Publication date: 1 March 2002
Publication Type(s): JISC Inform
JISC Inform issue 1 - spring 2002 (continued from JISC News newsletters.
Staying on track
Reviewing our use of technology
Under surveillance: is your email being monitored?
Teaching with technology: experiences from the silicone front
Just in time: securing the preservation of digital resources
Designing a blueprint the RDN Virtual Training Suite for Further Education
Staying on track why are we using technology in teaching?
What will you choose? free learning materials for FE
adapting datasets for use in teaching
the collection of contemporary and historical census
the Cochrane Library in FE and HE
Steering a course real life experiences of using ICT with students
Working together shaping e-learning through collaboration
Just in time securing the preservation of digital resources
RSC Scotland South & West
RSC West Midlands
Sharing the journey test-beds for transforming, learning and teaching
The next big thing the research grid
Under surveillance is your email being monitored?
Designing a blueprint
Internet Information Skills Tutorials for Further Education: the RDN Virtual Training Suite for FE
... new tutorials ...
redesigned to better meet the needs and learning priorities of students in the FE sector
The Resource Discovery Network (RDN) Virtual Training Suite is a JISC-funded project that teaches Internet information skills for different academic subjects via a suite of ‘teach yourself’ online tutorials, authored by subject specialists. The Suite currently offers 40 tutorials: 11 went live in July 2000 and 29 more in May 2001.
Although feedback from the FE sector suggests that the Virtual Training Suite is potentially a valuable tool for post-16 learners (particularly for those studying academic subjects), it is also clear that the current tutorials, devised for the HE community, do not meet the needs of the FE students either in terms of subject coverage or format.
A new project – a collaboration between the Institute for Learning and Research Technology (ILRT) at the University of Bristol and the RDN – will deliver 11 tutorials covering popular subjects in FE (such as Construction and Hairdressing and Beauty).
Following consultation with the FE community, the new tutorials have also been redesigned to better meet the needs and learning priorities of students in the sector. In teaching students how to find information on the Internet and how to evaluate Web resources, these tutorials will help students develop their key skills in information technology. Comprehensive teachers’ notes to support the use of the tutorial within the classroom will accompany each tutorial. The 11 tutorials will be available on the web in June 2002. The 11 subjects covered are:
- Art, Design and Media
- Business Studies
- Engineering (to include Motor Engineering)
- Hairdressing and Beauty
- Health and Social Care
- Hospitality and Catering
- Information and Communication Technology
- Leisure, Sport and Recreation
- Performing Arts
- Travel and Tourism
Kate Sharp and Tessa Griffiths (RDN Virtual Training Suite)
RDN Virtual Training Suite
TONIC Tutorial from Netskills
Staying on track
Why are we using technology in teaching? Mark Stiles discusses the use of technology to support learning, and the rationale behind it. Although Mark focuses on his recent experiences in HE, the issues he raises are applicable to all of us working in education.
"by enabling learners to go beyond the bounds of their specific course ... we stand a chance of creating truly effective learning environments"
Consider the current makeup of learners in higher education: they are not the small elite of 20 or 30 years ago. Modern HE learners are drawn from a much wider spectrum than before; there is a very high proportion of ‘nontraditional’ students: students from a wide range of social backgrounds, single parents and returners to education – those seeking professional updating and other forms of lifelong learning. The drive into widening participation and lifelong learning, coupled with the financial expediencies of being a modern student, means that the motivations and needs of learners are very different from the ‘traditional’ HE student.
These students need to be provided with a learning experience that is much more supportive than the one I received in the late 60s and early 70s, which largely consisted of being told what I had to learn and being expected to go away and sort it out for myself. Modern students tend to be much more focused on ‘goals’ and to be ‘strategic learners’ rather than being the people who ‘learn for the love of it’, which is what I certainly felt I was expected to be. They also need a learning environment that facilitates flexible learning practices to accommodate the needs of those who have to work to support their studies. Many students also have child-care issues to deal with, and others want, or need, to learn in work or part time. With the increased provision of HE within FE institutions, the range of learner becomes even more diverse.
Now let’s consider modern HE provision. The push into mass higher education and widening participation, taken alongside an almost continuous reduction of funding for both HE and FE institutions, means that what was considered to be ‘good practice’ in the old traditional universities – lectures coupled with regular seminars and small tutorials plus good individual access to tutors – is becoming unsustainable for all but the wealthiest and most elite universities. The reality for many students is lectures taken alongside two or three hundred and sometimes more of their peers, packed tutorials and staff who, despite being conscientious and willing, find it difficult to give time to the individual who needs their help.
The use of technology, particularly Internet-based technology, to support learning promises much. I’m excited by the potential it gives to us to provide our learners with an environment that allows them to distribute their studies in terms of place, time and pace. It seems to me that the potential is there for us to create learning environments that meet the needs of the modern, diverse learner and widen access to higher education still further. Importantly, they may give teaching staff more opportunity to actually communicate with students.
"If you have an institutional virtual/managed learning environment, what was THE main reason you chose the one you did?"
... the most common reply by far was "ease of use by staff"
Such an environment requires an emphasis on learning rather than teaching, and places the learner at the centre of the process by engaging them in purposeful activity, problem solving, collaborations, interactions and conversations. It also recognises that learning is social and involves an active learning community of tutors and learners. The range of communication and collaborative tools available enables us to provide for the interactions, learner to learner and learner to tutor, needed for feedback, collaboration, support and guidance – something increasingly difficult in face-to-face delivery. This environment provides the potential to ‘make the best of both worlds’ by combining ‘traditional’ approaches and activities with technologically supported ones. And, by enabling learners to go beyond the bounds of their specific course in their search for resources and tutors to search for and re-use content across courses and disciplines, we stand a chance of creating truly effective learning environments.
Add to the above, which is the role of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), all of the interoperability hooks that allow one or more VLEs to be linked with MIS systems, authentication servers, digital libraries and portals, and we have the vision of the Managed Learning Environment (MLE). When this is eventually achieved, both tutor and learner have a joined-up learning experience that combines effectively traditional and virtual learning and its management with access to local, national and international resources.
No surprise then, that there is a virtual (pun entirely intended) stampede of institutions now buying into these technologies. However, I am increasingly concerned that all is not going the way we hope. Recently, I carried out a piece of very quick and dirty research by asking the members of a number of relevant email discussion lists the question: “If you have an institutional virtual/managed learning environment, what was THE main reason you chose the one you did?” The outcome was very interesting.
I received some 225 replies covering 127 UK FE and HE institutions. The most common reply by far was “ease of use by staff”. Several (and I am being literal) replies covered issues of students learning as a result, and even fewer mentioned the achievement of institutional goals. Yes, I know, or at least hope, that in reality institutions must (or should) have considered a number of factors, but the question was deliberately loaded to gain an idea of people’s perception of priorities. Interestingly enough, only two replies took me to task for this and only ten insisted on giving more than one reason.
Why does this concern me? There are two main reasons: strategy and design/delivery of the learning experience (pedagogy).
Firstly, strategy: Institutions delivering HE courses are very diverse and range from FE institutions running franchise courses and foundation degrees to ‘research led’ traditional universities. The reasons for any particular institution deciding to move into using technology to support learning must, therefore, vary tremendously. My own institution decided some four years ago to move into the use of VLEs as part of a Learning and Teaching strategy aimed at moving to a learner-centred approach, alongside a business re-engineering programme similarly aimed at making the entire learning experience ‘learner centred’. For the first three years, the bulk of the effort was aimed at ‘distributing’ the learning of our on-campus students to enable learning to be more flexible in terms of time and place, and meet the needs of the modern learner at a ‘new’ university with large course groups. Only in the last two years have we moved cautiously into distance learning.
An FE institution may have distinctly differentrequirements: usually classes are smaller, and the emphasis may be on meeting the needs of non-traditional ‘flexible learning’ or work-based learning. A wealthy traditional university with international branding may see the use of an MLE as a means of meeting the challenges of a global marketplace and concentrate mainly on high-quality distance learning.
unless the question “what are we trying to achieve?” is addressed ... we may be in danger of alienating an entire generation of students
I cannot believe that a single product could satisfy this vast range of goals. Surely, before one buys a tool one has decided what use it will be put to – I can’t see many people drilling a hole with a hammer! I fear that the emphasis on ‘ease of use by staff’ might hide an underlying approach of “we must get into this e-learning or they’ll all have left us behind”. Although this is an understandable knee-jerk reaction to change, it is also often coupled with “how will we get the academics to use it – they need to be able to stick their stuff into the system really easily, or we won’t make progress”. I’m afraid that generating masses of electronic content, whilst potentially useful if you do have a strategy, is not a substitute for a planned approach aimed at meeting institutional goals.
Secondly, the ‘P’ word: Although it is true that there is no proven ‘right way’ to design an online learning experience, there is plenty of evidence of approaches that don’t work, in both traditional and online delivery. Perhaps the most fundamental is the ‘information is king’ approach – Diana Laurillard has put this in context most succinctly: “It is as absurd to try and solve the problems of education by giving people access to information as it would be to solve the housing problem by giving people access to bricks.”
John Seely Brown has described it simply as a ‘fork-lift truck’ approach. But wait – when I was an undergraduate, I recall sitting in maths lectures watching a man go eight times around a large roller-board, scribbling it all down and then trying to make sense of it later; surely the ‘let’s stick our notes on the Web’ attitude, whilst probably giving the students better notes and the option of not going to the lecture (a possible positive?), is little better? An online learner given a course that requires them to access lots of information, but whose ‘online’ learning activities and assessments are basically ‘traditional’, is likely to feel very isolated. Whilst in a mass lecture they are unlikely to ask questions or otherwise interact, they at least have peers to keep them company. Most received wisdom in educational thinking indicates that active learning is more effective than passive learning. It is also believed that conversations between learners, and between learners and tutors, about some activity the students are carrying out that involves producing something (a project plan, an essay, a design and so on) are more effective, certainly at undergraduate level, than ‘discuss this issue’.
We have, however, a teaching workforce in HE and FE that is largely untrained, and thus unsurprisingly bases its practice on what it received as an undergraduate itself. As a result, HE tends to be excellent at curriculum design, but less so at the design of the learning experience itself. Unless the introduction of the MLE/VLE into an institution is accompanied by a matching programme of staff development, designed to equip staff to create active learning experiences aimed at coherent learning outcomes that the learner can relate to, the same ‘monastic’ approach to education is likely to be duplicated.
I am convinced that different VLEs suit different educational approaches (and am far from alone in this): at my own institution we have maintained a policy of operating two very different systems. As well as giving colleagues a choice, it also helps to encourage them to think about what they are trying to achieve educationally. I have seen the comment in various email discussion lists and at conferences that “I don’t want any software system telling me how to teach”. If this implies that they want to think about the design of the experience the learner will have and to choose the best tool – excellent! Sadly, I have found in practice it all too often just means that they want to reproduce the same stuff they have always done – only this time on a computer!
In conclusion, I fear that unless the question “what are we trying to achieve?” is addressed at both the institutional and individual tutor level before a VLE (which is just a component of an MLE after all) is selected, we may be in danger of alienating an entire generation of students. This will also disillusion many teaching staff and university managers and set the potentially successful use of these systems back many years.
Mark Stiles (Professor of Technology Supported Learning)
Professor Mark Stiles has a broad experience in the Information Learning Technology (ILT) area, working as a lecturer and subject manager in Computer Science and ILT in FE and as an IT services manager in HE. As Co-Director of the Learning Development Centre at Staffordshire University, Mark introduced VLEs as part of the University’s strategy. He successfully led the JISC-funded COSE VLE project, and managed the JISC CO3 Project and SURF Interoperability pilot. He is a regular speaker on both implementation strategy and pedagogy for Distributed Learning and has published in both areas.
... it all too often just means that we want to reproduce the same stuff we have always done – only this time on a computer!
Brown, J.S. and Duguid, P. (July/August 1996) Universities in the Digital Age
Laurillard, D. (1996) The Changing University
Holland S. and Arrowsmith, A. (2000) Towards a Productive Assessment Practice: Practising Theory On-Line Assessment and the Expanded Text Consortium University of Northumbria
Stiles, M.J. (2000) Effective Learning and the Virtual Learning Environment, in: EUNIS 2000: Towards Virtual Universities: Proceedings of the European University Information System 2000 conference held at INFOSYSTEM 2000, Poznan, Poland Poznan: Instytut Informatyki Politechniki Poznanskiej, p171-180
Britain, S. and Liber, O. (1999) A Framework for Pedagogical Evaluation of Virtual Learning Environments University of Wales, Bangor
Milligan, C. (1999) Delivering Staff and Professional Development Using Virtual Learning Environments Edinburgh: Heriot-Watt University
What will you choose?
Free Learning Materials for FE
The National Learning Network (NLN) is a national initiative for England, which aims to help transform the Further Education (FE) learning environment.
One of the major projects of the NLN has been to commission a whole range of high-quality online learning materials that will be available free to colleges. More than 300 hours of materials are in production and the first modules are already being demonstrated locally and nationally. Initial feedback has been extremely positive. The materials were launched in January 2002 at the British Education and Teaching Technology (BETT) show in London, and are available online from the NLN website.
The materials span the FE curriculum, with a particular focus on key skills. They are designed as small manageable chunks and they will suit a range of learning situations. The learning objects are short bursts of learning, typically lasting about 20 minutes, and include learning, review, assessment and feedback. All are highly interactive and use a variety of methods, such as questions, puzzles and games, to engage the learner.
Some of the suppliers have been extremely inventive in the way that they have approached the design of the learning materials. Some of the materials, however, have a more ‘traditional’ look and feel to them; the wide variety of approaches to the design of the materials has been welcomed by tutors who recognise that no one style will suit every student.
All of the chunks are being designed to the emerging technical standards of interoperability and packaging, which should allow them to operate within most major Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs).
Technical considerations, including Local Area Network (LAN) and bandwidth restrictions, have meant that some uses of technology – such as Web-delivered video – are not available to the developers of the materials. All are, however, making widespread use of animation to ensure that the learner remains fully engaged with the materials. Sound is being used not only to enhance the learning process, but also to support the full accessibility of the materials.
Substantial funding from the Scottish Further Education Funding Council (SFEFC), and from the Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland (DEL), is enabling a further round of commissioning, resulting in an additional 250 hours of learning materials. The tender process is well under way and it is anticipated that contracts will be awarded early in 2002, with the materials being completed by spring 2003. As with the NLN Materials Development programme, these materials will also be freely available to all UK post-compulsory education and training.
The NLN Materials Development team is on the road with some of the first set of materials, and we would be happy to introduce them to college staff. Contact Chris Kelland or visit the NLN website.
Chris Kelland (Education Officer)
NLN Project Support
A wide range of subjects is covered by the materials: Biology; Care, Childcare & Social Care; Construction Crafts; Engineering; Environmental Conservation; Health and Safety; Mathematics for Engineering and Computing; Performing Arts; Scots Law; Sport and Recreation; Travel and Tourism.
Delivering resources which can be directly integrated into learning and teaching has become a key challenge for the JISC and for other organisations in the sector. The Learning and Teaching programme is a key development in this area.
Two of the projects within this programme are highlighted here: the Collection of Contemporary and Historical Census Data (CHCC) project and the Publication and Archives in Teaching with Online Information System (PATOIS) project based at the Archaeology Data Service in York. An extension to another of the Learning and Teaching projects – the Virtual Training Suite – is highlighted on page 3. All have as their starting point the need to build high-quality electronic resources for direct use in learning and teaching for the UK education community.
In addition, as Betsy Anagnostelis reports, JISC-negotiated deals, such as the Cochrane Library, have a vital role to play to support this process.
Adapting datasets for use in teaching
© copyright reserved
The Archaeology Data Service (ADS) provides access to a growing range of research data for archaeologists in further and higher education (FE and HE).
These datasets are freely available, but their specialist nature means that they can be inaccessible to students learning archaeological methods. So the ADS has turned its attention to making its collections more accessible.
Through the Publication and Archives in Teaching with Online Information System (PATOIS), the ADS is developing four online tutorials based on different aspects of data used in archaeology. The four tutorials take students through the lifecycle of data in archaeological research, explaining the intricacies and context of datasets held by the ADS, or accessible through the Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER). The tutorials are as follows:
- The first introduces the monument inventories maintained by heritage managers in local and national government
- The second looks at the data produced by excavation and survey, introducing ways of using digital archives in research
- The third looks at the high-level syntheses presented through electronic journals, in particular Internet Archaeology
- The fourth is based on the excavations of Christ Church, Spitalfields and the associated palaeopathological analysis and documentary research, exploring interdisciplinary issues across the arts and sciences
The PATOIS project began in October 2000 and is due for completion in October 2003. The four tutorials are now almost complete; the last two years of the project are being dedicated to evaluation and review of the materials. The first tutorial is already in use in teaching at six universities and all the tutorials have generated significant interest among the FE and HE communities.
Archaeology Data Service
The collection of contemporary and historical census data as a major learning and teaching resource
A project has been established to develop learning and teaching materials to support the wider use of contemporary and historical Census datasets.
The Collection of Historical and Contemporary Census (CHCC) Project has been funded by the JISC under its “Developing the DNER for Learning and Teaching” initiative. The project involves six partners from four UK universities and has been running since October 2000.
The learning materials (‘units’), which cover the whole spectrum of census topics, are being developed by the project team and commissioned from distinguished authors who have used Census data in their teaching. The units will encourage a ‘pick and mix’ approach, enabling lecturers to choose a selection of online or classroom-based teaching. Lecturers may choose from a portion of a single unit to several units built into a module. Such flexibility was a key requirement behind the development of the units.
See feedback from the consultation workshop in January 2001.
In response to the feedback received, the units can now be customised locally by teachers and lecturers, provided credit is given to the original author of the materials.
Dr Jackie Carter (CHCC Project Manager)
CHCC project website
A discussion list has been set up to support the dissemination of information about the learning and teaching materials
The Cochrane library in FE
The Cochrane library is accessible to a variety of users through the National electronic Library for Health (NeLH) thanks to a cross-sector deal negotiated by the JISC and NeLH.
For students at the Royal Free & University College Medical School of University College London (UCL), the Cochrane Library has become one of the key resources for information skills training in the undergraduate medical curriculum. Whilst one group of students critically appraises a systematic review, another group receives training in finding the best available research, including the systematic review itself.
GP trainers accompany the students and they are as keen to find out how to use the resource effectively. Researchers, meanwhile, busy undertaking systematic reviews themselves, book to attend the training courses prepared by the local medical librarians. A regular programme of training, intended to educate towards clinical governance and managing change in the NHS, incorporates “finding the evidence” sessions for a multiprofessional audience, focusing on the Cochrane Library and related resources.
For all these disparate users and more, access to the Cochrane Library via the NeLH is a significant breakthrough: not only is it accessible via the ATHENS authentication system but also no concurrency restrictions are imposed. Students can be introduced to the same resources they can expect to come across in later professional life. The seamless access negotiated for both the NHS and UK FE and HE at affordable prices has become a very attractive model for other purchases in the health sector. It is anticipated that other resources, such as “Clinical Evidence”, can be made available in the same manner. The next cohort of undergraduate medical students can hopefully look forward to that.
Betsy Anagnostelis (Librarian, Medical Library)
Royal Free & University College Medical School of UCL and Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust
Cochrane Library at the NeLH
Steering a course
Teaching with Technology: Experiences from the silicone front. Fisheries tutors Phil Bray and Captain John Richards share their experiences of using Information and Communications Technology (ICT) with their students.
Incorporating ICT-based presentations
Tugboat captain Phil Bray operates out of Milford Haven, escorting ships. On dry land, he is a part-time tutor on the M35 Safety at Sea course taught through Pembrokeshire College. The course is a pre-requisite for those who intend to ‘go to sea’ and undertake further fishing National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). It is held at the Milford Marina at a dedicated facility designed to enable students to become competent in using specialised safety equipment and learn the required skills to ensure their safety and the safety of others while at sea. The student profile is wide ranging – students come from a variety of backgrounds and ages range from 15 to 74.
Phil has been teaching for a number of years, but until four years ago ha no personal experience in Information and CommunicationsTechnology (ICT). As a result of a positive personal experience with ICT and a keenness to share this with his students, Phil’s efforts (and recognition of them by teaching and fishery colleagues) have resulted in the adoption of ICT-based presentation techniques for Safety Awareness courses at a national level.
From personal experience to classroom practice
Phil first experienced the use of ICT in teaching when he attended an instructor’s course as a student. Much of the course was presented using PowerPoint and he was impressed by what it had to offer. Phil was accustomed to using overhead transparencies in his teaching, but after experiencing the ICT-based presentations he was keen to see if it would be possible to do something similar with his students. At the time, resources were unavailable centrally to purchase the equipment that he needed to get started, so on the suggestion of a colleague his wife bought him a laptop for Christmas!
The next few months were spent getting to grips with the technology (with support from ‘computer-familiar’ family and friends), incorporating teaching material into a presentation and becoming confident about using the Real-life experiences of using ICT with students technology with the students who were very positive about the presentations. Another early challenge involved finding scarce projection equipment that was “begged and borrowed from all over the place”. Before long, ICT-based presentations became an integral part of the course. Now, four years on, students experience a fully integrated and seamless presentation experience, which incorporates other media such as video clips.
Word soon got around about the use of ICT in the course, and Phil was invited to work with a committee concerned with developing the new national Safety Awareness course, organised through the Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA), to address high accident rates at sea. After Phil presented a case for all instructors of the new course to use ICT (including the ICT equipment and resources that would be required), government funding was granted to provide the equipment and training for the approach to be adopted at a national level.
Captain John Richards spent 20 years as a deep-sea mariner working around the globe, before coming ashore in 1963 for a three-month period to teach on a fisheries course. Three months extended to 18 years of teaching practice that still continues (despite official retirement in 1990!). He teaches NVQ level 2-4 (shown in the table) to students who are working at sea in the fishing industry. The courses cover a number of topics, including seamanship, navigation, ship stability and rules of the road at sea. The students’ ages range from 16 to 63 years, and, for the most part, their previous educational experiences have been less than positive. Consequently, John has found he spends a considerable amount of his teaching time working with students on a one-to-one basis.
For many years, the courses were advertised and delivered at the College over a specified period. Students came ashore and attended courses for that period. This worked well for many years until the decline in the fishing industry began to affect student numbers and course viability. Not only were there fewer students, but also employers were no longer able to release students to be away from sea for the required time to attend the courses. This meant finding a way to deliver the courses in an effective way for the students while providing the flexibility for those working at sea. The solution was videoconferencing.
John now works with students (largely on a one-to-one basis) via videoconferencing between Milford Haven (where he’s based) and Bangor (where the students come ashore when their ships are in port). He currently teaches seven students who are studying at various levels of NVQ. Videoconferencing provides a level of flexibility such that students are able to work with their tutor as and when their ships arrive in port in a way that would not be economically viable if the tutoring was delivered face to face.
Although the technology offers the necessary flexibility, it does require a new way of working and it is important to get this right from the beginning. John stresses the importance of ensuring that tutor and student establish a system for communicating that takes into account both the technical and human aspects of the medium, such as the delay in transmission and the need to make sure each participant has the appropriate learning materials to hand. Once these have been taken into account, John notes that “it’s almost as good as being there”. In short, without the videoconferencing it is unlikely that these students would have the opportunity to undertake their NVQ studies, as it would simply not be economically viable to deliver the courses in a traditional way for such a small number of students.
On a cautionary note, John also expresses the view that videoconferencing with groups is a different kettle of fish! He has experimented with teaching a group face-to-face in Milford Haven while videoconferencing with a second group at Bangor. He found the videoconferencing was less successful primarily because of the degree of interactivity required for the level of the coursework he teaches and because the students at the remote site felt they were ‘missing out’ on the human element in comparison to the face-to-face group. John does, however, think that videoconferencing has potential for group work that involves a higher level of academic material with lecture-style delivery.
NVQ courses offered through Pembrokeshire College
Awarding Body (ITO)
NVQ Level 2
Merchant Navy Deck Operations
Fishing Vessel Operation - Deckhand
Fishing Vessel Engineering - Second Engineer
NVQ Level 3
Merchant Navy Deck Operations
Fishing Vessel Operation - Inshore Area (Skipper)
Fishing Vessel Operation - Unlimited (Mate)
NVQ Level 4
Fishing Vessel Operation - Inshore Area (Skipper)
Fishing Vessel Operation - Unlimited (Mate)
MNTB Merchant Navy Training Board
SFIA Sea Fishing Industries Association
Shaping e-learning through collaboration
JISC is uniquely placed in serving the FE, HE and research communities across the UK, ensuring that commonality of issues can be taken into account, whilst keeping the sectors’ individuality in mind.
Although the JISC does not seek to take a lead in issues such as pedagogy and skills training, our activities are designed to meet the needs of learners and teachers. The JISC looks to the output of a new group – the Distributed and Electronic Learning Group (DELG) – which will help to steer JISC activities for the FE sector, and welcomed the opportunity to make a contribution to their agenda.
The DELG was recently established by the Learning and Skills Council of England (LSC) to advise on the ways in which distributed and electronic learning can contribute to the Council’s mission. It is chaired by Professor Bob Fryer (Assistant Vice Chancellor, University of Southampton) and has a membership drawn from the Council itself and from other key figures from the worlds of business, education, technology and the media. Malcolm Read (JISC Executive Secretary) sits on the DELG as the JISC representative.
The Group’s first major task is to provide advice to the Council on a coordinated strategy for securing delivery of new forms of learning, specifically the innovative use of information technology, locally, regionally and nationally. To aid them in this endeavour, the Group offered organisations and individuals an opportunity to submit evidence of the most important aspects for the DELG to investigate in the areas of:
- Inclusion, access and promotion
- Workforce development, skills and qualifications
- Funding, accountability and monitoring systems
- Learning systems, delivery and content
- Quality and evaluation
In response to this call for information, the JISC submitted a document that: outlines the current JISC strategy and activities; includes an analysis of near-term technology developments; and describes a pragmatic vision of Information and Learning Technology (ILT) potential and consequent infrastructure and support requirements over the next five years. The fact that the JISC serves such a broad community brings a number of benefits that are applicable to e-learning in general. The JISC can, for example, enrich the learning and teaching experience by providing access to research data; make electronic resources available to all levels of education; and improve value for money by economies of scale on common services to the communities.
See the NLN website
Just in time
Securing the preservation of Digital Resources
The use of computers is changing forever the way information is created, managed and accessed. The ability to generate, amend and copy information in digital form, to search texts and databases, to adapt them for learning and teaching and to transmit information rapidly over networks has led to a dramatic growth in the application of digital technologies.
Ensuring we can sustain access to and continue to use digital resources into the future is of central importance to the sector
Massive investment is being made in the creation and purchase of digital content and information; they are now central to the work of most educational institutions, and form a significant and growing part of our cultural and intellectual heritage.
There is a growing realisation that this investment in and future access to digital resources are threatened by technology obsolescence and, to a lesser degree, by the fragility of digital media. The rate of change in computing technologies is such that information can be rendered inaccessible within a decade. Digital resources will not survive or remain accessible by accident: pro-active preservation is needed.
In the education community, securing the preservation of digital resources will be of increasing importance for a wide range of activities and materials within UK FE and HE. The sector invests substantial sums in subscriptions to e-journals and is also investing heavily in digitisation and in arts and scientific data in digital form. We also make major use of digital resources in other sectors, including government, and our national libraries and archives. Ensuring we can sustain access to and continue to use digital resources into the future is of central importance to the sector.
Digital preservation requires not only the maintenance and disaster recovery procedures needed for securing the media and its contents (often referred to as ‘archiving’), but also strategies and procedures to maintain accessibility to and authenticity of the content over time. This is challenging as often it can require collaboration between different stakeholders, and good licensing practice, detailed Securing the preservation of digital resources metadata and thorough documentation before technical issues can be addressed. Collaboration with other sectors is therefore often crucial to successful digital preservation.
JISC is providing coordination and leadership for digital preservation activities and fostering cross-sectoral collaboration. Through the recently established JISC Digital Preservation Focus, JISC has been central to the setting up of the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC). The DPC was set up in 2001 to bring together key organisations to address the challenge of preserving digital resources – an urgent and international challenge. Alongside the JISC, 18 other major organisations and consortia from archives, libraries, education, research, government and publishing are currently involved with the DPC. Full members forming the board include: the British Library, the Consortium of University Research Libraries, the JISC, National Archives of Scotland, OCLC, the Public Record Office, Public Record Office for Northern Ireland, Resource and University of London Computing Centre.
A recent example of collaborative action and cross-sectoral dialogue is the international seminar held in October 2001 under the auspices of the DPC and the British National Space Centre. This event brought ogether key international organisations, including NASA, the UK e-science programme, the Research Councils and many others.
In February 2002, a reception was held in the House of Commons to formally launch the Coalition and raise awareness of digital preservation amongst key stakeholders. The event drew together MPs, media, senior civil servants and key figures in digital preservation and sealed the success of the DPC in quickly attracting widespread attention to the challenges of digital preservation.
Neil Beagrie and Philip Pothen
Assistant Director (Digital Preservation) and Communications Manager
JISC Regional Support Centres (RSCs)
A front-line service for FE
Scotland South & West
Heritage RSC Scotland South & West was formed following a successful bid by a consortium comprising University of Glasgow, the Glasgow Telecolleges Network – a ten college network – and WeSSNet – a four college network.
Geography We support 21 Further Education colleges located from Cumbernauld, in the North, to the Border. Types of college vary from a comparatively small rural agricultural institution to mainly large multi-site specialist city-based colleges, often with national catchments.
People There is a small team of four full-time staff who organise support for local networks, training for the full range of college personnel as well as organise and coordinate events both locally and nationally.
Uniqueness We work closely with our local Metropolitan Area Network (MAN), the single connection point for all our regional colleges. We also work very closely with our sister RSC in the East of Scotland, often jointly organising national events and support across the whole of Scotland.
A key challenge Following a very successful joint event on Managed Learning Environments (MLEs) run on behalf of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, we are now organising follow-up consultancy, which will be delivered by both external consultants and RSC staff. The intention is to provide accurate, tailored information on MLE deployment to each college.
Our key strengths Our relationship with our customers and our other Scottish RSC!
We are making every effort to visit named contacts in each college on a regular basis, creating a site-visit report with follow-up actions on each occasion. Our clients value this personal contact on their own ‘patch’, giving us valuable insight into their operations, so we might offer more focused support.
We are currently engaged with 20 of our colleges in ‘mapping’ resources to Scottish Qualifications Authority Unit descriptors. The outcome will provide a valuable resource for our lecturing staff and for the Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER). We are also piloting the use of Webcasts for training on current issues for our Information Communication Technology (ICT) contacts – busy people who cannot come to us, so we go to them! We are jointly compiling courses with RSC Scotland North and East to satisfy identified needs following publication of our joint online Training Needs Analysis conducted over summer 2001, see:
Manager RSC Scotland South & West
Heritage In spring 2000, the University of Wolverhampton and college consortium successfully bid to host the Regional Support Centre for the West Midlands. In September of the same year, the centre officially commenced its work.
Geography RSC West Midlands supports 54 colleges in Shropshire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and the West Midlands, which range from specialists in agriculture and equine studies to large inner-city multi-site colleges.
People The team comprises seven full-time staff who have responsibilities covering curriculum, learning resources, technical advice, training, event organisation and administration.
Uniqueness In our region we have offered free, one-day staff development sessions to all of our colleges.
As you can imagine, this has been well received and already 14 colleges have taken up our offer. Essentially, our curriculum advisers go on site to deliver training according to the college requirements. Typical sessions include embedding Information Learning Technology (ILT) into the curriculum and using Virtual Learning Environments and Managed Learning Environments (VLEs and MLEs).
A key challenge
To ensure that all of the colleges in our region can rely on our support!
There are a number of other bodies that do excellent work to support the sector. We feel it is vital for us to work collaboratively and to this end we hold regular regional collaboration meetings with the British Educational Communications and Technology agency (BECTa), the National Information and Learning Technology Association (NILTA), the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) and the University for Industry (UfI). Additionally, we have run regional events with some of these agencies.
Our key strengths
We pride ourselves on having a team with many years of experience in the post-16 sector. Most of the team are experienced FE lecturers and have a variety of qualifications and knowledge, such as computing, psychology, multimedia, engineering, photography, geography and travel and tourism.
We have held a number of events on using ILT in specific curriculum areas, such as Arts and Social Sciences. Other successful days have been: online resources, ‘MLEs for Techies’ and a UKERNA network security course. We have recently held our 2nd Annual Conference on 20th February 2002, which focused on working collaboratively.
Manager, RSC West Midlands
Sharing the journey
Test-beds for Transforming Learning and Teaching: a Joint Initiative
JISC and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) have collaborated successfully in the research and development of electronic resources for some years. The two organisations now wish to establish a jointly funded £6,000,000 initiative that will demonstrate how the education process for undergraduates can be transformed using innovative applications of emerging technologies and electronic resources.
Both the NSF and the JISC have already invested heavily in network infrastructure, electronic services, electronic resources and research into the use of new technologies in education. Institutions are also experimenting with new approaches to the business of learning – such as Managed Learning Environments (MLEs) to support staff and students, and Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) to deliver course material – and have increased their understanding of how and in what circumstances technology can improve learning and teaching processes.
We feel the time is now right to realise the full potential of all these developments. Through funding a number of large projects that will test the effectiveness of state of the art technologies and resources in delivering teaching, we hope to show the community how to exploit the enormous benefits that we believe are now available to them.
This is a challenging task. Not only will the projects need to utilise technology in innovative, exciting and, above all, appropriate ways that truly benefit the learner, they will need to address all of the issues that surround changing the way courses are delivered. So the projects will also examine: course design and quality; student perceptions, recruitment and retention; organisational and strategic issues and staff support and development.
Experience has shown that pilots and test-beds do not readily translate into mainstream educational use. However, by focusing on the organisational as well as technical issues involved in creating or redesigning courses, we expect the projects to be more applicable to the realities of learning and teaching. Furthermore, we will only be funding projects that clearly demonstrate management commitment, alignment with existing strategies, significant institutional commitment in the form of financial, staff and other resources and have future plans for rolling out the new style courses in other departments or institutions.
The international approach to this work will have many benefits. Addressing problems from different perspectives and cultures will provide new insights into those problems. Sharing content and expertise will create a greater resource than any single institution can hope to provide on its own. Delivering courses to different student cohorts, with different expectations and experience, will provide a greater understanding of the effectiveness of pedagogic approaches.
Results will not be immediate. Four projects will begin work in summer 2002 and will continue for between three and five years.
Both JISC and NSF are committed to funding a major dissemination programme through the lifetime of the initiative that will inform the education community in both countries about progress and successes, and encourage the widest possible adoption of the benefits for students at all levels and in all disciplines.
Head of Outreach and Institutional Support
The next big thing
The Research Grid
In November 2000, the Director General of Research Councils, John Taylor, announced £98 million funding for a new UK e-Science programme. The Core e-Science Programme is managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) on behalf of all the Research Councils.
In this context, e-Science refers to the large-scale science that will increasingly be carried out through global collaborations enabled by the Internet. Typically, such collaborative scientific enterprises will require access to very large data collections, very large-scale computing resources and high-performance visualisation.
The World Wide Web provides access to information on Web pages written in HTML anywhere on the Internet; a much more powerful infrastructure is needed to support e-Science. Besides information stored in Web pages, scientists will need access to expensive remote facilities, to computing resources – either as dedicated Teraflop computers (very fast computers) or cheap collections of PCs – and to information stored in dedicated databases.
The Grid is an architecture proposed to make a reality of such a vision for e-Science. The inventors of the Globus approach to the Grid (who are involved in developing the required technology) define the Grid as “an infrastructure that enables flexible, secure, coordinated resource sharing among dynamic collections of individuals, institutions and resources”. In this context “resources” includes computational systems and data storage and specialised experimental facilities.
The intention in the UK is to use the existing SuperJANET network rather than to create a new Grid network. The SuperJANET4 backbone was upgraded to 2.5Gbp/sec in 2000 and will be upgraded to 10Gbp/sec in 2002, which will ensure the network is able to cope with the medium-term demands of the UK Grid community. As research is an international endeavour, links to other networks will be important. In Europe, the GEANT project, set up by a consortium of 27 national research and education networks, provides a backbone network at Gigabit speeds. The new contract for transatlantic connectivity provides a 2 Gbp/sec link dedicated solely to research traffic.
The work being done by the JISC to develop a Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER) will be particularly relevant in helping the Grid community address key issues relating to the retrieval of information from a variety of sources and in a variety of formats.
The Follett Review of the JISC recommended the establishment of a new sub-committee to ensure that the JISC remains focused on the needs of the research community. Following discussions with the Office for Science and Technology, the JISC Committee for the Support of Research (JCSR) was established under the chairmanship of Professor Tony Hey, the Director of the e-Science Core Programme. Membership of JCSR is drawn from relevant organisations, including the research councils, the Arts and Humanities Research Boar and the British Academy.
e-Science at CLRC
The Grid and e-Science, UKERNA News, December 2001
Is your email being monitored?
One of the more contentious pieces of recent legislation – and not only for the educational community – is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). This Act makes it unlawful for colleges and universities to monitor either email messages or telephone calls on their internal networks, except in carefully specified circumstances. Failure to comply with the Act could lead to criminal proceedings against an individual, if acting without the authority of the college or university, or to civil action against the institution if it was clear that institutional procedures were being followed.
The origins of the RIPA are related to cases successfully brought against the UK Government under the European Convention of Human Rights, with employees claiming that unannounced monitoring of telephone calls (even in the office environment) was a violation of their human rights to privacy in their lives and correspondence. Prior to the introduction of the RIPA, the only regulations governing telephone monitoring applied to the public networks; there was no legislation controlling what was or was not permitted on private networks.
The circumstances under which institutions may legally monitor the contents of telephone conversations or email messages are defined by the so-called Lawful Business Practices regulations, which are, in effect, an adjunct to the Act. For example, under the regulations, communications can be monitored for the purpose of investigating or detecting the unauthorised use of the system and as an inherent part of the effective operation of the system.
Examples of some actions which for email services would come under ‘ensuring effective operation’ include scanning for viruses, and inspection of misdirected messages to attempt to deliver them correctly. The most important precondition to allow institutions to carry out such monitoring legally is, however, that they must have made all reasonable efforts to inform all users of the system that monitoring may take place for the allowed purposes. If this has not been done, the college or university (or its responsible officers) will be vulnerable to action under the RIPA.
In practice, every institution will need to carry out some monitoring of its email system to ensure good housekeeping. The implication of the RIPA is that every college and university must have a policy on when and why this is done, and must take steps to publicise this to users of the system – for instance, by linking it to the acceptable use regulations which staff and users are required to sign. It is useful for the policy to define, or attempt to define (a precise definition will not necessarily be easy!), the distinction between authorised and unauthorised use of email.
JISC Programme Director
Privacy on the network: Your rights and responsibilities, UKERNA News, December 2000
Regulations applying to JANET users
Local policies at JANET sites
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 at the University of Huddersfield