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

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

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.

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

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

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