JISC OER Rapid Innovation: Technical roundup and possible directions #oerri

As the JISC OER Rapid Innovation projects have either started or will start very soon, mainly for my own benefit, I thought it would be useful to quickly summarise the the technical choices and challenges.

Attribute Images – University of Nottingham

Building on the Xpert search engine which has a searchable index of over 250,000 open educational resources, Nottingham are planning a tool to embed CC license information into images.

The Attribute Images project will extend the Xpert Attribution service by creating a new tool that allows users to upload images, either from their computer or from the web and have a Creative Commons attribution statement embedded in the images. … It will provide an option for the user to upload the newly attributed images to Flickr through the Flickr API … In addition it will have an API allowing developers to make use of the service in other sites.

From the projects first post when they talk about ‘embedding’ CC statements it appears to be visible watermarking. It’ll be interesting if the project explore the Creative Commons recommended Adobe Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) to embed license information into the image data. Something they might want to test is if the Flickr upload preserves this data when resizing. Creative Commons also have a range of tools to integrate license selection so it’ll be interesting to see if these are used or if there are compatibility issues.
Attribute Images Blog
Read more about Attribute Images on the JISC site

Bebop – University of Lincoln

Bebop is looking to help staff at Lincoln centralise personal resource creation activity from across platforms into a single stream.

This project will undertake research and development into the use of BuddyPress as an institutional academic profile management tool which aggregates teaching and learning resources as well as research outputs held on third-party websites into the individual’s BuddyPress profile. … This project will investigate and develop BuddyPress so as to integrate (‘consume’) third-party feeds and APIs into BuddyPress profiles and, furthermore, investigate the possibility of BuddyPress being used as a ‘producer application’ of data for re-publishing on other institutional websites and to third-party web services.

In a recent project post asking Where are the OERs? you can get an idea of the 3rd party APIs they will be looking at which includes Jorum/DSpace, YouTube, Slideshare etc. Talking to APIs isn’t a problem, after all that is what they are designed to do, and having developed plugins on WordPress/BuddyPress myself is a great platform to work on. The main technical challenge is more likely to be doing this on scale and the variability in the type of data returned. It’ll also be interesting if Bebop can be built with flexibility in mind (creating it’s own APIs so that it can be used on other platforms) – looks like the project is going down aggregating the RSS endpoint point route.
Bebop Blog
Ream more about Bebop on the JISC site

Breaking Down Barriers: Building a GeoKnowledge Community with OER

The proposed project aims to Build a GeoKnowledge Community at Mimas by utilising existing technologies (DSpace) and services (Landmap/Jorum). The aim of the use case is to open-up 50% (8 courses) of the Learning Zone through Creative Commons (CC) Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (BY-NC-SA) license as agreed already with authors. A further aim is to transfer the hosting of the ELOGeo repository to Jorum from Nottingham (letter of support provided by University of Nottingham) and create a GeoKnowledge Community site embedded in Jorum using the DSpace API and linking the repository to the Landmap Learning Zone. … The technical solution in developing a specific community site within Jorum will be transferable to other communities that may have a similar requirement in the future.

Still don’t feel I have an entire handle on the technical side of this project, but its early days and already the project is producing a steady stream of posts on their blog. One for me to revisit.
Break Down Barriers Blog
Read more about Breaking Down Barriers on the JISC site

CAMILOE (Collation and Moderation of Intriguing Learning Objects in Education)

This project reclaims and updates 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. … These resources were classified using a wide range of schemas including Dublin core, age range, teaching subject, resource type, English Teaching standard and topic area but are no longer searchable or browsable by these categories. … Advances in Open Educational Resources (OER) technologies provide an opportunity to make this resource useful again for the academics who created it. These tools include enhanced meta tagging schemas for journal documents, academic proofing tools, repositories for dissemination of OER resources, and open source software for journal moderation and para data concerning resource use.

So a lot of existing records to get into shape and put in something that makes them accessible again. Not only that, if you look at the project overview you can see usage statistics play an important part. CAMILOE is also one of the projects interested in depositing information into the UK Learning Registry node setup as part of the JLeRN Experiment.
Having dabbled with using Google Refine to get Jorum UKOER records into a different shape I wonder if the project will go down this route, or given the number and existing shape manually re-index them. I’d be very surprised if RSS or OAI-PMH didn’t make an appearance.
Read more about CAMILOE on the JISC site

Improving Accessibility to Mathematical Teaching Resources

Making digital mathematical documents fully accessible for visually impaired students is a major challenge to offer equal educational opportunities. … In this project we now want to turn our current program, that is the result of our research, into an assistive technology tool. … According to the identified requirements we will adapt and embed our tool into an existing open source solution for editing markup to allow post-processing of recognised and translated documents for correction and further editing. We will also add facilities to our tool to allow for suitable subject specific customisation by expert users. … In addition to working with accessibility support officers we also want to enable individual learners to employ the tool by making it available firstly via a web interface and finally for download under a Creative Commons License.

The project is building on their existing tool Maxtract which turns mathematical formula in pdf documents into other formats including full text descriptions, which are more screen reader friendly (a post with more info on how it works). So turning
example equation
1 divided by square root of 2 pi integral sub R e to the power of minus x to the power of 2 slash 2 dx = 1 .
The other formats the tool already supports are PDF annotated with LaTeX and XHTML. The project is partnering with JISC TechDis to gather specific user requirements.
Improving Accessibility to Mathematics Blog
Read more about Improving Accessibility to Mathematics on the JISC site

Linked Data Approaches to OERs

This project extends MIT’s Exhibit tool to allow users to construct bundles of OERs and other online content around playback of online video. … This project takes a linked data approach to aggregation of OERS and other online content in order  to improve the ‘usefulness’ of online resources for education. The outcome will be an open-source application which uses linked data approaches to present a collection of pedagogically related resources, framed within a narrative created by either the teacher or the students. The ‘collections’ or ‘narratives’ created using the tool will be organised around playback of rich media, such as audio or video, and will be both flexible and scaleable.

MIT’s Exhibit tool, particularly the timeline aspect, was something I used in the OER Visualisation Project. The project has already produced some videos demonstrating a prototype that uses a timecode to control what is displayed (First prototype!, Prototype #2 and Prototype #2 (part two)). I’m still not entirely sure what ‘linked data approaches’ will be so it’ll be interesting to see how that shapes ups.
Linked Data Approaches to OERs Blog
Read more about Linked Data Approaches to OERs on the JISC site <- not on the site yet

Portfolio Commons

… seeks to provide free and open source software tools that can easily integrate open educational practices (the creation, use and sharing of OERs) into the daily routines of learners and teachers … This project proposes to create a free open source plugin for Mahara that will enable a user to select content from their Mahara Portfolio, licence it with a Creative Commons licence of their choosing, create metadata and make a deposit directly into their chosen repositories using the SWORD protocol

The SWORD Protocol, which was developed with funding by JISC, has a healthy eco system of compliant repositories, clients and code libraries, so the technical challenge on that part is getting it wired up as a plugin for Mahara. Creative Commons also have a range of tools to integrate license selection for web applications. It’ll be interesting to see if these are used.
When I met the project manager, John Casey, in London recently I also mentioned, given the arts background, of this project that scoping whether integrating with the Flickr API would be useful. Given that the Attribute Images project mentioned above is looking at this part the ideal scenario might be to link the Mahara plugin to a Attribute Images API, but timings might prevent that.
Read more about Portfolio Commons on the JISC site

Rapid Innovation Dynamic Learning Maps-Learning Registry (RIDLR)

Newcastle University’s Dynamic Learning Maps system (developed with JISC funding) is now embedded in the MBBS curriculum, and now being taken up in Geography and other subject areas … In RIDLR we will test the release of contextually rich paradata via the JLeRN Experiment to the Learning Registry and harvest back paradata about prescribed and additional personally collected resources used within and to augment the MBBS curriculum, to enhance the experience of teachers and learners. We will 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.

The technical challenge here is getting data into and out of the Learning Registry, it’ll be interesting to see what APIs they come up with. It’ll also be interesting to see what data they can get and if it’s usable within Dynamic Learning Maps. More information including a use case for this project has been posted here.
RIDLR and SupOERGlue Blog
Read more about RIDLR on the JISC site

RedFeather (Resource Exhibition and Discovery)

RedFeather (Resource Exhibition and Discovery) is a proposed lightweight repository server-side script that fosters best practice for OER, it can be dropped into any website with PHP, and which enables appropriate metadata to be assigned to resources, creates views in multiple formats (including HTML with in-browser previews, RSS and JSON), and provides instant tools to submit to Xpert and Jorum, or migrate to full repository platforms via SWORD.

The above quote nicely summarises the technical headlines. In a recent blog post the team illustrate how RedFeather might be used in a couple of use cases. The core component appears to be creating a single file (coded in PHP which is a server side scripting language) and transferring files/resources to a web server. It’ll be interesting to see if the project explore different deployments, for example, packaging FedFeather on a portable web server (server on a usb stick), or maybe deploy on Scraperwiki (a place in the cloud where you can execute PHP), or looking at how other cloud/3rd party services could be used. Update: I forgot to mention the OERPubAPI which is built on the SWORD v2. The interesting part that I’m watching closely is whether this API will provide a means to publish to none SWORDed repositories like YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare.
RedFeather Blog
Read more about RedFeather on the JISC site

Sharing Paradata Across Widget Stores (SPAWS)

We will use the Learning Registry infrastructure to share paradata about Widgets across multiple Widget Stores, improving the information available to users for selecting widgets and improving discovery by pooling usage information across stores.

For more detail on what paradata will be included the SPAWS nutshell post says:

each time a user visits a store and writes a review about a particular widget/gadget, or rates it, or embeds it, that information can potentially be syndicated to other stores in the network

There’s not much for me to add about the technical side of this project as Scott has already posted a technical overview and gone into more detail about the infrastructure and some initial code.
Read more about SPAWS on the JISC site

SPINDLE: Increasing OER discoverability by improved keyword metadata via automatic speech to text transcription

SPINDLE will create linguistic analysis tools to filter uncommon spoken words from the automatically generated word-level transcriptions that will be obtained using Large Vocabulary Continuous Speech Recognition (LVCSR) software. SPINDLE will use this analysis to generate a keyword corpus for enriching metadata, and to provide scope for indexing inside rich media content using HTML5.

Enhancing the discoverability of audio/media is something I’m very familiar with having used tweets to index videos. My enthusiasm for this area took a knock with I discovered Mike Wald’s Synote system which uses IBM’s ViaScribe to extract annotations from video/audio. There’s a lot of overlap between Synote and SPINDLE which is why it was good to see them talking to each other at the programme start-up meeting. As far as I’m aware JISC funding for Synote ended in 2009 (but has just been refunded for a mobile version) so now is a good time to look at how open source LVCSR software can be used in a scenario where accuracy for accessibility as an assistive technology is being replaced by best guess to improve accessibility in terms of discoverability.
In terms of the technical side it will be interesting to see if SPINDLE looks at the WebVTT which seems to be finding its way at the W3C and does include an option for metadata (the issue might be that ‘V’ in WebVTT stands for video). Something that I hope doesn’t put SPINDLE off looking at WebVTT is the lack of native browser support (although it is on the way) There are some JavaScript libraries you can use to handle WebVTT.  It’ll also be interesting if there is a chance to compare (or highlight existing research) comparing an open source offering like Sphinx with commercial (e.g. ViaScribe)
Read more about SPINDLE on the JISC site


SuperOERGlue will pilot the integration of OER Glue with Newcastle University’s Dynamic Learning Maps, enabling easy content creation and aggregation from within the learning and teaching support environments, related to specific topics. … Partnering with Tatemae to use OER Glue, which harvests OER from around the world and has developed innovative ways for academics and learners to aggregate customised learning packages constructed of different OER, will enable staff and students to create their own personalised resource mashups which are directly related to specific topics in the curriculum.

Tatemae have a track record of working with open educational resources and courseware including developing OER Glue. There’s not a huge amount for me to say on the technical side. I did notice that OER Glue currently only works on Google Chrome web browser. Having worked in a number of institutions where installing extra software in a chore it’ll be interesting to see if this causes a problem. More information including a use case for this project has been posted hereUpdate: Related to RedFeather update I wondering if SupOERGlue will be looking at OERPub (“An architecture for remixable Open Educational Resources (OER)”)as a framework to republish OER.
RIDLR and SupOERGlue Blog
Read more about SupOERGlue on the JISC site

Synote Mobile

Synote Mobile will meet the important user need to make web-based OER recordings easier to access, search, manage, and exploit for learners, teachers and others. …This project will create a new mobile HTML5 version of Synote able to replay Synote recordings on any student’s mobile device capable of connecting to the Internet. The use of HTML5 will overcome the need to develop multiple device-specific applications. The original version of Synote displays the recording, transcript, notes and slide images in four different panels which uses too much screen area for a small mobile device. Synote Mobile will therefore be designed to display captions and notes and images simultaneously ‘over’ the video. Where necessary existing Synote recordings will be converted into an appropriate format to be played by the HTML5 player. Success will be demonstrated by tests and student evaluations using Synote recordings on their mobile devices.

I’ve already mentioned Synote in relation to SPINDLE. Even though it’s early the project is already documenting a number of their technical challenges. This includes reference to LongTail’s State of HTML5 Video report and a related post on Salt Websites. The later references WebVTT and highlights some libraries that can be used. Use of javascript libraries gets around the lack of <track> support in browsers, but as the LongTail State of the HTML5 video report states:

The element [<track>] is brand new, but every browser vendor is working hard to support it. This is especially important for mobile, since developers cannot use JavaScript to manually draw captions over a video element there.

The report goes on to say:

Note the HTML5 specification defines an alternative approaches to loading captions. It leverages video files with embedded text tracks. iOS supports this today (without API support), but no other browser has yet committed to implement this mechanism. Embedded text tracks are easier to deploy, but harder to edit and make available for search.

Interesting times for Synote Mobile and potentially an opportunity for the sector to learn a lot of lessons about creating accessible mobile video.
Synote Mobile Blog
Read more about Synote Mobile on the JISC site

Track OER

The project aims to look at two ways to reduce tensions between keeping OER in one place and OER spreading and transferring. If we can find out more about where OER is being used then we can continue to gather the information that is needed and help exploit the openness of OER. … The action of the project will be to develop software that can help track open educational resources. The software will be generic in nature and build from existing work developed by BCCampus and MIT, however a key step in this project is to provide an instantiation of the tracking on the Open University’s OpenLearn platform. … The solution will build on earlier work, notably by OLnet fellow Scott Leslie (BCCampus) and JISC project CaPRéT led by Brandon Muramatsu (MIT project partner in B2S).

At the programme start-up meeting talking to Patrick McAndrew, who is leading this project, part one of the solution is to include a unique Creative Commons License icon which is hosted on OU servers which when called by a resource reuse some content leaves a trace (option 3 in the suggested solutions here). This technique is well established and one I first came across when using the ClustrMaps service which uses a map of your website visitors as a hit counter (ClustrMaps was developed by Marc Eisenstadt Emeritus Professor at the Open University – small world ;). It looks like Piwiki is going to be used to handle/dashboard the web analytics, which is an open source alternative to Google Analytics. The second solution is extending the CETIS funded CaPRéT developed by Brandon Muramatsu & Co. at MIT which uses JavaScript to track when a user copies and pastes some text. It’ll be interesting if Track OER can port the CaPReT backend to Piwiki (BTW Pat Lockley has posted how to do OER Copy tracking using Google Analytics, which uses similar techniques).
Track OER Blog
Read more about Track OER on the JISC site

Xerte Experience Now Improved: Targeting HTML5 (XENITH)

Xerte Online Toolkits is a suite of tools in widespread use by teaching staff to create interactive learning materials. This project will develop the functionality for Xerte Online Toolkits to deliver content as HTML5. Xerte Online Toolkits creates and stores content as XML, and uses the Flash Player to present content. There is an increasing need for Xerte Online Toolkits to accommodate a wider range of delivery devices and platforms.

Here’s a page with more information about Xerte Online Toolkits, here’s an example toolkit and the source xml used to render it (view source). The issue with tis I haven’t seen the detail for the XENITH project, but something I initially thought about  was whether they would use XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations), but wondered if this would be a huge headache when converting their Flash player. Another possible solution I recently came across is jangaroo:

Jangaroo is an Open Source project building developer tools that adopt the power of ActionScript 3 to create high-quality JavaScript frameworks and applications. Jangaroo is released under the Apache License, Version 2.0.

This includes“let your existing ActionScript 3 application run in the browser without a Flash plugin” . It’ll be interesting to see the solution the project implements.
Read more about XENITH on the JISC site
BTW here’s the OPML file for the RSS feeds of the blogs that are live (also visible here as a Google Reader bundle)
So which of these projects interests you the post? If you are on one of the projects do my technical highlights look right or have I missed something important?