Building learning and research materials from image banks

As part of the Manufacturing Pasts JISC-funded OER project, we are building open-access learning and research materials initially for use in University of Leicester Urban History modules. Beyond this use, however, we want these materials to be useful to anyone with an interest in urban history, urban studies, social history, architectural history, de-urbanisation, Leicestershire, English local history — the list goes on and on, extending to uses and users we may not even imagine. The photos, maps, plans, and recordings that have been painstakingly gathered from a number of sources including the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester, and Rutland and the fascinating Joan Skinner are brimming with stories of industrial rise and fall, factory organisation, and architectural trends and achievements, to name just a few.

Statue of Liberty from the Liberty Building, Leicester

 The material currently can be said to take the form of an image bank, and also a sound bank. New material will be created as part of the project; photos, maps, and voice recordings will be digitised. These will be added to the banks. As is, are these OER (open educational resources)? In a sense they are, in and of themselves, as they are free and open and copyrighted for anyone to use in learning and research. But I must turn these items into excellent new OER, suitable for use in our modules and beyond. What is it exactly that I must build? I have pulled together some photos of Leicester’s ghost signs into a Scoop.it page which presents them beautifully, but still doesn’t add context or guide learning and research.

Yesterday the metaphor came to me of libraries and textbooks. A library holds all kinds of information, and researchers traditionally went there to search and dig and synthesise information. Our current image bank is like a library; compelling and fascinating information is there to be discovered and information synthesised. But as part of the project we need to create material optimised for learning, perhaps as a textbook is optimised for the learner to more easily digest and synthesise information.

However, our material will guide but not prescribe conclusions. Our historians Dr Simon Gunn and Dr Rebecca Madgin are very clear on the point that history is about encouraging questions, not about didactic monologue. Another difference from traditional textbooks is that our OER will be visually led, rather than heavy on text. This presents an interesting challenge for me. At the moment I am putting together some videos based on images and sounds from the source material, to present to Simon and Rebecca for their feedback. As the project progresses, I will report back here on the blog regarding the development of these non-didactic and visually-led OERs. I welcome any comments especially if you have been challenged by the presentation of learning material and have creatively met the challenge!

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester

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