With the programme meeting on sustainability on 8-9 November approaching, we have been asked to share some thoughts on sustainability of our projects.
So, first of all; what’s the point of our project?
The purpose of our project is to enhance the teaching and learning of recent British industrial history by making it easier for lecturers to use and their students to engage with selected primary sources which illustrate particular historical themes – such as the social life of the factory. There aren’t many online resources available to lecturers in British industrial history and this project is helping to fill that gap.
The learning resources provide entry points to the primary sources; the approach has been to leave interpretation and lines of inquiry largely to the user rather than to provide ‘answers’. This approach – combined with the fact that the resources can be re-used and adapted as required and that, in many cases, they are provided in different formats – is intended to make them of practical use in different contexts. We see this as contributing to their sustainability.
When it comes to sustainability, a pretty fundamental question is – how are we going to sustain access to the resources that we have created? The answer for the next few years is that we are using a hosted digital resource management system which we are committed to and have budgeted for as part of a larger intention to increase digitisation of our University’s special collections. So, the project ‘fits’ within a bigger picture which helps justify the on-going resource required to maintain the infrastructure.
More difficult questions at the moment are: how will we know the project has made any difference? how are we going to promote the resources beyond the life of the project? How are we going to develop them further? How are we going to – or can we – support their use?
The staffing model we have used for the project has been based on staff secondments so that when the project ends, we do not immediately lose most of the practical knowledge and skills that have been created.
Amongst other things, this helps with sustaining some promotion beyond the formal end of the project and our most important promotional events are planned for next spring and summer – after the formal end of the project. Project staff go back to their ‘day jobs’ and will then be busy with other things – but we do keep the ‘project memory’ and can plan some on-going promotion in.
But resource creation will end when the project ends. Real sustainability depends on whether the primary sources and the related learning resources are actually used – and are adapted etc. – by teachers and historians of different kinds. So, the ‘open’ part of open educational resources is key.
So is making the resources as ‘findable’ as possible – using ‘technical’ means such as contributing our metadata to metadata aggregations and other more obvious means such as the academic and local history grapevines. On metadata aggregations we are following up on some very helpful guidance from our JISC programme manager – building on some initiatives we had already taken such as contributing to the JISC Media Hub. It is slow work as various ‘technical’ issues are overcome – but it’s important. On grapevines, the project benefits from being a partnership between the Centre for Urban History, the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland and a university library – and having organisations such as the Victorian Society represented on our Steering Group.
But getting noticed certainly isn’t easy.
My colleague Terese Bird is currently working on developing an iTunesU course using Manufacturing Pasts resources as part of creating an iTunesU presence for the University; we are looking forward to seeing and learning from the outcomes of this in terms of audience reached etc.
That’s another – and major example – of making our resources part of something bigger and, therefore, increasing their ‘findability’ and significance.
The last few years for us have been about building a ‘nucleus’ of some infrastructure, skills and networks from which we can increase our digital services for teaching and research.
No great answers to the many and complex issues raised by ‘sustainability’ but this project has helped us to strengthen that nucleus.