The JLeRN Experiment

JISC's Learning Registry Node Experiment at Mimas

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

Wider Potential Summary

The Learning Registry – Wider Potential - Executive Summary

The Wider Potential report (121109 JLeRN Wider Potential Report – DK) introduced here presents personal but hopefully useful observations on the Learning Registry as a work in progress.  The report considers the wider potential and affordances of the Learning Registry as an architecture or conceptual approach, looking beyond its core educational technology focus to the broader information environment. Inevitably, this report only scratches the surface and should therefore be weighed against the more detailed inputs (covering both technology and practice) to the JISC Learning Registry Node (JLeRN) project.

1 – Status

In organizational terms, the LR is only a time-limited project and therefore its potential has to be realized beyond those boundaries; however, it is already valuable that practitioners intuitively recognise both the relevance of its approach and the possibilities it may open up.

In solution terms, the LR is only a configuration of IT plumbing, of machines talking to machines (that’s all it set out to be); therefore it is down to the community (self-selecting) to build both local and larger scale services and to enhance the range of interfaces (APIs) and the scope of value-added applications. Such engagement might be more readily achieved if the potential of two key aspects were to be more clearly demonstrated – how paradata might work at scale given the nature of the underlying identifiers and how the networked node model could serve a range of practical use cases.

In technology terms, the LR made some choices at a moment in time (e.g. to use the Couch noSQL database). Whilst these are far from out-dated, it may be that it is the approach that is more significant going forward than the specific architecture, tools or code.

In terms of vision, the LR appears to have catalysed encouraging levels of interest in three constituencies – policy makers (especially in US K-12 education), learning technologists and, perhaps most refreshingly, parties responsible for delivery (such as the Liverpool and Newcastle University teams engaged in the UK JLeRN investigation).  Whilst enthusiasms and movements are dangerous, it is not insignificant when an approach captures imaginations in an embattled landscape such as Learning Resource description, discovery and reuse.

2 – Crossroads

At this point in the story, as initial project funding comes to an end, we are however faced with a familiar ‘investment’ dilemma (whether about effort or funds) concerning the tensions between ‘forever beta’ rapid innovation (technology and tools are always moving on) and the challenges of embedding in the community and of reliable productisation. Survival in this technology ‘gene pool’ is a complex proposition. The key sustainability questions are:

  • In product terms, does the LR add enough to the underlying technology stack to establish a necessary and valued role? Or is the LR simply an exemplification of what can be achieved using increasingly malleable lower level components?
  • In terms of engagement, are the educational audience too narrow and the post-project governance too uncertain to elicit the ongoing commitment needed to deliver the power of the LR approach? Or is there a wider value in the LR approach potentially involving other domains that would bring critical mass and a sustainable trajectory?

3 – Recommendations

It is perhaps unhelpful in the current funding climate to propose further work. It seems certain however that neither the benefits to the leaning community (with the possible exception of specific US K-12 targets) nor any wider /generic potential of the LR approach can be achieved without further proof of concept around its potentially groundbreaking features – notably harnessing paradata and offering a node based data aggregation model.

To market the current ‘solution’ to the wider learning community or to other information domains, such as libraries and estates in HE, without clarity in those areas would likely be fruitless. Technologists would justifiably resort to the underlying toolset (notably the power of CouchDB) and practitioners would be left, as we are, to imagine outcomes on a half-promise.

I for one would suggest that low budget and rapidly executed proof of concept experiments could be devised around paradata and the node model that would get us to a more tangible decision point regarding value to the teaching and learning community and wider affordances. These need to take place urgently before we loose track of achievements to date.

Ironically, talking of wider potential, the library community and particularly aggregations such as the Mimas-managed Copac service (http://copac.ac.uk/about/) have use cases and data to support both investigations.  Furthermore the JISC Activity Data programme (http://activitydata.org) and at least one very large ongoing European project (Open Discovery Service running to 2015 – http://opendiscoveryspace.eu/project.html) may be poised to address mutually interesting requirements in this space.

Finally, as a sanity check, it may be of value to undertake an analysis of the space addressed by the LR based on the California Digital Library micro-services approach (https://confluence.ucop.edu/display/Curation/Microservices) in order to determine the necessary working parts and how they might be sourced, without the presumption of building and maintaining a single end-to-end system.

Rounding up the JLeRN Experiment

We have reached the end of the JLeRN experiment, at least the end of the current JISC funding for Mimas to set up a node on the Learning Registry and examine its potential. One part of the process of rounding up ideas and outputs generated through the experiment was a meeting of those who had engaged with it, held on 22nd October. This post providers pointers to two sets of resources associated with that meeting: the blog posts etc. that people who attended it wrote after the event, in order to summarise what had been discussed, but first a quick round-up (mostly from Sarah Currier) of posts that describe what the people who attended had been doing with the Learning Registry.

The Story So Far?by David Kay
A summary of some of the “headline ‘findings’” of a series of conversations that David has been having in an attempt to pin down the nature of the Learning Registry and its potential.

Understanding and using the Learning Registry: Pgogy Tools for searching and submittingby Pat Lockley.
Pat has been very involved in the Learning Registry from the start. This blog post gives you access to all four of his open source tools that work with the Learning Registry, set up to work with our JLeRN node. They are very easy to install (two of them plug very easily into Chrome) and try out, plus Pat has made some brief videos demonstrating how they work. The tools use the Learning Registry to enhance Google (and other) searching, and support easy submission of metadata and paradata to a node. There is also a sample search you can use with the Chrome tools that should show you how it works pretty quickly.

Taster: A soon-to-be released ENGrich Learning Registry Case Study for JLeRNby the ENGrich Project.
The ENGrich project are working on a case study on why and how they have implemented a Learning Registry node to enhance access to high-quality visual resources (images, videos, Flash animations, etc.) as OERs for engineering education at university level. Their work has involved gathering paradata from academics and students; this taster gives you an overview. A really interesting use case. Please pass this one on to anyone working with engineering resources too!

Taster: some ideas for a use case on paradata and accessibility opportunities -by Terry McAndrew
Terry is an accessibility expert from JISC TechDis, he came to our first Hackday and got us thinking about how the Learning Registry model for capturing and sharing paradata might be useful for people to share information about how accessible resources are. We commissioned him to write up a use case for this; look here to see his beginning thoughts, and add any of your own.

How widely useful is the Learning Registry?: A draft report on the broader contextby David Kay
The JLeRN team have been keeping half an eye from the start on the potential affordances the Learning Registry might offer the information landscape outwith educational technology: what about library circulation data, activity data and activity streams, linked data, the Semantic Web, research data management? And what if we are missing a trick; maybe there are already solutions in other communities? So we commissioned a Broader Context Report from David Kay at Sero Consulting. This is his first draft; we’re looking for feedback, questions and ideas.

I reported on some information about the current status of the Learning Registry in the US and some other related initiatives (slideshare) based on information Steve Midgely had sent me in reply to an email.

Summaries/reflections from after the meeting

Registryingby Pat Lockley
Pat’s summary of his presentation on how the Learning Registry affects the interactions between developers, service managers and users.

Experimenting with the Learning Registryby Amber Thomas
A round-up of the meeting as a whole, pulling out a couple of the significant issues raised: the extent to which the Learning Registry is a network, and the way some real tricky problems have been pushed out of scope…but are still there. Some really useful comments on this post as well, notably from Steve Midgley on increasing adoption of the Learning Registry in the US.

JLeRN Experiment Final Meetingby Lorna M Campbell
Another summary of the meeting, summarising the uses made of the Learning Registry by projects represented at the meeting, mentioning some subject areas where the use of the Learning Registry to store information about curriculum mapping may prove useful and questions from Owen Stephens about alternative approaches to the Learning Registry.

At the end of the JLeRN experimentby Phil Barker
My summary of the meeting, covering the issues of whether the Learning Registry is a network or just isolated nodes (-not much of a network, yet), whether it works as software (-seems to) and why use it and not some alternative (-it’s too early to tell).

Watch this space for more information and case studies from some of the people mentioned above, and for the official JLeRN final report.

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