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Creating an Exchange for Learning

Susan Eales, X4L programme manager, JISC and Jay Dempster, ARCHES project manager, University of Warwick


The online environment offers immense possibilities for creating new methods of learning and teaching, but are we really making the most of these possibilities? While there is a wealth of electronic resources already available, are we really exploiting these resources fully for the benefit of teachers and students? Higher and further education offer thousands of programmes of study and need to develop online learning materials in a relatively easy and sustainable way. Teachers often do not use existing e-learning materials in their teaching because the materials can’t be adapted easily to fit the teacher’s own curriculum needs. These materials therefore need to be both popular with teaching staff and students, but also overcome challenges such as copyright, accessibility and usability.

To meet these challenges, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) has funded a series of projects under an “Exchange for Learning” (X4L) programme to a total value of around £4 million over 3 years, from 2002 to 2005. The emphasis is upon making best use of the significant investment that the UK education sector has already made in content development.

Development aims

The 25 projects funded under X4L all have as their starting point the premise that whilst the large and growing range of nationally-provided content is of great use to learning and teaching, teachers nevertheless need guidance in using this content for direct use in teaching, and in adapting (or “repurposing” them) for use in the classroom or online.

The programme will create not only a repository of learning materials which teachers will be able to access and use, but also a range of tools which will demonstrate how this “repurposing” can be done – how, for example, a teacher will be able to break down learning materials into smaller parts and reassemble them into new learning materials - and how content can be shared across departments and institutions. Tools will include case studies, prototype tools and exemplar learning objects each demonstrating the use to which high-quality content can be put. Some projects are exploring the repurposing and sharing of resources across a number of subject areas, whilst other projects are producing learning materials that are very specific to a particular course or even a specific part of a syllabus.

The process of assessment will also be central to the programme. One of the outputs of the programme will therefore be an assessment engine and results database that allows online questions and tests to be created and the results queried, thus putting these materials at the heart of the learning process.

Tools and learning materials

Pedagogical outcomes are at the basis of the X4L programme. The programme will focus on learning activity – what the learner does – and on intended learning outcomes. It will also include an emphasis on working with current and/or intended users of the learning objects, recognising that there are different levels and approaches to using content for learning. We will use the tools and resources that are currently available at the start of the project.

Subject projects
Strand A of the programme comprises 22 projects that are developing learning materials in specific subject areas.  All involve some form of HE/HE partnership.  A number of projects are exploring the repurposing and sharing of resources across a range of courses or subject areas.  Others are producing learning materials that are specific to a particular course or part of a syllabus.

Subject areas for which learning materials are being repurposed include:

English Literature    Physics A Level   ESOL
Engineering   Biology A Level  Key Skills
Art, media & performance  Study skills    Maths
Music & music technology Health & medicine  

Development projects
Strand B of the programme consists of three projects producing generic tools to support re-purposing of content:

The JISC learning materials repository - JORUM (taken from the Latin for a drinking bowl or its contents)

The JORUM has been designed as an advanced tool set, allowing users to locate, preview, access and publish objects. It will also allow for repurposing and sharing content for use in multiple teaching and learning scenarios in a wide variety of educational environments.

Tools for teachers with pedagogic flexibility – RELOAD

RELOAD is an open source content packaging tool that can be used online or offline and will be available on CD-ROM if required.  This tool will allow users to break down learning materials into objects and reassemble them into new learning materials.

Tools for flexible assessment methods – TOIA

The TOIA Project will develop templates and tools for authoring standards-compliant questions and assessments, a web server based assessment delivery system and a results reporting tool.

These tools will become available to the FE and HE community as a whole.

Issues being explored by X4L

Two main issues being explored by the X4L Programme are interoperability and intellectual property rights (IPR). Interoperability and IPR are central to enabling re-purposing of content and the functioning of a national repository.

With regard to interoperability, X4L projects are all piloting the use of the UK LOM Core, developed by the JISC-funded Centre for Education Technology and Interoperability Standards (CETIS) from a sub-set of the IEEE Learning Object Metadata (LOM) specification.  Projects are supported in the use of the UK LOM Core by a full-time adviser based within CETIS. 

All projects are contributing to awareness in the area of IPR.  Support is being provided both by the JISC Legal Adviser and the JISC-funded Legal Information Service (JLIS).  Investigations into licensing procedures are being undertaken as part of the JORUM project in order to make these as robust but as easily understandable as possible for all stakeholders when the repository is launched as a national service.

Supporting studies into other major themes that emerge will be commissioned during the programme lifetime.  These will be made widely available to maximise the learning opportunities arising from project investigations.

Communities of practice

The online environment offers possibilities for the creation of distributed but connected communities who collaborate and share content and good practice to exploit further the benefits of online delivery. The X4L programme promises to bring this vision of communities of practice considerably closer and represents a significant shift as far as the use of online resources is concerned. By exploring the issues underlying the repurposing of high-quality content the key objective is to encourage good practice in the creation and use of online learning materials but also to share this good practice.

Around 120 institutions are involved in X4L, across both FE and HE, representing a considerable pool of expertise. These institutions are cooperating at national and regional levels through the projects, adding to our knowledge about the creation and the repurposing of learning objects.

At institutional level, partnerships and relationships are developing between FE and HE staff, between learning resources managers and teachers and between new and more experienced project managers.  The X4L Programme is providing the opportunity for teachers, learning technologists and library/learning resources staff to work together.  The Programme is also producing materials and tools that will particularly assist library/learning resources staff in their support of students and teachers in the areas of study skills and information literacy. 

At project level, some projects are developing subject communities of practice, for example, in art, media and performance studies, medicine and law. These represent perhaps the most significant contribution of the programme as it seeks to bring about a real change for the benefit of students and staff in our colleges and universities.

Example projects

Warwick’s ARCHES project

The ARCHES project was devised by the School of Theatre Studies and Centre for Academic Practice at Warwick. ARCHES is ‘Antiquity Related Collections Harnessed for Educational Scenarios’. It is a two-year project, which started in January 2003 in collaboration with City College Coventry.

ARCHES aims to support and link institutions, departments, courses and modules as they introduce, evaluation and disseminate exemplary, transformational and innovative pedagogy through re-purposing new and existing collections of digital resources pertaining to ancient Greece and Rome.

Over two years, ARCHES will imaginatively re-purpose an exciting range of materials on ancient Greece and Rome between three educational contexts (FE, HE, and an Independent Online Resource), three subject areas (Theatre Studies, Classics, VR Modelling) and seven modules. Using a variety of delivery modes in modules over a range of learning levels in FE and HE and beyond, creative use of these resources will transform aspects of traditional pedagogy and introduce innovative pedagogical practices.

The partners will also increase the range and number of accessible online resources by contributing a substantial new collection of Virtual Reality objects relating to Greece and Rome prepared by the University of Warwick in the course of five years of publicly funded work. These objects will be of immense value to disciplines such as Classics, the Performing Arts, Art History, Architecture, IT Modelling, and others. No other VR objects of such quality or pedagogical value currently freely exist in the public domain. Moreover, enabled by a number of recent grants from the University of Warwick, project members in Classics and Theatre Studies have created a collection of 1,500 original digital images of Roman artefacts. Through this project, these two collections will become freely available to FE, HE and international educational sectors for the first time.

The project is structured in the following way – see Figure 1. At the assets level, electronic resources have been collated and catalogued within an appropriate metadata scheme (compatible with UKLOM/VRA data standards). The content level functionality developed for ARCHES is based around an online database that enables both tutors and students to search and browse the resources, and which will seamlessly deliver resources to technically- and educationally-diverse environments. At the Learning level, the project will explore ways in which the resources can be re-purposed for a variety of contexts and modes of delivery (the 5 “arches”) by integrated in exemplary fashion into actual teaching practice and evaluating the effectiveness of the pedagogical and technological approaches. Outcomes will be extracted that have value for and impact on HE and FE sectors as a whole and can be incorporated within the collection descriptions of effective learning interactions and user experiences.

Figure 1

The Asset Level consists of the databases, data and metadata from the Arches, Perseus and Skenotheke projects. The Asset level feeds into the the Content Level
Content Level, a searchable database of dynamic links to all Arches asets and metadata plus selected records from Persues and Skenotheke databases. This feeds into the Learning Level
The Learning Level takes output from the Content level and puts it into learning materials such as web course pages and VLE's

Further information on development approaches and progress can be found on the ARCHES website.

Other examples of X4L projects

This project aims to explore how JISC funded content may be used within Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) to enhance the learning resources and research base for generic Art and Design curriculum delivery. 

This project will develop and evaluate processes to achieve sustainable use of existing digital resources by practitioners across medicine and health science communities in the HE and FE sectors.

This project is creating study skills and information skills materials to support Law Librarians for inclusion in the Social Sciences Information Gateway (SOSIG).  Sarah Carter, Law Librarian, Templeman Library, University of Kent, Canterbury is the Project Manager of Lawpaths.

This project has repurposed 5 of the HE Virtual Training Suite tutorials for FE, and has tested the tutorials for use in VLEs.  Case studies in the use of the VTS tutorials in learning & teaching in different subject areas, written by librarians and teachers, have also been made available as part of this project.

This project is repurposing learning materials for use by teachers in the four areas of cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and mental illness.  The project has undertaken a comprehensive resource discovery phase carried out as a collaboration between librarians and subject specialists.

This project is repurposing content made available in many locally-held collections, for art, media, performance and construction courses.  The librarian at the lead college is providing staff development in identifying content, and public libraries are involved in providing local collections digitised under the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) Programme.

The project concentrates firmly on the repurposing of content for use within MLEs/VLEs and focuses on the various phases needed to enable this to take place effectively.  

Outputs, experiences and services

Early outputs of some of the projects have been launched through the X4L One Year On website and CD-ROM. Other outputs will be added in time with a further launch in 2004. The learning materials repository that will host the exemplars and case studies is intended to become a national service that anyone in FE and HE will also be able to be accessed from summer 2004.  Some institutions that run PGCE or Cert. Ed. courses intend to incorporate the new skills learned into training programmes for new teachers, while new skills will be shared amongst colleagues in institutions and in some cases, business plans will be developed to acquire funding from the institution to allow the continuation of the activity and its embedding in the institution.

To follow the progress of the programme, projects in your region or projects in your subject area/area of interest, please visit the X4L programme website regularly.

For further information contact Susan Eales, Programme Manager,

About the JISC

The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) is a strategic advisory body that provides the infrastructure for learning, teaching and research, offers support and guidance in the use of ICT, and acts as a national and international leadership body for collaboration across education and research.

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