The former chief technology officer of government web portal Directgov has joined Open University as its first ever chief information officer.
David Matthewman joins the distance-learning establishment at a time of great enthusiasm for the potential of online education. “Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates said earlier this month. “It will be better than any single university.”
In the advertisement for the job published earlier this year, the Open University said the appointment of a CIO reflects the growing importance of information technology as a learning tool. “The new pivotal role of CIO reflects the pervasiveness of technology within all domains of the Open University today, and the role IT plays in enabling ready access to the Open University by students around the world,” it said in the ad.
The advertisement called for “a CIO with a track record of success leveraging Internet technologies in an information intensive business or operation”.
As CTO of Directgov, Matthewman oversaw the integration of many government information sources into a single web portal. Speaking to Information Age in 2009, he explained the various ways his organisation was making government data more accessible to the public, which included the use of semantic web technology to collate such information as public sector job opportunities.
“We are using the resource description framework (RDF) [semantic web] standard to allow local authorities to describe the vacancies on their own systems, and we will aggregate all the jobs together on the site,” he said. “That’s a great example of what would a couple of years ago have been a substantial database build, but that has become a devolved task.”
This experience may come in handy at the Open University. According to Ian Davis, CTO of library software and semantic web technology provider Talis, RDF will help educational establishments tie their online course materials together in such a way that allows students to navigate them according to subject matter.
This would mean that “when I’m participating in a course and I have a particular reading list, I can connect to videos of other lecturers delivering the same material in a different way,” Davis told Information Age this month. “It is now possible to use the web to connect these materials together and to use the semantic web to understand what these connections really mean.”