Exclude teaching and learning materials from the open access repositories debate – The Discussion

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post summarising a discussion that had take place at RPAG prompted by Andy Powells suggestion that

…the issues around learning object repositories, certainly the softer issues like what motivates people to deposit, are so totally different from those around research repositories that it makes no sense to consider them in the same space anyway the issues around learning object repositories, certainly the softer issues like what motivates people to deposit, are so totally different from those around research repositories that it makes no sense to consider them in the same space anyway.

This sparked considerable discussion on the RPAG mailing list the highlights of which are summarised here.

Steve Hitchcock was first up with the suggestion that we should focus on the œI of Institutional Repositories and asked

Are there personnal, domain and institutional perspectives to consider? And how do they relate to each other?

Amber Thomas agreed learning materials are different because

  • The priority isn’t to expose them by OAI-PMH (people don’t use oaister etc for finding learning materials, they use google)
  • They are referred to as open content, open educational resources etc rather than open access
  • The argument for open access is different, has different rhetoric and different stakeholders
  • They won’t often be institutional with a capital “I” they are more likely department or project or cross-institutional

Charles Oppenheim was also in agreement:

…learning materials are different in all sorts of ways, most importantly the (normally) absence of a commercial third party stakeholder (in contrast to research outputs) and the attitudes of the owners to sharing.

Andrew Rothery, who has already commented extensively on the pros and cons of using repositories to manage teaching and learning materials, suggested that we need to distinguish between different types of learning materials

Across the country, thousands of tutors are uploading substantial quantities of their own materials into their institutional VLEs every week. Broadly speaking these are the materials which institutions find hard to manage in conventional open access repositories and these are the ones which relate to different concepts, and need different approaches.

Yes, there are some resource collections which could be archived in a more formal repository system, a bit like text books or teaching materials which get published.

But that still means the whole question of learning and teaching materials needs its own perspective so we can make progess with designing appropriate repository systems.

It’s much harder to deal with the kind of resources Andrew identifies than collections of learning objects which may have been designed with re-use, re-purposing and “publication” in a LO repository in mind. The former are exactly the type of materials that have traditionally been regarded as ephemera but these are the resources that facilitate a key part of the institutions’ core business: teaching and learning. Should we be considering strategies to manage these resources?

Tom Franklin took a somewhat different perspective and cautioned against creating a dichotomy between teaching and learning materials and scholarly publications and suggested that we should also consider other resource types such as research data, archival data and student created content. While agreeing that we need to focus our efforts Tom added that we also need to be inclusive of a wide range of content types.

Finally Chris Awre provided a very neat summary of the issues we need to address:

…it is hard to imagine that research outputs and learning materials are different in ALL respects, even if there are clear differences in some areas. The issue in the debate about whether to include learning materials seems related to one area of repository activity, that of open access, and, while this is clearly a key aspect of why we are establishing repositories it is not the whole story: there are vast swathes of digital content out there that need managing for a variety of purposes but where open access is not on the agenda (or only a part of it).

It may, thus, be useful to gather evidence and thinking on how different types of materials are different to better understand where different approaches are required and where a similar or common approach can be taken: Ambers points are a step along this path and I agree that a focus on learning materials would be helpful. Whilst considering the differences from an open access perspective will be one factor within this, a multi-faceted view needs to be taken to address all potential institutional requirements.

It is encouraging that there seems to be general agreement that we need to consider the differences and similarities between various resource types and the objectives and requirements of their users and that we should focus more on these objectives and less on a single technical approach to meeting these objectives.

4 thoughts on “Exclude teaching and learning materials from the open access repositories debate – The Discussion

  1. Thanks for summarising this Lorna. I appreciate a window into what’s happening in the RPAG on this stuff- it’s really important. What I’m about to say in no way reflects on the good work of the people you’ve quoted and mentioned- but I do feel the need to say it…

    I felt MASSIVELY frustrated reading about this. As you know, during the set-up and running of the JISC Repositories Programme Mark I, I sat on the RPAG and was also there when the JISC-Repositories list was started. I (and several other people) argued on that list in the early days for people to stop conflating the idea of “Institutional Repositories” or even just “Repositories” with scholarly-works-specific repositories. That argument ran on for a short while, was overtaken by other concerns; to this day the scholarly works repositories community (admittedly a sizeable majority) still acts as though they have dibs on the term “Institutional Repositories”, and just “Repositories”, while occasionally paying lip-service to supporting t&l materials.

    During the first JISC Repositories Programme, there was acknowledgement of the separate need for study and development specifically on t&l repositories, and JISC included a proportion of funding in the programme for this purpose; a small number of high quality projects resulted (CD-LOR, PROWE, TrustDR and UKCDR, as well as cross-over project RepoMMan). During this period another JISC programme (can’t recall which) funded WM-Share- another excellent t&l repositories project that shared closely with the afore-mentioned ones.

    The second Repositories Programme came along, and suddenly we were back to conflating the two kinds of repository; the “minority interest” one (as far as JISC IE interests go) getting lost in the shuffle. I argued on the RPAG for at least a full-time, or even 0.5FTE t&l repositories specialist to be on the Repositories Support Project; never happened.

    What’s frustrating to me is that all this is having to be argued out yet again- those with an interest in repositories for t&l materials are having to somehow state their case as if this is a novel idea- in spite of the fact that there is a community out there of people carrying on with collecting and sharing t&l materials in repositories (cf IRISS, IVIMEDS, various Canadian and European projects, various regional sharing projects in England for schools, GLOW in Scotland, plus a number of institutions working on institutional repositories for their t&l materials, e.g. Newcastle Uni, Leeds Met Uni, Derby Uni, Southampton, Oxford Brookes, Nottingham Trent (not just Intrallect customers believe me!), etc. etc.). My personal feeling is that if this issue had not fallen into the crack between the JISC IE and the JISC E-Learning programmes we might be seeing a lot more progress and development in this area already. I’m not sure the current amphasis on OER is a total panacea- we also need further work on the basics- understanding user and insitutional needs; creating user-friendly systems that integrate with or provide Web 2.0-style tools for community support; new ways of dealing with the IPR constraints; ways of embedding insitutionally, etc. It’s no surprise to me that EdShare is one of the best new t&l repositories projects, because it actually emerges from the scholarly works repositories community that get the lion’s share of support, but is being developed by people who are open to the idea that t&l repositories need their own approaches. It’s tapping into the lessons learned from earlier JISC t&l repositories projects. Let’s see more work like this!

    So that’s my whinge- and I know it’s all past history; I’m so glad to see such a lot of strong voices arguing for this within JISC again. My plea is to not let it fall between the cracks again and to offer some excellent JISC-style support to those folks out there who want to get on with providing research, support and services in this area.

  2. Completely understand what you’re saying, Sarah.

    We’ve had a convergence of concerns into the repository domain, and your list of the shared concerns (“the basics”) is very useful.

    There have been very strong drivers to have Institutional Repositories of Open Access Research Papers, a very strong coupling of IRs with OAs, with the intention of making the message to researchers as simple as possible. “Put your paper here” and all these benefits will accrue.

    In the meantime, with the rise of user-generated content, those of us in the area of sharing learning resources have seen a huge growth of activity, with the emphasis on diversity: lots of different places to share, lots of types of stuff to share.

    The two “domains” (research, L&T) might not be logically seperate, but the language is definitely different. And often for good reason: if we go too generic then people don’t recognise we’re talking to them. We’ve always aimed at a core of good practice, re-contextualised for particular contexts. The thing is, that core of good practice in the basics is turning out to be quite hard to identify.

    You’re right that the question of who owns the space can have an effect on how its handled, and yes, this has been true for JISC sometimes (just as it is for institutions) but we’ve actually done quite a bit between eLearning and IE behind the scenes.

    I suspect that often good things happen regardless of funding streams, there’s certainly lots of good stuff out there to build on.

    So what next?

    I hope you’ll be at the OER session at the CETIS conference to participate in a discussion about how best to approach this whole area …

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