Web usability for those who create and share OER

Last week I attended a session on web usability, graciously offered by JISC to equip us for our digitisation and open educational resource (OER) projects. The session was taken by Stuart Church of Pure Usability. I found it extremely useful to think again about the big questions of our project: what do we want learners to gain from our learning material? What kind of learners do we think we will be reaching? How will our own organisation (in our case, both the University of Leicester and Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland) benefit from the project and its web presence?

Stuart familiarised us with the ideas behind user experience (UX for short), by introducing the standard fetchingly named ISO 9241 Part 210. OK, hands up, who knew there was a standard for user experience? The diagram below explains it pretty well, with thanks to the Health Information Technology Knowledge Base.  In case the diagram is not readable, basically you begin by planning the human-centred design process, and then you proceed to understand the context, specify user requirements, produce solutions to meet these requirements, and evaluate. (The version of this diagram presented in our workshop also included the creating organisation’s goals in addition to the user’s needs.)


I found it helpful to create a persona of the user we are designing learning materials for. In Manufacturing Pasts, we are digitising photos, maps, diagrams, and documents pertaining to the industrial past of Leicester, and creating open learning materials suitable for some of our Urban History modules. So after these students, who is the user we are aiming at with these materials? I came up with this persona:

Chloe needs evidence to research her dissertation topic on the UK manufacturing sector’s response to globalisation in the 1980s and 1990s. She would like relevant examples of working practice and organisational strategy.

Through discussion with Simon Gunn, one of the academics on our project, the fictional Chloe seems to be the kind of user we wish to offer our resources to. But I thought of another persona:

Sahm is looking for a university with an excellent urban history department. He would like to feel assured that the department he chooses has top-class teaching and research as well as innovative approaches to both.

I think the OER movement broadly addresses the Sahms of the world, as well as the Chloes.

The final take-home message I received from web usability was: test everything. Test the site, the search, even test the evaluation process we choose. Test as early as possible, so that there is time to implement the results of the tests. This should be self-evident, but it’s easy to put up a website that seems to be ‘good enough’ and just leave it at that. We’ll have to figure testing time into a number of development stages of Manufacturing Pasts.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester

Two important features of any OER repository

I suppose it is the nature of working on a project that you figure it out as you go along – some steps are only shaped when the previous step is taken. Somehow I began work on the Manufacturing Pasts project, knowing that I would be putting together openly-licensed open educational resources (OERs) about Leicester’s industrial history. But I didn’t quite get the fact until recently that I would need to figure out a way to present and distribute these materials as well.

Of course, this means building a website.

Many universities have ‘OER repositories.’ MIT Open Courseware was the first. The Open University has OpenLearn, and University of Nottingham has its U-NOW site. Even the University of Leicester has an OER repository. And there is Jorum, which I think of as a central searchable site for the various repositories to either link to or store material in.

If I build a small repository for only the history-based OERs we create for Manufacturing Pasts, I don’t feel I can come close to competing against the repositories I’ve mentioned above. But there are two elements it must have: it must have a good search facility, and it must be at least somewhat attractive to look at.

Searchable UK map in Historical Directories site

Today I happened upon a site containing digitised British trade directories from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, called Historical Directories: a University of Leicester project. It is a subset of the My Leicestershire digital archive, but it acts as a separate site with its own very good search method. I especially like the ‘Find by location’ featuring a UK map – just click on a county, and see what goodies are available for that county. As for looks, its design is attractive in a very simple way. It’s not fancy, but it works.

I am not sure yet how our Manufacturing Pasts OER site will look, but I am looking at other sites for good practice. Is there a searchable site you have found useful? Please leave a comment and let me have a look!

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and SCORE Fellow

Copyright hurdles, digitisation considerations and OER discussions: post selection activities

I’m very pleased to report that much progress has been made since the Christmas break and as a result it feels like the Manufacturing Pasts project is fully underway. 

Early in January our Learning Technologist Terese Bird met with Simon and Rebecca to gauge their ideas for and expectations of the OERs produced by the project, some of which she has detailed in her recent blogs Building learning and research materials from image banks and Making Engaging Learning Materials about History, Industry, Sociology…

Coupled with this, three weeks ago Simon and Rebecca finished their initial selection of resources for two of our four themes:

• Conservation and Regeneration – focussing on the Liberty Shoe Factory

• Organisation of the Factory – focussing on the Corah textile factory (with additional pieces about the D. Byford and Co. Factory)

Armed with these lists of resources, Terese and I set about familiarising ourselves with the items selected from the Skinner Archive, held here in the David Wilson Library.  Terese wanted to see what kind of material she could incorporate into the OERs, and I was interested to know whether I could ascertain their copyright status.

Whilst Terese has been making leaps and bounds on her side of things, the © side has been progressing a little slower as many of the resources donated to us have no clear ownership status. We have books focussing on specific companies, which appear to have been created purely for internal distribution, and photographs of people who are not known to us, on top of letters from companies who are long since defunct or who have been taken over numerous times. I’ll write more on this in a separate blog when I’ve finished going through the items.

This progress has also required us to keep an eye on our other ‘work packages’, so we are also keen to get items digitised as soon as possible, so things like adding metadata, uploading content to the web site and creating our final OERs can then kick into gear.

With digitisation in mind, last week I met with our fellow team member Evelyn Cornell, along with the University Archivist Alex Cave, to establish a suitable referencing system for the items.    As we are planning to outsource our digitisation, we were keen to give each item a constant unique identifier which would not only ensure that items can be easily checked out and in again following digitisation, but also enable us to trace the source and holding location of the original of any digitised item, which is something our colleagues in the Local Record Office were keen to be able to do. 

In the midst of all this, we have also had our first steering group meeting. Although I was not in attendance, it is clear from the minutes that the group are enthusiastic about the aims of the project and have some good sound guidance to impart to us. We have a project meeting later this week in which we will discuss some of the points raised and I hope to write a blog about them next week.