Repositories for OERs, they’re not dead yet

vultures

Source: Pixabay

I’ve been hanging on from blogging about this topic for a while for fear of being seen as a vulture attempting to gain from the recent closure of Jorum, hence the feature photo.  Now the Jisc Content and App store has been released as a first preview to the community for feedback and with Jorum switched off as promised at the end of September 2016, it seems time to bring this up.  I must say it’s most disappointing to see an account is required to get the resources themselves on the Jisc content store – is that open?  Perhaps this will change in future release.  The Jorum team did also highlight a number of other separate sources people may wish to use instead in future (Jorum Alternate Platforms).  What is apparent from conversations I have observed and been part of in recent months is there is continued uncertainty of what lies ahead and where and how we should be sharing open educational resources.  So as a community where do we go from here?

I have voiced my reservations of having a single national repository so wont repeat myself – you can read about that on my earlier blog post > Looking forward to the ALT 2016 Conference.

When it comes to repositories for OERs I have picked up on a mix of opinions ranging from ‘they have had their day’, ‘they don’t let me do what I want to be able to do with my resources’ to ‘they are valuable when it comes to the perceptions of quality from end users’.  My fear is the less favourable opinions are often based on high expectation and little investment in something still in its infancy.  The feeling that repositories are old, had their day, not up to date with what other sites provide.  Now I was not involved in Jorum, it’s origins or subsequent development in any way but when funding of a centralised solution is taken care of by a someone else there will be less emphasis or feeling of need for the community to come together to consider an alternative or consider long term sustainability.  When that environment disappears it’s understandable that we are left looking around and thinking ‘what do we do now?’.  It is unsurprising that more glossy high profile social media sharing sites are favoured in this scenario, but are they enough to warrant us saying goodbye to repositories?

I am fortunate enough to work in an area that involves both open access and open education and I see so many parallels occurring between them that we should be both learning from and taking advantage of.

Centralised sites do of course exist which encourage individuals to submit their open access research outputs such as Academia.edu, Mendeley and ResearchGate, yet a great many institutions have their own repository implemented in their own ways to provide the same functionality.  The truly open repositories do not act as walled silos, but as an open platform exposing both metadata and full-text files to be harvested by others (such as aggregator sites) or push content out to expose the existence of content elsewhere so it is more discoverable.

The Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) sum up this model nicely with their vision of “a sustainable, global knowledge commons based on a network of open access digital repositories”.  Their mission is “to enhance the visibility and application of research outputs through a global network of open access repositories based on international collaboration and interoperability”.

Repositories for open access aren’t without their critics of course.  There was a recent exchange on the jisc-repositories mailing list after a blog post from Richard Poynder Time to re-think the institutional repository? followed up by many interesting responses including one from Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director of COAR https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A2=ind1609&L=JISC-REPOSITORIES&F=&S=&P=27416  In her response Shearer says “As Poynder alludes to in his introduction, highly centralized systems are far easier to launch, nurture and promote, however, there are significant benefits to a distributed system. It is much less vulnerable to buy-out, manipulation, or failure. Furthermore, a global network, managed collectively by the university and research community around the world, can be more attuned to local values, regional issues and a variety of perspectives.

I look at this statement and think, this isn’t just relevant to open access, this fits open education too.

So how do we achieve this for open education resources then?

Well to start with, let’s not start from scratch and try to re-invent the wheel, making the task harder for ourselves.  Lets learn from this active community, their approaches and build upon existing infrastructure, namely repositories, for open access.  In fact that is literally what has already been happening with platforms like EdShare Soton, edShare@GCU, eShare, Humbox, LanguageBox, LORO.  This is a growing number of open source OER repositories being used by University of Southampton, Glasgow Caledonian University, Edgehill University as well as number of distributed subject specific communities.

Much like the open source EPrints repository which is in place in universities across the UK and beyond to support open access (and on which EdShare is built), the platform develops and grows as a result of contributions by members of the community.  EdShare stripped out all the of traditional restrictions you would normally expect in a repository and made it a user community driven site, learning from the success of social media sharing sites.  We already have the mature open software platform, so the focus is on optimisation for OERs and supporting OEP.  New features will frequently benefit the entire community.  A recent example includes the development of an embeddable HTML5 player required by the Glasgow Caledonian so video players and multiple playback formats can be viewed and controlled by the user within their Blackboard environment.  This feature has now become available to anyone who uses the latest version of EdShare.  The key here is that the community own the future of the product.

So are repositories for OERs dead?  or is the question are we ready to say they are?   I know my answer 🙂

 

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2 thoughts on “Repositories for OERs, they’re not dead yet

  1. Great post Kelly. Although I understand the ease of use and functionalities offered by social media platforms make these appealing distribution channels, I can’t help but feel that repositories have been somewhat written off before they got particularly good. I agree with you on the parallels with open access institutional research repositories. The same logic applies; but unfortunately not the same drivers.

    • Thank you Leo 🙂 The high level drivers are certainly different though if we compare back to the origins of repositories for OA the same battles were happening and it was early adopters and a few leading the way. It saddens me to hear some librarians talking about repositories for OA being more like machines for REF nowadays.

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