Communications & Dissemination: JISC workshop 5th October 2012

The main focus of this one day event was advising us on how to get our message to the right people, cutting through the myriad of information they receive on a daily basis.

Rosemary Stamp (Stamp Consulting) stressed a number of key points:

  • Identifying stakeholders (in our case HE academics, local historians)
  • The need to clearly articulate the benefits of our resources to our stakeholders (copyright cleared, permitted reuse, easily searchable and accessible collection)
  • Using a variety of communications channels, best suited to our stakeholders (e-mail, social media, discussion lists, society mailing lists, open mornings)

We watched a YouTube presentation from Nicola Osbourne at Edina on Engaging with Social Media, which talked about using playful or quirky content, something which will grab people’s attention whilst introducing the materials and the background/need for the project.  To some extent we have done this already with our videos of Rebecca Madgin and Simon Gunn, in which they talk about their involvement in the project and why there is a need to make these materials available, but I’d ideally like to create a short 1 minute presentation demonstrating some of our more interesting materials and learning resources, stressing their open and accessible nature.

Bex Whitehead, JISC Press & PR Manager suggested capitalising on national angles wherever possible, so it was very kind of English Heritage to announce their Buildings at Risk Register late last week (see my post Buildings at risk – assessing and preserving Leicester’s heritage).  I intend to keep a keen eye out for any future news items we could potentially tap into (preferably not another old factory on fire, we prefer it when they remain standing and intact). 

A useful day, which helped focus the mind on making the most of our future communications.  Thank you JISC!


Buildings at risk – assessing and preserving Leicester’s heritage

I was delighted to see the BBC report this morning on the launch by English Heritage of the Heritage at Risk Register 2012.

As Terese and I have both commented in previous blogs, many of the buildings which form the focus of our Manufacturing Pasts project have suffered from a lack of care and attention, which has either resulted in fire damage or eventual demolition.

Take the Liberty Building, which was Grade II listed.  The council refused and approved various proposed changes to the use of the site over a period of 15 years, but due to a combination of break-ins and vandalism the building became derelict and, as develops at the time put it “more economic to demolish and replace rather than repair” (Leicester Mercury April 2001).  Our Liberty Timeline draws together the rise and fall of this factory, with photos, planning applications and newspaper articles testimony to not only the high regard in which the building was held, but also the state it was in before it was demolished. 

Another factory we have looked at in some depth was Corah.  Although to my knowledge never listed, this building has been partially occupied since Corah ceased trading, but there is clear evidence that some parts of the building remain exactly the same as when Corah left, with company publications, diaries and memos laying around inside, whilst outside there are smashed windows and graffiti.  See our flickr page for recent photos.  In April this year the building suffered extensive damage as a result of arson.

Our collection also contains items relating to Donisthorpe and Co.’s Friars Mill, another Grade II listed building included in our project, which has also succumbed to fire and graffiti after the owners went bankrupt and were unable to keep the building secure, and the photographs contained in our prezi Explore Historic and Industrial Leicester evidence the state of disrepair of the Frisby Jarvis Building.

I hope this move by English Heritage, tied in with Mayor Soulsby’s recent initiative on the ‘Story of Leicester’ will mean that more of Leicester’s industrial heritage can be preserved.

Students’ opinions of Manufacturing Pasts materials – Part I

At the beginning of the summer just gone, I was able to run three focus groups with 2nd and 3rd year University of Leicester undergraduate history students, to get their opinions of the Manufacturing Pasts industrial history materials we’re discovering and preparing and putting online. At the time, we had not even created too many materials yet, and the website was in an embryonic state, but we wanted to get some early evaluation to inform future work. And it goes without saying that getting students’ opinions is vital; they are the intended ‘customer’ of our project materials.

I gave the students about 45 minutes to look at and listen to some of the videos, Powerpoint presentations, and ebooks I had created, having to do with the Liberty Building and the Corah factory. All of the students spent the full amount of time and were very engaged with what they were watching and reading and listening to.

When I asked: how might these materials be used in a history module such as the ones you are taking now?, I was fascinated by the connections they were seeing with whatever history topic they were currently working on. They brought up:

  • Post World War II study and the loss of community when manufacturing failed
  • Gender studies, noticing the different work being done by women and by men in the Corah photos
  • Immigration
  • Philanthropy by company owners in the 19th century
  • fashion history
  • comparison of manufacturing processes then and now

They suggested a number of ways the materials might be brought into their modules:

  • The lecturer uses the photos and interviews in lectures
  • The videos and photos could be used in seminars for discussion
  • Gobbet papers could be assigned based on any of these materials
  • Essay questions can target the primary sources in MyLeicestershire History
  • Buildings and areas covered by these materials can be visited, with the materials carried along in smartphones or tablets for reference, to see what they look like now

One student commented that these materials could be used to comprise museum exhibitions, because the copyright issue has already been addressed. This was the first time in my discussions with students that I saw  the penny drop as to why an open license is important.

I shall discuss more about these student evaluations in future blog posts.  Overall, students liked these materials and their historical interests seemed to be quite sparked by both the online collections of primary sources and the mashups we put together as part of the project.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester



Don’t say OER

On 11th September 2012, I presented Manufacturing pasts: Opening Britain’s Industrial Past to New Learners and New Technologies’ at the Association for Learning Technology annual conference in Manchester.  It was a parallel session and to my recollection we had 40+ attendants, who very well received the presentation.

Leicester Mercury article about impending demolition of Benjamin Russell building, 1993. From CC-BY-NC

One idea which came out of the presentation, to which I saw participants nodding in agreement, was that it is a good idea to avoid using the term OER (open educational resources), or at least to use it very sparingly, when describing open-access material to those who have a good chance of not being ‘in the know.’  A term such as OER may sound like jargon, and jargon can be divisive – shutting out those who are not ‘in the know’.  Furthermore, I need to be able to concisely explain why I am digitising this material and why it needs to be online and given an open-access license.

In the case of the Manufacturing Pasts project, the reason for digitising is that we just don’t have a very good historiography of the UK’s manufacturing decline in the 1970s through the 1990s. Furthermore, this era is generally a ‘digital dead zone’ of official documentation. Local councils were cutting budgets and archiving fewer documents beginning in the 70s, and digitisation did not really begin until the later 1990s, and so there is a lack of some important material. Just discovering and digitising these manufacturing-sector artefacts is necessary.

Benjamin Russell building, Mill Lane, Leicester, before its demolition in 1993. From CC-BY-NC

And why does it need to have an open license? Does it matter? Yes it matters, because we are putting these materials freely out on the internet. That in itself greatly increases their reach — someone in Kankakee, Illinois can easily search our my materials and listen to our interviews with Leicester workers, whereas before Manufacturing Pasts, an interested person would have had to have physically come to the archive to listen to the interview on an analog system. Because the items are openly available on the internet, we give them the Creative Commons copyright as a kind of guide to use and also as a protective measure.

Did you know that copyright clearance is seen as a form of quality assurance? My colleague Ming Nie found in the EVOL-OER reuse study that educators, when looking for online material to use in teaching, look for material that is copyright-cleared. In fact, I heard from academics in various ALT-C sessions, that copyright clearance is a desirable quality for online material because it means it has gone through that process, someone has cared enough to review it and clear it of copyright issues, and it can be reused ‘without fear.’

So although I like to avoid using the jargon ‘OER’,  I recognise and advocate the value of open materials and open practice, and I foresee their progression toward mainstream educational practice.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester