Open Educational Resources, metadata, and self-description

If we share learning materials, do we have a professional responsibility to describe them?

At the CETIS conference Open Educational Resources / Content session in the midst of the discussions about metadata someone, I think John Casey, made an offhand comment about embedded metadata. As valuable as his next statement was, it was the notion of what information is contained within an object that caught my attention.

There is a basic principle of identity and authorship in a world of distributed information that we don’t seem to be talking about – what elements of self-description is it reasonable to assume from an academic sharing their resources? What constitutes good practice for labelling the digital stuff we want to be professionally associated with? Let’s be clear – I’m not talking about academics creating metadata or the debate about whether metadata is embedded or bundled – I’m talking about the equivalent of title pages and referencing (for want of a better way to put it).

Most university courses include modules on how to write an academic paper, including how to put together the parts of a paper. Departments produce templates so that assignments/ term papers, and theses have a standard title page, format, and way of citing things. The front parts of a paper help: manage the process of attribution and avoid accidental plagiarism; promote more careful writing; assert authorship and/or rights over a work; navigate the work; and help manage collections of such papers. A title section typically contains the following information: a title, author(s), date (usuallly of submission or acceptance), and frequently a course and/or institutional affiliation. This provides the reader with enough information to know what something claims to be, and begins to allow them to judge if they should read it.

I’m not suggesting title pages should be standard for everything, or that everything casually shared needs all this information, but in the context of deliberately shared educational resources surely we should regard providing information of this type as a professional responsibility. Whether we see it as an obligation of the ‘guild’, an opportunity to self-publicise, or compliance with institutional branding requirements, this information should be as standard for educational resources as it is for theses and articles. Of course not all learning materials lend themselves to a title page but: text documents and presentations do and web sites allow for home or about pages. Audio and video files can support introductions but the editing process is more complex. Independent images and some other forms of learning material are not as suitable for title ‘pages’ – but i strongly suspect more than half the learning materials shared in through call will be document, presentation, or web site.

I guess I’m suggesting that, for relevant materials the following should be assumable: Title, Author, Date (of some relevant kind), Institution, Course (code or name).

There are good and valid debates about what, if any, metadata academics should be asked to create, but there is a more fundamental question about professional self-description and good practice. Our conversation about what metadata is needed and who should create it should start from the premise that basic bibliographic information should be contained within the resource.

I don’t think anyone is suggesting resources should not have ‘title pages’, I just think we need to be clear, before we start talking about metadata, that it is reasonable to expect this type information be there. It’s just good practice

7 thoughts on “Open Educational Resources, metadata, and self-description

  1. Excellent points John, I couldn’t agree more. You’ve put your finger on something that had been niggling me at the CETIS conference OER session: that a lot of the information people were suggesting should be provided as metadata, e.g. author, should be there *anyway*, whether you have metadata or not. So the question needs to be: if they’re there anyway, do you need them in the metadata? Thanks, this clarifies things a lot.

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