Last week I attended the Repository Fringe in Edinburgh. Unsurprisingly openness was one of the key themes of this year’s event and Tony Hirst kicked off with a typically inspiring keynote on content liberation. Tony suggested that although repositories play an important role in preserving institutional memory they are less good at presenting content as data. In addition, many document formats, such as pdf, lock data within them preventing other people from representing that data in useful and interesting ways. Charts and graphs presented as images are dead data. Open document formats help to liberate content and get the data flowing. And once data has been opened up it can be combined and reconnected in new and interesting ways. In addition to open data open queries enable us to see the assumptions that are embedded in queries and how results and reports have been generated. Tony went on the demonstrate some powerful information processing tools, based on Mendeley, yahoo pipes, tic tocs, YQL and rss that require little or no coding.
Tony also pointed out that most document stores have a structure comprised of how documents relate to each other, but we are not good at making use of that structure. He then demonstrated how Gephi can be used to visualise structures and data clusters across multiple data stores. This presents new ways of navigating the content and can be used to provide topic or facet based browsing on the cheap. Earlier this week Tony demonstrated exactly this kind of data visualisation by using Gephi, yahoo pipes and google custom search to analyse altc-2010 twitter streams.
Tony concluded by reinforcing the importance of Ranganathan’s five laws of library science:
- First law: Books are for use
- Second Law: Every reader his or her book
- Third Law: Every book its reader
- Fourth Law: Save the time of the reader
- Fifth Law: The library is a growing organism
I am quite sure that I was the only person in the audience that had never come across these laws before but it seems they could apply equally usefully to educational resources, open or otherwise.
Herbert Van de Sompel presented another new and interesting way to access data online with Memento: Timetravel for the Web. Resources on the web change continually over time and Memento uses the http protocol to navigate these resources through time by linking current resources and archived resources. Memento used a “timegate” to redirect uri’s to a time specific version of a web page. The Memento tool suite includes the MementoFox plug-in that allows you to set a datetime to navigate the Web with. For MediaWiki servers there is the Memento plug-in that supports responding to datetime content negotiation requests issued by clients and for Wayback Archives a plugin that adds Memento Timegate and TimeBundle support. I’m a big fan of the internet archives and Memento looks like it could be an invaluable tool for browsing old web resources. Before Herbert had finished his presentation a large number of Fringe delegates had installed the MementoFox plug in and were enthusiastically browsing back backwards and forwards* in time. This despite that fact that, as Herbert informed us, the first journal paper on Memento had been rejected with the comment along the lines of “who would be interested in looking at old websites”
Time travel of a different kind was in evidence during a round table discussion on teaching and learning resources which spiralled back in time into “what’s the definition of a learning object” territory. It became apparent that learning objects were being conflated with the specific standards often used to described and package them, specifically IEEE LOM and IMS Content Packaging. Open educational resources were put forward as a more useful and viable alternative to learning objects. I’m inclined to think that both learning objects and open educational resources can take any form and that the main distinction between the two is the presence of an open license for the latter. However the round table did give us an opportunity to talk to Patrick Sweeney of the University of Southampton about their repository usage stats which could potentially reveal some very useful information about how users search for teaching and learning resources. This is exactly the kind of data we hope to explore at the forthcoming CETIS What metadata is really useful? or CETISWMD event in October.
We also had the opportunity for another interesting conversation with Herbert Van de Sompel regarding the use of OAI ORE to aggregate open educational resources. This is something I’ve been curious about for a while, as there has been little exploration of the use of ORE in the context of educational materials. It seems to me that the resources produced by the JISC HEA OER Programmes, which are scattered all over the web and accompanied by highly variable metadata would provide an interesting usecase for OAI ORE. Herbert was able to point us towards one promising example of OAI ORE implementation in an educational context. Unlocking the Archive is a project based at the Jewish Women’s Archive which has developed an OAI-ORE presentation tool. As far as I can gather the aim of the project as to produce a powerpoint like web based tool which will allow users to aggregate any kind of content housed by the archive and view it using any standard web browser. The open source code developed by the project is available from drupal.org. We haven’t had an opportunity to investigate this project further but it certainly sounds like it’s worthy of further exploration in the context of the new OER2 Programme.
Of course the real high point of the entire two day event was Phil Baker’s pecha kucha (20 slides, 20 seconds per slide) presentation “An open and closed case for educational resources.” I may be biased, but I thought it was an excellent presentation and I was astonished that Phil could talk that fast! You can enjoy a video of the fast version of Phil’s session here and a rather more leisurely write up of the same on his blog.
All in all I found RepoFringe10 a very interesting and thought provoking event. I went to Repository Fringe last year and came away rather frustrated as I found that the event was trying so hard not to be a conference that the format actually got in the way of what could have been an opportunity for really interesting discussion. Not so this year, the event had a good balance of presentations, roundtable discussions, some very slick pecha kucha sessions and there was plenty of opportunity for networking and discussion. Well done guys!
* Okay you can’t really browse forward in time, I made that bit up