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Learning about 'The Learning Edge'


I'm in Hobart with Cameron Loudon (welcome to the blogosphere Cam) for a couple of RUBRIC-related meetings, which I'll write about soon.

While we were here I wanted to find out more about 'The Learning Edge', a content management / repository solution for education which is apparently a product of Tasmania's largest software development house.

I'd heard from various people that TLE application was around, including that it has been purchased by Newcastle University, which is a RUBRIC partner. My ex-boss Alexander Roche of The Financial Services Institute of Australasia (FINSIA) raved about it as a course-management solution.

Cameron and I were lucky to get a demo from Chris Jones, business development manager for TLE last night before he jetted off to Malaysia.

The way I see it there are three parts to the software.

At the heart is a repository, not unlike the kinds of software we are dealing with on the RUBRIC project, but with an emphasis on course materials. A place to keep your digital stuff, complete with a flexible metadata layer and a slick administration system.

The second module is a way to organize that digital stuff into packages. This includes an HTML editor component, which I thought was fairly pedestrian (Chris says the new version is better), but also the ability to grab objects from the repository and sequence them into IMS packages.

The final part is integration with Learning Management Systems; TLE plugs in to WebCT and Blackboard (and other) software and handles content management services.

My impression of the software (on the basis of an hour or so's demo) is that it is a nice general purpose repository (although not necessarily an Institutional Repository) solution. Some of the administration interfaces for configuring metadata schemas and metadata input forms were very impressive, as were some of the copyright management features.

That said, I gather there would be a lot of work to do to make TLE play nicely in a federated environment like the one the MAMS project is building. For anything other than completely open access federation to work across repositories there needs to be a shared language for exchanging credentials and access policies; there are some important standards in this area (SAML & XACML spring to my mind but there are many more) that I don't think are yet supported by TLE.

So we have some technical and standards-compliance question, which we'll do via correspondence with their technical team, and I'll post updates here.

It's out of scope for the RUBRIC project to look at TLE as a repository solution, (except to help Newcastle University work out what can be done with its solution) but it looks to me that it has promise, subject to some reservations about standards compliance and some as yet unanswered questions about import and export of content. It's very important to be able to get all your data out cleanly in a format that can be used to reconstitute a new instance of the same product, or set up a new repository using other software.

And one of TLE's competitors, Harvest Road, is playing in the Institutional Repository space much more aggressively than TLE, we'll try to get a demo of that when we can too.

Finally, at USQ we have some work to do on the way we manage readings for online and print access. This involves stuff like tracking how many times articles are used across the institution, seeking click-through agreements to copyright terms from students, and auditing what proportion of a book is being made available. TLE has a lot of features in this area – it will be worth having a good look at what it might be able to do for USQ just as an e-reserve, let alone as a WebCT Vista compatible course-content repository.