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In this issue: A new culture for mobile learning: Professor John Traxler on putting the student first; Digital apps for researchers: Top ten technology tips; Re-inventing the looking-glass: How digital archives are getting curiouser and curiouser

JISC Inform issue 27 Spring 2010

Beyond the campus / Breaking down barriers through technology

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In issue 27 Spring 2010...

A new culture for mobile learning | Professor John Traxler on putting the student first
Digital apps for researchers | Top ten technology tips
Re-inventing the looking-glass | How digital archives are getting curiouser and curiouser


JISC’s 2010 Conference | What can you expect from this year’s 2010 conference and how can you take part virtually?

News in brief | The latest news from JISC and its services

A new culture for mobile learning | John Traxler speaks to JISC Inform about the benefits of learning on the move

Ask the audience | Learners and lecturers merge roles by adopting a JISC-funded project called WILD thing

Developing a community | An iPhone application is allowing students and researchers to walk through history

Re-inventing the looking glass | How digital archives are getting curiouser and curiouser

From books to bytes | Online literature is transforming the way researchers work as they explore non-linear methods of inquiry

How do you complete a jigsaw without the picture? | How UK universities and colleges can make cost savings and improve flexibility

Changing identity | Exploiting your membership of the UK access management federation

Digital apps for researchers | The top ten applications for researchers

Debate | Should the general public be involved in academic research?

Are you coming back next year? | The role of technology in improving the student experience

The true value of Open Access | How can universities assess the financial implications of making its research literature freely available?

5-minute interview | eBioLabs with The University of Bristol’s Dr Gus Cameron

JISC dates for your diary | Information on upcoming events

A word from the Editor

Welcome to the Spring edition of JISC Inform. This edition looks at how universities and colleges are no longer confined to bricks and mortar as they go beyond their campuses with the use of digital technologies.

We bring you examples of how learners and lecturers are merging as the JISC-funded project ‘WILD thing’ challenges the traditional methods of ‘chalk and talk’ lectures as texts and tweets become an integral part of the student experience.

Improving the student experience through attraction and retention is also featured in this edition and we look at where digital technologies can play a part to improve student satisfaction.

On the theme of improvement, we also preview this year’s JISC 2010 Conference and how we have enhanced the programme after your feedback from 2009. If you’ve missed this year’s deadline to attend in person, we share how you can be at the conference virtually through social media and live web streaming.

We give you a whistle-stop tour of the top ten digital applications for researchers and what free social media can be used to enhance your research. We also look at how UK universities and colleges can make cost savings and improve flexibility whilst at the same time give their current computer systems a new lease of life.

And finally, our debate looks at the pros and cons of involving non-researchers in the academic research process and whether this could create greater transparency in how publicly funded research is carried out.

If you would like to contribute to JISC Inform or would like a particular topic featured, email us.

inform plus+ is an added online feature that allows you to learn more about the stories featured inside each issue of JISC Inform. It includes links to podcasts, publications, interviews and more in-depth information than we are able to include here.

Corporate / JISC Conference 2010

Technology at the heart of education and research

With the pressure on colleges and universities to deliver more with less in conjunction with the unprecedented developments in technology, JISC’s conference will showcase a wealth of best practice from across the UK in using digital technologies for learning, teaching and research.

JISC’s 2010 Conference – technology at the heart of education and research, will take place in London on 12 and 13 April in London. With over 20 parallel sessions, 20 demonstrations and 28 exhibitors providing practical solutions to everyday issues, this year promises to be the strongest yet.

The face of higher education is changing. There are increased expectations from students and academic staff for 24 hours’ access to information and increased expectations from university funders both public and private to keep delivering more with less. But how can institutions hope to enable students, researchers and teachers to thrive and excel in a digitally enabled world, as well as equipping the sector with new ways of working faster and better than the competition?

Dr Malcolm Read, JISC’s executive secretary, says: ‘JISC’s new three-year strategy, which launched recently, goes some way to answer these questions and this will be the first time the themes and focus of that strategy will be able to be brought to life.

‘Our strategy is designed to bring benefits to the education sector in the short term, for example helping to improve efficiency and effectiveness of current administration systems, while at the same time maintaining investment in those projects with mid- and long-term benefits, in particular, programmes or services that will enhance the competitiveness of education and research through collaborative and open digital technologies.’

Martin Bean, vice chancellor of the Open University, will be touching on the benefits of online learning and digital resources during this keynote address at the conference.

The issues surrounding the future of higher education including funding, cloud computing, getting the most out of existing systems and technologies will be raised at the pre-conference debate being chaired by Professor David Baker, JISC’s deputy chair, with an audience of over 200 conference delegates.

But without sustained investment how can institutions hope to enable students, researchers and teachers to thrive and excel in a digitally enabled world, as well as equip the sector with new ways of working faster and better than the competition?

‘Jam Jar funding’ is one session that will help show what can be achieved by working creatively with your existing resources alongside pockets of funding. Other sessions include, ‘sharing course information efficiently and effectively’, ‘why your university should care about Open Access’, ‘supporting learners to become more effective in a digital age’, ‘developers, the unsung heroes of innovation’ and ‘using technology to build better relationships with employers’. The conference sessions are complemented by JISC’s services in the exhibition. Some of the key highlights include a digital media surgery to help solve any problems delegates have with putting information online and JISCmail will be showing how it supported the Large Hadron Collider experiment in CERN, Geneva.

Reducing carbon levels and greening technology are also a focus of the conference, as the UK Government’s targets for universities and colleges to reduce their carbon levels by 30% by 2020 shows the need to balance the environmental impact and energy cost of ICT provision while exploiting ICT as an enabler to make energy and cost savings through the intelligent use of technology, and should be a priority issue for organisations looking to manage their costs.

Keynote speaker Bill St Arnaud, President of green-IT consulting firm St. Arnaud-Walker and Associates Inc, and former Chief Research Officer for CANARIE Inc.2, Canada’s Advanced Internet Development organisation, will be talking about his experiences of greening IT and sharing how the UK is leading the way in finding innovative solutions to reducing energy and carbon costs from which Canada and other countries can learn.

Watch the keynote speeches and download presentations from the event

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News in brief / Spring 2010

News in brief

JISC contributes to international Open Access policy
Encouraging local government and public bodies to release data in free and re-usable formats is on the agenda for the new Local Public Data Panel.

As government initiates its own Open Access debate, JISC is contributing to strategy in the UK and internationally.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology has just adopted two JISC tools to encourage contributions by members of the publishing community to contribute articles.

MIT began by adopting JISC’s template SWAP (Scholarly Works Application Profile) to help them more accurately describe the contributed articles, and a service called SWORD (Simple Web service Offering Repository Deposit) to allow publishers to deposit scholarly articles remotely into the repository.

MacKenzie Smith, associate director for technology at MIT Libraries, describes this move as ‘quite an incremental change from our perspective.’

Meanwhile, in the UK, JISC is showing how universities can work out how much they could save on their profit and loss accounts as well as increasing their contribution to UK plc when they share their research papers through Open Access.

Neil Jacobs, programme manager at JISC, says, ‘This is the first time that universities will have a method and practical examples from which to build a business case for Open Access and to calculate the cost to them of the scholarly communications process – for example working out the value of researchers carrying out peer-reviewing duties or the comparative costs of the library handling of journals subscribed to in print, electronically, or in both formats.’

PodcastListen to the podcast with Neil Jacobs and Alma Swan

New free tool to improve internet accessibility

JISC TechDis has launched a new internet browser tool that will make information on the web more accessible for everyone, especially disabled users.

The free application, released as a beta version, provides a range of editing and speech tools to enable internet users to better access information and interact with web pages. This is particularly useful for researchers and learners in helping them to complete research and gather information for their studies.

Find out more and download the toolbar

New organisation to coordinate European scientific computing grids

A new organisation to support the sustainable future development of leading-edge, collaborative scientific computing has been established.

The European Grid Initiative ( is to coordinate a European-wide grid computing infrastructure to allow scientists in 50 countries to share their computers and carry out the very best collaborative research projects within Europe and internationally.

The National Grid Service, the UK section of this new European network, is funded by JISC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Jorum goes open
Anytime anywhere access to learning and teaching resources has just been announced with the launch of JorumOpen.

Teachers and lecturers in UK colleges and universities are able to deposit resources – but anyone can search, browse and download, as all resources within JorumOpen have been created under creative commons licensing.

The service is now international and there is no longer a need for people to have a subscription or user licence.

A different site, JorumUK, contains resources that their creators and owners prefer to share only within the UK higher and further education community and includes all those uploaded before 2010.


A call for joined-up services to help businesses out of recession

Sharing business information more effectively, particularly through colleges, universities and major reference libraries, could help recession-hit companies out of crisis and stimulate innovation, according to a JISC report undertaken by the British Library Research Service.

Libraries may not be an obvious source for all start-ups and small businesses but the business information they hold can help organisations plan their growth and development, make funding applications, get hold of up-to-date statistics and legal advice, as well as research new developments.

Now JISC and the British Library are calling for an integrated service model with universities, colleges and public libraries working in partnership to help businesses obtain the information and knowledge they need.

Entrepreneurs, business owners, leaders of community, cultural and charity organisations could all benefit if a more coordinated approach was adopted, for example through an online hub, to access the full range of resources.

Simon Whittemore, programme manager at JISC, said: ‘Working in partnership with public libraries and other agencies, institutions can play a key part in a structured service model that offers tailored support and guidance for business sustainability and development. JISC’s recent report on Business Information Resources, undertaken by the British Library, will help open the dialogue.’

‘At the moment, organisations can access business advice via a range of academic and public library services, direct from publishers and through publicly funded business support services such as Business Link, with feedback from the SME community highlighting the British Library’s own Business & IP Centre as a prime example of best practice in providing business support.’

Building on good practice, and combining a mixture of online resources and physical support, the study calls on publishers to investigate the opportunity to sell packages of data through an online hub within the proposed model.

Licensing agreements may need to be honed to allow different access to information – as Lorraine Estelle of JISC Collections explains: ‘This provides an opportunity for publishers to explore business and licensing models that will make their content available to small businesses that would not otherwise be able to afford subscriptions. This is a complex area, but a creative dialogue between the publishing and library community may result in solutions that enable publishers to extend access and develop new revenue streams.’

JISC is to fund demonstrator projects exploring how universities can help facilitate the flow of information and knowledge resources to a much wider community, under a new call on access to resources.

ReportDownload the report

Transformation through technology
 A report illustrating JISC’s impact over the past two decades has outlined its contribution to UK further and higher education.

JISC has moved JANET from a network serving 60 universities and research councils to SuperJANET5, a 40Gbit/s high speed network connecting all universities and colleges across the UK. In 2009 it became the first national research and education network in the world to complete a 100Gbit/s network trial.

Among the services, JISC Advance saved £12 for every £1 spent in 2008/09. The previous year, JISC Collections delivered £34 worth of content for every £1 spent.

 PublicationRead Transformation Through Technology

Awards round up
Laptops on loan

A project which allows staff and students to borrow laptops on a self-service basis has won the UCISA Higher Education Award for Excellence, sponsored by Eduserv.

The JISC project, i-borrow, which is part of an institutional innovation programme at Canterbury Christ Church University, also aimed to collect data about how students were engaging with different learning spaces and technology.

Furthering education

A college lecturer who developed her college’s e-learning area into an attractive learning environment was the first winner of an East Midlands regional support centre learning technology award.

Jane Eaton at Loughborough College developed the hair, beauty and complementary therapies’ Moodle area into an attractive learning environment as well as an effective means for letting her students know about news items, course matters and other developments. 

JISC Regional Support Centres support over 500 colleges across the UK, plus over 150 adult and community learning organisations in England and Wales. They also contribute expertise to over 2000 organisations in work-based learning.

ICT initiative of the year shortlist announced

The judges for the Times Higher Education leadership and management awards have announced their shortlist.

The awards aim to recognise the exceptional business and management skills of those running universities and JISC is sponsoring the category for outstanding ICT initiative.

The shortlisted universities are:

  • Canterbury Christ Church University
  • Edge Hill University
  • University of Leeds
  • Northumbria University
  • The Open University
  • Queen Margaret University

The winner will be announced at the awards ceremony to be held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on 17 June 2010.

WebsiteMore JISC news

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e-Learning / Mobile technology

A new culture for  mobile learning

John Traxler, Professor of Mobile Learning at the University of Wolverhampton, speaks to JISC Inform about the benefits of mobile learning and what more could be done to pave the way for institutional-wide uptake of this exciting tool.

Mobile or handheld learning is already changing the way students learn both in the classroom and on the move. The UK is one of the world leaders in championing the use of mobile learning devices.

But is the UK higher education sector really making the most of the unique opportunities presented by mobile learning or is it simply becoming embedded as another learning tool the use of which is dictated by the traditional culture of the sector’s institutions? John Traxler, Professor of Mobile Learning at the University of Wolverhampton speaks to JISC Inform about the benefits of mobile learning and what more could be done to pave the way for institutional-wide uptake of this exciting tool.

The term mobile learning (m-learning) refers to the use of mobile and handheld IT devices, such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), mobile telephones, laptops and tablet PC technologies, in teaching and learning.

Over the last few years computers and the internet have transformed our society beyond recognition, affecting everything from the way we interact as a community to our own sense of personal space, time and privacy. As mobile technologies have become increasingly portable, affordable, effective and easy to use, they have opened up opportunities for education to better recognise, follow and service these communities as well as create new ways of delivering learning both within an institution and outside its four walls.

M-learning is creating many opportunities for widening participation and access to ICT, particularly within disadvantaged or traditionally disengaged communities. Professor Traxler says, ‘Working in places like Kenya and South Africa it is fairly obvious to see the value of m-learning as a mechanism for engaging dispersed rural communities, supporting traditional teaching material and overcoming problems such as the lack of mains electricity or secure buildings. Creating and connecting learning communities is a great example of how m-learning is enriching the lives of students across the world.’

There are also financial benefits for choosing m-learning in meeting the ever more demanding needs of learners against tighter funding and investment. Mobile devices such as phones and PDAs are much more reasonably priced than desktop computers, and therefore represent a less expensive method of accessing the internet and online learning support materials. The recent introduction of tablet PCs allows mobile internet access with equal, if probably not more, functionality than desktop computers.

Mobile devices are currently being used in education as administration, organisation and teaching aids for practitioners, and also as learning support tools for learners. Traxler continues, ‘This model of use is based on what individual universities and higher education colleges require to deliver the learning materials. Where the opportunities for m-learning are being under-explored is in matching hardware and its use to the needs and expectations of students.’

What needs to be understood is how students want to use m-learning and deliver against these needs, just as work has been done over the last 30 years to meet the demands of students who wish to study at their own pace or outside the traditional confines of a higher education institution, for example the establishment of the Open University. The idea that individual institutions should dictate what hardware and systems students use to learn is not taking into account that no two people learn the same way or are comfortable with the same learning channels.

The education sector is now just starting to take into account the types of technologies that learners are already using at home and how this can be applied to the way they learn in and out of the classroom. Mobile devices and technologies are reflections of our individuality, and increasingly students do not want the standard kit being invested in by universities and colleges. Where universities and colleges are struggling to keep up with advancing technologies or fail to demonstrate the business case for investing in m-learning hardware, they are not exploiting the investment already happening in the sector by investigating delivery of m-learning through the equipment already owned and used by their students. Traxler says, ‘The traditional model of procurement and distribution used within universities and colleges is being inappropriately applied to m-learning and is creating challenges that are preventing the wider use of m-learning.’

‘The idea that universities buy equipment, procure equipment, distribute equipment and control equipment in a managed process from the centre of the institution seems back to front.’

Traxler continues, ‘The idea that universities buy equipment, procure equipment, distribute equipment and control equipment in a managed process from the centre of the institution seems back to front. It costs money and, apart from the purchase of big, expensive machinery like desktop PCs, is not necessary. Most people own mobile devices and everyone is familiar with the one they’ve chosen, know how to use it, what they want from it and how to acquire or exchange information, ideas and images.’

Of course there is some investment required in equipment where students do not own sufficiently sophisticated devices to exploit m-learning to ensure no one gets left behind, but this will be far less than the requirements of furnishing an entire classroom.

Where we are currently seeing real investment in the use of m-learning, it is again in the development and purchasing of hardware. The MoLeNEt programme for example has spent more than £10m over the last three years supporting projects looking at the feasibility of mobile learning in colleges working in vocational education. Using m-learning to teach nurses whilst on the ward or geographers out on field trips shows the true potential of m-learning for bringing vocational subjects to life. But the condition of the programme was for money to be spent principally on hardware. So although the programme has created a diverse range of very worthwhile results in terms of the effectiveness of mobile learning within lots of different communities, the programme hasn’t recognised that much of this could have been delivered using existing hardware owned by the students.

Traxler concludes, ‘We might never see an institution-wide uptake of m-learning, the business case is there for those who wish to exploit it. M-Learning has much to offer in terms of student recruitment and retention and the enrichment of the whole learning experience.

‘We just need to correct the mismatch between what universities think is achievable, what they think they should be doing and what learners with mobile technologies would like them to be doing. Of course we need to keep it fair so people aren’t getting left behind, but ultimately m-learning should be about us saying, this is cheap, this is easy and it achieves results.’

WebsiteMore about mobile learning

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Information Environment / Grassroots learning

Ask the audience

How ‘wild’ were your university lectures? Imagine choosing what you want to learn about, adding your own notes on the big screen for everyone to see, and texting the lecturer. Now students at Hull University are being encouraged to do just that, using their phones and other technology to interact with the lecturer and their peers as part of a JISC-funded project called WILD thing.

Dr Darren Mundy and his colleagues at the University of Scarborough’s school of arts and new media are developing cutting-edge software to encourage students to be more involved during lectures as part of JISC’s rapid innovation programme.

Dr Mundy says, ‘We are trying to challenge the traditional methods of “chalk and talk” where a lecturer delivers a lecture and the students just listen and take notes. These new methods mean the student becomes a “prosumer” – they are not only consuming information but producing it as well.’

WILD thing allows students to interact in real time while their lecturer delivers a lesson through PowerPoint. They can annotate lecture slides, answer questions or ask them while the lecture is actually being delivered, using their mobile phones or other wireless device.

David Flanders, JISC rapid innovation programme manager, explains, ‘What’s really exciting about the JISC rapid innovation projects, including WILD thing, is that the tools they are producing not only have the ability to change the lives of teachers, researchers and students, but also their potential use by people in business, government and even in the home. These tools are giving us glimpses of the future for how technology can continue to enrich our lives.’

Test runs at Scarborough have shown that students really enjoy interacting during the lecture, rather than being confined to contributing by invitation at specific intervals. There are advantages for different types of learner, too. Darren says, ‘It offers anonymity within the lecture, so if someone is usually quite shy about putting up their hand and asking a question in front of a lot of people, now they can do so via the internet. We are always looking for ways to involve those students who would never usually participate, so this technology is really useful.’

Dr Mundy and his colleagues have also developed a series of Choose Your Own Lecture presentations funded through the Higher Education Academy, allowing students to select what they will learn during a teaching session.

WILD thing will be further tested in lectures over the next couple of terms and the results published in the summer, after which Dr Mundy hopes it will be rolled out for use by lecturers anywhere in the country, as part of JISC’s rapid innovation programme software catalogue.

WILD thing, I think I love you

This kind of interactive technology is becoming more popular as a way of engaging learners, with followers referring to it as ‘ESTICT’, or Engaging Students Through In-Class Technology – for more resources see some of JISC’s offerings on the topic:

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Information Environment / Innovation

Developing a community

JISC Inform walks back in time, with the developers creating apps to bring history classes, library data and lecture notes to life.

Time travel is normally the preserve of sci-fi heroes and Doctor Who, but a new iPhone application is allowing students and researchers to walk through the urban landscape as if in different time periods.

It applies the satnav technology used by Google Earth, but instead of pinpointing where the user is on a current map, it shows where they would have stood in different centuries.

‘Walking Through Time’ has been created by academics at Edinburgh College of Art as part of JISC’s rapid innovation programme, allowing users to walk along a path through 19th-century meadows now paved over, follow long-abandoned 20th-century railway lines, or explore Victorian houses that have been demolished to make way for modern developments.

Across the country, dozens of other developers are creating similarly innovative tools. ‘Clipper’ helps lecturers planning a session on cinema to create an online space for their students to prepare relevant film clips and comment on them. Researchers working in remote locations such as a cliff face or coastline can exchange voice and video data through Portable VoWLAN, while international students can keep a record of new vocabulary on their phone using the CloudBank application.

These are just a snapshot of 39 rapid innovation projects currently funded by JISC to support technology use at a very early stage through the work of developers. Once those technologies have been proven through the project, they’re then ready to be picked up in different ways – perhaps being implemented in another university, or turned into a best practice model for universities to copy.

So developers can bring real benefits for students and staff in universities. But this integrated approach is not always the way things work in practice. In reality there are other demands and it can be difficult for people to find space to do this blue sky thinking.

Now a new international developer community is emerging to support developers across the academic and public sectors and showcase what universities and colleges, museums and public services like the BBC can learn from them. Dev CSI, or the ‘developer community supporting innovation’, was launched after last year’s flagship event for developers called Dev8D, and a year on is already impacting across the UK and beyond.

As programme manager Andrew MacGregor explains, ‘Encouraging developers to join Dev CSI benefits the institution as their staff gain new skills and perhaps get a chance to get a fresh perspective on any technical issues they may face at the institution. JISC also gets a chance to use the combined expertise of this community to examine issues of strategic importance to the sector.’

Dev CSI now provides learning and development opportunities at events, showcases good practice from the community on its blog and uses the expertise of the community to focus on specific issues and problems – such as hackdays, which allow developers to work around a particular application like Google Wave and create add-on functions to use back in their home institutions. Innovative designs like the ‘handshake machine’ which emails the delegates each others’ details when it senses the tags they are holding, find their perfect test bed at developer events where tools can be tried out in a ‘safe’ environment.

Ben Charlton, developer at the University of Kent, attended the first event as part of the team which developed List8D, a digital reading list scheme, which is now being rolled out across the university with interest from other institutions.

Not only did the event provide some valuable development time for this single project, but it has also totally changed the way that the team work.

Ben says, ‘The Dev8D event inspired us to refocus us on achieving rather than maintaining. Our managers listened to what we learned and they’ve given us a lot of support, including a room where we can get together and work on projects in a similar style.’

As it grows, project director Paul Walk, deputy director of UKOLN at the University of Bath, wants the community to become more sustainable. He says, ‘We want developers to provide as many of these building mechanisms as possible. We want them to own the community, as they are also very capable people, so for example they have used Google code to establish a wiki and mailing list.’

The next step for Dev CSI is to engage managers who could profit from the work of developers – people like senior librarians and IT managers, academics and researchers.

‘This community is about how we really raise the capacity of developers in higher education to do good things and to be more valuable to their institutions and to the sector,’ Paul explains.

‘But the other part of this is to go to the institutions and show examples of how developers can help universities. We need to say to them: you should be aware that this person represents a resource – if you look after them you’re going to get good value from them.’

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Content / Research methods

Re-inventing the looking glass

The latest film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland has caused a stir for its futuristic effects – but Nicola Yeeles reports on how JISC has been working to open up an archive that shows special effects are not a new phenomenon.

Long before 3D glasses and popcorn found their way into cinemas, crowds gathered to watch magic lantern shows that were full of special effects. Dissolving views, moving slides with mechanical handles and even snow effects were all part of the experience.

It’s no surprise then, to discover that after Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland became a publishing sensation in the late 1860s, adults
and children were looking for new ways to enjoy the story just as modern audiences are – and what better way than live in a magic lantern evening with a real-life narrator to bring the story to life as stunning illustrations were projected on to the wall.

Now, beautiful lantern slides from around 1900 telling Alice’s story as she drinks the potion, talks with the smoking caterpillar, and struggles to cope with her changing size have been put online for the benefit and enjoyment of researchers and students across the UK.

Phil Wickham, curator of the Bill Douglas Centre at Exeter University, which houses these slides, takes up the story. He says, ‘These slides of Alice in Wonderland might have been used for large public audiences or owned by individual families during Victorian times. They come from the collection gathered by the Scottish film maker Bill Douglas and his friend Peter Jewell, who were not just film makers but also avid collectors.’

Magic lanterns were popular with audiences throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, who were thrilled by shows such as ‘phantasmagorias’ where ghosts and ghouls were projected onto a screen behind a curtain and around the room to panic the audience, a precursor to the modern horror film.

But it’s not all about Alice. The Bill Douglas Centre also houses shadow puppets, Shirley Temple dolls and Marilyn Monroe postcards as part of its collection of cinema history, while the university holds literary and other special archives.

So when it comes to putting these treasures online for the enjoyment and use of researchers and teachers across the UK, how do you begin to decide which piece deserves a place and which collections to choose?

Phil explains that demand had to lead supply. He says, ‘The new archive has a focus on Victorian material – which of course makes copyright issues easier to deal with. But it was also about choosing something that is a strength of the university and could be used by people across different departments. The English, History and Geography departments all make use of this valuable archive.’

So now the JISC-funded archive is telling a Victorian tale, collecting together images of the Great Exhibition help to tell the story of Victoriana through the eyes of the people who lived it, humorous cartoons give us an insight into what was funny then and imperialist ideals are explored through the publications of the time.

Dr Jessica Gardner, project manager and acting assistant director of library and research support at the University of Exeter, explains: ‘Thanks to the funding from JISC everyone can now enjoy these treasures online wherever they are, on all our campuses and across the world. Creating this online facility to view the Victorian collection plays a significant role in the university’s commitment to sharing its treasures with the public.’

All of the 4,000 images are free to download and use for educational purposes, while a suite of e-learning resources aims to give lecturers and teachers ideas for how to embed the resources in their courses.

But the site where they are held, Digital Collections Online, is also a place where researchers and lecturers from the university can go online to host their own or departmental collections – a model that could be taken and used by other colleges and universities.

Ben Showers, JISC programme manager, explains: ‘This space will allow universities and colleges to better highlight and expose their resources for teaching and research. A history department could share images that the art department doesn’t know existed, but that might help transform their research.’

He concludes, ‘We’d now like to encourage teachers and researchers to go online and use these images, manuscripts and ephemera to help forge new areas of research and enrich the teaching experience for students.’

With new material being added every week, this is a collection space that will only become, as Alice would say, curiouser and curiouser with time.

JISC has received £1.8 million of funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Wales to enhance existing online digital collections of national importance.

More information

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Content / Online literature

From books to bytes

Research is changing. The move towards online literature is transforming the way researchers work as they explore non-linear methods of inquiry, access supporting resources with ease, and explore collections previously difficult to view. We explore which new research methods are emerging as part of the digitisation drive.

Opportunities for close textual scrutiny

‘To be or not to be’ is one of the questions facing students of Hamlet – especially because the famous speech is phrased differently in the different versions of Hamlet. At the new Shakespeare Quartos Archive users can view the different quartos or editions side by side and even on top of one another, so teachers are able to bring detailed textual scholarship to a new and younger audience of schoolchildren and undergraduates. They can also annotate, mark and tag the text of 75 different editions of Hamlet, and overlay images.

New approaches to a single genre

Researchers working on a single historical genre can now search its breadth and depth as disparate collections are brought together online – perhaps because individual institutions have not previously had the resources to digitise them, or because they are scattered in different libraries. Historians now have online access to more than 20,000 pamphlets of economic, political or social importance from 19th-century Britain from seven university research libraries. The resource is free for schools, colleges and universities to use for 25 years.

Easing pressure on space and resources

Books typically need to be stored in temperatures of 18–21oC with regulated humidity. Ultraviolet light can break down paper, while fibres from clothes and ordinary light can fade the colours on precious manuscripts. So once the laborious task of digitising a resource has been managed, it can ease pressure on physical space and resources, and enable fragile manuscripts to be made available. More than 10,000 pages of rare Eastern manuscripts from as far back as the seventh century, housed at the University of Birmingham, can now be examined by the general public in a specially-created virtual manuscript room.

Tools for searching supporting research

Researchers can now analyse and call up relevant texts from their own institutional repositories using software such as TEXTvre, a project that helps searches by factoring in extra data such as citations and annotations. The aim is to embed this Virtual Research Environment (VRE) in day-to-day practices, and to integrate it into institutional repositories and data management systems.

Cross-referencing across libraries

Making books searchable across institutions is a big part of the digital future. Oxford and Cambridge universities have created basic descriptions of the 10,000 Islamic manuscripts held in the two libraries’ collections, and make them searchable through a full-text search engine in Roman and Arabic script.

The 24-hour researcher

JISC’s recent e-books observational study concluded that use of course text e-books is closely linked to their perceived convenience and the ease with which students can fit their reading in around busy lifestyles, with almost a third being viewed off campus and at all hours of the day and night. Immediate access to online journals, 24-hour libraries and downloadable updates to existing books means researchers can formulate up-to-date, current ideas and network immediately through blogs, social networking and virtual research environments.

WebsiteMore information on JISC’s commitment to online books

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e-Administration / Strategy

How do you complete a jigsaw without the picture?

JISC Inform looks at how UK universities and colleges can make cost savings and improve flexibility whilst at the same time give their current computer systems a new lease of life.

Trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle without a picture is similar to how an organisation works without an integrated IT strategy.

The frustration of knowing that you want your student register system to talk to the finance system so you can tell when your students have paid their fees might seem simple on the surface. But with older systems in need of updates, individual IT strategies for different departments as well as research and academic staff all using their own software and IT solutions – what first appears straightforward is a complex challenge.

JISC is currently supporting over 30 further education colleges and universities to navigate the steps needed to better integrate and share their corporate information systems and improve their business processes.

Alex Hawker, programme manager at JISC, says, ‘Joining up disparate information and academic systems, and streamlining service provision to students and staff while trying avoiding unpopular cuts in essential services is not an easy task – but we are aiming to do just that.’

Over the next 12 months JISC is funding a number of projects that will explore the practicalities and pilot systems, or parts of systems, as shared services.

When the bids came in for different teams to do this work, Alex discovered a common message coming through. He explains, ‘They all felt that at a time when the further and higher education landscape is changing and when public sector expenditure is under increasing scrutiny there is a need to do more for less and to find cost-effective ways of sharing existing information which is currently locked in their systems.’

There are other benefits too. By improving access to data across their systems, senior managers should be able to measure performance and discover trends more easily, allowing colleges and universities to meet the changing requirements of government and funding bodies to report, document and monitor all sorts of information in one place – from financial, to demographic and educational information.

But overcoming technical and cultural barriers to achieve this takes time. It is also a decision that needs to come from the senior management of a university to potentially reinvent how their existing infrastructure works to be able to make it work seamlessly.

‘With the support of JISC’s work in this area we are developing a middle layer of technology called service orientated architecture, which links these systems together.’

Chris Cobb, vice-chancellor at Roehampton University, knows the importance of moving from in-house bespoke systems that have been developed to solve a need that a commercial solution hasn’t been able to offer, to moving a university to adopting an integrated IT strategy across its whole business.

‘At Roehampton we have a portfolio of systems, some hosted in the cloud, others supported locally but almost all are supplier led,’ he says. ‘With the support of JISC’s work in this area we are developing a middle layer of technology called service orientated architecture, which links these systems together.

‘What this means is that we’ve encountered few cultural problems: the whole university has bought into the programme of change because we have looked at the university as a whole to bring its IT strategy together rather than in individual departments.’

Chris adds, ‘We have found that some suppliers have been slow to respond to our needs and we’re hoping with the support from JISC’s flexible service delivery programme, which is working to create a better understanding between colleges, universities and suppliers on what our different needs are, this is going to solve many of these challenges.’

Dr John Wallace, industry liaison manager at JISC, adds, ‘The need to talk to suppliers about this type of organisational change and improvement is also essential. Most systems used by universities and colleges that could become either shared or broken down as flexible services are provided by major suppliers, and any change must involve these suppliers to be successful.’

Finding technical solutions is half the battle – but segmented products can mean a segmented mindset. JISC is working to help managers obtain a birds-eye view of their services.

Alex Hawker adds, ‘There is a need for a change of mindset for people to think less about the systems and more about what services we need to deliver for our learners, academics and researchers. I believe we need to put those using the services at the centre of what we do and then see how we can match the technology and systems around their needs.’

With the added pressure on the UK education sector to reduce its spend by millions and create savings while also meeting student expectations, the demands for universities and colleges to stay competitive have never been stronger.

Chris concludes, ‘It is important for universities and colleges to reduce their operating costs and ICT departments will need to play their part in reducing energy costs, re-negotiating licences and finding different ways of working in supporting systems.’

What do you need to know about adopting an integrated IT strategy in your university or college?
  • Establish a business case first – it’ll help you communicate the message and see on which areas you need to focus
  • Conduct an informal audit of which departments use which technologies and adopted which business processes, to help you get a sense of where the gaps might be
  • Look to other similar or local colleges and universities for opportunities to support each other or even share systems
  • Talk to your suppliers – they may be able to offer separate or bolt-on services that you don’t yet know about
  • Treat the university or college as a whole when you are planning your strategy
 What are the benefits?
  • Be more agile and be able to meet changing demands
  • Provide services more efficiently
  • Access business intelligence and information from across your college or university more easily to inform your strategy
  • Be able to share data and services within and across institutional boundaries

More information about how JISC is working with the sector to achieve this significant change.

JISC is proud to sponsor the 2010 THE award for Outstanding ICT Initiative

Technology transforms universities, and generates change in our sector. Enter the JISC category to showcase how your idea is making a difference to your institution, with potential for even wider impact.

Entries open now until 7 June

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Access / Identity management

Exploiting your membership of the UK Access Management Federation

Jane Charlton investigates how new approaches to federated access management are saving universities money and helping them develop fresh business models.

This month sees the thousandth resource added by colleges and universities through the UK’s Access Management Federation. Institutions providing these resources have taken a phased approach to putting the new technology in place, starting with a single sign-on for students and staff so they can access all external subscription-based resources through the library using only their institutional username and password. But now it’s time to look at other opportunities to maximise their initial investment and help save universities money.

Improving the student experience

Kingston University is one such institution that is looking to the future. Its healthcare faculty is run jointly with St George’s medical school, so students that are members of both institutions have to be provided with access to both sets of resources.

‘We are paying hundreds of thousands of pounds for quality resources, but there is no incentive to use them if students are having to leap hurdles,’ says Elizabeth Malone, head of content development at Kingston University. ‘Students don’t see why they should hop around between different lists and they don’t like multiple passwords. They want their access kept simple.’ The university has recently become a member of the South West London Academic Network – a partnership between Kingston, Royal Holloway and St George’s, with the aim of developing a single meta-university portal in the future.

Becoming an identity provider has allowed Loughborough and West Nottinghamshire colleges to see a marked increase in the use of their resources provided through the virtual learning environment (VLE). Lynne Spicer, learning resources team leader, says, ‘From on the ground in the Learning Resources Centre, it is clear to see that the resources are being used more by the students and they are being used in a better way.’

A direct web link can be embedded into teaching materials to take students straight to supporting resources. JISC is planning to provide examples of how to use these so-called WAYFless URLs effectively, building on the guidance from the Gabriel project.

Helping to provide information to stakeholders

In order to become an identity provider, a university must first build a directory of all its users and which resources they are entitled to access.

Rhys Smith, engineering consultant for identity and access management at Cardiff University, explains the benefits of doing this: ‘We now have a defined list of permitted users of resources. If a publisher wants to audit usage, we can say “these are all the people allowed to access it.” We have a much better legal compliance with licence restrictions than we had before.’

Value for money

Once they have streamlined the log-in process, librarians are more able to manage subscriptions to external resources within very tight budgets and cut down on the administration of updating numerous databases, usernames and passwords.

‘The user experience is much better than before, especially for off-campus users.’

David Lewney, IT services at Sussex University, explained that the statistics gleaned from these databases can help staff analyse usage. He says, ‘The user experience is much better than before, especially for off-campus users. The Shibboleth logs give a good idea of which subscriptions are giving value for money.’

David added that having access to clean data in an accessible form can provide a foundation for all kinds of future work.

Community engagement

JISC recently commissioned a study looking into how colleges and universities can extend access to organisations outside the institution, so they take on the role of a service provider and respond to the government’s agenda for employer engagement, lifelong learning and workforce development. For example, Cardiff University is providing access to commercial services such as European Sources Online.

The study makes recommendations for next steps, such as opening up institutional and third-party resources through a simple web interface to allow business and community users access by clarifying rights to existing resources and scaling up the support offered to users.

Building on institution-wide strategies

Early adopters of this new technology, such as Kidderminster College, have seized the opportunity to use federated access to their strategic advantage. Kidderminster set up a consultancy service for smaller institutions and publishers that don’t have the resource or expertise in-house to implement the new technology.

Sharing best practice

As projects grow, it will be increasingly important for library and IT staff to get buy-in from senior management. Andy Swiffen of Dundee University says that his good working relationship with library personnel ‘has been instrumental in moving us forward into the federated world.’ Developing systems, processes and skills in-house and reducing administrative overheads are an extra benefit of this wider work, as well as closer relationships with publishers and other service providers.

PublicationRead case studies showing what colleges and universities are doing in this area

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e-Research / Digital applications

Digital apps for researchers

Visit a friend’s house for the first time and the chances are that you’ll cast an eye over their bookshelves and CD racks for shared tastes in books and music. Online social networking tools, from Facebook and LibraryThing to Last.FM and Spotify have made it easier than ever to find friends with similar interests – and from the comfort of your own sofa and laptop.

Online social networking is now so widespread that it is taken for granted in everyday life – Facebook will exceed 500 million users this year – but what about in the academic community? Increasingly, researchers are using the same kinds of Web 2.0 tools they rely on for their social life in their scholarly work to make contacts, find colleagues in the same field, collaborate, and share data and expertise. With the research environment in flux due to the economic climate and rapid digital developments, researchers are having to do more with less and so it makes a lot of sense to use free tools to tap into the resources of what is effectively a global laboratory.

We’ve rounded up some of the most useful social networking apps and free online digital tools for researchers, from familiar names with features that fit researchers’ needs to those specially designed to suit scholars.


LifeGuide is a community for health researchers and practitioners that is being developed by a team of health psychologists and computer scientists. It helps researchers to design internet-based, tailored advice and support plans based on a user’s answers to questions; to plan, chart and check their progress; and send follow-up messages in the form of personalised emails or texts. By uploading these plans, researchers can share them with their team or the wider research community.

Good for: tracking data on how advice plans are followed by users or participants


Already a familiar name to most researchers. Skype deserves a mention for its ease of use and money-saving benefits. The headline feature is the freedom to call any other Skype user anywhere in the world for free. Then there are video calls, conference calls and instant messaging. Add on call recording software (Pamela for PCs or Call Recorder for Macs) and it becomes a simple way to record research interviews undertaken over the phone for transcribing and archiving.

Good for: free team conference calls and saving data from voice and video calls


Inspired by Wikipedia and MIT OpenCourse Ware, OpenWet Ware is a wiki on which researchers can share expertise, information and ideas in biological science and engineering. Based in the USA, it attracts researchers from all over the world who are drawn by the customisable nature of the wiki. Some labs use it as simply an easily maintainable website, others post lab meeting notes, journal club discussions, and even online lab notebooks.

Good for: access to the know-how of a well-established international community


An oldie but a goodie. Delicious is a social bookmarking service that allows you to tag, save, manage and share web pages all from one place. At its simplest level it means that you can access your bookmarks from any networked device, anywhere. But, as with all Web 2.0 tools, its real attraction and power lies in community and sharing. Tag your own bookmarks and search tags to discover what other people have bookmarked in your area of interest, and browse the bookmarked pages of other researchers in your field.

Good for: accessing bookmarks on the move and serendipitous webpage discoveries

Google Wave

While not specifically aimed at the academic community, Google’s new collaborative working application potentially offers some benefits to researchers. It allows you to collaborate online using documents, video, photos, maps and instant messaging – think of it as a supercharged wiki, or what Google describes as ‘what email would look like if it were invented today’. Particularly useful for researchers is its version control: each document or ‘wave’ is shared and updates in real time with a record kept of every change made to the document. It’s still in limited preview mode, and early reactions have not been overwhelmingly enthusiastic but it’s one to watch: Nature have built a Wave plugin, Help Me Igor, that searches PubMed for references that match search terms and inserts them as numbered footnotes.

Good for: team working and keeping track of version changes


The more mature Zotero is also a research paper organising tool, but it works within the web browser Firefox, as an extension. It can also handle books, audio files and letters, making it a good choice for humanities and arts scholars, and it has plug-ins to allow citation within Word and OpenOffice. Additionally, Zotero uses Open Source software.

Good for: automatically capturing citations and accessing your library from anywhere


List8D, a user-friendly reading list management system, was the winner of last year’s JISC developer barcamp, dev8D. Still in beta mode at its home university, Kent, the team are aiming for a full rollout later this year. The software makes it easy for academic staff to create reading lists, libraries to manage stock and make sure texts are available when needed, and students to access the reading lists on a variety of devices.

Good for: will have potential for reading list comments and annotations by staff and students


Describing itself as an ‘iTunes for research papers’, Mendeley allows you to organise, discover and share your papers and experiences. At its core is a cross-platform searchable database of your research, along with a bibliography-generating tool. The excitement around Mendeley – it has signed up more than100,000 users in just over 18 months – stems from its social networking aspect. As well as managing your papers online, Mendeley can also put you in touch with other researchers with the same interests, show you the papers they are viewing and let you know what’s a hot topic.

Good for: organising large quantities of PDFs, especially for science researchers


Another JISC-funded project, this Web 2.0 tool for scientists has grown rapidly since its launch in 2007 and now has over 2,700 users and 160 groups. Users of the site share scientific workflows – ‘recipes’ for experiments – that are free for anyone to access in order to learn how other scientists have undertaken a piece of research, replicate an experiment without having to start from scratch, and keep up with current trends.

Good for: sharing scientific methods, processes and practices to avoid reinventing the wheel


Another international, professional network for scientists, ResearchGate was only launched two years ago but already has over 250,000 members from more than 200 countries. It stands out for its ease of use, clear navigation and use of subcommunities within the site dedicated to research specialities. Users can join or create groups of interest, search abstracts, find colleagues doing similar work and use collaboration tools. The site’s creators are particularly interested in promoting connections between scientists in rich and developing nations.

Good for: connecting with other scientists worldwide for collaborative research

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Debate / Academic research

Debate: Should the general public be involved in academic research?


The general public has been participating in academic work for generations. They have been actively studied, researched and dissected as individuals and communities by all manner of disciplines. However, over the last few decades there has been a movement by universities to increase investment in their surrounding communities and build better relationships with the public. Both higher and further education institutions have seen policy commitment at a national level through the HEFCE Strategic Plan 2006–2011, with programmes instigated to support the public engagement agenda.

Whilst educational projects for schools, fundraising activities and shared facilities have been regarded highly as a means to share information, good practice and invest in surrounding communities, inviting the general public to contribute to academic work itself is a relatively new field. This form of collaboration ultimately means the disruption of daily academic work and how meaning is ascribed to it. The voice of the academic researcher becomes lost as it is merged into a sea of others.

Expertise thus becomes recognised as not just a staple of the academic identity, as JISC’s recent Demos report ‘The Edgeless University’ states: ‘Knowledge is no longer restricted to the boundaries of universities and higher education facilities. These institutions no longer have a monopoly on where good ideas come from, nor how information and knowledge is used. They can not control how the knowledge they create is used and where it is accessed.’ Shared knowledge, engagement of the public in academic work is of mutual benefit to the community and to the institution.

The success of community-contribution within academic work is attested to, largely facilitated by recent developments in the world wide web and social networking technology. New flows of knowledge and data generation have been enabled, as well as providing a platform to encourage people to get involved in initiatives and allowing university–community collaborations to make rapid progress.

A prime example is the University of Oxford’s Galaxy Zoo project, an initiative that uses the crowd sourcing of collective intelligence from the general public to build research findings. So far over 100 million galaxies have been classified by over 200,000 volunteers, ultimately leading to new discoveries by researchers about the nature of galaxies and the universe. Galaxy Zoo firmly believes that this has led them to achieve ‘better science faster’. Members of the community may be included as named authors in published papers and are freely allowed to use all the data generated from the project in their own research.

Community contribution to academic work in the humanities has also been successful, particularly through the development of community digitisation projects. An initiative run by the JISC-funded First World War Poetry Digital Archive tapped into the potential for amateur digitisation, asking the general public to send digital surrogates of any items they held originating from the Great War such as letters, diaries, photographs, sketches and memorabilia to a purpose-built website. Combined with a series of road shows, nearly 7,000 submissions were received from the community and the resulting collection became ‘The Great War Archive’, publicly available for others to use in teaching, learning and research. Even though contributions were vetted before being included in the collection, the project put its trust in the community, collaboratively editing metadata that was historically inaccurate and leaving the voice of the contributor intact. The project boasts only one item rejection as it originated from the wrong war.

By capturing the alternative literatures and silent voices of the First World War, thousands of items have been collected and preserved that otherwise would have stayed hidden away in the country’s attics and bottom drawers. The project has shown that large collections of worth can be built for relatively a fraction of the cost of other large scale digitisation projects.

The concept of engaging the public to inform scholarly work brings about a crisis in trust and an anxiety over quality as traditional gatekeepers are bypassed. How can we verify the authenticity and provenance of data and knowledge supplied by the general public? If we can reform our academic identity to embrace new process models of research then our academic expertise will adjust to lie in the skillset of being able to successfully negotiate, interpret and share what is contributed. Of course there are different degrees of participation and some things that work better than others, but the opportunity to harness the knowledge and skills that lie outside the university walls should not be underestimated. The benefits of identifying roles that the public can play in scholarly work are multifold: economic, academic and social. What is more, technology has afforded us with the means to do this easily; by not embracing the possibilities of two-way engagement, academia is missing a trick.


I am an amateur when it comes to astronomy, but my understanding is that the boundary between professionals and amateurs in something like astronomy is very different from, say, the boundary when commenting on the news, and that amateurs have often been very valuable in helping professional astronomers with their work.

In vigorous scientific work, it is not that difficult to assess the quality of public contributions. In the liberal arts, it is much harder. We have to accept that professionals are better judges of quality than amateurs. When you look at the way in which the crowd judges most things, they tend to have rather bad taste.

When you look at the way in which the crowd judges most things, they tend to have rather bad taste.’

The problem with a lot of the user-generated content on the internet is that there are no adults in charge. Professional astronomers need to be curating, and acting as gatekeepers, managing the information to make sure that there’s no one who is dishonest or incompetent or just playing games. Academics need to take the lead in managing the crowd in using these interesting new technologies.

Wikipedia, for example, is a failure. The quality of the content on Wikipedia is still rather low and I think it’s getting worse. If you could bring in experts and academics, and reward them for their work you could build a system that enabled academics to actually work with the public to produce knowledge, which has much more potential.

We need a new kind of intellectual social contract between experts and the public. So the experts on the one hand need to be very clear that they’re experts. Dan Gilmore’s book ‘We the Media’ says ‘I’m a professional journalist, but I’m going to learn my trade from the public.’ But when journalists say to the public, ‘You know more than I do,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I’m pointless. I’m worthless. My profession is dead.’ And that’s one of the reasons why journalism in America is dying.

There are ways of building a new kind of arrangement with the public which are more balanced and maintain the hierarchy.

One can never absolutely determine quality. But if you just become a kind of vulgar relativist saying that there’s no such thing as quality, that we know that every system comes with biases and each is gained by one elite or another, if you accept that then you take its radical conclusion and blow the whole system up. You have wrecked any notion that there can be a university in the future.

The question is not so much about the public contributing to academia, but how academics can make their work relevant for the public in this new culture of democratisation. Universities are increasingly irrelevant. In fact, outside business schools, they seem to have lost all relevance altogether, and they also attract less and less talent. Most people in the public have no idea of what academics do as their work becomes more and more specialised.

Academics have to understand how to explain to people why they know more than the public, but do it not in a polemic or elitist way. They have to explain, particularly to young people, that it’s hard to become an expert, that if you really want to become a professional astronomer, it takes 20 or 30 years. But they have to do it in a way that makes the public interested and draws them in.

They need to broaden their message, write interesting books, produce videos and use all the tools of the internet to actually make themselves relevant. They have to get down from their towers. They have to break down their walls. They have to open themselves up to the public.

YES: Kate Lindsay is manager for engagement and discovery at Oxford University computing services. She project-managed the First World War Poetry digital archive project. Kate is also directing the JISC project Run CoCo, which provides support and training for groups to run community collections online.

NO: Andrew Keen spoke to Nicola Yeeles. He is the author of ‘Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is killing our culture’ and is also a public speaker and broadcaster. Follow Andrew on Twitter @ajkeen

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Learner experience / Student experience

Are you coming back next year?

The role of technology in improving student retention and motivation.

Of the 480,000 students who began degree courses in the UK last September, around one in five won’t complete their course.[1]

Technology can’t help a student out of their overdraft, nor solve a family crisis. Although the reasons for students dropping out are varied, JISC is looking at where technology can play a part to improve student retention and motivate them to stick with it.

Giving students enough information to help them make the right choice about which course and institution is right for them is crucial. JISC is piloting some new approaches to the admissions process in partnership with UCAS, including helping students to create a digital record of their achievements called an e-portfolio to support their applications, allowing them to link to relevant activities such as music certificates or work experience. The institution receiving the application then has a lot more information to help match the right students to the right course. The Portishead project looked at how this kind of detail can feed directly into induction programmes to make sure that the first few weeks are tailored precisely to new students.

By targeting pupils in the first year of their A-levels, institutions are helping them connect with their future lecturers and peers long before they arrive. Lawrie Phipps, programme manager at JISC, explains, ‘Universities have excellent communities, and support structures. What the technology is doing is allowing the students to interact more effectively with those communities and structures, in some cases on a 24/7 basis.’

‘Once students have arrived at the college or university, their social integration will be a key factor in keeping them there.’

Once students have arrived at the college or university, their social integration will be a key factor in keeping them there. Social networking tools can help provide a level playing field for new students especially if they feel alienated by the freshers’ drinking culture. For those students who are based in the workplace or at home, institutions have to work even harder. Leicester College, in partnership with De Montfort University, has been looking at how a virtual environment can help work-based students keep in touch with each other and their third-year mentors. Alternate reality games can be a way of providing information in an easy to access format.

Beyond the early weeks, managed information and a targeted approach to student retention can pay dividends. So for example, institutions can use access data to see when students have logged on to the virtual learning environment or borrowed library books – if they haven’t done this for over six weeks, then maybe it’s time to drop them a line to check that everything’s okay. Preventive measures like these allow for identification of vulnerable students so that they are flagged up long before they drop out.

Finally, addressing student motivation at an institutional level is having an impact on retention. In one Scottish project, a link was made between e-portfolio use and improving student drop-out rates. By reflecting on their own learning, students set goals for themselves so were less likely to give up early in the programme. Assessment can be motivating too, so it’s relevant to ask questions like ‘is there a way of providing feedback which also saves lecturers time?’ Two JISC projects have examined how tutors can comment on students’ work using audio or video.

Despite the statistics, student drop-out rates tell personal stories – they can be influenced, positively or negatively, by an experience with a tutor, a change of circumstance, or the impact of a decision before the student even starts a course. Where JISC can help is by exploring new technologies and how they can help students to feel integrated and supported during their university life, and by careful and considered intervention help keep students where universities want them – in the UK’s lecture theatres, labs and libraries.

Find out more about developments in e-assessment in the next issue of JISC Inform.

[1] Based on Higher Education Statistics Agency figures showing percentage of all entrants to full-time undergraduate courses in 2006/07 who were no longer in higher education in 2007/08.

PodcastListen to a podcast interview with Lawrie Phipps, JISC programme manager, talking about what JISC is doing for student retention

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e-Research / Open Access

The true value of Open Access

How can a university assess the financial implications of making its research literature freely available? Clare Groom looks at practical guidance on how to calculate the costs and weigh up the benefits for universities looking to adopt an Open Access policy.

The forthcoming Research Excellence Framework in the UK promises to assess and reward research impact. And in challenging economic times, universities more than ever need to find value for money in ensuring the visibility and impact of their research.

Open Access, the immediate free-to-use access to peer-reviewed research literature, offers a solution to this challenge. Studies such as John Houghton’s Economic Implications of Alternative Scholarly Publishing Models have shown that opening up access to research literature can make the research process more efficient and effective. There are fewer barriers associated with subscriptions and licensing, and researchers are more easily able to find the journal articles they need to do their work. What is more, by making research literature more widely available, research has the potential to have greater impact. Not only is this good news for individual universities, increased research impact leads to innovation, which can benefit society as a whole.

Martin Hall, Vice Chancellor at the University of Salford says: ‘We have recently implemented an Open Access mandate to self-archive. The reason we decided to adopt this approach is that evidence shows that research published online has higher citations and can also be used as a way to promote our competitiveness internationally.’

JISC’s study, Modelling scholarly communication options: costs and benefits for universities, researched and written by Alma Swan, applied Open Access models to a representative group of universities, reviewing the costs and benefits of each scenario. The outcomes vary but in every case the study revealed that Open Access has the potential to save universities money. It has been estimated that the potential saving to the UK higher education system could be as high as £115m per year. Furthermore, increased returns on investment in research and development could be worth an additional £170m per year to the UK economy.

Three forms of Open Access publishing were examined:

  • Open Access journals provide content freely online, using new business models where cash flows in from article-processing charges or other sources rather than from subscriptions
  • Open Access repositories, digital archives maintained within individual institutions, store research articles, which can be freely accessed online
  • Open Access repositories with overlay services collect research content in institutional repositories and service providers carry out publishing services necessary, such as managing the peer-review process, proof-reading and copy editing

Neil Jacobs, programme manager at JISC who commissioned the study, says, ‘The purpose of the study was to develop an economic model to help universities and research institutions calculate the costs and benefits of different approaches to disseminating scholarly communications, so as to help them make an informed decision about the best way forward.’

‘Individual universities will have their own unique set of circumstances, and this means that an accurate estimate of the costs and benefits of OA can only come from collecting the data and using the model. However, each university included in the study has characteristics which apply to many in the UK, so the scenarios can be used as illustrative case studies.’

This will help librarians, repository managers and research heads make a case for introducing an Open Access policy and the practices needed within a university to provide Open Access routes for research outputs.

Several different types of data need to be collected for a university to calculate its own costs, including information about its library operations, its research activities and the institutional repository.

As well as identifying the cost of each element the model does a number of other things. It shows the benefits in economic terms that a university can enjoy from a transition to Open Access and quantifies the value of the increased efficiency that Open Access delivers. It also calculates a more far-reaching economic benefit, the estimated increase in return on investment in the university’s research that comes about because the findings from that research are openly available.

If you’re looking to implement an Open Access policy here are four aspects to consider:

  • Consult across the whole of the university on the barriers and benefits of implementing an Open Access policy
  • Invest in a university repository; the small investment in setting one up will yield benefits in managing a university’s research outputs
  • Set up financial processes to manage income and expenditure for Open Access publication charges; this will help researchers publish in Open Access journals
  • Promote your Open Access policy and procedures to all staff to provide researchers with clear guidance on the opportunities open to them
PublicationHow to build a case for university policies and practices in support of Open Access

PodcastHow to build a business case for an Open Access policy

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Interview / Gus Cameron

5-minute interview

eBioLabs with Dr Gus Cameron

What institution do you work for?

The University of Bristol.

What’s your job title?

I’m a research fellow in the department of biochemistry.

What does that involve?

My main remit is to carry out fundamental biomedical research, but I’ve also got a role in improving the undergraduate experience, especially their laboratory skills.

What’s the name of your project?

I’m the director of the JISC-funded eBioLabs project.

How would you describe your project to friends outside of education?

Our students spend a large proportion of their contact hours in the laboratory, learning science by carrying out experiments. Running these laboratories is very expensive and it’s difficult to scale, so unlike a lecture theatre you can’t just get a bigger laboratory, because you need all the additional equipment to run the labs. So when students turn up without any preparation it wastes an awful lot of time and resources. So what we’ve done is we’ve created a virtual laboratory that the students can access online in advance of the lab session, and this means that when students get into the labs they’re fully prepared, they’ve seen the instruments and the techniques that they’re going to use and it means that they can achieve more within the lab.

Is it achieving its objectives at the moment?

So far it’s been a fantastic success. We’ve rolled it out since the beginning of this academic year to 250 of our first-year biochemistry students and it’s been remarkable the way that the students have taken to it and have learnt to accept the system straight away so are coming into the lab and achieving much more.

What would you say are the lessons for the wider sector?

The way in which we are teaching students to learn – it’s applicable anywhere where you need the students to prepare in advance for a workshop or lab-based session.

Who do you think will benefit most from your work?

It’s a win-win situation so the students are getting a better lab experience, are able to achieve more in the lab and understanding a lot more about the point of the learning session. We’ve also produced automatic upload and semi-automated marking of all the student work, so staff have got a reduced administrative and marking burden.

What has surprised you most during the project?

The biggest worry we had was whether our first-year students would be able to access the system, look at the virtual laboratories, do pre-laboratory tests and generally cope and accept it, but all in Freshers’ Week before they’ve even had their first lecture. It surprised me just how they all managed to do that without any problem at all, so students these days seem to be completely used to working online.

What’s been the best thing about managing the project?

Having the opportunity to make a difference. Being able to use those resources to roll out something that we’d been wanting to do for a long time.

And the worst?

We had quite am ambitious timescale so we had less than a year to prepare for all of this before we actually rolled it out live – there was a lot of effort required to get this started. Now we’re up and running it’s easy!

What next?

We’ve had fantastic interest not just within our faculty, but from other disciplines as well who now want to get on board. We’ve also been fielding enquiries from other institutions who’ve seen what we’re doing and really would like to follow in our footsteps.

WebsiteFind out more about the project

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What’s happening / Spring 2010

JISC dates for your diary…

For details of all JISC events, please visit the blog

For details of JISC Regional Support Centre events (RSCs), visit their individual homepages.

JISC Conference 2010: Technology at the Heart of Education

EventWhen 12–13 April 2010
Where Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London

Registration is now closed. The theme ‘Technology: at the heart of education and research’ confirms JISC’s view that universities and colleges must integrate technology into all aspects of their strategic planning. For more details, see the feature on p.3

Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access

EventWhen 6 May 2010
Where Wellcome Collection conference centre, London

The Blue Ribbon Task Force will be presenting their final report ‘Sustainable economics for a digital planet: ensuring long-term access to digital information’ at this free one day symposium. The event will allow UK and European stakeholders to respond through a mixture of panel and audience discussions and presentations from the senior figures.

Strategic Content Alliance brunch briefing on business modelling and sustainability

EventWhen 14 April 2010
Where Brettenham House, 5 Lancaster Place, London WC2E 7EN

Free briefing from the Strategic Content Alliance exploring business modelling and sustainability challenges, examples and tips for the long-term sustainability of grant-funded digital resources.

e-asy Assessment: creating assessment for better learning

EventWhen 17 May 2010
Where National Space Centre, Leicester, Leicestershire

This event is a unique opportunity for practitioners to engage with innovative ways of assessing learners to make assessment e-asy for them. Organised by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the JISC Regional Support Centres, the event is designed for lecturers from all disciplines who teach on higher education programmes in further education colleges and universities or anyone who is involved in the design of assessment.

UK Perspectives on Open Educational Resources

EventWhen 23 July 2010
Where Holborn Bars, London, EC1N 2NQ

This free one day event is being held in partnership with JISC and the Higher Education Academy.

This event will showcase the work of the UK Open Educational Resources pilot programme and highlight how the UK is supporting innovative learning, teaching and assessment by enabling universities and colleges to share educational materials freely online.

Recent multimedia & publications…

VideoFind out how people from across the UK have reacted to the JISC strategy

VideoAre standards and quality comparable? Panellists at a policy debate share their thoughts

PublicationEnabling Innovation 2006 – 2009 (English and Welsh versions)

PublicationSustainable Economics for a Digital Planet – Blue Ribbon Task Force Final Report

PublicationHow to build a case for university policies and practices in support of Open Access

PublicationPortfolio for senior managers (including videos)

Meet JISC at

Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) 14th Annual Conference

22–24 March 2010, Bangor University

Visit the stand and get involved in the JISC sessions

The fifth international Blended Learning conference

16–17 June 2010, University of Hertfordshire

Meet the e-Learning team

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JISC Inform is produced by JISC to raise awareness of the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to support further and higher education (FE and HE) in the UK. Contributing authors include members of the JISC family of services and initiatives, JISC’s partners and staff working in the FE and HE sectors. The views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of JISC.

Documents & Multimedia

JISC Communications and Marketing Team
Publication Date
19 April 2010
Publication Type