Jump for jorum

April 29, 2005

Most academics will share their teaching insights and aids if they are credited. Now, Olga Wojtas finds, they can do so via a free online bank of learning objects

The word “jorum” would be ideal for the game show Call My Bluff , the “true” definition being a word of biblical origin that means a collecting or drinking bowl. But the Joint Information Systems Committee hopes that, from this autumn, Jorum will become common currency in universities and colleges across the country.

The new meaning refers to Jisc’s Online Repository for [Learning and Teaching] Materials. However, the collecting and drinking bowl image remains appropriate because Jorum aims to allow further and higher education staff to share teaching and learning resources - from PowerPoint presentations and lecture notes to video clips and interactive Flash animations - free of charge.

Once a college or university has signed deposit and subscription licences, academics can deposit material, and Jorum will acknowledge them as the original author. Academics can also access and download what they want at their desk.

Susan Eales, manager of Jisc’s £6 million Exchange for Learning programme, says Jorum is a “national statement of the importance of sharing”. Few academics are reluctant to share on principle, but most want credit for what they have done. Jorum will name the original author of any learning object, who must be acknowledged and referenced when the material is reused.

But that does not mean the learning object will stay the same. Eales stresses that the teacher, not the teaching aid, remains of prime importance. “The value of the learning material is in the support [it gives]. People will always want to adapt resources and see how they apply to their own students,” she says. “If I take a PowerPoint presentation that someone else has done, I always adapt it in some way to suit my delivery style or particular audience. Teachers always want to tweak it, no matter how good it is.”

But because authors are credited, academics who have found a particular learning object useful will be able to search for other work by that individual or team. Jorum will accept anything that a teacher might use, from Word documents to quizzes, Eales says. “It will not make any pedagogical checks because teachers themselves decide what is useful. No one else can say what is the right kind of material.”

Jorum is supported by the learning technology company Intrallect. Its chief executive, Charles Duncan, a former academic, has coined the word “derpable” to capture all the things Jorum’s resources must be. “D is for ‘discoverable’ - learning objects cannot be reused if they cannot be found,” he says. “E is for ‘editable’, to allow a teacher to adapt it to their own example. R is for ‘repurposable’, to allow a teacher to use it in a different pedagogic approach; and P is for ‘portable’, to be able to move it from one learning environment to another in the knowledge that it will still work.”

A Shakespeare specialist keying in Macbeth might find a transcript of a paper, a video of a performance or an annotated history of the play’s development. The search might also throw up someone who has developed an innovative way of teaching through one of these learning objects, or notes on how someone teaches the play. So Jorum will also include case studies of how learning objects can be used and tutors’ guides.

Eales admits that some staff development, supported by Jisc, will be necessary. But Jisc is constantly simplifying access to Jorum, she says. “It’s a simple interface with a visually appealing screen. We hope people will find it intuitive to use.” Lecturers will be able to search by typing in keywords, but there will also be a browse interface, the online equivalent of wandering past a shelf of books.

To make things easy for academics, Jorum uses the Reload (reusable e-learning object authoring and delivery) system, a Jisc-funded project managed by Bolton Institute. “This is a content packaging tool that allows people to package together things created in different application software,” Eales says. “If you have a graph in Excel, a PowerPoint presentation and a Word document, you can package these three together in a zip file. That can then be played in different virtual learning environments and deposited in Jorum.”

For more information: www.jorum.ac.uk


Where obscure objects reside

All the material in Jorum will be stored and organised thanks to intraLibrary, a system developed by an Edinburgh University spin-off.

Intrallect was founded five years ago by Charles Duncan, Peter Douglas and Martin Morrey of Edinburgh’s meteorology department. It won the £250,000 contract for a national learning object repository through a competitive tender. Duncan, the chief executive, says: “Intrallect is acknowledged as the expert in the field of learning object management systems.”

Intrallect gained initial funding from the pump-priming Edinburgh Technology Fund and West Lothian Ventures. It has been in profit for the past two years. It expects to generate a turnover of £400,000 this year.

Duncan, who describes Jorum as “the British Library of learning objects”, believes that digital repositories will become as common in institutions as virtual learning environments. “In 1997-98, few universities had VLEs, but within a few years almost every university had one or more. Four years from now, it will be rare for a university not to have at least one repository. We see the potential in the UK for repositories over the next few years being at least £15 million.

“One of the areas we are expanding into is better links with library systems. We already have technology that allows library systems to search our system overnight, so that when students go to the library catalogue, they might find books and journals but also learning objects that exist elsewhere in the university.”

Intrallect is now looking overseas. It has had many inquiries and several approaches from customers abroad. “We see Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Spain as the main markets,” Duncan says.

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