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Published: March 1999.

Papers

Unlocking the Treasure Chest Using SCRAN Tools

Mr Sandy Buchanan, Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network (SCRAN)

SCRAN

SCRAN, the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network, is a Millennium project, spending 15,000,000 to build a networked multimedia resource base for the teaching and celebration of human history and material culture in Scotland.

Although based on the museums, archives, libraries and built heritage of Scotland, SCRAN's prime concern is not with conservation, nor with documentation, but with educational access.

SCRAN is an electronic rights management project, grant-aiding the digitisation of assets in exchange for a non-exclusive license for their educational use. Contributing institutions gain a new digital asset which they can exploit commercially if they wish, while teachers and students at institutions in membership of SCRAN can download images, movies and sound clips, copyright cleared for unlimited educational use.

All resources are digitised at a very high resolution and stored for archival purposes on CD-ROM (for example, a 35mm slide will result in an 18 Mb file). From this archival resource, a network surrogate is created at a lower resolution, or for temporal (sound and movie) assets, of a shorter duration, to minimised download time (for example, the networked surrogate for a 35mm slide is slightly bigger than a current technology display screen). This networked resource may only be downloaded by members of a bona fide educational institution licensed by SCRAN. It is encoded with a watermark (to identify the original IPR holder) and a fingerprint to identify who it was downloaded by). But any member of the public, anywhere in the world, has access to a thumbnail image of the asset, plus full textual documentation. This documentation contains descriptive and access information, extracted from conventional library catalogues and museum collection management systems. But this is supplemented by caption material specifically written to a set of educational guidelines, worded to be understandable by the intelligent lay reader, and to build into a vast online encyclopaedia.

In this respect SCRAN is also a resource disclosure and delivery project: SCRAN acts as a Metadata repository, pointing to hundreds or thousands of digitised assets in its own resource base and to millions of objects in the real world, as well as acting as a gateway to other electronic collections. SCRAN is thus an early implementer of emerging standards, both the Z39-50 Search and Retrieve Protocol and the Dublin Core Metadata Element set for cross domain access.

The SCRAN resource base at http://www.scran.ac.uk/ presents a number of different access routes, depending on the needs of the end-user. "Quick Search" presents a single letterbox into which the user can insert a simple keyword or a complete search expression including Boolean logic, truncation, wildcards, proximity operators and nesting, while "Assisted Search" answers questions of the Who, What, Where, When variety. Both searches are good for retrieving whatever material SCRAN has on a particular topic. "Curriculum Navigator" on the other hand, represents the National Curriculum as a tree structure, allows teachers to find where their class is within it, and then suggests a "virtual resource pack", pre-selected by educationalists, of materials useful in the teaching of that topic. Further, more graphical, interfaces involving timelines and maps, are under development.

Current Impact

The SCRAN project was launched November 1996, and already SCRAN has built a resource base giving WWW access to hundreds of thousands of cultural records from Shetland to Galloway and from Fair Isle to Dunbar. Thousands of these records include multimedia: images, sound and film clips and virtual reality, ready formatted and copyright cleared for classroom use.

SCRAN's first educational products are already in service, and one of them, the "Scottish People" CD-ROM, has been distributed to every school in Scotland.

Future Impact

The Government reports "Towards the Learning Society: the National Grid for Learning" and "New Library: the People's Network", envisage a future where Information and Communication Technology will be increasingly harnessed in the support of schooling, training, lifelong learning and education in its widest sense. SCRAN is becoming seen by many as a prototype of the Educational Content Generators that will be needed on the National Grid.

Innovation

In one sense, SCRAN is not particularly innovative, as it is deliberately constructed from well-established technologies and standard approaches. What is highly original, however, is the way in which it has brought together so many strands from the worlds of information, communications, technology, library, archive, museum and education, to provide an elegant means of delivering educational access to cultural heritage.

Timeliness, Applicability and Educational Benefit

SCRAN is being viewed throughout the world as a model for the use of ICT to preserve fragile cultures while supporting mass education.

The Resource Base

The main tool which SCRAN is developing is the SCRAN Resource Base. This resource base will hold the assets delivered by projects carrying out digitisation of cultural material through a SCRAN Grant. This resource base will grow over the next three years to include :
  • 1,000,000 Basic records - these records are akin to museum collections management records and contain the main 'curatorial' information about a cultural asset. These records can be considered as metadata, helping to point to further information on the asset or to the real asset itself. These records are being contributed by all types of organisations from large national institutions to small private collections. In order to provide some standardisation in the capture of this data, SCRAN produced a 'Data Standard' to which projects are expected to adhere. An outline of this standard is available online at http://www2.scran.ac.uk/staff/ianm/scranbds.htm. As you can imagine, due to the diversity of sources (~200) and quality of documentation, these records create a challenge when trying to implement an indexing and retrieval policy.

  • 100,000 Multimedia Resources - These records contain a 'caption' record and a multimedia resource i.e an image, sound, movie, animation or VR reconstruction. Whereas the basic record contains collections management type information the caption contains more contextual information making the asset more accessible to a general educational audience. An outline of this standard is available online at http://www2.scran.ac.uk/staff/ianm/scrancds.htm. Due to the diversity in subjects covered by SCRAN projects a generic guide to writing captions has been produced for contributors. This covers areas such as the purpose of the caption record, the academic level, size of the caption and how to refer to other resources etc.

  • 100 Multimedia Essays - At the beginning of the SCRAN project, these Essays were thought of as traditional CD-ROM's, however changing technology and usage of multimedia means that we have had to rethink this. The term multimedia essay is used to cover traditional interactive multimedia CD- ROM's but also to cover web site presentations, gallery interactives, resource CD-ROMS and other delivery methods that will develop through the life of the SCRAN project.
The SCRAN resource base at http://www.scran.ac.uk/ presents a number of different access routes, depending on the needs of the end-user. 'Quick Search' presents a single letterbox into which the user can insert a simple keyword or a complete search expression including Boolean logic, truncation, wildcards, proximity operators and nesting, while 'Assisted Search' answers questions of the Who, What, Where, When variety. Both searches are good for retrieving whatever material SCRAN has on a particular topic.

SCRAN spent 20 days in 1998 presenting the SCRAN service to regional education authorities throughout Scotland. It was during these presentations that it became clear that, although this traditional type of database searching was useful, alternative methods of locating teaching and learning resources from the SCRAN database were required. In fact this probably applies to the Internet as a whole.

As well as these standard database features SCRAN has developed the following tools to aid the discovery and presentation of resources available through the SCRAN resource base. They are :

  • Curriculum Navigator
  • Clipper
  • Promenade
  • Chronicle
Technical details - SCRAN runs the Resource Base on a SUN Ultra2 Processor using Index + database software from System Simulation (http://www.ssl.co.uk). Internet connectivity is through Edinburgh University on a 10Mbit fibre optic link to the EastMAN Metropolitan Area Network.

Curriculum Navigator

(http://www.scran.ac.uk/cgi-bin/curr_nav/view.pl)

The 'Curriculum Navigator' is an on-line tool for schoolteachers. It mimics the hierarchy of the Scottish school curriculum allowing a teacher to easily navigate a complex structure and locate 'Virtual Resource Packs' in the SCRAN Resource Base relevant to the curriculum topic being taught. For example, a teacher or pupil studying history could use the 'Curriculum Navigator' navigate down the following hierarchy -

  • 5-14 Curriculum

    • Environmental Studies

      • Social Subjects

        • Understanding People in the Past

          • The Age of Revolutions [1700-1900]

These are all headings in the curriculum documentation, once the user gets to the bottom of the hierarchy they would be presented with Virtual Resource Pack in the following areas
  • Agriculture
  • Housing Before 1900
  • Housing After 1900
  • Industry - Locomotives
  • Industry - Ships
  • Unemployment and Strikes
Each of these virtual resource packs has between 10 and 100 images and caption data of relevant material from museums, galleries and archives from all over Scotland.

At present there are 73 'Virtual Resource Packs' in the Curriculum Navigator, this number will increase with time. It is important to realise that a major feature of the Curriculum Navigator is that teachers will be save any searches they carry out and will be encouraged to submit new 'Virtual Resource Packs' to SCRAN for inclusion in the Curriculum Navigator or to swap them with other teachers.

SCRAN is currently developing a 'Curriculum Navigator' for the national Curriculum in England and Wales.

Technical details - The Curriculum Navigator was developed in house by SCRAN staff and was implemented in a simple web based database mini-SQL. At present it is available for searching by anyone with Internet access

Clipper

One requirement raised by teachers was to be able to organise and present a selection of resources in a structured, meaningful presentation rather than as a series of isolated items. To try and satisfy this, SCRAN staff wrote a specification and commissioned an Edinburgh software house called Electrum (http://www.electrum.co.uk) to develop a tool that became known as clipper.

The main emphasis was to create a presenter tool that allowed users to select items from the SCRAN Resource Base and create a structured presentation either on or off-line. This tool was written in JAVA and runs on PC, Mac or Unix hardware. It is distributed free of charge to licensed SCRAN users. Other points which had to be taken into consideration included - Not all classrooms have on line access, the amount of time a pupil or teacher can spend online is limited, there are a variety of hardware platforms in Scottish schools and in general , the software budget in schools is very limited.

The main features of Clipper are as follow:

  • Search the SCRAN database for a selection of assets

  • Give a structure to the selected assets (e.g. hierarchy, sequence etc.)

  • Add text captions to the assets selected, or amend existing captions

  • Give each asset in the selection a particular web page style, based on pre-defined templates

  • Automatically add web pages, information, buttons to the assets in the selection (e.g. table of contents, item number, previous/next buttons etc.) to make it easier for the user to understand and navigate through the selection.

  • Generate a series of web pages from the selection, so that the selection can be viewed on any web browser

  • Preview the created pages

  • Save the web pages to disc, so that they can be easily distributed, edited or browsed off-line.

In discussion with users who have seen or used clipper the following benefits have been recognised:
  • Minimises the time spent online by the teacher and their class

  • Allows presentation an a number of template formats

  • Allows a teacher to prepare specific resources for a curriculum topic

  • Creates a 'swappable' resource that can be shared with other schools etc.

  • Because it creates web pages, 'free' software can be used for viewing and presenting.

Technical details - Clipper is written in JAVA and in order that the interface between Clipper and SCRAN be as generic and re-useable as possible, access to the SCRAN Resource Base is through an XML/SGML interface.

Promenade

Promenade is a simple to use off-line presenter tool allowing a user with no real multimedia skills to compose a multimedia presentation using materials from SCRAN and other sources. Promenade uses a panorama metaphor to organise the material. The panorama can be genuine panorama of a cityscape, a virtual panorama of a collection of objects or a created panorama depicting an area or time period.

The main navigation mechanism is through scrolling right to left (and vice versa) across the panorama that has a variety of 'hot spots' that are highlighted and guide the user deeper into the presentation.

This type of tool is meant to be used where a presentation is required that is less transient that one which Clipper would be used for. The ease of use of promenade is achieved through using a 'wizard' to guide you through the creation process interactively. Promenade can create presentations that are more complex than Clipper but require some preliminary media selection and organisation and a grasp of simple storyboarding.

Chronicle

Chronicle is a multimedia package used to show sequences of events or sources of information within a chronological framework. Chronicle was developed by the Scottish Council for Educational Technology (http://www.scet.co.uk) and has been licensed by SCRAN for distribution to our educational users. This is a tried and tested piece of software that has been used in successfully in Scottish schools for several years. Its combination with the SCRAN resources really creates a powerful teaching resource.

The Chronicle programme allows students to order events easily, simply by choosing a time measure, from seconds to years, and then typing in a list of events. Each event can then have several pieces of media associated with it including other timelines.

The package allows students to view existing timelines or create their own. The software gives students an opportunity to create fully animated and annotated sequences of events and can incorporate all text, graphics, sound and digital video. Information for timelines can be taken from SCRAN or from any other resources that the teacher or student has access to.

SCET give examples of how Chronicle can be used which include, the Prime Ministers of the last century, the race to the moon, a day in the life of a maid in Victorian Britain or even the pupil's own personal life story.

It is important for SCRAN to continually update existing tools and to develop new ones as circumstances change. This is particularly important in the UK at the moment as there are so many initiatives starting which will alter dramatically the way educational material is delivered over the Internet.

These initiatives include The National Grid for Learning, announced by the Government in late 1997 it hopes is described in the Governments consultation paper - 'Connecting the Learning Society' (http://www.dfee.gov.uk/grid/consult/index.htm)

'The Grid will be a way of finding and using on-line learning and teaching materials. It will encourage the development of a rich mosaic of interconnected networks and education services.'

  • Teachers will be able to share and discuss best practice with each other and with experts while remaining in their schools;

  • Materials and advice will be available on-line - when learners want them - to help develop their literacy and numeracy skills, including in their own time;

  • Children in isolated schools will be able to link up with their counterparts' curriculum, to help them to work together and gain the stimulus they need;

  • Language learners will be able to communicate directly with speakers of the target language;

  • Learners at home or in libraries will be able to access a wider range of quality learning programmes, materials and software.

Another important initiative is the New Opportunities Fund that was the Government response to the Library and Information Commission's Report in 1998 "New Library: The People's Network". Which has money to train all local librarians in basic ICT skills.

With these initiatives already rolling out and more in the pipeline, it is fundamental that SCRAN continue developing facilities and services as they are required.

Under Development

Locator

Locator will enable SCRAN users to simply and easily view assets from the SCRAN Resource Base using and interactive graphical interface based on the conjunction of a timeline and a geographical theme. The user can select a time period from the timeline and/or a region from a map and will be presented with graphical feedback as to how many, what type, where from and from which time period his results match. They can then further refine their search or look at specific objects.

This is under development at the moment and is expected to be in beta testing in March 1999.

Exemplars

SCRAN is funding a project with St Andrew's High School which will see the school students and teachers use the variety of SCRAN tools available to create exemplar teaching materials in several areas including:
  • Identifying images and information which can be used by teachers of English to stimulate creative writing

  • Identifying images and information which can be used by teachers of History as stimulus for 'Understanding People in the Past'

  • Producing exemplar teaching materials using SCRAN tools and other appropriate software

  • Providing training materials enabling teachers and pupils to produce their own presentations using SCRAN materials.

St. Andrew's High School is keen to carry out this work, as it is the only High School in Europe to be selected as an ACOT site (Apple Classroom of Tomorrow) whose main objective is to 'change the way teachers think about and use technology for learning'.

Evaluation is discussed briefly below, however, a SCRAN project entitled 'Practical Methodology for the Integration of WWW Resources into SCRAN Cultural Resources Database - Or How to Make the WWW Really Useful' has already been carried out. It attempts to look at SCRAN in the wider context of the World Wide Web.

The introduction from the report specifies the main issues it tries to tackle:

'There are as yet no formal recommendations as to the use of the Internet, and specifically World Wide Web resources, in Scottish education. It is therefore difficult to assess the use that is being made of these resources, either quantitatively or in longitudinal terms. It is also impossible to ascertain the extent to which the World Wide Web is being used for information purposes in education, and the extent to which institutions, especially schools, are becoming web authors themselves in order to effectively harness the power of networks for dissemination of their own information sources.

For these reasons, the following paper does not attempt to report on these issues but, rather, attempts to provide practical guidance in using the WWW as an educational information source. It concentrates on the identification of useful resources, and their organisation for optimum usefulness.'

Audrey Sutton 1998 from the SCRAN Project - 'Practical Methodology for the Integration of WWW Resources into SCRAN Cultural Resources Database - Or How to Make the WWW Really Useful'

The report goes on to produce a practical guide for finding, using and evaluating educational resources available on the Internet. It looks at areas such as:
  • Defining and refining information requirements on which to base searches.

  • Choosing Appropriate Internet Search Techniques

  • Choosing Appropriate Internet Search Tools

  • Evaluating World Wide Web Resources

  • Organising World Wide Web Resources

  • Digital Copyright

Although the report is targeted mainly at teachers using the Internet, I'm sure it has lessons we could all learn.

Evaluation

Evaluation is an important part of any project and at SCRAN evaluation can take many different forms. Our series of 'Roadshows' to the Education sector was a major evaluation exercise to reassure us that SCRAN was producing a product that was required by our main audience i.e. the Education Sector in Scotland.

To enable us to keep on track we have regular reviews of both the projects we are funding in order to build the SCRAN Resource Base and of the educational direction the SCRAN project is taking.

The SCRAN Editorial Board ensure that the projects funded by SCRAN meet with levels of academic integrity we expect from our contributors and ensure that we are achieving a good range of subject material which covers the crossover between the SCRAN remit from the Millennium Commission and the educational curriculum.

The SCRAN educational Committee is a wide range of educationalists from primary, secondary, further and higher education including representation from administering and research organisations. Their remit is really to keep SCRAN appraised of changes and opportunities in the various sectors represented and also to review SCRAN materials for educational effectiveness.

Conclusion

The key conclusion that SCRAN has drawn over a year of speaking to teachers and other educationalists is the need for flexibility. Some teachers wish for the complete freedom to roam the Internet or in the case of SCRAN doing fairly broad-brush searches in the database. Other teachers like to be able to pick from the Internet or the SCRAN Resource Base a shrink wrapped curriculum topic with no fuss, no bother, no mess. The most interesting area is the middle ground where SCRAN is aiming to provide tools, where teachers know what they want to teach, can find relevant material easily and are given some support in presenting it in an appropriate form.