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A recipe for interoperability in practice

At the 8th CETIS Educational Content SIG meeting held in Glasgow on 28th August, Colin Milligan (RELOAD), Martin Morrey (Intrallect) and Gerry Graham (Learning and Teaching Scotland) presented a demonstration of practical interoperability between a content repository (the JORUM Intralibrary) and a virtual learning environment (PIONEER), mediated by the RELOAD Editor. For full meeting minutes and presentations, see the EC-SIG web page at:

This page provides access to the content exchanged on the day and also provides a walk through summary of the steps involved. For further information about the specifications referred to and a general background on standards and interoperability, use the CETIS encyclopedia


The aim of this interoperability demonstration was to show that interoperability has moved beyond the realm of theory and is now a reality - with tools and systems in use within the UK academic community. Whilst in the past, demonstrations of 'Content Packaging' have used artificial content, it was decided that for this showcase, a proper learning resource would be used. In addition, tools would be used to adapt the content before re-use.

The Scenario

The scenario adopted for the demo was one where a teacher used the JORUM Intralibrary to identify relevant resources for their course and saved these to their local machine. The teacher could then use the RELOAD tools to combine the resources into a new Content Package which they stored in Intralibrary. A second teacher discovers the new resource in Intralibrary and makes slight changes (to IMS QTI (Question and Test Interoperability) compliant content) before importing into their own virtual learning environment (PIONEER). This process is shown schematically below.

The Content

Two Content Packages were placed in the JORUM Intralibrary.
  • One was a set of nine web pages covering a tutorial on Business Startup. The tutorial includes Java applets embedded in the web pages and was created as a Content Package using the RELOAD Editor. The tutorial Content Package is available here:
  • The second Content Package was a short Macromedia Flash assessment written to conform to the IMS Question and Test Interoperability specification. The assessment is delivered as a Flash Movie within a web page using the Learning & Teaching Scotland QTI QuizRenderer and made into a Content Package with RELOAD Editor. The assessment Content Package is available here:

The Process

The JORUM Intralibrary is a closed system - userid's are available for X4L project members (one per project). Once logged on, the user can choose to manage their own content, browse the catalogue, or search with keywords. A search with the term 'business startup' identifies three resources in the repository (see Screenshot 1) of which two are relevant.

Screenshot 1
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Once some content has been identified, icons to the left of each resource (see Screenshot 2) allow the user to preview the object, view its metadata record, add it to 'My Library' or export as a Content Package. For the demo, we chose to export the two packages as IMS Content Packages (Screenshot 3).

Screenshot 2

Screenshot 3
Click image for larger version.

The IMS Content Packages can be opened directly in RELOAD, which reads the manifest information and creates a tree structure representation of the content (Screenshot 4). Looking at the two packages shows that the tutorial has a set of nine linked web pages, whereas the Flash assessment is contained within a single page (and supporting files). A new Content Package can be created by opening the tutorial package and importing in resources from the Flash assessment package. The Flash assessment page is then added to the tutorial organization at the appropriate point. If necessary, metadata can be added or edited to reflect the new content. The new Content Package can be previewed in a web browser (Screenshot 5). A new zipped Content Package can then be exported. The combined Content Package is available here:

Screenshot 4
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Screenshot 5
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To make the new Content Package available to other users of the repository, the file has to be uploaded to Intralibrary and then published. The upload area of JORUM Intralibrary shows the users personal (unpublished) packages and provides an interface for upload (Screenshot 6). Once files are uploaded, icons to the left of each resource (Screenshot 7) allow the user to edit metadata, classify, publish, preview or delete content packages.

Screenshot 6
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Screenshot 7

An object must be classified before it can be published - classification allows the resource to be stored within a browseable tree - allowing discovery by browsing (Screenshot 8) as well as by keyword search.

Screenshot 8
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Once uploaded and classified, the object is published with a single click and becomes available to all users as a resource.

A second teacher can now discover and use the new resource: for instance through browsing to the economics sub-category or via a keyword search - 'business startup'. Again, the resource can be saved to the users local machine.

The Excel Spreadsheet used to create the tutorial test resource creates content in a standard format - as described by the IMS Question and Test Interoperability specification. This means that any QTI compliant assessment tool can edit and deliver these questions - not just the software used to author them. As a test of interoperability, the XML file containing the test questions for the business startup tutorial (multichoice.xml) was extracted from the Content Package and edited (Screenshot 9) using a second assessment tool called Respondus ( In this tool, feedback can be edited, the xml re-saved, and added back in to the Content Package.

Screenshot 9
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Delivering content in a virtual learning environment is the ultimate goal for the teacher. VLE's which recognise Content Packages should be able to import and display content with no further intervention.

For our demo, we chose to use the PIONEER learning environment developed by Learning and Teaching Scotland. PIONEER is a lightweight VLE, founded on a concept of courses to which classes are assigned. The course administrator logs in to the PIONEER interface. From here, the administrator chooses the Admin. option, and selects Courses, then Set Up New Course. A small amount of information is collected about the course (display name etc.) and the Content Package uploaded from the local disk to the PIONEER server. A class is then set up and the relevant content assigned to it. The course than becomes available to all registered participants (Screenshot 10). The navigation (organization) specified in the Content Package is taken as the basis for navigation within the PIONEER environment - and the individual pages appear as numbered sections along the bottom of the content screen. The first 9 screens represent the original business startup tutorial and the 10th screen represents the test.

Screenshot 10
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Content used in the demonstration was supplied by JeLSIM: .
Tools used were:
Intralibrary from Intrallect:,
RELOAD Editor: ,
Respondus: , and the
LTS QTI Quiz Renderer: (available as a Content Package here: ).
Packages were stored in the JORUM Intralibrary at ,
Content was delivered in the PIONEER VLE:

You can download this article as an IMS Content Package

Related items:


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