives of the call – to link together a corpus of open educational resources at national level and to promote cultural change at institutional level.

David Kernohan then went on to discuss the pilot programme in a little more detail before introducing the JISC and Academy representatives with responsibility for each of the three programme strands:

  • Subject strand – David Sadler and Joanne Masterson, Academy
  • Institutional Strand – Heather Williamson, JISC
  • Individual Strand – Sharon Waller & Ellie Spilman, Academy

David stressed the ground breaking nature of this pilot project which, if it’s successful, will help to increase the range and quality of educational resources available in the public domain, facilitate re-use, build capacity and expertise across the sector adn act as a catalyst for institutional change. All projects are encouraged to include a range of content and to attempt to embed the practice of opening access to educational resources within their institutions beyond funded phase of the programme. Sustainability is key.

Next it was over to Amber Thomas to outline the technical requirements of the programme, which I’ll cover in a separate post, followed by an excellent presentation from Liam Earney of the CASPER Project on the realities of addressing legal considerations based on the experiences of the RePRODUCE Programme. Liam stressed that “open” means the ability to download and modify resources, not just to read them, but added that many institutions have contradictory policies on what can be done with educational materials. The main lesson projects must learn is to allow lots and lots of time for rights clearance and to allocate sufficient resources and budget to this task.

Unsurprisingly Liam’s presentation on legal issues set the tone for much of the following discussion with many of the questions relating to the practicalities of rights clearance across project consortia. Many of the other questions focused on the logistics of constructing bids, the practicalities of putting together consortia agreements, and what constitutes match funding. A somewhat opportunistic question that surfaced more than once was given that educational content represents a valuable asset from the institutional perspective can JISC funding be used to effectively buy out this content? Malcolm Read quickly pointed out that HEFCE are not offering money to “buy” content and that the commitment they are looking for from institutions is sustainability.

For a fuller record of the day’s discussions, and in particular the question and answer session see http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23oerday However to my utter, utter, shame I used the programme tag #ukoer rather than the briefing day tag #oerday for the earlier part of the day so see also http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23ukoer

Presentations from the day are available at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/oer/briefingday.aspx

* I was told that JISC no longer use the term town meeting but no one was able to tell me why!

Choose your tag with care

The official tag for the recent Dublin Core Conference in Berlin is dc2008berlin however my colleague John Robertson noted that more than a few conference participants had uploaded images to flickr tagged dc2008. This tag also turns up lots of holiday snaps from Washington DC along with images from some rather more exotic events including DragonCon 2008.


Do you know where the Description Set Profile Working Group is?

By Foenix. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

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