Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 15 January 2009   Friday, January 30, 2009

ISSN 1748-3603

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Building a better future – planning and designing innovative, intelligent educational buildings
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FOTE – Future of Technology in Education 2008
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The eBeam – interactive whiteboard and capture system
eXe – e-learning XML editor
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Developing open content – the POCKET perspective
Web 2.0-style resource discovery comes to libraries – the TILE Project
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Technology and learning – a trade association perspective
Commentary launched: Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning
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Developing open content – the POCKET perspective
by Sarah Malone, Dave O’Hare, Sarah Darley

The Project on Open Content for Knowledge Exposition and Teaching (POCKET) is an 18-month project due to end in March 2009, funded by the JISC Repositories and Preservation Programme. This project aims to investigate the potential of migrating open content approaches in a range of disciplines across a number of different higher education institutions (HEIs). The project is based upon the belief that learners at HEIs across England and the rest of the UK would benefit from more stand-alone, freely accessible educational resources designed for HE study. In addition, the creation of new courses, (campus-based or distance learning) could also benefit from an enlarged pool of open content HE-level resources.

The JISC LXP Student Experiences of Technology project examined undergraduate learners’ behaviour with respect to their use of technology. It found, in each of the disciplines studied, that learners increasingly used public websites and services rather than facilities provided by their host institution when seeking to meet educational needs. The project also showed that learners demonstrated highly effective independent learning strategies. Unsurprisingly, many UK educational institutions have so far done little to support such strategies, opting instead to keep all the learning resources they have developed in private locations accessible only by their own students. However, open content is fast becoming an increasingly recognised and important area of educational development; thus the recent announcement by HEFCE that £5.7 million of funding will soon be available for pilot projects that will open up existing quality assured educational resources from UK higher education institutions to the world. The 12-month projects will be managed jointly by the Higher Education Academy and JISC as part of the Open Educational Resources Programme.

The Open University took a major step towards open content in 2005 through its £5.65 million OpenLearn initiative, developed with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Through OpenLearn the Open University offers free-standing educational resources, developed from their existing portfolio of courses. These resources are made freely accessible under a Creative Commons licence, which allows non-commercial use with attribution but restricts commercial exploitation. OpenLearn also provides a set of tools to help authors publish material and to support collaborative learning communities. It is organised in two key areas: the LearningSpace, which offers free course material from Open University courses; and the LabSpace, where users can upload and remix content. In the first two years of operation relatively low numbers of new or changed courses appeared in the LabSpace area and the OpenLearn project team observed that the conversion of existing materials into open content is a challenging and potentially resource-intense endeavour.

POCKET aims to capitalise on the investment in OpenLearn by building a wider pool of quality assured HE-level open content, whilst finding ways to make the OpenLearn model of production transferable and investigating interoperability issues. To achieve this it has brought together four partner institutions to explore the potential of open content for HEIs, both as providers and as users. POCKET is led by the University of Derby and is partnered by the Open University, and the Universities of Bolton and Exeter. The three campus-based partners are transforming existing and new course material for open use in the LabSpace whilst building on and improving upon the OpenLearn processes and procedures.

One challenge for POCKET is to demonstrate seamless interoperability between OpenLearn and other repositories. This is important because the reuse and repurposing of materials is a key intention of materials published as open content. OpenLearn allows units to be downloaded for free to reuse and to repurpose in a variety of different formats, including:

  • PDF Print Format
  • XML file
  • RSS feed
  • OU XML Package
  • IMS Content Package
  • IMS Common Cartridge 1.0
  • Plain Zip of all files
  • Moodle Backup

The project has been advised throughout by CETIS on standards issues.

Project aims
POCKET aims to build upon the OpenLearn approach by extending it to other HEIs, specifically to:

  • provide support for learners adopting independent learning strategies;
  • promote effective mechanisms for converting existing course materials into stand-alone educational resources;
  • establish how much effort is required to create fully tagged XML-formatted stand-alone open content from existing materials. POCKET will use XML as this format offers maximum flexibility in terms of searching, transferring and outputting contents;
  • develop a module from scratch with all materials created for it designed as Open Content;
  • Add a significant resource to JorumOpen. [1]

Content development process
Another key aim of POCKET is the documentation of the content development process. This will provide a model of production for online open content with in-built clear QA processes which includes; documenting the many steps and considerations involved in developing module material into open content and also the technical aspects of ensuring that the material is compatible with the OpenLearn platform. In order to support this, a key project output has been the development and production of an XML template, to support material authors and facilitate a rapid production process.

POCKET has so far documented a range of considerations for developing module material into open content, including:

  • making the material relevant to a global audience (i.e. taking into account any specific cultural references included in the material);
  • ensuring that the language in the material is appropriate to the open learning environment (i.e. no references to a tutor or to formative assessment);
  • including a range of activities to help learners test their own knowledge and to make the material as interesting and as engaging as possible;
  • including some kind of feedback for all activities as learners will be reading this material independently;
  • awareness of copyright issues, especially if there are any third party materials in the text;
  • accessibility issues, as with any online educational material;
  • breaking up each module into manageable sections of information suitable for online learning: on OpenLearn these sections are called units;
  • each unit had to be provided with a total number of study hours and a difficulty level as a guide for learners.

All materials published by POCKET are designed to be stand-alone with no dependencies on other materials. This independence is important for ensuring they are relevant both to individual learners who discover them following a search and to course creators who require resources that can be used in a variety of contexts.

POCKET has created and uploaded 14 units to the LabSpace area to date, totalling approximately 101 hours of online learning materials developed from courses offered by the partner institutions. It is believed that by expanding the pool of online stand-alone learning materials, and supporting independent learners worldwide, POCKET will help to widen participation. The module material developed so far for POCKET includes:

  • A business and sustainability module from the MSc in Sustainable Development at the University of Exeter
  • A customer service skills module from the Foundation Degree in Hairdressing and Salon Management at the University of Derby
  • An international economic law module from the LL.M in Commercial Law at the University of Derby; this was written from scratch specifically as open content.

This project offers a unique opportunity to showcase previously closed modular content on the global OU OpenLearn platform, which will also provide students with an insight into the variety of courses offered by leading UK HEIs.

Future plans
POCKET is currently recruiting new partners and collaborators to work with until the project ends in March. POCKET hopes to continue the work it has already done on the project, and will make all of its materials available from JorumOpen, as well as from OpenLearn. JorumOpen is to be available from next year and will provide a place on Jorum for educational content whose creators and owners are willing and are able to share their content on a global basis under the terms of a Creative Commons licence.

POCKET aims to build on the experience of the project and looks forward to working with both JISC and Jorum to continue to support the aims of the Open Educational Resources programme, both within the University of Derby and across the sector as whole.

For more information on POCKET please visit the project website:

Sarah Malone (Project Manager)
University of Derby

Dave O’Hare (Project Leader)
University of Derby

Sarah Darley (Learning Technologist)
University of Derby

[1] Jorum is the JISC-funded collaborative venture in UK Higher and Further Education to collect and share learning and teaching materials, allowing their reuse and repurposing.

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