This is my first blog post since taking over from Darren Marsh on the C-SAP Collections project. Coming from the ‘learning’ rather than ‘technology’ side of ‘learning technology’, I wanted to thank Peter Robinson from the TRITON project for his time in explaining some of the technical tools; in particular for providing a wonderfully clear explanation of (the wildly inappropriately named) RSS feeds and their use in dynamic collections.
Attending the Programme Meeting for the OER Phase 2 projects in January has been helpful in seeing how other projects within the Collections Strand are progressing and the issues they are facing. Two have chosen WordPress to host their OER projects; DELORES is focussing on the CMS features of WordPress to host a static collection of engineering resources and TRITON has developed a politics and international relations blog that uses a series of widgets to connect relevant dynamic OER resources.
WordPress is an interesting front-end for OER projects because, being an open source platform, it shares many of the assumptions and ambitions of OER. Its ‘Bill of Rights’ includes:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish
- The freedom to redistribute
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others
This fits well with the definition of OERs described by the OECD as “digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research.”
Where WordPress may have something to contribute to the OER community is in its explicit emphasis on usability. According to its website, ‘the average WordPress user simply wants to be able to write without problems or interruption’ and the software is designed with this in mind. The WordPress philosophy has led to a very simple core platform which users can customise as they choose through themes and plugins.
The success of WordPress is a reminder of the need to make the criteria of usability a priority for OER in addition to discoverability and relevance. If mechanisms for contributing and sharing resources on the web are technically complex their openness will be limited. This is something Wikipedia has recently recognised; co-founder Jimmy Wales suggested last week that the preponderance of young male editors was due to the programmer-style editing language and announced that improvements would be a priority making editing easier and more intuitive. Given the heavy workloads of university teaching staff and the emphasis of OER on reuse and repurposing of materials, any platform used to share resources needs to be easy to access and use. WordPress represents one possible solution to this issue and it would be interesting to know if others have found alternatives that have the same ease of use.