Tag Archives: resource discovery

Book chapter: Technology Strategies for Open Educational Resource Dissemination

A book with a chapter by Lorna M Campbell and I has just been published. The book is Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education edited by Patrick Blessinger and TJ Bliss, published by Open Book Publishers.

There are contributions by people I know and look up to in the OER world, and some equally good chapters by folk I had not come across before. It seems to live up to its billing of offering an international perspective by not being US-centric (though it would be nice to see more from S America, Asia and Africa), and it provides a wide view of Open Education, not limited to Open Education Resources. There is a foreword by David Wiley, a chapter on a human rights theory for open education by the editors, one on whether emancipation through open education is theory or rhetoric by Andy Lane. Other people from the Open University’s Open Education team (Martin Weller, Beatriz de los Arcos, Rob Farrow, Rebecca Pitt and Patrick McAndrew) have written about identifying categories of OER users.  There are chapters on aspects such as open science, open text books, open assessment and credentials for open learning; and several case studies and reflections on open education in practice.

Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education is available under a CC:BY licence as a free PDF, as very cheap mobi or ePub, or reasonably priced soft and hard back editions. You should get a copy from the publishers.

Technology Strategies for OER

The chapter that Lorna and I wrote is an overview drawing on our experiences through the UKOER programme and our work on LRMI looking at managing the dissemination and discovery of open education resources. Here’s the abstract in full, and a link to the final submitted version of our chapter.

This chapter addresses issues around the discovery and use of Open Educational Resources (OER) by presenting a state of the art overview of technology strategies for the description and dissemination of content as OER. These technology strategies include institutional repositories and websites, subject specific repositories, sites for sharing specific types of content (such as video, images, ebooks) and general global repositories. There are also services that aggregate content from a range of collections, these may specialize by subject, region or resource type. A number of examples of these services are analyzed in terms of their scope, how they present resources, the technologies they use and how they promote and support a community of users. The variety of strategies for resource description taken by these platforms is also discussed. These range from formal machine-readable metadata to human readable text. It is argued that resource description should not be seen as a purely technical activity. Library and information professionals have much to contribute, however academics could also make a valuable contribution to open educational resource (OER) description if the established good practice of identifying the provenance and aims of scholarly works is applied to learning resources. The current rate of change among repositories is quite startling with several repositories and applications having either shut down or having changed radically in the year or so that the work on which this contribution is based took. With this in mind, the chapter concludes with a few words on sustainability.

Preprint of full chapter (MS Word)

Sustainability and Open Education

 

Last week I was on a panel at Edinburgh University’s Repository Fringe event discussing sustainability and OER. As part of this I was asked to talk for ten minutes on some aspect of the subject. I don’t think I said anything of startling originality, but I must start posting to this blog again, so here are the notes I spoke from. The idea that I wanted to get over is that projects should be careful about what services they tried to set up, they (the services) should be suitable and sustainable, and in fact it might be best if they did the minimum that was necessary (which might mean not setting up a repository).

Between 2009 and 2012 Jisc and the HE Academy ran the UK Open Education Resources programme (UKOER), spending approximately £15M of Hefce funding in three phases. There were 65 projects, some with personal, institutional or discipline scope releasing resources openly, some with a remit of promoting dissemination or discoverability, and  there were some related activities and services providing technical, legal, policy support, & there was Jorum: there was a mandate that OERs released through the project should be deposited in the Jorum repository. This was a time when open education was booming, as well as UKOER, funding from foundations in the US, notably Hewlett and Gates, was quite well established and EU funding was beginning. UKOER also, of course, built on previous Jisc programmes such as X4L, ReProduce, and the Repositories & preservation programme.

In many ways UKOER was a great success: a great number of resources were created or released, but also it established open education as a thing that people in UK HE talked about. It showed how to remove some of the blockers to the reuse and sharing of content for teaching and learning in HE (–especially in the use of standard CC licences with global scope rather than the vague, restrictive and expensive custom variations on  “available to other UK HEIs” of previous programmes). Helped by UKOER, many UK HEIs were well placed to explore the possibilities of MOOCs. And in general showed the potential to change how HEIs engage with the wider world and to help make best use of online learning–but it’s not just about opening exciting but vague possibilities: being a means to avoid problems such as restrictive licensing, and being in position to explore new possibilities, means avoiding unnecessary costs in the future and helps to make OER financially attractive (and that’s important to sustainability). Evidence of this success: even though UKOER was largely based on HEFCE funding, there are direct connections from UKOER to the University of Edinburgh’s Open Ed initiative and (less directly) to their engagement with MOOCs.

But I am here to talk sustainability. You probably know that Jorum, the repository in to which UKOER projects were required to deposit their OERs, is closing. Also, many of the discipline-based and discovery projects were based at HE Academy subject centres, which are now gone. At the recent OER16 here, Pat Lockley suggested that OER were no longer being created. He did this based on what he sees coming in to the Solvonauts aggregator that he develops and runs. Martin Poulter showed the graph, there is a fairly dramatic drop in the number of new deposits he sees. That suggests something is not being sustained.

But what?

Let’s distinguish between sustainability and persistence: sustainability suggests to me a manageable on-going effort. The content as released may be persistent, it may still be available as released (though without some sort of sustainable effort of editing, updating, preservation it may not be much use).  What else needs sustained effort? I would suggest: 1, the release of new content; 2, interest and community; 3, the services around the content (that includes repositories). I would say that UKOER did create a community interested in OER which is still pretty active. It could be larger, and less inward looking at times but for an academic community it doing quite well. New content is being released. But the services created by UKOER (and other OER initiatives) are dying. That, I think , is why Pat Lockley isn’t seeing new resources being published.

What is the lesson we should learn? Don’t create services to manage and disseminate your OERs that that require “project” level funding. Create the right services, don’t assume that what works for research outputs will work for educational resources, make sure that there is that “edit” button (or at least a make-your-own-editable-copy button).  Make the best use of what is available. Use everything that is available. Use wikimedia services, but also use flickr, wordpress, youtube, itunes, vimeo,—and you may well want to create your own service to act as a “junction” between all the different places you’re putting your OERs, linking with them via their APIs for deposit and discovery. This is the basic idea behind POSSE: Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.

RIP Yahoo Directory

Last Friday Yahoo announced that it will retire its original service, the Yahoo directory, at the end of 2014.  Perhaps the only surprise was that the Yahoo directory is still running. I don’t suppose it will be missed by many, but I noticed it going because the first article I ever wrote on learning technology was  Finding Information on WWWwhich I wrote for the CTI-Physics newsletter in Jun 1995. It was prompted by my boss at the time, Dick Bacon, saying that he thought there were lots of really useful resources on the web, but it was really difficult to find them. I suggested three approaches: social, organised collections and search, which I think stands up reasonably well today, though we’ve kind of moved on from mailbase to twitter. Search at the time was in its infancy, Lycos being the search engine of choice (yes, not only was this before Google, it was before Alta Vista). I still work on that question “how do you find information on the web?” Through LRMI and schema.org we are helping search engine providers improve their products, and one of my favourite initiatives of the last few years, the Learning Registry, and specifically the kritikos project has seen the coming together search and social, allowing students to share what they find to be useful for their courses.

Finding OERs

Background: Chris McMahon is the Delores project director. He has a great deal of experience in the management and presentation of information for design engineering and in selecting and using online learning materials, but this project is his introduction to the world of OER. His initial exploration OER-specific resource discovery has left him questioning whether aggregating and searching metadata provided OER producers is the right approach as opposed to customising a generic search to be specific to known OER sites. Chris writes:

–quote–

My initial reaction from attempting to find material in the OER repositories and collections is that the descriptions of the available material are not particularly helpful in searching and finding resources. For example, I tried to find material on “gear design” in OER Commons. The 30 resources returned for my search were as follows:

Eight audio files from UC Berkeley. All were potentially relevant but little real indication of content was given in the descriptions. I would have to listen to each file to find if it is relevant. Only the title of the audio file indicates that it might be useful (each file has the same abstract, which describes the whole course–not the particular audio file).

The next eight resources were not relevant but included because the word gear appears out of the context of gear design (e.g. landing gear, protective gear) somewhere in the descriptions.

The next resource, MIT Open Courseware “Elements of Mechanical Design”, is very relevant but the reference expands to 17 sets of lecture notes, of which only 2 are relevant. The Abstract is only a very high level description of the whole course and gives no indication of the breadth and relevance of the underlying materials.

The next four resources are not relevant.

The next resource, MIT Open Courseware “Marine Power and Propulsion”, expands to 45 separate lecture documents, of which 2/3 are relevant. Again the abstract is only very high level description and gives no indication of the breadth and relevance of the underlying materials.

The next resource is repeat of the MIT OCW “Elements of Mechanical Design” but from an earlier year.

The next seven resources are not relevant but the descriptions contain words for which gear and design are stems.

In summary – the descriptions are whole course descriptions, not descriptions of the lecture/topic material within the courses. The descriptions (and presumably the RSS feeds) use the same format for single audio files and complete courses.

By contrast, using “gear design site:ocw.mit.edu” as a search in Google gave very relevant material in the first page of the (327) results. Using the “type=PDF” qualifier was even better as it pulled up the lecture notes. Using the MIT OCW search facility was pretty good also.

What would be really useful would be to have a good search facility that allowed search within known OER repositories – a sort of “Google OER”.

–unquote–

Since talking this through with Chris I have resolved to make a better effort at publicising work that my colleague Lisa Scott has done on Google Custom Search Engines. However there are other implications for the project: in the static collection, how do we select and provide descriptions at the fine level of granularity that Chris wants while also keeping the valuable information of the original course context of the resource; will the quality of the syndicated metadata be good enough for the Bayesian filtering to work; can we supplement this by using information from the course/resource webpage; what use can we make of customised Google searches? (We know the the Triton project are also interested in this last point.)