Jisc case studies wiki Case studies / Bloomsbury Media Cloud
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Bloomsbury Media Cloud


Funded by the: JISC Flexible Service Delivery programme.

Lead Institution: Royal Veterinary College (RVC).

Partner Organisations: BirkbeckLondon International Development Centre (LIDC)Institute of Education (IOE)London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS)School of Pharmacy.

Key Words: Cloud and shared services.

 

Background

 

Aims and Objectives

 

The Bloomsbury Media Cloud project is a collaborative project involving the six Bloomsbury Colleges and the London International Development Centre. The aim of the project is to create, develop, repurpose and manage digital content (audio and visual) primarily around the theme of international development. The project team is investigating a number of platforms to aggregate the content, including the establishment of a shared Apple iTunes U site for the Bloomsbury Colleges and a shared media portal based on the Open Source platform, MediaCore. The project will be examining the use of “The Cloud” (online repositories, which are accessed remotely) to store the content securely. The project has:

 

  • Created a collaborative joint media portal, hosted on a cloud platform
  • Found ways to manage existing media
  • Created new media

 

Context

 

The project operated in the Shared Services and Cloud Computing cluster of the FSD Programme, however, it is quite different to the other FSD projects in this group, and the programme as a whole. The project is an interesting case in that the project team were invited to bid for funding through the programme based on their previous success in the collaborative venture of developing the Bloomsbury Learning Environment (see below). This means that the project outcomes are not entirely as initially envisaged. The project had to undertake a considerable amount of iterative planning throughout as it became clearer what was needed. The project team has observed that it is only in the last 2-3 months of the project that the development has been taken beyond identifying the most appropriate solution and piloting it.

 

See Bloomsbury Learning Environment (BLE) timeline for an outline of the development, and involvement of the various major stakeholders, of the BLE. This takes the context through the development of the BLE, the development of the Bloomsbury Media Cloud, to the present day, where the Colleges are debating a transfer to Moodle from Blackboard for the VLE platform.

 

    

 

The BLE collaboration is a major part of the context for this project. The BLE is the first example of a multi-institutional implementation of the Blackboard Academic Suite in the UK. In 2007 the project manager for this FSD project, Sarah Sherman, was brought in to coordinate the collaboration for the BLE, and to act as a negotiator for discounts on shared licences for content. Through the successful completion of the JISC-funded APT STAIRS project, which tested collaborative technologies for users (students, teachers, administrators and researchers) with different skills to work online together (focusing on the use of Google Docs and other online document creation tools), the BLE gained press attention:

 

 

The BLE was also highlighted as a case study in the final report of the HEFCE Online Learning Taskforce, which concluded: "The collaboration, established in 2004, provides many benefits including sharing technical support, pedagogic expertise, cost efficiencies on licence fees and collaborative funding opportunities. The colleges also share costs for remote hosting of Blackboard, freeing up dependency on IT infrastructures and support within the colleges."

 

In September 2010, the BLE Technical Team was awarded a high commendation from the Association for Learning Technology. The judges were impressed by the way in which five somewhat disparate organisations have been able to work together and agree on products to be acquired, and their ongoing support arrangements. They were struck by the programme of joint events and workshops, the balance between development and the involvement with the community.

 

Key drivers

 

The Bloomsbury group of colleges had come to realise, prior to this project being funded, that the Bloomsbury Learning Environment (BLE) was very successful as an early example of a shared service for running a VLE (as well as interest from the community, there had also been media interest). The BLE Steering Group were keen to build something innovative into what had already been developed, and to build on their successful collaboration, and it appeared that iTunes U was the "next thing to do". Since their collaboration had already been proven to be successful, it was felt that Bloomsbury Colleges could offer a joint implementation of iTunes U for their staff and students, to promote their collective teaching and research excellence to wider and international audiences.

 

The key drivers for the proposed project were:

  • marketing the Colleges:
    • attracting international students through iTunes U
    • showing researchers internationally what the Bloomsbury group were doing
  • considerations surrounding student (and staff) retention
  • drawing together content - across the colleges there was a lot of media content - including podcasts, the SOAS Open Air radio station, the LSHTM's automated lecture recording - however none of this was adequately tagged for discovery later

 

As the project progressed it became obvious that the last of these drivers was the most essential - in part because the others could not be met without achieving the required level of cataloguing and meta-tagging.

 

Establishing and maintaining senior management buy-in

 

The project has a steering group made up of a representative of each College; the roles of these members is wide-ranging, which is very helpful:

 

  • Mandy Bentham (Chair), Director of Academic Development, SOAS 
  • Jas Gill, Head of IT Services, Birkbeck
  • Martin Oliver, Head of Learning Technologies Unit, Institute of Education
  • Sheena Wakefield, Head of IT Services, LSHTM
  • Nick Short, Head of Electronic Media Unit, RVC
  • Morgan Williams, External Relations Officer, School of Pharmacy
  • Jeff Waage, Director, London International Development Centre

 

The Steering Group meets on a monthly basis to discuss the progress of the project and help steer its development. The make up of the group is the same as the Bloomsbury Learning Environment group, which has been valuable for the co-development of the two projects. Initially the content that was intended to be shared through the media cloud related to international development, a shared strategic aim across the colleges. The Heads of the Bloomsbury Colleges and the Heads of Administration have been on board with the project since the beginning; the project's manager and director presented to these groups at the start of 2010. Throughout the project, proposals were taken to the group for endorsement and buy-in to ensure that the project fulfilled the strategic aims across the colleges. 

 

During the project each Head, Dean or Director was also interviewed as part of the content output for the project. These interviews have been put into the media cloud - they are about the importance of international development for the colleges and people involved in making it happen. Once the cloud site was launched those who had participated were also sent a link to be able to publicise it more widely.

 

For the future, the senior management team will:

 

  • maintain a regular agenda item regarding the Media Cloud developments on the BLE Steering Group
  • marketing and communications managers at all the colleges are now starting to market the media cloud and its content
  • colleges will be encouraged through a variety of means to keep contributing new, relevant content to keep building the cloud

 

The Institute of Education, Birkbeck and the Royal Veterinary College have committed to maintain provision for the Media Cloud; for example, Birbeck has a new Head of Media Services who will be working on this. 

 

Technologies used

 

The project had access to:

  • the Blackboard platform for the BLE - though this was not really used
  • Elluminate
  • Echo360
  • Skype - which was used a lot
  • Google - Docs, Sites, Calendar, Blog 
  • Wimba Create - web authoring tool
  • Adobe Final Cut Pro (for video editing)
  • Captivate - for user guides 

 

The project made more use of email than any other technology, and had a shared Google address.  A JISCMail list already exists for the BLE Technical Team - including all administrators at the Colleges and the Steering Group - which was also used for updates for this project.

 

Regarding iTunes U - there is a contract arrangement in place between iTunes U and the RVC - however in the end it was decided that the project aims would not be achieved through its adoption (for now) - so instead a link with MediaCore - an open source platform (initially hosted by ULCC) - has been made. 

 

Outcomes

 

Achievements

 

The project has:

 

  • Developed a shared digital repository for media shared by all six Bloomsbury Colleges
  • Developed an innovative online cloud service based on an open source platform

 

The Bloomsbury Media Cloud can be used to compile, encode and store multimedia content so it can be managed in one place and flexibly disseminated. It can be used with new and existing content from a range of sources, which can be encoded from almost any file format into web-based media. It can be used in many ways, eg by academics who wish to embed videos into their blogs or websites; publicity departments that want to publish promotional videos on the web; or research groups who need to disseminate podcasts of their work internationally.

 

Benefits

 

Tangible

 

The proposed benefits at the outset were:

  

  • Promoting the Bloomsbury Colleges to an international audience of potential students
  • Gauging the range of potential learners and the ways that they might use our content
  • Strengthening the Bloomsbury Colleges’ collaboration
  • Testing the functionality of iTunes U to help determine if the platform is scalable for future development
  • Developing appropriate content which is marketable alongside competitor sites
  • Identification of good work practices

 

The project delivered the following actual benefits:

 

  • a portfolio of content publicly and freely available, benefiting the Bloomsbury Colleges community and also the wider academic community
  • a place to put the portfolio of content (ie storage, which iTunes U would not have offered, since it is a "shop window" rather than a store). This digital media repository benefits Bloomsbury Colleges staff; students can upload content, but it is mainly aimed at staff for now
  • recommendations on the use of:
    • cloud based media storage facilities
    • open source data provision through a central repository linked to different distribution systems and
    • common authentication between multiple systems to enable media sharing in this context

 

New skills

 

Members of our team developed the following skills:

 

  • Media production
  • Building relationships
  • Storing, cataloguing and meta-tagging

 

There were two postgraduate students involved in the project, based at SOAS, who have developed skills in interview techniques, video recording and project management.

 

The project director, Nick Short, also did a radio interview about the project development. 

The project manager, Sarah Sherman, was invited to speak on the project at the ULCC Futures of Technology in Education conference 2010.

 

The team had no specific training. Team members talked to staff at UCL regarding storing media and implementation of iTunes U; they also shared knowledge with the STEEPLE project group regarding media services. There was general knowledge sharing in the FSD programme; team members attended all meetings and EA workshops. 

 

Intangible

 

The proposed intangible benefits at the outset were:

 

  • feedback on the use of iTunes U
  • shared best practice
  • building relationships between the partner colleges, especially with the School of Pharmacy and the LIDC 

 

The Media Cloud is facilitating the investigation and use of iTunes U across the individual colleges.  

 

An offshoot of the project has been the formation of the Bloomsbury Web Development group; see Terms of Reference here. The group meets once a term and has representatives across communications, marketing, e-learning, and web development. A recent theme for the group was the use of Social Media in the business of the colleges (in terms of incorporation into strategic direction for research and learning and teaching). The group discusses a topic, and then decides on mini-projects which can be carried out either between colleges or within a college.  This recently led to planning a joint event for staff on "Writing for the Web".

 

Drawbacks

 

The project changed direction in order to avoid what were perceived through the initial investigative stages to be potential drawbacks, so these were avoided through the choice of a different, open source platform to the one originally proposed.

 

The current achievements of the project fit better with the FSD programme than the original proposal, and the project team believes they have a more successful and sustainable solution for the future which could easily be implemented elsewhere.

 

To make sure the team gets together regularly to communicate progress/problems and exchange ideas - this feeds enthusiasm for and focus on the project.

 

Projects need commitment and success of a short term project is more guaranteed if there is a dedicated team member driving the project on.

 

Being flexible enough to change direction if necessary, and alter the journey of the project to still meet some or all of the original aims is important, both in terms of meeting the aims and keeping people (both the team and senior management) on board. Things change and projects need to be able to react to this and be able to develop a new vision within the timeframe of the funding.

 

Looking Ahead

 

The Bloomsbury Media Cloud offers users an easy way to find content that was previously hard to find. The shared platform, hosted in the cloud, offers a quick and easy place to manage and share media content (eg video and audio files).

 

The University of London Computing Centre (ULCC) is currently hosting the platform, this will be transferred to Amazon S3 as a cloud host facility in the future.

 

Sustainability

 

In the future, some of the cloud content is likely to be supplied behind a pay wall. Some colleges would like to be able to charge for some resources. The project team have had contact with a commercial company who are interested in what the project has developed and may be able to supply a suitable paywall. PayWizard (an offshoot of MGt) is "an innovative payment solution designed to drive monetisation of media assets across multiple devices. Designed and developed with digital entertainment in mind, PayWizard revolutionises the way micropayments for digital content are monetised by opening up commercial possibilities for content owners, broadcasters and service providers." 

 

  • The profile of the Bloomsbury Colleges and their technical developments has again been raised
  • The Bloomsbury Web Development group has come about as a result of the engagement of senior managers and others with the Bloomsbury Media Cloud project
  • The project team would encourage others to adopt a repository cloud solution based on their experiences
  • The tool and technology supplied by MediaCore have provided an ideal solution to hosting and discovery of multimedia for the Bloomsbury colleges; the project team believe this could be replicated elsewhere. MediaCore have also engaged with the project, when they saw through Google Analytics that their platform had been picked up, and made contact with the Bloomsbury Media Cloud project. MediaCore ia using the Bloomsbury case as a test bed for new developments, and have carried out free development and consultancy in order to allow the platform to better suit the Bloomsbury case 

 

Regarding contact with JISC

 

  • JISC RSC London and JISC Digital Media attended the Bloomsbury Media Cloud launch event, and John Hargreave from JISC DM spoke on IPR issues and releasing multimedia content (videos from the launch event will be added to the cloud as they are edited)
  • JISC Digital Media also helped the project in purchasing equipment for recording content
  • The support and synthesis project was useful, but needed to be in place earlier (before or at the start of the projects)
  • There are other things going on in JISC (ie projects managed within Alastair Dunning's area) that this project will link to 

 

Appendix

 

Bloomsbury Press Release Feb 2010 JC

 

Project Website

 

https://sites.google.com/site/bloomsburymediacloud/