Mellon Foundation RIT Retreat

April 3, 2007

What happens at the Mellon retreat stays at the Mellon retreat? Well, I guess I can say a few things about some of the happenings without giving away the farm. The first day brought many excellent demonstrations. Several that really caught my fancy:

  1. MOSCL
    From Their website: Making Open Content Support Learning or MOCSL is a set of small tools designed specifically to advance the state of the art in supporting end users’ abilities to find educational resources, reuse educational resources, and close the feedback loop between end users and content authors.
  2. Zotero
    From their website: Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources. It lives right where you do your work — in the web browser itself.
  3. VUE
    From their website: The Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) project at Tufts UIT Academic Technology is focused on creating flexible tools for integrating digital resources into teaching and learning. VUE provides a visual environment for structuring, presenting, and sharing digital information. Using VUE’s concept mapping interface, faculty and students design semantic networks of digital resources drawn from digital libraries, local and remote file systems and the Web. The resulting content maps can then be viewed and exchanged online.

None of these projects were new to me, but they have all progressed a great deal since I last saw them. They also all raise an issue that continues to vex me: What to do about great 1-off applications that have not been conceived within an enterprise framework. Why does this matter? I want these things to work together. I don’t want my faculty and students to have to go to 3 (4 if you include the CLE) or more different places to get their work done. I want the citations from Zotero to publish directly in the MOSCL tools which I want to publish within the CLE (both public and behind authentication) and integrate with images from the gallery tool. And I want VUE to be my pathfinder, and digital image light table (remember that gallery tool in the previous sentence?), and course site creator. Add to that the fact that they all use very different technology stacks and haven’t thought through an integration workflow and I am out of luck. But I love these tools!

I really think we have to take a step back and start looking a the larger scholarly workflow issues earlier. Whenever we leave critical things like this to the end to address as a technology afterthought we do the user a serious disservice. We need some studies on some core issues that span across disciplines, institutions and national boundaries. This would be an ideal project for pedagogists, user experience staff, and technical architects to come together around — the ultimate interoperability project.

In addition there was a productive conversation about precarious values in community source software development.


5 Responses to “Mellon Foundation RIT Retreat”

  1. Raymond Yee Says:

    Mara —

    How do get started on this “ultimate interoperability project”? Sign me up. 🙂

    You certainly won’t be surprised to hear that I share with you the desire to have all the tools you mention work together. You write describe these tools as “great 1-off applications that have not been conceived within an enterprise framework.” Indeed. However, what else can they do? Are you saying something that I would say: that is, even if the tool builders want to build within an enterprise framework, it’s not at all clear as to 1) what that enterprise framework would be (if it exists at all), and 2) whether there is not just one framework but many frameworks?


  2. marahancock Says:

    Good points, Raymond. I hope that we can do some user research on this as well. Yes, what does this enterprise framework look like to the technologist AND what does it look like to the users. The user probably doesn’t really care if it is a single framework or multiple as long as it is seamless.

  3. marahancock Says:

    Just to add a few point on this. I think we can start by looking at workflow and identifying key integration points. Also, what tools need to be enterprise and which can be lightweight (and the data more ephemeral)? What data needs to be in secure institutional systems and archives? And as we look at lightweight tools, especially those we don’t own or manage, how do we support our faculty and students as they make choices and the tool set evolves?

  4. Justin Ball Says:

    This are excellent points and thanks for the feedback. We are currently working on making the MOCSL tools (to be renamed Folksemantic Toolset) more interoperable. The technology used to write applications doesn’t matter so much anymore. Instead, we are focused on using REST APIs, open protocols like RSS, RDF, Atom, OAI and plain old XML to make it easy to get data in and out. We have plans in the works to interact with Zotero and we are hoping to get others to use our APIs. In addition, we plan on adding OpenID support to all of our applications so that you have single sign on and so that your identity moves with you.

  5. marahancock Says:

    Great news, Justin. There is a serious interoperability discussion starting between several institutions running Sakai, Moodle, and home grown systems this summer which you may be interested in. If you don’t mind, I am going to mention this to the organizers.

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