Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The JISC Annual Conference 2007

Philip Pothen and colleagues provide an overview of the proceedings of this Spring's JISC Annual Conference.

Opening Keynote Address

The 2007 JISC conference began with a welcome from JISC Executive Secretary Dr Malcolm Read who thanked the more than 600 delegates for attending the conference, held for the fifth year running at the ICC in Birmingham.

JISC Chairman Professor Sir Ron Cooke outlined JISC’s achievements over the last year, including the launch of the UK Access Management Federation [1], the launch of JISC Collections [2] as a mutual trading company and the launch of SuperJANET5 [3], the upgrade to the JANET network which quadruples its capacity.

Sir Ron talked of the JISC Value for Money report [4], published recently, which showed, for example, that for every £1 JISC spent on services, the community received £9 of demonstrable value. Comparisons with commercial equivalents for JISC’s services showed that JISC and its services brought significant economies of scale. Introducing the new JISC strategy [5], Sir Ron said that it included a new strand, that of business and community engagement, an area which is becoming more and more important to the HE sector. Open access and interoperability were principles which also pervaded the newly updated strategy.

Sir Ron Cooke welcomed keynote speaker Professor David Eastwood, CEO of HEFCE, who began by saying that ‘we are in an era of mass higher education.’ Expansion of the sector had, he said, transformed the sector, and JISC had been important to that expansion. He echoed Sir Ron Cooke in emphasising the importance of business and community engagement to make the most of the knowledge and intellectual property that is generated by the HE sector. IP transfer is the key, rather than exploitation, he suggested. Drivers for change include an increasingly diverse student body, a more demanding student body, new research approaches, the Internet and the growth of IT-enabled tools as well as cost and funding pressures.

Professor Eastwood talked of new student approaches to learning which had changed ways of accessing and using information. Previously universities had established a degree of order to information and knowledge, but there are question marks against such structures with seemingly universal access to information through ICT and the Internet. Calling for a ‘partnership between teaching staff and information professionals’, Professor Eastwood suggested that such a partnership could help meet this challenge and maximise the investment being made in ICT.

A new metric-based framework for the Research Assessment Exercise was now in place beyond 2008 and plans for the 2008 exercise were in place. Professor Eastwood said he was ‘confident’ the system would work without difficulties. Beyond 2008 there would be a major emphasis on the quality of information. This meant a commitment to robust and transparent systems. One of the key challenges will therefore be ‘the data challenge’, he said.

Reaffirming HEFCE’s commitment to JISC, he said that it provided an excellent model for delivering economies of scale to the sector. Are there other such services that could be delivered on ‘a JISC-type model’? he asked.

Professor Eastwood ended by saying that the HE sector faced a series of profound challenges, but that such challenges presented a series of questions about the nature of higher education which will shape the university and indeed the nature of learning in the twenty-first century.

EThOS, the New e-Theses Service for the UK

Neil Jacobs (JISC programme manager) introduced the session by saying that the importance of intellectual property transfer could be strongly supported by work in the area of e-theses and through the work of repositories in general.

R John Robertson, repositories research officer at JISC-CETIS [6], said that an ecology is a complex system, with elements interacting and depending on each other. It provides a useful metaphor for the work of repositories, he said, and represents a way of thinking about information systems and the relationships between systems and services. Key features of an information ecology include diversity, evolution and a sense of locality. Infrastructure and people were ‘keynote species’, he claimed, in the development of a repository ecology. If a repository wanted to articulate whom it is useful for, such an approach provided a means of specifying specific benefits, such as the possibility of richer multifaceted and personalised approaches for end users and for more specific views, such as those of researchers, for example.

Susan Copeland, senior information adviser at Robert Gordon University, spoke about the CURL- and JISC-funded EThOS project [7] which began in 2005 over a period of 18 months to establish a test-bed for a national e-theses service. Building on earlier projects which had explored the possibility of a central hub providing access to e-theses, EThOS identified various relationships which would have to be taken into account in the creation of a ‘live’ service, such as those with institutional repositories, the role of national libraries and the international Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NTLTD).

Critical success factors included cultural and administrative issues, such as advocacy and changes to institutional policy; legal issues, including copyright and plagiarism concerns; technical issues, and financial issues, including set-up and running costs.

e-Framework, SOA and EA

JISC’s Director of Systems Technology and Infrastructure, Bill Olivier began the session by introducing the service-oriented approach (soa) animation [8]; making sense of the e-Framework. Currently the most popular download on the JISC Web site. This session introduced the e-Framework initiative, the service-oriented approach (soa) to ICT provision and the development of Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) within institutions.

The e-Framework is three things:

  1. A major JISC research and development programme
  2. An International initiative seeking to share the workload and expertise involved in supporting service oriented approaches for education and research
  3. A Web site supporting a knowledge base, on service-oriented approaches

Chris Greenslade of the Open Group explained the Group is a not-for-profit consortium, committed to making technical standards work, in support of integrated information. As a consortium, The Open Group has a mixed membership; corporate members, suppliers, developers and users, with some 6000 active individual participants, in 19 countries. The Open Group has been working for some years, in the development of standards and service-oriented architecture approaches.

The Learner’s Experience of e-Learning

This session was chaired by Paul Bailey, e-Learning Programme Manager, JISC, and the presenters were Dr. Rhona Sharpe, Learner Experience Synthesis Team, Oxford Brookes University, Ellen Lessner, Learner Experience Synthesis Team, Abingdon and Witney College and Emma Purnell, student, University of Wolverhampton.

This is the context of the learner experience today: WAP-enabled mobile phones are the second most popular digital device in the UK (the 1st is the personal computer); 90% of 12-year olds own a mobile phone; and most of the action during the 2006 National Union of Students election took place on Myspace. Projects that have worked in this area expected students to be talking about institutional VLE’s; instead they are concentrating on social software and personal communications, and taking control of technology, sometimes without the sanction of the University and often without staff being aware of this ‘underworld’ of communication amongst their learners. Students need support with how to select and find the trusted information on the Internet, their primary source of information for study and personal needs.

One technology increasingly employed by learners is the e-Portfolio. Not just a binder of information, it has become an all-singing all-dancing portfolio, with video, audio, music. Described as an addictive technology, used even after their PGCE course has finished, qualified students often open it up for students going through what they were a year ago.

Some of the recommendations and likely progressions from this work include focusing on social networking, having a community to learn with and keeping in touch. Personalisation and customisation are also significant. There needs to be consistency of course materials and environments. Search, retrieval and access will become increasingly important. Yet face-to-face contact will remain of value in a blended learning approach.

Why Have a JANET Connection?

Tim Marshall, CEO of UKERNA, delivered an interesting presentation emphasising the benefits of a JANET connection. Many of the JANET services are delivered under a JISC Service Level Agreement (SLA) but for the future JANET hopes to offer non-SLA services such as SMS alongside these. Tim stressed that JANET was a private network and the acceptable usage policy is often incorrectly cited by institutions as a reason not to use JANET for certain inter-institutional connections (halls of residence for example). Tim offered personal support in answering any questions about this policy.

The directors of JISC’s two national data centres Peter Burnhill, Edina and Julia Chruszcz, MIMAS, delivered a joint presentation explaining the range of services and resources that are available through a JANET connection, “Taking it to the network”. Both data centres deliver a diverse range of complementary services and resources. “Taking it to the network” means adapting to the changing practices of a new generation of learners and teachers and evolving pedagogies.

Virtual Research Environments in a Real Research World

David de Roure, University of Southampton, explained that e-Science was already strong but tech-centric rather than user-centric. The VRE challenge was to ‘create an infrastructure routinely useable by researchers’; VRE1 was therefore experimental, working on a range of projects. Into VRE2, the focus shifted to engaging communities and raising awareness; a research practice focus rather than developmental. Characteristics of a VRE, among others, are that it should be a distributed tool, based on Open Source, and customisable. Just some of the issues include desktop integration, social space, and open or protected content.

Roger Slack, University of Wales, continued with a round-up of some of the issues raised by the Memetic VRE1 project. A consortium-based project, it was very much focused on user engagement, and ‘Securing commitment, supporting work and ensuring futures’. Development was based on current user needs (rather than seeking to change research practice), required the active involvement of participants, and a long-term involvement through the lifetime of the project. Future project work includes a Collaborative Research Events pilot involving many institutions and further embedding work.

Third Stream: Knowledge Transfer from Education to Industry

Norman Wiseman gave a background to JISC’s involvement in Third Stream work (Business and Community Engagement [9]) and the HEFCE-funded work over the next few months based on the results of a user needs study in 2006 and the Think Tank work with community representatives. JISC sees its opportunity as at the interface between the campus and the rest of the world and this interface is one of the main areas of difficulty that JISC might help to address. In particular the issues of Knowledge Exchange between the HEI and the wider community, Employer engagement, Work-Based Learning and Community Engagement. JISC will concentrate on four key issues - the provision of advice, raising awareness, communications, and customer relationship management - that were flagged by participants in the Think Tank.

Simon Whittemore described where Third Stream came from as a term together with other terms such as Knowledge Transfer, Knowledge Exchange and Business and Community Engagement (BCE). They all relate to the process of externalising the work of institutions and working to extract greater benefit from the work of institutions. The context of BCE work includes economic challenge, civic changes and tensions and the need in the UK to maximise the use of the HE knowledge base and make further connections into the regional agenda. Engagement is core to all of this if there is to be a contribution to companies and economic competitiveness.

This all connects to JISC’s fifth strategic aim [10] and there is a suite of work in the short term looking at social software uses, IPR advice, the application of the Advisory Services, the use of Customer Relationship Management systems and possibly the extension of the RSC’s role particularly in connection with work-based learning. Simon made reference to KE Good Practice [11] and the creation of the Institute of Knowledge Exchange as useful reference points to gain more information about work in this area and the move towards the creation of KT professionals in the community

Di Martin’s presentation tried to cover the cultural, corporate and customer challenges for institutions together with ways in which JISC might be able to lend support and assistance. Cultural issues included IPR, collaboration vs. commercial in confidence, individual vs. corporate, from research to innovation etc. JISC help here could cover staff development, costing and pricing, good practice models, advisory services, promotion and dissemination. Corporate issues covered working across a large organisation, co-ordination with partners, business-to-business working, business intelligence, corporate vs. local systems etc and JISC might help via external connectivity, CRM development, e-administration, interoperability and evaluation toolkits.

Managing and Preserving Institutional Digital Assets

Rachel Bruce, JISC programme director, began the session by saying the issue of digital preservation is a key theme of the newly updated JISC strategy, and something that is central to the ongoing development of the Information Environment.

Helen Hockx-Yu, JISC programme manager, gave an overview of JISC digital preservation activities by saying that an important strand of this work was the support of institutional efforts in this area. Current feasibility and scoping studies were looking to assess preservation risks and requirements and were looking at Web resources, e-prints, learning resources, e-science data, e-journals and much more.

National services funded by JISC include the Arts and Humanities Data Service (co-funded by the AHRC), the UK Data Archive (with the ESRC), the Digital Curation Centre (with the UK e-science core programme), which all in different areas promote expertise and good practice in the field of digital preservation. Projects from various programmes since 2003 had engaged institutions directly in examining, testing or implementing emerging tools and standards, strategies and business models in an operational environment.

JISC also works in collaboration with national and international bodies. Involvement in the UK Web Archiving Consortium, the Digital Preservation Coalition and formal partnership with the British Library are important examples of this work.

Maureen Pennock, research officer for the Digital Curation Centre based at UKOLN, said some important synthesis work was currently being undertaken on the work of the Digital Preservation and Asset Management programme, pulling out lessons from the work of the programme for the community.

The programme funded 11 projects. Key themes that were common to all or most projects include the question of the digital lifecycle, while a number of recurring elements were highly visible to the projects as a whole, such as legal issues, cultural issues, repositories and preservation and policies and strategies. One of the most valuable output from the projects were the case studies. These gave insight into institutional challenges. Training is another key feature. The many stakeholders involved in the issue of digital preservation and curation need training and many of the outputs of the projects addressed this need directly. All projects had made new and unexpected insights and had made connections between key organisations in the field, leading to better communication.

Opening the Research Data Lifecycle

Liz Lyon, UKOLN, spoke on relations between institutions, institutional repositories and data centres. Many bodies are interested in storing and accessing data. Currently there are varying degrees of linkage in the various Research Councils, and patchy data management, although the Wellcome Trust has a sharing policy on the Web, and NERC has 7 designated data centres, committed to supporting data in perpetuity.

Licences for data deposit are needed, and there are IPR issues to be addressed, as well as technical issues with varying complexities of data sets. Institutional repositories currently do not hold much information; barriers to data sharing, IPR, lack of awareness and resistance to change are all hurdles to be overcome. However, progress includes a departmental data audit being set up at Southampton, integrated databases at the European Bioinformatics Institute, and eBank’s close liaison with publishers from the beginning.

In sum, more join-up and co-ordination is needed, and an understanding of who funds the research needs, and sorts out the technical interoperability issues. Good practice in data management planning needs to be shared, along with training methods and guidance, and consistent and co-ordinated advocacy work.

Enabling Lifelong Learning

Sarah Davies, session chair, set out a number of issues that the Lifelong Learning projects have had to address:

She referred to Gill Scott’s (Learner Suppor Development Manager for Greater Manchester Strategic Alliance - GMSA) work on joining up learning and recording - the use of PDP and e-portfolios, progression pathways, course information, achievement tracking and combining many experiences in learning into one award.

Bill Pollard from Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form College felt that the key may be a group of people with the same learning objective. He spoke about a Web browser called ‘Flock’ and del.icio.us; both helping in tagging and recording sites. Flock acts as the students’ personal Web browser and not the one provided by the institution - this makes it easy to bring in streams, easy to tag and share sites with peers either locally or in a wider group. Ultimately as they individually use keywords they can use their resources to share in a wider online community. Some institutional controls have had to be implemented to reduce overload of Web traffic. This gives “extra in and extra out” - students add the software for their studies and their social life.

Bill Leivers from Loughborough College discussed a number of issues surrounding lifelong learning, such as Progress Files, interoperability, FECs and HEIs, accessibility using ACCLIP standards (RNIB connection), interoperability between eProgress File and college eBusiness Systems using automatic population of eProgress Records and electronic registers. Loughborough College has also developed KS3 and KS4 extensions in the Leicestershire 13-19 Agenda. This allows a seamless transfer within the 14-19 community in Leicestershire. There is a need to engage with what the students want and acknowledge the students’ desire for engagement with the college.

Mark Stiles, Professor of Technology Supported Learning and Co-director of the Learning Development Centre at Staffordshire University, raised points including work-based learning, looking at the uptake and use of foundation degrees, and how to get institutions to work together across HE and FE.

There was a particular need for support for the companies and employers with resources in work-based learning - more so than the students. Employer engagement was vital. He also mentioned the impact of WBL Way Architecture which was moving towards a seamless supporting network of employers, mentors, tutors and learners.

Dr Gill Ferrel of JISC Infonet discussed the Camel Project - Sharing Experience between institutions, and collaborative approaches to the management of e-learning. She also mentioned the Uruguay farmer support network, which was planned collaboratively, documented before and after, which focused on the aspects which mattered. She stated it was expertly facilitated and that there was a strong emphasis on tacit knowledge. The partner institutions for this were Leeds College of Technology, Loughborough College, University of Greenwich, Staffordshire University.

Is e-Content out of Control?

Catherine Grout, JISC, examined national trends in Content. She asked ‘will a few multi-national corporations delivering information and learning become the force of the future - by-passing the need for publicly funded institutions?’ And ‘Is there really a role for formal published content in the future of education and research?’ These issues are examples of how content is changing very fast and the important role that the Strategic e-Content Alliance (SEA) has to play. SEA’s vision is to realise the potential of e-content for all users through the greater integration of services and technologies and the removal of political and administrative barriers.

Stuart Dempster, JISC, explained that SEA was born out of the Common Information Environment (CIE) work and the Loughborough Study, which made key recommendations to JISC, in particular, highlighting the need for a National Digitisation and Content strategy. He explained that JISC, the BBC, the British Library, Becta, MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council), the National Health Service, and the national e-Science programme are taking forward the Strategic e-Content Alliance initiative. The aim was to ‘work across the public sector to fully realise the potential of e-content for all users through the greater integration of services and technologies and the removal of political and administrative barriers’. This initiative will deliver an e-content framework of principles and good practice which will provide a blue-print for effective collaboration across the public sector in the e-content arena.

David Dawson, MLA, talked of the varied and rich collections that are locked away in museums and libraries scattered across the country. He emphasised the potential benefits to the citizen researcher. He gave an example of key Nottingham resources, which are held in a museum in Oxford; these can be made available electronically enabling access to all citizens not just traditional HE researchers. He also highlighted that today’s public library user may well be tomorrow’s student.

Becta told a story of students of all ages and how the SEA is going to make a difference to their access to resources throughout their education literally from cradle to grave; removing the institutional barriers was key to achieving this. The director of the e-Science institute emphasised the key role that he believes the SEA will play in developing the UK’s e-infrastructure. None of this infrastructure is interesting or useful without content. He believed that all science must be made available to the general public. He mentioned many research activities that are driven by amateurs (e.g. bird songs, genealogy and so on). To develop new knowledge, we had to allow access to all science.

Compliance at Any Cost?

The presenters were Steve Bailey, Senior Advisor (Records Management), JISC infoNet and Steve Wood, Senior Lecturer, Liverpool Business School, Liverpool John Moores University.

This session concentrated on the survey conducted by JISC InfoNet on the impact of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) on UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The survey is available on the JISC InfoNet Web site. Instead of the feared tidal wave of FOI requests, the reality was more of a ‘damp squib’, on average only three requests per institution per month. However, this is likely to increase in the future as trends such as business and community engagement (BCE), and students as fee-paying customers, develop. Although most were currently coping with the demands of FOI, HEIs would be wise to develop effective and innovative records management practices for cost-effective compliance. There are many resources available from JISC InfoNet to assist HEIs with planning their information management strategies.

UK Access Management Federation

This session was chaired by John Robinson, Services Operations Director, JISC and the presenters were Henry Hughes, Middleware Group Manager, UKERNA, Mark Williams, Access Management Outreach Coordinator, JISC and Masha Garibyan, PERSEUS Project, LSE.

The UK Access Management Federation covers the whole of the UK education sector - Further Education, Higher Education and schools. A short presentation was given, including a viewing of the new Access Management animation [12], which describes the benefits and steps that need to be taken to join the federation in an easily digestible non-technical format.

Eduserv Workshop

This session, led by Ed Zedlewski, Eduserv Technologies and Andy Powell, Eduserv Foundation, provided an overview of the future of Access and Identity Management (AIM) in the UK educational sector. It considered the middleware landscape over the coming years, focussing in particular on the implications of a potential transition from the institutionally-oriented federated approaches, such as the JISC’s UK Access Management Federation, towards user-centric identity management approaches. It also discussed newly emerging technologies such as OpenID and Microsoft CardSpace.

The session provided details about Eduserv’s plans for Open Athens [13] and how it saw its services evolving to meet institution’s needs now and in the years to come. The speakers suggested that the need to support multiple AIM technologies, each of which is evolving at a fairly rapid pace, and multiple federations means that outsourcing to an external identity provider will provide the most cost effective AIM approach for many institutions.

Closing Keynote Address

Tom Loosemore, Project Director of BBC 2.0, gave the second keynote speech of the day on the topic of how the BBC is embracing the find, share and play attitudes of the Web 2.0 community. He began by thanking the audience and JISC for the development of JANET which had allowed him to develop his passion for the Web as a student.

Tom’s firstly addressed the question, ‘Where did BBC 2.0 come from?’. He spoke of a six-month review in 2004 which examined how to reach the 44 million people who do not use the Web, and how to develop the BBC’s Web sites accordingly. As a result the BBC produced 15 draft principles which provide a useful guide to Web development at the BBC. Tom covered each in turn, with short comments as follows:

  1. Build Web products that meet users’ needs, is the first principle. Examples include the CBeebies Web site [14].
  2. The best Web sites do one thing really, really well. The BBC News site [15] attracts 5.5m users per week and answers the question ‘What’s going on right now?’ The BBC History site [16] is less well used although it is a remarkable site.
  3. Do not attempt to do everything yourselves - link to other high-quality sites yourselves. The John Peel Day Web site [17] brings together an enormous number of concerts and festivals run in the late DJ’s memory and includes photos taken by music lovers from these events and placed on the Flickr Web site and tagged with the keyword ‘John Peel’.
  4. Fall forward fast - make many small bets. See the BBC Programme Catalogue [18].
  5. Treat the entire Web as a creative canvas. The best example of this is an ABC programme which spent three times more on sites away from its own Lost site than it did on the Lost site itself, including ‘Lostpedia’, and the commissioning of a book which was available on Amazon.
  6. The Web is a conversation - join in. Adopt a relaxed conversational tone. Admit your mistakes.
  7. Any Web site is only as good as its worst page. Rigorous processes are needed in developing and editing Web sites.
  8. Make sure all content can be linked to forever. Linking is what is key to the Web.
  9. Remember your granny won’t ever use Second Life. If you focus only on early adopters then you’re missing many potential users; too much on everyone and you will lose the urge to develop Web sites and cutting-edge services.
  10. Maximise routes to content. Develop as many aggregations as possible reflecting as many people, places, topics, channels, networks and time as possible. Optimise your site to rank high on Google. BBC sites do this extremely well.
  11. Consistent design and navigation needn’t mean one size fits all. Architecture should reflect interaction.
  12. Accessibility is not an optional extra. The Accessible UK Train Timetables site [19] is the result of a passion on the part of the developer to ensure that everyone could use the Web site.
  13. Let people paste your content on the walls of their virtual homes. YouTube is an excellent example of this.
  14. Link to discussions on the Web, don’t host them; only host Web-based discussions where there is a clear rationale.
  15. Personalisation should be unobtrusive, elegant and transparent. Respect your users’ data.

If these 15 principles need to be condensed, then five principles might suffice. These would be:

Web sites should be:

Editor’s note: Further information, abstracts and presentations are available from the JISC Conference 2007 Web site [20].


  1. UK federated access management: JISC
  2. JISC Collections http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/services/services_jisccollections.aspx
  3. SuperJANET5 http://www.ja.net/superjanet5/
  4. JISC Value for Money report http://www.jisc.ac.uk/aboutus/about_jisc/value_report.aspx
  5. Strategy 2007-2009: JISC http://www.jisc.ac.uk/aboutus/strategy/strategy0709.aspx
  6. JISC CETIS (JISC Centre for Educational Technology Interoperability Standards)
  7. EThOS Project http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/programme_digital_repositories/project_ethos.aspx
  8. The Service Oriented Approach: JISC
  9. Business and Community Engagement (BCE): JISC
  10. Strategic aims and key deliverables: JIS
  11. KE Good Practice http://www.kegoodpractice.org/
  12. Federated access management animation: JISC
  13. Open Athens http://www.eduserv.org.uk/aim/openathens/
  14. BBC CBeebies Web site http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/
  15. BBC News Web site http://news.bbc.co.uk/
  16. BBC History Web site http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/
  17. BBC Radio 1 - Keeping it Peel - John Peel Day http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/johnpeel/johnpeelday/2005/
  18. BBC Programme Catalogue http://open.bbc.co.uk/catalogue/
  19. Accessible UK Train Timetables http://www.traintimes.org.uk/
  20. JISC Conference 2007 http://www.jisc.ac.uk/conference2007/

Author Details

Dr Philip Pothen
Press and PR Manager

Email: p.pothen@jisc.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/

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