Taking Manufacturing Pasts on the road

On 3rd November, 2012, Tania Rowlett and I took some tablet computers and some other kit to the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, where Adam Goodwin had kindly arranged for a Manufacturing Pasts ‘open morning. ‘For a couple of hours that morning, we had computers and our tablets set up in such a way to show off our Manufacturing Pasts materials to those who dropped into the Record Office to do things such as look up old newspaper clippings on microfiche or search for their family histories. We did not really know what to expect – I suppose that’s what doing a research project is all about: testing, trying things out, reporting back,  and improving.

We did not have very many folks drop by but those who did stayed with us the entire time and eagerly asked questions and discussed the materials and their various sources.

Two people who joined us are instrumental in running the Framework Knitting Museum in Wigston, Leicestershire. They were interested in the materials about Corah of Leicester, the company at the heart of our topic ‘The Social Life of the Factory.’ Corah made hosiery and knitted clothing of all sorts, and was the main supplier for Marks and Spencer. It was a pioneer in technological advancements in the textile

Looking at Manufacturing Pasts videos and presentations on tablet computers at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, 3 Nov 2012

industry, but it began with very simple framework knitting technology, which our visitors knew quite a bit about. We were glad that we had decided to create a Toolkit section of our website, containing a glossary and some factual information about framework knitting. These visitors reported they could use some of our materials in their museum, and expressed a desire to be networking more and making more use of historical archives gathered and provided by others, rather than each pocket of interest reinventing the wheel. These visitors were also very impressed by our methods of presenting our materials in mobile-ready formats. They seemed to feel they were glimpsing the future of historical museums by looking at our materials on the iPad and Galaxy tablet.

Another visitor had mostly personal interest in the online collection. Having until recently worked for Leicester Public Library, she had no problem with any of the technology, and with her superior Leicester knowledge she even pointed out some errors I had made in labelling one or two of the photos I took for our archive. She suggested further companies which could have been chosen for our study: Wildt Mellor Bromley, Imperial Typewriter, Jones and Shipman, and Metal Box.

Among suggestions of other uses for the Manufacturing Pasts materials was for historical preservation, schools, and local history societies…. of which Leicester has many. We are looking forward to some history conferences in spring 2013 where we plan to connect with many of these societies. It’s good to get out on the road every once in awhile!

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester

Digital archives v physical – can they co-exist?

As part of our dissemination and evaluation plan, the project last week became the topic of a New History Lab seminar, held here at the University of Leicester’s Centre for Urban History.

Despite it being a Friday afternoon/evening, the event was well attended by the Centre’s staff and students alike, and after an introduction to the My Leicestershire History site by Colin Hyde, and an introduction to the project and the learning resources by Rebecca and Terese respectively, an active discussion ensued as to the merits and pit falls of digital vs physical archives.

The general consensus was that digital archives provide more convenient access to items which would otherwise require perhaps a great deal of research to track down, as well as a site visit, which you may recall were two of the main issues we sought to address in  our initial funding bid.

Reflecting on digital archives in general, the discussion generated a number of points:

  • It is useful for researchers to know whether the digitised items represent all or part of the physical archives from which they are taken, and therefore whether there may be more items of interest that can only be seen by going to the physical archive
  • Introductions and a background to the collections were essential to enable the researcher to get a perspective on the materials
  • Establishing a community about a digital archive.  Whereas with a physical archive there are usually fellow researchers present, and an archivist, this is often absent with a digital archive.
  • Maintaining long term sustainability.  Many digital archives are a result of time-limited funding and there needs to be a clear plan for sustaining the archive once the funding ceases.  This is less of a problem with physical archives as there tends to be a collections/archives policy in place to prevent them simply disappearing.
  • Quality of downloading.  To enable researchers to reuse the materials, it is essential that the quality of any material is retained when it is downloaded.

 All of these comments are important and relevant to the Manufacturing Pasts project.  We are already addressing the second point by adding an introduction to both the Skinner archive and the Local Record Office to our website, and taking on board point one, we have amended the text to reflect the fact that only some of the materials from the archives have been used in the project.

The issue of establishing a community (point three) led us to discuss the merits and feasibility of using Facebook.  When Terese held a straw poll of hands on Friday most attendees thought it would be beneficial for the project to have a Facebook page.  Despite using many other forms of social media (Twitter/this blog/Slideshare/Flickr) we have not been keen to create a Facebook page for the simple reason highlighted in point four, sustainability.

Despite the Library’s strategy incorporating digital scholarship and digital curation, the fact remains that once a project finishes, there will always be less support available to maintain a collection.  In terms of Facebook, we feel that this would not be something that we could easily maintain after the life of the project, and instead we feel that including links from our site to other websites of interest (other Facebook and Flickr community groups) will help researchers to get more up to date information on the topics we cover.

Of course, the Library has recently appointed a Digital Collections and Special Collections Manager, Simon Dixon, and this will provide some continuity and support for the MyLeicestershire site once the Manufacturing Pasts project officially ends in January 2013.  Our Project Director, Ben Wynne, also very recently wrote a blog on this very subject.

On the last point, relating to the quality of downloaded materials, regular readers of this blog will remember we do have a limitation in the quality/dpi of the items, due to the constraints of the OCR software we use.  Most items on the site are around 300dpi to overcome allow us to OCR the text, but the site does offer three different download sizes for Jpegs (all of which appear to be of decent quality), and PDFs also seem to retain their quality, despite their dpi reduction. 

It was incredibly useful for us to be present and involved in this type of debate, and to showcase our materials and learning resources, and I am glad that we are able to address the issues raised.

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 myleicestershire.org.uk. 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 myleicestershire.org.uk. 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 leicestershire.org.uk 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

Manufacturing Pasts’ contribution to historical research

I attended a JISC Evaluation Workshop on 25 July, which JISC organised to help participants in the digitisation programme (of which Manufacturing Pasts is a part) to wisely evaluate the products and outputs of our projects. We discussed the many different ways impact might be measured. Amongst other impact measures, Peter Findlay brought up: how well are the projects responding to users’ needs? Are the new items being embedded in research and teaching? Are there innovations in any aspect of the project life cycle which could benefit others? Do the new digital collections save money to users or do they present research opportunities never before available?


Gillian Murray on using images in historical research

That last question seemed to particularly apply to Manufacturing Pasts. Although the decline of the British manufacturing sectory had a huge impact on the fabric of society, there has not been very much in the way of documentation on the topic. Prior to this, photos, plans and interviews have been available only in analog format, in special collections not accessible by anyone over the internet. I am not sure how this can be measured, but those wanting to access these materials no longer have to travel to a specific place, during certain opening hours — instead they only need to browse the collections on My Leicestershire History.
Even more interesting to me is the question of how these materials will lead to new research in various fields. The above video clip of Gillian Murray explaining how to use photos, plans, and other visual material in historical research covers a research skill applicable in many topics of study. As more and more photographs and images are made available online, the need for scholarly guidelines to their use in research will only increase. We have included this video under our Toolkit section of the Manufacturing Pasts website. It occurred to me that we could create other helps to engage with the materials — for example, how to reference an audio file or a video in an online collection. A how-to resource like that would serve a research need, help users engage with our materials, and may in the process increase the number of citations of our materials — a key impact factor in and of itself.
I am looking forward to introducing our learning materials to history masters and PhD students in the coming weeks, and I hope to see further research uses of Manufacturing Pasts.

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

Building Shared Heritages and new collections

Last weekend Terese Bird and I presented a workshop at a conference organised by Building Shared Heritages: Cultural Diversity in Leicester, which is a co-sponsored project at the University of Leicester.

There was a good turnout for the conference, and many people signed up for our 45 minute workshop, which we ran twice. 

Following a brief introduction to the project and a demonstration of the Manufacturing Pasts collection on MyLeicestershire History, we asked our attendees to go on and use the collection.  Although the time available was short, we were very kindly given some feedback on the project/collection, which suggested we disseminate information further (ie. via special interest groups and local societies), so we will try and publicise the project using as many avenues as possible. 

All in all people agreed that the resources were very useful and that they could make direct use of them, either in a personal or teaching capacity.  One attendee also said the project was similar to something he was working on, so it’s good to know that more people out there are now starting to think about preserving the historical documents and heritage in a digital format.

The slides for the workshop can be found on slideshare.

In a separate development, we have taken the decision to split the project outputs into two separate collections on the MyLeicestershire History site.  The digitised primary resources will remain on the Manufacturing Pasts collection, but the learning resources (OERs) will now be housed on a new project, entitled ‘Manufacturing Pasts – Learning Resources’.  We took this decision as we felt that the learning resources might get lost amongst the wealth of primary materials in the collection, and we wanted people to be able to locate and access them easily.

Although the new collection has already been created on the site, we have yet to upload the learning resources, so if there are any keen people out there who want to see some now, you will have look in the Manufacturing Pasts collection for the moment.

How accessible are my OERs?

Last week, I visited the AcessAbility Centre at University of Leicester. It had been suggested to me that it might be good if I found out more about accessibility requirements for learning materials, to see whether the open educational materials (OERs) I am creating for Manufacturing Pasts measure up or fall short for the various kinds of learners who might wish to use them. I felt slightly embarrassed that I had not thought of this myself.

I began by asking about colours. Cream and black are good, I was told. People with dyslexia often benefit from the use of a coloured overlay on printed material, and exactly what colour overlay will vary, so it’s a good idea for the original material to be cream and black. Great, I thought; those happen to be the very colours I have been using so far.

Black and cream is a good initial choice for learning material when considering accessibility; our poster is black-and-white so it’s close!

Next thing to check is how does screenreading software react to the OER? At Leicester we have Read and Write for some needs such as dyslexia, and Jaws for needs such as blindness. The website I am building for our OERs will be very simple, so I expect Read and Write will read it out just fine (I’m not so sure about Jaws).  I was told that Microsoft Word documents generally react very well to both softwares, but that Powerpoint is another matter. Well, none of our OERs are in Word format so far, and we’ve got two major OERs in Powerpoint, so I am not sure what I will find when I test.

 A large percentage of our OERs are short videos and audio clips. Both of these imply the provision of transcripts. Luckily, I found a colleague who has experience loading a transcript text file into YouTube so that Youtube will magically show the correct words as they are being spoken. I’m looking foward to trying that out. Our Manufacturing Pasts OERs are ‘image-led.’ It is good to provide images in a format which allows zooming in and attention to detail. So far, the epub and pdf ebooks I’ve produced allow zooming with no problem. I wonder how the Powerpoints will do?

I was just thinking I could never go through all of our OERs to make them all perfectly accessible, when the advisor suggested I choose some key items and do my best to make these accessible, and then try to keep to the principles as much as possible as I create new items.

But what about issues of access to IT hardware and software and the internet? I have made some Powerpoint OERs —  those who do not own a copy of Powerpoint can’t use them unless I make sure they work with an open-source presenter software, which I hope to do. I am also attempting to make the OERs usable on various mobile devices. I tested a Powerpoint OER on my iPad and had success, but a colleague tried it and it didn’t work. These accessibility issues are fodder for another blog post.

Please leave a comment with your thoughts on  handling accessibility issues related to disabilities which users may have!

Terese Bird,CMALT

Learning Technologist, University of Leicester