Sharing learning resources between the NHS and HE sectors - technical specifications

8 June 2011

The PORSCHE project seeks to achieve seamless access to learning resources for students and staff involved in clinical placement training through open educational resource sharing. As part of this project, the MEDEV good practice risk assessment toolkit for sharing open learning resources will incorporate guidance on NHS technical requirements for learning materials as part of its quality assurance section.

Individual organisations within the NHS have local technical specifications for the IT infrastructure used to view e-learning materials. These, in part, help to maintain data security and essential network bandwidth capacity for essential patient services. However, for education and training, if these technical specifications are not compatible with e-learning content (or its delivery) then content may not function correctly or will not be accessible. These specifications can vary between the different parts of (and various Trusts) within the NHS. Previous work has provided guidance on negotiating these factors. For example, e-Learning for Healthcare (e-LfH) has published a minimum specification for an NHS PC (http://www.e-lfh.org.uk/docs/Technical_Requirements_e-LfH_learning_materials.pdf) and wider related issues are contained within the NHS e-Learning Readiness toolkit.

So far, we have drafted out the following factors/specifications that should be considered when designing and subsequent sharing of learning content for delivery in NHS learning environments.

Computer administrator rights

In general, end users will not have administrative rights (and hence software install rights) on NHS administered computers, thus they may not have permission to run custom software or plug-ins on the PC they are using.

Use of audio

The PC may have audio disabled or no soundcard fitted, therefore written text captions are preferred where possible. 

Internet web browser

Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 (IE6) is still the most commonly used browser in the NHS, although both Connecting for Health and Microsoft have advised NHS organisations to upgrade. Please see the following for more information:

http://www.connectingforhealth.nhs.uk/systemsandservices/infogov/links/msievulnerability979352.pdf

http://www.microsoft.com/uk/nhs/content/articles/internet-explorer-vulnerability-microsoft-security-advisory.aspx

The Electronic Staff Record (ESR) that includes the National Learning Management System (NLMS) no longer supports IE6. 

Firewalls and allowed TCP ports 

If your e-learning application uses non-typical TCP ports they may not be enabled by default. For example, the availability of ports 7777, 7778 and 7780 (Oracle database applications) may need to be confirmed.

Plug-ins

E-learning content for sharing must be compatible with the availability and version of the 'plug-ins' that are available on the host PC. For example current NHS recommendations for Adobe Flash are version 8 (required for e-LfH) and version 9 (for the NLMS). Similar specifications exist for Java. QuickTime may or may not be installed.

Screen resolution

It is recommended that the e-learning content should work with a screen resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels.

Pop-up blockers

E-learning materials using 
pop-up windows will need pop-up blockers disabled within the host browser.

PC specification checkers

A web browser based 'PC checker' tool is available from e-LfH (http://www.e-lfh.org.uk/technical_requirements.html). There is a similar PC checking tool for learning resources targeted at the NLMS and which can be accessed at: http://www.esrsupport.co.uk/nlms/pccheck.html

Technology standards

Use of technology standards within e-learning resources will aid interoperability between domains. Currently 
SCORM version 1.2 is recommended, as this is the standard supported by the NLMS.

Network bandwidth
 

NHS networks can implement ‘bandwidth throttling’ or prioritisation to maintain essential services. This may have implications for use of e-learning content with large files sizes such as video media.

Web address IP blocking (‘whitelisting') of allowed site

Educational material on sites such as YouTube may not be accessible because of 'whitelisting' of allowed site. There may also be blocking of 
social media sites that can be used in teaching applications. A current list of recommended allowed sites is available here:

http://www.libraryservices.nhs.uk/forlibrarystaff/information/technology.html.

This list is subject to NHS trust to trust variation through local implementation plans.

User login systems and authentication

If learning content is secured by password authentication, can end users access it seamlessly from various learning locations? For example, user account login details used to access online learning systems are often NHS or HE domain specific i.e. NHS Athens or HE UK Federated Access Management authentication. Can content be shared openly instead?

The above guidance will be incorporated into the MEDEV good practice toolkit as part of the PORSCHE project (thanks to Kate Lomax, Project Manager for the NHS e-Learning Repository at the London Deanery and PORSCHE partner for assisting with compiling this information, @NHSeLearning).

Moving on from this, I am interested in questions such as:

How frequently do staff and students in NHS, HE and FE sectors encounter technical barriers to accessing or depositing learning resources and in what settings? To what degree are these problems reported/resolved?

How does this compare with barriers to sharing resulting from other factors (institutional policies, copyright/IPR concerns, patient consent issues, etc.)

Do staff and students change where (i.e. mobile device, home network, campus, hospital site, etc.) they view/download from, in order to gain successful access to learning resources?

Certainly, there is previous interesting work published around this area that I am reading up on, for example:

Natalie Lafferty. eLIME blog (April 2010) Accessing e-learning resources in the NHS http://mededelearning.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/accessing-e-learning-resources-in-the-nhs/

Nicholas Prince et al. Medical Education. Volume 44, Issue 5, pages 436–437 (May 2010) Accessing e-learning and e-resources

If you have any comments on accessing and sharing resources between the NHS, HE and FE sectors or the issues raised here, please feel free to contact me.


Related tags: authentication and authorisation, barriers, elearning, FE, HE, learning materials, N3, NHS, OER, OER phase 2, open educational resources, PORSCHE, problems, sharing, technical guidelines, ukoer

Posted by: Lindsay Wood

Posted in: Lindsay's blog, OER phase 2 blog

 
 
MEDEV, School of Medical Sciences Education Development,
Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, NE2 4HH

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