INSPIRAL Scope : Revised 26.07.01
Scope of the Project
By Sarah Currier 26.07.01
1.1 JISC Request for Proposals
The initial JISC Request for Proposals (JISC RfP) at: (http://www.jisc.ac.uk/pub01/vle_lib_rfp.html) defined the intended scope of INSPIRAL as follows:
9. This analysis will address:
- Institutional issues surrounding the linkage of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and Digital Libraries. It is not intended to be an analysis of low-level technical issues relating to the connecting together of database-driven information systems.
- Relationships within institutions that may influence successful linkage. These might include the role of institutional strategies, the ownership of responsibility and relationships between different organisational units within the institution.
- Relationships between the institution and external bodies, initiatives, projects and agencies. Examples might include the funding councils, the JISC (services and programmes), the IMS Project, the LTSN (subject and generic centres), the NLN.
- Issues identified within and arising from the hybrid libraries projects initiated within the eLib Programme, phase 3.
- The needs of the user constituencies, with an emphasis on the needs, expectations and behaviour of learners.
10. It is intended that the analysis will inform future allocation of funding for projects that address the issues identified. To this end the analysis should aim to identify priority areas for such strategic investment. Although primarily focused on HE, the analysis should be informed by parallel developments in the FE Sector." -- JISC RfP. Scope.
1.2 INSPIRAL Proposal
In the original INSPIRAL proposal at: (http://inspiral.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/documents/proposal.html) the first stage of the Project methodology states:
1. A more detailed and defined "scope" of the subject area is agreed with the funding body." -- Tender for JISC-Funded Critical Analysis of the Issues Concerning the Linking of VLEs and Digital Libraries. 5. Methodology.
1.3 Development and Refinement of Scope
The INSPIRAL Team brainstormed issues for which boundaries needed to be defined. INSPIRAL's Steering / Advisory Group was canvassed regarding a more detailed scoping for the Project. Additionally, the first 3 stakeholder interviews, which covered the digital library, VLE / MLE, HE staff development, and teaching and learning perspectives on the issues, provided an initial sketch of where user groups' interests might lie.
2. Scoping of Specific Issues
2.1 Technical Issues
The original JISC Request for Proposals clearly states:
"7. This call is for proposals that will critically analyse the key issues relating to the linkage between VLEs and Digital Libraries at a high level, focusing on institutional issues and with a clear view of the needs of the learner. This call is specifically not requesting proposals to investigate the technical aspects of integration, this work is being done elsewhere." -- JISC RfP. Background. 7.
Technical issues will therefore only be touched upon where they directly impact upon institutional perspectives and learner needs with respect to VLEs, MLEs, digital libraries and their linkage.
INSPIRAL's research will, however, be carried out with an eye to what is happening in the JISC-funded initiatives which are focusing on other aspects, including technical, of VLE, MLE and digital library development.
2.2 Defining our Terms: VLEs / MLEs, Digital / Hybrid Libraries
The INSPIRAL web site will provide working definitions of the terms VLE, MLE, digital library and hybrid library, based on the current literature in the educational and information science fields, at: (http://inspiral.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/about/defs.html). Some attention will also be given to the terminology as it is used and applied abroad, especially in the U.S.A.
2.2.1 Virtual / Managed Learning Environments:
It is clear from the JISC Request for Proposals that both Virtual and Managed Learning Environments are within the scope of INSPIRAL's investigations. Indeed, the differences between them are becoming increasingly blurred as technology and institutional expectations develop. INSPIRAL's scope will include the issues of both linking a basic VLE and a digital or hybrid library, and integrating the functions of a hybrid university library within the functions of an MLE (e.g. students' academic, administrative and library records).
2.2.2 Digital Library / Hybrid Library:
The JISC Request for Proposals states:
"The second development is the implementation of the digital library. Most UK HE libraries now offer their catalogues on-line, many through a standard web-browser. University libraries also have increasing numbers of subscriptions to electronic journals and other on-line information sources. The library thus becomes the entry point to the collections, both physical and virtual, available to the institution. The hybrid library draws together the on-line and physical collections to present them to the user in a seamless and integrated manner, supported by middleware that handles aspects such as authentication and cross-searching." -- JISC RfP. Background. 2.
From this it is clear that the standard definition of a digital library (i.e. a searchable collection of digital resources, made available for use through one interface) is being expanded for the purposes of INSPIRAL to include the hybrid library, which is now an almost universal service provided by UK HE libraries. Feedback from the Steering/Advisory Group and the open discussion list also indicated that the inclusion of both digital and hybrid libraries is important. Both types of library will therefore be included within the scope of INSPIRAL, with clear delineation of the issues that pertain to each separately, and those common to both.
2.3 Higher Education and Further Education
The Background section in the JISC Request for Proposals states:
"8. The outcomes of this work will almost certainly be of interest and relevance to Further Education, however the primary focus and funding for this activity is Higher Education." -- JISC RfP. Background. 8.
The Scope section states:
"Although primarily focused on HE, the analysis should be informed by parallel developments in the FE Sector." -- JISC RfP. Scope. 10.
The INSPIRAL tender to JISC proposed to meet this scoping requirement by:
- including an FE institution and an FE learner in the initial interviews;
- focusing one case study on a UK FE scenario;
- including FE learners and institutions in focus groups and workshops;
- including some coverage of FE issues in the literature survey and other desk research
INSPIRAL will remain flexible with regard to choosing case studies; if no suitable study of an FE scenario comes to light, the other methods of research will suffice for INSPIRAL's purposes.
2.4 Institutional Perspectives and Issues
There are 3 main institutional levels in the HE sector which will be looked at by INSPIRAL, each encompassing significant sub-levels. There will be certain issues mirrored in each level (such as inter-professional interactions between education professionals and library professionals). There will also be issues unique to each level. The levels can be summarised as follows:
Inter-institutional issues; inter-professional (e.g. between the educational, library and C&IT professions) issues. Issues at the level of policy and strategic planning, for funding, professional and administrative bodies. Issues of co-operation and collaboration between and among individual HE institutions, other educational institutions, professional bodies, standards organisations, system vendors, content providers, funding bodies, projects, initiatives.
Politics, planning and strategy within individual HE institutions. Institution-wide provision of information and knowledge management, MLEs and library services. Staff development, training and access issues with regard to VLEs, MLEs and digital/hybrid libraries. Funding, responsibility, inter-departmental, inter-faculty co-operation. Co-operation between C&IT services, administrative services, libraries and academics within an institution.
Development of VLE and digital library services within particular faculties, departments and research centres. How they link their specific needs and requirements to the wider policies of the institution. Preventing re-inventing the wheel. Staff development and training for individual academic and non-academic staff.
2.5 The Learner Perspective
The Methodology section of the JISC Request for Proposals states:
"The focus should be on the learner and not on the teacher." -- JISC RfP. Methodology. 14.
2.5.1 Teaching and Learning
However, teaching and learning are integral processes, so there is an extent to which the needs of the teacher and teaching will mesh with or impact upon the needs of the learner. INSPIRAL will focus only on these aspects of teaching. Pedagogical theory will not be under consideration, except where it touches on the learner's needs regarding the linkage of VLEs / MLEs and digital libraries.
2.5.2 Who is "The Learner"?
For the purposes of INSPIRAL, the term "learner" will encompass undergraduate, post-graduate, and HE academic, research and non-academic staff as learners using MLEs, VLEs and digital / hybrid libraries. It will also include part-time, full-time, open, distance, and continuing education students.
2.5.3 Learners' Needs According to the Professionals
As well as learners themselves, library and teaching professionals will be consulted about the learner perspective, with a view to gleaning from their experience with library user and student needs.
2.5.4 Remote Access and Classroom-based Learning
VLEs, MLEs and digital library services can all be used either remotely or as part of a classroom based learning experience. Both aspects will be under consideration by INSPIRAL.
2.5.5 Learners as Library Users
Libraries in all their forms are not merely repositories of information for learners. They are places where information skills are learnt, often from a librarian. They are also places where librarians are intermediaries, via their own professional skills, between learners and information. The extent to which users in the VLE / library equation will need these aspects of the digital/hybrid library is an important issue for INSPIRAL.
2.6 System Resellers and Vendors
The INSPIRAL Tender to JISC suggested the inclusion of commercial resellers of VLE, MLE and library systems as stakeholders. However, commercial vendors, who develop the actual software themselves, are much more likely to have some direct experience of user needs and expectations, and will therefore be the focus of INSPIRAL's research in this area, which will be peripheral to the main consultation with stakeholders. At most, one interview with a commercial vendor will be carried out; otherwise, desk research will be the main avenue of enquiry. The final analysis of issues will mainly be informed by users' experiences with the software packages involved.
The INSPIRAL Final Report will include a listing of VLE, MLE and digital library tools and systems referred to in the analysis. This listing will not be evaluative. However, links to evaluations and summaries about these products will be given, where INSPIRAL comes across them.
2.7 Content Provision
Issues around who provides content for VLEs / MLEs and digital / hybrid libraries will also be under investigation, to the extent that this affects the quality of service to the learner. This includes the extent to which HE staff should create their own content, the possibility of learners providing content, content sharing, and the provision of high quality content by commercial companies.
2.8 Wider Accessibility Issues: IPR, Copyright, Security, Privacy, Disability Access, Interoperability, etc.
These are all very important considerations in any examination of information systems in any sector. They are too complex to be investigated in any depth within the scope of INSPIRAL, and in any case, are being investigated elsewhere. INSPIRAL will only touch on these as issues where relevant to the institutional and learner needs under investigation, and refer to authoritative sources of further information where appropriate.
2.9 The International Context
INSPIRAL's remit calls for some contextualisation within the international educational scene. The focus here will be mainly the U.S., with an American advisor on the Steering Group. Relevant initiatives in Europe and Australasia will also be looked at, where they come to light through INSPIRAL's desk research or as a result of dissemination activities.