Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 9 July 2007   Friday, July 20, 2007

ISSN 1748-3603

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JISC Digital Repositories Conference
IMS Global Learning Impact 2007
Innovating e-Learning 2007
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JISC Digital Repositories Conference
Sharing e-Learning Content; defining a role for universities and colleges
by Phil Barker and Neil Jacobs

Professor Drummond BoneRepositories offer the potential to manage and share e-Learning materials, delivering real benefits to users and institutions. However realising this potential is not always straightforward. The JISC Digital Repositories Conference, held at Manchester Conference Centre from 5 - 6 June 2007, showcased a range of research and development work in this area, and demonstrated how this can be applied by practitioners. Over the two days interesting questions were raised about the future role and form of digital repositories. For example, to what extent should repositories be formal systems, well integrated into the college information infrastructure, and to what extent should they be online Web2.0 applications like Facebook?

Three key observations and questions emerging from the conference were as follows.

The repository is an underlying base or foundation onto which versatile services can be built to meet specific requirements and to respond to new challenges and opportunities.
Iain Wallace, of the Spoken Word project, noted that the institution could decide on its core business and maintain services to support this. On top of those core services can be built a layer that may change or vary; some elements of this layer may be provided by services existing elsewhere (such as, for example) which the institution needn’t develop for itself. With care, institutional and personal Web 2.0 approaches could complement each other: the institution providing the authority and quality assurance, and Web 2.0 services providing the creativity and responsiveness.

At what level do repositories seek to work, on a spectrum from global through national to institutional and departmental and finally on to personal?
This relates to the issue of meeting user requirements, which might be articulated at a personal, discipline or institutional level. Users are varied and often identify themselves less with their college than with their discipline or peer community, making institutionally oriented systems difficult to implement in a way that meets their needs.  In describing the findings of the Community Dimensions of Learning Object Repositories (CDLOR) project, Colin Milligan contrasted a repository curator's view of a community of people using their service with the view of users, who saw a repository service as just one of a number of resources that might help them with what they were interested in doing. Colin ascribed the strength of the Digital Libraries for Global Distributed Innovative Design, Education and Teamwork (DIDET) project to the way that curators had worked closely with users so that the curators’ and users’ views were well aligned.

It is difficult to achieve the changes to working practice that are required to embed lessons learnt through development projects, such as those involving repositories. 
Many stakeholders, often including users, feel that change is a risk to them.  Where change does happen, it can be prompted by everyday concerns such as cost, reliability and the quality of existing approaches.  A focus on the ownership of intellectual property can be a useful way to encourage a college to value and curate the outputs from its employees.  John Casey of the TrustDR project noted that that interoperability technology was "pregnant with different ways of working" but argued that, if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll get the same result. He and others suggested that senior management at institutions should identify their strategic focus and reward staff who take the risk of changing practices.

While technical concerns such as interoperability remain a considerable challenge, it is clear that cultural, organisational and legal questions are key to realising the potential of sharing e-Learning content. JISC continues to fund research and development work to help institutions achieve this.

Phil Barker

Neil Jacobs
Presentations and reports for the Digital Repositories Conference can be found at:
Information about the Repositories Programme can be found at
Spoken Word

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