1.1 The call and its background
1.2 The wider background
1.3 Terminology and definitions in this study
2 Target audience
3.1 Literature review
3.2 Face to face interviews
3.3 Regional workshops
3.4 Email questionnaire
We are very grateful to all those who gave up time to help us write this report. Vital to this work were the people we interviewed, those who attended our regional workshops, those who answered our email questionnaire and others to whom we spoke or who pointed us to other sources. We could not have written this report without the collaboration and help from colleagues in the international academic community and colleagues in the public and private sector who shared research, ideas and opinions with us. We have recognised these people by name in Appendix 11.2. Please forgive any omissions or errors in this section - we will update the Web version of the report if we are informed.
Particular thanks are due to Jos Kingston who produced the html version of this report, Grace de la Flor who shared with us pre-publication material and to Chris Awre who supported us knowledgably through the process and whose flexibility allowed us to concentrate on the work in hand.
This paper was written after a successful tender responding to a call (1) from JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee). JISC fund research, services, collections and projects for the UK academic community. Many of these have been considering personalisation as a possible element in their presentation services. Some are using elements of personalisation, other are experimenting with it.
Internet users increasingly experience personalisation as they consume, buy, search and browse. Services present themselves using personalised interfaces from the minimum of using personal information to provide a "friendlier" greeting - "Welcome, Jane Smith" - to suggesting new purchases based on your past ones, your browsing and searching patterns and the purchasing behaviour of others. Suppliers of software solutions tell us that their customers (and by implication, though this is less certain, their end users) are demanding personalisation. What these demands mean, and the precise functions and utility which people perceive flowing from this personalisation, is unclear. It may be that, rather like the pressure for every business to "Get a Web site" a few years ago, these demands have a poorly formulated and specified rationale. Nevertheless there seems little doubt that, having seen personalisation at work on Amazon and eBay, many commissioners of information systems are saying to suppliers "we'd like that on our Web site". In academia, there are conflicting claims to be the "one place to go" from library system suppliers, MLEs (Managed Learning Environments), a variety of services, private and public, national and international and, increasingly, Institutional Portals.
We supplied a definition list to help discussion during interviews and meetings. This "Base Definition List" with explanatory notes, appears in full in Appendix 11.1. Briefly, we distinguish between Customisation, where the users have responsibility for customising their own experience, and Adaptive Personalisation where the availability of options, interface, access or functionality is based upon knowledge about users gained from tracking user activity and/or other sources of user information. Most JISC services seem to be providing customisation rather than adaptive personalisation. During the process we found it useful to further distinguish between Adaptive Personalisation based on User Activity (APUA) and Adaptive Personalisation based on Data held elsewhere (APOD).
We speak throughout this document of the UK academic community. By this we mean the community who are exposed to JISC funded projects, service and resources: Adult and Community Learning (ACL), Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE). JISC's remit does not currently cover schools and when we speak of the UK academic community we exclude schools for the purpose of this report.
Technology and education between them have spawned their fair share of acronyms - we have attempted to mitigate the worst effects of this by ensuring that each acronym is expanded at least once in the text and also listed in Appendix 11.4.
The three authors of this study come from a variety of backgrounds encompassing further and higher education, research and services, publishing and software development. Short biographies may be found in Appendix 11.5.
We expect the audience for this report to be the JISC staff and committee members; members of the UK academic community including those involved in institutionally funded projects and services and those working on JISC-funded projects and services; those from outside the UK who are working in a similar area; and those who are involved, albeit at an early stage, in the development of the Common Information Environment (CIE) within the UK. (2)
The report is aimed primarily at those involved in strategy and provision, including developers and implementers. It is not a survey of the latest breaking research in the area and is not aimed at active technical researchers developing new personalisation technologies. We have been concerned more with focussing on the potential for provision, development and application in the short to medium term.
We conducted a search of bibliographic and Web based resources covering the whole subject area, concentrating on applications of personalisation technologies which have potential applicability in the UK academic community. As part of this process we also reviewed information relating to software tools and products (both commercial and open source).
We conducted several targeted face to face interviews to discuss issues in depth and to allow us to take advantage of demonstrations and access to key people. These interviews were subsequently written up and approved by the participants - the issues arising and lessons learned by us have been incorporated into the text.
We held three regional workshops one each at the University of Edinburgh, hosted by EDINA, The City of Bristol College, hosted by the Western Colleges Consortium, and Centrepoint, London, hosted by JISC. The participants were all invited and represented a selection of people active in the UK academic community in the following areas: teaching and learning, libraries, institutional portals and service provision, national service provision, research projects, IT support, development and implementation, user testing and design. The focus of the discussion was, as one might expect, somewhat different at each of the workshops. In Edinburgh, following a presentation by Katie Anstock from Talis, much of the discussion was about the presentation of personalised information via an institutional framework. In Bristol, following presentations by Jasper Tredgold from the Subject Portals Project (SPP), Paul Browning from the University of Bristol Portal project and Andy Powell from UKOLN, the focus was more on information retrieval and subject-specific services, although there was also some very interesting discussion on the difference between information services and information processes at FE and HE institutions. In London, following presentations from Anne Ramsden on the Open University's pilot portal, Tom Franklin on Connect and Paul Miller on the JISC Information Environment Architecture, discussion was more eclectic including JISC services, personalisation for teaching and learning, students' information skills and strategies and creating open source based institutional portals.
An email questionnaire was sent to a number of correspondents whom, for reasons of geography or other constraints, we had not been able to interview or who had not been able to attend the workshops. This proved a very useful tool in getting input from those outside of the UK. All respondents were given the opportunity to choose not to be quoted, to be quoted anonymously or to be quoted with attribution. Comments in the text are therefore sometimes attributed to a named source and sometimes, for example, to "workshop participant" or "questionnaire respondent".