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


Research methods in historical studies – via Vimeo

I’ve been building open-access learning materials (open educational resources or OERs) for the Manufacturing Pasts project for several months now. Our plan all along has been to create image-led learning materials which tell their story but don’t dictate conclusions or analysis.

However, through showing our materials to others and asking for comments, one request I’ve been hearing is to provide enough context that any learner can grasp the main message of the material; for example, a brief background story of the factory, a description of why it is significant that this building could not be saved from demolition. One way we will be providing context will be by recording short videos of our history lecturers speaking about the scholarly case for each of the four themes within our project.

Then we realised that the entire concept of using visual primary sources in historical research could use explanation. How does one make valid research conclusions from photos, newspaper clippings, maps and building plans? We decided to ask a PhD student involved in that field to speak to that question. The result is Using Visual Sources in Historical Research, a 17 minute video which we posted on Vimeo:

Using visual sources in historical research from Media Zoo on Vimeo.

We think this is a pretty interesting outcome of this digitisation and open-resources project: the creation of materials which help to inform research methods particular to history but surely applicable in any field.

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

Manufacturing Pasts publishes its first set of open learning materials

Our Manufacturing Pasts project has published its first set of open learning materials on its website, http://www.le.ac.uk/manufacturingpasts  Just click on the tab at the left entitled Open Learning Materials, and you’ll find one of our ebooks in different formats for the different ereading devices, some cleverly-designed Powerpoint shows focusing on two of Leicester’s manufacturing powerhouses of the past — Liberty Shoes and Corah Knitwear, and a video narrated by a Leicester resident, which I display below for your viewing pleasure.

These materials are all Creative Commons licensed, so that educators and learners alike may freely use, reuse, and even repurpose to accommodate their teaching and learning needs. The Manufacturing Pasts website will continue to change during the upcoming weeks and months, to accommodate more context to help inform those wishing to learn from the published materials. We hope to feature more videos of our various historians explaining how the materials can be used in the various topics of study addressed, and in this way provide context without becoming didactic. We hope these materials will be interesting and helpful to teachers, local historians, researchers, and anyone just interested in Leicester’s industrial heritage.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester

Artefacts from Leicester’s Industrial Past, Digitized and Online

One major aspect of the Manufacturing Pasts project is to digitise materials pertaining to Leicester’s industrial past, especially (but not only) the post-World-War-II period. Simon Gunn and Rebecca Madgin from the Centre for Urban History selected items from the Skinner special collection of the University library, and from the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland. The first batch has now been professionally digitised.

This photo, from the Skinner collection, show some of the beautiful shoes produced at the Liberty Shoe factory, formerly of Leicester.

One thing I am learning is that these artefacts, and the resulting learning materials that I am endeavouring to produce (I should have some to reveal within the next few weeks), raise as many questions as they answer. For example, the photo above makes me ask: were these shoes typical of their time, or were they at the higher end or even lower end of the spectrum in terms of price range? Is the level of evident artistic flair typical? How much did a business such as Liberty invest in designers, stylists, even on research and development? And how much of that investment was carried through to the final item price?

One challenge in producing good OER learning materials from these artefacts is: how to give enough information to encourage questions and help sound conclusions to be drawn, yet without prescribing a narrative.

The digitised primary sources are being made available online in the Manufacturing Pasts collection within My Leicestershire History.

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester

Digitisation of selected archives begins at the Record Office

Following a delay caused by some teething problems with the collection management software and the County Council’s firewall, I’m pleased to report that the digitisation of Record Office material is now underway. We’ve started with items for the ‘Social Life of the Factory’ OER, which centres on Corah, the former Leicester hosiery manufacturing business.

I was aware that some records had been deposited in the Record Office on the closure of the business, but that only a small quantity had survived – six shelves of documents is not much to show for one of Leicester’s most significant businesses, established in the early 19th century. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the range of material which has been available to select for use in the project. The collection is not yet catalogued, so it became a voyage of discovery through this untapped resource, as I stood on a ladder in the strongroom, opening up some 30 or so boxes. The next day, Professor Simon Gunn was able to choose records to digitise, ranging from staff and factory photographs and handbooks to company minutes, reports and brochures. These could be supplemented by council building plans, Ordnance Survey maps and a selection of company magazines – it was especially pleasing to find that our library contains an almost complete set of wonderfully detailed Corah magazines from 1949 to 1986.

It seems very topical, in the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the recent Royal Visit to Leicester, that one of the first items to be digitised is this special edition of ‘Encore News’ from 1958:

Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland

Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland

The Record Office is delighted to be part of this project which will provide better access, for academic and local history researchers alike, to a wide range of under-exploited business archives. The digitisation of Corah material is expected to be completed by the end of April and will be closely followed by items for the ‘Conservation and Regeneration’ OER, based on the Liberty Shoe Works.

Adam Goodwin, Archivist, Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland.

Bias in learning materials: reflection on Manufacturing Pasts in Follow the Sun conference

Two weeks ago, Simon Gunn, Tania Rowlett and I presented the Manufacturing Pasts history OER project in an online learning innovations conference, Follow the Sun 2012. The conference took place in a webinar environment, and was attended online by delegates from all over the world. Tania and i presented together, though we were physically on opposite sides of campus from each other. Simon, knowing he would not be available during the scheduled time slot, prerecorded his presentation on the scholarly case for the Manufacturing Pasts project, including some samples of newly-digitized artifacts, which I’ve posted on YouTube here. We also created an e-poster for the project.

This was the first conference presentation of this project, and I was pleased that it was done in an innovative setting. We received several interested comments, particularly from a delegate from Australia and one from South Africa. The Australian delegate mentioned that he had worked on an oeR project with some similar aims, digitizing artifacts pertinent to native Australian culture. When Tania described the unexpected twists and turns of seeking permission for material created in a corporate setting, our delegate friend described an unexpected requirement in his project to request permission from the local leader who interestingly was usually (maybe always?) female. The South African delegate raised the issue of educators bringing their own views into historical presentations. I wholeheartedly agreed with him that this is a danger. I’m creating some learning materials now, and I admit I’m struggling. I have some long interviews which we will make available in their pure, long form (one is over 4 hours long). But I also want to cut them down and marry them to digitized photographs to create a short video. I think I am editing to simply create a resource that is engaging and easier to digest than a 4-hour interview. But maybe I am unconsciously bringing in my own judgements and views in the way I edit and mash up.

We are now aiming to have several good OERs ready for students to use and evaluate in early May. Perhaps one thing to evaluate is whether any particular bias is introduced into the material, in the process of turning it into easily-digestible chunks of learning.

Terese Bird, CMALT

Learning Technologist & SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester

OER3 Programme Meeting – Part II

Following on from my last post – OER3 Programme Meeting – Part I – in this blog I cover the afternoons events, where we discussed the issues and benefits of projects partnerships. 

Having split into three groups, each discussing one of three predetermined questions, our group focussed on Collaboration and Partnerships relating to OERs: what types of partnerships we had, what they brought to the project in relation to the different OER work packages (creation of and providing content, evaluation, re-use, dissemination) and how they impacted on academic practice. 

In our group we had partnerships with a variety of public and private organisations, who each had perhaps differing perspectives on our projects, as well as ideas about how the outputs would best benefit their audiences.  We discussed ways of managing their expectations by drawing up a design brief of our OERs and asking partners to sign it off, as well as our expectations on the input we could expect from them (e.g. accessing niche communities).  

Other issues raised by collaboration included the difficulties (but the necessity) of putting in place partnership agreements, tackling copyright concerns, increasing understanding of the goals of open educational resources and embedding openness in reward structures to encourage academic buy-in.

We all agreed that to engage appropriate partners we needed to sell the mutual benefits of a project, such as making their resources more open, providing a sustainable platform for them to be housed on, and enabling them to get evaluation feedback and reuse information, as well as ensuring that they remained an integral part of the project development.

It was good to meet people from other projects and find out what they were up, as well as discover that we were all dealing with similar issues, although I’m not sure we exactly cracked how to deal with them all! It also made me realise not only that we should value our project partnerships, but that our projects can only benefit if we ensure we get the most out our collaborations.