Flying Under the Radar: Lessons Learned from a Fun Faux-pository Project
My time as funded consultant on the SHEEN Sharing Project came to an end in February 2010. However, I keep being asked to share the lessons learned about our success as a project.
In April 2010, there are two educational repositories events where I’ll be taking part in discussions with my SHEEN Sharing hat on. Both events have asked for a position paper summarising my views on the lessons learned in SHEEN Sharing around the use of Web 2.0 / social media for resource sharing in educational communities. This blog post will serve as my position paper for both events; the slides I prepared go to with it are here on Scribd (BTW I no longer recommend Scribd- you can no longer get an RSS Feed for a group’s documents or a collection, nor can you embed their collection widget or an individual document in WordPress. Which is why you have a link to this slideshow, and why it doesn’t appear in the SHEEN Sharing Project Documents feed in the right-hand column).
The events in question are:
April 13-14: ADL Learning Content Registries and Repositories Summit (held in Virginia, USA; I’ll be attending remotely).
- As well as submitting a position paper, I’ll be taking part in two panels, talking about SHEEN Sharing: Registry and Repository Initiatives Panel and Discussion (April 13) and Social Media and Alternative Technologies Panel and Discussion (April 14).
April 19: JISC CETIS Repositories and the Open Web (held in London, UK).
I’m also focussing quite narrowly on my experiences on the SHEEN Sharing project and what the project sparked for me, going into it as a formal learning materials repositories person. The project was small scale and had the benefit of flying under the radar of institutional strategies and policies, that is, we avoided the kinds of concerns (IPR, metadata APs, technical architectures, sustainability of tools, etc.) that traditionally hamper full flexible fun engagement with educational communities. It would therefore be easy, and silly, for me to say “Just do all your repositories stuff like this“. Instead, I’ll just present what we found in hopes of furthering discussion, raising questions, and seeding ideas.
My Background and Approach
- I’m a formal repositories kinda gal, a librarian with a primary professional interest in learning materials repositories and educational metadata since 1999.
- For 14 months I had the guilty pleasure of organising a totally Web 2.0-based educational resource sharing project, with some success.
A Starting Point
There has been a recent trend to say “well, repositories for learning materials failed, metadata is useless, the Web is the repository” etc., etc. I would prefer not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need to acknowledge that there are organisational use cases for formal, organised, well-catalogued repositories.
We also need to acknowledge that these are not, on their own, going to be the best place for educational communities to develop, share, brag about, co-create, tag, network around, learn with, educational resources.
These are the use cases that we once lumped into an un-differentiated learning object repositories model. We were kinda starting to see the problems (cf CD-LOR, PROWE, SPIRE).
“[...] the pedagogical, social, and organisational aspects of these communities have not been at the forefront in the design and development [...]. Research has consistently demonstrated that the most substantial barriers in uptake of technology are rooted in these factors”
Margaryan, A., Milligan, C. And Douglas, P. (2007) CD-LOR Deliverable 9: Structured Guidelines for Setting up Learning Object Repositories. Available here.
Then the Web 2.0 paradigm shift came along and gave us much better opportunities to harness all of the creativity and collaborativity of teachers and learners (cf JISC Emerge, HEA DMU Learning Exchanges, JorumOpen, EdShare, etc. etc.).
For me, the pertinent questions are:
- How can educational communities make best use of both formal repositories and Web 2.0 sharing?
- How can repository developers and managers support educational communities by leveraging Web 2.0-type technologies?
Formal repositories meet a certain set of use cases, requiring things like:
- A long-term view of, and expertise in, resource curation and management;
- Good quality metadata for high precision and recall in resource discovery;
- In some use cases, resource preservation;
- Solid support for rights protection;
- … and so on …
All this is very expensive and requires a high degree of strategic buy-in from funders / management.
Make no mistake though, this kind of work is going on out there. Off the top of my head I think of the UK DCSF National Strategies site for school teachers; the NHS Scotland and England e-learning libraries; the HEA EvidenceNet repository for higher and further education teachers.
Most formal repositories initiatives (I mean strategic learning materials repositories developments, as distinct from JISC-style R&D projects) in the UK rarely seem to take part in these kinds of discussions these days. It seems like there is a community for those in the know, those who are always talking about what’s going to be strategically do-able in 5 years, and a non-community of those doing what they can now with currently available scalable technologies for user communities with urgent requirements. We used to all get together and talk, but no more. I am digressing but I think there is polarisation happening between the purist/open source/research-led/enthusiastic amateur/early adopter side and the requirements of those who need to do something now with tax-payer or organisational money. Both sides are missing out.
More Importantly, A Micro-Whinge
What’s missing in formal educational repositories initiatives these days is full and frank support for non-technically-minded educators to integrate resources in them within their own community social media and Web 2.0 approaches (I don’t mean just providing your own in-tool discussion, profiling and tagging features!).
We almost seem to be going backwards. For example: Jorum (a UK national higher education repository for learning materials) was heavily constrained by unfortunate early decisions demanding almost comically restrictive walls around the repository materials. The repository itself, however, allowed flexible provision of newsfeeds, updating every kind of search available in the repository. Now we have JorumOpen, free of restrictions on access, but no obvious Web 2.0 functionality at all, not even the most obvious newsfeeds. The HEA’s EvidenceNet repository is similarly open, but again with no newsfeed capability.
How is it that repositories being built in this day and age without the ability for a user to create a newsfeed on a search of interest to them, which they can then push out to their network via widgets, wiki pages, whatever?
So What Was SHEEN Sharing? Was it a Bird, a Plane, a Repository?
Overview of SHEEN Sharing Project
NB: SHEEN = Scottish Higher Education Employability Network.
- Proposed by the SHEEN Employability Coordinators’ Network (ECN) in direct response to an urgent internal need.
- Funded by the Scottish (higher education) Funding Council.
- Administered by the Higher Education Academy.
- Overseen by the SHEEN Steering Group.
- For the benefit of the ECN and their immediate stakeholders.
- Project timescale: Jan – Sep 2009 (later extended to Feb 2010).
- Project lead: Cherie Woolmer, Employability Coordinator, University of Strathclyde (voluntary).
- Project consultant, 2.5 days / week: Sarah Currier.
- Project Development Group: enthusiasts in the Employability Coordinators’ Network (voluntary).
- Admin and advisory support from HEA.
- Travel and events budget.
- No technology budget.
Who Are the Community? The Scottish Employability Coordinators’ Network
- Ca. 20-22 members at any given time.
- National, across all Scotland’s HE institutions.
- Geographically distributed, with some members, particularly in the north of Scotland, less able to attend centrally based meetings.
- Mostly female (76% female / 24% male).
- A mix of part-time and full-time (59% full-time / 41% part-time).
- A mix of professional backgrounds: Lecturers; Researchers; Careers advisers; Policy developers and implementers; Staff developers; Educational developers; Librarians.
- A mix of institutional situations, in terms of:
- the type of department they are based in: 59% educational development; 41% careers service; some co-located in different departments;
- the emphasis required by their institution: working at a policy level; working on curriculum and course development; working directly with academics and students;
- university type, from red brick to the ancients, including the Open University and the federated UHI Millennium Institute.
- Temporary: funding for their work will not continue beyond the next couple of years (a few have permanent posts).
- A small number of institutions did not employ designated “employability coordinators”, but most did.
NB: evaluation established that this community started out very non-technically-minded; fairly negative about using the Web at all for work, especially social media; very much working within a Web 1.0 paradigm; and with low to medium confidence about their own efficacy in discovering, sharing, and disseminating appropriate resources in their work. All of this changed considerably over the course of the project!
There was also a sense that the work accomplished must not be lost after the end of the ECN’s funded tenure in their roles.
What They Wanted
- Mutual support;
- Sharing experience, practice and learning.
- Resource sharing, comprising:
- Discovery, sharing, recommending and rating;
- Sharing experiences of use of resources;
- Targeted resource dissemination to all stakeholders.
- One-stop shop for employability for:
- New employability staff coming in;
- Employer stakeholders;
So: A Repository? Out of the Question!
- The ECN’s original idea was that “someone” should provide them with a Website, perhaps powered by a “repository”, and populate it for them.
- Given the project’s resourcing, timescale and intended outcomes, they were advised by JISC CETIS to look at Web2.0 / social media resource sharing instead.
- The HEA was keen to use the forthcoming EvidenceNet repository as a more formal home for resources that required this further down the line.
Developing Our ‘Faux-pository’
Is This a Repository?
This is an ancient architecture for a learning object repository, from IMS in 2003.
IMS DRI map showing focus on the “core functionality” of a repository (IMS (2003) IMS Digital Repositories Interoperability – Core Functions Information Model. Version 1.0 Final Specification. Available here. Figure 2.2 Core Functionality)
If So, Then is This a Repository?
It almost met our educational community’s use cases!
It provides excellent facilities for sharing resources; discussing resources publicly and privately; tagging resources with group tag dictionaries; generating tag and group feeds to make widgets and resource lists… and so on. Great for networking, and enabled highly non-technical users to get drawn in, because of its excellence as a personal resource management tool.
What About This?
Diigo + Netvibes + An Active Community = 1 x Repository?
Together with the afore-mentioned Diigo and a few other Web 2.0 bits and bobs, this completed fulfilment of our educational communities use cases. The most non-technical of users, with a tiny budget, have been able to learn to create their own portal of constantly up-dated resources and recommended resources, targeted at their own stakeholders.
Important Note Re Links With Formal Repositories
The ECN wanted to include feeds from a number of formal repositories. Here’s what happened:
- Formal repositories with working newsfeeds:
- EdShare at Southampton University (we used this as an example but its institutional focus and paucity of employability resources meant it came out of the final Netvibes portal);
- Anything based on intraLibrary (but only if you can get behind the wall; their current open interface is based on SRU and doesn’t offer feeds out-of-the-box so we didn’t end up with any feeds in the Netvibes Portal);
- Formal repositories not currently offering feeds:
- HEA EvidenceNet (but they say they are working on it, and we’ve used their search URL in a webpage widget in meantime);
- IRISS Learning Exchange is an example of a good intraLibrary repository using their open interface: again, the search URL can be used (but again we only used this as an early example- their weren’t enough relevant resources for the final netvibes portal);
- JorumOpen for OERs: no way of currently putting a widget into our Netvibes portal.
- Netvibes SWORD widget: rudimentary right now: not usable for a community like this.
Recommendations to the Repository Development Community
Overall: put educational communities at the heart of requirements gathering and ongoing planning. We all talk a good game on this; it’s amazing what happens when we really do it. And that means putting your most technophobic community members at the centre, and stories from their peers to encourage and inspire them.
First priority: make sure at the very minimum you support newsfeeds robustly and flexibly:
- Make sure users can easily create standard feeds based on any search/browse/tag/collection;
- Provide feeds that include user ratings / recommendations / commentary;
- Make sure they really work!
Second priority: remote, easy-to-use deposit tools (use SWORD!) that can capture metadata;
Third priority: “save/share this resource”.. Especially to email, Twitter, Facebook, social bookmarking / recommendation sites. Again, include support for ratings/recommendations/commentary.