Real live learning material repository managers spotted at JISC conference!

During last weeks JISC Repositories & Preservation Programme meeting I sat in on a discussion forum on repositories for learning materials that was as interesting as it was short. I didn’t count the number of people who participated, (30 perhaps?), but it was notable that real live honest-to-goodness learning object repository managers outnumbered dubious “experts” (like me). That has to be progress! This informal session was facilitated by JISC’s Amber Thomas and liveblogged by R. John Robertson (#rpmeetb).

Given that most of the participants were speaking from experience I think it’s important to acknowledge the issues they raised….

Quality Assurance

QA is still a big issue. One participant noted that staff at their institution don’t want “three crummy powerpoints” in the same repository as their open access research papers as this will reflect badly on the quality of their scholarly works. A few thought that all teaching and learning materials should be QA’d as this would make them more attractive for reuse. Others, rightly in my opinion, pointed out that context is critical for teaching and learning materials and it makes no sense to QA resources out of context. A straw pole of participants showed that the majority of repository managers present have chosen not to QA teaching and learning materials.

Reuse or Management

There is still some ambiguity regarding the primary role of learning resource repositories. Are they there to facilitate the asset management of resources within the institution or to facilitate the reuse of resources by staff, and indeed students, outwith the institution? It appeared to me that the focus is still very much on using repositories to facilitate reuse but that it is not at all clear who the primary stakeholders are who might reuse these resources.

One Box or Many

Several of the repository managers present reported that they faced a dilemma regarding whether to accommodate the full range of institutional resources (scholarly works, teaching and learning materials, etheses, etc) in a single institutional repository or in multiple resource specific repositories. This was summarised as “one box or many”. One participant noted that senior management would not support multiple institutional repositories, their line of reasoning being “there’s only one institutional library, why should there be more than one repository?” Clearly there are technical solutions to this particular problem, however at root this is an institutional policy issue.

The VLE as Repository

Worryingly more than a few participants reported that it was still common practice for staff to use the institutional VLE to store teaching and learning materials used on a daily basis. This despite the fact that it’s widely known that “you can’t get anything out again”. It’s not clear whether these resources were deemed “not good enough” to be uploaded to a repository or whether it is simply easier to store them in a VLE. It appears that academics draw a distinction between teaching resources created for their own use and “learning objects” created for reuse.

The Myth of Reuse

Tom Franklin pointed out, as he has done many times before, that in his experience no lecturers reuse teaching materials that are more than ten years old so is there really any point in promoting the reuse of teaching and learning materials? This is a valid point. However I would argue that there are many lecturers that would probably like to reuse resources they created themselves a couple of years ago if only they could find them! To my mind the real value of repositories is that they can help teaching practitioners, and the institution more generally, manage their resources over the short to medium term.

So, is there any underlying commonality between teaching and learning materials and scholarly works? Unlike scholarly works, there is no clearly defined workflow for the production, use, management and distribution of teaching and learning materials. As a result it is difficult to articulate the role that repositories can play. In addition teaching and learning materials and their intended use differ vastly across subject domains. Several participants suggested that disciplinary based approaches to resource management may be more productive than the institutional approach. As John reported in his twitter feed

Conceptually Learning Material and Research repositories are very different services with fundamentally different goals, not just different metadata and workflows. Learning Material repositories are much more about asset management and possibly have closer parallel with research data than scholarly works, although not in terms of preservation.

So no stunning conclusions but a lot of food for though raised in just 30 minutes. It was genuinely enlightening to hear the experiences of so many colleagues who are actually managing learning material repositories. Kudos to the JISC Repositories and Preservation Programme.

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