Below is a position paper from the EdShare team which is to be presented at the CETIS repositories and open web group meeting in late April 2010
The EdShare Approach: Web 2.0 from the Ground Up
JISC CETIS Repositories and The Open Web
At Southampton University we have been involved in repositories for teaching and learning for many years. Our first repository in 2005 was called CLARe, a simple EPrints installation with a Learning Object schema, deployed for the Language teaching community. Our evaluations of CLARe showed that people were disappointed with the plain repository interface, and described the experience as ‘flat’ (it was hard to navigate and nothing was interlinked) and ‘dead’ (there was no information on how people had used resources, or what they thought of them). It was clear that the Web 2.0 systems that were appearing at the time (such as Flick’r and YouTube) were changing people’s expectations of what a repository should offer.
We ran a follow up project called CLARe Tools (CLAReT) in 2007 that tried to address these issues with a more modern interface. However, in our evaluation workshops we found that while the superficial problems had been addressed, deeper issues emerged. It became clear to us that the problem wasn’t just an interface issue, it concerned long held assumptions about the way in which teachers thought about their digital teaching materials. Web 2.0 features were not sufficient, what was required was a rethink of the whole approach.
In the light of our experience, we turned to popular Web 2.0 sharing sites in order to try and analyse what has made them successful. Why are people keen to upload photos to Flick’r, but not to upload handouts to a teaching repository? The result of our rethinking has been a family of projects and repositories built around a common set of EPrints extensions called EdShare, which between them over the last two years have made thousands of new resources available online.
The EdShare Approach
Going into our projects we were conscious of the predominant practice of all kinds of people across Universities (both teachers and specialist staff), who support learning, for re-using small parts, elements and ideas from their own as well as colleagues’ and other collaborators’ materials. It was clear that there were materials that could be shared.
We wanted to rethink our approach to teaching and learning repositories by learning from successful Web 2.0 sharing sites – not by copying their user interface elements in a facile way, but by re-examining the core purpose and focus of the system itself.
We came to believe that a good way to understand the difference is to look at what services the sites offered their users. Research repositories succeed because the service they offer is one of Archiving, recording research outputs for posterity. The problem is that no one wants to archive their teaching resources.
In comparison, the popular Web 2.0 sites offer a different set of services:
• Hosting: storing digital content online, and making it public via a page with its own URL.
• Organisation: allowing the creation of composite structures (such as channels or albums), which are also available via a page with its own URL.
• Community: creating awareness of the site’s community, through comments, recommendations and explicit profiles that give users their own public page.
This resulted in number of key extensions to EPrints that together transform a static repository into a living community site. Inline previews ensure that resource pages are focused on the resource and not on metadata, collections allow users to gather together useful resources regardless of whether they were the original depositors, comments and usage stats create automatic attention information that helps with quality assessment, reveals activity and motivates user engagement, profile pages foster a sense of authorial identity and community, and remix tools encourage the reuse and reinvention of materials.
In on-going JISC-funded initiatives based in the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, we have worked with our community of teachers and subject specialists to develop a different approach to the organisation, sharing and collaboration of the everyday teaching resources. We have drawn on the success of Web 2.0 applications such as Flick’r and YouTube; we have learned from the observed popularity of placing content to the fore, collaborating with known individuals, small communities; ease for providing comments, preference for low-threshold barriers to adding content, the importance of the search experience, interest in metrics (especially of views) as well as the attractions of personalisation and profile sharing.
We have deployed a number of sites using the EdShare extensions, including EdShare Southampton (www.edshare.soton.ac.uk) our institutional learning and teaching repository; HumBox (www.humbox.ac.uk), a share for use by the HEAcademy Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies Subject Centre’s Open Educational Resources Project; LORO (a repository for the Department of Languages at the Open University); and WBLR (a new repository for the University of Worcester).
EdShare Southampton Example
In the first year of operation for EdShare Southampton, we worked with a collaborative, co-design approach, seeking to link with our community both to understand concerns and motivations, as well as to build alliances to maximise our capacity to influence and support sharing and increased collaboration across the institution.
Supporting sharers in adding minimal metadata, we have added as much useful automatically generated metadata as feasible. We know the institutional affiliation of people as well as their name. EdShare Southampton has also been integrated with the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) management system of the University from the outset. Everyone who has a University login identity is able to add content to EdShare.
We have found that our work of developing the infrastructure to support sharing educational resources across the University has complemented work to develop a culture for sharing acros the institution.