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Presentation to the EMERGE community – after the fact (2)

Posted by Nick on July 1, 2008

I’ve just been listening to the recording from the presentation given last week, in my absence, by John Gray. I’m really sorry I missed it as there was some really interesting perspectives arising in the discussion and I must congratulate John on his presentation and making sense of my slides!

I shall try to summarise some of the discussion here but just to recap, John gave an overview of our three related projects and how they link together via a single repository platform (intraLibrary) that we will be using as both an Open Access research archive AND a repository of learning objects (AND, in time, we hope, other digital materials). Traditionally these two main types of material have been stored in seperate systems and, thus far, the uptake of both types of repository has been limited. We hope that the PERSoNA project, through investigating the use of social networking/Web 2.0 technology within and around the repository, will help to promote its use amongst our academic community. I also wanted to look at an example of a successful Web 2.0 “repository” – Slideshare – to see what we could learn and maybe apply to our institutional repository.

For the purposes of this summary I will insert (anonymous) verbatim comments from the text chat – if anyone has any concerns about their IPR please let me know – I’m just working on a take down policy for the repository!

A pertinent place to start might be with a question raised by Isobel who suggested that while the need for a repository was institutionally defined, there was not a great sense that potential users felt any clear need themselves, hence our emphasis on fitting in with folks’ existing workflow.

Janet agreed with this (as do I) with the proviso that, in her view, people really need to see and understand the benefits of such systems before they will commit – chicken and egg paradox. This is certainly the case with repositories dedicated to Open Access and much of my advocacy work to academics will be extolling the benefits of OA. This is THE crucial point, of course, that it is all very well developing new technologies but persuading people of the benefits and then to engage is much more difficult; we will only succeed in engaging users if we map onto what people actually need as individuals.

“we need to address how people work not how we want them to work!”

The statement “Build them and they will come” that I used in the slides has become almost a cliche in the development of Open Access Repositories (of research) and very much typified the first wave of development at the beginning of the noughties with the attitude that OA and self-archiving into an IR is such a good idea and so easy with so many benefits that if we make the technology available, people will use it and while this optimism, in fact, has been found wanting people have “come” to a whole array of Web 2.0 “repositories” with the likes of Slideshare, Flickr and del.icio.us attracting millions of users – including academics. My reluctance to refer to these tools as pure repositories (without the quotation marks) is telling – the point was aptly illustrated when Janet asked whether or not those present actually used a repository. Very few it seemed, and some uncertainty.

“depends whether delicious counts?”

“what about social repositories?”

“Depends what counts as defined as a repository”

When the definition was explicitely expanded to iclude del.icio.us et al, however, many more participants had a smile on their little yellow face and the conclusion seems to be that people are using the “informal” repositories but not the “formal” institutional repositories.

Dawn asked why.

“Formal repositories are tied to publishers’ business models”

“the community” (i.e. There is a community around “informal” repositories but not around “formal” IRs)

“Ease of use”

low threshold – technically”

“easy, organised and available – to manage digital stuff…”

“simple user interface”

no formal channels to follow”

“openness”

NB. Sharing resources did not seem to be a major factor which is interesting – though it was conceded by a few when prompted!

There was a very interesting verbal contribution from Jim Hensman right at the very end of the session that I can’t really do justice here – if Jim should pass by these parts perhaps he could comment – but his thrust was the complexity of the multiple themes we (as a repository community) are examining and how they are not, perhaps, easily compatible – individual workflow/personalisation; social dimensions/sharing/collective tagging; institutional requirements. This observation was reassuring on a personal level and puts my desperate attempts at constructing complicated fllowcharts into some perspective!

As Jim observed, the Leeds Met repository, Streamline and PERSoNA projects, collectively, give us a rare opportunity to explore some of these cross-cutting themes in a more integrated way than is generally the case.

Posted in EMERGE, Presentation slides, Web habits | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Presentation to the EMERGE community – before the fact

Posted by Nick on June 17, 2008

I have a slot to present, via Elluminate, to the EMERGE community at 16:00 on Monday 23rd June and thought I would blog (a) before and (b) after the fact to help me (a) plan the session and (b) reflect on the insights that are sure to emerge (pun intended).

John and I had a very useful discussion this morning that was 2 parts session-planning to 8 parts brain-storming around the still embryonic PERSoNA project.

We agreed that the first part of the session will need to set the scene and give an overview of the context of our 3 seperate but related projects; the Leeds Met Repository; Streamline and PERSoNA.

To reiterate the respective soundbites:

The Leeds Met Repository: “the project will deliver a repository which will serve a prioritised set of needs”…”increase the profile of the research outputs and/or pioneering assessment learning and teaching work carried out at Leeds Met”

Streamline: “We are looking at the work flow associated with the use of learning object repositories and are developing a suite of tools and practices that will reduce the administrative impact of this on teaching and research staff.”

PERSoNA: “will link two other JISC funded projects, Streamline and An Institutional Repository for Leeds Metropolitan University, and provide scope to enhance the outcomes of both”…”will be embedding social networking tools which allow chat, tagging and bookmarking (amongst other things) within the repository, and encouraging users to comment on their use of our repository and make recommendations amongst each other leading to the onward discovery of further resources.”

One of the most interesting aspects, then, of the Leeds Met Repository project is that, on start-up, it will focus equally on two distinct types of content that have historically been stored in seperate environments – research publications/outputs and Learning Objects/e-learning resources. It is this dual requirement that has led us to opt for intraLibrary over a specialised Open Access research archive like EPrints and people may be interested what factors have brought us to this software (as I blogged at the time on Repository News the relevant issues were informed by Streamline and, in a nut-shell, came down to a consensus that intraLibrary would more readily be repurposed as an Open Access archive than EPrints as an LO repository – for now, still a moot point).

As well as the considerable challenges associated with delivering a dual repository like this (I’ll come to PERSoNA in a moment!) I believe we have the opportunity with these three projects to develop a tool that becomes an integral part of the university’s online environment; living and breathing and used – not just in the sense of a dusty old store-room but interactively.

A recurrent theme from the sector has been the problem of embedding these things (repositories) into the workflow and it’s very important that the Leeds Met repository does not become (like so many) a cul-de-sac but, rather, a ring-road offering access in and around the disparate, digital furniture of the university . All of which brings us, eventually, to Web 2.0 and PERSoNA which has the potential to provide the signposts, traffic lights and roundabouts (excuse the laboured traffic metaphor!) that will guide visitors to potential resources whether these be learning objects, research outputs or colleagues within and without the university.

The difficulty, of course, is developing a tool or suite of tools within the repository that people will actually use and find useful; and then there is the problem of inertia – I discussed in a recent post how my own “workflow” is centered around iGoogle; this isn’t because iGoogle is such a fantastic tool and I couldn’t possibly find something that would serve my needs better – I probably could – but I started using it, found it useful and now, in a sense, because of habit – inertia – I’m stuck with it unless I make a concerted effort or collide with other tools often enough and usefully enough to naturally incorporate them into my online habits. I think this principle may be worth exploring further and I would like to elicit “stories” about how people naturally use the Web (1.0 and 2.0) in the course of their working day with the goal of establishing, perhaps, patterns of behaviour that can then be used to inform a Web 2.0 repository environment; this is one of the ideas I would like to take to the EMERGE community.

Posted in EMERGE, Web habits | 4 Comments »