Repositories and the Open Web

On the 19 April, in London CETIS are holding a meeting in London on Repositories and the Open Web. The theme of the meeting is how repositories and social sharing / web 2.0 web sites compare as hosts for learning materials: how well does each facilitate the tasks of resource discovery and resource management; what approaches to resource description do the different approaches take; and are there any lessons that users of one approach can draw from the other?

Both the title of the event (does the ‘and’ imply a distinction? why not repositories on the open web?) and the tag CETISROW may be taken as slightly provocative. Well, the tag is meant lightheartedly, of course, and yes there is a rich vein of work on how repositories can work as part of the web. Just looking back are previous CETIS events I would like to highlight these contributions to previous meetings:

  • Lara Whitelaw presented on the PROWE Project, about using wikis and blogs as shared repositories to support part-time distance tutors in June 2006.
  • David Davies spoke about RSS, Yahoo! Pipes and mashups in June 2007.
  • Roger Greenhalgh, talking about the National Rural Knowledge Exchange, in the May 2008 meeting. And many of us remember his “what’s hot in pigs” intervention in an earlier meeting.
  • Richard Davis talking about SNEEP (social network extensions for ePrints) at the same meeting

Most recently we’ve seen a natural intersection between the aims of Open Educational Resources initiatives and the use of hosting on web 2 and social sharing sites, so, for example, the technical requirements suggested for the UKOER programme said this under delivery platforms:

Projects are free to use any system or application as long as it is capable of delivering content freely on the open web. However all projects must also deposit their content in JorumOpen. In addition projects should use platforms that are capable of generating RSS/Atom feeds, particularly for collections of resources e.g. YouTube channels. Although this programme is not about technical development projects are encouraged to make the most of the functionality provided by their chosen delivery platforms.

We have followed this up with some work looking at the use of distribution platforms for UKOER resources which treats web 2 platforms and repository software as equally useful for that task.

So, there’s a longstanding recognition that repositories live on the open web, and that formal repositories aren’t the only platform suitable for the management and dissemination of learning materials. But I would missing something I think important if I left it at that. For some time I’ve had misgivings about the direction that conceptualising your resource management and dissemination as a repository leads. A while back a colleague noticed that a description of some proposed specification work, which originated from repository vendors, developers and project managers, talked about content being “hidden inside repositories”, which we thought revealing. Similarly, I’ve written before that repository-think leads to talk of interoperability between repositories and repository-related services (I’m sure I’ve written that before). Pretty soon one ends up with a focus on repositories and repository-specific standards per se and not on the original problem of resource management and dissemination. A better solution, if you want to disseminate your resource widely, is not to “hide them in repositories” in the first place. Also, in repository-world the focus is on metadata, rather than resource description: the encoding of descriptive data into fields can be great for machines, but I don’t think that we’ve done a great job of getting that encoding right for educational characteristics of resources, and that this has been at the expense of providing suitable information for people.

Of course not every educational resource is open, and so the open web isn’t an appropriate place for all collections. Also, once you start using some of the web 2.0 social sharing sites for resource management you begin to hit some problems (no option for creative commons licensing, assumptions that the uploader created/owns the resource, limitations on export formats, etc.)–though there are some exceptions. It is, however, my belief that all repository software could benefit from the examples shown by the best of the social sharing websites, and my hope that we will see that in action during this meeting.

Detail about the meeting (agenda, location, etc.) will be posted on the CETIS wiki.

Registration is open, through the CETIS events system.