Draw Project meeting, Worcester

I’m attending a meeting organised by the DRAW project, another of the JISC repository programmes. The main theme of the meeting is about the use of Repositories for learning and teaching materials, specifically discussing whether they’re different from research objects, how to increase the take up of repositories for storing such things and whether a different approach is required.

We started with a presentation from Andrew Rothery, Worcester’s project directory, outlining the differences between learning and teaching material (will update later)

Then I gave a brief account of our experiences, stressing the bottom up approach – we really have gone down the road of scratching a particular need, (i.e. architecture’s) and I think we’re going to have to do quite a lot of advocacy work with other faculties…

Then Steve Burholt from Oxford Brookes described the Circle project – http://mw.brookes.ac.uk/display/circle for more details. What was of particular interest here was the fact that they are using Intralibrary’s VLE plug in -This is the sort of thing we were hoping to have with E-prints, but haven’t been able to develop. Essentially you call up a repository resource and there’s an option to add it to the VLE. (although we actually wanted it to work the other way too.)

Sarah Hayes from Worcester is currently talking about the difficulties they are having with populating their L&T repository (Google Analytics shows virtually no-one looked at it in the last month) They’re responding by investigating what staff find useful – one option is that staff can choose who can see their materials, on the grounds that there appears to be some evidence that staff are less comfortable about sharing their teaching resources with the wider world. Another approach is for repository staff to upload student dissertations, course handbooks, podcasts, and possibly even external collections to make a useful resource for staff. She also talked about Web 2.0 Ideas, but hasn’t expanded. http://www.worc.ac.uk/drawproject

Next up was Sarah Malone from Derby’s Pocket Project (which I have to confess I’d never heard of) who explained what the Pocket project was about and asked for interest from other institutions. The project is about converting existing materials into Open content, and sounds very much as though we should investigate it, given our interest in Open Source

Then there was quite an interesting presentation from Helen Westmancoat who is working on a repository for York St. John University. Their approach is interesting because they’re populating their repository with existing content – for example there’s a fascinating sounding oral history project on the memories of women in East Coast fishing communities and they’re storing all the transcripts and audio files collected by the researcher. That sounds like a fairly conventional research approach admittedly, but there are two points here – Firstly, the researcher is committed to the repository as a means of attracting further funding, and more importantly, there is something to show other potential users, and this, apparently, has some effect in raising the repository’s profile.

Helen was followed by Phil Barker from JISC CETIS who asked a few provocative questions about what are repositories for and argued that if they were to take off, there needed to be some sort of shared understanding of their purpose in the HE community. He introduced another topic that became important that of “sharing”. Repositories are often seen as a “safe place to put stuff” but in fact their role in sharing teaching resources was as, if not more, important because it enabled staff to help each other. One relevant issue that was raised here was the situation where staff in the same faculty have to enrol in each others courses if they want to know what material they’re using on Blackboard. (Sounds familiar?) The repository could help with this – after all all you would need would be a set of links from the Content Store to the repository.

Then we had David Millard from the Faroes project at Southampton (No expense had been spared!) The most telling  point he raised was that there was a serious mismatch between what repositories were offering and everyday teaching life. For example most users aren’t interested in metadata, but that’s the first thing they see in many repositories. They’re working on something called PuffinShare  (There’s no web site yet, but that’s a link to a slide show that explains the thinking behind it)  Equally most users don’t know (or care) what a manifest file is, they don’t have digital resources to share, or at least not immediately to hand, so the PuffinShare project attempts to simplify. Among the attractive features are

1) Previewing online (well, up to a point, we’ve done that with our multimedia abstract) But it takes it a bit further because there is no need to download a resource – it can just be used in the repository.

2) Web 2.0 Style tools – e.g. commenting.  But the comments are structured, along the lines of “I would improve this resource by…” rather than just allowing open comments

3) Users have a profile – a sort of self authenticating idea, not a million miles from the seller ratings on Ebay (WOuld you trust a repository item deposited by this person?)

4) There’s a “promiscuous” search engine. (i.e. it searches everything)

The point of all this is that users need to be provided with a working space that meets their needs rather than just being a “dusty old repository” to use David’s phrase. That doesn’t mean it’s not a repository – rather that we shouldn’t be too precious about the term. After all MIT’s release of all their teaching material is in effect simply opening their repository to the public.

Well, I’ve finally got back, and now I’ve had time to reflect on what was really a very useful meeting, I think it was one of those rare occasions where something was actually achieved. We spent the afternoon session discussing what advice we’d give to some one who was starting up a learning object repository, and came up with this initial list.

  1. Decide what its for
  2. Look at other implementations
  3. Make it as search engine friendly as possible (Because that is how most people will come to it)
  4. Don’t obsess about quality control. Use the repository to promote good stuff over bad, but don’t reject stuff you think is bad
  5. Seed the repository with high quality content (An idea we might usefully adopt with material from each faculty)
  6. Build into new staff induction from Day 1 (I’m not so sure about this one personally, but then I’m sceptical about overloaded inductions anyway)
  7. Be very clear about your IPR and other policies & Procedures
  8. Stress both the hosting and sharing capabilities
  9. Keep it simple. Decide what metadata is for.
  10. Use what teaching staff are already doing
  11. Know your audience
  12. Digitise paper archives (see 5)
  13. Make early access decisions (Who can get access to it, who can’t)
  14. Think about incentives/rewards
  15. Don’t separate teaching/learning materials from research materials
  16. Start with a small manageable collection
  17. Make sure you’re solving users’ problems
  18. Make sure it works!
  19. Ensure successful interface and integration with other systsme
  20. Make sureyou have adequate staff resource
  21. Business model for the whole enterprise
  22. Think about your position with regard to liability
  23. Be prepared for a lot of hard work

Essentially it’s not just a matter of installing software and claiming you have a repository. It’s a matter of installing the software and starting work.

All this is going to be revised by the Draw team and  circulated, with a view to becoming a rather more authoritative statement than I have been able to come up with here.

More from ALT-C

I thought I ought to show my face at at least one session on Learning Object repositories as I’m managing our own LOR. So the session I went to was advertised as having three papers on this very topic. Now, I have to fess up here. For a variety of reasons I had had a very early start to the day, and my body clock is never at it’s best in the early afternoon. To be honest I really struggled to stay awake. In fact I did find myself nodding off a little bit a couple of times. This was entirely down to me, and not the presenters. The  inexplicable fact that the topic of Learning Object Repositories does not get my adrenalin pumping is not their fault! Nevertheless through the haze I did glean a few useful nuggets.

Firstly, learning object repositories are not really stand alone items. Well, they are, but often they don’t easily fit into what the teacher wants to do with them – So they really need to be adaptable. Secondly there is a risk that they can become a solution looking for a problem. If they’re not wanted, there’s no point creating them. (If they are wanted, then creating them is a very good idea though. But make them adaptable, and also, as the first paper suggested, give some thought to the different devices on which they might be used.) It’s also an idea to think about how they might be used in a web 2.0 context

In the afternoon, I heard a number of papers. The first was on online silence (What if anything do you learn from “lurking”? Why do people lurk. What do you learn from participating in online conversations”. Was there any correlation between silence and learning styles?) Interestingly, the answer to the last question seemed to be that there was, but the presenter acknowledged that learning styles were situated, and that higher level learning occurred when the student reflected on the entire course.  Next up was a paper on Second Life – well, it was more about the SLOODLE project which mashes up Second Life and Moodle. The idea here seemed to be that Moodle (or a VLE in general) provided some of the structure that SL doesn’t in the shape of threaded discussions, chat support and logging,  drop boxes and quiz tools. Well, that’s all very well but what’s SL then bringing to the party? I’ve always suspected that SL’s technology is going to be more use in education when it’s taken out of SL itself. I can see the scope for immersive environments in many subjects – but not when you’re trying to run them across 4,000 servers in California or wherever it is – it’s just not reliable enough at present.  But perhaps I’m being short sighted – Who would have thought when I first saw the Louvre online back in 1994 that I’d be sitting here blogging about a 3-D world I could move around in.  Finished the “academic” work of the day with the presentation on blogging I described in my first post, so I won’t go into it here.  So who knows where it will all end.

Wednesday started with a paper on the e-learning benchmarking exercise. I was heavily involved in this, although if I’m absolutely honest, I never really saw the point of it. There’s a lot of talk about “institutions” doing this and that. Actually, what is happening, is that “some people in institiutions are doing some of this stuff”. Of course that raises the question of do we want everyone to be involved, and that was the question under discussion here although it was phrased rather differently  “Does this type of programme create a culture of dependency in HEIs, because the programmes are externally funded?”  Well, you can’t get away from the fact that the money’s coming from outside as you’ve probably guessed, I don’t think they reach far enough in to do so, but the feeling from those behind the programme was that they had envisioned an “interdependency” culture. – A network of institutions feeding off each other. But that, along with the external funding makes development very difficult to sustain. Having said that, there were some good examples of practice around – I very much liked Leicester’s Carpe Diem initiatives in which (As I understand) they take a whole department and redesign a course with them. That sounds exactly the sort of thing that EDUs should be doing, because the focus is on building institutional capacity rather than just staff development.  So perhaps that was the point of the benchmarking exercise!

 Next up was an excellent keynote speech from Dylan Williams, at the institute of Education. Again you can see it on the conference web site, so I’m not going to give a long account of it. The main points were that in terms of student achievement, it matters much less which school you go to, than which teacher you get when you get there, and that one of the most important things teachers could do to help students learn was to provide good quality formative assessment and respond to what it told them. This was an excellent talk, and I thoroughly recommend having a look at the live version. There were a couple of good throwaway lines that I liked too.

“Schools are places where kids go to watch teachers work!” (of course it is the kids who should be working.)

“Kids choosing not to ask a question are foregoing the opportunity to get smarter”

In the afternoon, I went to a couple of talks about wikis. It’s funny how these get such a bad press. In our own Blackboard training sessions I’ve had colleagues who won’t touch the concept because of what they’ve heard about the inaccuracies in Wikipedia. There’s some justification in that I suppose, but isn’t it the job of the teacher to correct misconceptions – in fact the whole concept gives the lie to the notion that ed. tech. is going to replace teachers. But one interesting point that came out of the session was that students tended to see Wikis as places for finished work rather than for drafts. The presenter had actually hoped to use it to look at drafts – but then, I suppose, who want’s to mark every bit of paper a student has struggled to make a mark on, or noted.  And of course, what student wants to hand all that in? Perhaps attitudes to written work haven’t really changed all that much. The conclusions were that a module leader needed to be clear about

  • how to use wikis
  • Targeted learning behaviour
  • Participation drivers (why would students want to join in?)

Next, I went to a Blackboard sponsored session, where they revealed their latest plug-in. This was something called Safe Assign, which is essentially Turnitin – although it didn’t search as many databases and doesn’t have the on-line marking feature that we’re using in Architecture. (Although I suppose Bb has it’s own gradebook.) I suppose I’ll have to download it and we’ll use it too.

 The final session of a busy day was about whether the sector was ready for learners in control. I was a bit late arriving for this session so had to stand at the back in a very hot room, so I’m afraid my notes are not terribly coherent. Although there was another great one liner “We have to address hearts and minds, not sim cards”  The one thing I did take away from this session was the interesting revelation that “digital natives” (i.e. kids who are well used to and brought up with technology) seem to be least receptive to on-line learning. Could this be because a lot of the subject matter in HE is conceptually very difficult and not readily conveyable in small bits of information?

Unfortunately my dental appointment obliged me to miss the last keynote, but before heading back to Nottingham station I attended a session on using podcasts for pre-lecture preparation. This turned out to be a report into some research about whether those students who had been given pre-lecture material did better than those who had not. I was tempted to ask about the ethical implications of this, but in fact the results showed a slight improvement among those who had been given the material in advance, it was quite small and not statistically significant. Still, I did wonder what might have happened if there had been shown to be a significant difference.

So, a good conference, and I’m glad I went. I haven’t blogged about the social events, although they were very good and enjoyable, and I did make some useful contacts. But the “holiday” is over now and I really need to get my Ed D head back on. I’ve been sitting at the PC since I got back today indulging in every kind of distraction activity to avoid doing any work, but one potential benefit of blogging is that it gets you writing.