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Projects to explore the exploitation of user activity data in the sector and to identify opportunities for institutions to improve / share services.

Activity Data

Companies such as Amazon have proved that careful use of data about users’ actions and attention can improve services to end users and provide advantages in managing and targeting the service. Many systems in institutions store data about the actions of students, teachers and researchers. The purpose of this programme is to experiment with this data with the aim of improving the user experience or the administration of services.

Projects funded under this programme will identify tools and techniques that prove beneficial to university services. Once identified, JISC will fund further development to enable as many Higher Education institutions as possible to benefit from them.

The term activity data has a number of different connotations. In this programme we will be exploring two types of data:

  • User activity data – a record of a user’s actions on a website or software system or other relevant institutional service.
  • Attention data – the record of what a user has viewed on a website or software system or other relevant institutional service.

There is a separate JISC programme investigating Business Intelligence which can be defined as:

  • Business intelligence – the use of data to provide historical, current and predictive views of business operation and the use of those views to support better decision making.

What are the projects doing?

JISC has funded 8 projects that will run for 6 months. The projects will address common challenges such as ensuring privacy, sharing data between systems and institutions, effective analysis, enabling reuse and developing or enhancing tools and services. JISC has funded a synthesis project to ensure that the knowledge developed by the projects on these and other issues is extracted, explored and presented in such a way that other institutions can benefit from it.

All projects will be encouraged to share their datasets using an open licence that permits reuse.

The projects focus on a range of different types of activity data:

AEIOU - Aberystwyth University - this project will gather usage statistics from the repositories of all Higher Education Institutions in Wales and use this data to present searchers who discover paper from a Welsh repository with recommendations for other relevant papers that they may be interested in. All of this data will be gathered into a research gateway for Wales.

Agtivity - University of Manchester - this project will collect usage data from people using the Advanced Video Conferencing services supported by the Access Grid Support Centre. This data will be used evaluate usage more accurately, in terms of the time the service is used, audience sizes and environmental impact, and will be used to drive an overall improvement in Advanced Video Conferencing meetings through more targetted support by the Access Grid Support Centre staff of potentially failing nodes and meetings.

Exposing VLE Data - University of Cambridge - a project that will bring together activity and attention data for Cambridge's institutional virtual learning environment (based on the Sakai software) to create useful and informative management reporting including powerful visualisations. These reports will enable the exploration of improvements to both the VLE software and to the institutional support services around it, including how new information can inform university valuation of VLEs and strategy in this area. The project will also release anonymised datasets for use in research by others.

Library Impact Data - Huddersfield University - the aim of this project is to prove a statistically significant correlation between library usage and student attainment. The project will collect anonymised data from University of Bradford, De Montfort University, University of Exeter, University of Lincoln, Liverpool John Moores University, University of Salford, Teesside University as well as Huddersfield. By identifying subject areas or courses which exhibit low usage of library resources, service improvements can be targeted.  Those subject areas or courses which exhibit high usage of library resources can be used as models of good practice.

RISE - Open University - As a distance-learning institution, students, researchers and academics at the Open University mainly access the rich collection of library resources electronically.  Although the systems used track attention data this data isn't used to help users search. RISE aims to exploit the unique scale of the OU (with over 100,000 annual unique users of e-resources) by using attention data recorded by EZProxy to provide recommendations to users of the EBSCO Discovery search solution. RISE will then aim to release that data openly so it can be used by the community.

Salt - University of Manchester - SALT will experiment with 10 years of library circulation data from the John Rylands University Library to support humanities research by making underused "long tail" materials easier to find by library users. The project will also develop an api to enable others to reuse the circulation data and will explore the possibility of offering the api as a national shared service.

STAR-Trak:NG - Leeds Metropolitan University - This project will provide an application (STAR-Trak:NG) to highlight and manage interventions with students who are at risk of dropping out, identified primarily by mining student activity data held in corporate systems.

UCIAD - Open University - UCIAD will investigate the use of semantic technologies for integrating user activity data from different systems within a University. The objective is to scope and prototype an open, pluggable software framework based on such semantic models, aggregating logs and other traces from different systems as a way to produce a comprehensive and meaningful overview of the interactions between individual users and a university.

There are four other JISC projects which are very relevant to the activity data programme:

The JISC RAPTOR project is investigating ways to explore usage of e-resources. This project is part of the AIM programme.

PIRUS is a project investigating the extension of Counter statistics to cover article level usage of electronic journals.

The Journal Usage Statistics Portal is a project that is developing a usage statistics portal for libraries to manage statistics about electronic journal usage.

The Using OpenURL activity data project will take forward the recommendations of the Shared OpenURL Data Infrastructure Investigation to further explore the value and viability of releasing OpenURL activity data for use by third parties as a means of supporting development of innovative functionality that serves the UK HE community

How does this relate to other programmes?

The primary influence on this programme has been  the JISC Mosaic project. The final report from Mosaic is available from the IE repository.  The Gaining Intelligence event was also a significant influence and that final report is available too.

This programme is closely related to the JISC Business intelligence programme. More detail about this relationship and links to the programme website will be available soon.

We will also seek to explore relationships with relevant work occurring elsewhere such as the Knowledge Exchange Usage Statistics group, the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and the Learning Registry project.

Where can I go for further information?

All projects will have a project blog. Details coming soon.

The synthesis project will provide useful information. Details coming soon.

We will be using the Twitter tag #jiscad for discussions.

JISC infonet have an infokit on Business Intelligence


Start date
1 February 2011
End date
30 September 2011