ALT-C Review Part 1: Open Country

Open and OER were very big topics this year – coming up across multiple sessions. From what I saw primarily stories around how course teams produced OER and/or shared OER – not so much on how OER was brought into individidual courses or brought into institutional practice.
The Open Country session with Amber Thomas, David White, Helen Beetham and David Kernohan brought together many of the themes and ideas being discussed around OER – while stretching the ‘Open Country’ theme almost to breaking point – the first ALT-C cosplay? Perhaps not the last…

ALTC 2011 Hoedown

Discussion generally focussed on OER as content – though Diana Laurillard’s question effectively reminded us that OER also includes instructional designs, teaching plans, and so on – she placed more emphasis on how content is used to provide ‘education’. I guess her motivation in asking this question is essentially that which has driven work in systems like LAMS which aim to make it easier to plan, manage and share sets of learning activities for specific lessons.
But I think to dismiss content-focussed as effectively libraries rather than schools denies how useful libraries can be in helping develop educational programs. The libraries of images on Wikimedia Commons, videos on YouTube, detail on Wikipedia, etc. have helped me develop numerous sets of lectures and notes over the past while.

On passing the JORUM stand, I added another star to the feature request chart to the many already placed on ‘discoverability’. It seemed to be the clear winner by Tuesday lunch time – obviously I’m not the only tutor who has found searching for useful resources on JORUM to be a frustrating (I would say hostile) experience. And when I search JORUM I only get access to the relatively small amount of content on that particular repository – why isn’t this stuff indexed on the OERCommons? Because we want to force people to waste time wandering from repository to repository?

Building on this, my own (unasked – perhaps for next year) question is whether we could/should be thinking more about how learners, rather than educators, might find useful resources. We aren’t always doing a good job helping the latter group, perhaps if we focus on how the learners themselves would find the resources we might do a better job. If I post my content on a blog or other dedicated site, is that better or worse for promoting reuse? Basically, can we just throw stuff online and trust in Google to let people find it?

This might not sound effective, my own experience shows otherwise. During the last academic session I posted some of my own notes on 3D graphics programming to a dedicated blog I created for the purpose on These are fairly fragmentary as much of the course is based on textbooks and materials that are in copyright. One set of notes to help students install the software libraries required was also posted to scribd, with a link included to download some related files. Less than a year later, there have been almost 7000 views of the Scribd document and well over 1000 downloads of the files. I don’t think my 50 students could have been responsible for too many of these downloads.

Are students finding these notes using Google? Are instructors pointing the students to the notes? Does it matter? If I had posted the material on JORUM Would I have achieved the same impact (I doubt it!)? If I had posted this material on JORUM as well as the blog would that have increased the impact?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I have my suspicions. None of this is to argue that we shouldn’t have repositories like JORUM are useless, but I it poses fundamental questions over how they should work.

To post stuff online we need somewhere to post it. Online cloud services are not always suitable – file size limits, registration requirements, subscription fees, etc. can pose problems that OER repositories can and do solve. But experience shows that the meta-data capture on systems like JORUM is either not up to job of supporting discoverability or that people are simply incapable of entering useful meta-data. Maybe we should forget that, and just expose the contents to the search engines, because I have little faith that we can do better than Google.

4 thoughts on “ALT-C Review Part 1: Open Country

  1. Frank Manista

    Dear Daniel,

    A very interesting post and some useful criticisms of Jorum. I agree that a lot of time can be wasted trying to deposit in multiple repositories, and it is often the case that for a larger impact, users have to upload to several. In the case of Jorum, we are indexed by Google, so you can find resources that way, which then gets you into the repository. In addition, many of the resources we have are also automatically in Humbox, and services like Xerte also harvest from Jorum.

    One of the major cases for Jorum is that it is a national repository, which does mean more people can have access to it than a university repository. By going completely open, we have also had feedback that our users are pleased with the increased accessibility to the materials. As you rightfully point out, the search often leaves much to be desired, and that is being re-developed, as is the ability to share search- strings.

    Ideally, in the next phase(s) of Jorum, we are going to be working on much of what you said and asked for in this post; however, suffice it to say that impact-measurement is a kind of holy grail. It is something which institutions have directly asked for in the way of stats. As an academic, myself, I’ve learned that it becomes increasingly imperative that academics “learn the art of self promotion” and that is also something which Jorum can help with, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t blog about it either. Many have pointed out how using a repository plus tweeting plus blogging gets your message out there in ways which are much better than a newsletter or old-style type publications, and some institutions are even using that kind of dissemination as a form of publication for promotion.

    So all in all, I really think your challenges and questions are highly important, and I am glad you had a chance to stop by the stand.

    All the best,

  2. Mark van Harmelen

    Jorum is early in a phase of major change to address community need, we expect a beter Jorum to start being rolled out in the next six months. Feature charts like the one you added to are one of the mechanisms to gather user (and potential user) input.

    Jorum is already indexed by google, try to see some Google generated results. Cross-repository indexing is very interesting, there are some implementation implications here, but its something that we are looking at as part of our bulk upload focus.

    Thanks for writing about Jorum, there is interesting content here. Yes, downstream we are very much focussed on learners accessing Jorum content, preferably via their own learning support environments (which may of course be a browser and Google, but might also include VLEs and other web services). For the next year, there is a focus on supporting lecturers. My view is that to properly support one of teachers or learners is to support the other.

    Detail of what is in the pipeline for Jorum will be posted on the Jorum blog and in the coming roadmap, which will also be available via the Jorum site.

    If you have specific ideas and suggestions for Jorum beyond what’s in this post, please do get in touch.

    Disclosure: Hedtek is assisting in the near-term development of Jorum.

  3. Daniel Post author

    Many thanks for the response Frank & Mark.
    In response I did try a couple of searches on Google for different terms using to limit the search. Interesting results. In a couple of cases, the Google results seemed better for browsing than the results using Jorum’s own search – but not in all cases. In some cases the Jorum results show the OER license page for the preview image – which is less than helpful.
    Good luck with your efforts to improve discovery on Jorum!
    ps At some point I’ll try and illustrate my findings with screenshots or a short video!

  4. Frank Manista

    Hi, Daniel,

    Many thanks for the additional points and thanks for checking us out via google. Screenshots would be quite helpful, unless you have easy access to video equipment. You can send either one to my direct email address.



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