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One of the first projects I worked on at the OU was a Jisc-funded project called Telstar. Telstar built a reference management tool, called MyReferences, integrating RefWorks into a Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Well, that MyReferences tool shortly reaches, what the software people call ‘End-of-Life’, and the website world like to refer to as ‘Sunsetting’, in other words, MyReferences is closing down later this month. So it seemed like a good time to reflect on some of the things I’ve learnt from that piece of work.
In a lot of ways several things that Telstar and MyReferences did have now become commonplace and routine. References were stored remotely in the RefWorks platform (we’d now describe that as cloud-hosted) and that’s almost become a default way of operating whether you think of email with Outlook365 or library management systems such as ExLibris Alma. Integration with moodle was achieved using an API, again, that’s now a standard approach. But both seemed quite a new departure in 2010.
I remember it being a complex project in lots of ways, creating integrations not just between RefWorks and Moodle but also making use of some of the OpenURL capabilities of SFX. It was also quite ambitious in aiming to provide solutions applicable to both students and staff. Remit (the Reference Management Integration Toolkit) gives a good indication of some of the complexities not just in systems but also in institutional and reference management processes. The project not only ran a couple of successful Innovations in Reference Management events but led to the setup of a JiscMail reading list systems mailing list.
Complexity is the main word that comes to mind when thinking about some of the detailed work that went into mapping reference management styles between OU Harvard in RefWorks and MyReferences to ensure that students could get a simplified reference management system in MyReferences without having to plunge straight into the complexity of full-blown RefWorks. It really flagged for me the implications of not having standard referencing styles across an institution but also the impact of not adopting a standard style already well supported but of designing your own custom institutional style. One of the drawbacks of using RefWorks as a resource list system was that each reference in each folder was a separate entity meaning that any changes in a resource (name for example) had to be updated in every list/folder. So it taught us quite a bit about what we ideally wanted from a resource list management/link management system.
Reference management has changed massively in the past few years with web-based tools such as Zotero, Refme and Mendeley becoming more common, and Microsoft Office providing support for reference management. So the need to provide institutional systems maybe has passed when so many are available on the web. And I think it reflects how any tool or product has a lifecycle of development, adoption, use and retirement. Maybe that cycle is now much shorter than it would have been in the past.
There seems to have been a flurry of activity around reading system systems in recent weeks. There’s the regular series of announcements of new customers for Talis Aspire which seems to clearly be the market-leader in this class of systems but there’s also been two particular examples of the integration of reading list systems into Moodle.
Firstly, the University of Sussex have been talking about their integration of Aspire into Moodle. Slides from their presentation at ALRG are available from their repository. There is also a really good video that they’ve put together that shows how the integration works in practice. The video shows how easy it seems to be to add a section from a reading list directly into a moodle course. It looks like a great example of integration that seems mostly to have been done without using the Aspire API. One question I’d have about the integration is whether it automatically updates if there are changes made to the reading list, but it looks like a really neat development.
The other reading list development comes from EBSCO with their Curriculum Builder LMS plugin for EBSCO Discovery. There’s also a video for this showing an integration with moodle. This development makes use of the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability standard (LTI) to achieve the integration. The approach mainly seems to be looked at from the Discovery system with features to let you find content in EBSCO Discovery and then add it to a Reading List, rather than being a separate reading list builder system. It’s interesting to see the tool being looked at from the perspective of a course creator developing a reading list and useful to have features such as notes for each item on a list. What looks to be different from the Sussex approach is that when you go to the reading list from within Moodle you are being taken out of Moodle and don’t see the list of resources in-line in Moodle.
There’s a developing resource bank of information on Helibtech at http://helibtech.com/Reading_Resource+lists that is useful to keep an eye on developments in this area.
The approach we’ve been taking is with a system called Liblink (which incidentally was shortlisted this year for the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management awards for Departmental ICT Initiative of the Year). Liblink developed out of a system created to manage dynamic content for our main library website, for pages like http://www.open.ac.uk/library/library-resources/statistics-sources
The concept was to pull resources from a central database that was being updated regularly with data from systems such as SFX and the library catalogue. This ensured that the links were managed and that there was a single record for each resource. It then became obvious that the system, with some development, could replace a clutch of different resource list and linking systems that had been adopted over the years and could be used as our primary tool to manage linking to resources. The tool is designed to allow us to push out lists of resources using RSS so they can be consumed by our Moodle VLE, but the tool also offers different formats such as html, plain text and RIS.