Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the Association for Learning Technology conference taking place at the University of Warwick. This gave me the opportunity to share with the community latest information on my work with the open source OER repository platform ‘EdShare‘ as well as some of the key findings from my MSc thesis “Discoverability Strategies for Open Educational Resources“.
The following narrative provides a summary of my presentation. The slides can be accessed on EdShare Soton.
EdShare origins (it’s nearly 10 years old)
As shared on my previous blog post, EdShare originated from a research project called EdSpace back in 2007 at the University of Southampton to deliver a single, shared, safe, persistent storage location designed to hold all manner of teaching and learning resources. This solution was launched in 2008 and has provided a platform for both university staff and students to share their work locally as well as openly with the world if they choose to do so.
The decision by the EdSpace project team was to develop an educational resources repository using EPrints, chosen for its open source design and open content approach. Though perceived by many to be a publications repository for enabling institutions to engage with open access, EPrints is agnostic about the materials it manages, it can hold any type of digital content … after all it’s all data at the end of the day.
In creating EdShare, the standard interface provided by EPrints was re-worked with heavy influences from social media sites and provides a number of key features to make the process of sharing resources quick and easy and facilitate community engagement. This includes:
- Lightweight workflow: simple upload, latest creative commons licences, minimal mandatory requirements, multiple flexible methods of tagging and therefore organising content
- Viewing permissions: allowing resources to be visible to the world (go open!), university staff & students or identified individuals
- Editing permissions: allowing the original depositor to share rights with others so they can also keep the resource up to date
- Inline preview of media files: allowing the user to quickly determine if the resource is valuable without the need to download anything. Support for office documents, PDFs, images, video and audio files and many more
- Community features using the MePrints extension – rich user profiles, public profile pages
- Commenting – ability to add private notes (helpful for learners) and public feedback on resources
Recent developments as a result of my own work and in partnership with members of our community has resulted in the following improvements:
- HTML5 player to preview video and audio files
- Ability to embed video and audio files wrapped with HTML5 player controls (finishing touches going on this now)
EdShare is now behind a number of OER repositories in the UK HEI community including EdShare Soton, Humbox, LanguageBox, eShare and most recently edShare@GCU. I have the pleasure of leading the open education strategy for EPrints and working with a growing community means that our offering not only benefits from the core support and development by our team at the University of Southampton, but also development work is frequently shared by individual instances and added to our core EdShare version.
At this stage, I turned the focus to our session participants to ask:
“What repository features do we need to make available to the users of OERs” (hint: think carefully about who the users of OERs are).
This stimulated a valuable discussion in the room with feedback including need for a mobile app, slick interface, good search function, ratings, and methods to help users make decisions of whether a resource is right for them. Many of these aspects form part of the EPrints core roadmap, so EdShare will automatically benefit from these without any need for separate development investment.
In every discussion I have, and decision there is to be made about EdShare I think about what open education is about and why we doing it. We’ve been sharing on the web since it was created and they are multiple ways in which that can be achieved. Sharing OERs though was supposed to be about more than simply sharing.
At every level we must remind ourselves this is about removing barriers. Lack of access to content was one barrier, but not the only one. We place so much emphasis on the act of releasing content but I believe we are still in our comfort zone when it comes to be truly open. We remain as the sole providers of content, control how it is presented, described and updated. We need to ask ourselves is this as open as we are going to be in these spaces – in our repository systems. Could we be doing more? Should we be doing more? Of course the culture change for people should not be underestimated but we must think about how the systems we use facilitate this transition rather than reinforce the status quo.
One of the most significant challenges to emerge around OERs is discoverability. What do we mean by this? Much like there are many levels of openness (it’s not a case of just being open or closed) the same is true of discoverability. It’s not as simple as just ensuring Google shows it on its results page (though of course that is a good start!).
OERs are intended to be accessible and usable by anyone for any purpose (within the open licence permissions granted). Such a diverse global population of users will come with different expectations of how they wish to interact with OERs and different search strategies for finding and trusting them. Users will also come with different levels of ability to make their decision on whether the resource they have found meets their needs. We need to support this, repositories need to support this.
It is precisely this topic I tackled as part of my masters studies and I have opted to share my report in full on this blog (it’s all about being open after all) which I hope you will enjoy reading. I opted to look across the Jisc funded UKOER projects (those that released OERs and were still accessible online) to identify the strategies they had used to aid discoverability of their resources. My analysis identified that projects had often explicitly declared a target audience for their resources and only in a small number of cases was the global audience declared as the intended beneficiaries.
Management environments such as repositories (over half) and content management systems were the preferred platforms to host their OERs with Blogs, Facebook and Twitter being used to disseminate their existence wider. Tactics offered by the hosting platforms or applied by the project teams included metadata optimisation, providing local platform search and RSS feeds. Surprisingly only half of the hosting platforms (exc. high profile social media sites) offered a ‘Share this’ widget to promote sharing across personal networks.
The most concerning result was that only 46% of projects analysed were still active today – i.e. content was being updated, or further resources provided, information shared. With the rate of change with technologies and services and how search algorithms constantly change, static content that never changes will slowly disappear if it is not looked after, a point echoed by the Jisc Spotlight report.
We often talk about sustainability of OERs as another one of the other major challenges and frequently from a financial perspective. The long term sustainability of individual resources must also be considered if they are to valuable to anyone beyond the short term.
Stepping outside the comfort zone
Repositories have a number of significant benefits for sharing of resources (something I plan to talk about in another post soon). With the findings of my recent work in mind, I’m looking at the next steps for EdShare, namely to step outside the comfort zone. To become more than just a management environment and become a more open digital space. Areas of development supported by research findings include:
- Showcasing resources – driven dynamically by user data
- Channels – allowing users to subscribe/follow specific themes and growing collections
- Engaging the community – sharing rights to deposit and provide metadata (crowdsourcing), collaborating on resources
- Sharing – ensuring all our repositories have a Share This widget to facilitate sharing across networks
- Open courses – enabling greater freedom for staff to structure resources into courses to experiment with small scale open courses, allowing all users to benefit from seeing resources in their context of use
- User generated collections including playlists, personal learning paths
- Recommendations – linking to associated resources, resources of interest
- Evaluation tools – ratings
JISC (2014c). Spotlight on the Digital – Characteristic discovery behaviours: preliminary summary of the literature (revised version). Sero Consulting. Retrieved from http://digitisation.jiscinvolve.org/wp/files/2013/11/131101-Spotlight-DiscoveryBehaviours-Literature-Review-v2.docx