Sunday, November 25, 2007

JISC CETIS Conference 2007 - Parallel session: Learning Resources in the Ecology of Repositories

Thoughts and questions

1. This session appealed to me because I think that it is an interesting research concept.

2. As I read "An ecological approach to repository and service interactions. Draft Version 0.9" from the Repositories Research Team ( back in July 2007, I thought that approaching repositories and their wider settings in this way provides us with the potential for prediction. Population ecology confirms this supposition. This possibility was also discussed in the workshop. I also liked the way that ecology seemed to fit with the organic nature of repository development, and the ways in which repositories establish themselves in a wider setting: within institutions; with each other, publisher systems, or teaching and learning arenas. My initial thinking was that ecologies describe entirely natural situations, whereas repositories are situated within managed environments. The report corrected my thinking on this when it referred to managed, as opposed to wild, ecologies (p5). But then again any species that exerts an influence over the things around it could be said to have a role in managing its ecology. As humans we tend to elevate our role in the scheme of things. Are we controlling ecologies or are we fated to fulfill our role to construct and deconstruct our environment.

3. Can the ecology metaphor be used to convey the complex interactions between system and human?

4. Can it be used to describe the interactions and situations that repositories are situated in to a non technical audience?.

5. Do we know what is meant by ecology or do we just think that we do? Many of us remember the typical pictorial representations of ecology that were used in the session and report – cyclical flow of nitrates and water, pond ecology with species that consume, and are consumed. We all recognise animals, trees, rain, and the like. Therefore, as a metaphor ecology works well. But, as you dig a bit deeper you begin to realise that your knowledge of ecology is very superficial, on the surface of the discipline and not that well formed. What are entities, keystone species, environmental factors? How do we map repositories, institutions, people, funding, systems, services, support, etc onto these. Ecologies are complex in terms of the relationships between the entities within them and how they relate to other ecologies. In essence, how much do we have to learn about ecologies before we can understand and explain repositories in this context to others.

6. The images of ecology that we are all familiar follow a hierarchical theme. Successful, but limited in number, carnivore type species at the top, through to the plentiful, but much maligned, lower order species at the bottom. Obviously repositories are just beginning to establish their place in the general scheme of things. During the session we were tasked with a piece of group work where we created an ecology featuring a repository, or repositories. The ecology maps we created did not readily translate the concept of influential entity, but these are evolving ideas. As Morville (2003, p45) states in his book Ambient Findability, “Technology moves fast. Evolution moves slow”. Repositories are setting up in established ecologies, they are finding their niche and balancing their impact on the other entities around them.

7. I for one look forward to reading more about this topic.

Friday, November 23, 2007

JISC CETIS Conference 2007 - Parallel session: Semantic structures for teaching and learning

At the JISC CETIS Conference 2007 I attended the parallel session Semantic structures for teaching and learning. The session prompted me to give some thought to the application of semantic technologies in education.

Referencing tools
One tool that came to mind during the semantic structures workshop was RefGrab-It (there did not seem to be an appropriate time to mention it on the day). For those who have not come across it RefGrab-It is a bookmarklet for Fireworks, IE or Netscape and it does exactly what it says – grabs basic bibliographic information from a web page (download it from: The information captured includes page title, URL, and date accessed. It was developed for use with RefWorks, a web-based bibliography manager. I am not sure exactly how it works but it occurs to me that a tool like RefGrab-It could be much more effective if the data available to it were described more accurately in the first instance, or if gathered all the data needed for citation purposes. The results you get from using it do vary quite considerably. Perhaps the sometimes sketchy data retrieved from some pages could be checked against a richer data source (publisher database for example). This is unlikely to happen without financial exchange. I lie! According to RefWorks, “If an ISBN number, PubMed ID or DOI exist on the web page, RefGrab-It will automatically search various web resources to get supplemental information that may be of interest to you. RefWorks may also locate RSS feeds related to that web page.” However, it still does not provide full reference data for a web page even if that web page is an HTML version of a published paper. For example, author and journal details are not included unless additional information is embedded in the page. So, RefGrab-It is a potentially useful tool that falls somewhat short of expectations, but perhaps only because of the information available to it.

For a look at RefGrab-It and the additional info can capture (DOI, ISBN, RSS) try it on the following blog posting - I have included a couple of screen grabs to illustrate.

Figure 1: RefGrab-It's basic bibliographic data

Figure 2: RefGrab-It's more advanced bibliographic data

Potential benefits to an improved RefGrab-It style tool
If we accept that the majority of learners (undergraduates / masters / PhD students, are researchers, academics, practitioners, etc) are using web searches (Google) to locate information (published papers, conference papers, etc) then being able to grab reference data directly form a web page to export into bibliographic software for later creation of a reference list will reduce the effort in the manual creation of such lists (and improve accuracy?). I guess you could argue that if learners are not using the traditional tools for locating papers and other texts then they are unlikely to be using bibliographic software like RefWorks. However, they can easily copy and paste from RefGrab-It into their own document. For teachers it could be used to illustrate best practice in gathering references: in information literacy training, citation, plagiarism, and so on.

This is probably more of a metadata issue but I suppose my question is can semantic technologies do a better job of getting this type of information from webpages and presenting it to learners?

Mapping tools
In his presentation Using Ontologies in eLearning, Michael Gardner introduced us to AUTODISCOVER. This tool can be used to make, and share, a 3D map of the documents on your computer. It struck me that the visual meta search engine Kartoo ( does a similar job of bringing together your online documents. It also makes links / connections between your works and those of others (via the individuals you collaborate with). It would be interesting to see how AUTODISCOVER might bring computer and online collections of items and people together.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Creative use of digital archives

The Archives Hub ( provides an access point to descriptions of UK university and college archives.

They also run a Digital Artist in Residence scheme. For the month of June their artist is Aileen Collis. She is manipulating digital images and creating digital collages of items from archive collections. Her Collection of the Month images show how archives can be used to inspire new works.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Why Me? Artists Use of Self Image

The Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS) have released details of a new database of artists who use their self image within their work. The database features a list of names and a link to the artists' works. Anne Seagrave has created the database which is available as an Excel spreadsheet or plain text file. Copyright in the database resides with Seagrave but it can be used for research and study purposes.

For more information on the "Why Me? Artists Use of Self Image" project and the resulting database of artists go to:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

DIDET project

The DIDTE project sets out to enhance student learning opportunities by enabling students to participate in engineering design team-based projects with a global aspect to them. To achieve this they developed LauLima, a customised wiki based system which includes a learning environment and digital library. They have a formal repository (digital library) which is a bank of completed projects, and informal wiki pages with images embedded (learning environment).

Students use the informal learning environment in a flexible way to record milestones related to their research, concept development and final design. Communication within the system is complementary to email. Tutors are able to assess student performance, to see if milestones are being reached and to provide feedback.

One of the benefits to the project is that it captures tacit design knowledge as part of the process of sharing through the digital library.

Friday, June 08, 2007

TASI advice paper

TASI have some excellent advice on using images in teaching and research. Their paper 'Roles and Responsibilities for Staff Using Images for Teaching and Research' covers copyright (clearing copyright, third party licences, Creative Commons etc), using images in e-learning, in lectures and in research. There are links to additional help and information.

TASI have a section of their website dedicated to advice on finding and using digital images, see:

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Engineering Subject Centre - teaching award

Applications are being invited for the Engineering Subject Centre Teaching Award 2008. This award is given to an academic who has received positive feedback from students, whose colleague(s) recognise their contribution to enhancing student learning, or whose teaching methodologies serve this purpose.

Further details and an application form are available from the Engineering Subject Centre's website: Applications must be submitted by Friday 22nd June 2007.