The JLeRN Experiment

JISC's Learning Registry Node Experiment at Mimas

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Taster: a soon-to-be released ENGrich Learning Registry Case Study for JLeRN

One of the tasks we’ve commissioned from our informal task group is a case study from Liverpool University on why and how they have implemented a Learning Registry node to enhance access to high-quality visual resources (images, videos, Flash animations, etc.) for use in engineering education. The ENGrich team will be presenting their case study at the JLeRN Final Workshop on Monday 22nd October and completing it based on feedback and discussion there; but we’d be interested in any questions or points you have as well prior to the final version being published here.

So, here is your taster:

Ins and Outs of the Learning Registry: An ENGrich Case Study for JLeRN – draft

By the ENGrich Team at Liverpool University. This work is licensed by The University of Liverpool under a CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported License CC-by-sa icon

A brief summary of the ENGrich project

ENGrich, a project based at the University of Liverpool, is both designing and developing a customised search engine for visual media relevant to engineering education. Using Google Custom Search (with applied filters such as tags, file-types and sites/domains) as a primary search engine for images, videos, presentations and FlashTM movies, this project is then pulling and pushing corresponding metadata / paradata from and to the Learning Registry (LR). A user-interface is also being developed to enable those engaging with the site (principally students and academics) to add further data relating to particular resources, and to how they are being used. This information is published to LR, which is then employed to help order any subsequent searches.

ENGrich process flow

This section will detail the process flow of the proposed service. Effectively, the LR plays a central role in ‘engriching’ visual engineering content, above and beyond the basic data returned by Google Custom Search.

ENGrich Process Flow Diagram

ENGrich Process Flow Diagram

Working with documentation

This section will cover how we worked through the available LR guides and documentation, from the very basic methods (publish, slice etc) to the more customized data services (extract).

The list includes:

Learning Registry in 20 Minutes or Less

Learning Registry – Quick Reference Guide

Learning Registry – Slicing

Paradata in 20 Minutes or Less

Modeling Paradata and Assertions as Activities

Paradata Cookbook

LR Data Services

Setting up a Learning Registry node at the University of Liverpool

This section will explain the rationale behind the decision to set up an institutional LR node (common node) at the University of Liverpool, and challenges and issues we faced while doing it. This node is to be utilized by the project, as well as providing a means of highlighting the wider potential of the LR to other centres / services across the University.

Summer students identifying learning resources

This section will describe how the project employed undergraduate engineering students over the summer of 2012 to classify visual media available online that are relevant to the University of Liverpool engineering modules. The project relies on their experience as engineering students to provide insights into learning techniques of how to identify resources that will aid future students. 25,000+ records were linked to the appropriate modules, and are ready to be published in the University LR node using the paradata templates described below.

The students blogged every week on their tasks and progress.

Paradata statements templates

This section will report on how we went about creating the required PHP templates to publish the students’ data into our Learning Registry node. We have constructed a set of contextualized usage paradata statements for different types of actions (e.g. recommended, aligned, not aligned) and so far have published a couple of test documents to our University LR node.

Slice, harvest, obtain methods and data services (extract)

This section will summarise our experience with different methods the LR has in place for accessing data from the LR. We report on using slice, obtain, harvest and extract methods, explaining why we have chosen one over the other.

University of Liverpool student portal – using data directly from LR

This section will demonstrate how an iLIKE ‘widget’ (a portative version of ENGrich visual search) could be implemented within the University of Liverpool student portal. The iLIKE prototype gets a unique listing of identifiable University of Liverpool engineering modules (titles and codes) directly from the Learning Registry as the user types into the text field, and then fetches the latest resources relating to that module from the LR. It dynamically generates the thumbnails corresponding to the resources.

Working with Mimas

This section will talk about how we collaborated with the JLeRN team at Mimas to resolve some initial bugs in the slice service; to draw on their experiences in setting up a new LR node at the University of Liverpool; to develop a set of customised extract data services; and also about the possibility of joining the LR nodes at Liverpool and Mimas using the LR distribute service.

JLeRN Reporting: Recommendations for Future Learning Registry Work in the UK

This is one of a series of posts from the JLeRN Experiment, forming sections of what will be our Final Report. Please send feedback and discussion in the comments section, as your own blog post response, via Twitter (hashtags #jlern #learningreg) or on the OER-Discuss and Learning Registry email lists. To see all the posts, click here

JLeRN Draft Report: 5. Recommendations

Current context: JISC

When these recommendations were originally drafted in June 2012, with the help of JISC CETIS and Amber Thomas, we were just at the start of a period of flux within our funding body JISC. We are well into the changes now, so we share these recommendations in the knowledge that we do not yet fully know the future shape of the new JISC and its community, nor how it will make funding decisions, nor what its priorities will be. Nevertheless, we put these ideas out there for discussion and posterity. The final version will take into account community feedback, so please fire away!

Current context: The Learning Registry

Equally, the future of the Learning Registry itself in the U.S. past October 2012 is unclear; it is likely that it will continue in some form, perhaps with a different funding structure. Moreover, much of the interest and exploratory work that has emerged in the U.S. is in the schools sector, around curriculum-related paradata.

JLeRN’s final days

JLeRN will finish at the end of October 2012, alongside the end of the JISC OER Rapid Innovation projects who are working with the Learning Registry. Several small-scale tasks will be carried out by keen contributors to JLeRN by the end of October (including taking part in a small end-of-JLeRN Workshop at Mimas on 22 October 2012):

  • ENGrich project case study from the University of Liverpool.
  • Pat Lockley’s four Pgogy tools for easy exploration of the Learning Registry.
  • Terry McAndrew from JISC TechDIS will provide an accessibility paradata use case.
  • David Kay of Sero Consulting will provide a Broader Context Report.
  • The RIDLR project will report to the JLeRN Final Workshop on its findings.

All of these outputs, plus the final version of the report these JLeRN Reporting blog posts will feed into, will be made available here on the JLeRN blog.


As noted in the Skills and Capacity section of this report:

“[…] 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.”

The recommendations below are still just putting the pieces together for a unified vision around sharing and using paradata in education; we are not yet ready, technically, or as a community of Learning Registry followers, to support that “big push”.

5.1 Recommendation: Synthesis of JLeRN, OER Rapid Innovation and related UK findings on Learning Registry.

This should include input from Liverpool University and others who have expressed an interest by attending Learning Registry / JLeRN meetings and workshops to date, perhaps carried out via a survey and/or other formal methods. Current developments within the U.S. Learning Registry project should be noted. There was also a whisper at one point that there was interest at the BBC, which would be worth looking into.

5.2 Recommendation: Explore benefits of the Learning Registry for UK sectors with well-defined curricula, e.g. schools, work-based learning and FE/Skills.

Educational sectors where there is a well-defined curriculum have been closely involved in the U.S. Learning Registry project. One UK HE project with a strong commitment to exploring the Learning Registry to date has been RIDLR, which is looking at the affordances for sharing paradata within and around a well-specified and mandated medical curriculum. It is therefore likely that there will be interest in the Learning Registry in sectors outwith UK HE that work with defined curricula.

5.3 Recommendation: Building on the experience of JLeRN and the current UK task group

There are likely to be ongoing explorations that projects, institutions, services (e.g. Jorum) and interested individuals (e.g. Pat Lockley) would like to do. Funding small well-specified projects to work on these tasks would be useful. Deciding whether JLeRN as a project providing a node or nodes, and expertise, will still be needed to support these (as opposed to them using U.S. Learning Registry nodes) would be a necessary part of planning this.

5.4 Recommendation: Explore mutual affordances with Activity Data work and other JISC Programmes

Those interested in activity streams, activity data, library circulation data, research data management, linked data, Semantic Web, and so on have noted an interest in JLeRN and the Learning Registry, and JLeRN lead Sarah Currier has kept in touch at a high level with key developments. JLeRN has commissioned a brief on the Learning Registry in a broader context than educational technology, which could support future thinking in this area. It may be worth exploring more in-depth tasks or projects to tease this area out.

JLeRN Reporting: Appetite and Demand for the Learning Registry

This is one of a series of posts from the JLeRN Experiment, forming sections of what will be our Final Report. Please send feedback and discussion in the comments section, as your own blog post response, via Twitter (hashtags #jlern #learningreg) or on the OER-Discuss and Learning Registry email lists. To see all the posts, click here.

JLeRN Draft Report: 2. Appetite and Demand

Interest in the Learning Registry in the UK: a summary

Following on from the Hackday in January 2012, where considerable interest was shown in JLeRN, there were well-attended sessions at the CETIS Conference 2012 and OCWC/OER12. However, conference sessions and a Developer Challenge at developer-specific events Dev8D and Dev8eD were less well-attended, despite effort put into publicising JLeRN and encouraging participation. Those events were for developers working on the ground rather than project managers or strategic thinkers; it seems the immediate benefit of the Learning Registry to coders wanting to code cool stuff was not yet apparent, although if you are interested in some exceptions to that, see our blog post about Pat Lockley’s plugins here and our own JLeRN Node Explorer here.

Building on this early buzz, a small number of institutions have shown an interest in trialling implementation of the Learning Registry around well-defined use cases meeting real community needs, although only one has followed through: Liverpool University have implemented their own node to support their ENGrich work (a JLeRN Case Study is coming on this). There have also been projects hoping to try out the Learning Registry approach as a side issue to their core work (e.g. Xenith, ORBIT- see below), recognising the potential value and wanting to take advantage of JLeRN while it was available to help. However, lack of capacity on both sides prevented much happening beyond discussion.

Learning Registry: popular with JISC OER projects

Six projects working with the Learning Registry were funded in the JISC OER Rapid Innovation Programme, and one FE-based project involved JLeRN in its bid, but was not funded. Two JISC OER Programme projects (ENGrich at Liverpool University and ORBIT at Cambridge University) have also initiated collaboration with JLeRN; we have supported ENGrich with their node and commissioned a case study, whereas with ORBIT we only managed some initial discussions on the idea of sharing semantic data using the Learning Registry, an idea we would’ve loved to explore further.

Are others interested in the Learning Registry, sans funding?

Where people have secured funding (or institutional support in the case of ENGrich) directly related to the Learning Registry, they have been able to collaborate with JLeRN. It is important to note that these projects, while they relate to very real use cases, are small scale and exploratory, like JLeRN itself. In no case are they close to developing anything like a strategic or service level implementation. This is as it should be, however, given the stage the Learning Registry itself is at.

Others who showed an early interest, for instance, The Open University’s LabSpace and LearningSpace platforms; JISC TechDIS; and the Health, E-Learning and Media (HELM) team at Nottingham University (distinct from the Xerte / Xenith team at Nottingham who have an OER Rapid Innovation project), have not been able to make resource available to work with JLeRN as it is too experimental and not part of their core work. Their participation in our events and discussions has been valuable and much appreciated, however. And Terry McAndrew at TechDIS is working up an accessibility use case which will be published here on the blog.

Interest in the Learning Registry outwith the educational technology sector

There are other JISC communities outwith educational technology that have shown an interest in JLeRN and the Learning Registry, the most prominent being those involved in content, discovery and activity data. Joy Palmer, a Senior Manager at Mimas with a number of interests and projects in these areas, has been keeping her own watching brief on the progress of JLeRN. Joy and Amber Thomas made sure that JLeRN was represented at JISC Content and Discovery Cross-Programmes Meeting in April 2012, where a number of useful conversations were had. Amber Thomas has also noted that the research data management community has similar issues to solve. JLeRN has commissioned a report looking at how the Learning Registry might benefit these wider areas: see David Kay’s JLeRN blog post initiating discussion around this. His final report will also be published here on the blog.

Strategic interest and expectations management

Broadly speaking, discussions within the HE community in the UK and abroad, as reported informally by various JLeRN, Mimas, CETIS and JISC folk, have indicated that those who recognise the gaps in paradata provision are interested in the Learning Registry at a strategic level, but this invariably raises an accompanying problem of expectations management. In describing the problem area the Learning Registry is aimed at, and the innovative approach being taken, it can be easy to latch onto this work as the next big thing that will solve all problems, without recognising that there is (a) a lot of work to be done, and (b) that work would require a well-supported infrastructure, both technically and in terms of communities, shared vocabularies, and so on.

JLeRN at Dev8eD next week: will you be there?

The JLeRN team (myself and developer Nick Syrotiuk) are working with CETIS to bring you some juicy sessions on the Learning Registry at Dev8eD: “A free event for building, sharing and learning cool stuff in education! Tuesday 29th – Wednesday 30th May 2012, Birmingham, UK.”

We are very interested in talking and hacking with people working on JISC and other OER projects, including the Rapid Innovation projects we already know about, and anyone else interested in “capturing conversations around OERs” and paradata. If you haven’t already signed up to Dev8eD and you want to spend some quality time with JLeRN, this is a great opportunity to do so!

We are planning:

  1. A Lightning Talk on Day 1 from Nick to update you on what’s new at JLeRN;
  2. A workshop / panel session on Day 1 for those working in this area to share what their projects are doing and identify common requirements or useful ways in which JLeRN and CETIS can help;
  3. A training session / hack session on Day 2 so that Nick can give you direct support with whatever you are working on with JLeRN or the Learning Registry.

If you are planning to come we would really like to hear from you to see how many projects will have something to talk about at the workshop / panel session on Day 1. Comment here or email me at sarah [dot] currier [at]

I’d also like to hear if you have any further ideas about how we can best use our time at Dev8eD with you.

JLeRN and the JISC OER Rapid Innovation Projects

The HE Academy / JISC OER3 Programme‘s new Rapid Innovation strand projects kicked off last week in London at the Programme Meeting. We are thrilled that there are four projects within the strand who want to work with us on Learning Registry related developments.

HEA / JISC logo

With only four months left for JLeRN, we want to make the most of the time we have, and participating in well-thought-out projects meeting real requirements in the OER space seems like a good way to consolidate what we’ve learned so far. All of these projects involve folk who supported us by coming to the Hackday in January and the CETIS Conference Learning Registry session in February so it’ll be nice to give something back.

The four projects we are working with are as follows (NB: There were a few other sparks of interest in the OER Rapid Innovation projects’ breakout session, so I think we may pick up a few more along the way: don’t be shy to get in touch if you’d like to work with us. UPDATE: We’ve added a new one already- read down to the end of the list for CAMILOE! And another: SupOERglue from Newcastle University, check under RIDLR!):

Rapid Innovation Dynamic Learning Maps-Learning Registry (RIDLR)

Dynamic Learning Maps concept map

The Dynamic Learning Maps Concept

Based at Newcastle University, and led by Simon Cotterill, this project will build on their Dynamic Learning Maps work, and their FavOERites social bookmarking project, to develop “open APIs to harvest and release paradata on OER from end-users (bookmarks, tags, comments, ratings and reviews etc.) from the Learning Registry and other sources for specific topics, within the context of curriculum and personal maps.” Also (added to post 4/04/12) from the Dynamic Learning Maps folks at Newcastle, we have the SupOERglue project, led by Suzanne Hardy, which aims to enable easy content creation and aggregation related to specific topics.  They will also be looking at collecting paradata on OER from end-users.

Sharing Paradata Across Widget Stores (SPAWS)

Based at Bolton University (with partners KMi (Open University)IMC AG, Saarbruecken; Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium) and led by Scott Wilson, this project will use the Learning Registry infrastructure to share paradata in the form of user views, reviews and ratings about educational widgets across four existing widget stores.

Xerte Experience Now Improved: Targeting HTML5 (XENITH)

Xerte Online Toolkits logo

Based at Nottingham University (with partners JISC TechDIS, EDINA and Mimas (us!)), and led by Julian Tenney, this project builds on the Xerte Online Toolkits, which integrates directly with the Xpert Repository. As an adjunct to its main development work, it will explore sharing metadata and paradata about Xerte resources with the Learning Registry.

Track OER: Tracking Open Educational Resources

Based at the Open University, and led by Patrick McAndrew, this project aims to “develop software that can help track open educational resources” as they are used away from their point of origin. JLeRN has already entered discussions with them to ensure mutual affordances are identified.

CAMILOE (Collation and Moderation of Intriguing Learning Objects in Education) (added to the list 3/04/12)

Based at Canterbury Christ Church University, and led by Mike Blamires, this project aims to  reclaim and update 1800 quality-assured, evidence-informed reviews of education research, guidance and practice that were produced and updated between 2003 and 2010, and which are now archived and difficult to access. They are aiming to discuss the potential usefulness of JLeRN and the Learning Registry in achieving their aims.

In addition to these projects, the University of Liverpool will soon be working with the JLeRN team to set up their own node, as part of their JISC OER project CORE-SET. As well as assisting with meeting Liverpool’s requirements, this will enable JLeRN to experiment with sharing data between nodes at different locations. Work with Jorum will continue, and discussions have begun with the resource discovery strand of JISC’s Information Environment 09-11 activities, to widen the reach of the Learning Registry concept. Watch out for blog posts on all of these activities!

Update on the JLeRN Experiment Paradata Challenge at Dev8D

Just a wee update on the results of the JLeRN Experiment Paradata Challenge at Dev8D 2012. The whole team put a lot of effort into the challenge, especially Bharti Gupta, who set up the pre-conference surgery, ran an introductory session at Dev8D, and really got involved in discussing the Learning Registry with developers and following up after the conference finished. A big thanks also to Steven Cook from Jorum who accompanied Bharti to Dev8D, and helped a lot with supporting the challenge.

So: after a lot of interest we had two entries, both in the form of use case ideas around using paradata about books. We (the JLeRN team and the judging panel) decided not to award any prizes as the ideas just weren’t quite developed enough in relation to the Learning Registry, but we did feel these were use cases worth keeping an eye on.

We really want to emphasise that the lack of prizes is not a reflection on the work we know the two entrants put in, in terms of getting their heads around the Learning Registry. It still takes a fairly big push of effort and thought to dig into this stuff, and we were asking developers to do this a bit too quickly, and in their own time. And, it has to be said, without the incentive of a big cash prize at the end! Thank you very much for participating Vani and Neeta!

Ultimately, we came up with the challenge idea as a way of publicising the JLeRN Experiment and more broadly the Learning Registry. We’re not too disappointed at not being able to award any prizes, because the whole experience sparked a fair amount of interest in what we’re doing, and discussion on Twitter and elsewhere. It also highlighted some of the requirements developers identified around supporting their engagement in the Learning Registry. It was genuinely a valuable exercise for the project.

We’d like to thank the Dev8D team, especially Mahendra Mahey, for their help in thinking through and setting up the challenge. I’d emphasise however, that any decisions we made (such as the nature of the prizes on offer) that may have contributed to people not entering, were entirely our own decision!

We’ve had an interesting discussion within the judging panel for the challenge (including folk involved in organising hackdays and other developer events) about where the community is currently at with developer challenges, so hopefully we’ve contributed to that as well. We’re grateful to them for their support throughout.

We’ll be releasing an interim report and a plan for the next 5 months of JLeRN work very soon. Lessons learned from running the challenge, as well as from the hackday, the CETIS Conference, and our other activities, will feed into these, so watch the blog for a post!

And there will be some other very good news coming soon too about some funded projects who will be working with JLeRN over the next 7-8 months, and some small bits of cash we may be offering for mini-tasks. Watch this space …

The Learning Registry and JLeRN at the CETIS Conference: Report and Reflections

In late February, the JLeRN team, along with Steven Cook who is working with us from the Jorum team, attended the annual CETIS Conference, and participated in the Learning Registry: Capturing Conversations About Learning Resources session. See this previous post for our presentation slides.

Our intention was that the CETIS Conference would be a significant point of reflection for the project: a chance to evaluate what JLeRN has achieved so far in light of community discussion and feedback, and a chance to get some pointers on how we should spend the next five months, since we finish at the end of July.

This week I’ll be meeting with Amber Thomas, our JISC Programme Manager, to write up an interim report for JISC, so I’m hoping this post will help me start to crystalise what I think personally, and what I’m hearing from the community. Skip right to the bottom of this post to see some bullet-pointed suggestions for further work from participants!

Firstly, can I just give a big shout out to Phil and Lorna from CETIS, and also to John who has now left CETIS but who helped a lot with organising the session. It was great!  Phil was particularly heroic in filling in for Dan Rehak by interpreting his slides for us. Also thanks to Walt Grata from the US Learning Registry team who came all the way to Nottingham just to hang out with all of us for a couple of days: it was absolutely invaluable having him there in person to advise, inform and have a laugh with.

Stepping Back: An Overview

As previously mentioned, Phil started us off with an overview of the Learning Registry. He presented some slides developed by Dan Rehak, which included diagrams peering into the Learning Registry model and concepts from a number of different angles. I’m getting the hang of it now, but I don’t doubt there were some baffled faces in the room at this point (I was at the front, and I didn’t look around). I keep reassuring people that you need to go through this stuff a few times using a few different resources to get a grip on it. However, speaking for myself, it was really useful to step back out of JLeRN and be reminded of how the Learning Registry is conceptualised by its creators.

The best thing for me about Dan/Phil’s presentation was being reminded of the Big Use Case. In the US, massive amounts of federal money is spent on educational resources which are then held in numerous silos, e.g. Nasa, PBS, NSDL, the Department of Defence may all hold different versions of the same resource. And therefore paradata, or usage data, about those resources may also be split into these different silos. Each portal only knows about a subset of what’s happening around their resources. How to pull it all together? The Learning Registry hopes to be a solution. This is highly relevant to Jorum here in the UK, which already shares resources with other services like Ireland’s National Digital Learning Repository.

We were in imminent danger of getting dragged into discussing definitions of paradata versus other kinds of data and metadata but Amber pulled us back from the brink, reminding us that we are not in the business of classifying types of data around resources: the nice thing about the Learning Registry is that it’s all in scope. Walt agreed, noting that “As long as you can express it as a string, and in JSON” it’s in scope. Walt also pointed out that even though there is a paradata specification available in the Learning Registry documentation, it’s not something that is required or validated; it’s just one suggestion to get folk going. “You can make up whatever you want”, he said.

Some Participants Chime In

This discussion led to Fred Riley from the SONET repository at Nottingham University, and Terry McAndrew from TechDIS asking some questions about how they could get involved. Fred would like to publish his repository’s OERs into the JLeRN node. There will be more on this in a later blog post, but the basic upshot is that this bespoke repository coded by Fred himself offers an RSS feed but not OAI-PMH, and until this point we’d been talking about publishing repository OAI-PMH feeds into our node. This was a timely discussion as Pat Lockley had just been working on a way to publish RSS into the Learning Registry, so it was a bit of edtech speed dating there.

Terry reiterated some of his ideas from the Hackday in January, following up with questions about how teachers can pull together stuff they have in a range of places (e.g. WordPress, Delicious, Posterous) to publish to the Learning Registry. All of this prompted some reminders about what an early stage proof-of-concept technical infrastructure project the Learning Registry is: some tools for developers and others are starting to emerge, but at this point just listening to these kinds of requests is all we can do. Walt noted that in the US there is work going on developing a few plug-ins and apps to work with various things teachers use to publish their content. Pat Lockley here in the UK also has some stuff on the go.

Terry also asked at a later point whether we can harvest from JISCmail as a source of data: folk can then see contributions that they’ve already made being used. Amber (from JISC) agreed strongly but noted that there are currently limitations- Brian Kelly has advised JISCmail to make their data harvestable.

Lorna on JISC / CETIS Interest in the Learning Registry

Why are JISC and CETIS interested in the Learning Registry? Folk are asking all the time whether they should get involved: is now the right time? Lorna noted again that this is an ongoing project; it’s being built right now. We don’t know how successful it will be. From CETIS’s point of view, it appears to be an interesting development that’s addressing problem we’ve had for ages.

Just for context, Lorna showed us a new OER timeline resource being developed by Lou McGill, which gives a graphical representation of the history of learning resources within JISC and CETIS. She noted that they used to recommend open standards for educational content, but that they were tricky to implement. Metadata for learning resources has been particularly problematic: describing educational context is very difficult. With the advent of the JISC OER Programmes, they decided to ask for descirptions of a few key aspects of resources, but not in standardised way.

The key questions that are still hard to answer are: How do we know where resources have gone, how they’ve been used, have they been remixed etc. So JISC and CETIS are interested in Learning Registry, because it acknowledges that we can’t normalise the mess of data. We need to get it into a network, and let clever people build services and tools to query the data. CETIS like that it’s dealing with the reality of the way the world is.

Amber on the Wider JISC Context

JISC supports the sharing of learning materials and digital library materials. Amber noted two other JISC Programmes that have looked at this stuff: the Activity Data and Discovery programmes. They are interested in open metadata; encouraging the flow of data. If you have data more openly available, makes resources more visible, this is a virtuous circle making discovery easier.

Andy Powell (who wasn’t present) Tweeted a question asking if we are talking about #bigdata at the Conference. This is about identifying patterns in data; it resonates with the Learning Registry model of the benefits of opening up data. The Managing Research Data programme has similar issues.

There is a question around how much effort are people willing to put into describing, rather than having that data inferred/extracted/derived. Amber name-checked Zoe Rose from the BBC on whether we should even try to describe educational resources, or at least the educational aspects of educational resources: Zoe thinks not, it just gets sketchy.

So, Amber reiterated again: JLeRN is not a pilot, it’s an experiment. Mimas run a node to be point of reference; JISC are not planning to necessarily turn it into a service. The questions starting to arise for her with her JISC hat on are: What are skills issues involved? What sorts of developers can start to learn these skills? It’s a capacity issue, and an appetite issue. Who are the people who want to make apps and widgets? What are their skillsets? JLeRN won’t be sustainable unless people get involved.

JLeRN’s Presentations

I refer you back to our slides and handout here. I like to think we’ve made a bit of a contribution to the resources helping folk understand what the Learning Registry is doing with these, so please do have a look.

Some Projects and Ideas

The next session was presentations on some work folk are doing or hoping to do around the Learning Registry and/or JLeRN. Hope to get some slides and links in here later.

Scott Wilson (Bolton University / JISC CETIS) on SPAWS: Sharing Paradata Across Widget Stores

– There are 3 educational widget stores sharing paradata (reviews, ratings, downloads) using the Learning Registry. The reason why 3 stores have been developed is because they are for different audiences, have different policies etc.
– The same widget in different stores would have paradata in different places. So they want to use the Learning Registry to bring together this paradata.
– Paradata includes downloads, ratings, embeds, reviews. It’s the same structure of information across different stores, so there are no ontology arguments. They are working on a shared architecture.
– Noted: there is a problem with how paradata is managed in Learning Registry. Their question is how to normalise paradata because the Learning Registry isn’t doing normalisation.
– They put in a bid to JISC OER Rapid Innovation for SPAWS.


Terry McAndrew mentioned that we need to identify good reviews of content rather than quick comments. There may be an opportunity for text mining in the middle, to bring out something more useful than Wordles. It worries him that there’s loads of info about resources: but it doesn’t include specifically meaningful stuff.

Scott responded with an example review: “I tried this in IE6 it doesn’t work”, noting that getting any comment is such a struggle, he’ll be happy with anything. If other organisations are interested in more in-depth stuff that’s fine, SPAWS just want enough to make it useful.

Owen Stephens noted that there are also stats about bias in reviews; that you could get many more bad reviews than good, but Scott felt that there is enough context around reviews for folk to interpret them. People don’t just say “oh 2 stars, it’s crap”.. you can leave some nuance to the reader.

Martin Hawksey said that as soon as he publishes anything, he gives himself 5 stars; so the system is open to gaming. Scott responded that if someone games it as positive and you use it and it’s rubbish, you are more likely to review it yourself; it balances itself out.

Phil Barker asked if there would be information on who is providing reviews; Scott noted that this will depend on the policies of the widget stores, whether they ask folk for permission to share their reviews; there may be some tracing of user activity. Some stores have to have control over user experience.

Amber noted that these issues of using paradata are fairly new and require some teasing out. It’s a different sort of architecture: it’s more distributed; it’s different from building a big website with the functionality inside it. We are separating it out; people don’t know how their reviews might be used. It’s still difficult to get our heads round it. People will need to re-calibrate how things are tweaked and used.

Terry McAndrew (TechDis): Learning Registry – Opportunities for Accessibility?

Terry shared some ideas at the Hackday in January about possibly using the Learning Registry to capture accessibility data about resources; perhaps simple reviews by people stating how well a given resource met their accessibility requirements as a start. This time, rather than showing a tool or app, or even a use case, Terry presented a “problem environment”: to enable participants understand what accessibility requirements might be.

– TechDis gives Inclusion Technology Advice across very broad range of education, including offender learning, so there are a broader range of issues and constraints than JISC projects even normally look at. The focus is on issues easily overlooked – accessibility.
– TechDis want conversations between developers, tutors and users about resources to be laterally available- live dialogue rather than end of year review, and available to all, to boost accessible development, and to expose issues around resource and practice early (including good and bad accessibility factors).
– Quality of data is extremely important.
– Terry asked whether we could get Learning Registry output through Google; noted the Xerte philosophy- doesn’t look glossy but gets lots of data through.
– Terry also noted that efforts around visualising OER use needs all the stakeholders’ invovlement. We need graphics that illustrate different types of users in different environments to see how the traffic is moving.


Amber noted the validity of this view being wider: there’s accessibility, there’s usability, there’s mobile. Are there underlying characteristics that can go together? So not about boxing accessibility into one thing? Usability and mobile need similar things as a lot of accessibility.

Terry responded that this is where a controlled vocab would help, but Amber noted that questions of control and vocabulary happen before the data goes into the Learning Registry. The Learning Registry can then get the mass of developers around it to work on it.

Walt Grata from the Learning Registry: Harvesting Tool and Landing Pages

Walt talked about two things he has been working on for the Learning Registry to help developers: a harvesting tool and landing pages.

Harvesting Tool:

This tool can be used to harvest from any Learning Registry node that you want, and cache the data locally for analysis, mashing up, etc. Point the tool at a node’s HTTP endpoint, do a bit of config; it does a periodic harvest. You can get it all out in whatever format you want. He’s working on validation- and he noted that anyone who wants to try it out can raise an issue on GitHub and he will get to it. This work came about because he found he was writing bits of code for developers to use in Java, CSharp, JavaScript, etc., so he wanted to make all this available to just be plucked from GitHub.

Landing Pages:

Walt wanted to make available simple landing pages for resources, including backlinks for SEO, that are indexable by Google, so folk can find Learning Registry stuff through Google.

There was some discussion around the relationship between the Learning Registry work and Google, touching on whether we are trying to create a parallel universe to Google, whether Google was interested in what the Learning Registry was doing, and to what extent the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative work might help (see Phil Barker at CETIS for more on that; Phil also noted that are coming out with other potentially useful vocabularies, e.g. to do with ratings). Lorna shared the interesting background that Google may have had a role in encouraging the Learning Registry project at the highest levels of the US administration: they were concerned about not being able to get to the swathes of educational content in silos.

There is also the question of how to identify unique resources in the Learning Registry given some resources will be available in different silos at different URLs. At the moment resources are only identifiable by having the same URL; Walt noted that they are currently looking at using RDF triples with “sameAs”.

Pat Lockley: Services Built Around the Learning Registry

See Pat’s slides here. Pat talked about two services he’s been working on:

– A Chrome extension for Google searches returning Learning Registry hits, that will display attributes about the resource in your search results. This could be what CC licence is applied to the resources, but as the Learning Registry develops, it could also include paradata, or data from the resource’s activity stream.

– A WordPress plugin that will let you display Learning Registry node content (accessed via “slice”, which is the Learning Registry search function) in your WordPress blog (I know, let’s try that in this blog! Watch this space).

Steven Cook from Jorum: Getting Paradata Out of Jorum and into the JLeRN Node

We’ve published all of Jorum’s metadata into the JLeRN node (that’s >15,000 resources), but we’ve also been looking at how to get paradata, initially just as some simple statistics and usage data, out of Jorum into the node. Steven Cook’s been exploring this as he is Jorum’s resident expert in extracting statistics.

Steven has been working on creating a CakePHP DataSource (“DataSources are the link between models and the source of data that models represent”) for the Learning Registry API, because CakePHP is being used to build the Jorum statistics Dashboard, and because CakePHP is designed for rapid development, is ideal for prototyping Web applications.

The Learning Registry DataSource abstracts away the connection requirements and the intricacies of the API and helps connect Cake developers directly to the Learning Registry, allowing them to simply “plug in” to a node and use the data obtained directly in their developments.

With the read capabilities of the DataSource he hopes to create a simple Web interface that will allow users to search the LR for resources. He also talked about “mashing up” this data with other sources across the internet including Topsy, Twitter, Names, Google, Klout. There are DataSources available for these other services and he has already written one for Topsy for the Jorum Dashboard.

Watch this space: Steven will be blogging on this soon here!


When asked how scalable the CakePHP approach is, Steven responded that he probably won’t end up using Cake- but that it was a good way to gain understanding of how the Learning Registry works. He will probably port it to something else. He noted that the Learning Registry doesn’t give you exactly what you want and is not completely RESTful. In future he would cache on his side.

If You Could Have One Thing From or For the Learning Registry

We had a few minutes left at the end of the session, so I prevailed upon Lorna to ask everyone to say one thing they would like to see happen in the Learning Registry space. Here are the ideas shared, sans attribution! Contributors are welcome to expand on these, or add to them by commenting on this post!

  • Simple software libraries for a range of languages to interact with LR.
  • An OAI Explorer which allows you to poke at a node see what’s there.
  • The ability to get learning resources out by a simple search- e.g. of activity stream; what’s trending.
  • Would like to see my institution release Dynamic Learning Maps data for LR.
  • Developer how-tos.
  • How to deal with backdated paradata; website used for years, all that usage data- do I submit individual records for every single event? Don’t want to crush the node by submitting 50,000 uses.
  • Hide the hard stuff.
  • Can we get some good stuff from Google Scholar?
  • Accessibility dialogue.
  • How can we really make use of Google to get to LR content.

Finally, Lorna announced that JISC are running a DevEd event in Birmingham: a 2-day hackday focusing specifically on educational apps. Keep an eye out for further announcements, and put 29-30 May in your calendar!

JLeRN at the CETIS Conference 2012

The JLeRN Team and Steven Cook from Jorum are at the CETIS Conference 2012 to present on our work, as part of the Learning Registry session there. We’ll expand this post after we’re done and have had some discussion and feedback: in the meantime, here is an updated introductory handout, and our slides:

The Hackday: Report and Reflections

The JLERN Experiment and JISC CETIS co-organised a Learning Registry Hackday on January 23rd 2012, hosted by Mimas at Manchester University. Lorna Campbell from CETIS has already written a great blog post (which now includes some excellent discussion below the line) summarising some of the issues that were discussed.

I wanted to report from a JLeRN point-of-view what happened at the Hackday, and what we got out of this event. Our aim was to get the UK folk who were already doing stuff around the Learning Registry in a room with those who were starting to think about doing stuff, to talk about use cases. And we wanted to get some technical people in a room with the JLeRN developers to play around with publishing and accessing data through the JLeRN node.

Before JLeRN started CETIS were already on the case in forming a community of interested folk in UK HE. And Pat Lockley, when he was still at Nottingham University (he’s now at Oxford University), attended the first ever Learning Registry Plugfest in the US (see his report here). So we had a room full of early adopters and experts in the Learning Registry, alongside some new folk with great ideas.

Plan for the Day

We started the day with a blissfully brief presentation session, just an hour long before lunch. Lorna Campbell gave us an overview of the Learning Registry and JISC’s involvement with it. I talked everyone through what JLeRN is doing, with the help of this handout, which summarises some of the options from the Learning Registry specification: Communities, Networks, Nodes.  John Robertson of CETIS finished with an introduction to paradata.

After lunch everyone introduced themselves and what their interest in the Learning Registry was. This was where some interesting ideas and use cases started to emerge.

One Outcome: Concrete Proposals to JISC OER RI Funding Call

It also became apparent that several participants were intending to submit project proposals involving JLeRN and/or The Learning Registry to the JISC OER Rapid Innovation funding call. As it turned out, four proposals (that we know of) that were discussed here were submitted; we won’t know whether any of them were funded until March, but it was great to get so much concrete interest out of the day.

Who Came and What They Said

CETIS’s Scott Wilson was there; he was interested in the Learning Registry from the point of view of a project he’s involved in, which is developing “a Widget Store aimed at the UK education sector using a codebase shared across and sustained by a range of other EU projects and consortia”. Scott wanted to see if the Learning Registry could offer solutions for sharing paradata about educational widgets.

With our proximity to the national learning resource repository Jorum, also based at Mimas, we were delighted to see Ben Ryan, the new Jorum Technical Manager, and Steven Cook, one of Jorum’s developers. Jorum has a great interest in usage data and other forms of paradata, and had been promising to share data with JLeRN from the start. This event turned out to be an excellent opportunity for their new technical manager to get up to speed. Plus, Steven Cook, who is working on a framework and dashboard for Jorum usage stats, was inspired to start developing ways to get that kind of data out of Jorum, together with resource metadata, and into a Learning Registry node. Watch this space: Steven will be blogging here!

Tatiana Novoselova and Andrew Green came from the University of Liverpool, bringing with them lots of experience and ideas around sharing data about engineering learning resources. They had already been trying to grapple with the Learning Registry, and found the Hackday helpful in ironing out some technical issues they had been having, partly thanks to Pat Lockley’s presence and support, and partly thanks to the JLeRN technical team. They reported here.

Terry McAndrew came from JISC TechDis, with some great ideas about how the Learning Registry might allow the educational content community to finally start getting some traction on how to usefully share information about accessibility of resources. It’s always been very difficult to get metadata standards to accommodate accessibility data, which is often, basically, about a user’s experience of a resource, or about the features of a resource as they relate to a user’s individual requirements. Lorna’s post summarises this discussion.

Suzanne Hardy and John Peterson came from Newcastle University, full of ideas from the more complex end of the paradata spectrum: their Dynamic Learning Maps as educational context of use / curriculum data around resources. Watch this space: I’d like to get some more out of them about their ideas!

Julian Tenney came from the University of Nottingham with some great ideas about gathering good paradata from users via the Xerte content authoring tools. He felt it important to start to think about ways that content authors and educators will actually be able to contribute contextual data as part of their usual workflow. Another space to watch.

Richard Goddard, formerly of MrCute (Learning Objectivity) and Alastair Hole came from Worcester College of Technology with an idea about developing a tool that will help record actual educational usage of resources (as distinct from merely hits/downloads). Once this data is recorded, wouldn’t it be great to share it via the Learning Registry?

Jenny Gray from the Open University has had an interest in the Learning Registry since before JLeRN, from the point of view of the OU’s LearningSpace, came along and had some fruitful chats with Nick and Bharti, and Pat Lockley, about options for publishing LearningSpace data and paradata in the node. Like Jorum, she’s interested in how to get an OAI-PMH feed into a Learning Registry node. She reported back on her own blog here and followed up with some more thoughts, and questions, on sharing LearningSpace paradata here (to share or not to share?).

Matters Arising

Note: these action points and issues are not a to-do list for JLeRN, or even for the Learning Registry! They are just a note for when future plans are discussed, and for JISC and other stakeholders to take note of.

  • We need to more fully develop some concrete use cases. E.g. a simple Accessibility “Like” button that could start to capture accessibility info of use to users.
  • We need to develop some demonstrators. E.g. a desktop widget or browser plugin that captures info on user, resource, content, and context of use, with a simple interface.
  • We need to think about how we interact with a node to share and call complex paradata (e.g. Dynamic Learning Maps type stuff).
  • We need to start defining the structure of paradata for various use cases. E.g. we need to look at the concept of ‘actor’ as currently specified for paradata.
  • Note that running a node is a cost, and the JLeRN node will only run for the life of the project (until July 31 2012); need to think about business model and business case for node services; folk can build their own tools and services on top of nodes. People will not feel motivated to start building on something that is still experimental and has an uncertain future.
  • Might be an idea for JISC to take a similar approach to developing SWORD: a series of simple tools to put and get data into JLeRN.
  • Running a node on Amazon Web services (i.e. on a cloud service) has unpredictable costs; this is not generally liked by UK university finance departments!

Data sources for JLeRN

A final note to ourselves: some excellent suggestions from the floor, and thanks to Lorna for taking these notes!

  • Jorum
  • Xpert
  • OU
  • NHS eLearning Repository
  • DLM NBBS programme data
  • FE Data sources like NLN? XTLearn
  • Open Spires podcasts
  • Delicious / Diigo
  • Merlot
  • NDLR

Next Steps

JLeRN are about to attend the Learning Registry session at the CETIS Conference 2012, like, tomorrow. And we are still calling for entries to our Dev8D JLeRN Paradata Challenge (due Friday midday).

After that, we have five months to go until the end of JLeRN. What should we be focusing on? Discussions are ongoing, we’ll report back here, let us know your thoughts!

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