Monday, 3 June 2013

Evaluating online resources

Over the past few months I have been compiling a list of online resources that the Head of Learning Resources would like me to look into.Up until now I haven't had the time to do so. I have five resources to look at. Because I've left it so long it now seems a little daunting. Therefore, I have set myself some parameters - I will spend 30 minutes looking at each one and answer the following questions:
  • what is the resource, who owns it and who is it aimed at?
  • what is its content and coverage?
  • how easy and intuitive is it to use?
  • would it enhance and compliment our existing collections?
HELM stands for Helping Engineers Learn Mathematics. It has been developed by a consortium of five English universities and aims to "enhance the mathematical education of engineering undergraduates by the provision of a range of flexible learning resources". The resource comprises of 50 workbooks each containing maths for engineering simply explained, worked examples and case studies/ In addition there are enhanced course ware objects and computer-aided assessment. The resource attempts to ensure that engineering students achieve the basic maths skills they require and covers the maths and statistics knowledge covered in the first and second years of a typical undergraduate degree.

Each workbook opens in a PDF format with each section outlining the prerequisites and learning outcomes. Workbooks may need to be printed if supplied as PDFs in the actual resource in order for students to complete the exercises. Users can access all of the learning resources for free. 37 institutions are listed as HELM users on the website including 5 FE Colleges.

The site was last updated in 2005. We could recommend this resource in the 'The LRC also recommends' section of our e-resources page as it is free. However, I think we should ask engineering tutors whether it would be appropriate to promote to our students or whether the level of knowledge would be too high. (
TED is a "nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design." The purpose of is to make "the best talks and performances from TED and partners available to the world, for free." Over 1400 videos are available on the site.

I found the site to be quite un-intuitive. The most relevant section for students would be 'talks'. You are then presented with the most recently uploaded videos. You can filter by subject choosing from technology, entertainment, design, business, science ans global issues. The other filtering options allow you to narrow down videos with subtitles in a particular language, by event, by length and by most popular/commented on, etc. The information from the results give the name of the speaker, the title of their talk and when it was posted along with the number of views, comments and tags such as "informative", "fascinating" and "inspiring".

The videos play within the page and can also be enlarged to full screen. There is a search box which will find results that contain your term in the title or description of the talk. The search doesn't appear to follow Boolean as when I searched for 'sustainable AND architecture' it brought results on the topic which also contained the word 'and'.

I think this could be a valuable site as it provides up-to-date thinking on current issues and topics of discussion within the fields. I searched for 'sustainable architecture', 'media representation' and 'ethics in biology' and found some really relevant material. However, I think we would struggle encouraging students to use it. The site is not intuitive to academic use and, although near the top of the page, the search box is very small. The resource would also be very different to the more 'reference' based materials that the students have access to. It would need good promotion within inductions. (
ScienceDirect is "a leading full-text scientific database offering journal articles and book chapters for more than 2,500 peer-reviewed journals and more than 11,000 books." It is managed by Elseveir with whom you need to set up an account. Prices for subscriptions are unclear on the site. However, when searching as a guest user prices for individual articles are shows in dollars - does this mean that the journals and books with the collection will have an American bias? (Having said that, the introductory video guide uses a British voice-over.) Advanced search, although not obviously placed, allows you to add additional search terms and limit by subject and year.

The 'Backfiles' collection (back issues) can be purchased as a complete set or per each pre-defined subject-specific package. There is a one-off purchase with no annual fees for as long as you remain a ScienceDirect subscriber. Users will then have full access to the Backfile articles plus abstracts of all non-subscribed material. You can obtain more recent articles via pay per view or by subscription to the journal on ScienceDirect. ScienceDirect College Edition provides "affordable" access to dedicated subject packages in the physical, social and health sciences, complemented by content from online books and pre-1995 journals.

It is possible to request a free trial and this resource would nee further investigation. We would need to complete ebook offering with subject covers and Dawson availability as well as journal title and subject coverage with our existing subscription to Science Reference Center.

Ovid Medicing & Sport Science Package
This package gives access to core resources on sports science. It is offered as part-purchase part-subscription and contains access to 12 months of current issues from Strength and Conditioning Journal and ACSM's Health and Fitness Journal; over 135 back issues of Strength Conditioning Journal;  4 e-books (100 questions and answers about sports, nutrition and exercise; Sports medicine consult; 4-minute sports medicine consult and Evidence-based sports medicine) along with access to the Medline database. Free trials and customised quotations are available.

The journals and first ebook may be useful for the new Foundation Degree in Sports Coaching and Analysis that the College is offering. A BSC in Sports Science and a BSC in Sports Coaching and Analysis are also in the prospectus. We would need to discuss the relevancy of the content with the appropriate tutors.

JISC Collections (
I had a look through the list of free e-resources and we already have access the relevant ones for us. These are: the e-books for FE project; Encyclopaedia Britannica e-Books free trial; JISC MediaHub for FE; and Primal Pictures Anatomy and Physiology Online. From the full catalogue there are relevant resources that we have previously had access to, such as Grove Art Online and ChildLink. Resources that may be relevant that could be investigate are: Credo Reference (provides access to a range of reference materials); Digital Theatre Plus (provides streamed films of leading British theatre productions for educational use supported by additional content); and JISC eCollections for FE (provides access as a package to JISC Journal Archives, JISC Historic Books and JISC MediaHub - all parts can also be purchased in combination and separately).

Evaluation of method
I found that limiting myself to 30 minutes on each resource was a very productive method. I split my screen so that on one side I could see an online countdown timer and on the other I could evaluate the resource. Often I found that I didn't take the full 30 minutes. This method helped focus my evaluation and prevented me from either losing interest or from losing sight of my goals by trying to evaluate too extensively. I feel now that I have a good evaluative overview of each resource and make recommendations for further investigation.

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