At the recent JISC meeting on 22 September for OER II we had opportunity for representatives from the collections strand projects to get together and share ideas about the what, why, when etc of our project ideas. I think we all had some involvement in the pilot phase, and are looking to build on our collective knowledge (wisdom ..?!) in pursuit of our aims in developing approaches to enhanced resource discovery in our respective subject domains. This is inherently a ‘technical’ area of work, although as in the pilot phase there are no ‘mandated’ approaches and creativity will be at the heart of the process. Our C-SAP collections project will focus on research methods materials in social science, with approaches and solutions oriented towards the ‘lighter’ end of the technical spectrum.
However, from what I’ve grasped so far this all depends on context, and the first phases of our project will be taken up with some detailed scoping of just what we mean by open collections of research methods materials, the distinctions between static and dynamic resources, audience(s) and users, and what we can find out already about how resources in existing collections are discovered and re-purposed. Our technical solutions will then revolve around some creative investigation in potential mash-ups of existing tools, guided by our subject context, user needs, and what we know already about OER discovery (much of course documented by CETIS).
Rob Pearce, from the Engineering Subject Centre collections project, recently posted about serendipity and the collections strand of projects, urging caution about the problems of ‘muscular search systems’. Rob offers a good point of reflection to pause before we get going. Perhaps if the true semantic web was here then we would have all the answers, or we wouldn’t be doing these projects in the first place, but as Rob says perhaps we should ‘stop worrying about it’. I think this is good advice, we’ve got to be realistic about what we can achieve, but what’s worrying me slightly at the moment is not so much our own approach or philosophy (which will be light in tech but we hope rooted in collections and materials of relevance to social science) but the inevitable and inherent risks in working with tools and standards that are in constant change. One thing we had already bookmarked for our project (pun intended) was the Xmarks bookmarking sync tool – just on a speculative watch-list of things that might, for example, help facilitate information about dynamic collections (and the enhanced Google search results in Firefox is also of potential interest). Yesterday it was announced that the service is likely to disappear next year, as they are struggling to develop a business model for premium services. On another tangent, the Scribd platform (which we were interested in during the pilot phase) has now changed from a ‘free stuff’ platform to a commercial service, or at the minimum an exchange where you have to upload in order to download. Maybe it’s not a big deal, but from the previous OER round we know that exchanging is quite different to sharing (those of us from the pilot phase are probably aware of the excellent paper by McGill et al. “Good Intentions”), and from my perspective as someone who has layman familiarity with the landscape of web 2.0 etc, but not as an under the hood type developer, it just reminds me of how little we really know about what’s happening with these sites/platforms/services, and the risks of trying to shoehorn solutions which might not deliver in 6 months time. That’s the pragmatic side of me – we need confidence in what we are doing, in order that our academic communities engage with it. Having said all that, and not meaning to be melodramatic, I’m looking forward to grappling with the challenges of this project – I might even have learned a few more things by the end of it, if only the difference between RSS and Atom!