Category Archives: learning resources

The Intelligent Library #CILIPConf17

So what is the intelligent library? What is the future of the library?

library

At the CILIP Conference in Manchester this year, on Thursday 6th July, I am delivering a high level briefing session on technology, specifically looking at the library within the intelligent campus space. The session will explore the potential technologies and the possibilities that can arise from the developments in artificial intelligence and the internet of things.

There has been plenty of hype over artificial intelligence and the internet of things. Is it time to put aside the cynicism that this kind of hype generates and look seriously at how we can take advantage of these emerging technologies to improve the student experience and build an intelligent library?

library

The internet of things makes it possible for us to gather real-time data about the environment and usage of our library spaces. It is easy to imagine using this data to ensure the library is managed effectively, but could we go further and monitor environmental conditions in the library, or even, using facial recognition software, student reactions as they use the library so that we can continually refine the learning experience?

Most smartphones now make use of artificial intelligence to make contextual recommendations based on an individual’s location and interests. Could libraries take advantage of this technology to push information and learning resources to students? If we could, it offers some interesting possibilities. On-campus notifications could nudge students to make best use of the available services such as the library. Off-campus notifications could encourage them to take advantage of the learning opportunities all around them. Could we use approaches like this to turn student’s smartphones into educational coaches, nudging students towards the choices that lead to higher grades and prompting them to expand their learning horizons.

As we start to use a range of tracking technologies, smart cards, beacons, sensors we are facing a deluge of data in the use of buildings, spaces and equipment across a college or university campus. We are faced with a breadth and depth of data which can be challenging to use effectively and have greatest impact. These tracking technologies are already widespread in environments such as airports and retail. Often using wifi tracking to track users via their wifi enabled devices and smartphones. In addition sensors are used to track space utilisation and occupancy. Interpreting the data is fraught with challenges and difficulties, as well as potential ethical and legal issues. However this wealth of data does offer the potential to deliver more satisfying experiences for students and staff as well as ensuring the library is used as effectively as possible.

books

Looking in more detail we can outline some potential use cases for the intelligent library, and we may want to think which of these are desirable, but also which are possible with the current state of technology.

We can imagine an intelligent library which not only knows what seats and PCs are free, but can learn from history and predict when the library will be busy and when it will be emptier. The library then provides this information to students via an app, pushing the library when there is more availability of places and computers.

Having a deeper understanding of the utilisation of the library, will allow for more effective and efficient use of space. Could this also mean we have a flexible library that expands and contracts as demand for space in the library changes over the day or over the year?

Could we use wireless technologies, such as RFID, not just for issue and return, but also track those resources as they are used within the library itself? Could we also use the same technologies to track resources across campus to identify areas where they are being used or stored (or even lost)? Could we then enhance those spaces to improve learning?

Could we use facial recognition to monitor regular users of the library and provide insight and data into learning analytics? Could we go one step further and use facial recognition technology to discover when students are “troubled” or “in need of help” and then make appropriate interventions to support them in their studies?

books

If the library is getting full, could we identify those students who have been in there a long time, and push a notification, incentivising them to take a break with a free coffee from the library coffee shop? Could we go one step further, and promote wellbeing, by doing the same, but with a free coffee on the other side of campus, so they have to go outside and get some air and exercise?

using a mobile phone and a laptop

Is there any benefit in providing a platform to help gather this data from a range of systems in a standard format that makes it easier to analyse and act upon? Would it be useful to have a national view over this data? Would that enable us to find new patterns that could help us discover the story behind the data, to make appropriate interventions and improve the use of our libraries? Could we build the tools and practices an institution would need to use to gather, organise and push this data to student’s smartphones as well as exploring novel user interfaces such as chatbots?

Of course all this tracking and data collection has huge implications from an ethical perspective. We already gather large amounts of data in the library, sometimes this is anonymised, but sometimes it relates to individuals. At a basic level, we have seen physical counters to determine the number of users in the library, as well as using library management systems to gather data about the usage of resources and the borrowing behaviour of library users. The intelligent library as outlined above takes all this initial tracking of users one step further.

library

As the technology in the intelligent library space grows, we need to consider various questions on why we want to use these technologies, how we use them and if we should. We already use a range of systems to collect data, do we want to put in new systems to gather even more data? Some data we need to collect regardless of our concerns, a library management system by definition will collect and store huge amounts of data about resources and users. What happens less often now, but may increase in the future is the processing of that data. This is the analysis of that data and displaying that data in a way that shows a picture. The next step is taking action about what that data shows. It could be an organisational action, but could equally be action related to an individual user. How do we ensure that we have consent to collect data (sometimes this is implicit by using the library), how do we ensure we have consent for us to process that data and finally do we have constant to take action on that data?

What is the future of the library? This session at the CILIP Conference will explore the potential technologies and the possibilities that can arise from the developments in artificial intelligence and the internet of things. Can we build an intelligent library? Do we want to?

Visual Clutter

So why do we feel the need to fill the space with signs and notices.

At my local library/community space, I noticed how cluttered the new café area was with notices and signs. The end result was not clarity, but a visual cluttered mess.

The Campus Cafe

The nice and probably somewhat pricey wooden café sign is now covered with notices and menus. There are lots of notices and signs on the noticeboard behind the counter too.

Now I am sure whoever designed the new space probably didn’t think it would end up as cluttered as it has been. Likewise I am sure that the people who put up the notices didn’t start putting up notices and signs in order to clutter the visual environment. They probably had very good reasons, such as wanting to change behaviour, following a complaint that there wasn’t a sign, or there is an event they need to publicise.

The problem with visual clutter is that too many notices and signs usually has the end result that none of the signs work any more. We don’t see the signs and notices because there are too many.

Most new spaces start off as a blank canvas and then because of various issues, behavioural ones usually, signs are put up. Notices are also added to inform and advertise.

In order to maximise impact you can put up a large temporary sign or notice for a short amount of time. They key is to make it large, bright and visible. The other thing to note is to remove it, but don’t immediately replace it. The impact will be more noticeable and it might have the effect you are looking for.

I have often seen similar things in libraries, you have a nice clean visual environment, and then before you know it, the place is full of signs and notices. Signs telling you to work quietly, not to eat or drink, not to use the PCs for Facebook.

In terms of signs about behaviour, just because there isn’t a sign doesn’t mean that the behaviour is acceptable and just because their isn’t a sign doesn’t mean that you can do what you like. When I ran libraries we didn’t have a single sign saying no cycling, but that didn’t mean we would condone cycling in the library, and if there was a cyclist in the library, I doubt a no cycling sign would make any difference. Just because there wasn’t a sign, that didn’t mean that entitled someone to cycle in the library, as there wasn’t a sign.

So next time you are about to put up a notice or a sign, ask yourself is this the best way to achieve what I want to achieve?

The impact of the fickle nature of the web

Broken Web

Over on my tech blog I have been writing about the fickle nature of the web, it is one of those things that I find annoying. You post a link, embed a video and then a bit later you find that it has gone! This was very apparent today with the news that the BBC are, in order to save money, will close down their recipe website. For me this is a mistake, however I also understand how this can happen, not just with textual content, but also media too.

Now as I write this blog post, it would appear that the BBC have climbed down somewhat and the recipes will be moving over to the commercial BBC Good Food website.

Screengrab from BBC Food website - Eton Mess

The impact of archived, expired and missing content may be annoying for me, but it is probably more annoying and frustrating for teachers who have created or curated content using third party links and embedded media and find that the learners are unable to access the third party content. These links need to be fixed or replaced, embedded media needs to be found again, or an alternative discovered. I know when I was working with staff, this was an issue they found very frustrating when creating courses and content for the VLE.

Personally I when writing content for my blog, I try not to use third party sites (in case they disappear) and try not to embed content if I can help it. There are times though when people have removed a video years later and looking through an old blog post you find the embedded video has disappeared as the obscure service you used has shut down, or was taken over.

As I said over on the tech blog, sometimes I think, why do people and organisations like the BBC do this? Then I remember I have done this myself and sometimes you have little choice.

WCC Logo

Back in 2001 I was appointed Director of the Western Colleges Consortium and we had a nice little website and the domain of westerncc.ac.uk and the consortium was wound up in 2006. As a result the website was shut down and the domain lost.

Back in 1998 when I created my first web site, using Hot Metal Pro I used the free hosting that came with my ISP account. A few years later I moved hosting providers (as I was using too much bandwidth) and had a domain of my own. I did leave the old site up, but due to bandwidth usage it was eventually shut down!

I remember creating a course site for my learners using one of those services where you got a free domain name and free hosting, should I have been surprised when they shut down and asked for large fees for transferring the site and the domain. It was often easier to create a new domain and get new hosting. The original site was lost in the midst of time.

We have seen services such as Ning, which were free and well used, but once the money ran out and they started charging, lots of useful sites shut themselves down. People then moved to different services.

For these small sites, it probably is less of an issue, annoying, slightly frustrating, but you can live with it, it’s part of what the web is about. However with big sites, like BBC Food, then it becomes more than annoying, especially if you have a reliance on that content for your course or your teaching.

Since I wrote my blog post yesterday , the reaction on the web has intensified (and it looks like has had an impact). One blog post from Lloyd Shepherd, one of the original team who worked on the archive makes for interesting reading.

It was my team that ran product management and editorial on the new Food site, and the site that exists today is largely the site we conceptualised and built at that time.

He explains the basis behind the site

The idea was very simple: take the recipes from BBC programmes, repurpose them into a database, and then make that database run a website, a mobile site, and who-knows-what-else. Create relationships between recipes based on ingredients, shows, cuisines, and who-knows-what-else. And then run it with as small an editorial team as possible whose job was simply to turn telly recipes into database recipes.

He continues to point out that as far as the remit of the BBC as a public service broadcaster, the food archive hit two key points.

Did we discuss ‘public service remit’? You bet we did. Every day. And it really came down to two things:

These recipes have already been paid for by the BBC licence fee payer, and they’re being under-utilised. A new service can be developed out of them for very little up-front cost.

Nutrition is now a public health issue. Obesity is draining NHS coffers, government guidelines are badly understood and terribly publicised. There is a role for the BBC to play in this, and this is the way to do it.

Though at this time we don’t know for sure where the content will be archived, rumour has it, it will be archived on the Commercial BBC Good Food site, one impact which I know it will have will be on catering courses that use the BBC content to support the learning of the students. A lot of the recipes are from professional chefs and provide guidance and inspiration to learners who are starting out on their careers. Additionally the way in which the archive works, they can find ideas and recipes for different ingredients. Even if the archive is moved, one aspect of the BBC Food site that will be missed, is the lack of distracting advertising.

It would appear that the BBC are moving away from an archive to library of content, which can be “borrowed” for 30 days before it expires. That got me thinking…

In the olden days when I was running libraries, we use to “weed” the collection of book stock which needed replacing, was out of date or no longer been used. We would buy new content to either replace or update existing books, or buy books that were completely new. One thing we were clear about was that we were not an archive, old stock was to be removed and got rid of, usually recycled or sold. The copy of the Haynes manual for the Hillman Imp from 1972 was interesting in its own right, but from a teaching and learning perspective wasn’t actually of any use any more.

Haynes Hillman Imp manual

We didn’t have the space to store and keep books and journals just for the sake of keeping books and journals. Of course with online materials that space argument becomes less critical, but there is still the resources required to manage curate large quantities of digital content to ensure that the content is accessible, searchable and relevant.

I personally don’t think the BBC Food archive is a library that needs to be reduced, refreshed and restricted, I think it is a great archive that should be kept. For me there are two services here, one is the archive and the other is a service delivering current and new content. It’s a pity that the requirement of cost savings means one was planned to go. Hopefully the recipes will be saved and restored when they move over to the new site.

In my post on Ning starting to charge  back in 2010 I mentioned above,  I did say one of the issues with using any free Web 2.0 service is that they may not be here forever.

Gabcast is no longer free, but Audioboo is. Jaiku is pretty much dead, but Twitter is alive and well. Etherpad has gone, but iEtherpad is up and running.

I still think what I said in 2010 is still relevant today when talking about services and web tools.

At the end of the day this is not about a service disappearing or now charging, it’s much more about how when using these services you don’t think about long term, but have the capability and the technical knowledge to move between different services as and when they become available.

Use what is now and in the future use what is then.

Though that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t complain and moan when something like the BBC Food “closure” happens, as sometimes there aren’t real alternatives, especially when it comes to content rather than a service.

What this whole story tells us is that the web can be fickle and relying on the stickiness and permanence of web content can be a challenge for teachers and lecturers. How do you cope with the transient nature of web content?

Image Credit: Broken by David Bakker CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Can I book a PC please?

old books

When I managed libraries in FE you often had to field calls from suppliers of PC booking systems. They were always surprised, when I not only said we weren’t interested in their product, but I didn’t see the point and how they improved teaching, learning and assessment.

I know for many libraries I realise that a booking system for the PCs is seen as a vital piece of software, alongside the Library Management System.

However have you ever asked yourself why you have one, and what would happen if you turned it off?

iMacs in the library

We removed the PC booking systems, as no one could come up with a good business case for them.

Reasons given included to restrict the amount of time a student could use a PC for… never quite understood that one. Yes students should take breaks when using a PC, but is this down to software or better done through education and understanding?

Another issue with time restraints, is that it implies, if you have a one hour limit, that learning takes place in one hour chunks and only one hour chunks! That doesn’t happen!

Other reasons, is that there isn’t enough PCs in the library to meet the demand, so yes a booking system will help constrain demand, but isn’t the issue then to get more PCs, rather than a PC booking system?

PC utilisation data across the whole college, will probably show that there are unused PCs in classrooms, one question to ask is how can they be used more effectively?

I do understand, coming from an economics background that with limited resources and unlimited wants, you can have shortages. The question is do you go down the planned economy route or go for a more laissez faire approach.

The planned approach does cost money in terms of software, hardware, support as well as operational staffing costs. The laissez faire approach means allowing the learners to make decisions about when and how they use the PCs.

One feature of one of these systems said

Whether you use predefined or open text messages, there is no need to physically approach users.

…and this is a good idea, because you wouldn’t want to talk to the learners would you, enabling you to build a working relationship with them, so that they know who is who and whom to go to when needing help.

The sales pitch goes onto say…

“Possible confrontations are avoided, cultivating a more studious environment.

Well we wouldn’t want staff to talk to the learners would we, why would we want that?

From my experience, the opposite is what happens. The staff become more distant from the learners, the library staff see their role is about managing resources and not about supporting learners… resulting a more confrontational environment when it comes to anti-social behaviour, as the learners don’t have a working relationship with the staff and don’t respect the staff or the environment.

We need staff to talk to the learners, we need to build relationships through effective communication, it enables learners to understand that the library staff are a key part of the library and can be a wealth of guidance, knowledge and information that will support the learners in their learning and supporting them in their assessments

We had one complaint from a student who liked to book a PC, so it was booked and reserved, so they could then go and have breakfast… leaving the PC booked, but not being used.

Usage patterns after removing the booking system, demonstrated increased use and higher utilisation.

What we also found with booking systems was that students would book a PC at say 10am. The previous booking would leave at say 9:50am, another learner would find the PC, but knowing it would only be available for 10 minutes doesn’t use it, the learner who booked the PC, then fails to turn up at 10am, we wait 10 minutes before freeing up the PC. This means PCs were “unavailable” as they had been booked, but weren’t been used.

We also found that learners wanted to book PCs so they could sit with their friends and be social, not having a booking system did mean that they could all use a PC, but not necessarily together. This resulted in less behavioural issues in the library.

If someone was desperate and wanted to book a PC for a specific time, then no problem, we did this manually. In other words booking was the exception rather than the rule. The learners could even manage such a system themselves.

As Ofsted noted when they inspected the college:

Outside lessons, many learners make constructive use of the college’s libraries and resources.

No mention of booking systems, or issues with PC access. I should also note that at least one of the inspectors sat in the library alongside learners when working rather than sit in the base room we had provided.

So here’s an idea, why not turn off your booking system for a week, just as a trial and see what happens. Confusion, possibly, chaos, probably not. Another option is, if that idea is too radical, why not have some bookable PCs, but allow others to be fully open access and record utilisation patterns.

I understand that for some library staff they see the PC booking system as a critical component of how they manage resources, from my experience, and especially in times of reduced funding, they are probably one thing that can be removed and the funding used for staff or learning resources, with minimal negative impact and potentially a more positive environment in the library itself.

The Journey to Information

Road to nowhere...

One of the benefits of the internet revolution is that is has widened access to information and knowledge, whilst at the same time reduced the time it takes, the journey to get that information.

Illustrated London News

The newspaper pictured above is available to any learner (or member of staff) across Activate Learning anytime, and anywhere they have an internet connection.

Forty years ago, if you wanted to access a newspaper archive you would probably needed to have been a PhD student or more likely an academic, as the only place you could go was to the newspaper offices and access their archives.

Twenty years ago, newspaper archives were available on microfilm, I remember when I was at university ploughing through the microfilm archives trying to find a series of articles. There was no integrated search with microfilm.

Ten years ago we were all accessing newspaper archives on CD-ROMs. These opened up access to the said archives to schools and colleges. They were searchable by keyword, but could only be accessed inside the institution. It was also restricted, as we only had one CD-ROM to one person at a time. Not all newspapers were on CD-ROM and generally the collections only went back a few years.

Today we have newspapers, digitised, searchable and accessible from any device with an internet connection. We have archives that go back hundreds of years or as recent as yesterday.

This has made it much easier to access newspaper archives, but brings with it the challenge of managing information overload. Learners need different skills to manage the amount and ease by which information can be accessed. The information skills needed today are very different to those of a few years ago.

It also means that we need to rethink assessment, ensuring that it is doing what we need it to do. In many ways the journey to information was in the past a way of assessing learning. However now that the journey is so much shorter, we need to ensure that assessment is based on understanding and not just discovery of information. Using something like Bloom’s Taxonomy ensures that when designing assessment it is more than just discovering knowledge.

The internet and web have ensured that the journey to information and knowledge has got shorter and shorter over time, this is a real opportunity to add depth and breadth to learning.

Open Yale Courses

Yale University (in the US) are going to allow anyone in the world to access their most popular undergraduate courses for free.

Yale University is making some of its most popular undergraduate courses freely available to anyone in the world with access to the Internet.

The project, called “Open Yale Courses,” presents unique access to the full content of a selection of college-level courses and makes them available in various formats, including downloadable and streaming video, audio only and searchable transcripts of each lecture. Syllabi, reading assignments, problem sets and other materials accompany the courses.

The production of the courses for the Internet was made possible by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The seven courses in the sciences, arts and humanities—which were recorded live as they were presented in the classroom to Yale students—will be augmented with approximately 30 additional Yale courses over the next several years.

This means that institutions across the world will be able to see and view how Yale deliver their undergraduate programme, and unlike much of the others who have been doing this already, they are using a lot more video and audio content.

Obviously you need to attend Yale to get accreditation, but this kind of move from someone like Yale demonstrates again the importance of the institution and the teacher over the content in education.

Some lecturers are very protective about the content they use in their teaching and are unwilling to share, this kind of programme that Yale are undertaking, shows once more that it is the teaching and the support an institution provides is so much more important than the content.

And the more we share content, the more we can save time and ensure that our students (online or offline) achieve on their courses.

So here in the UK we have the Open University sharing some of their content, I wonder when we will see more Universities and more FE Colleges sharing their content? It’s not as though we don’t have a way of doing this, we do have JORUM.

Old Book

So here’s hoping Yale and others will continue to release more content for learning and e-learning online.

Photo source.

Sharing

On a mailing list I frequent, the question was asked what was hindering or helping the sharing of digital learning resources. 

IPR issues aside…

One issue that I wonder about, is are practitioners (and/or colleges) actually creating a wealth of digital learning resources, or are they generally repurposing (third party) resources which exist already.

Second issue, sharing learning resources is only part of the story, the context in which those resources are used and how they are used is equally if not more important and certainly then makes the resources (or even just the ideas) much more transferable, not just between colleges but also internally between courses.

Third issue, storing and finding resources. A folder or hierarchal structure makes filing simpler, but searching more complex.

Fourth issue, compatibility. Here we could be talking about Office 2007 or 2003, Publisher on a Mac, or other resources which require specific software.

Fifth issue, branding, not just from a college perspective but also from a qualificational perspective. One of the things I didn’t like about the NLN materials, was they were branded by subject and level. But as anyone who teaches the subject knows, Level 2 Business materials can be used with Level 3 Tourism students, but sometimes the branding, or qualificational specific nature of materials can put off or confuse learners.

Sharing is good, it saves time, enables practitioners (and learners) to access a wider range of resources.

Despite the issues, these are not reasons to not share, more issues to be aware of.

Free past papers now available online

Not only can you download the OCR past papers, you can also now upload them to your institutional intranet or VLE.

OCR has begun the first stage of a planned release of free past papers onto the website.

In response to your feedback, we have published 1,000 free-to-download 2006 past papers, mark schemes and examiner reports. There are a few exceptions where we cannot secure copyright, but the majority of qualifications are now covered.

We have also published more than 100 of our papers from 2007, with more due online soon.

OCR’s revised policy means that, in future, many more question papers will be published on the website after each exam series.

Once published online, the papers will remain available for at least two years. Again, you can download all these papers free of charge.

Please view the past papers page for details of the documents available to download.