Web Magazine for Information Professionals

ILRT: The Institute for Learning and Research Technology

Gillian Austen, External Relations Manager at the recently founded Institute for Learning and Research Technology at the University of Bristol, gives an overview of its structure and objectives.

The Institute for Learning and Research Technology (ILRT) at the University of Bristol is host to more than seventeen funded projects at the forefront of learning and research technology, including four eLib projects ranging across the subject divide, from medicine to business to social science and beyond into generic issues. In this article we describe these four projects, SOSIG, ROADS, biz/ed and MIDRIB, as well as providing an overview of the Institute and its other projects.

Elsewhere in this issue of Ariadne, Lesly Huxley, Training and Documentation Officer for the SOSIG project, describes the workshops and training materials which support users of the Social Science Information Gateway. SOSIG is the longest-established of the Institute's four eLib projects and its experience in indexing, description protocols and quality assurance for Internet resources has been shared widely across the Institute and in particular its other three eLib projects, creating a web of interrelationships which span across subject boundaries.

ROADS (Resource Organisation And Discovery in Subject- based Services), with which many Ariadne readers will be familiar, is a collaborative project with Loughborough and Bath Universities to design and implement a user-orientated resource discovery system. The ROADS software is used not only by SOSIG and biz/ed but also OMNI and the eLib programme's own information server, and is likely to be deployed by EEVL, IHR-Info, ADAM and CAIN. By supporting these emerging subject-based services with tools, guidelines and advice, ROADS is making a significant contribution to the development of a sharable, distributed systems platform for resource discovery services. ROADS also has a leading role in implementing and testing standards and in working with information providers to involve them in the description of their own resources.

Biz/ed is the Institute's second information gateway, collecting, assessing and describing quality educational resources of use to the business and economics community. The biz/ed team have drawn on the experience of SOSIG and, like SOSIG, biz/ed uses the ROADS software. Launched as a self-funding project, the core service is targeted at the needs of students and staff up to first year undergraduate. Funding under eLib is extending the biz/ed service to research users, with a comprehensive and searchable database of electronic resources for business and economics. One of biz/ed's great strengths is its links with the business community - the new layer is being developed in partnership with the Association of Business Schools - and it also works closely with the CTI Centre for Economics, a link which keeps the team in touch with developments in the academic use of networked resources in economics.

The youngest of the Institute's four eLib projects is MIDRIB, a collaboration between staff at St George's Hospital School London, the University of Bristol's Faculty of Medicine and members of the Institute. The project is developing a fully-indexed, searchable on-line image database which will provide medical practitioners and trainers with an invaluable tool for use in teaching and learning. Like SOSIG, MIDRIB will provide training and awareness workshops and materials to support users. MIDRIB is also confronting the many medicine specific issues relating to copyright, quality assurance, classification and security of images. A great deal of preparatory work has already been done by partners both in London and Bristol and MIDRIB will be formally launched in February 1997 at the Royal College of Surgeons.

A Little History ...

The Institute for Learning and Research Technology was formed in August 1996 from a merger of the Centre for Computing in the Social Sciences (CCSS) and the Educational Technology Service (ETS). The Institute is currently the largest group of its kind in the UK, with a staff of more than forty, and a range of projects including national and international Internet services, award-winning software development and innovative academic support services.

The CCSS was founded as the Centre for Computing in Economics and was successful in acquiring externally-funded projects such as the Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG), the first subject- specific information gateway on the Internet. In August 1995 the Centre was redesignated within the Faculty of Social Sciences and renamed the Centre for Computing in the Social Sciences. The CCSS was formally launched in December 1995 and continued to acquire major externally-funded projects during 1996.

The ETS was established in 1989 with the CTI Centre for Medicine, which grew out of an interactive video project based in the Department of Pathology in the Medical School. The success of these initiatives encouraged the University of Bristol to create an Educational Technology Service at the end of 1991, with a remit to promote and support the appropriate use of technology in teaching and learning. Based in the School of Education, the ETS worked closely with the Library and Computing Service to support academic departments within the University in the adoption of new learning technologies. In addition to this local role, the ETS developed pioneering means of image capture, storage, and retrieval over networks.

... And the Future

The mission of the Institute is to be a centre of excellence in the development and use of new technology in teaching, learning and research. In pursuit of this mission, the objectives of the Institute are:

How it all Fits Together

The Institute for Learning and Research Technology hosts more than seventeen projects, which are organised into six project groups:

Networked Information Research and Services

Learning and Research Software Development
WinEcon, CuDOSS, QuickStart

Multimedia Research UnitM
Mobile Multimedia University, ISDN in Dental Training, NetQuest, TASI

Centre for Learning Technology in Business and Economics
CTI Economics, biz/ed, ILRT Internet Development

Centre for Learning Technology in Medicine
CTI Medicine, BSCD, MIDRIB, ReproMed

Learning Technology Support Service
A dedicated learning technology service for the University of Bristol

Networked Information Research and Services

Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG)
SOSIG is a service funded by ESRC and JISC which provides an easy means of access to relevant high quality networked resources available on the Internet. SOSIG points to a wide variety of electronic resources under subject headings ranging from Anthropology to Statistics. A catalogue of these resources has been built, including brief descriptions. Users can browse or search through the entries before dynamically connecting to resources of interest.

The SOSIG project also runs training and awareness sessions all over the UK. Attendees include research and teaching staff, subject librarians and support staff. The project freely distributes training materials and documentation, specifically designed for social scientists, to help newcomers to the Internet and to encourage potential electronic publishers and information providers to share their resources with the community.

Resource Organisation and Discovery in Subject-based Services (ROADS)
ROADS is a collaborative development project, funded under the Electronic Libraries Programme, to design and implement a user-oriented resource discovery system.

The ROADS project is investigating the creation, collection and distribution of resource descriptions, to provide a transparent means of locating (with browsing and searching techniques) and using networked resources. ROADS also aims to provide a common platform to allow searching across multiple subject based services. The ROADS system enables the process of creating resource descriptions to be kept with the appropriate subject specialists.

Designing a European Service for Information on Research and Education (DESIRE)
The DESIRE project aims to build an information infrastructure for the European academic community and is developing tools to provide better support for multimedia information, better indexing services and better facilities for information management.

DESIRE will address the needs of European end-users of research data to locate and retrieve the information relevant to their research activities. DESIRE will also provide tools for creating and recording research resources in discovery systems and provide a framework for quality assessment and control. This description and discovery apparatus will enhance the value of resources by making them more widely accessible.

Learning and Research Software Development

WinEcon is an award-winning, customisable multimedia learning package covering the whole syllabus for introductory economics. The software offers more than 75 hours of tutorial material and includes exercises, self-assessment questions and examinations, economic databases, an economics glossary and references to leading economics textbooks.

WinEcon was developed over a period of three years by the TLTP Economics Consortium and was managed by the Centre for Computing in Economics. The Institute for Learning and Research Technology continues to manage the ongoing support, maintenance and further development of WinEcon and Blackwell Publishers are responsible for its world-wide distribution and marketing.

WinEcon has now won three major software development awards. The program was a medallist in the 1995 British Computer Society Awards, a winner at the 1996 European Academic Software Awards, and a winner of the 1996 Asymetrix Interactive Awards for Best Educational Software.

Customised Delivery of Study Skills (CuDOSS)
CuDOSS is developing a study skills handbook which can be customised by academic departments to reflect their specific teaching methods, syllabus, student profile and available learning resources. As the handbook is to be held electronically, it can be delivered to students as a browsable World Wide Web application or as a printed guide, whichever medium is most appropriate and amenable to their level of familiarity with information technology.

The CuDOSS System will support initiatives such as Open Learning Centres and distance learning and will help to facilitate the move towards more open and flexible provision of learning materials.

The QuickStart template was developed to enable academics to develop Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) courseware without having to acquire advanced programming skills. The template consists of a collection of reusable designs and software components built on top of the popular Asymetrix ToolBook authoring tool. As its name suggests, the package greatly reduces the learning curve for novice developers. In addition, it also increases the efficiency of authoring for more experienced developers.

QuickStart is currently on version 2 and work is underway to transfer features such as graphs, spreadsheets and assessment from the WinEcon Authoring Tools into this easier to use environment.

Multimedia Research Unit

Mobile Multimedia University
The Mobile Multimedia University (MMU) is a Bristol-based collaboration between Hewlett-Packard Research Laboratories, the University of the West of England and University of Bristol to develop and investigate access to electronic resources via fixed and mobile networks.

Drawing on the distinctive expertise of each of the consortium partners the MMU aims to work with the Bristol MAN (Metropolitan Area Network) to promote the development of a regional infrastructure for continuing education and training. As part of this work the MRU is developing a distributed database structure for the delivery of electronic learning materials such as still images, video or courseware over networks. This is being implemented in MIDRIB (see under Centre for Learning Technology in Medicine), which incorporates the Bristol Biomedical Image Database, an early MRU project.

ISDN in Dental Training
ISDN in Dental Training is a project investigating the use of ISDN video conferencing links between general dental practitioners, dental postgraduate centres and dental consultants based in leading hospitals for continuing professional development and postgraduate education. This technology will enable lecturers to teach aspects of clinical dentistry which lend themselves to small group teaching, such as treatment planning and the acquisition of technical skills. Video conferencing systems over ISDN offer an optimum solution where remote transmission of lectures, workshops and diagnostic support all require a two-way exchange of visual information.

NetQuest is a project developing TML (Tutorial Markup Language), a superset of HTML, to enable tutors and students to create sets of questions for self- or course assessment with automatic marking and user authentication if required. The project aims to provide a large questionset which will act as a central resource, accessible over networks including the World Wide Web, marked up so that the user can request a set of questions on any given topic.

Funded by the University of Bristol's Continuing Professional Development Fund and the charity Baby Lifeline, NetQuest is compiling indexed and searchable "questionbanks" in the subject areas (initially) of geoscience, chemistry, medicine, veterinary science and engineering. These will be complemented by "assessmentware", software which will allow students (for self-assessment) and tutors to grade automatically the tests they have requested. The next stage will be the development of an NT server version which will allow delivery over an intranet.

Technical Advisory Service for Images (TASI)
The Technical Advisory Service for Images (TASI) is a JISC-funded project to provide technical advice and consultancy on the digital creation, storage and networked delivery of image-related information to support the development of image-based projects in HE institutions across the country.

TASI will draw on the expertise and experience of members of the MRU to provide advice on all issues encountered by such projects, ranging from choices of hardware and software, formats and compression standards, search and retrieval methods, indexing and cataloguing, archiving, conservation of both original and digital collections of material, through to intellectual property rights and user issues like authentication and licensing.

Centre for Learning Technology in Business and Economics

Business Education on the Internet (biz/ed)
Biz/ed is a comprehensive source of education centred business and economics information on a single World Wide Web site. Biz/ed hosts original business and economics case studies, statistics, assignments and support materials, signposts relevant quality business and economics Internet resources, and provides network facilities for economics and business students, teachers and information providers.

The core service is currently targeted at the needs of students and staff up to first year undergraduate level. A grant from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) under the Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) is extending the service to both research users and those developing and using materials for more advanced courses in the HE sector.

CTI Centre for Economics
The CTI Centre for Economics is one of a network of 24 subject based centres at higher education institutions throughout the UK which are working to promote the use of information technology in teaching and learning. Its activities include liaising with economics departments, running workshops and seminars, maintaining an electronic information base on the World Wide Web and providing an on-line resource guide detailing available CAL/CBL software. It publishes, in both paper and electronic formats, a termly journal, Computers in Higher Education Economics Review (CHEER), in collaboration with the CALECO Research Group at the University of Portsmouth. A key aspect of its work is visiting economics departments to discuss the potential for using computers in teaching economics, presenting staff seminars and giving software demonstrations.

ILRT Internet Development
The Institute undertakes a variety of privately funded Internet development projects, ranging from bespoke educational applications to full commercial Web site design and implementation. As a national centre of excellence in the development and use of new technology in teaching and learning, the Institute is able to bring to bear the latest Internet technologies on behalf of its clients, who include educational institutions, charitable organisations and selected leading companies.

Centre for Learning Technology in Medicine (CLTM)

CTI Centre for Medicine
The CTI Centre for Medicine, promoting the use of learning technology in medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and pharmacy, is one of the largest and most complex of the 24 subject based centres of the Computers in Teaching Initiative. Its activities include maintaining a World Wide Web presence with an on-line Resource Guide and links to other relevant Web sites. In addition, the Centre publishes a Newsletter twice a year and hosts a conference every other year. The Centre's staff visit medical, dental and veterinary schools as well as schools of pharmacy to demonstrate courseware and to advise on the use of learning technology in education and training. Because of its particularly large and diverse constituency a top priority has been to establish and cultivate networking and collaboration.

British Society for CAL in Dentistry (BSCD)
The British Society for CAL in Dentistry (BSCD) promotes the use of computer aided learning (CAL) materials in dental training and continuing education. BSCD is funded entirely by institutional and individual membership fees. Its senior officers are drawn from a number of dental schools across the country and the society welcomes members from around the world. BSCD publishes the Journal of Computer Aided Learning (CAL) in Dentistry biennially on CD-ROM, runs an email discussion list called dental-cal, organises an annual conference and maintains a World Wide Web presence. Hosted by the CLTM, BSCD acts as a focal point for discussion of issues and the dissemination of information on all aspects of CAL in dentistry.

Medical Images Digitised Reference Information Bank (MIDRIB)
MIDRIB is a JISC-funded national project being undertaken by staff of St George's Hospital Medical School London and the University of Bristol in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust. MIDRIB will create, maintain and deliver a comprehensive collection of medical images in digital form for use in teaching and research. MIDRIB draws together the best of existing collections into a coherent resource which will be accessible via the Joint Academic Network from a single World Wide Web site.

MIDRIB will provide training workshops to raise awareness of its potential among medical educators and will also make images available on CD-ROM. The project is developing on-line tools and case-study imagesets to facilitate the use of the archive in teaching and learning.

ReproMed is directed by the University of Bristol's Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and funded by the University's Continuing Vocational Education Fund. The project is producing an on-line information guide to help GPs, for whom it is primarily designed, to keep up to date with the latest developments in reproductive medicine. The guide will also be useful for trainee doctors, gynaecologists, family practice nurses, students and patients.

ReproMed will cover both contraception and infertility and each subject will be delivered as two modules, one for healthcare professionals and one for patients. The Family Planning Association have agreed to provide all their leaflets and their training manual so that the guide will be able to describe the full range of contraceptive methods in an interactive format for the doctor with accompanying leaflets for patients. Planned as an on-line resource, the final product will incorporate interactive elements with appropriate use of multimedia.

Learning Technology Support Service (LTSS)

The Learning Technology Support Service (LTSS) provides information, advice and assistance to staff at the University of Bristol who use, or wish to adopt, learning technology in their teaching. The Service, which is wholly funded by the University, aims to develop and maintain an environment in which learning technology is used effectively to support the University's teaching and research activities.

The LTSS promotes and supports the appropriate use of new technologies by informing departments of the latest developments in learning technology and the implications for teaching, learning and research. It provides training and information on learning technology through workshops, seminars and an advisory service. To ensure the production of locally produced learning technology material the LTSS assists departments and members of staff in developing proposals for fully funded learning technology projects, which can then be implemented in association with staff from the Institute's other project groups. The LTSS also plays an important strategic role by assisting in the development of the University's teaching and learning strategy in collaboration with other educational support services.

The location of the LTSS within the Institute ensures that it is kept up to date with the latest innovations in the field and that the University of Bristol remains at the forefront of developments in learning and research technology.

Further Information

For further information about the Institute or any of its project, please contact:

Gillian Austen
External Relations Manager
Institute for Learning and Research Technology
University of Bristol
8 Woodland Road
Bristol, BS8 1TN

Tel: +44 (0)117 928 8478
Fax: +44 (0)117 928 8473
Email: G.Austen@bristol.ac.uk
URL: http://ccss.bris.ac.uk/