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Biz/Ed Bulletin

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Kate Sharp and Libby Miller describe Business and Economics Resources on the Internet.

Biz/ed

Introducing Biz/ed

Biz/ed [1] is a free, subject-based information gateway service providing access to quality-assured Internet resources in business and economics. It is managed from the Institute for Learning and Research Technology (ILRT) [2] based at the University of Bristol. The core service was originally targeted at the needs of staff and students up to first year undergraduate level. However, funding under the Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) [3] has enabled Biz/ed to encompass research users and those developing and using materials for more advanced courses in the HE sector.

Recent Developments

On 11 January 1999, the Biz/ed Team launched a redesigned and reorganised site. This was a result of usability testing that showed that due to the changing emphasis of some areas of the site, reorganisation and/or renaming of parts would be beneficial to users. It also highlighted the fact that users rarely used the graphical navigation tools and prefer to use the back button and search. As a result we have implemented new metadata on the site and the search results have been substantially improved through the addition of textual descriptions for each page. We have also introduced a new navigation bar and a sitemap, and improved the help pages. It is hoped that these re-named and re-organised sections will make it significantly easier for the novice user to navigate the site.

What will you find on Biz/ed?

Figure 1: Biz/ed Home Page
Figure 1: Biz/ed Home Page

Biz/ed is a collection of resources and primary materials for those interested in economics or business education. The site is divided into five sections: Internet Catalogue; Data; Company Facts; Learning Materials and Virtual Worlds. In the Data section is a collection of statistics from various sources, intended for use by schools in combination with the extensive selection of original worksheets and information contained within the Learning Materials section. Also in the Learning Materials section is a new section containing leaning materials for MBA students. Company Facts is a selection of FAQs provided by the companies themselves, suitable for schools. The sections most of use to HE users are Virtual Worlds, (in particular the newly launched Virtual Economy), the MBA resources, and the Internet Catalogue.

Virtual Worlds

The Virtual Worlds section contains the popular Virtual Factory [4] and the new Virtual Economy [5]. The Virtual Factory is a model of the Cameron Balloons factory, and is a good resource for schools for providing readily comprehensible 'real life' examples of the application of business theory to the real world.

Figure 2: Virtual Economy Home Page
Figure 2: Virtual Economy Home Page

The Virtual Economy, launched in February 1999, is an on-line model of the economy based on the Treasury model with an extensive range of supporting materials. The interface to the site is structured very loosely around No. 11 Downing Street. Each different floor of the building contains different resources, such as a section on policy advice (detailing economic models), and a library (including extensive worksheets for use with the model). The model itself is an expanded version of the macroeconomic model behind Be Your Own Chancellor [6] combined with a microeconomic model designed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies [7]. It is an interactive model in which users can change key variables in the economy and then run the model to show the effects of changes in the economy on ‘typical’ individual households. The result is a sophisticated tool for modelling changes in the tax and benefit system in the UK, suitable for undergraduates and schools.

MBA Learning Materials

A recent addition to Biz/ed is Internet Learning Materials for MBA Students [8] which can be found in the Learning Materials section. This is a large new resource financed by the Foundation for Management Education and produced by Biz/ed. Academic staff were contracted to author Internet training materials in their respective fields, which would complement standard teaching tools. Each author has written an introduction to their section explaining why they think the Web should be used to support their subject. The materials are grouped under the six main subject headings which form components of most MBA programmes. Each subsection provides a detailed guide to suitable sites and further links. Although these materials are aimed at MBA students and their teachers it is hoped that they will also be useful to those studying for a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate business degrees and professional qualifications.

Figure 3: MBA Learning Materials Home Page
Figure 3: MBA Learning Materials Home Page

Internet Catalogue

The Internet Catalogue is a searchable database of approximately 1300 resources for business and economics on the Internet. The resources are screened by subject experts using the well-established SOSIG (Social Science Information Gateway) [9] selection criteria. Potential sites are assessed for their usefulness to researchers or teachers, for their originality of content, and for the stability and availability of the information contained within them. Biz/ed provides comprehensive descriptions of the sites so that researchers and teachers can see the usefulness of the site before visiting it. The catalogue is searchable and browsable. We are currently expanding the economics section of the catalogue to increase the numbers of resources appropriate for HE and especially for research, by consulting university lecturers and PhD students.

Biz/ed provide the business and economics section editors for SOSIG, so that resources under these categories searched for within SOSIG are in fact part of the Biz/ed catalogue. This has been made possible by the use of a new and innovative feature created as part of the DESIRE project, which means that a query on the SOSIG catalogue is also cross-searched on the Biz/ed catalogue. These elements of Biz/ed make it part of a growing distributed system of quality Internet resource gateways.

Strategies for Heterogeneous Users

As Biz/ed has developed, and the links with SOSIG have become closer, we have had to re-evaluate our organisational policy for the catalogue, because of the need to accommodate both HE users and schools users. There are two principle difficulties in making the catalogue usable for disparate groups of people. The first is that for the catalogue to be useable by different user groups, there needs to be thought given to the categorisation of resources according to their suitability for different groups. It is not obvious how to do this, although an alteration to the ROADS [10] configuration used by Biz/ed by the addition of another field is one possibility.

The second problem is that many of the sites catalogued are large and only parts of them are suitable at all, while some parts may be appropriate for different users. Increasing the number of fields in ROADS to accommodate annotations about the relevancy for different users would also have to take into account different parts of the site in that annotation. A similar problem is the proliferation of sites which have sections which cannot be bookmarked because of the use of frames; there is a need here for annotations which describe the useful parts of the site and how to get to them. An advantage of creating new fields for this metadata would be that different user groups could search under different headings and potentially browse solely within their own user category.

An alternative approach is to include relevant "who for" annotations in the description of the site. Since Biz/ed’s search algorithm searches all the text in the database, this would have approximately the same effect as a new field in terms of searching, but it would not be possible to browse the section by category. In terms of categorising parts of the site for different users, one approach is to state in the description what group the site taken in its entirety would primarily be useful for.

Biz/ed's solution has been to include terms such as ‘teaching resources’ in the description of the site if it contains materials explicitly described as such (see for example the entry for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis [11]), or to indicate if a site could be useful for this, even if it does not have that explicit purpose (see the entry for What is a dollar worth? [12]). There is a case for describing the levels of resources (undergraduate, A-level, GCSE) which we have done as far as possible; but we have not described resources as being useful in particular for researchers. This is partly because researchers are looking for disparate things and do not constitute a coherent user group. One might be looking for academic papers on a subject, another for data, another for official reports and policy documents. For this reason at Biz/ed we have tried to give a comprehensive description of the contents of sites, so that researchers can evaluate them for their own purposes.

However the problem of identifying the important parts of a large site remains a difficult one. Below we describe some large sites and the location of useful items within them, and navigate the user around the site. There are obvious difficulties with this approach because to be useful it requires that users have two windows open and preferably visible. However with some sites this approach is pretty much unavoidable. For example, the United Nations web site is a good source of international data, but because there is so much on the site, including a great deal of information about poverty, human rights, the protection of the environment, the advancement of women and children, and the UN's work in these areas, as well as economic data, it is necessarily to guide users through the morass. In addition the site is not intuitively organised, providing a further need for navigation. In contrast, Business Day is well-organised, with an intuitive feel, so that the description of what is found in which part of the site is merely away of organising the description of the site. Examples of descriptions of these and other sites are provided below.

Finding information using the Biz/ed Internet Catalogue

This section provides a short guide to some general sites you can find through Biz/ed. Under each of three categories you can find sites appropriate as a starting point for research on a particular topic. For information on the UK government, you could start with the CCTA Government Information Service, which proves access to all government sites. More specifically the HM Treasury Web site is useful for data on UK finances, as well as information about the budget. Good sites for international data are the United Nations (UN) and World Bank sites. Business Day is a very up-to-date site for business information, including share prices, while the Financial Times site provides a similar service but also has a searchable archive of business information. These descriptions are designed to reflect the types of descriptions with the catalogue, including the kind of information available (data, reports), and the format available including the type of software required (such as pdf, browser with JavaScript).

Information about the UK

To find documents about local and national government, a good place to start is the CCTA Government Information Service [13] which provides a frame around a list of links to all the government sites and government-related sites in the UK. It has a functional and organisational index, both of which are alphabetical. Since information about government departments is diffused among their own web sites, this is a useful wrapper for them.

For more specific data on the UK economy, you could start with HM Treasury Web site [14]. On this site there is a great deal of information about this and previous budgets. From the front page, under ‘Budget’ you can examine the full text of the chancellor's speech in November 1998 and the pre-budget report, which includes data about the taxes and expenditure in the UK economy. On this part of the site there is a link to a pdf file containing various predictions about the economy’s performance and comparisons with the treasury model results. The ‘Speeches’ part of the site provides the full text of keynote speeches by the Chancellor, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. There are links to the previous administration's speeches, and all the speeches are in html. Again from the front page ‘Economy’ contains information about various initiatives, and also discussion papers in pdf. Apart from the front page the site does not use many graphics and is fast to load.

International Data

A good source of international data is the United Nations Web site [15]. This is a very up-to-date, interdisciplinary site. For economic data, from the front page choose ‘Economic and Social Development’, ‘Statistics’, and then select the first option: ‘Economic and Social Affairs’. Some of the options in this section are (paying) subscriber only (specifically the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics) but you can examine ‘Social Indicators’ free. Under this there are headings such as population, housing, health, income and economic activity. Statistics may in some case be out of date or unavailable, and the dates of data vary. From here there are also links to references for methodology and classification of data. The site is available in Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French, and Russian. It is also available in text only format.

The World Bank's Web site [16] is also a good source for international data, but much better organised than the UN site. There are various ways of accessing the data. You can go via the front page, choosing ‘data’ ‘country data’ and then selecting a country. This gives you key statistics on the country in the form of ‘country at a glance’: two pages of indicators and graphs, in pdf format. Alternatively, from the front page or top menu go to ‘regions and countries’ for overviews of regions and within each region information about reports and initiatives, and the country profile. Click on the region itself for ‘regional focus and topics’ - relevant reports, speeches, and details of conferences. From the front page or top menu you can also access ‘publications and projects’. Many reports, newsletters, projects, and periodicals are available online here, and you can buy them if they are not. Or again from the front page or top you can access ‘development topics’, which contains summaries of reports in html and lots of text in pdf under such categories as economics and trade, and gender. You can also gain access to a ‘development forum’, the aim of which is to share information through moderated discussion open to the public for development, threaded for particular topics.

Business News

For current business data such as business news, current stock and currency prices, a nice site is Business Day [17], which is part of the London Evening Standard [18] online. It is a free view of the Standard's business pages, updated daily. On the front page there are summaries of the main business stories, and you can click on them for the full story. There is also a section called ‘markets at a glance’ on the front page, with a link to exchange rate figures, markets and tourist, for many currencies. There is a story index for that day, a company index of companies mentioned in the current edition, a link to money markets, including Liffe futures and bullion, and share prices (FTSE 100 and shares by sector). The site is searchable. It also has links to weather, top news stories from the Evening Standard, and breaking news from the Standard. It is readable without graphics turned on, but uses frames and JavaScript.

The Financial Times (FT) Web site [19] has similar facilities to the Business Day site, but also has three important additional features. The first is an archive of business stories from top international Newspapers and magazines. It includes 3000 publications and 4 million articles. Articles from the Financial Times in the past month are free. The archive includes full text of the FT since 1996. It is accessed by searching: searches are saveable. Another useful part of the FT site is ‘economic indicators’, which are tables of free data of economic indicators, updated every four weeks, under various categories (e.g. Balance of Payments, Prices) and then by country: UK, Italy, France, Germany France, US. Also useful is a section called ‘company briefing’ which is a database of descriptions of companies including key financial and other data, names of directors, registered office and turnover. It is accessed by searching, limitable to sector. Both company briefing and economic indicators are free, although to access the site at all you need to register.

Conclusions

This article has been designed to introduce readers to the newly redesigned Biz/ed, and to raise some issues about the problems of making the site attractive to the HE sector. We have illustrated part if the Biz/ed strategy for dealing with user heterogeneity, and shown how the strategy for the catalogue looks in practice with examples. We would welcome feedback on this and other aspects of the Biz/ed site [20].

References

  1. Biz/ed, Home Page
    <URL: http://www.bized.ac.uk/>
  2. ILRT, Home Page
    <URL: http://www.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/>
  3. eLib, Home Page
    <URL: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/elib/>
  4. Virtual Factory, Biz/ed web site
    <URL: http://www.bized.ac.uk/virtual/cb/>
  5. Virtual Economy, Biz/ed web site
    <URL: http://www.bized.ac.uk/virtual/economy/>
  6. Be Your Own Chancellor, Institute For Fiscal Studies web site
    <URL: http://www2.ifs.org.uk/budget98/byoc/form1.htm>
  7. Institute For Fiscal Studies, Home Page
    <URL: http://www1.ifs.org.uk/>
  8. Internet Learning Materials for MBA Students, Biz/ed web site
    <URL: http://www.bized.ac.uk/fme>
  9. SOSIG, Home Page
    <URL: http://www.sosig.ac.uk/>
  10. ROADS, ILRT web site
    <URL: http://www.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/roads/>
  11. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Home Page
    <URL: http://woodrow.mpls.frb.fed.us/>
  12. What is a dollar worth?, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis web site
    <URL: http://woodrow.mpls.frb.fed.us/economy/calc/cpihome.html>
  13. CCTA Government Information Service, Home Page
    <URL: http://open.gov.uk/>
  14. HM Treasury, Home Page
    <URL: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/>
  15. United Nations, Home Page
    <URL: http://www.un.org/>
  16. World Bank, Home Page
    <URL: http://www.worldbank.org/>
  17. Business Day, London Evening Standard web site
    <URL: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/dynamic/news/business/top_direct.html>
  18. London Evening Standard, Home Page
    <URL: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/dynamic/>
  19. Financial Times, Home Page
    <URL: http://www.ft.com/>
  20. Biz/ed, email address
    <URL: bized-info@bris.ac.uk>

Author Details

Kate Sharp, Research Officer
ILRT
University of Bristol
8-10 Berkeley Square
Bristol, BS8 1HH
Email: kate.sharp@bristol.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/about/staff/kates.html

Libby Miller, Research Officer
ILRT
University of Bristol
8-10 Berkeley Square
Bristol, BS8 1HH
Email: libby.miller@bristol.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/about/staff/libby.html

 

Date published: 
19 March 1999

This article has been published under copyright; please see our access terms and copyright guidance regarding use of content from this article. See also our explanations of how to cite Ariadne articles for examples of bibliographic format.

How to cite this article

Kate Sharp, Libby Miller. "Biz/Ed Bulletin". March 1999, Ariadne Issue 19 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue19/bized/


article | by Dr. Radut