The elusive promise of a wealth of digital resources available for free use by learners and teachers throughout the UK is finally about to be realised. The National Digital Resource Bank (NDRB), run by the North West Learning Grid and supported by open source specialist company Sirius, will start by making available £30 million worth of resources (expected to double year on year).
The radical project has been brought about by collaboration between around 120 local authorities, 9 out of 10 broadband consortia, national network organisation Janet and the final piece of the jigsaw, Spanish secretary of state Francisco Ros releasing the source code and documentation for Agrega, Spain’s own digital repository for learning – a major breakthrough for open source.
“A partnership with the Spanish Telecommunications and Information Society has been signed,” says Jim Knight MP, minister for schools and learners, “to develop a National Digital Resource Bank, to create, search for, and share digital content. The UK is renowned for excellence in ICT infrastructure, development of digital resources, and willingness to work with other countries and has combined these three elements in this landmark project.”
Gary Clawson, chief executive of the North West Learning Grid says that the NDRB is “the missing link in UK digital resource strategy”. He adds “We have a great infrastructure, we have lots of media-rich resources and we have implemented learning platforms in schools. But despite this, schools have been unable to share resources with other schools because of different technical solutions implemented across different local authorities.
“Now we have a partnership of more than 100 LAs, and the creation of the NDRB, using open source software and incorporating international standards, will enable UK schools to access the most comprehensive set of digital learning resources available anywhere in the world.”
By the summer learners and teachers should be enjoying some of the tens of millions of pounds worth of digital resources that have already been created through the use of public funding by local authorities, city learning centres and schools. For the first time, following 18 months of preparation, they will be brought together, free to users nationally, in a form originally promised by the £500m Curriculum Online project which failed to deliver.
It is likely to breathe new life into the national programme to put learning platforms into schools which does not appear to have generated the kind of excitement and welcome originally hoped for. The resources are tagged for curriculum use to ensure they are easy to find and use.
It is understood that the open source software hosting the service will cost around £75,000 to amend and develop. The commercial equivalent is thought to have been costed at around £5m per annum for software licences. Agreement to share resources has come from 120 LA’s and all but one regional broadband consortium (the South East Grid for Learning) have agreed to support their LAs in sourcing copyright-free content. The NDRB is hosted on the Janet national network.
The NDRB is “the first nationwide project that relies on open source software, open standards and open content”, says Mark Taylor, chief executive of Sirius Corporation. “The scale and ambition of this project has been made possible by free and open source software. Being tied into a commercially licensed platform would have restricted the NDRB's ability to scale. It would have been just too expensive.
“The NDRB shows how to reduce the risks associated with national IT projects and make them more affordable.”
- Resources are available under a creative commons, non-commercial, share-alike licence. They have been mapped and tagged and made suitable for use with learning platforms.
- The NDRB is available free to any LA prepared to become a member of the scheme and contribute its own publicly funded resources.
- Resources range from tutorials, activities and interactive games covering entire courses to individual photographs, audio clips and worksheets.
- The cost of developing and maintaining NDRB is estimated to be less than £400,000 per annum which represents less than a quarter of a percent of current annual ICT investment in schools.
- The technology behind the NDRB is Agrega This is a multimillion-Euros open source development funded by the Spanish government.
- The North West Learning Grid is a consortium of 18 LAs and more than 2,000 schools. Central to its activities is the provision of e-learning content, much of which is free for all schools and their learners.
- The North West Learning Grid also maintains broadband connectivity between its 18 member authorities and the “national backbone” provided by Janet.
- Sirius Corporation plc is the only Becta-accredited provider of open source software and services to schools in the UK.