Jisc Digitisation and OER: outcomes

Digitisation & OER: synthesis report

Lou McGill | Jisc, August 2013

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What we achieved?

sharing research data as open content can be immensely satisfying and give research a new life in different contexts. the researcher who originally collected the openlives testimonies was moved to tears when she saw her colleague (from a different institution) presenting his students’ reactions to her work, and their own work which builds upon her research. she was moved by the impact her work had had beyond her own students, as well as impressed with the new directions that the students had taken using the testimonies (OpenLIVES)

Measuring impact

This strand of activities was not simply about digitising content and the resulting assets or OER, but was also concerned with the processes that support this kind of activity and the challenges that need to be overcome to achieve this effectively.  It has also been about fundamentally changing practices of the various partners to encourage collaborative approaches to digitisation but also around open educational practice, which challenges traditional approaches to learning and teaching. It is difficult to capture these subtle changes that happen over time and which are best supported by longer term studies that include initial base-lining of people’s perceptions and practice so that their progression can be measured. However the projects have evidenced impact on the institutions involved, and on a wide range of people, including students involved with the projects. They are also measuring use of their materials both through analysing download and viewing data but also through mechanisms built into some content looking to gather feedback on how they are being used and shared.

Widening access to unique primary sources and collections

Most projects achieved their original, or slightly revised, objectives and successfully digitised a wide range of primary sources that were made available with open licences to be used globally. This effectively widened access to some very rare and valuable collections that would otherwise have been accessible to only a few people. Several projects received early recognition of their work and requests from other institutions to either use the raw assets or the OER. For example Observing the 1980s content was used in an augmented reality application being developed by the University of Manchester. The UKVM project received requests to include other collections of other universities. Both UKVM and Histology and histopathology were based at the Open University and they were included in a bid to get funding from the Wolfson Foundation to create an Open Science Lab. This activity raised the profile of both departments and impacted on the institution overall, as well as increasing the visibility and discoverability of the two collections.

Some of the original collections were so inaccessible that their use was severely limited. For example the materials in the Mass Observation Project consisted of many handwritten documents that had not been previously digitised. The Observing the 1980s also digitised sound archives and ephemeral materials that were not accessible to either students or the general public. The Zandra Rhodes project made a private collection accessible and the Architectus project persuaded private companies, who were very protective of their materials, to make them openly available.

Changing practices

The processes of digitising these collections and sources have built on the expertise of the various partner institutions and provided some individuals with new skills in digitisation, curation and making digital assets discoverable. For example, the Observing the 1980s project listed a range of new skills that they developed during the process:

blogging, editing audio files, editing and resizing pdfs, using cloud storage and retrieval, creating and editing archive catalogue records, creating records for depositing data in external repositories eg Humbox, and using Moodle to build an OER.  This latter involved learning about E-learning eg structuring teaching materials for an online environment; thinking about issues of accessibility, usability, attention span and search strategies. (Observing the 1980s)

In addition to new skills and expertise around digitisation, projects widely reported changes of practice in relation to incorporating these primary sources within learning and teaching and a re-consideration of existing pedagogical approaches.

[The project] has been very important for me professionally because I have learnt many different skills, I have developed new career paths, I feel more confident as a practitioner, I think I can offer better education and better learning and teaching to my students. I feel now that I can make a greater difference in student education.”- Antonio Martinez-Arboleda, Leeds (OpenLIVES)

Projects described these activities as ‘bringing a new lease of life’ to their teaching and their courses and several noted the value of bringing research and teaching closer together as a result of engaging with primary sources. They offer tangible evidence that using OER has a positive impact on teaching and go some way towards challenging negative assumptions around using content created by others. The OpenLIVES project, in particular offered some powerful stories of changed practice and the potential that OER can bring to the teaching of modern languages.

The re-use of OERs does NOT lead to sameness or lack of originality in teaching. The project has demonstrated how one set of research data can be interpreted in widely different, original and exciting ways by different practitioners working in different settings. This reaffirms the importance of individual teachers in delivering quality in Higher Education teaching and rebuts the notion that using third party materials reduces quality, or results in homogeneity of learning experience. (OpenLIVES)

Engaging with the OER produced by projects also led to increased engagement with new technologies for teaching and encouraged a culture of experimentation and innovation. The CCC:EED project focused on digital literacies as a way to incorporate both different technological approaches and the new OER and had a significant impact on their existing dance and choreography courses, and on the literacy levels of both staff and students within their partner institutions.

CCC:EED has enabled both lecturers and students to see the interrelationship between how digital literacy impacts on both the creative process and learning of theory and the benefits of these connections to new developments in pedagogy, performance and practice. It has also brought up issues of use of appropriate content, authorship, copyright, openness, collaborative working and accessibility. (CCC:EED)

Impact on learners

There is a considerable amount of evidence around the impact of project activities on students, not least the increased access to unique primary sources as digital assets. These new resources enhance the specific courses involved in the projects but also widen access to materials for learners worldwide. The enhancements made to some of the courses opened students to new pedagogic approaches and appeared to have an impact on their levels of understanding, critical engagement and research skills.

Among the achievements students gained in this Choreography module was an awareness of choreographic process and conscious decision-making. This helped to experience choreography as process oriented. The impact this has had has been witnessed in the subsequent choreography modules where intellectual engagement with choreographic process appears richer. Other ways the digital sketchbook process demonstrated impact include: the development of students’ ability to articulate and present process; an opportunity to engage with and operate artistically through a different medium; a way to position oneself in relation to others’ practices; and an increase in confidence and the ability to see the value of approaching their work through new digital mediums. ( CCC:EED)

Projects investigated a variety of approaches for involving students in the process, often by paying them to contribute towards researching, digitising, cataloguing or locating rights holders, all of which had an impact on their skill levels outwith their subject discipline. Students also fed into project plans and development as potential users, which challenged existing relationships between staff and students and empowered them to contribute ideas and feedback.

Students asked us to provide as much context as possible to aid their interpretation i.e. on the provenance of the sources and the sort of historical issues that they raise – in order to assist students in interpreting them for themselves. We addressed this by including a ‘toolkit’ section on the Manufacturing Pasts Website and short, video based introductions to each of the historical themes. (Manufacturing pasts)

“I have really enjoyed the OpenLIVES module as it has given us, the students, an opportunity to do our own primary research and genuinely engage with the issues we are studying. Having more academic and creative control over our own education is extremely stimulating and motivating.” (Student OpenLIVES)

As mentioned earlier some of the student involvement provided valuable experience of authentic work practices of different professions, not just those related to collections, archives and managing resources but also to the development of learning materials and, sometimes even wider. The Zandra Rhodes Collection offered a range of internship opportunities around textile and fashion design, photography and videoing. Comments from students were very positive and indicated that many of them saw a longer term value that might help their future employment prospects[7].

“Shows future employers that I am willing to work hard”

The students felt that the internship will help them with securing future work experience placements and their future employability, and that it will demonstrate their passion for their field of study and a strong work ethic. (Zandra Rhodes Collection)

One of the most interesting ways of involving students was as co-producers of the OER themselves. Projects reported that this provided motivation and resulted in some very interesting and new resources to share with peers and other learners worldwide. This provided new levels of understanding for students around content to support learning and also significantly enhanced their digital literacies around rights management, metadata, content management and technologies to support open release of content. Several projects felt that these activities supported peer interaction and collaborative working and would ultimately enhance employability.

“It has made me realise how important the materials we use are in terms of motivating our students and also it has allowed me to realise that our students can be good producers of OERs…producers of high quality OERs and partners in research, which is something I had not explored before. The quality of what they produce is really, really good…” – Miguel Arrebola, Portsmouth (OpenLIVES)

Institutional culture and embedding

In addition to transforming practice of individuals involved in project teams the Digitisation for OER activities also had lasting impact on the different institutions involved, including partners from outside the higher education sector. Initially, linking project visions and goals to institutionally strategic themes (such as employability or widening participation) was recognised as a useful way to get engagement and buy-in from key staff (academics, senior managers and support teams) as well as tying in project activities with ongoing developments in institutional systems (for example utilising institutional repositories or learning environments to store OER).

The CCC:EED project, in particular, connected their digitisation work with a radical transformation of the whole pedagogic approach for dance education and tied this in by embedding new technologies. As well as having a transformative impact on staff and students this kind of embedding ensures sustainability.

By the end of the project, technology had become crucial to teaching and learning thereby shifting the culture of teaching from one of passive student/active lecturer to that of collaboration, student-as-creators and deeper integration between technology and dance. CCC:EED

A significant impact of project activities emerged from the new partnerships within institutions, and the resulting conversations across faculties and departments. This was also echoed for those partnerships across institutional boundaries, as these new collaborations provided strong foundations for future work, as well as robust workflow patterns and management practices that could be taken forward.

Collaboration through the creation of open content is rich and satisfying and can produce excellent work and curriculum innovation. The freedom that open practice offers to researchers and teachers working across different institutions to share ideas, practice and experience in their discipline area has been extremely exciting and motivating for the project team. Colleagues working in different institutions do not often have such opportunities to work closely together, and the competitive nature of Higher Education makes such a situation even more unlikely, but open content is proving to be an effective antidote to traditional closed ways of working. OpenLIVES

Wider impact

It is helpful to consider some of the impacts for the wider community that may not be immediately obvious across such complex activities with many stands. A significant outcome is the increased access to collections, both as raw assets but also as packaged learning resources, that can be used within educational institutions but also in lifelong learning contexts, and across a number of different disciplines. The fact that projects were often responding to specific challenges within a subject discipline means that these subject areas benefit both nationally, and in some cases internationally. The models and approaches demonstrated by the projects are supported by materials (also released as OER) to help other institutions through similar processes, such as the OpenLIVES project which has released several resources that offer guidance on digitising oral history materials.  The following list highlights some of the wider impacts demonstrated by projects even before they have had an opportunity to consolidate and disseminate their work more widely after the funded period:

  •  increased access to many rare collections, including some designated by HEFCE as ‘strategically important and vulnerable subjects’ all projects released raw assets of relevance to a wide range of related disciplines making research data and collections usable across a wider number of institutions and countries expanded understanding of both digitisation and OER across several partners that will impact on future work (this is particularly true for bodies who were familiar with digitisation but not OER and open licensing
  •  preserving non digital practices – highlighting the value of traditional craft processes and making these more widely appreciated
  •  use of assets and OER outside the HE sector – local community groups and schools accessing content
  •  international interest in the digital collections
  •  interest from other HE institutions in the UK
  • improvements in efficiency for several agencies through some of the technical developments (eg. VLE Adlib plug-in from OBL4HE) or through shared generic resources (eg. Architectus)  

 Success factors

Another critical factor for our project has been the willingness of participants to collaborate and share their ideas and work. Without this open attitude, the project would not have achieved so much. For the project team, OpenLIVES has been a “very important and deep experience” (Irina Nelson) which has encouraged all of us to re-evaluate how we work. The enthusiasm for this new, open way of teaching and sharing is undiminished, and we will seek to find ways to spread our experiences and to expand on them in new projects and with new audiences. OpenLIVES 

In identifying the different motivations, models and approaches taken by projects we have touched upon the kinds of barriers they were attempting to overcome and the critical factors that enable them to do so. Consideration of the enablers that support digitisation of primary sources and ways to incorporate these into OER within real learning and teaching contexts provides some insight into the kinds of factors that may be applied to other educational institutions wanting to engage with either OER or OEP. These are the resulting top level critical success factors.

Factor 1. Stimulating and supporting change in practice

Because of the emphasis on digital literacy and what methods, computer programmes or delivery would be best suited for the inculcation of such literacy, the project led Faculty to begin to revise module content and assessments to reflect this shift in pedagogical awareness. Therefore, the integration of e-learning and digital literacy skills required a review of the modules we have, how we teach them, how we assess and how we want e-learning to facilitate teaching and learning. As a result, new developments in pedagogy have emerged that will inform the redesign of the entire BA (Hons) Dance and Culture programme. CCC:EED

Examples to illustrate these factors are included in the tables below:

Through Engagement/awareness raising

use different new formats to gain people’s attention/interest

Manufacturing Pasts utilised Prezi and various social networking tools

 CCC:EED adopted a wide range of different learning technologies

gain commitment from outset.

OBL4HE emphasised the importance of this and acknowledging that not everyone will ‘buy-in’ to new concepts

link project activities with wider agendas

OBL4HE linked project activities to the broader agenda of using technology in collections based teaching for HE

OpenLIVES linked activities to employability and widening participation

one to one interviews with key academic staff

Zandra Rhodes Collection adopted this approach

focus groups with other institutions in subject area

Zandra Rhodes Collection adopted this approach

supporting staff to engage with new forms of content

Observing the 1980’s, OpenLIVES and CCC:EED adopted this approach

By challenging and changing perceptions

gaining staff commitment

All projects invested considerable time into this activity

adopting new pedagogic practice

Observing the 1980’s, OpenLIVES and CCC:EED all established new pedagogic practice

implementing new technologies

Manufacturing Pasts and CCC:EED introduced new technologies to staff and students

sharing of practices, knowledge and experience with staff

CCC:EED adopted a digital literacies approach which supported sharing of practice

transforming perceptions and practice of other sectors

Architectus worked with commercial partners to allow their work to be incorporated into OER

By changing pedagogic approaches and practice

student engagement as producers co-creators

OBL4HE, Zandra Rhodes Collection, OpenLIVES, Observing the 1980’s and CC:EED all noted benefits of working with students as co-creators and producers of raw assets and OER

student opportunities for authentic work practices

Zandra Rhodes Collection offered a variety of internships and other opportunities for students form a range of disciplines

student peer interaction & collaboration

Histology & Histopathology and CCC:EED noted the benefits of this approach

digital literacies approach

CCC:EED focused on digital literacies of staff and students to both shape and implement project activities. OBL4HE and Observing the 1980’s also linked to this broader agenda.

providing evidence of practice change

Most projects reported on practice change across a range of areas. OpenLIVES offers very strong evidence of practice change in staff and students

Factor 2. Encouraging and supporting institutional change

Through appropriate technical infrastructure for OER release

ensuring that institutional technologies can integrate open content (either raw assets or OER)

All projects made efforts to incorporate assets into institutional systems

challenging closed institutional systems

Access was noted by CCC:EED as an important requirement for remote students and wider audiences

replacing out of date hardware and software

CCC:EED activities highlighted challenges with existing systems and led to subsequent change

ensuring equitable access to appropriate software needed to utilise OER

UKVM and CCC:EED took efforts to ensure that outputs were accessible on mobile devices for remote students or student learning in non conventional spaces

reconsider existing policies around technologies

CCC:EED considered their policy for automated submission of assignments

Through changes to institutional processes

changing policy and processes

OBL4HE integrated lessons from project activities into strategic planning

acknowledge that processes move slowly and to different agendas

Observing the 1980’s highlighted this

obtain solid institutional commitment

All projects required institutional commitment. OBL4HE noted that there are different levels of commitment

creation of new posts

OBL4HE established a new teaching fellow in Object based learning

embedding project outputs into institutional infrastructure

OBL4HE noted that focusing on impacts on efficiency supported incorporation into corporate plans

Through partnership/collaborative approaches

encourage new partnerships that cross traditional boundaries within institutions

A key focus of the programme was to encourage new partnerships and all projects noted benefits and challenges around this

encourage and build new partnerships outside the institutions and across sectors

Manufacturing Pasts established new partnerships with the local library and record office. OBL4HE linked museums staff with the academic staff. Architectus linked commercial partners with University staff.

balancing skillsets and expertise from a range of partners to ensure digitisation is efficient and effective

All projects reported challenges in ensuring a balance and managing this throughout the project.

build strong communication mechanisms, particularly to facilitate conversations with remote participants

All projects noted this.

understand complexities around creating formal partnership agreements and be prepared to work in less formal ways sometimes to achieve common goals

Histology and Histopathology noted this in particular.

identify common goals and visions

All projects did this.

be prepared for challenges with multi-partnership approaches and forge strong management  mechanisms to facilitate conflict resolutions and workflow control

All projects.

Factor 3. Adopting sustainable approaches

By linking to existing institutional systems, policies and strategies

linking to existing services, activities and other projects

UKVM and Histology & Histopathology linked to the Open University OpenScience Laboratory, OpenLearn and other OU projects.

integrating into new institutional software

CCC:EED linked activities to implementation of a new VLE

changing institutional policy

OpenLIVES fed into a new OER policy within one institution which was adopted at institution-wide level

CCC:EED changed their policy for electronic submission

embedding OER into learning and teaching

All projects.

By developing sustainable digital assets and OER

ensuring visibility and discoverability

All projects had to do this. Manufacturing Pasts put a lot of effort into this aspect.

utilise existing services for hosting

All projects made excellent use of existing hosting services within their own institutions and also national & international services.

making OER that can be re-used outside the specific context

Several projects noted that their OER were relevant outside of the specific educational context they were created for.

commercial engagement opportunities

UKVM noted opportunities to produce slides sets for publishers or other academic institutions,

By supporting new open educational practices

offer exemplars to other staff and models for creating OER

OpenLIVES provided an exemplar of integrating research and teaching and Manufacturing Pasts provided exemplars of mobile learning and open learning

maintain systems and workflows for digitisation and OER

Manufacturing Pasts developed workflows which would be appropriate to support ongoing work

training and support documentation created during projects can be cascaded and offered in an ongoing way for staff of different partner institutions

CCC:EED produced staff training materials as part of their digital literacy approach

By nurturing new and existing partnerships

explore opportunities for future collaboration

Many projects noted that they plan to do this.

Continue cross-fertilisation of ideas and practice through collaborative partnerships and close working relationships

OBL4HE noted this particularly.


[7] Blog post by Zandra Rhodes project about student internships http://zandrarhodesarchive.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/what-difference-has-the-project-internship-made/