Developer happiness days http://www.dev8d.org/ was a week long JISC-sponsored event organised by David Flanders and Andy McGregor. It set out to bring “together the cream of the crop of educational software developers along with coders from other sectors, users, and technological tinkerers in an exciting new forum.” The event was a success and its own blog http://dev8d.jiscinvolve.org/ contains short profiles of some of the development projects that sprung up and interviews some key developers in the domain. As I’m more of a user than a programmer I attended the two community days of dev8D. The first day I went to a session on virtual learning environments in the morning and a session on repositories in the afternoon. The second day was also about repositories with updates and plans from four repository systems (ePrints, DSpace, Fedora, and Microsoft’s ‘Famulus’) – I’ll blog about that day and the updates and plans of the other repository systems separately.
The vle session kicked off with three mini case studies from members of the vle teams at Birbeck, Imperial, and LSE who are using Blackboard, WebCT->Blackboard, and Moodle respectively. The presenters talked about the different integration or development issues ongoing in their institution. There was then some general discussion and demos of Blackboard 9 and Sakai. The session identified three key areas for development (one from each presenter but fitting the experience of those present as a whole); these are:
- support for anonymous marking;
- automation of enrollment (at module level/ integration with registry systems);
- integration with learning object repository.
There was one development team in the room but they were already working on their project – SpACE tool- blackboard Api and IMS tools interoperability specification being codebashed by team from Edinburgh, Strathclyde, and Blackboard. See http://spvsoftwareproducts.com/powerlinks/space-w/ for more details.
The afternoon session on repositories went quite differently with Les Carr steering us to think about repository heresies, and question the current norms within the repository community. There was a lively discussion which ended up clustering around a couple of key themes: the problem of managers shaping development, the problem of the paper-based format, and the opportunity of preservation. The discussion roughly went as follows:
The problem of managers shaping development
As institutional managers, driven by new models of research assessment or demonstrating value, become more interested in statistics there is a risk that development of repository software may be skewed to focus on support for reporting functions at the expense other, more critical, development [such as functionality to support content ingest, content visibility, and end user services]. There was a general concensus that, in part, this concern is obviated as long as the repository provides suitable APIs and access. Much of the data needed for institutional reporting should be able to be provided to external applications – the repository software itself doesn’t need to be customised to include these functions.
The problem of the web-based format
There was a clear feeling that repositories are still tied to paper-based formats; organisationally and technically they are not particularly suited to web-enhanced documents and born digital/linked documents. This is not to say that they can’t cope with such documents, but that thy don’t cope with them well and inevitably stifle their richness. Participants noted that there needs to be revolution in publishing to create web native publications. One area where this is beginning to happen is in the repository-supported linking of datasets and publications. There is, however, an even greater potential to enhance articles through supporting better facilities to link articles and comment inline.
The opportunity of preservation
Throughout the discussion there seemed to be an ongoing thread about the role of repositories in preservation. This touched on many areas including the problems with pdfs (both as a web-based format and as a preservation format) and the possible role for repositories in overcoming difficulties in preserving wiki’s and some web2.0 content. There was a sense in which the underlying thread of this was that a repository is more of a state of mind than a particular piece of software. An institutional repository should be able to change between products or switch between all-in-one repositories and suites of tools without fundamentally changing what it does.
- a research community in the humanities which using wordpress was demonstrated http://ap0riasofar.wordpress.com/ (I think it’s providing a forum for discussion around bits of data but I’m not exactly sure; the site’s about page linked to a youtube video but the video has been removed…)
- Indirectly splashurl was demonstrated – this creates a shortened url or QR code and displays it in a large font on the webpage for projection splashurl.net
The presentations were interesting but there was perhaps a slight mismatch as, at least initially, the presenters were speaking to the audience as if we were developers. Unfortunately developers were thin on the ground in our session as it suffered from being in parallel not only with a strand on OPACs but also with the Dragon’s Den event for developers, as a result I suspect our session had many more users/ vle administrators than developers.
Our discussion about repositories kept returning to preservation. Although I think this is a vital role that repositories and there is much to discuss about how well repositories preserve stuff, I feel very uneasy about the dominiance of this idea and its apparent status as the key use case. Questions about repositories, preservation, and learning materials is a blog post in its own right but my concern with preservation as the use case for repositories is, in part, simply that it doesn’t sell particularly well, it’s really quite unproven, and frankly we’ve had the idea of a single key use case before with Open Access (which was hardly mentioned in the discussions). The reasons repositories (in the technical and organisational sense) work is that they don’t just do one thing. They may provide the basis for initiatives for any of the following: open access, preservation, institutional research management, knowledge management, asset management and storage, and new forms of publication.
Having expressed that concern, I’d note that the discussion about the role of repositories in archiving web2.0 and web native publication formats was really useful and reinforced the idea that repositories may be maturing to the point where theyare able become part of the background/ institutional infrastructure.
A wordle of my tweets during the repository session is available http://tinyurl.com/b5wncy
I’m glad I was at dev8d but arriving as the coding at the event tailed off meant I missed much of the frentic bar camp atmosphere and, as it worked out, saw very little of coding projects in progress. I can appreciate why the dragon’s den wasn’t open but hope that any future events find a way to showcase the projects in progress a bit more. As it was much of the coding seemed to pass the Thursday’s events by.