31 January 2011
First of all I want to say thank you for such a stimulating exchange on Twitter a couple of days ago with OER and repository colleagues, this post is partly based on that exchange and they deserve publicly thanking: David Kernohan (@dkernohan), Pat Lockley (@patlockley), John Robertson (@kavubob) and Nick Sheppard (@mrnick).
Our short conversation reminded me of something I have been thinking about for a while in relation to people finding and using OERs, and balancing a desire for simplicity of access from academics with the 'need' to brand and market repositories.
Here are some meanderings in relation to both that Twitter exchange and also following on from a meeting I had yesterday with the Dynamic Learning Maps team here at Newcastle’s School of Medical Education Development, where the Subject Centre is based. I love having the opportunity to work with my colleagues there (and in other UK medical schools) on real implementations of open educational resources in context. The ways we were talking about presenting OERs linked up with thoughts on branding and questions of repositories pulling people to them vs pushing content out from them in meaningful ways which have been preoccupying me of late.
So, firstly, I am going to describe the DLMs meeting I had yesterday and how we are thinking of embedding OER metadata about available openly licensed content through a resource discovery layer in a dynamic learning maps implementation of the MBBS curriculum here at Newcastle.
Then I will move on to why branding of repositories in this particular context seems increasingly unimportant, and why content push is of supreme importance, linking this to the research we did in the OOER pilot phase UKOER project.
The Dynamic Learning Maps project is an innovative way of structuring curriculum data enabling multiple views on such data, customised to an individual’s context, in a way that is most meaningful to them. For example how a student would want to view a curriculum will be different to a teacher, and different again to administrators and support staff needs. It was funded through the recent JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery programme, which ends very soon.
Within the DLM environment it is fairly easy to add individual resources to any node describing a particular granular part of the curriculum. I should probably explain (to colleagues from other disciplines) that in medicine (and in dentistry and veterinary medicine too) the curriculum is typically mapped to a set of terminal outcomes as prescribed by the regulatory bodies (GMC, GDC, RCVS) who licence students for practice, post-qualification, and who quality assure the curriculum of each medical, dental or vet school, as well as setting policy. Schools map their curriculum against these outcomes and others to ensure they are covering everything the regulators require, and that every qualifying student is fit to practice as a doctor, dentist or veterinary professional. Newcastle, like many other medical schools uses a way of structuring its curriculum detailed by The Scottish Doctors which ensures that every learning episode can be linked to a terminal curriculum outcome, with competencies and learning objectives laid out in great detail.
Although a huge amount of work, mapping the curriculum in this much detail is a very enabling process. Nick Ross at Birmingham, Jean McKendree at HYMS, and others, have done stirling work in this area, which schools like Newcastle have benefitted from. Ash Self and the team at Sheffield have had recognition from the GMC in the past for how they have successfully mapped and structured their curriculum which lays out exactly why every learning interaction is important, and how it fits in with meeting terminal outcomes and required competencies.
So, we have a very granular way of structuring the curriculum for delivery in an online environment, which means that we can attach resources to each of these tiny learning interactions or episodes with a massive amount of situated highly contextualised meaning.
We at MEDEV have been working in the area of OERs for some time now, and the DLMs team asked if I would spend some time with them as they explored adding resources pulled from outside the confines of required reading and lecture notes to enrich the curriculum, and pull in external relevant content.
What a gift – to have the opportunity to talk about embedding openly licenced content in a way where it is delivered seamlessly, at the right time to the right students and staff, without them having to go and look for it themselves, would seem to me to give those resources the best ever opportunity for attention.
The team is now working on using APIs from places like Xpert (and hopefully Jorum soon) to push resources to lecturers and students. In terms of getting to those staff who have never thought about looking for open content this seems an excellent strategy to me.
So, if we accept, that the only people (in the first instance) who are ever going to actually go and visit a repository or referatory are in the minority of early adopters, and that pulling new users who aren’t so eager to explore openly licenced materials is difficult to impossible, then spending much time on that minority of users (who would come anyway because that’s their thing) seems churlish, at the expense of working with the developers employed to support curriculum delivery, who can get your message to the right people, at the right time, and do your work for you….
This leads me on to branding. If pulling people to your website/repository/referatory is your priority, then having an identity that is recognisable which could inspire brand loyalty may be important to you. However, the resource discovery research done by Dr David Davies (of the University of Warwick) as part of our OOER pilot phase UKOER project, suggests that this is confusing, and that, actually, users are more concerned by the provenance of the resource itself (author, institution) and its relevance to their own teaching than anything else (See the final report for the full research).
If we accept, then, that even the keanie beanies prefer to search Google for openly licenced content, then the front end web presence of repositories/referatories becomes even less important, whereas good search engine optimisation and easy ways to re-present the data in localised contexts seem much more important.
When searches do yield meaningful results, users state that where it comes from is irrelevant. They want the author and institution details, and a bit about the resource, then they want to give it a quick once over to see if it’s fit for purpose.
Which brings me to another question – why is there so much importance on logos, brands and acronyms for referatories and repositories? I think this is distracting from the real business of getting material out there, so that is it stumbled upon at every turn by students and lecturers.
My personal opinion is that there are lots of answers to the branding question including (but not limited to):
Unfortunately our resource discovery work didn’t look at where people would deposit resources, so I’m not talking about that in this post. But it may be something we look at in our evaluation work in PORSCHE and ACTOR.
To my mind, funders are starting to move to different metrics for measuring the success of a project (and to date there are still no funded repository or referatory services in UK HE, they are all still project funded), and I think that the advent and uptake of easy to use web 2.0 services is making us more creative at thinking of, and presenting, alternative metrics for success, but I still think there is a lot of work to be done here, not only with funders but within HEIs and staff too.
It’s only when we get to a point of embracing this kind of creativity and of working with other teams and people doing complimentary work, rather than competing against them, will we get to a place where more joined up thinking happens, and where the technology becomes truly transparent or invisible and ceases to be the perceived barrier it currently is to the uptake of openly licenced content with the next layer of potential users.
Note: The DLM website currently only has a basic demonstrator, but keep your eyes open here, because as soon as the next bit of work is done, it will be opened up for all to see.
Sorry if that rambles. I just wanted to get my thoughts down. Comments really, really welcome :)
Related tags: branding, marketing, OER, OER phase 2, open educational resources, repository, ukoer
Posted by: Suzanne Hardy
- 2 February 2011 @ 19:08:08
I agree - the one thing I would have loved to have done with Xpert was find ways of ramping the content up in google.
Will do in my own time now.
I agree a brand is not important, but word of mouth is the best way for someone to be encouraged to use a system?
- 2 February 2011 @ 20:41:03
Thanks for this excellent articulation of the case for invisible repositories.
As someone responsible for funding learning materials projects I can confirm that JISC is keen to identify metrics that support the model you propose. After all, its possible for the repository as broker to catch the hit, so its role in the flow of content can be measured.
Lots of other thoughts on what an invisible repository would look like, I'll save them for now!
I'd be interested to know what institutional repository managers think.
- 2 February 2011 @ 21:46:48
Why do repositories need to be invisible - to feed content farms? Doesn't a repository give credence? Would the british library be better if it had no name? Was some underground cult.
Repositories have been decidedly low par, because the software sucks and is built to keep anal cataloguers in jobs. Shoot all the cataloguers and problem solved.
Build a repository that works, does useful things - provides a service greater than a place to stick a file online and then - BANG - different world.
Blame the software - not the concept.
- 2 February 2011 @ 22:31:40
There is nothing wrong with the the concept - and indeed software development has (imho) been hampered by conflicting needs/requirements. Once the need for a pretty website and a brand have been removed (less focus on these please funders and project directors:)), it allows focus on functionality to meet user needs and expectations. Surely that's what is ultimately important....
- 3 February 2011 @ 10:57:22
As an *Institutional* Repository manager responsible for a repository to manage both research and OER, the branding question for me has two sides - I need to raise awareness to optimise content deposit and some sort of "brand" at the service level is surely useful in that context. However I have long been keen to develop a decentralised infrastructure to disseminate that content more widely on the institutional and wider web rather than necessarily emphasise the repository front-end.
It's interesting, I think, that we are having this discussion now in the context of OER repositories when it's fairly well established that folk don't generally browse repositories of research, more typically arriving at content via a search engine instead - the figure that's often bandied about is 70% (citation needed!) - why should OER repos be any different?
The institutional and national infrastructures also need to be better integrated and my ideal that has coalesced since our Unicycle project and now with ACErep and also working with Suzanne on PORSCHE would be for my institutional content to be harvested by a national service – be it Jorum or Xpert – meaning that content links point back to my repository (rather than IMSCP transfer which is the approach we took for Unicycle and all the associated duplication problems) and various easy-to-implement widgets (as planned by Jorum) and/or APIs (as developed by Pat for Xpert). Content would then be safely preserved in the institutional repository – with its own widgets and APIs – properly licensed and discoverable from myriad locations, whether Google, the repository front-end, our institutional VLE, Jorum, an embedded Jorum widget, the Xpert API...we would also have the means, as Suzanne suggests, to “push” content to where it was needed for users who wouldn’t otherwise think to visit a repository to search for open content.
A fully realised infrastructure has the potential to make repositories, if not quite all things to all people then certainly more things to more people.
Am I a hopeless ideallist?
- 3 February 2011 @ 17:58:16
It's not idealism. Your role should be replicated by the software, you should work as a human form of the repository. Each repository should not be invisible, but as part of a contribution to a fractal cross pollinated repositorial future.
*COMRADES ARE YOU WITH ME*
- 7 February 2011 @ 10:00:37
I'm one of the DLMs team, and was at the meeting Suzanne is describing. We had a good old dig at the resources Pat was making available and seeing how we could incorporate them into our own systems in an appropriate way.
One thing that DLMs brings to the table is a way of incorporating external resources into the map in a way that allows other people to add their own perspectives to it. We are working on ways that allow the user of DLM to be able to add any additional information they like to the resource, from a star rating, to tagging it in some way, to links to other resources, to discussion threads on the resource, through to rapid 'one-shot' messages to the resource provider to ask a question about the resource. The thought is that this truly helps the resource to be 'embedded' in the DLM itself. If the DLM (or subset of it) is exported (we're currently ironing out some glitches with a FreeMind export), then the additional metadata we have accumulated about the resource is exported to - but *not* the resource, that would only be a link to the original, source, material.
I've fiddled with resource repositories for ages, and have written one or two here for the Medical Programme VLE. Being at the sharp end of asking clinicians to upload resources has made it abundantly clear that people won't add metadata that repository managers 'need', but that they are willing to add information that they find useful - but it has to be on their terms, and in a way they find easy to do. As far as possible, we add metadata to a resource based upon the context of where the upload is coming from or who is doing the uploading (eg phase 2 is all academic years 3-5, so anyone uploading into phase 2 will have metadata set to say this is of relevance to years 3-5). This is noddy level stuff, but it helps to take the load off of busy clinicians - one mantra we have is that if we can put something into a system that saves a minute of someone else's effort, then it's worth spending days on it - the numbers of users will 'pay' for it in the end.
I've written a post on how DLMs could be used as a substrate for learning content, including resources, on the DLM site at https://learning-maps.ncl.ac.uk/blog/post/dlms-as-a-subst... which goes into some of this stuff in more detail.
- 8 February 2011 @ 10:17:58
Thanks Tone - that's really helpful :)