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Prepare to drink from a pool of resources

Jorum, the word used in the Bible for a large collecting or drinking bowl, is an apt name for a database that will go live next August and allow all further and higher education institutions in the UK to pool their resources.

The online repository for learning and teaching materials is to be built for the Joint Information Services Commmittee as part of the Exchange for Learning (X4L) programme, which involves more than 100 institutions in exploring the use of electronic learning materials.

The pound;250,000 contract to develop Jorum has recently been won by the Linlithgow-based software and support company Intrallect and it will be managed by the Edina and Mimas data centres.

"It's a British library for learning objects," providing long-term storage for all materials used for teaching and learning in further and higher education, explains Charles Duncan, Intrallect's chief executive.

The service will be provided free to colleges for a minimum of three years, says project manager Moira Massey. Teaching staff will have to register to use Jorum, but will then be able to download as much information as they choose.

The intention, she says, is "to provide a place where teaching colleagues can meet to share content, materials and discussions about effective materials or teaching strategies".

Institutions which use Jorum will enjoy reciprocal benefits by sharing their resources within a larger community, in return for being able to access the wealth of information that others have contributed free of charge.

Lecturers will be able to contribute anything they consider useful to the wider community, such as presentations, tutor resources on how to deliver courses, standards based learning objects or interactive flash animations.

"The repository extends the library function," explains Mrs Massey. "Any number of people can download the same item and make use of it and repurpose it and resubmit their own version.

"Resources can range from simple Excel spreadsheets containing data for use by students in a laboratory exercise to more complex formats such as 3D flash animations demonstrating geological or chemical concepts. They can be Word documents describing lesson plans. They can be project plans or online tutorials, images or videos, worksheets or self-assessment exercises.

"It really will take anything that a teacher will use either to support their own teaching process or to provide directly to the students. They can also add to the service themselves by donating materials that they want to share.

"The idea is to encourage a culture of sharing and reuse and repurposing for the benefit of the community."

College teaching staff will be able to locate resources using simple search facilities in the repository, download the resources for use locally, and deposit new or customised resources for sharing with colleagues.

"Creating resources for learning and teaching takes substantial time, effort and expertise. Sharing content can provide more time for staff to engage in the real work of teaching," explains Mrs Massey.

To submit materials to the repository, lecturers will use a simple web interface provided by Intrallect's IntraLibrary software system and deposit either individual files or "content packages" of files collected together.

"We're trying to create a content-based repository," says Mrs Massey. "Most other repository developments around the world, working in the learning and teaching area, provide descriptions of materials and reference where they can be found. Jorum is different in that it will host the actual content for teachers to use, although it too can hold references to materials held elsewhere on the internet, or even to non-digital materials.

"The idea is that our repository forms part of a distributed network of repositories, which could be provided on an institutional, regional or sub-regional basis and, as time goes on, begin to make a huge variety of materials available to teaching staff to assist them in their work."

Miranda Fettes

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