Summer holidays have been wrung out to the last drop. Kids are back at school. Time to start on 2008. RUBRIC is now officially finished, except that we are keeping the tech team running until the end of March to continue limited support for the RUBRIC partners. The RUBRIC tech team have joined me in the Learning Futures Innovation Institute; the LFII. So it’s time to start thinking about what we’re going to do in out new institute. Of course we’re going to have to establish our plans through proper channels but I will talk a bit about the projects we’ve already got running and a few ideas for the future. There are two groups that come under my area, in my new role:
The Software R&D lab, where they’re working on the Integrated Content Environment (ICE); integrating it with Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and institutional repositories (IRs).
The new USQ Repository Services group, led by Caroline Drury, where they’re doing the tail-end of RUBRIC tech support and looking after three clients (some of the contract details are still a bit up in the air so I won’t name names).
The Repository services group are fully booked until the end of March, with contracts continuing to the end of 2008. We need to see what role we are able to play in the new Australian National Data Service (The ANDS Technical Working Group 2007). For the R&D group we’re working a major overhaul of the ICE interface and continuing to work on the server-based version of ICE. During the last quarter the ICE system has been moving towards a service-oriented approach (that’s ‘small soa’ as they use the term in the e-Framework for Education and Research). This means we have broken the previously monolithic ICE into smaller pieces, and tried to make parts of it available for use with other systems. One example of a service is a forthcoming content conversion service for the Moodle LMS which will let you upload structured word processing documents, created using the ICE toolbar / templates into Moodle and return good quality HTML, unlike the usual garbage you get from saving as HTML in your word processor or using services like Google Docs. Another example is being coded-up right now by Oliver Lucido. He’s working on a service to let ICE authors include visualizations of stuff encoded in Chemical Markup Language (CML) in their documents. I wrote about this mid last year with a simple demo, now we’re putting together a framework to support this kind of integration, which we hope to extend when Peter Murry-Rust visits us in a couple of weeks. CML, of course is not everyone’s cup of tea but. I’m hoping that our work on tools for chemists will expand into tools for other researchers in other disciplines. We will continue to work on general purpose stuff like authoring plugins for the Zotero bibliographic application.
Both the groups I’m working with are cogs in a big university machine, so it’s not really up to us what we do, but here are a few things that I think we have a good chance of working on:
Most importantly, the Software group will be driven by USQ’s researchers in flexible learning, developing new tools on top of the IT platform we’re using at USQ. The platform includes Moodle, ICE and ALIVE (serious games), with some proprietary tools for collaboration. I don’t know what software we will need to write, that depends on what the research tells us to try.
Packaging the tools that we’ve developed and adapted at USQ for developing and delivering distance education, so that they can be used by others, particularly to produce Open Courseware.
Continuing the work we’re doing on scholarly authoring and its relationship to data, with tools for researchers and students.
And finally, if there’s time we might investigate some of the things I’m thinking about now. Here’s three that spring to mind, but there are lots more:
- The One Laptop per Child Project (note to my kids: this does not mean you. I’m thinking three or four laptops for daddy and one for the rest of the family to share). We should at least look at getting a virtual one.
- An online document conversion service using ICE technologies running on something like Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud, possibly generating money.
- Collaborative online document editing applications. Stijn Dekeyser from USQ’s Maths and Computing is interested in collaborating on this one.
The ANDS Technical Working Group. 2007. Towards the Australian Data Commons. A proposal for an Australian National Data Service. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Science Education and Trainining http://www.pfc.org.au/twiki/pub/Main/Data/TowardstheAustralianDataCommons.pdf.