Thursday, 25 October 2012

UCS Learning & Teaching Materials Repository

The latest development sprint from the Elevate Team was to look at OER (Open Educational Resources) Repositories.  A number of other institutions use OER Repositories to store learning & teaching materials, these repositories aim to have a user friendly web interface allowing other users to easily navigate and search for those materials.

Another driver for this development sprint was an encouraging chat with Chris Cobb, a Radiography lecturer within the School of Science, Technology and Health who was looking for somewhere to store his and his colleagues materials.  The Division of Health use Clinical Lecturers from Practice and finding ways for them to access additional materials was also key.

The development sprint took the specifications that were agreed and we set about building a repository.  We decided on using the Joomla content management system (CMS) as the base tool, this CMS allows for really fast agile developments, but also has a number of fantastic features.  On top of Joomla we used the Warp Framework for its tool set and feature rich theme development and the Zoo content application builder.

Using Joomla with the Warp frame work allows for a fully responsive system, meaning that the repository can be viewed on any size screen.  The responsive system will resize the content and move the columns under each others, so all are viewable.  This means that the look and feel of the repository is the same, whatever device you are using, previously you would need a "mobile theme", which potentially would look quite different.

Below are some examples of how the repository looks on different devices.

Screen Shot from a PC

oer screenshot

Screen Shot from a Tablet (landscape)

OER Screen Shot Tablet

Screen Shot from a Smart Phone (Portrait)

As you can see the responsive nature of the repository allows for the look and feel to have a consistency, which in turns allows the usability to stay the same.

We were very keen for the system to be very user friendly, both for the submitting of resources and for the searching and viewing.  We have made a number of routes for finding materials, again all these routes work from any device.  To find materials you can:

  • Browse by Subject

  • Browse by Alpha Index  (will display by Division Title, Subject Title, Material Title)

  • Free Text Search

  • By Highest Ranked Material

  • By Tag Cloud

  • By Comments

We believe this makes the repository very easy to find any available materials.

Below is an image showing the free text search in use on a tablet device.  As you can see the text search starts searching as you type.

Free Text Search - Tablet

Below is a view of the repository on a smart phone, you can see recent comments and the tag cloud, the larger the word in the cloud, the more materials have that keyword associated with it.  So, clicking on "nervous system" would display all materials that have a tag of "nervous system".

Comments and Tags - Smart Phone

As mentioned above we wanted to make adding materials as easy as possible too.  We have added the specification as a templated web form, requiring the user to simply fill in the boxes to submit to the repository.  Again, due to the responsive system, this can be done from any device, even a smart phone.

There are two ways of adding materials, they can either be linked to, if the materials/resource is stored elsewhere, or any files can be added directly to the repository.

Below is the screen showing the start of the submission process:

Screen Shot Adding Materials1

Below is a screen shot showing the second part of the form, this shows at the top of the screen an area for the resource URI to be typed/pasted or even to be embed (Video etc.).  Below that is where a document/resource can be uploaded, a teaser image (file type) can be selected from the next drop down box and any keyword tags can then be added.   A simple submit button allows the user to submit this to the repository.


Screen Shot Adding Materials

An email is then sent to the Elevate Team to notify that the submission has been made, this is then approved and is available in the repository.  It is also possible for user to comment on materials, something we hope will not be abused, also it is possible to rate materials, we will need to see how this progresses and revisit their effectiveness once the repository is being used more.

As a result of the sprint we have a working repository that we are now piloting with the Radiography Team, once we are all happy with the way the system works we will open it up to allow others to use.  All materials are being added using a Creative Commons license it will be interesting to see how other academic staff feel about making materials available via this type of license once we open the system to a wider audience.

We feel this is a very valuable tool and one we hope will grow quickly, the Elevate Team are all for being open and sharing resources, as we hope our academic friends will be.

If you have any questions, please email the Elevate Team (

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