Table of Contents
Projects received support from JISC CETIS in relation to technical and hosting issues, and the CETIS final report summarises the technologies used and developed by the OER pilot programme.
CETIS offered support through several well attended sessions in Elluminate, ongoing advice and support and an excellent blog from John Robertson which served to summarise issues as they arose. This entry on the blog provides anOverview paper on technology and descriptive choices in ukoer. This position paper for the ADL Learning Content Registries and Repositories Summit by R. John Robertson, Lorna Campbell, Phil Barker comprises a summary of technical issues and highlight emerging themes. This paper will be expanded more fully at a later date but rightly points out that ” At this stage CETIS technical synthesis of UKOER is still very much a work in progress but some preliminary trends are emerging”
In summary they highlight that “projects have gravitated to technologies they are familiar with and already had in place” ; have “used a mixture of elearning platforms, repositories, and innovative approaches” ; “standards used are often embedded in applications and their use is dependant on the application chosen” ; “the feasibility of aggregating distributed heterogeneous resource descriptions is still unproven” ; “pilot programme points to ways forward to use both web2 applications and digital repositories and to exchange information between them” ; “Projects have chosen multiple platforms to support different functions such as preservation, streaming and dissemination, marketing and advocacy” ; and that “Projects’ technical choices primarily reflect resource management and distribution requirements – as opposed to course delivery requirements” .
The CETIS Project Directory provides a really useful snapshot view of the technical issues raised by the projects. The Evaluation and Synthesis summary that follows addresses some of the reasons for the different approaches to hosting, metadata and technical development described in the CETIS report.
Metadata and Resource description issues
Regarding metadata, there is a tension between rich tagging to ensure a shared understanding of how resources address key academic issues, and lightweight, usable metadata solutions. Projects insisted that consistent metadata was critical to resource management and discovery. Metadata and tagging templates/guidelines and keyword lists or taxonomies were among the earliest outputs of the programme. However, projects took different approaches to authoring metadata, from doing it entirely within the core team to giving all potential users equal opportunities to upload their own metadata. There is a trade-off here between accuracy and sustainability. There is also a tension between using rich metadata records to meet the needs of potential users, and keeping it simple enough that potential contributors do not fall at the metadata hurdle.
Projects took various approaches to hosting and syndication of resources, and variation can be seen between the three strands. Subject strand solutions can tentatively be related to their situation on the two axes identified in the strand as ‘integrity = reusability’ and ‘wild’ = ‘community-based’ (see Subject Strand – Developing Managing And Sharing OERs), whereas Individual strand solutions tended to be based more exclusively on the intended audience (see Individual Strand – Developing Managing And Sharing OERs. Institutional projects focused very largely on institutional repositories or learning/content management systems.
Many projects used multiple channels to publish and publicise OERs, often using syndication to ensure that a single authoritative version existed for updating, any necessary take-down, ongoing refinement etc.
our EPrints repository could be used as a canonical source for teaching and learning materials disseminated via a WordPress site…. WordPress provides a number of useful ways to syndicate content via RSS/Atom and so we were able to create feeds for different categories of resources, one of which was syndicated to iTunes via FeedBurner or to Boxee TV via Vimeo…. (ChemistryFM final report)
Imaginative use of feeds (particulaly RSS) and sometimes a good understanding of metadata have resulted in some excellent solutions to making the resources available to a wider community of potential users. A few projects deposited separate copies. A number of projects explored third party hosting solutions such as slideshare, flickr, scribd, youtube, and had variable experiences. Web2.0 sites are at different stages of development and inconsistent in the media they will support (e.g. Flash animations), the terms of hosting, and the openness of access. There is an issue of resource ownership in relation to some or all third party web sites, e.g . in Flickr the person uploading the resource is, by default, the resource owner. Many sharing sites require consent to conditions of use statements that may violate CC and other licences. However, the use of web 2.0 services remains attractive to support flexibility, portability and accessibility, particularly by learners and have been used very imaginatively to publicise and encourage use of resources released by projects.
The most successful dissemination has been the embracing of social networks and OER delivered through mobile technologies… The mobile technologies are adored by a large number of students, if you engage them through something that they use every day the material is more likely to be assimilated as part of their learning experience. (BROME final report)
Barriers to using third party social software solutions are the number of possible solutions to choose from, the time needed to find effective ways of using them, and the ongoing time commitment needed for effective use. Projects experimented extensively, tracking usage, using search engine optimisation techniques, and google analytics, to find the most effective solutions for them, with YouTube and Twitter being popular choices in the end. The concensus was that use of these media is time consuming and it was abandoned by some projects for this reason.
The increasing development of institutional repositories for learning and teaching resources has had a significant impact on the Pilot Programme. Whether these are new repositories, or expansions of research repositories, institutional strand projects and some subject strand partners chose to utilise institutional repositories as the primary host. This has had an impact on institutional practice and the development of OER support mechanisms and ultimately on sustainability of project activities.
From the beginning we decided to embed our new OER repository, called Open Exeter into this wider infrastructure. The University is now developing another repository for research data. All four repositories are based upon DSpace and so sustainability is factored into them collectively(OpenExeter final report)
In exploring the fitness for purpose of existing repositories, projects are considering issues such as updating, versioning, tracking and management, preservation and archiving. With some repositories, different degrees of openness are available to allow depositors control over how widely they share content. While JORUMOpen remains the repository of choice for the programme, it is recognised that the open content ethos means that specific hosting solutions matter less than the general approach to making content available. Also there are some concerns that the development path of JorumOpen may have been out of sync with project requirements.
Some individual projects expect to rely on social networking and the user community to keep content and indices up to date – normally one of the stated contributions of established repositories.
openSpace uses community-building techniques and looks to original contributors, peer reviewers and the user community to keep online catalogues, resources and forums (which replace the suggested wikis) updated. (openSpace final report)
These issues are discussed in more detail in the strand pages:
Individual Strand – Technical And Hosting Issues
Subject Strand – Technical And Hosting Issues
Institutional Strand – Technical And Hosting Issues