Technical and hosting issues

Individual Strand synthesis – Isobel Falconer and Karen Smith


Projects are using a very wide range of standards due to the wide range of materials being released. Enabling repurposing, including metadata management, means availability of software needs to be considered in deciding format, and ensuring accessibility complicates decisions still further.

Decisions may be particularly complex with multimedia and dynamic community sites.

Some individual projects expect to rely on social networking and the user community to keep content and indices up to date – normally on of the stated contributions of established repositories. Existing repositories support release, management, discovery, preservation and access to static OERs. Individual projects went either to public third-party solutions to build more dynamic communities around their OERs, or have used their own servers, inside or outside their institutions, and often powered by WordPress; frequently they have done both. In doing so, some chose to duplicate content, while others linked to or syndicated from a single original resource. Syndication has helped overcome the risk of third party solutions being removed from service, by allowing deposit of a canonical source in an established repository but dissemination through more dynamic platforms. However, issues of liability for ongoing management of community discussions meant that at least one project (Jave Breadboard) would prefer to see a national solution, such as Jorum developing community features.

A barrier to using third party social software solutions is the number of possible solutions to choose from. Projects experimented extensively, tracking usage, using search engine optimisation techniques, and google analytics, to find the most effective solutions for them, with YouTube and Twitter being popular choices in the end.

Deconstruction into component digital assets is felt, by some, to be needed to enable repurposing. While such dis-aggregation was generally considered desirable and to promote re-use, it brings with it a danger of over-fragmentation, with consequent difficulties of discovery by the informal learner. MMTV overcame this problem by creating video sets, BROME by publishing on a subject site where learners could find related materials all in one place.

Detailed questions and evidence

Are there any messages around tools and standards that come from the programme?

Projects are using a very wide range of standards due to the wide range of materials being released Enabling repurposing means availability of software needs to be considered in deciding format. Decisions may be particularly complex with multimedia and dynamic community sites: eg.

Wimba Create was used to create all of our materials but it was acknowledged that some institutions or users may not have this so the team had to develop a guide to re-developing some OERs in to a freely available software package, along with examples of re-use so that no potential target groups are excluded…. Identifying an alternative freely available tool proved difficult as most were too simplistic to use. It was decided to repackage mini-lectures in Microsoft Power Point as although this is not .free it is readily available. Using the audio files from the Adobe Presenter mini-lectures and the Power Point slides repackaged mini-lectures were created and published using Microsoft Power Point publisher. This allows additional audio and/or slides to be added, slides rearranged or deleted, as well as slides to be edited or audio amended. A small sample of packaged OERs were repackaged using the freely available eXe and GLO2 tools. These use existing text from Wimba Create templates and links to online versions of the Mini-lectures.(EVOLUTION final report)


The most important technical concern was how to accommodate the sharing, re-use and re-population to openSpace of OERs. The preference was for an open source solution in the form of an embeddable widget…. An extensive online investigation resulted in our finding Kaltura ( Kaltura’s Open Source Online Video Platform enables institutions to add video and rich-media capabilities to web sites, Learning Management Systems, internal digital repositories, libraries and online social networks quickly and easily. It also simplifies asset management and preservation of digital files. It is also fully-integrated with leading learning platforms and CMSs, including Moodle, Blackboard, Sakai, MindTouch and Drupal…. The second consideration was the collaborative student project area. Our Learning technology team had already begun a relationship with Colaab (, which was determined to be the optimal solution. Entirely browser-based (e.g. no downloading of software required), Colaab offers secure, real time collaboration through a rich, simple user interface that streamlines workflows. With Colaab, students can create, collaborate and discuss a wide range of resources from images and documents, to video and webpage screen grabs. They can interact by annotating, commenting and responding to resources in real time. It is also possible to change the resource’s name, download it, share it, move it or delete it. There are addition benefits such as maintaining important resource information, such as the creator of: a resource, a comment, a comment respondent or the source of an annotation….. Addition technical solutions include: Aviary (free audio editor, image editor & vector graphic editor), Celtx (online collaborative scriptwriting and storyboarding), Open Office and Tokbox (free online video chat and video mail)… Drupal was the ideal choice for our VLE platform. Its technical capabilities provided us with a future-proof solution that enabled the team to meets its aims and objectives. The ease of creating taxonomies, inclusion of meta tags for individual pages as OER resources and the ability to integrate add-on applications and functions created a seamless project structure. It also provide easy access to project workflow, highlighting what had been, by whom and when. Flexible and intuitive use of RSS Feeds provides for flexible exporting of content and update alerts for openSpace users. (openSpace final report)

Standards used by individuals projects include: SCORM (EVOLUTION); RSS (openSpace; ChemistryFM); W3C (openSpace); Accessibility features (openSpace)

What kinds of metadata are essential, what desirable, and what are the issues in creating and managing metadata?

Issues of metadata and its management don’t seem to be prominent among individuals projects. However metadata management is considered when choosing software: eg.

Kaltura also allows for the easy embedding of metadata which exports with the media. This was the final determining factor in selecting Kaltura as an OER distribution solution. (openSpace final report)

How do existing repositories support the release, management, discovery preservation and access to OERs e.g. OpenJorum in the UK, institutional repositories within an institution, web sources globally, etc

One of the stated contributions of existing repositories, keeping content and indices up to date, may be managed differently through social networking and community: eg.

openSpace uses community-building techniques and looks to original contributors, peer reviewers and the user community to keep online catalogues, resources and forums (which replace the suggested wikis) updated. It will also contain links to international OE resources. (openSpace final report)

Existing repositories support release, management, discovery, preservation and access to static OERs. Individual projects, almost uniformly, went to public third-party solutions to build more dynamic communities around their OERs: eg.

A number of repository sites which have included Jorum, an open brOME Moodle site and OpenLearn have also provided a way to produce a distributed model of teaching without the need for a VLE, with students adding links from their own digital world i.e. Face book or MySpace. Alongside the distribution of the material the usefulness of software such as Word press and sites such as wet paint have been useful in the management/dissemination/community aspects of the project. (BROME final report)

From the outset, we identified that openSpace would have traditional OERs (multimedia and document downloads). We also identified that it would have non-traditional OERs such as online collaborative workspaces, assignment forums for peer to peer critiques and feedback, subject support information, etc. The non-traditional items would be challenging to place within Jorum open. The traditional and non-traditional OERs are intrinsically linked and the value of the multimedia OERs would be diminished without the accompanying non-traditional OERs. We’ve proposed feeding these OERs into Jorum Open wither via RSS Feeds or through links from Jorum Open to openSpace. (openSpace final report)

The most successful dissemination has been the embracing of social networks and OER delivered through mobile technologies… The mobile technologies are adored by a large number of students, if you engage them through something that they use every day the material is more likely to be assimilated as part of their learning experience. (BROME final report)

Probably one of [our] most far reaching [conclusions] is to not entirely rely on a VLE, with delivery pushed through a variety of social networks. If a student has already decided to run his or her life using a member of the Facebook/Linkedin family then linking in learning materials and activities to this should be possible if not desirable to facilitate easy and open access. There is a Blackboard Facebook connector but this misses the point slightly as login is still required to access materials. The open nature of the material should allow further dissemination through usage of Digg and Delicious software applications (BROME final report)

RSS syndication is invaluable in linking traditional repositories with web2.0 dissemination:

Finally, our approach to dissemination was one of experimentation with existing university software and freely available web 2.0 services. Having recently established an institutional repository for both research and teaching and learning materials, we wanted to use the repository as the ‘canonical source’ for all OERs. However, once all resources are in the repository with a unique URL for each item, the repository can act as a source for linking to. Furthermore, the repository offers RSS feeds which can be used to syndicate resources to other websites, such as the university blogs where the course website is located (Chemistry FM final report)

However, issues of liability for management of community discussions meant that some projects would prefer to see Jorum develop community features:

It would be interesting if Jorum could support this style of deposit [ie. dynamic] in a more structured way, by for instance creating a discussion forum and collective contribution capability linked to a group of deposits which can expand over time. (Java Breadboard final report)

Some individuals projects duplicated content in established repositories, their own web2.0-based sites, and elsewhere (eg. BROME; MMTV)

Others placed links in Jorum Open to their dynamic resources elsewhere, eg.

All of our OERs and supporting learning material can be accessed from Jorum Open via a link to the openSpace VLE. (openSpace final report)

I know it’s a requirement to use JORUM, too, but at the first Programme Meeting, it became clear that JORUM can be used simply as a directory where we can register URIs of existing OERs, so that’s what I’ll be doing (

What issues arise when using public/third-party hosting solutions?

There is a danger that free, third-party, solutions may disappear from service. The availability and ease of use may lead to their use, but precautions should be taken, as noted by ChemistryFM:

Although [Mindmeister] is a free, third-party service which could quite easily disappear from service, producing the MindMap was fast, low-effort and none of our resources are stored on the service. (Chemistry FM final report)
Chemistry FM mindmap navigation

RSS standards and syndication from a stable, well-managed, repository such as Jorum, may enable OERs to take advantage of the benefits of more dynamic third-party sites without the risk of losing original material: eg.

This proved to us that our EPrints repository could be used as a canonical source for teaching and learning materials disseminated via a WordPress site. There was the additional benefit that WordPress provides a number of useful ways to syndicate content via RSS/Atom and so we were able to create feeds for different categories of resources, one of which was syndicated to iTunes via FeedBurner or to Boxee TV via Vimeo…. The basic position taken for the CETIS event was that repositories offer well managed environments for the deposit and storage of OERs but lack the rich user experience offered by Web 2.0 software, such as blogging software. However, by providing file level URIs and excellent data export functions, EPrints can act as a managed repository for other applications such as WordPress, avoiding the need to replicate ‘social web’ features in the development of repository software. Much of this is achieved through the use of RSS/Atom feeds, which can syndicate OERs from repositories to other, more social, software. In addition, RSS/Atom may not only be seen as a syndication data format, but a content packaging format for both dynamic and static content The CETIS event has been well documented, and experience on this project concurs with the suggestion made at the event that further work might go into the development of an application profile for Atom, similar to SWORD, that satisfies the HE community’s requirements for interoperability between syndicating and harvesting platforms.(Chemistry FM final report)
Chemistry FM blog on repositories and the open web
Chemistry FM presentation on repositories and the open web

Third-party public solutions achieve much greater visibility for the OERs:

Likewise, we have also been using YouTube to host the original student-produced videos since the start of the project.6 Although we have done nothing in the way of publicising the videos on YouTube yet, they have been viewed, on average, over 1280 times so far, with some receiving over 2000 views. Comments by viewers are generally positive and show that the videos are being used by students. Our favourite comments are:
“5 Star, brilliant, 100% original and what a refreshing explanation to the rest of the tedious drivel I have been listening to on_ here about Hess’ Law. Top draw….!”
“This is the only video I have been able to find (on standard deviation) that was specific for measurements in chemistry; most refer to populations and, therefore, seem to exclude even mentioning the utility (or existence) of the ” n-1″ equation._ Thank you very much for your explanation.”
By contrast, the project website has received very few visitors, with just 980 visits in total, 14% referred from YouTube and 33% from Google searches. Around 25% appear to have come from Twitter. (Chemistry FM final report)
Chemistry FM YouTube videos

openSpace’s reach has been increased through the integrated use of Twitter, Delicious, Digg, Facebook and similar sites. (openSpace final report)

There have so far been over 8,300 views of our videos on youTube and we currently have 53 subscribers. If students have a youTube iPhone application then they are able to view our videos from their iPhone. It is therefore adds an additional way of viewing the OER. (MMTV final report)

However, a barrier is the number of social networking sites to choose from:

The social networks seem to have been embraced by the students and the academics who are interested in this area of study. This has made dissemination to those who are interested very easy, however the drawback is that there are a large number of social networks to deal with. (BROME final report)

There is variation in the popularity of public solutions, and experiment may be needed to discover which have the most impact: eg.

YouTube has had a significant impact on numbers and many of the users of click through from youTube to…. Videos were also added to Vimeo as another medium for offering content. It was decided to use Vimeo as originally the player was of a better quality than youTube. This has been a lot less successful than youTube…A Facebook account was set up. A link was created from other social networking sites like Twitter so that feeds automatically came through to Facebook. We currently have 154 friends on this account and numbers are slowly growing. Like Twitter, it has been used as a way of directing users towards the content on and also to other OER resources on the internet. Few users have been proactive on Facebook. They have tended to react to our recommendations, rather than adding their own. It has more or less been used as a second twitter feed. Very few users suggest content via the site. We have NOT been able to develop a sense of community but it has been a useful way of communicating new videos to users and pushing users towards the OER on (MMTV final report)

However, sites such as YouTube are so popular that there is a danger OERs may disappear from view, and sustained effort is needed to maintain visibility: eg.

There is real concern on youTube that your work can be hidden amongst the amazing amount of content already on the site. This is a problem. A policy of being very pro-active, linking to lots of channels within youTube to build up your network, promoting the content outside of youTube has led to considerable success. (MMTV final report)

There may be a tension between OER metadata requirements and functionality of public third-party solutions. In some cases this can be overcome: eg.

The metadata requirements for the programme were also examined in an earlier blog post, which demonstrated how WordPress can enrich OERs with OAI-ORE and Dublin Core metadata. This is not entirely unproblematic, but suggests a way that commonly available web publishing tools, such as WordPress, are adequate for meeting the OER community’s need for specific metadata.(Chemistry FM final report)
Chemistry FM blog on metadata issues

How best to make hybrid, interactive and multi-media resources available for open access.

Deconstruction into component digital assets is felt, by some, to be needed to enable repurposing: eg.

These materials are based within the subject area of law and related dispute resolution fields, these materials are presently delivered using a variety of formats from word documents to materials that are collated within e-learning packages. These packages have been deconstructed into their component parts to enable OER repurposing… aspects of this learning has been pared down to the lowest granularity level e.g. clip art being open and the details of the licence included.(BROME final report)

While dis-aggregation into small units was generally considered desirable and to promote re-use, it brings with it a danger of over-fragmentation, as identified, for example, by MMTV. Their approach aims to overcome this in the case of videos:

There are large amounts of screen casts on the internet but they are normally available as individual videos and it can be very tedious…as you have to search for each video individually… By making sets it allows users to watch a whole series of connected content. This is one of the reasons we believe that… there is still a gap in the market. (MMTV final report)

MMTV home page with video sets

Integration of multimedia resources with web2.0 community building functionality: eg.

Later we also decided to update the player, so that the videos themselves actually played inside a nicely packaged video player with the corporate identity of the University of Westminster. We added buttons on the website that allow students to immediately link through to the various social networking sites. So it is possible to directly link from through to Twitter, youTube, Vimeo, Facebook and to join the newsletter. (MMTV final report)
MMTV homepage showing embedded player
MMTV training video with Westminster branding

Summary of hosting solutions by user and developer

Project Intended users Repurposing/future development by Hosting CMS? User discussion, collaboration and comment enabled by User editing/development enabled by
OpenSpace CPD, lifelong learners, prospective students, HE institutions HE educators; Informal learners New build VLE on Institutional server Drupal OpenSpace VLE Tools available from or in VLE site (eg.Video editing by Kaltura)
Brome Academics in other institutions; students within institution Academics in other institutions; Students within institution Eventually institutional DSpace repository; Development hosted outside the institution Dspace; WordPress; Wetpaint; Moodle
Chemistry FM Public, enrolled students Institutional repository + syndication to university blogs and 3rd party sites (YouTube) Eprints; WordPress ChemistryFM course website
Evolution Enrolled students; teaching staff Teaching staff Subject repository (collaborative with other institutions)
MMTV Prospective students; enrolled students Teaching staff, some from outside institution 3rd party hosting with institutional branding; 3rd party public sites, eg.YouTube, Vimeo 3rd party public sites (YouTube, vimeo, twitter, facebook)
Java Breadboard Educators, enrolled students for self study; independent learners (anywhere) Educators, enrolled students for self study; independent learners (anywhere) CMS on institutional server Plone On Java Breadboard site Source code and documentation on Source-forge