Depositing a Learning Object with JORUM

E-Learning, Old English literature


Dr Stuart Lee
Oxford University Computer Services & English faculty
University of Oxford


As part of the project to build the online Old English coursepack, funded by the English Subject Centre, the completed web site was deposited within JORUM.

JORUM is a national online archive of ‘learning objects’, i.e. material which one can use, reuse and share in your teaching. The concept behind JORUM is to easily facilitate the exchange of learning objects, and consequently best practice, created by academics within the UK. The following case study briefly outlines the experience of trying to deposit material into the archive related to English literature.

Background / Context

In 2005-6 the English Subject Centre funded a project for the English Faculty at Oxford to create an online series of hypertext editions to facilitate the teaching of Old English literature. These were web-based editions containing the original texts, a glossary, translations, essays, etc; aimed at first-year undergraduates. The texts were chosen by a representative group of academics from several institutions and then the online site was created and went live in January 2006.

The original site was hosted at Oxford, but it was clear that others may want to use the site and tailor it to their own needs. As part of the project therefore, the web site was packaged up and submitted to JORUM.

Activities / Practice

         JORUM describes itself as:

“Jorum is a free online repository service for teaching and support staff in UK Further and Higher Education Institutions, helping to build a community for the sharing, reuse and repurposing of learning and teaching materials.”

In short it allows you to contribute material, or download material contributed by others. What follows is a quick analysis of the contribution process.

The first hurdle that one needs to cross (or more accurately ‘series’ of hurdles) centres on the licences required by JORUM. Undoubtedly these are quite complicated, and required a named single person within the institution to act as the co-ordinator for this activity, and to keep a track of any individual who wishes to contribute material or use the service. In a centralized institution this may not be an issue, but in a devolved one, finding a single person responsible for this can be problematic. Should this be under the remit of the libraries, or the pedagogical support unit, or IT services? Who is willing to take on the responsibility of keeping a track of each individual who wishes to deposit material? Two forms (at least) need the institution’s approval and these are then sent off (in print form) to JORUM for processing.

The institution is then notified that it is allowed to use the system and a single username and password is issued. Although when logging in the system seems to require your ATHENS username if you are a contributor, this is not the case and this unique id needs to be used.

This preliminary barrier is extremely frustrating, and may be too much for some would-be contributors. Ideally one would want a system which very simply allows you to log-on using your existing ATHENS id, from any institution, and simply contribute material. Or even to connect JORUM to your institution’s VLE.

Yet in JORUM’s defence it is clear that some of this paperwork stems from issues concerning IPR. It seems evident that these processes have been partly put in place to protect JORUM from legal action taken out by institutions who feel their assets have been deposited by their academics without proper consideration.

In the case of the Old English Coursepack a zip file (a way of compressing and bundling up computer files) was made of all the sections. (Originally this was created on the Mac using ZipIt – a shareware program for creating zip files. However, this was continually rejected by JORUM as invalid, and the file had to be created using Zippist. )

Having logged on to JORUM and accepted the terms of agreement, one selects the ‘work area’ and then the ‘upload file/package’ (see Fig 1). A title is asked for, and one can (by default) mark the object as ‘reserved’ which means you can work on it before releasing it.

Figure 1 - Upload section of JORUM

Figure 1 – Upload section of JORUM

Once the file is uploaded you can begin the process of describing it (or applying metadata as it is termed). Figure 2 shows the first screen where one attempts to give a basic description and information about the people involved in the projects.Once the file is uploaded you can begin the process of describing it (or applying metadata as it is termed). Figure 2 shows the first screen where one attempts to give a basic description and information about the people involved in the projects.

Once the file is uploaded you can begin the process of describing it (or applying metadata as it is termed). Figure 2 shows the first screen where one attempts to give a basic description and information about the people involved in the projects.

The description offered for the project was:

“A series of web pages that present online hypertext editions of several Old English texts. The texts are presented in the original, with a running gloss, translations, essays, links to other resources, and notes. The whole package can be downloaded and used locally and modified to suit the local requirements.”

Figure 2 - Metadata Screen under JORUM

Figure 2 – Metadata Screen under JORUM

However, the system to describe the three main contributors to the project (Dr Lee, Mr Faulkner, and Ms Lindsay) proved cumbersome. Fourteen different roles are available to list each contributor under, many of which are not clearly distinguishable (e.g. author as opposed to content provider), but more frustratingly this is listed under the role not the named individual. Therefore in a project when people take on multiple roles there is considerable duplication (it is impossible, for example, to name person Y and say they were author and designer, instead you have to list person Y under the authors, and then again under the designers).

The metadata can be fairly complex but thankfully most of it is optional. Even having said that, any meaningful attempt to catalogue the resource and classify it (see below) can take up to 45 minutes.

Figure 3 - Classifying a Resource

Figure 3 – Classifying a Resource

On top of the metadata you can classify your resource, i.e. have it listed under a browseable tree structure using various headings and sub-divisions. This is done by a series of expanding and collapsing menus (see Figure 3) and when you find the appropriate heading you select Classify. A single resource can appear under multiple headings, and thus be found by multiple paths of browsing.

fig4c fig4a fig4b
Fig 4 – Classification systems in the JORUM repository – JACS, LearnDirect, and MeSH

The classification systems made available are entitled JACS (Joint Academic Coding System), LearnDirect, MeSH (Medical Subject headings), Pedagogic Terms, Policy Themes, and UK EL (course levels). There is an option to create additional schemes but it has to be assumed that the majority of people will only use those presented.

This creates a clear problem for literature scholars, and possibly even humanities academics as a whole. Undoubtedly these classification systems are heavily biased towards the sciences. If we look above (Figure 4) we can see the main headings available under each of the three subject groupings (JACS, LearnDirect, MeSH) and the domination by the physical sciences is striking.

fig5Finding a suitable place, or places, to list the Old English Coursepack was very difficult. Ideally this could be listed under a chronological period of English (e.g. ‘Medieval Literature > Old English’), under Medieval Studies, under Anglo-Saxon history, etc, but these options were not available. LearnDirect offered the best options (see Fig 5) but here ‘English literature’ is only divided into ‘English literature of a specific period’ or ‘English literature: specific author’ with no option to further burrow down any further. Although the number of resources in JORUM at the moment is sparse to say the least (searching could only reveal four, including the Coursepack – two flash animated poems running under Windows, and a short essay on WW1) this will not be helped by the impression such a cataloguing system gives.


JORUM has the potential to be a useful resource for academics, but at the moment it presents some notably problems for any depositor and, as noted here, for people in English literature. Primarily the administrative hurdles that one has to overcome at the beginning needs to be greatly simplified and streamlined. Even accepting the fact that issues have probably arisen from concerns about academics signing away IPRs for material that may belong to others (notably their institution) the present system of multiple licences, and nominated depositors should be addressed. For such a system to flourish it needs to have the simplicity of a YouTube, where one can register within minutes and then proceed to upload and share material.

Furthermore the metadata system underlying the system seems excessively laborious and meticulous. It is fine for a professional cataloguer, but for an academic with very little time (and to be honest very little incentive to share their material) it is too cumbersome, and the user interface poorly designed. Specifically, when it comes to using the established classification system the bias towards the physical sciences is glaring, and the reduction of such a wide-ranging and popular subject as English to a few vague category headings will be off-putting to many humanists.

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