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.
- Decide what its for
- Look at other implementations
- Make it as search engine friendly as possible (Because that is how most people will come to it)
- Don’t obsess about quality control. Use the repository to promote good stuff over bad, but don’t reject stuff you think is bad
- Seed the repository with high quality content (An idea we might usefully adopt with material from each faculty)
- 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)
- Be very clear about your IPR and other policies & Procedures
- Stress both the hosting and sharing capabilities
- Keep it simple. Decide what metadata is for.
- Use what teaching staff are already doing
- Know your audience
- Digitise paper archives (see 5)
- Make early access decisions (Who can get access to it, who can’t)
- Think about incentives/rewards
- Don’t separate teaching/learning materials from research materials
- Start with a small manageable collection
- Make sure you’re solving users’ problems
- Make sure it works!
- Ensure successful interface and integration with other systsme
- Make sureyou have adequate staff resource
- Business model for the whole enterprise
- Think about your position with regard to liability
- 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.