The Telearn Open Archive – insights from Nicolas Balacheff, Scientific Manager of Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope is the European research network contributing to shape the scientific evolution of technology-enhanced learning. The researchers work collaboratively across educational, computer, and social sciences to transform the quality and extend the reach of the learning experience. These multinational and interdisciplinary teams address the varied issues relating to learning within a wide range of educational settings. At the heart of the network’s scientific vision is the establishment of an integrated and sustainable scientific framework for research in the field. One important step to accomplish this task is the introduction of the Telearn open archive. Nicolas Balacheff, Scientific Manager of Kaleidoscope tells us more about this approach.


OEB News Service: What is the idea behind the open archive TeLearn. Who has been involved in its development?


Dr. Nicolas Balacheff: The Open Archive Initiative is an international movement that aims at ensuring that researchers will be able to share the outcomes of their work openly, freely, and reliably. The researchers are the producers of the content of the scientific publications and also the first consumers. Moreover they are in most cases required to provide publishers with their papers in copy-ready form and then have to buy journals and books at a very significant cost. The role of the publishers has essentially been to produce the objects (journal or books) and to disseminate them. The recent progress of information technology has blown away the last obstacle to producing a digital version of the copy-ready papers and has made their dissemination at almost no tangible cost to researchers and their institutions possible.


The Open Archive Initiative is a first-of-its-kind, immediate corollary of the use of IT in scientific work. But there is more to it than that since this material can be also shared by being published on the researcher’s website. The OAI is based on institutions that ensure their sustainable existence, and on a standardisation of the metadata that ensures the interoperation ability of the various repositories. If you add to that the commitment of the institution to ensure the availability of the document as the technology is evolving, you get felicitous conditions of success: open access, free, sustainable, and reliable.


Institutions from all over the world have joined the movement since the initiative of the researchers in Los Alamos and then Cornel University. In particular, European research institutions and universities have committed themselves – among them several Kaleidoscope partners, such as the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) , the University of Nottingham from the United Kingdom, the Italian National Council for Research or the University of Athens in Greece – just to mention a few. Indeed, such a situation paved the way very favourably for us to implement the Open Archive in the field of research on TEL.


OEB: Why is it so important for the scientific community to have access to an open archive system?


NB: As researchers from other fields have acknowledged, the Open Archive makes it possible to share the most recent results with the lowest possible barriers in time and cost. This alone makes the Open Archive very valuable, especially when we consider the cost of access to scientific publications for scientists, especially in fields related to social and human science where the budgets are often quite low.


Indeed, researchers have questions about such an open way to collect publications and the way it will contribute to the development of research. The first issue often mentioned is the fear that the level of what will be accessible on the Open Archive will be of a low quality and hence scientifically not reliable. As a matter of fact, it is true that there is no other limitation to what is uploaded on an Open Archive than the acceptable relation between what is uploaded and the topic addressed by the domain. The only possible limit is that this person must be a member of an identifiable institution, either public or private, academic or R&D, affiliated to the repository. Then it is the responsibility of the research community to implement processes in order to ensure the identification and “stamping” the papers worthy of consideration. This problem is not new: we all know how to deal with it as we already do successfully for conferences, journals, and books.


Another problem is that of intellectual property and plagiarism. The fear is high, but in my opinion, it is essentially because of the ignorance of the (institutional) way the archiving is organised and of what the technology can bring. It might seem amazing, but the Open Archive will actually provide researchers with more protection. First the material uploaded is clearly identified with all the basic data including the date of the publication. This is an efficient way to fix the ownership, date, and content of a publication. Moreover, we have now all the means and the computational power to verify the similarities of the content of papers in a way much more efficient than ever possible until now. Computational techniques like latent semantic analysis (LSA) allow the clustering documents based on the analysis of their content and the investigation of the proximity of their content.


The content of the OA repositories constitutes raw material on which we must build a scientific strategy. The “Open Access Journal” already exists, as do clusters of publications based on branding criteria. Indeed, the issue will not be to decide which documents are of no interest, but to clearly stamp those that are to be considered as contributing the most to the development of our understanding of technology-enhanced learning from whatever perspective: academic contribution, innovation, or technological breakthrough.


OEB: Where do you see the advantages of an open archive over other forms of archiving and dissemination of scientific work?


NB: The first advantage is to provide an instrument to fight against the fragmentation of the field. Another advantage is its possible contribution to our effort not to reinvent the wheel, as we have had a tendency to do for years.


Imagine that authors systematically upload their production (grey literature, pre-print and post-print) on an Open Archive. Then we will have immediate access to all the literature, wherever the papers are. Compared to the current situation, with a very fragmented organisation of publications of all kind – from journals to books, collected papers to proceeding with a large number of publishers – the advantage is obvious. Most students and researchers already start their bibliographies by searching the Web. The Telearn open archive will allow us to organise this search in a much more systematic and comprehensive way. I would even claim that given the evolution of the real life in our research units and PhD programmes, it is now critical that we react and organise ourselves. This is exactly the mission of the Kaleidoscope Telearn initiative.


A concrete consequence, beyond easier access to the flow of the most recent publications, is the possibility we will have to search documents not only based on their title and metadata, but also from their content. This means that it will be far easier to identify what has already been produced on whatever content and from different perspectives. Extracting knowledge from repositories could even constitute one of the most strategic and urgent scientific programmes to engage in. The needed tools are almost there; what is required is the shaping of a framework to support such a search in order to ensure its relevance and reliability. Eventually I see here a possibility to engage in a foundational research programme for which we have not yet had the means and energy, given the dramatic fragmentation of the field from a scientific and cultural perspective.


OEB: How can TeLearn contribute to the sustainability of the Kaleidoscope network?


NB: This is a difficult question: It depends on what we mean by “sustainability”. This question is often followed by another one about money, budgets, and financial sustainability. My answer would be that if we engaged in the Telearn initiative with a firm willingness to share our publications openly, then I have every expectation that we will reach the stage of a sustainable network at a scientific level. More than that, my belief is that Kaleidoscope must head in this direction and involve all the community in Europe and beyond. We are providing the first universal and collaborative component for a sustainable scientific field; establishing an Open Archive for the field and stimulating the movement towards this advanced way to collaborate scientifically, is in my opinion, much more significant than the creation of a new journal or a new conference.


Indeed, I cannot forget the financial issues, and I am ready to take up the challenge of the business plan to make this initiative concretely sustainable in our “real” world. The current developments are supported by the CCSD, which is a service unit of the CNRS, which ensures long-term sustainability. I have every expectation that other partners from Kaleidoscope, already active OAI actors, will join and that very soon we will have a distributed, fully interoperable, and institutionally based infrastructure.


OEB: Can you tell us something about Kaleidoscope’s further approaches to promoting the exchange of knowledge related to technology-enhanced learning?


NB: What makes the Kaleidoscope approach original is the decision to welcome publications in any language. This is a very important decision. Our field of research, as all scientific and technical domains, is dominated by the communication in English. This raises a lot of difficulty for several communities – if not all – because a large part of the communication is based on the capacity to express complex concepts of a cognitive or epistemological nature, for which expressions vary from language to language and culture to culture. Indeed, I don’t oppose the fact that we have a common working language, but we must manage our collaboration in such a way that it remains possible to express our theoretical framework, analysis, and results in German, in Italian, in Dutch, in Bulgarian, etc. I have every expectation that the development of technology will be multilingual and multicultural.


For us now, it means developing multi-language meta-data, understanding the differences, and evaluating their impact on our work and collaboration. For example, we frequently identify specificities, like with – for us in France – the classical difficulty of translating “connaissance” into English. But such problems exist in every language and for numerous words or expressions. We continuously have to make efforts at clarification, which leads us to make explicit definitions and beyond: the differences and commonalties of our theoretical frameworks and their related problématique. Indeed, this is nothing else but contributing to the shaping of the scientific evolution of research on TEL, which is precisely the mission of Kaleidoscope.


But scientific papers, which classically populate the Open Archives, are only a part of what we can share. I am dreaming of integrated archiving that includes experimental data, learning trails, prototypes and mock ups, video recordings of talks, seminars, and PhD defences, as well as what I would call advanced bibliographical description. The last mentioned might be the most natural development of our current Telearn open archive. As it happens, its implementation is already on our agenda for the coming weeks.


OEB: What has your experience with the TeLearn open archive been so far?


NB: As I am actively participating in the bootstrapping of the archive, the first thing I must say is that I am discovering authors whom I didn’t know before and approaches that were not familiar to me. Indeed, the archive will be much more open on the diversity of the possible approaches of the problems raised by our domain. This is already quite stimulating!


For several years, I have used the Web pages of several colleagues to survey the evolution of their activity. I search the Web several times a day and quite intensively when I am writing. Google Print is now a tool for me where I can trace quotations for which I have sometimes lost the exact reference. May I also mention the French Open Archive created by Pierre Tchounikine in Le Mans some years ago? This is an extremely valuable tool when I am writing in the French context. I am very enthusiastic when seeing that this is becoming a European reality, and that this will quickly stimulate the same development worldwide in our field.


OEB: Mr Balacheff, thank you very much for your time.


Visit the Telearn Open Archive at


For more information on Kaleidoscope please go to


Nicolas Balacheff will be speaking in the plenary session on Friday on “Strengthening the Links between Practitioners and Researchers in the Field of E-Learning”, December 1, from 9:00 – 11:00 hrs.


The interview was conducted by Christian Auchter, OEB News Service.

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