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The MrCute Repository: The Next Phase

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Helen Brady describes the MrCute repository project and its potential impact on the digital learning object-sharing community.

MrCute is an acronym of Moodle Repository, Create, Upload, Tag, and Embed and is a repository system for the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It will enable the content uploaded to online course areas on the VLE to be shared with other users and used in more than one location by more than one person.

The original MrCute was a JISC-funded project by Worcester College of Technology (United Kingdom) in partnership with Learning Objectivity UK. MrCute Version 1 was released at the end of March 2008. MrCute 1 can be downloaded from the Moodle community Web site www.moodle.org [1]. MrCute was intended to be an optional add-on for the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment. More specifically, it extended the functionality of the IMS Repository system originally developed by Alton College, UK. MrCute is compatible with Moodle 1.8.2 upwards but not with earlier 1.8 versions.

The existing Alton College Moodle IMS repository system worked as a useful addition to Moodle, enabling users to browse and add NLN materials to a Moodle course. It has been widely adopted in the UK, especially in educational sectors where National Learning Materials were available. MrCute 1 added to this functionality by offering a means of searching for materials by keyword as well as browsing by category. It also enabled the repository to be populated as well, where users could upload their own materials to share and tag them appropriately for searching and browsing.

MrCute Phase 2

The JISC-funded MrCute 2 Project is further developing this functionality, but also with a heavy focus on making the user interface as simple and intuitive as possible. During the first phase of research for this project many users identified 'ease of use' and 'time' as barriers to using the original MrCute repository. So it was deemed as very important to address these aspects as a priority as well as include the additional functions.

The planned additional functionality is for users to be able to upload multiple files as a package, instead of just the single file functionality MrCute 1 offered. MrCute 2 is also taking the jump into linking with national repositories and collections. The aim of MrCute 2 is to provide effective search of the NLN Web collection and Jorum repository as well as the local repository, something that should offer users a wider collection of learning materials to search from and use. There will also be an option for users to send their own materials to the Jorum repository in the upload functionality.

The MrCute 2 Project will run from 1 July 2008 – 31 March 2009. It is an open source project that will be shared and disseminated through the Moodle community and beyond for those who express an interest. It is planned that a full beta-version will be available for testing on the 28th January 2009.

Project Research and Initial Findings

Initial Research

The first phase of MrCute 2 was research-orientated to identify key issues and inform the direction and programming of MrCute 2. Initially this was to gauge the use and response to MrCute 1 and to identify the general perception of repository use. The MrCute 1 Moodle site received Moodle community feedback and a number of requests for extra functionality if the project were to be developed. Such as uploading multiple files, searching external repositories and better administration and monitoring features.

Teaching and library staff at Worcester College of Technology were also asked for their feedback on MrCute 1 as everyday users of this type of system. Their feedback mainly consisted on the time and usability issues. A combination of the requests and this feedback were used to put together the initial JISC bid for continued MrCute development, since it appeared that MrCute had the potential to answer many needs.

The research phase not only collated feedback from MrCute1 but also looked into earlier research of repository use, case studies and previous learning object repository projects. It was considered important to understand the whole culture around repository use to be able to identify the target audiences needs, concerns or perceptions, not just that we had experienced with MrCute1. There was much research available on the use of academic publishing repositories. However MrCute was designed for the sharing of teaching and learning packages rather than academic papers, journals or research.

Academic repositories have academic publishing and acknowledgement as the key incentive of sharing for individuals. Learning package repositories on the other hand are largely predicated upon a willingness to adopt a culture of sharing everyday learning and teaching materials. Teaching and learning repositories have more of an emphasis on teachers being 'willing' to share, than mandatory sharing.

Perceived Barriers to Repository Use

The research concluded that certain factors influence the use of repositories both with MrCute 1 and wider repository system use:

  • The technical process and time to upload/download to a repository must be simple and speedy
  • The metadata process must be easily understood and simple to achieve
  • The user should not be forced to duplicate uploading to different places
  • The language used to describe the repository and the process can be an issue
  • Sharing is less resisted if the sharing process is simplified, since users are generally positive about sharing and can see the benefits of repositories
  • Issues of quality, ownership and copyright need to be addressed
  • Issues of fair giving and receiving resources need to be addressed
  • Acknowledgement was deemed important for creators of learning resources

The MrCute 2 Solution and Current Progress

Looking at the Real Issues

The variables or perceived barriers fit into the two categories of technical barriers and cultural barriers. One particular issue that strongly came across was that the technology and relevant interfaces had to be easy to set up and use if the potential was to be maximised.

It was decided to look closely at MrCute2 through the eyes of an average user, rather than the technical and background processes. The functionality and interface was designed with the user in mind, this has meant more work in back-end systems to accommodate a better and much simpler user-end interface to overcome many of the technical barriers. For example, on file upload, the multiple file input elements have been hidden from the end-user; they only interact with one part of the interface, thus the user perspective is perceived as simple. Technically this was quite complicated but achieved the outcome of simplifying the user interface.

It was identified in the research that if the process was much simpler and quicker this could have an impact on the willingness to share. Based on user simplicity, the decision was made to split MrCute2 into two modules as there were two distinctly separate processes of 'finding' and 'uploading'. This separation meant that users were not being presented with a lot of options and information in one go, but two separate simpler interfaces. The cultural issues of sharing could not be addressed through the product alone, but the considerations for ease of use may help. The full impacts of cultural barriers or attitudes to sharing are being researched further in the hope of eventually putting forward a suggested approach to these issues.

The Moodle Community

The community feedback and response to MrCute1 was important, it highlighted areas that needed improvment or consideration of further development with respect to MrCute2. It was also important that the community was involved with MrCute2 in creating a product that answered as many user needs as possible.

It is anticipated that with strong community involvement, from an early stage through to completion, there will be a wide enthusiasm and awareness of MrCute2. It is this interest, and the early adopters, who will prove useful in the dissemination and implementation of MrCute2 throughout the Moodle community. The project has already been praised and recommended by key members of the Moodle community, such as Julian Ridden. Julian is a Moodle consultant and evangelist for Moodle.com.au [2], Australia's premier Moodle partner. He is also commonly known in the international Moodle community as the Moodle Man [3].

The promotion of community involvement has even included inviting non-technical members of the community to design ideas for the MrCute2 logo. There has been interest from teachers and librarians as well as Moodle user group members.

Early Feedback

Recently a working demonstration of the 'Find' functionality, including a demonstration of the integrated Jorum search and embed, was made available on the MrCute2 Moodle site for the community to try out and offer feedback. Members of the MrCute development team have presented at many national Moodle User Group Meetings, JISC-related events. They have also disseminated working demonstrations through various mailing lists in order to invite feedback.

The overall response to the simplified interface and functionality has been excellent and useful. The project progress has been communicated continuously at each developmental stage. Interest from the community has been growing; the number of visitors and postings to the MrCute Moodle site has doubled since a working demonstration became available. It has even generated interest from Australia, New Zealand and Spain.

Many institutions have expressed a keen interest in beta-testing or full implementation with the advent of 2009 and there has also been interest from non-Moodle users regarding the potential for further development as a stand-alone product for all other VLEs.

Future Aims

The aims for the MrCute2 project in early 2009 involve a full beta-test release and to build stronger relationships with interested institutions. This will involve face-to-face visits to other institutions to build upon email and telephone communications. The aim is that with the full collaboration of at least three institutions, as well as Worcester College of Technology, case studies of use and implementation can be built up to offer guidance and best practice models for others when MrCute2 is fully released.

Conclusion

The focus on user-end simplicity seems to have been a key positive in the feedback so far. It also works to address the perceived barrier that using a repository is a difficult and extra thing to do, it is hoped that addressing these issues will increase willingness to use it. The involvement of the Moodle community at every stage has been an effective means of marketing and generating interest in the project as it has developed. There has been dissemination of information from high-profile members of the Moodle community, such as MoodleMan (Julian Ridden) [3] who has promoted MrCute2 through the creation of video demonstrations on his blog.

It is expected that MrCute2 will answer many of the institutional repository needs as well as offer institutions a solution that engages users with Jorum and NLN materials. It is hoped the level of present interest will be an indicator to the future success and large-scale implementation of MrCute2. In short, MrCute 2 aims to be more than just an institutional repository, but a wider-reaching and rich repository tool, that once implemented, will promote and encourage the sharing of quality learning packages to benefit teaching and learning.

References

  1. moodle.org: open-source community-based tools for learning http://www.moodle.org/
  2. moodle.com.au .: Official Moodle Partner in Australia http://www.moodle.com.au/
  3. The Moodleman Blog http://www.moodleman.net/

Author Details

Helen Brady
Senior ILT Advisor & MrCute Project Research Officer
Worcester College of Technology

Email: hbrady@wortech.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.learningobjectivity.com/mrcute

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Date published: 
30 January 2009

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How to cite this article

Helen Brady. "The MrCute Repository: The Next Phase". January 2009, Ariadne Issue 58 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue58/brady/


article | by Dr. Radut